8th Edition
A p r i l     2  0  0  3 
April, 2003
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Dark days

The harvest, two thirds done and erstwhile dominant in our lives, has been darkly overshadowed.

Two weeks ago I chanced upon an accident on the New England Highway seconds after it happened. Two young lives unnecessarily lost due less, I suspect, to the confusion of the elderly driver of the second vehicle than to society’s petulance that ranks road safety below traffic flow, a cultural choice that would be unacceptable in most workplaces.

Thus the scene was grimly set for the Bush boy’s exploits in Iraq in which claret of a godforsaken kind stained the desert and reminded us how much easier it is to start war than finish it.

In such circumstances, even the vines are not as inviting as usual. The steady snip snip separates one from the immediacy of events but even knowing that bunches piling up in the bin will become good wine does not obliterate the sense of hopelessness and impotence that many of us feel. The vines, by the way, are oblivious to tragedy.

The eyes have it

Not a trace of hopelessness in the piercing eyes of Dubya, disturbingly close set, that meet ours during the television war. Saddam’s peepers (no weepers, he is only eponymously sad) seem saner by comparison yet are as black and vacuous as his heart may well be.

In a welcome break from television, the Granite Belt Shakespeare Society convened, drank bluid red wine and read the last two Acts of King Henry the Fifth (Once more unto the breach, dear friends… Yes, that’s the one.) 

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From Iraq’s pall it is worth reviewing what Henry or Harry, as he is better known, says in Act IV Scene 1, in a speech in which he refutes that the sins of a son may be blamed upon the father’s prior actions.
Try the following with a dynastic Texan accent: 
So, if a son, that is by his father sent about merchandise, do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him…
Hmm. Later in the same speech…
Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in bed, - wash every mote out of his conscience and dying so, death is to him advantage; or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gain’d; and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think that, making God so free an offer, he let him outlive that day to see his greatness, and to teach others how they should prepare. 
With such an attitude, anything is possible. “You have a problem, soldier? Hey, just wash your conscience. You’ll feel great.” 

Should we pass this on to General Brooks at Qatar Central Command or is this something the coalition force already knows? 

The play even has a character called Westmorland – this English earl easy to picture as an American general.

Brought to you by Al-jazeera

Imagine Montjoy’s speech in Act IV Scene 3 coming from the mouth of Iraq’s information minister broadcast live by Al-jazeera with simultaneous translation:

Once more I come to know of thee King Harry (Dubya), 
If for thy ransom thou wilt now compound,
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 Before thy most assured overthrow: 
For certainly thou art so near the gulf,
Thou needs must be englutted. Besides, in mercy,
The Constable desires thee thou wilt mind
Thy followers of repentance; that their souls
May make a peaceful and sweet retire
From off these (oil) fields, where, wretches, their poor bodies
Must lie and fester.
He may well have added, “Curse your moustache” as the Kuwaiti oil minister did to his Iraqi counterpart at a pre-war OPEC meeting.

As always, Shakespeare is alarumingly relevant: from unpalatable suggestions - when the French rally, Harry orders “every soldier kill his prisoners” - to sound advice - the marriage of the loser’s daughter to the victorious king promises lasting peace.

Dubya wedding? 

Would that President Bush tripped down the aisle with Saddam’s eldest. Heck, make it a double and include Ariel Sharon and Miss Arafat the younger. Kofi Annan can officiate. 

Pipe dreams? But of course - the Shakespeare group wonders if the world is yet civilised enough to find such pragmatic solutions.

Pluck on

Enough! It is off my chest. Back to wine.

Plucking scenes: Adriana of Slovenia
& Georgie & EB.
The Pleasant Pluckers were delighted to welcome John and Kerry van Pelt (and Champagne Harry, their puppy) to the ranks during the harvest of the Block Two Shiraz. 

We took it off a day after half an inch of rain that apparently did not too much damage and it settled in the shed on its skins at 13.3 Baume (sugar level).


Thus far, everything has harvested well. The Chardonnay was picked immediately before the February rain. It was very clean and registered 13.1 Baume and pressed as good fruity juice. We worried about the French Colombard which, until the rain, attained about 12 Baume but fell back rapidly. In the event it came off at 12.7 Baume about four weeks later and promises to be pleasantly aromatic.

Pluckers at Play. Clockwise from left Angelo Cutuli, yours truly, Ray Pople, Roger Jeffries, Iain Meers, Griff Hodges. Snapped by Peter Meers.

We harvested the Block Five Cabernet Sauvignon at the same time as the French Colombard because we were concerned about the capacity of the young vines to mature fruit in the drought affected year. 

By taking the fruit off early we would give the vines a chance to develop stronger wood for next year. I believe this was a good move.

The fruit we got was young and acidic with a lively greenness at 11.4 Baume. We have, as I foreshadowed, made Róse with it – Frosty’s Róse, in fact – a little dark, which may or may not be fixable.
So, now we have just Block 1 Shiraz and Block 3 Cab Sav to go for the year. Expectations are that the Shiraz will be ripe in the second week of April and the Cab Sav about two weeks later: perfect.

May the war pass quickly. May you celebrate with wine.

John Arlidge

There are genuinely great deals for Pleasant Pluckers Wine Club members.

The Club aims to reward those who regularly buy wine. We offer 30% off full retail for the first two cartons purchased during the year, then 20% off full retail for all other carton purchases.

Club members get discounted accommodation – 10 % off regular rates – plus special club functions and notification of new releases. 


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7th Edition

M a r c h     2  0  0  3 
February 15, 2003
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“were we not wean'd 'til then?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly? ”
Donne, The Good Morrow
This week ranged from settling twelve new weaner Aberdeen Angus cattle to making an idiot of myself on national television as the Singing Chef (capitals deserved) with Sami Lukis, Channel Nine’s shapely weather girl; not half as shapely as the model who posed for the Nude Food and Wine segment of whom viewers and yours truly saw the back ‘though that was enough - a Tom Roberts’ canvass, thick with mist and bush flavour - yet not an activity one would try during a Granite Belt winter (one of the longest sentences I have ever attempted in a newsletter and surprising that the grammar checker has not cacked it. Oh, there it goes.)

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d. 
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven”

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
We got an inch of rain in half an hour the other day when this missive began and another 11mm in the following six hours. This was welcome, as you may imagine, for while those to the north, west, east and south got buckets, the Granite Belt, until now, had scored eight millimetres in a fortnight; just enough to put our whites in peril of botrytis, otherwise known as bunch rot. We have checked since and thus far they are clear.

The Chardonnay, at 13 Baume a week ago and green, has not increased sugar content but is less green. Interestingly, it is picking up the fig aromas that characterised our 2002 Chardonnay (mental pictures of that model for some reason). Given the vagaries of the weather we think we shall do a test again on Friday and almost certainly pick on Tuesday, February 18.

“Poetic Justice, with her lifted scale,
Where, in nice balance, truth with gold she weighs,
And solid pudding against empty praise.”
Alexander Pope, The Dunciad
One little thing that could spike the pudding is that if we do get the dreaded botrytis and have to spray to kill it, then we will not pick the Chardonnay for another week.
We had a Vintage Banquet last Saturday night. In addition to the food (menu at:
we had a vertical tasting of all of our Beverley Chardonnays, including the 1999 of which just 300 bottles were made.
We also tasted side by side all three 2000 vintage reds, two of which won trophies and gold medals. The 2000 Republic Red, a Cab Sav Shiraz blend that was never entered in any competitions and, thus, won no medals, drank beautifully and was a match for the Upper House Cab Sav and the Black Rod Shiraz. If anyone has any of the 2000 Rep Red left in cellar, save it for a special occasion.

“Come up and see me sometime.”

Mae West, Diamond ‘Lil 
The Meers brothers attended as did Dave and Judy Thorburn, the Cross family and Terry and Beverley Ryan who have stayed at our cottages a number of times.

The Courier Mail’s wine writer Mike Frost came with his wife Denise who threatened to write a Mills and Boon novel based on the WGW newsletters. “Good grief,” I responded, gazing into her onyx eyes, spellbound by her dazzling smile. Imperceptibly, she moved towards me and I caught my breath… Well, you know the rest.

We joined Mike and Denise the night before at the First Sip function in the new open air Stanthorpe Piazza to launch both the two week Granite Belt Food & Wine Affair and the new Granite Belt Wine Dozens in one of which our 2001 Upper House Cab Sav is included. There was a bit of country pageantry and speeches through a scratchy microphone (testing twooo, twooo, twooo). Mike and Andrew Corrigan (MW) spoke well and briefly about wine matters and most people drank too much.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Shakespeare, Hamlet 
Such occasions always remind me of what a rotten little borough the Granite Belt can be when left to unscrutinised devices. It is amusing to observe except that from time to time, by-standing innocents get hurt. The local council’s political philosophy is rooted in the Country Party’s agrarian socialism of last century and lots of things get done or don’t get done on nods and winks. Politics here has an arrogance of which the participants appear blissfully unaware; it is about making ends justify means. The latest outrage involves selling sewerage outfall to one of the district’s largest vegetable growers who happens to operate north of town and, thus, uphill of

the treatment plant. Consequently ratepayers are subsidising the considerable pumping costs. If they had piped it to downhill farms the shire could have turned a tidy profit. 

Yet come election time a donkey could get up as long as it was the incumbent councillor. It is titillating to watch the ebb and flow of political allegiances – they appear as undercurrents at these formal functions and establish the pecking order. 

"Whanne that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote."

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
One local councillor (more pecked than pecking) who is also a moderately large-scale vegetable grower and not a bad bloke, has always been dismissive of my water supply which is underground and, thus, invisible to the naked eye, unlike his extensive dam. “How’s that little well of yours going?” he asked, somewhat patronisingly, I thought, so I said: “How’s your big dam?” “It’s empty,” he said. “Well, my little well isn’t.”
But I digress. My favourite councillor thanked me for my newsletters that night but I don’t think she actually reads them. This should flush it out one way or the other. Anyway, it was a lovely night. 

Denise Frost had a great idea. I told her and Mike that I was concerned about the Block 5 Cab Sav – it has been a tough year for young vines and the fruit is suffering - I suggested that if it was not up to scratch we might bulk it up and sell it off in carboys. “Why don’t you make a rosé?” Denise chimed in. It is a splendid idea and I think we may do that. We shall call it Frosty’s Rosé and, as Mike suggested, we will put it in a frosted bottle. Chill before serving, perhaps?

“They’re a ravenous horde"
Gilbert, Iolanthe
Anyway, after tasting some lovely wines, including Alex Harslett’s new Fox Bar Faces Cab Sav Merlot, we trooped off to the art gallery for the opening of a new show and drank (for free!) Mark Ravenscroft’s superb 1999 Raven Wines Semillon.

To the present: we have had an excellent response from pluckers and are in danger of being over subscribed for the Chardonnay harvest. With about three tonnes on the vines, we shall need six bodies in addition to yours truly and Angelo Cutuli, the vineyard manager. Certain starters are Iain and Peter Meers; Derek Churchill is a probable; possibles are Tony Bilbrough, John and Kerry van Pelt; plus Roger Jeffries has nominated himself, Griff Hodges and Ray Pople.

Murray Bladwell has threatened to bring a nubile Brazilian Rotary Exchange student along. I suggested he save her for Carnivale in the Cab Sav. 

We shall have to rationalise the pluckers somehow (rationalising pluckers sounds as unconvincing as military intelligence). We shall sort it out at the Beefsteak and Burgundy luncheon on Thursday.

There will be at least four separate picks this year, so there will be plenty of opportunity.

“I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude”

Milton, Lycidas
Sad to say that if we do need extras, Charlotte and Elin, our Swedish backpackers, are now unavailable, having returned to Stockholm. Sami is unavoidably detained by a warm front and the model was so unutterably beautiful I forgot to ask her name. However, a couple of likely lasses from Cheshire in the UK called around the other day and, naturally, I accepted their mobile number as television personalities do. 

Again she moved towards him. “I think,” he thought, “she is going to kiss me.” The luminous, fleshy lips held him spellbound. They came ever closer. His heart thumped and a lump formed in his throat. He could feel her warm breath on his cheek. She whiskered huskily: “We’re crossing live in two seconds and your fly is undone, bozo.” It was, he would later ruefully reflect, one of morning television’s finest moments. 

John Arlidge


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6th Edition

F e b r u a r y   2 0 0 3 
Monday, February 3 2003
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Vintage is coming and the Baume’s getting high

Well, well, dear pluckers, a revelation. A test of the Chardonnay grapes today produced a Baume reading (sugar level) of 13 – very high and we would normally be rushing out to order picking bins. However, the juice is green so we shall stay put for the time being.

It raises a couple of interesting questions that we haven’t confronted before, namely: why is this so? And is it good, bad or indifferent for Vintage?

But he digresses

It has been, as most people know, a very dry year – locals rate this as the worst drought ever (one pedant says 1902 was worse but since he is not a day over 78 he has little credibility. This was the same local to whom a wine judge tried to explain what makes good wine. “This one tastes a little raw at the moment but put it down for 10 years and you’ll be rewarded,” said the judge. “Mate,” replied the local, “at my age I don’t even buy green tomatoes.”) 

The present drought began about three years ago. It hit crisis point during spring. Many fruit and vegetable farms have no water at all in their dams.Our water supply copes but there really is no substitute for rain. Normally we would give the vines three or four hours of water a week (24 – 32 litres) up to and including veraison, the point at which cells in the berries stop dividing and begin expanding. This year we have been giving them seven hours plus per week up to and through veraison and we are only now cutting down to two or three hours a week. That indicates how low soil moisture levels are.




Reduced yield and small berries

The upshot has been reduced yield and smaller berries (we think we will average about 3 tonnes per acre this year). Combined with unusually hot weather until a week ago, this prompted sugar levels to shoot ahead of ripeness (ripeness produces flavour). Hence the figure of 13 Baume with grapes still green and a pH figure of 3.43. So, does it matter? My initial assumption was that we would have to pick soon but winemaker Rod Macpherson counselled against this.

“It is overcast and cool,” he reasoned. “Let us try for another fortnight to get the ripeness right and we will cope with higher sugar levels during fermentation by using a less efficient strain of yeast.” Very clever, but what if it rains? Or what if the weather turns hot again? “Well, then we may need to compromise, matey.” So, the correct Taoist response is “mu”, meaning the question is too big for the answer (or is that the answer is too big for the question? It’s a long time since I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). 

Why Vintage equals high blood pressure

So, we wait. And once more, dear reader, you may perceive how Vintage annually contrives to make us nervous wrecks. It always comes down to these last few weeks. Potentially, this is an excellent year – almost as good as 2002. If dry, cool weather continues then we shall be blessed, but hard rain will break both drought and Vintage. On balance I would settle for drought-breaking rain: a short-term problem producing long-term gain.We tested the French Colombard also today: 11.55 Baume and 3.12 pH – at least two or three weeks to go. We put bird netting on the Shiraz only a week ago; it is through veraison but not yet worth testing. So far it looks wonderful with big bollocky bunches and lots of flavour. The older Cabernet Sauvignon block is also travelling well although the younger one is not as good. It has been a difficult season for young vines. We shall separate the two at ferment.



Pluckers of the world unite

So, prospective pluckers, it is not quite time to start engines but you could check the tyres. My guess at this stage is that we will be looking at Tuesday week, February 18, to pick the Chardonnay. This is one month earlier than the date on which we picked it last year; good old Mother Nature. Anyone interested in picking can drop me an email. It will be at the usual usurious rates. Well, we eat well sleep well and the company is magnificent. 
‘til then, troops. 

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