Springing into summer

It’s mid November and we are having 30 degree days already – it seems that spring has quickly been bypassed by summer and you can almost see the vines growing.  We have a bit of bud rubbing to do but otherwise things are fairly quiet on the home front.  The vineyard looks stunning because after all the rain this winter everything is so green and yet basked in sunlight.  The new fruit looks full of promise.  And the grapes aren’t the only things growing – Archie is now running around (16 months), Finn has just turned nine and Tahlia is about to become a teenager – arggghhhh!!


Getting on top of things again…

What a great feeling it is to have the pruning all done and dusted for another year.  We finished cutting, stripping and tying down (went through almost 10 000 ties) the last of our vines a week or so ago.  Our sincere thanks go out again to those who pitched in and gave us a hand when morale began to fail …somewhere around vine 3899 with a cold southerly blowing the ties from your pouch and rain falling yet again.  To Grandpop Noel, to my wonderful friend Sarah, to the ever energetic Geoff and to Emilien the friendly froggie…your hard work and great company were so appreciated.  It always amazes me that there are people out there who are happy to lend a hand when there’s nothing in it for them and no great cause, other than to help out a mate. 🙂   Thanks to our kids too for helping out and putting up with weekend after weekend of boredom, or as in Archie’s case – time spent mastering his walking up and down the rows.  However, it hasn’t been all bad – there were some beautiful days out in the vineyard where I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.  Dad has Dexter cows in the paddock next door and three baby calves were born as we pruned!  And while there’s been crappy weather too – it’s not like we’ve been in Christchurch.  Our heart goes out to all the Cantabs and if any of you need a break from the shaky city, let us know as there’s always room around here for extras. What else can I say other than, may your next fiasco be a wine! 

Speaking of the earthquake, we experienced our own firsthand consequence of the quake earlier this week when we bottled our 2010 wines.  There was a delay in getting the labels here from Christchurch which meant we had to bottle the wine without them – labels are over-rated anyway aren’t they, isn’t consumer choice all about cost at the end of the day?  There are details on the label though that legally must be displayed so alas we will put the cleanskins (naked wine bottles)  back through the bottling line on Tuesday to get labelled.  Ironically we had the name “Shaky Isles Wines” trademarked before deciding to go with Fiasco.  I guess both are somewhat appropriate give the state of Christchurch.

I suspect everyone is now ready for the Spring to arrive.  The buds on our vines haven’t burst yet and it’s always a bit of fun predicting when they will.    Although it is September, when you make wine it feels like this is the start of the year – when there is new growth and the whole cycle starts again.  Happy New Year all 🙂


Back from Australia

We’ve returned from a trip to Australia that involved a mixture of business and pleasure.  It began with a random meeting with John Key at the Blenheim airport  –  he came over for a chat…only in New Zealand!   In Aussie, it was great to meet our distributor and to see Fiasco on the menu is some Brisbane restaurants.  In Brisbane there are numerous new restaurants opening every week so the sheer opportunity was refreshing.  The warm Northern Queensland climate also made Townsville very appealing.  We had to laugh at the ‘Beating the mid-winter blues” article in the local paper when it had been 27 C and sunny for days.  

It has been a reality check coming back home to where the wine industry and the economy in general are still facing hard times.  It’s grey, cold, wet and we have thousands of vines to prune and unpaid bills to chase up.  We have friends at the moment who have lost jobs through ‘restructuring’ and others whose wine based businesses have hit the wall.   I know there are those in Blenheim who will feel no sympathy for the stress being experienced by those in the wine industry, but regardless the ripple effect will move through our whole community.    When one bill is left unpaid, the next guy struggles to pay his and so on.    We feel such sympathy for those who have lost jobs and/or their businesses but know they are resilient, hard working and positive thinking people who will find new opportunities.

I am an optimist and do believe that things will stabilise.  And surprisingly, I do still prefer New Zealand to Australia.   We don’t have half as many poisonous creatures, a lack of marked seasons gets a bit boring, our native bush is awesome in comparison, we make better Savvy and hopefully Saturday will prove our rugby boys are superior!


New website

I’ve been a bit distracted lately with my teacher and mum roles taking priority over being the winemaker’s wife ;-).   I’ve put together a new website:  www.tworedapples.com  to offer a bit of help to parents and grandparents of kids about to enter into the National Standards era.    If you have children or grandchildren at school please feel free to check it out.

Grapes…apples..at least there’s still fruit involved!  On the vineyard front, the leaves have almost all dropped off the vines which means time to start pruning.  This year’s wine is coming along nicely and the Marlborough Express and Timaru Herald are soon to run a piece about our sulfur free wine. 

On the home front, Archie took his first few steps last night so he is well and truly on the move.  We are all looking forward to the upcoming school holidays and to the All Whites games – the first of which kicks off in just over an hour – GO NEW ZEALAND!


Coming out of the vintage haze…

Well I’ve reached an all time low in blogging efforts – almost down to one a month!  The months of March, April and May are always very busy for us as Aaron works fulltime for Indevin (an independent wine making company) and his hours are long.  As a consequence we feel like we are the bloke on our logo – running on a  moving wine barrel, only we need to get that wine glass back in hand!    We have discovered that having your own wine label means there are never-ending tasks to do –  contract growers can pause and celebrate the fact the their fruit is harvested and a cheque from the wine company is on the way, however we have a much longer road ahead.    At the moment our focus is on making the wine and getting labels and bottling sorted, pruning is just around the corner and sales and marketing need to be constantly worked on.  

On the upside we are going to Brisbane soon to meet our distributor there and see how sales are going…tax deductible Gold Coast – I knew there had to be some perks!   It’s great exporting to Australia because for us there is a lot less labour shipping in bulk than marketing and selling small volumes via multiple outlets here in NZ.  There is also the advantage of being able to claim back the WET tax.  ‘Wet’ seems a funny name for a tax, especially for a drink – but it actually stands for Wine Equalisation Tax.  In 2000 the Australian government added this 29% tax to its wine and when wine producers there went mad they decided that producers could claim this tax back for their first million dollars worth of wine sold each year.  This ability to claim it back was later extended to New Zealand wine producers.

We also need to visit Auckland again soon to touch base with the outlets selling Fiasco there.  We have recently added our wine to the menu list at The Falls – an awesome cafe/restaurant in West Auckland.  We had an all day brunch there at the end of last year and I can personally vouch for the high standard of service from Allan and his team (five stars from me and I don’t do that often!).  Aside from tax deductible travel, the other main advantage of having your own label is the buzz of tasting and sharing an end-product that you have produced.  One of our Sauvignon Blanc ferments finished today so will soon be filtered, bottled and on its way to the shop shelves.  It is tasting beautiful at this stage –  Aaron tells me it will be our best yet.  I’ll let you know when I’ve tried it – am sure women have far superior taste buds to men.


Due date…

The countdown is on until our 2010 grapes are harvested and while obviously nowhere near as important, there are some parallels to being expectant parents.  You have this date (April 17 for us) that your data projects as the likely harvest day but really it’s down to nature.    It’s taken months to get the fruit to this stage but there is no reward until its safely in the wine tank.  Others in the same boat report gleefully that their fruit is in and still you wait.  Others keep asking you if you’ve harvested yet.  It’s a time of nervous anticipation. 

At the moment I go out every second day and handpick 300 individual berries from a range of locations in our vineyard and Aaron takes them into the winery to test – yesterday our Brix level (measures sugar content) was almost high enough but acid levels are still just a bit too high to harvest.  But the fruit tastes ready, it’s delicious and disease free.  There is a temptation just to get harvest done and dusted.  It’s a bit like being in the late stages of pregnancy when you just want to get the business done while everything’s looking good and you face decisions over whether to induce if there are problems on the horizon.  When it comes to the grapes, rain, frost risk and heavy harvester bookings make harvest now look appealing.  But  we’ve decided to wait and risk the weather and risk losing our booked harvester spot as there’s truth in the saying that great wine is made in the vineyard – we have to do our utmost to make sure the fruit is ripened to perfection.   Besides, the great thing about the ‘grape pregnancy’ is that Aaron has to do most of the labour while I get to be the support person!  It’s a much better role – in fact in a week or so I’ll have to give my mates a ring and we can go out for a celebratory cigar and beer while Aaron gets the fruit settled into the tanks and keeps a close eye on its progress. 🙂

Hopefully not too much rain on the way ...


Injury fiasco to kick off vintage

Aaron is now on night shift…got a text from him Saturday night saying:

 “At hos hurt hand got 11 stitches, may need skin graft, all good tho, dont panic.”

He is of course aware that I’m prone to panic when anyone gets injured!  Anyway turns out he managed to take off a chunk of skin at the base of his thumb while in the process of showing the new vintage staff how to change a filter.  It’s all stitched up now…not quite Aaron’s idea of getting sewn up on a Saturday night 😉 but mending well.  

I thought he might of had some time off but it was straight back from hospital to the winery (I still blame Buck Shelford … Aaron has long been in awe of his continuing to play rugby with a torn scrotum!).   There is a real commitment to hard work over vintage that I havent seen in many other industries.  People will put everything aside and work their guts out.  They will work through the night, they will not take a day off for over a month and they will work 100 hour weeks if necessary.  Many staff are on salaries so there’s not even the incentive of extra large pay packets for all those long hours.  There is an understanding that it is only for about six weeks, that the job must be done and that it’s just part of life in the wine industry.  I am often amazed that in these days of the rights of the individual that no-one complains or that a union of some sort hasn’t evolved.   I’m guessing it might be different if the industry were city based but here in Marlborough there are still bloody hard workers who put the needs of the businesses they work for before their own.


Ready, set, GO!

The fruit is ripening and vintage is almost upon us…the calm before the storm is about to come to an end! 

Aaron is back working full-time at Indevin to help out over the next couple of months with all the fruit coming in.  Today they had their first lot of Sauvignon Blanc coming into the winery, although it is pretty green and being harvested on the early side for someone wishing to make a low alcohol wine.  However, by Easter it is predicted that the Brix (sugar) levels of fruit in local vineyards will see the grape harvest well and truly underway in Marlborough.   I’m guessing employers will be hoping they can just skip needing labour on the Easter stats, but it will be touch and go.   It would also be nice if the rain stayed away over the next few weeks as everyone could do without rot and a mad rush to get all the fruit in at once.

The anticipation of vintage is a time of mixed feelings: there is a sense of excitement – harvest is the climax of a year’s work and it’s all action 24 hours a day.  Winery workers flock into town from all over the world and unite with those in the industry here to get the job done.  But as vintage progresses the fatigue, the lack of family time and the stress can take its toll (Aaron will be working 7pm to 7am with no days off for weeks on end).

For now we wait while the sun does the last of the ripening.  Many vineyards are netted to keep the birds from feasting on the grapes.  With wineries wanting reduced yields I had thought the birds could be great free labour in thinning out the fruit but it’s not quite that simple as half pecked fruit leads to disease problems.  I go walking out through the vineyards most days with Archie although the  impending harvest has challenged my objectives somewhat!  My mission to get Archie to sleep while passing bird bangers is no easy feat and my aim to burn a few kilojoules in the process is un-done by my obligation to taste test the crop.    And the grapes do taste good!  Archie thinks so too…

“Mmmmm grassy tones …

…definitely too sour yet…

“Right O, I’m done taste testing – let me out of here”


cancer testing: a fiasco,a misunderstanding or a mystery?

This post has nothing to do with wine but is something I’ve been pondering …

On Wednesday we went as a family to the funeral of Annabel Cooke, a friend who passed away young after battling cancer.  She was an amazing wife and mother but now Richard and their three young children – Josh, Olivia and Ben- must face life without her.  She was also an adored daughter, daughter- in-law and sister.  She was an incredibly giving person and will be missed in many areas of the Marlborough community.  Tragically she is the third young mum to pass away from our St Mary’s primary school community in the last 3 – 4 years (in October of 2008 we lost Janet McLean to cystic fibrosis and before that Jo MacFarlane, also to cancer), all wonderful women who I often have moments of expecting to see walk cheerfully into the school grounds to collect their kids.   

During the time I spent with Annabel I was amazed by how she continued to put others before herself.  On the evening of her terminal diagnosis she was off to school to a parent helpers’ meeting for school camp. Even in her final days when visiting her in the hospice, dosed up with morphine and in a lot of pain she wanted to know what she could possibly do to help out with the upcoming school gala, she was interested in my family and how they were doing, she loved hugging my baby boy and trying to make him smile, she mentioned having Plunket stuff  to finish, she expressed concern about another cancer sufferer in Blenheim who she thought was doing it harder than her, she wanted to work on scrapbooks for her kids …and this wasn’t someone in denial – she was also busy planning her funeral.

I was stunned at how graciously she accepted her fate and how courageously she faced her suffering.   This was someone who made the decision very early on not to be angry nor to fall into justified self-pity.   As a mum I could only feel gutted at her predicament and couldn’t  imagine how I’d cope if I was facing having to leave my children.  It prompted  me to check my own smear test dates and see if I was due again.  But I knew testing hadn’t saved Annabel despite her being conscientious about it.  I also watched a piece on tv recently about Taihape mother Elizabeth Lennox who was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer despite a series of normal smear test results.  I wondered what sort of fiasco was going on with smear testing – was there incompetence, was someone not doing their job, was there another Bottrill case brewing? 

All this made me pick up the recent Listener (Feb13-19 edition) because of a heading on the cover:” Cancer Test controversy – why you can’t rely on screening to save your life.”  The article was a bit of an eye opener for me as I had misunderstood cancer testing to be fairly full proof.  I was not aware that false results are quite common with cancer screening and that these are not really evidence of negligence as such but are simply a reflection of the limitations of cancer testing.   As the Listener article stated: “About 21 women are likely to  develop cervical cancer each year despite being screened.”  According to Breastscreen Aotearoa “if 1000 women aged 50 to 69 have a mammogram very two years for 20 years, seven will have their lives saved, nine will end up with breast cancer that wasn’t detected by screening and 13 will die despite being screened.”  According to the National Screening Unit, women aged 50 – 69 reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer from 1.42% to 1 % with regular mammograms.  All that boob squashing and anxiety for 0.42%.  And for you blokes, well prostate cancer testing  is probably the most unreliable of all – this time with too many false positives – a large European study is reported to have found that as many as half of all men with screen detected prostate cancer may be being treated unnecessarily.  And I gather that this treatment is no fun either!  It surprised me that testing was so inaccurate.  Don’t get me wrong, I still value cancer screening tests immensely because  there’s no doubt it does save lives – but it’s not full proof.  The New Zealand Cancer Society warn in the Listener article that while they support screening they don’t want it to lead to complacency – in other words, you can’t afford to ignore  symptoms and lifestyle changes just because your test results showed no cancer.  

And then there are the cases of aggressive cancer that strike during the interval between screenings that simply can’t be stopped with current treatment options.   This is the reality Annabel had to face and she was remarkable in the way she accepted this and just got on with making the best of her situation.  She had a very strong Christian faith and she really did trust that God had everything under control.  Even the minister, Rev Michael Treston, said he went to offer her hope but she already had bucket-loads and it did overflow – again she was one the giving.  At her funeral service Michael openly said he could not answer the question of why – an honest answer that I appreciated.  He said it was part of the mystery of God. 

I have another friend who has just had her first child , a little girl who ironically she has named Annabelle.  It’s a lovely name that means ‘beauty and grace’.    The miracle of a new life is just as mind-boggling as the way someone can just be gone from this Earth.   

And so this mysterious thing we call life goes on…

(gee that was getting a bit much… think I need a glass of wine 😉 )


Marlborough Wine festival sold out

This year’s Marlborough Wine Festival has officially sold out of its 8000 tickets (although there are some floating about on Trade Me).  I was interested to see how sales would go as there seems to be an ever increasing number of events competing for the party goer’s dollar.  

 Thousands of New Zealanders went to see ACDC last week including Aaron and Tahlia – I heard an estimate reported on Radio Live that one in forty Kiwis attended the concerts which seems an incredible statistic.   I brought a couple of tickets for Aaron and I back when I was pregnant and under the assumption that I would be able to leave little Archie for the weekend.  I think given the age gap between Archie and Finn I must’ve had selective memory regarding the difficulties with that scenario when breast feeding!  Anyway, much to Tahlia’s delight the concert was a great opportunity for a bit of father-daughter bonding and was somewhat educational… she now knows what dope smells like and how some women are happy to bare their boobs for all!

Tahlia discovered that a school uniform can be cool even if it’s your brother’s and Aaron rediscovered his inner bogan (not too far in! 😉 ) finally finding an excuse to buy a pair of black jeans again.  Thanks to Amie & Paul for this pic and for putting them up in Wellie.

But I digress, I was discussing the multitude of events now competing with our Wine & Food Festival.  We have just had our Blenheim ‘Brews Blues and BBQs’ and ticket sales were well down.   Perhaps ACDC fans are bigger beer drinkers than wine and this concert may’ve drained the bank accounts of those who would usually attend the Blues and Brews.  Others would like to suggest that the drop was due to serious beer drinkers boycotting the event due to this year’s change from serving beer up in glasses to tacky plastic vessels.  The Wine Festival has retained glass (thank goodness) and they still sold out! 

Some locals are also choosing to bypass the Wine Festival for the More FM Winery Tour on the night before at Villa Maria.  But a large proportion of Wine Festival ticket buyers are from out of the region and that’s great news from a marketing perspective.  Many Kiwis are travelling from away despite the fact that the Liqourland Beer Festival is on the same day in Auckland and has just been held in Wellington, while Waiheke Island has just held a wine festival.   So well done to the Marlborough Wine Festival for continuing to draw people to our region to try our vino!  Sadly Fiasco Wines will not be at the festival though – the flip side of the festival’s popularity is a waiting list to have a site there.  However we are not too concerned as it can be quite costly for a small business to afford a site and all Marlborough wines must get some benefit from the way the event markets our region as the wine capital of New Zealand.  If you’re going along – have a great day!

June 2023

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