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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!


The Hangover!

 Well it has taken almost a week to get around to the ‘post-party post’…ahhhh I’m getting too old for 4 am bedtimes!!  For those who have seen the movie, The Hangover, the woolshed looked a little similar the morning after our first ever Fiasco party – only there was nothing funny about having a baby to entertain all day and the angry tiger went by the name of Richard, asleep in the shed corner until we gave the drums a blast at 9 am!

I’m pretty sure a great night was had by all but of course ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ and I can say no more other than that the band Remastered were fantastic, the dance floor got a hammering and the woolshed is still standing despite Mr Fiasco’s antics.    We did have plans of speeches at one point but somehow they never eventuated :-).  There were also many folk we didn’t get the chance to have a decent chat with soooooo please know that we loved your company and thank you for coming along.  We also wanted to give a big shout out to our folks for the use of the shed and to all our wider family and friends for their ongoing encouragement and support of Fiasco Wines.  I’ve thrown in some random photos … might have to make it an annual event me thinks!

and eventually….the aftermath…what happened to our classy wine launch?? 😉


An accountant’s dream…or not?

I’ve often thought as I walk through the vineyards that this crop could be described as an accountant’s dream… the vines have just been trimmed and they look so neat and orderly, all set out in straight rows with wires to hold any unruly growth nicely in place.  Each row has a label stating variety and number.

And to add to the appeal, grapes have traditionally been pretty good at keeping the cashbooks in the black…but alas this is no longer an assumption that can be made.  Our local paper tonight reported on the continuing pressure on growers caused by dropping fruit prices with one grower quoted as saying: “It’s a break-even scenario. We’re not making any money.”  Certainly a depressing place to be after all the work that goes into producing a crop.   Aaron & I are fortunate with Fiasco in that we lease our vines from  my folks on a year by year basis and so have little capital invested.  If it all turns to custard we can walk away without too much pain.   It is a different story when you own the vines and I feel for those that have borrowed heavily to establish their vineyards and who now face the prospect of having to pull out their grapes or to on-sell their vineyards at a loss.  It’s going to take time for demand to catch-up with supply and unfortunately there will be some casualties. 

I know there are those who will have little sympathy for grape growers and who will be smiling at their possible demise, labelling them as greedy and driven to viticulture by dollar signs.  However I believe that to borrow substantial amounts to risk on a crop of any sort is gutsy.  Not only are you at the mercy of the weather and a myriad of other natural factors that can destroy your investment but you also risk changes in market demand – consumers can be an unpredictable lot!  To throw your savings into it and give it a go regardless suggests if anything less of an obsession with money.  And if it works these risk takers bring rewards that spread right through their communities.  As a prominent big spender in the industry once said to my Dad, “I couldn’t give a **** if I lost the lot, as long as I’ve still got my wife to cuddle up to at night.”   He risks his money because he knows he has a solid base, he knows what really matters and that this will see him through.

But enough of that, on the positive side the early bunches are looking full of potential and the worldwide recession is supposedly over…roll on the ripening of juicy grapes to taste test daily!


You can almost see the growth

Summer has arrived and with the warm days you can almost see the leaves growing on the vines.  It’s incredible to think just a few months back they looked so barren.  Aaron has just finished wire lifting in the vineyard.  This simply involves lifting wires (that run the length of the rows) up and onto nails (on the posts) to help tame the quick growing vines.  It is hard going if you leave it too long as you then have to battle the weight of the plant and the surprising strength of the tendrils.  

With all the growth and the sheer area of Marlborough planted in grapes, it’s easy to think that there are grapes everywhere!  However it pays to keep in mind that we are but a drop in the bucket of world grape production.  It’s funny to think that places like India produce five times the tonnage of grapes that we do and that Iran makes the top ten as far as land area in grapes goes.  The reality is that most of little ole New Zealand’s grapes are grown in little ole Blenheim and while it may seem that we are swimming in the stuff here, on the world scale each year’s wine really is a limited release.

Anyway, we’re having a couple of days to celebrate a great year.  We are perched up down the Sounds and about to have a vino or two with the friendly folk from Forrest Estate who own the neighbouring bach.  Might have a laugh doing our own wine awards with some blind taste tests of each other’s product.  Though I suspect there will be plenty keen for a beer or a some spirits, as is often the case when winemakers get together and wish to forget all about work!  Happy New Year all – hope 2010 is a beaut for you!  And don’t forget our party on the 23rd of Jan 🙂


Party time!

To our friends and family, to frontline players and sideline supporters, to those who help make Fiasco and those who help drink it…

We’re having a party and you’re invited! 

WHEN?  Saturday January 23rd kicking off @ 7 pm

WHERE?  The old red woolshed in our backyard – go right to the end of Blicks Lane (no 69, off Old Renwick Rd ) in the sunshine capital of Blenheim. 

The Woolshed among the Vines

WHAT?  A chance to get together and have a bit of fun.  There will be plenty of our 09 Fiasco wine to taste and we’ve booked the brilliant local lads of the ‘Remastered’ band to keep the music pumping and to stir up a few dance floor fiascos!   This will be a casual event – there’s no need to break out the black tie and be warned heels could lead to fiascos in the shearing shed!

DO I NEED TO BRING ANYTHING?  Ummmm, those who came to our last big party a good decade or two ago may feel the need to bring a fire extinguisher (there’s nothing like burning down the venue to create a fiasco!), but other than that a plate for supper would be most appreciated and any beverages other than our wine that you may wish to consume.  If you’ve come from away you may wish to stay the night and risk ‘Azza’s bbq brunch to cure any hangover’- feel free to bring a tent and pitch it in the paddock, otherwise you’re welcome to take your chances in the battle for the beds/couches at our place which is a stone’s throw from the woolshed.  Alternatively there’s some fancy accomodation just a few metres down the road at Walnutblock Cottages and of course there are loads of motels in town (about 3 km).

RSVP?  Would be most appreciated to help us set up and sort wine etc.  Just e-mail or drop us a text on 0273048245 or a call on 035782636

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