Life in the bush

By Franz Scheurer


Hopefully none of us is under the illusion that life in the bush is always idyllic and easy; grow a few vegies or fruit, stroll amongst the vines in your vineyard, pat the dog and sit on the rocking chair under the bull-nose veranda of your lovely old farmhouse only to get up to refill your gin & tonic, right? Well… no! I have seen a lot of the remnants of the hard life in the form of abandoned homesteads, ruins in a dry and unforgiving landscape and talked to farmers who are constantly battling draught, floods or bank managers. A few days ago I received some wine samples from Mudgee, from Sue Fairlie-Cunninghame and her husband and with it a lovely letter, which I will reproduce verbatim:


“Thirteen years ago, clad chicly in black and working as Executive Editor: Food and Wine, at the late, much lamented Vogue Entertaining, along with my husband, I had a rush of blood to the head and decided to plant a small vineyard on our very uncomplicated small farm where we fattened steers.


We had history. We were founding syndicate members of Australian wine visionary Len Evans’s Rothbury Estate, David had travelled widely with wine judge and scribe, Lester Jesberg and I had been privileged to visit many vineyards and many diverse wine regions here and overseas. And subsequently to be influenced by such iconic winemakers, educators and vignerons as Brian Croser, David Hoehnen, Bob Roberts, Tony Jordan, Robert Hill-Smith, Dominique Portet, Chester Osborne and Mark Lloyd. And latterly, by a whole brigade of brilliant young modern winemakers who are smart enough to not to saddle themselves with massive debt and winemaking infrastructure but buy the best quality fruit in the best seasons from selected vineyards in diverse regions. Peter Logan springs to mind.


We love wine, we drink our share and we continue on an every widening learning curve. Never in those halcyon Vogue years did I imagine what it would be like to get down and dirty, on my hands and knees, in the mud, and plant 13,000 Shiraz rootlings in the October heat. To wind 7.5 acres worth of dripper lines with thousands of sharp little pigtails. To battle storm and tempest, drought, disease, pests, the vagaries of the seasons and latterly, the reality that the world’s wine industry is in gross oversupply. And to commit to a vineyard which, from day one, has had a most remarkable vigour.


We never intended to make wine. We were happy to grow and sell the best quality grapes we could produce, which we did successfully, for a time. Then, in 1993, Bob Robert’s Huntington vineyard was trashed by hail, he lost his Shiraz and he chose to buy ours. He made a nifty little wine, which won a bronze on release and caused us to think more seriously about winemaking. This will be our fifth vintage.


Together with thousands of others, we have last week officially lost our grape contract and this year, will drop most of our fruit on the ground, which will be tough, given that, like o many others, we invested in maintaining the integrity of our vineyard, on the off chance that we would be amongst the lucky ones, that the rumour mill was working overtime.


Such is agriculture. Having been born to it, I have learnt to be philosophical. The wine industry is a great one, full of endeavour, heroes, brigands and challenges. This year at least, we will again make wine. Next years: Who knows?”


The Vineyard:

This 3.2 ha Shiraz vineyard is situated on Spring Flat, as sub region of Mudgee, 6km east of the township, with its own microclimate. It has to date been frost and hail free and experiences long, cool nights during the ripening period. Soils are sandy loam topsoils; overlying medium clay root-zones with subsoils consisting of slowly permeable to medium clay with overlays weathered and unweathered shale and sandstone.


Now to the wine:


Spring Flat Red Shiraz Viognier 2008

This is a fabulously ‘together’ soft and silky red wine and it is meant to be drunk reasonably young. It is a food friendly wine and benefits from a bit of ‘fat on your tongue’. Its colour is very dark, typical of many Mudgee wines, but it is not highly concentrated, but rather delivers elegance with vibrant fruit flavours and soft tannins. It reminds me (especially in weight) of some of the southern Italian wines like Aglianico, you find in Basilicata, even though it is a ‘Rhone style’ wine. Stewed plums and pistachios on the nose are confirmed on the palate, with a fair whack of vanilla (oak influence) and a definite black cherry lift from the Viognier. Undertones of white pepper with a touch of freshly cut cedar hold the wine together. This is a fabulous wine regardless of cost, but if you look at a RRP $ 22.00 then it’s sensational value.

For orders, call: 02 9908 3421


Mongrel Shiraz Viognier 2008

I must admit I love the name. I was not sure wether ‘mongrel’ refers to the combination of Shiraz and Viognier or a long-lost friendly dog, until I read the press release, and I quote; “Why Mongrel? Shiraz is a notoriously vigorous grape variety. If you stand too long in the vineyard during the growing season, you will become part of the trellis; such is the rapidity of the growth of the foliage. Its vigour is widely known in the region. Strong men pale when commissioned to lift fruit wires to manipulate foliage in order to let sunlight onto the fruit”. Seems to me that mongrel is rather appropriate! The resulting wine is a very quaffable, northern Rhone-style Shiraz. On the nose you’ll detect lots of dark berries with some allspice and mace. The wine is blessed with a terrific mouthfeel, quite soft yet structured tannins and lots of dark chocolate and freshly baked cinnamon bun aromas. The finish is quite long and very pleasant, animating you to reach for a second (or third) glass. Great value for an easy drinking wine!

RRP $ 20.00

For orders, call: 02 9908 3421