Saffron Milk Caps make a comeback

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It’s been a long time — June 2005, in fact — since we’ve had saffron milk cap mushrooms off our little trial patch of Pinus radiata infected with the gourmet fungus, but this year’s wet autumn has really got the mushrooms moving. After 113 mm of rain in March and 54 mm so far in April, the ground is more than moist, and a myriad of different mushrooms are popping up all over the farm.

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Tonight’s dinner, and vineyard notes…

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One ripe bianchetto truffle, found for me by a rabbit, destined for tonight’s dinner. Nine grams, good strong aroma, just rolling around on the soil surface waiting for me to pick it up. Easiest truffle harvest ever. And there were a few more bianchetto in the ground waiting to ripen. This truffle growing business is a doddle ((No, it isn’t.)).

Meanwhile, followers of my tweets and/or the Limestone Hills Facebook page will know that on Saturday we picked our pinot noir. Six of us ((Thanks Neil, Graham and Denise, Alex and She Who Must Be Obeyed.)) picked the lot in four hours, and just under 450 kg of fine fruit is now sitting in a fermenter at Crater Rim turning itself into wine. Plus we have a few cases of our 2011 Côtes du Waipara recovering from bottle shock in the shed. I think I’ll open some of the ’09 with the truffle…

Spring sprung (last truffle)

Time to declare the truffle season at Limestone Hills officially over. This morning we had truffled scrambled eggs for breakfast with daughter, nephew and niece (there’s a bit left over to go into a ripe camembert), and I very much doubt there any more to be found. Rosie (left, photo courtesy of Trish Coleman from the Norwester Café who brought her two poodles up here yesterday for a truffle training session) is beginning to play hide and seek with truffle-scented toys, but won’t be ready for serious work before next season. It’s been a reasonable season — spectacular production (750gm) off one tree has enabled us to sell a few truffles. Highlight was the look on Jonny Schwass‘ face when he dug up his first truffle, and on Camille’s face when we enjoyed the mammoth dessert platter at Jonny’s restaurant a week later. The low point was having to consign a 200 gm truffle to the freezer because it was rotten…

Meanwhile, the pinot and syrah are beginning to drink nicely, though it will be the New Year before I let anyone have any. We have one order for the syrah, which has been described as “delicious”. The 2010 grapes were a disappointment — mainly because the crop was decimated by birds — so we decided not to make any wine. We are changing the netting system for 2011, which should dramatically cut our losses. The big question is whether we make the wine ourselves in true garagiste style, or if a friendly local winemaker can persuaded to help out. Watch this space… Pruning in the vineyard is well under way, I’m planting 50 new truffle trees (evergreen or holm oaks, aka Quercus ilex), we have a dozen new fruit trees to go into the orchard, and there’s some pruning and soil aeration to get done in all three truffières. Spring work piles up all too quickly, and a puppy fixated on sleeping in my lap is proving bad for progress on the next book. But one look from those brown eyes, and who cares?

The purple fingers of oblivion

The purple fingers are from the wine we bottled today: 22.5 cases of Faultline pinot noir and 11.5 cases of Côtes du Waipara syrah, oblivion a warm place under a duvet in the near future. The bottling was done by hand, which means with a syphon into the barrel of wine (racked off its lees), into bottles which were corked by hand (using a wonderful old, slightly rickety, machine with a big lever on top), capsules heat-shrunk on to the tops, and then packed into cases. I took the siphon station, hence the purple fingers — which are now more black than red as oxidation runs its course. The wine now has to rest for at least six weeks to recover from the shock of bottling, and will improve further with time. If I can resist the temptation…

Yesterday we harvested the 2010 pinot vintage: about a barrel’s worth, as last year. The depredations of birds accounted for at least the same again — cue much discussion about improvements to netting for next year, focusing on the use of contrivances designed to push the nets out and away from the bunches of grapes so that the birds can’t just push their beaks through to the fruit. It’s far too early to say how good this year’s wine will be, but I have to be down at Waipara West by 9am in the morning to process the fruit through a de-stemmer and into a fermenter. Then it’ll be regular visits to plunge the caps. Rob the winemaker will make sure nothing goes wrong.

Thanks to all our friends who helped over the two days, especially Barry & Sue who did both days, Peter, Richard, jet-lagged Charles, Scott and Camille’s aged parent Norman, who picked through the cold drizzle and demolished the pig(*) with great relish, and Julie who arrived in time for the pig and stayed to help with the bottling. Your collective company made working a pleasure.

(*): Being a half a shoulder of pork, boned and rolled with the skin on, treated with a dry rub of Louisiana spices (paprika, cumin, chilli, cayenne, pepper & salt, brown sugar, etc: recipe originally nicked from Trevor in London at least 15 years ago, and now a family favourite), then roasted in a low oven for at least three hours (preferably longer — I usually use the Webber BBQ and some mesquite chips, but it was a bit wet for that), served with a sweet and sour garlic sauce (simplicity: vinegar, brown sugar, lots of garlic boiled together), baked kumara (Pacific sweet potato), and a green salad. Not forgetting some substantial wine — it needs to be to deal with the robust flavours of the pork. Barry brought a meaty Aussie GSM, which was more than up to the task.

Wine update: grapes nearly ready…

The 2010 grape harvest is getting closer: the grapes are ripening well, and we’re aiming to pick them on Easter Sunday. Time to muster friends and family and offer them a good feed… This year the wine is being made by our neighbours at Waipara West, and I’ll be helping out by doing some of the plunging. The ’09s will be going into the bottle the following day, and these are the latest versions of the labels I’ve designed. Nothing will be available for two to three months, because the wine has to rest a while after bottling. Should be ready just in time for the truffle season…