Saffron Milk Caps make a comeback


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.

For the last nine years, whenever there’s been a decent drop of rain in late summer and autumn, I’ve strolled down to the steadily growing patch of pine trees to see if this would be the year they fruited. Every year my disappointment has been compounded by the considerable success Prof Wang Yun and Alexis Guerin-Laguette have been having with their trial trees at Lincoln. I’ve concluded that something in my management of the trees when they were young, as well as the overall dryness of the site and perhaps soil conditions has stopped the fungus from thriving.

But this has been a wet autumn — the wettest I’ve measured at Limestone Hills in 17 years. March rainfall was double the average of my period of record (1998 onwards), and so far this month we’ve already hit the April average – and we’re only half way through. The wet started with a big fall at the beginning of March (big enough to cause flooding in Christchurch), followed by more heavy rain in mid-March. Over the last week temperatures have fallen and more rain has left the paddocks saturated. And that’s been enough to get the Lactarius delicious fruiting in a small area of the grass around the pine patch. I shall be watching closely over the next few weeks to see if we get more.

The cool wet weather of the last week has been a real trial for our little pinot noir vineyard. We were hanging on for a few days of fine weather to bring the grapes on a little more, but the weather closed in, botrytis loomed, and we had to harvest the grapes in drizzle, rain and cold. We finished yesterday, and 935kg of good fruit is now in a fermenter beginning its slow transition to fine wine. If all goes well, we should have 60 cases of The Hermit Ram 2014 Limestone Hills Pinot Noir, which will be available in late 2015 ((The 2013 is now in bottle, and tasting rather good. More on that in our next newsletter)). Thanks to all our friends who helped us on Friday and Saturday. Your rewards will not be in heaven, and might involve truffles…