Truffle harvest newsletter #2 (June 2013)

Winter is here: Ground frosts are crisping up the morning grass but the sun is still shining and early winter is looking green and pleasant in the Waipara Valley. Truffle dogs are out and working in the region’s truffieres, but Rosie the truffle machine still finds time for a little rest and recreation:

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(Rosie reviews the valley from the steps at Black Estate)

Our Burgundy truffles are back in production, with a very nice 240 gram truffle delivered to Saggio di Vino in Christchurch last Friday, and a 38g truffle despatched in a slice of ripe brie and in breakfast scrambled eggs for visiting friends. Gareth has counted a further 19 truffle “push ups” — truffles pushing up through the soil surface — so there will certainly be more available over the next couple of months. If you are interested in sampling our Burgundy truffles as they ripen, please email Gareth and he’ll add you to the list. First come, first served, as always…

Bianchetto truffles: We’re hoping to start harvesting good ripe truffle very soon, and expect to be able to despatch existing orders in the next week or two. Once again, let us know if you want to add your name to the list.

Périgord black truffles: Rosie’s sniffing around on a weekly basis at the moment, but as yet we have no sign of ripe truffle.

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Truffle Harvest newsletter #1 (May 2013)

Back in May, I started a Limestone Hills truffle harvest newsletter. I’ve just sent out the fourth in the series – the last for the year. I had intended to parallel post the newsletters to the blog, but for a number of reasons (one of which has been dealt with by moving the Limestone Hills site to a new web host), I never got round to it. This, therefore, is by way of catching up. It was originally mailed out on May 7th. To sign up to our newsletter, fill in the box in the sidebar.

The story so far: summer 2013 has been a wonderful time for Burgundy truffles, and our tiny little patch of trees continues to astonish us with its productivity. I blogged about the most recent record-breaking monster – all 533g of it – here, and the earlier 529g big boy featured on our Facebook page and in The Press. Both truffles were sold to Saggio di Vino, who made excellent use of the beautifully aromatic truffles. Burgundy truffle has also been on the menu at Black Estate in Waipara (excellent truffle butter), and served at Roots in Lyttleton. So far this year we’ve produced nearly 5 kg of truffles, but not all were saleable. We’re still learning about quality control with this species, and we’re not willing to let truffles go if they’re not going to give a good account of themselves when they hit the plate.

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Rosie’s first truffle (again)

Here’s the first truffle of the 2011 season, found by trainee truffle hound Rosie ten days ago. We’ve been stepping up her training over the last few weeks, and she’s become very proficient at finding baits (35mm film canisters with small holes, truffle oil on cotton wool inside) buried around the garden. But before I’d begun the truffière training — she has to get used to the discipline of walking up and down the rows of trees — she found her first real truffle. And just to prove a point, she did it in front of a collection of scientists (including the eminent Prof Liu from China) and local growers. You could say I was pleased.


It wasn’t all good news. The truffle season proper won’t get underway until late June, and the one Rosie found was beginning to rot. Some damage to the top of the truffle — insects, perhaps — had triggered rot, which in turn started the ripening process at least enough for Rosie to sniff it out. The bad news: a 60 g truffle lost, $180 rotting in the fridge. It’ll go into the freezer shortly, to be used in spring to spray extra spores around in non-fruiting parts of the truffière.

In other farm news, we harvested a small quantity of very nice syrah grapes last weekend. They’re now at the tender mercy of winemaker Theo Coles — who we’ll be working with over the coming year to get the vineyard really humming. With Theo providing expertise and doing the tricky stuff, and me doing the boring labour, we’re hoping to make the 2012 vintage a real expression of the terroir. In the meantime, limited quantities of the 2009 pinot and syrah are now available. If anyone’s interested, please email me for further information.

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…