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Passing Clouds

M Leith
26 April 2015 | M Leith

The Winemaker's Wife

You know you are winemakers wife when there is never any wine at home to cook with.


Before I deal with this very serious issue of no wine in the house, I would like to share that cooking is something the WMH and I have in common. I have to admit that my absolute passion for cooking really started to spark when I used to drive up every second weekend to the vineyard at Kingower to hang out with my future to be WMH. As Kingower is quite an isolated country town we would organise groups of friends to come up and hang out at the winery and stay the weekend, which was usually necessary as much wine was usually consumed on these weekends! I used to thoroughly enjoy watching the WMH choose a random protein from the butcher and then he would prep the meat with garlic, a lot of red wine and herbs massaged into it and would finally be placed on the outdoor grill – cooked to perfection! We would work out different vegetables and accompaniments to go with it.  All friends, hands on deck to help with the peeling of beetroots or cleaning of potatoes a production line would take place and the feast would begin to form it shape. Many happy times up at the Kingower property for us and our friends. I see it is as our courting days – must be love when you drive for 2 ½ hours one way to see they guy you like hanging out with!

Back to the main issue, of no wine! What! I hear you say? Yes, the reason I am writing this particular blog is that I was reminded of this statement by the WMH a few nights ago, when as I was about to embark on cooking my favourite risotto dish, until…no wine! In quickly checking the fridge and the cellar, no white wine could be found!  Quickly texting the WMH, crisis was diverted, but little did I know that the mid range Chardonnay which I normally use in the cooking was sold out, so instead the top range was brought home. Now, I do believe that you should cook with good wine, it also means you can have a glass whilst you are cooking, but would I really put the top range Chardonnay in the risotto? According to the WMH himself ‘Yes, why not?!’

This particular risotto comes from a treasured Italian cookbook that my best friend, who is Italian, gave to me and true to form it requires 2 cups of white wine, this is quite a lot but it does make the best risotto and I am glad to say that I am pretty good at nailing this risotto. This week’s risotto was prawn, lemon zest and spring onion, it was delicious.  It probably did help with the 2 cups of Fools On The Hill Chardonnay!!

Other times, where I have been caught out with no wine at home is when cooking on the weekends and family is coming up from Melbourne. Usually we do a lamb or a slow cooked casserole and all these require quite a good sloshing (this is the technical cooking word for it) of red wine. One Easter, I was in charge of marinating a shoulder of lamb with rosemary, garlic, lemon, olive oil and half a bottle of red wine. Again, as I was mixing everything in the bowl I looked up to see all bottles sitting on the kitchen bench – empty – except for one! If any of my readers are Passing Clouds wine fans, you will shortly note that the bottle of wine that was available for the marinating of the meat was a pretty top range wine that many people cellar for 10 years…..The Graeme’s Blend.  Ok, so much thought was given to using this wine, it either meant having to go up to the local bottle shop and purchase a more appropriately priced marinating meat bottle of wine or contact the WMH and seek approval of what was about to be done with this bottle of wine.  That particular Easter dinner was the best, family appreciated the Graeme’s Blend lamb and it was cooked to perfection by the WMH.

Even though I jest about never having any wine in the house there are times where there is abundance! As food and wine matching is quite important to the WMH it is essential that if we are hosting a dinner party that the correct wine is bought to complement what we are cooking. I suppose the classics are Pinot Noir with duck or a dry crisp Riesling with scallops.  We have been fortunate enough to attend some fabulous winemaker dinners where a chef and winemaker match the food and wine together; this can be a real treat.

As I write this blog, the WMH has the porterhouse steaks on, beetroots and potatoes roasting in the oven – cooking up a feast. I was just asked what wine would I like to have with dinner? I look over and the bottles up for grabs are 2013 Angel, 2013 Syrah, 2003 Pinot Noir or the 2001 Graeme’s Blend. What would be your best food/wine match?

Time Posted: 26/04/2015 at 12:49 PM
M Leith
8 March 2015 | M Leith

The Winemaker's Wife

You know you are a winemakers wife when your family dog is named after a grape variety.

Dear Reader, are you a dog person or a cat person?

If you asked me this question 5 years ago, I would have absolutely said cat person. I love cats, always have. As a child I was envious of any friend who had a cat and I used to befriend all the cats of our neighbours.  Most knowing was Tigger, who lived next door to us. He was the only cat that made me believe that cats had 9 lives, as Tigger used to go through his quite regularly. He did live to a very old age and with only 3 legs, due to a traffic accident.

After many years of coming to terms that my Dad was allergic to these furry creatures and hence no cat for me, once I left home and moved to the country I got myself a cat! The reason I love cats so much is their independent nature, as my Grandma used to say “ you don’t own a cat, they own you!” I rescued Jinsky from the RSPCA in Ballarat, she was 1 of 7 in a litter that were abandoned under a house. It is also true to say that a cat will always choose its owner. As I knelt down to play with all the kittens that were available to adopt there was one kitten that had spied me out.  She had attached herself to my handbag and was trying to get inside. She had a cute pink nose, mostly white and grey with a variety of spots and tiger stripes. There wasn’t much I could do, Jinsky was mine or I was hers!

6 months previous to me adopting Jinsky, the WMH had also brought another animal into our life.  Tempranillo, not only a delicious Spanish grape variety, but also the official name of our beautiful black and tan Kelpie. Nillo (pronounced Neo) has been the WMH’s loyal friend since 2010. When the WMH decided to get a dog, it was to his luck that a farmer up near Rheola had a litter of Kelpie’s and this is where Nillo was adopted from. To my delight I was taken on the day to collect Nillo and I remember seeing 8 identical Kelpie pups jumping all over each over – they were adorable. Kelpie’s are known for their loyalty to one owner, the WMH and Nillo have a bond that is unbreakable.  Nillo follows him everywhere and is noticeably sad if he is left behind for any particular reason. As a Kelpie it is important that these dogs get lots of exercise and Nillo certainly fell on his paws when the local winemaker chose him to be his winery dog.

So, in our tree change house we were a pretty happy family unit – Cat, Dog and each other. I started to enjoy watching the interactions of Jinsky and Nillo play out, they were starting to become best buddies. Nillo always showed patience with Jinsky, even when she would spring out from behind the couch and pretend she had caught some wild beast. They would sleep together in the lounge room and Jinsky could be found grooming Nillo before bedtime.

All was looking calm and happy with our animals, but as with all puppies, you have to understand that at some point they will get up to some sort of mischief. Well for me, you definitely know you are a winemaker’s wife when your WMH’s dog ends up on kidney dialysis from eating a bucket of fermented grapes! It is easy to write about this now, because as I type Nillo is lying on the floor in front of me; living and breathing. In Nillo’s first vintage at the age of 1, he was loving the hustle and bustle at the winery; so many people to throw the ball for him and lots of new things to smell.  The WMH was confident that Nillo was behaving himself, and did not really worry that he was sniffing around the grapes that had fallen out of the press and were littering the winery floor. We are not exactly sure how many grapes he ate that day, but I can tell you that he was not a well puppy dog that evening. At home, it was like he was drunk, he could hardly walk straight and the panic started to kick in that something serious was happening. WMH took Nillo to the VET and we were told that grapes were highly toxic to dogs and their kidneys could begin to shut down. It was decided that Nillo would be put on dialysis for the weekend and fingers crossed that he would make it through the night. Growing up, I never really had any pets apart from budgerigars and fish. So this was the first time, I really had to deal with the feeling of losing a pet. It was hard to see my WMH go through watching his beloved friend in pain and having to decide what the most humane path was for his Kelpie. Over a weekend, Nillo was looked after and cared for by our local and wonderful VET and to our delight we saw a huge improvement.  Nillo was allowed to come home and rest. Jinsky was also aware that her buddy had been away and was not well. Her maternal instinct kicked in and she licked Nillo’s paws and groomed his face to make sure that he was properly looked after. After a while he made a full recovery, but his grape grazing days were over. Although always watched at Vintage time, Nillo seemed to learn pretty quickly that grapes were not his food of choice.

Nillo is such an important part of the winery, his best job is annoying customers to constantly play ball with him or help the WMH on bird patrol to scare the birds away. Nillo is also a very important part of our family, not only having a plutonic relationship with Jinsky, but the beautiful bond we are beginning to see shape between our 17 month old son, who loves throwing balls for Nillo and is just as excited to see his Dad in the evening as well NEEEOOOO!

Having always been a cat person, I am glad to say now that I am also a dog person.  Nillo has turned me into a dog lover, he is such a gentle and well natured dog that I wish everyone could own a Kelpie. Nillo and Jinsky are harmonious in their living together, although as usual the cat rules the house!



Time Posted: 08/03/2015 at 12:59 PM
M Leith
1 February 2015 | M Leith

The Winemaker's Wife

You know you are a winemaker's wife when you become a winery widow during the months of February and May...

Before you start sending condolence cards and flowers, please let me explain! The WMH is alive, healthy and well, but it’s vintage! When speaking to my other fellow winemaker wives this word has many meanings. There is an unspoken law that when it is vintage we understand that our partners go into battle for 3 months. Each vintage is different; as Mother Nature is the CEO of all wineries, it is up to her as to how it is going to be.  

So how do I know that vintage has started?

Starting in February the daylight hours of seeing my WMH begin to diminish. Much focus and attention is given to the vineyard, winemaking and the weather. WMH becomes obsessed with the weather, it’s like a bride leading up to her wedding day – but even more detail is necessary. I have to say that it actually becomes an obsession. I will also add that the meteorologists have absolutely no idea, which is frustrating and also like playing a game of Russian roulette. The perfect weather needed is sunshine, a little bit of rain but not too much, some wind and absolutely no humidity.  Not too much to ask for really!

From early vintage the WMH battles with the vineyard, hoping that this year he will have the quality and quantity that he hopes for.

By March the WMH is starting to talk in another language, on the phone to growers you hear words like baume` and veraison. Growers start to get itchy feet and need counselling advice on whether to spray, pray or pick their fruit.

Autumn arrives and the harvest season truly commences. The WMH begins the dawn to dusk patrols. As one farms with nature, it also means that you have to try and control some aspects of it. Birds also seem to enjoy the taste of grapes and the epic bird patrolling begins. With all hands on deck, gas guns, a scary man and a bird radar detecting system, the WMH tries to outwit these pesky birds – there are wins and losses. 

As the winery widow you have to understand that the WMH usually works a 7 day week, its just part of the vintage routine.  You also understand that no planning can take place during these months, each vintage is just so unpredictable. However in 2011, we decided to get married during vintage. Yes, absolutely crazy! In planning the wedding I was allowed 15 minutes in the evening to run through any ideas/important decisions that needed to be made. It required me to be organised and luckily for me the WMH had total faith in my wedding planning. The day was perfect and we got our beautiful autumnal photos, which is why we decided on a May wedding in our beautiful town of Daylesford. Of course the honeymoon was not straight away, this was postponed to July, as the WMH was picking fruit the day after the wedding!

As the 3rd month approaches and when you think you will never see your WMH again or have a conversation longer than 10 minutes, you hear the relieving words: “Last of the fruit will be in by the end of the week”. This means that the hard yakka of early mornings and late nights will soon come to an end.  The person you called husband will be able to eat dinner with you and heaven forbid, he may actually get a weekend off!

Vintage makes you appreciate all the good things about being married to a winemaker. You know vintage has to happen, it also allows him to earn a crust and sell the product that he loves making.  

Although I do thank Mother Nature for winter when the vines go to sleep; so we can spend time as a family, regroup and do it all again the following year.



M Leith
1 January 2015 | M Leith

The Winemaker's Wife

Welcome readers, to what I hope will be a humorous and eye opening journey in to the wife of a winemaker. 

I have been a winemaker’s wife for 3 and half years, but have known my winemaker husband (WMH) for 7 years. In this time my wine experience has changed dramatically and I can truly tell you that there is more to wine than it being red or white.

But firstly, I am going to confess something….I never used to be that interested in wine, I used to be a house red or white girl! Yes, I used to bypass the wine list and just drink whatever.  Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t because I did not know about wine. I was brought up in a family that shared and celebrated with good wine. As children, my brother and I were constantly put in the car for family holiday trips to a wine region of Australia, where my parents would buy up big and stack the car with cases of wine from their favourite wineries.

Somewhere in my 20’s I was just in a non-caring role of what wine I drank, as long as it was cheap, alcoholic and easy to order I was happy. However, this all changed when meeting my WMH. No, we did not meet in France romantically under the vines, instead it was jugs of Sangria, bottles of Cerveza and the beautiful town of Seville in Spain where I fell in love with him. From there my education into wine began.

So is it that simple, that wine is red or white?

It is no mystery that when grapes are harvested that the skins are red or white, but it is the magic that happens during vintage time in the winery that constantly amazes me, and that my WMH can turn these humble berries into delicious elixir.

Yes, my WMH produces red and white wines and what we end up drinking on the wine release day is a celebration, of the blood sweat and tears that have made up that particular vintage. Winemaking definitely has its romantic connotations, I am sure some of our friends believe that the WMH and I sit and look out at the grapes each night and sit under them each afternoon, but as my WMH states, its farming with God! When I look out at the vineyard I see hard work, stress and constant care that is taken to grow and harvest these smallest of fruits.

So what happens now when I am ordering wine? Well, firstly I go straight for the wine list! Yes, I enjoy perusing the reds and whites to see if I know any of the wines or I have the chance to order something new.  I now know my favourite wine; Pinot Noir, so I always try a new winery of this varietal to see if it stands up to my favourite.

I drink wine now, with much more appreciation and care for the liquid that my glass holds, just because I know of the journey that it has gone through. So, dear reader, maybe the next time you order a glass of wine you too will think about the humble grape and the place it originated from and how it ended up in your glass?  If you have had to choose red or white….which would you choose?

Time Posted: 01/01/2015 at 1:52 PM
Cameron Leith
9 November 2014 | Cameron Leith

A Winemaker's Wanderings

Dear Readers,

We have hit the ground running on another season. A dry start - Phil Adam whom we buy grapes from hasn't seen his dam this low at this time of year - ever, even right through the ten-year drought. Musk is looking good though, with nice growth. We'll start shoot thinning there tomorrow. It will reduce out crop (which is a good thing for quality), but most importantly it will give us better balance and better air flow through the canopy reducing the risk of disease pressure from downy and powdery mildew.

We put a truffiere in a couple of weeks ago. I had been thinking about it for some time as I had heard people had had success growing them in the cool climate of Tasmania on volcanic soils, which is what we have and we certainly have a cool climate. Georgie Paterson who trains truffle dogs had also planted a small truffiere down the road from us in Trentham, which I had heard on the grapevine, had just started to produce this season. So off I went to Trentham and had a chat to the very helpful Georgie who encouraged me, as the key seemed to be getting the soil right and I could utilise my viticulture skills to do so. She also said that Kelpie's make excellent truffle dogs, so Nillo will be kept in a job!

Soil preparation was intensive. Soil samples were taken and sent off to the lab for analysis. The lab then sent the results to a specialist in soil preparation for truffles, who then called me and explained things in bewildering detail for 40 minutes. It basically equated to up to 5 tonnes per hectare of lime and dolomite applied to create a calcareous soil which the truffle requires. The important thing though - our soil was capable of producing truffles!

So I called Tim from Truffles Australis (the very person I had heard was producing truffles in Tasmania) as they also sell inoculated oaks. I placed the order (after asking more questions) and was informed they would be arriving in a week.

Daz was hastily called and we installed the irrigation, chisel ploughed the huge volume of lime and dolomite and planted the trees. Four days of hard work, digging trenches, holes and fixing chisel ploughs that hadn't been used for 15 years!

We planted two species of oak - Quercus robur or English oak and Quercus ilex or holly oak, both inoculated with the black truffle (tuber melanosporum).

So the 100 oak trees are growing well now and we wait patiently for 3 years if we're lucky, but most likely 5-6 until they produce their bounty.

We look forward to serving them at the Passing Clouds cafe, which is now in planning - watch this space.

We grafted two rows of Shiraz at Musk over to Pinot Noir a couple of years ago, and if we play our cards right, we'll get a small crop off them this year. It won't be a commercial volume, but they are a different clone for us (777) and I will make a small batch up to see what kind of wine they produce. I will blog about this as we go which will hopefully answer a long-standing question I get - 'how do I go about making a small batch of wine?'


Cameron Leith

Cameron Leith
30 August 2014 | Cameron Leith

A Winemaker's Wanderings

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be many blogs of mine, mainly on wine – everyone likes that right? How its grown and made and generally what one gets up to in the day to day of a family owned winery. It’s one of the great joys of the job I find, that every day is different apart from pruning, when every day’s the same!


What I would love to know is what you the reader are interested in. Do you want to know about how wine is made and grapes are grown? Or are you more interested in what living on the land and ‘share farming with god’ is like? Perhaps you would like to know more about the ups and downs of running a family business? What ever it is, I would be keen to hear your thoughts.


We had the first real glimpse of spring last week, giving us the opportunity to get out into the vineyard in preparation for budburst. Pruning is now finished so we’ve got time to do some last minute vineyards jobs at the estate vineyard in Musk, we took some soil samples last week and the results came back showing a couple of things that could be tweaked so they have been ordered and we are hoping they will arrive before the next stretch of good weather arrives, so they can be applied in relative comfort.


Then it’s just a matter of mulching the canes, and finishing of the trellis repairs and we are ready to go for another season at Musk.


There’s still quite a bit to do at the Vaughan Springs vineyard. It’s on a frost prone site and the best defense we have there is pruning late to delay budburst by a week or two. There’s no sign of wooly bud or sap flow there yet, but it has to be checked regularly from now one, as soon as wooly bud appears, we have to go hard to get it all pruned before bud burst occurs. The pruning team is on standby as they have finished pruning all the other vineyards that they do, its just Vaughan to go for them.


We run this vineyard organically so our main way of controlling grass at this time of year is sheep. They are in there at the moment on loan from a local farmer, we normally leave them in there until either they run out of food or the buds break - as the sheep far prefer tender young vine leaves to boring old grass. Like the compromise that has be reached between the viticulturalist who often wants to get his grapes into the safety of the winery before the winemaker wants them to, the farmer always wants to get his sheep into new, plentiful pasture before the grass is as low as the viticulturalist desires.


The good weather also gave us a chance to get started on the soil prep for our Truffiere, more on that next week.

Time Posted: 30/08/2014 at 12:45 AM