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Passing Clouds

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


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