Starlings of the Slipstream

Mclaren_nets It comes down to this: it’s the final three weeks of harvest before the premium reds finish their final stretch of developing full flavor profiles and are put to the press. It’s been the worst year of drought in Australia since 1982 (looking at 100f plus this weekend), and the growers can feel the pain more than anybody. The fruit will be fine, and the winemakers think it will be outstanding, plenty of gorgeous chocolate and coffee characteristics, however, the problem is that there isn’t any. Well, that’s an overstatement, but the number of tons we estimated will be dramatically less than expected. For example, we had hoped for 1300 tons from the Barossa, but that regions top viticulturist, Adrien Hoffman, sees at the most 800. It’s out of our control, as our winemaker Chris Ringland so poignantly put it, “when there’s no grapes, there’s no grapes.” So, there are no grapes, and what remains are under attack from the final assailant: the starling population. Yanni_pappasFriends at Channing Daughters in Long Island have told me tales of seeing blocks of grapes disappear in a matter of hours from swarms of these fast moving birds. Nets are up on the prized sections of vineyards in the Barossa and McLaren Vale to protect what’s left. Netting is expensive, so obviously it doesn’t go everywhere. There are random shots fired into the air by gas guns to startle birds (and me), and there are glittering pieces of tinsle sparkling, also known as reflector tape, in the vineyards; starlings don’t like those either, at least until they figure it out. When these deterrents don’t work, and I’m not so sure they do, you can always just shoot the little bastards. As Yanni Pappas, an esteemed grower in the Vale, said to me out of frustration yesterday, remembering he already lost half his crop to the drought, “If I get to ask God one question, it will be “why starlings?”” Mine might be “Why mosquitoes?”, but then again my livelihood isn’t at risk when my ankles get bit.Mothers_fallen_babies

Say what you want about me being on an extended vacation. I don’t really care anymore. Life here is just easier and finer than NYC. It’s also quite a bit warmer. I feel like I’ve cheated death by getting two summers in a row. But let’s face it, I’m not here to take the hourly work from the pickers (just kidding). Star_of_greece
I’m here to sort a few things out and deliver back to winterland some vicarious warmth. After working at the winery in the heat, again, and I know it sounds rough, it’s easy and brilliant to go for a run on the different beaches. Maslin Beach, with its stratified cliffs, is usually quiet due to the unclad (nudes) beach bordering it. The water is warm, and the sand so soft. Port Willunga, to the south, has the Star of Greece Restaurant perched on a cliff where i had my best meal yet, sitting on a stool outside watching that burning, mad sun finally go down.


I’m already thinking about what happens after vintage here, which could be the earliest in many years due to the heat. I have my eye on a special blue lady to take myself and any of you who want to fly over here through the outback. Bring your best Havana hat and sunblock.