Months and months and months. There has never been a less busy time at Block Eight which is strange, really, because the crops have entered their winter hibernation. What has kept us so busy is everything else.
Facebook followers will have seen Jeff’s updates regarding the bottling of our first ever wine. This truly was a momentous occasion and felt rather full circle. Jeff went to the factory to see it happening and was amazed by the efficiency of it all (I was in Sydney working). You have no idea the steps involved in getting everything ready for the bottling – working constantly with the design team at Pixel Eight to get the label right, working with the label printers, the bottling company, the winemaker… the list goes on. Every tiny decision needed to be made and we’re ecstatic at our branding and the finished outcome. Enough about the design, I hear you yell, tell us about the taste. The first thing is – it’s practically impossible to be objective. The second is that the wine is outstanding. A beauty of a traditional Hunter Semillon. Jeff grabbed a few bottles off the production line and we guzzled them immediately and I have to say, it’s a very very drinkable drop. It’s difficult to imagine just how good it will be after cellaring for five years, which is what the Reserve is intended to be. Naturally we couldn’t help ourselves with those first few bottles and anyone we came into contact with in the ensuing two weeks got to sample some. You were all very encouraging in your responses so we can only hope you weren’t merely being polite. I’m immensely proud of what we have achieved. It’s a proper wine, you know? I know that may sound like the bleeding obvious but one always has the sneaking suspicion that we’re merely playing grown ups but with our experts – and in the incredibly talented hands of Daniel Binet – our wine is delicious. And another weird thing – it doesn’t feel like it’s alcoholic. You know, it’s just juice from those vines up there, it can’t also have an alcoholic kick – but that it does. So when can you get your hands on it?
It will come as a surprise to few that bureaucratic red tape provides a not insignificant number of hurdles for us to jump through in order for you to sample our wares. To sell wine to any of you means we first need an alcohol license. I was told this would take six weeks… well twelve weeks later and I am still waiting. No, they cannot give me an estimate. No, they cannot give me an update. No, there is no way I can sell without one. Indeed. But the real kicker was that we also needed to do a responsible service of alcohol course (RSA) in order to sell wine over the internet. Yep. Well that was six hours of my life I will never get back. I can’t say I learnt much but thankfully Jeff was there to dull the pain. Clearly it’s just another grab for funds. But I shall remain apolitical. Naturally I was the first person to volunteer to play a drunk person – yes people, some of you act like a drunk while others pretend to refuse you service – and you pay hundreds of dollars to do the course – and found myself rather hilarious asking for a double bourbon and coke (get refused), single bourbon and coke (get refused), straight bourbon (get refused), a nip of bourbon then… (get refused) so I say, ‘well I haven’t been refused the previous twelve times I’ve ordered today’ and much stifled laughter ensues. Contrast this with Jeff’s drunk character who tried to pick up the bar lady ‘you’re very pretty’, ‘have you got a boyfriend’, ‘do you want a boyfriend’ and then after repeated refusals announces ‘well then I’ll just go get a prostitute.’ Yes people, in front of the whole class. I was mortified – where does that come from? Anyway, while I can legally serve you alcohol, I can’t legally sell you alcohol so at this point in time, no one is any the wiser. Keep your enthusiasm boiling, thank you friends.
Now we are only four weeks out from bottling our standard Semillon so the juggernaut has sailed (does a juggernaut sail?) and we repeat the whole process all over – labels, printing, bottles, caps etc. The wine still isn’t finished yet so we are cutting this one down to the wire. All reports from the Valley point to 2014 being one of the most amazing crops in living memory. ABC Newcastle interviewed McGuigan who said it’s the best year since the 1960s and we can all expect some pretty amazing 2014 Semillons over the coming years as they are released from / for cellaring. They also interviewed me about feeling the luckiest debut wine producer ever and that, frankly, we both do. Unfortunately for you guys the interview is not available on the internet.
We finally got funding from a bank to continue our build. This, as I may have hinted previously (barely just scratched at the issue surely) caused us untold stress. We were not in debt but simply unable to proceed. Well that has all changed. When we decided to start renting out our house to tourists we had no idea just how popular it would be. Basically, we have had a guest every weekend since we opened, give or take. This income is imperative in getting us ever closer to opening more cabins. The shed conversion is literally weeks away from completion and opening and we’ve been spending our weekends in there (without toilet, running water or kitchen – the joys) edging closer to completion while guests enjoy the house. I must say the space has far exceeded both of our expectations. The beautiful high cathedral ceiling makes it feel rather grand and Jeff’s design has really come together to add both class and character. Okay I admit that when he told me about the paneling (officially known as wainscoting - see I do listen though I think I went to school with him) on the walls I was nervous but over the years I have learnt to subdue this uncertainty and just go with his flow. Foolish, really, to have doubted a single thing. The complete effect is astonishing and it’s just impossible to imagine that you’re inside a shed. We would happily live there (well moreso once the water is running).
The cabins now continue in leaps and other proverbs. The builders have been in erecting the frames and installing the cladding and finally our property no longer looks like a building site. Hard to believe that for six long months it has. We now have a real sense of what the finished effect will be like, and just how generously proportioned the internal dimensions are. We can now stand on the balconies to admire the outlook that our guests will soon enjoy. It’s that exciting phase of the project when things start coming together nicely. We should be able to scrape together enough funds to open one of them within about two months which means we will have the house, the shed conversion and one cabin up for rental (we will bunk in an unfinished cabin – the joys) as the funds from letting will then be injected back into the remaining cabins to get them done. Slightly behind schedule, it’s our hope to have all four cabins operating by the middle of next year. The renting of the house has been a good trial run for us and we have ironed out some of the finer details of offering one of the best experiences in the Hunter. Where do you get home-baked goodies to have with your tea and coffee? At Block Eight of course.
The vegetable garden is in the middle of an overdrive. We’re going sweet potato mad and just about to reach pea, beetroot and Brussels sprouts fever pitch. I’ve made one batch of marmalade from the orange tree but am holding off picking more until the fruit is really sweet and the lime tree has burst out another crop which will be put to good use over coming weeks. I must admit that the gypsy type lifestyle we are currently leading means my time in the kitchen is at a minimum at present. It doesn’t seem to make sense to do a messy batch of jam when guests will be arriving in the next few hours.
Barry is rasping like a three pack a day-er. It does break one’s heart. But I think she has just learnt to get on with life and her affliction does not seem to get in her way. We spent three days building the girls their five star luxury pen-house (oh that’s clever – and for those playing along at home we shall call this Sean Penn) and were quite proud of our achievements. It’s sturdy and big and bold and designer all in one. And all the girls want to do is escape. They still prefer to be free range which given Leroy’s adeptness at keeping foxes away seems to be working well for all concerned.
Poor Leroy is the one suffering the most in this whole rental situation. Given his propensity for unpredictability with humans he has to be locked away in the main shed for forty eight hours. We let him out and in with us for some of it but we were worried he’d go stir crazy in there instead of out hunting like he prefers. In actual fact, however, he appears to enjoy calling the larger space his own, enjoys the peace and quiet and most times is itching to get back in there when we let him out. Sure, sometimes we get a dirty look but that’s what you expect from cats. He’s being very grown up about it all and acknowledges that we all have to do our bit to make this business a success.
The ducks have decided they are petrified of anyone wearing black or red. Any other colour is acceptable and they will eat in close proximity. But black or red sends them scurrying off and onto the dam as though you’re there to pluck and barbecue. They are still a lovely sight from a distance, floating atop the water without a worry in the world.
And while all this craziness babbles along, I did manage to find the time to complete my novel. I'm very happy with the finished product and with all appendages crossed am hoping you will get a chance to get your copy from a store soon. I've asked one of Australia's best literary agents to represent me... and you'll hear more on this subject if there is positivity to share.
Well I do hope the long wait was worth it. I have enjoyed writing this one but hope you can understand that time is not, at present, a luxury. www.blockeight.com.au will be live by end of June - see youse there!
don't let affection stray away