Santa in the Coonawarra

P1030709With only one week to Christmas Day and fierce heat forecast for this week in Adelaide, my weekend disappeared in the usual ways that conflict gardeners; trying to get the water onto the garden and fit in family functions.


P1030676By Sunday evening – when I usually write up my week’s gardening efforts – I was way behind schedule in packing for my trip to the Coonawarra early Monday morning.



P1030680In this famous wine-growing region on the Limestone Coast one finds those wonderful ‘terra-rossa’ soils that are behind the region’s reputation for fine red wines.





P1030686I’ve been tracking backwards and forwards into the region for more than twenty years now, and it’s during these two days that I will seek out one of those rare creatures, an ‘early adopter’.



P1030679These are those special breed of folk (13.7% of any population) who try things out when they are new and fragile and uncertain, built by those even rarer breed of folk comprising only 2.5% of the population, the ‘innovators’


P1030706So the truck’s loaded up with all the latest measurement gear; the culmination of 24 years of effort to build a sensor that will ‘allow the plants to do the talking’.



P1030702At the Majella Winery ‘the Prof’ welcomes me, as always, with his sunny smile and expansive disposition, and I set out to install these new sensors out in this sixty-year old vineyard.



P1030694By midday the next day the temperatures have risen to the mid-thirties and my work is done.

While I wait for readings to collect and to verify that all is well, I take the usual precautions and hang about town eating a quiet lunch and reading the book from my bag.



P1030698While driving backwards and forwards to nearby Penola, I spot the Santas outside each winery along the busy Riddoch Highway.

So while the gear settles and the heat passes, I get out the camera and snap off shots of all these wonderful country creations.

P1030697Somehow they capture the ludicrous aspect of Father Christmas – in his hot and heavy red suit and thick beard – down-under in the soaring temperatures of the counter-cyclical Australian Christmas.



P1030688By Tuesday evening I’ve done all I can do, and the Prof has gifted me with a carton of rare reds for Christmas. He and his wine-maker will watch the data streaming in from the shiraz and cabernet sauvignon vines and the soil moisture sensors beneath them, looking for signs of stress.



P1030705Now there’s just the long-haul ahead on the road back to Adelaide, taking me through the Padthaway wine region and the sheep-grazing and cropping country stretching up to the base of the Mount Lofty Ranges.




P1030682With less than a week to go before the longest day of the Australian year – midsummer’s eve - the sun sets while I’m still out on the plains between Coonalpyn and Coomandook.





P1030689As the sun flames out in the west a full moon rises in the east – both can be seen simultaneously.




P1030707Here – unexpectedly – is one of those quiet moments I enjoy most in life. The work is done, daily pressures are in abeyance because the rest of the world has knocked off and gone home, I’m headed that way myself and nature is all around spectacularly backlit by this rare sunset.


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