Thursday, December 6, 2012

Surviving a heatwave in style

Summer arrived two days ahead of schedule last week with temperatures soaring to between forty-three and forty-four degrees around Barham and district by Thursday afternoon. After our very enjoyable but out of character, cool spring, it was a shock to the system I tell you.

Throwing fiscal caution and power bills to the wind, I turned on the air-conditioner and every ceiling fan in the house for about thirty-six hours. At least our heat out here is usually a dry one, like strolling around in a fan-forced oven as opposed to the energy sapping humid heat of the tropics and other places.

As luck would have it the boys and I were dining with the lovely Jo and Don Hearn out at their Restdown Winery on Thursday night. Jo had telephoned late in the afternoon to warn me that their temperamental air-conditioning unit appeared to have a forty-two degree cut-out switch… and had cut-out for the day.

Not willing to concede defeat, Jo and Don had an excellent Plan B: move dinner from the house to the winery.

For those of you who have yet to visit the Restdown Winery (just over half an hour’s drive from Barham), it is an ingenious design of concrete tilt panels. Jo and Don were first inspired by the residents of Coober Pedy, the South Australian outback town 846km north of Adelaide, where an estimated fifty percent of the town’s population live underground in “dugouts” to minimise the harsh extremes of their local climate.

Further viticultural research took the Hearns to Europe where they were impressed by the French technique of using underground tunnels to store their wine and champagne and thereby minimising temperature fluctuations.

In 2002 with the idea of minimising ongoing heating and cooling costs, Jo and Don built their winery. The concrete walls are 200mm thick and the concrete ceiling is 250mm thick with two Whirly Bird Spin Aways in the roof for ventilation. The building is embedded into the side of a sandhill and covered with over a metre of dirt. Native plants growing in the dirt add extra shade and also soak up any rain. The cellar door and only uncovered wall of the winery, faces to the east and limits the amount of sun contact to the building.

The concrete, dirt and plants insulate the winery without the need for powered heating or cooling. During the coldest of winter nights when the outside temperature drops into the minuses, the winery is still fifteen or sixteen degrees. Likewise, during the hottest of summer days when the outside temperature is well into the forties (like last Thursday), the winery remains at a very comfortable twenty-four degrees.

The cellar (where all their delicious Restdown Wines are stored) is at the back end of the building for the best insulation. The front half of the building is where the wine is made; crushing, pressing and fermenting etc…

So there we were last Thursday evening, surrounded by wine bottles and a balmy twenty four degrees, enjoying our sumptuous dinner of roast chicken (locally grown “Chooks for Cooks” from Mardie and Glen Gray’s Little Forest Produce) and a salad, accompanied by a glass of the award-winning Restdown 2011 Semillon and my new favourite non-alcoholic drink for summer – Restdown Verjus and soda. The meal concluded with bowls of (slightly melted) ice cream and fresh mangoes – all in all the perfect remedy for heatwaves! 

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