Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga »

Todd Alexander's witty tale of a tree change to the Hunter Valley

By Paula Wriedt
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<i>Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga</i> by Todd Alexander

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga by Todd Alexander [©Todd Alexander]


Every now and then you stumble upon a book that is totally charming and full of surprises. This is such a book. It follows the story of a corporate couple from Sydney who embark on a tree-change in the Hunter Valley.

It's a hilarious recount of their rollercoaster adventures that will make you laugh out loud, shed the occasional tear and cheer them on in making their dreams a reality.

Todd Alexander and his partner, Jeff, had had enough of the furious pace of life in inner Sydney and decided to throw caution to the wind and buy 100 acres of land in the Hunter Valley. Thus, begins their immersion in cooking, renovating, farming and, much to their own surprise, wine making – hence the delightful title of the book Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga.

I will admit it was the title that first caught my attention, not just because I have been known to enjoy the odd glass of wine or two, but because my late mother’s name is Helga. She had a great sense of humour and would have been delighted to know that someone had named a very large pig Helga.

This book is a charming and entertaining account of the challenges that Todd and Jeff encountered in making their dream tree-change a reality. Todd has an honesty in his writing that ensures that readers can’t help but become emotionally invested in their story from the outset.

Todd admits early on in the book that he had a secret desire to be like much revered cook and business woman, Maggie Beer. Indeed, it was after a visit to the Barossa Valley, and a stay in a dingy bed and breakfast with way too many hideous net curtains, that their thoughts turned to the lack of quality country getaways and their increasing disillusionment with city life.

Eventually finding a property in the Hunter Valley that was within their budget, the blokes ended up, almost accidently, with a vineyard as well.  Given that neither of them knew a single thing about wine, except how to drink it, they faced an uphill battle immediately. The following chapters of the book are peppered with amusing stories of trial and error in bringing the neglected vines back to life, thanks to the help of the generous locals.

The wine making tales take you an emotional rollercoaster of laughing, and at other times near tears at the problems they encountered. You can’t help but celebrate at the end when they finally produce a surprisingly drinkable wine. I will admit to reading the last part of the book snuggled up on the sofa on a cold Hobart afternoon with a good glass of red. By this stage I felt so attached to these likeable blokes that I held up my glass in a silent "cheers" to them.

Some of the most hilarious stories in the book revolve around the amusing tales of the growing menagerie on the property. Every animal was named and the vivid storytelling ensures you conjure up images of Rodney, Billy and Helga the pigs, Winston and Wesley the goats and Leroy the cat. One of the chickens, Lizzie Birdsworth, who evidently had a limp, we’re told used to run into the villas and perch on guests’ sofas if they left their doors open.

As well as this heart-warming story, the book has a lovely surprise at the end. A selection of recipes that are mentioned throughout the book, and then some. Todd and Jeff turned vegan after getting so attached to their animals, as well as having successfully propagated a plentiful vegetable garden, so the recipes are all vegan.

As my daughter has recently opted to be vegetarian the recipes have already had a good testing in my kitchen, with the Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Garlic, Chilli and Shallots a big hit. The Pumpkin Burritos with Beans and Rice were also delicious. Sweet tooths won’t be disappointed either, with a great selection of vegan-friendly treats included.

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga is a laugh out loud, beautifully written book about following your dreams to discover “what could be”.  Todd’s words have certainly done justice to their story.

Having visited the Hunter Valley, I could envisage the beautiful area that Todd and Jeff decided to move to and create stylish accommodation for visitors. It’s definitely made me want to return to the region, stay at their property, drink their wine and importantly meet Helga the Pig. I guarantee you will come away with the same feeling.

 

About the reviewer: Paula Wriedt is a self-confessed foodie.  Whilst she loves her job running the small charity Cystic Fibrosis Tasmania, her real passion is food.   She lives in Kingston with her two teenage children who have inherited her love of cooking so her house is always filled with the welcoming smells of delicious food. 

As a former State Minister for Tourism Paula is passionate about Tasmanian produce and our beautiful island state.  Travelling is high on her agenda but she enjoys returning to Tasmania and sharing with friends and family the many recipes she discovers on her travels.

Read more in the press release » 

 

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga by Todd Alexander is published by Simon & Schuster Australia (Sydney, NSW; March 2019; pb; 320pp; RRP A$32.99).

It is available in good bookshops and can be purchased online via booko.com.au »

Regions

  • Hunter Valley (NSW)

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September 02nd, 2019
 
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