ghost wines

A long time ago in a place far away early explorers were sent to find a safe route through the mountains to a beautiful valley on the other side. As the explorers attempted to cross a flooded river on a wild and windy night their strongest horse drowned while trying to get the rider safely across the raging waters.

When convict gangs were later sent to construct a bridge over the river they swore that on stormy nights they could see the ghost of the horse galloping across the countryside. The legend was born and to this day it is believed that the ghost of the horse still haunts the vineyards planted on the bank of the river.

Barrel of Cockfighter's Ghost Wine
(Jade Chang)

The horse’s name was Cockfighter and the grapes from the haunted vineyard are blended with premier grapes from across the country, including from McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek, to produce fine wines called Cockfighter’s Ghost. I have visited the winery many times.

As W.C. Fields reportedly said: “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” Well, even if I did cook I wouldn’t add Cockfighter’s Ghost to the pan, there is a quicker way to enjoy it. The Cockfighter’s Ghost wines come from a winery with an equally interesting name, Poole’s Rock in the Hunter Valley about a two hour drive from my home. There are many wineries in the area so a week or weekend can easily be taken over by a tour of them all, with a non-drinking driver. Often it is difficult to find a volunteer driver so a guided bus tour and an overnight stay is the best alternative.

Across the other side of the world, in the Hudson Valley, New York there is another legend, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The village of Sleepy Hollow is on the eastern bank of the Hudson River about 25-30 miles from New York City.

I have made the 40 minute train journey on the Metro-North Hudson Line from Grand Central Station to Tarrytown many times to stay with friends. Nearby Sleepy Hollow was then called North Tarrytown. The name change was overdue and the legend had nothing to do with wine-making. It was about the “Headless Horseman” who roamed Sleepy Hollow in search of his head.

Cockfighters Ghost Wine LabelThere were many stories about the “Headless Horseman” but the one I remember was based on the 1819 short story by Washington Irving. The story was set in a 1790s Dutch settlement on the banks of the Hudson River called “Sleepy Hollow”. The main character was a young lad called Ichabod Crane who was pursued by a “Hessian Soldier” (German mercenary hired by the British) from the American Revolutionary War who had been decapitated by a cannon ball.

Ichabod Crane and a local lad were vying for the hand in marriage of the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Dutch farmer. Apparently poor old Ichabod missed out and on his way home late at night he came across the “Headless Horseman” who chased him out of town or something like that, and he missed out on marrying the little rich girl.

I heard the story late at night from some members of the Sleepy Hollow Country Club, where my friend played golf, who told me that Washington Irving was buried in the nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The club, at Scarborough in Briarcliff Manor, NY (formerly a Vanderbilt mansion) was only for those in the upper income bracket or who worked for a large company like my friend.

The purpose of the story was to explain to me the name of the golf club and to warn about leaving the premises late at night after enjoying the pleasures of a long session at the bar. I did not want to leave the club “legless” to drive to my friend’s home on a dark and windy night and risk being pulled over by the local police. The thought of trying to explain to the officer that we were being chased by a headless mercenary on a horse and being pelted with his severed head or a large pumpkin added to my anxiety. We called a cab.

Now the newly named village of Sleepy Hollow seems to have become a tourist destination in the Hudson Valley. They have a local beer but so far no wine. For $20-25 per person visitors can take a tour of the old cemetery and for $25-30 you can go on the haunted hayride. More than I pay for a bottle of fine red wine so I know where I will be spending my money.

My friend no longer lives in Tarrytown or plays golf at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club so I have no reason to go there anymore. In recent years I have by-passed the area on my way to Hyde Park and Rhinebeck NY to visit friends but they are no longer there either. So if they can’t come up with a fine red wine I am unlikely to visit Sleepy Hollow again. The Hunter Valley is much closer for me and I only have to watch out for the local police and not some headless “fruit loop” on a horse.

Of course I do drink red and white wine from other areas but sadly my wife doesn’t understand my interest in fine red wine. She only drinks white wine from the Hunter Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Margaret River, Marlborough, Loire Valley, Piedmont, Galicia, Wachau Valley, Ticino, Valais, Moravia, Tokaj, Curico and Casablanca Valley. I just wish she wouldn’t call my favorite wine Ghostfighter’s…

Image: Barrel of Cockfighter's Ghost was taken by Jade Chang and used with permission (thank you); Cockfighters Ghost Wine Label taken by Ken Peacock.
Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock, a former senior Australian executive of a mining company, first visited China in 1972 at the end of the Cultural Revolution and before diplomatic recognition by the Australian and US Governments. This was the first of many visits to China during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1978, he traveled throughout China with a trade delegation and revisited Shanghai where he stayed at the Shanghai Mansions Hotel and discovered the “Last Bottle of Gin in China”.