“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland)

Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin

.

.

.

27 November 2014

PHILLIP HUGHES


63no. This is hardly the time to attempt an explanation of Australia's love of cricket, but I expect that by now most countries that don't play this strange game have heard that one of its brightest young practitioners is dead after having his vertebral artery split by a freak ball. I thank Phillip Hughes for the way he influenced my enjoyment of countless drinks as I worked here at my desk, listening to the cricket on the radio. At his brightest, Hughdog, the son of banana farmers, made the most ordinary beer taste like great champagne. In those moments of his most human frailty, which were fewer as his mighty skill unfolded, he could make Dom taste like old beer. Few people have such magical power ... Deep bow with tears.

26 November 2014

SMALL CHANGE: TWO UNIQUE BARGAINS



After my previous piece about Australia copying the Old World and charging top-end Old World prices, up popped two lovely dirt-cheap wonders that don't mimic anything. 
In fact, they both represent a very welcome large change:

A Small Change White 2014 
$18; 12.8% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points 

Rhys Howlett's Small Change looks like joining the Torzi/Matthews/Freeland/Long Hop/Old Plains lot at the forefront of my hot/real/bargain/delicious/handmadewonderfulness/shedster vinotariat. Both these brave determined stables are the enemy of Australia's vino-industrial complex. The new Spare Change releases are a perfect affirmation of the confident off-the-wall quality that Rhys established with his previous launch. At Hungry Dan's prices, we get audacious wines of the original Rockford quality. This white is made from that much-abused and misunderstood thing, Langhorne Creek Verdelho. There are many more pretentious whites made from more glamourous varieties that attempt to offer this kind of bouquet at two or three times this money - many in those price ranks are nowhere near this wholesome and tantalising. It's free of intrusive oak and other currently common sophistries like hairy yeast. Ripe Rocha pears, fresh mace and the pith of lemons and strawberries all swim happily around the glass, making my nostrils flare and my mouth dribble towards a yellow curry made from the delicious European carp. Even the rice should be saffron yellow. The texture is modest - not too slimy; not too sharp - while those elegant, buttery Rocha flavours offer comfort as much as titillation. The finish is langourous and burlap-dry and hangs about long enough for you to fully realise just how lucky you are.  Half way down glass #3, visions of spaghetti vongole come to mind, and the whiff of the Cockle Beach at Café Bombora. I'm a goner. 

PS: I just discovered that this contains 7% Adelaide Hills Gewurztraminer and all the Verdelho comes from 80 year old vines. Click for clip.

A Small Change Red 2014 
$18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points

Merlot, Cabernet franc, Grenache and Shiraz from Clare and Langhorne Creek be here. So before I let it near my gustatories, it's already pleasing: Franc and Merlot are my favourite varieties from Bordeaux; I've long dreamed of blending Merlot with Grenache, and the idea of mixing the dry austerity of Clare with the humid estuarine moodiness of Langhorne Creek is as tantalising as it is calmly logical. Now, let's go in there. Wow! What a dark tunnel of perfume it is: beautifully smooth and harmonious, with too many components to list in the usual blackberry/wild cherry/fig/beetroot manner, although I can see seductive wisps of all those in there. It's like a new grape, or one of those scarce beauties with red juice, like Saperavi. Maybe Colorino. Let's just say it smells confoundingly, magnetically black. Kiwi Parade Gloss Prestige on the gros-grain tux collar. Then, it's a tighter thing to drink than that bouquet led me to expect: as slender and silky as graphene, with little of the fleshy pudge I anticipated. This, er, shall we say 'change of gear?' is no disappointment, however. It does the opposite, cheering the gustatories and setting the mouth glands dribbling. To over-simplify it, a rich Langhorne Creek bouquet leads to a tight, olivine Clare palate. Like that Verdelho, it is a wine of its own, and cannot be called a copy of anything. It is a beautiful, appetising Australian invention. In the international buzz, I hear indications of the return of the old Beaujolais Nouveau nonsense. They should forget it. Inventive current vintage reds like this, and my landlord's Yangarra PF Shiraz, have rendered all such notions a waste of time and a ridiculous transport extravagance. What a lovely notion! As for food, I'm happy without it. This wine is entertainment enough.  

Click for clip and here for Twitter   


25 November 2014

TOO MANY LUXURY BRANDS


Milton Pedraza, founder and CEO of the Luxury Institute ... "too many handbags."

Tighter times at the top end:
too many copies crowd shelves;
personal touch vital for survival
by PHILIP WHITE


"All around the globe, the luxury industry has navigated against strong headwinds," the analysis  starts. "Growth in China has slowed due to government crackdowns and macroeconomic forces, Russian clients are buying far less for obvious reasons, and key European countries dependent on streams of wealthy tourists and aspirational buyers have also stalled. The situation is comparatively better in the United States and in Japan but both nations are growing far below their long-term economic potential. To these cyclical challenges, add in the secular change of online buying cannibalizing stores and it has been a tough year for most luxury goods and services providers." 

This is the latest message from Milton Pedraza, CEO of the New York-based thinktank and marketing advisor, the Luxury Institute. Forgive my cut-and-paste, but I should quote him at length. This outfit services all those brands you can't afford. It's the world of Lamborghini and Louboutin. While it rarely explores luxury wine in much detail, I find the institute's advice very handy for predicting the Old World market for luxury-priced wines. It's got the spendiest spenders nailed.

And just between you and me, it's time we began regarding China as the biggest bit of the Old World. India's just as old, and it's next.

Pedraza's new report is titled Seven Trends Shaping Luxury in 2015.

Number One on his list? "There Are Too Many Luxury Brands For A Slow-Growth Environment."

Take time to digest that one, I say to winemakers who presume their wines to suddenly be worth much more than they, er, used to be worth. The ones who have a brand, like, say Eleven Shadows, which used to be worth, say $25, who suddenly come up with new line which, as far as heavy respect and provenance per millilitre goes, presumes to be up there the greats. Like where? If I have to name them, you might just as well cease reading here. 

They are very few.

Luxury wine brands: some survive; some don't ... photo Philip White
 
Let the man roll: "... too many hotel chains, too many handbags and apparel producers, too many automotive providers, too many wealth managers, too many watch and jewelry makers and too many private jet charter companies. Name an industry and you'll likely find a staggering number of brands purporting to be premium."

Ouch! That's Ultra-Vi: Clockwork Orange savagery to the pretenders as much as a direct threat to those they attempt to copy.


"There are too many 'luxury' brands, but not enough great ones," Pedraza continues. "Most are pure copycats. This does not even take into account all the fearless start-ups trying to disrupt the industry ... look for many more large, medium and start-up brands to stall, or fail, at a faster rate than over the last few years.  Affluent consumers, chased to exhaustion, are swamped by too many me-too options in every category. It will be time for true luxury brands to stop benchmarking the mundane players, understand their own brand identity, values and standards, and get back to delivering differentiated, fully-priced value in 2015."

Copycats. Australia has always copied wine styles from the Old World. Sometimes we copy this, other times we copy that. We copy. Our early winemakers copied Germany and Switzerland, Bordeaux and Hermitage. We copied Champagne from the earliest days. More recently, we copied Burgundy. Lately we're copying Spain and Italy. Now that Greece has some admirable new vinous achievements using very old varieties, we'll soon be copying them. Apart from the abject laziness involved in such artful contrivance, there's a bigger sin in our presumption that we can all copy the pricing of the greatest vinous achievements of these Old World vignobles. If Mr Pedraza is as reliable as his Institute usually seems to be with such predictions, quite a few of these Australian copyists should pull over for a bit of a think.

Of the internet's influence on store retail, Pedraza says "Foot traffic into stores is down 20% to 30% year-over-year for many luxury brands. E-commerce has scarcely made up the difference ... Look for luxury brands in 2015 to stop opening stores completely, even close some, and focus surgically on pinpointing true opportunities to open profitable new stores." He recommends  "profitable retention of all high potential clients, not just the VIPs."

Very few brands are as luxurious or universally respected as Bugatti, which disappeared for decades after the Great Depression, which killed off the Royale, above. Volkswagen relaunched the brand with the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 in 2005. This car still rules the roost, at around $2.5 million a pop. With that you get very exclusive personal service indeed.

"In the coming year, look for more brands to finally begin building deeper relationships with large percentages of online and multi-channel customers. Although resources are scarce, brands should build intimate relationships with, at a minimum, their top 20% to 40% of clients ... We believe that the concept of a luxury brand having a relationship with its customers without continuous human to human engagement is highly overrated, if not an outright mirage."

This follows the Institute's advice last year that luxury goods manufacturers should be much more clever in their use of the internet's constantly-changing suite of social interfaces. The warning was that many buyers of true luxury items may take a look at your products on the web, but if you manage to attract them to actually click to your website and they can't get straight through to a human they can trust you've lost them.

"Let’s face it," Pedraza says, "in its current format, Facebook is of marginal value for luxury brands. Gathering millions of likes and online fans has not been a formula for rapid sales growth in luxury. Success stories have been few and far between despite the lemming-like response from unenlightened digital executives and their agency partners. True luxury buyers are far more discerning. Engagement in luxury requires a one-to-one conversation, not a megaphone."

No megaphone at Wendouree. No Facebook. Not even a computer. But there's been over a century of the personal touch with respected buyers and not a waver in the brand's sublime quality, resulting in a waiting list to get on the mailing list ... photo Doug Govan
 
So. This overcrowded luxury market combined with Australia's tendency to overprice presumptuous wines which are copies of true Old World luxury wines of mighty provenance is one dangerous threatening glint. Add the inept awkwardness most wineries show their out-of-date and clunky websites while they instead play Facebook, and you begin to see amber and red lights multiplying exponentially.

Which leads us to your actual management. The clumsy goings-on at the top tables of the biggest companies is one thing, but any weirdness there is occurring at a time when I fear most bodies purporting to represent the wine industry, from national to regional, have rarely endured such an atmosphere of mistrust. Hit any wine region bar and it'll take only minutes to hear allegations of ineptitude, if not outright crookedness.

Pedraza could be suspected of speaking only about the Australian wine business when he says "In times of change, [true] luxury brands look for more skilled and effective leaders. Enlightened boards of directors at major conglomerates and private equity firms are looking for a new breed of highly collaborative and effective team builders.

"Luxury today is full of highly experienced marketing, sales, e-commerce, operations and human resources executives who know exactly how to execute best practices. Unfortunately, many of these leaders show up at the office daily and fail to inspire, empower, measure and reinforce these best practices. In 2015, look for boards of directors to require measurable results from their teams as the hyper-competitive environment requires going from experienced to expert, from delusion to execution.

"No one is immune to market forces," he concludes. "Luxury will always be cyclical, but the real danger for brands that we see comes from self-inflicted wounds caused by the inability to accept new realities and failure to execute. Doing either of these far too slowly is also dangerous."

And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Champagne Krug delights its special  customers by delivering its exquisite Champagnes in its bespoke delivery van ... jodhpurs, anyone? Riding crop?
  

THE DONKEYS FRY THE WHITMORE

The Donkeys, DRINKSTER's favourite rock and R&B trio - anywhere - officially split twelve years ago when guitarist Lez Karski moved to Western Australia. Since then he's lived way out east; now he's gone west again. They reform for rare impromptu one-offs whenever Lez saunters through town. This visit just happened to coincide with bassist and Mixmasters Studio guru Mick Wordley being inducted into the Adelaide Music Hall of Fame. I can't recall a tighter, more blistering session than this one at The Whitmore. They sizzled!

Mad bastards: Lez Karski, Jeff Algra and Mick Wordley ... photos Philip White
 

21 November 2014

HELLYERS ROAD TASMANIA MALT WHISKY

on being unfaithful to Scotland ...
my Japan-Tassie ménage
by PHILIP WHITE


Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur is Ireland's largest buyer of its milk. It's a mix of whisky and cream or something along those milky lines.

I presume this had something to do with Betta Milk Co-operative Ltd., set up by Tasmanian dairy farmers in 1956, eventually deciding to set up a subsidiary, Whisky Tasmania Pty Ltd, in 1997. They built a distillery, and filled their first whisky barrel in 1999. They sell cream liqueurs made with their own whisky. They make that pristine unoaked whisky we call grain vodka, which they call Southern Lights, which I have not tried. And fortunately, they make  very good malt whisky.

I discovered my first bottle during the chilliest stretch of the winter. The skinny old bloke with the scythe had come by on a public relations visit and I was looking for an antidote when this bottle winked at me from the counter of the exciting new East End Cellars. This fine Tasmanian tincture has since worked alongside the brilliant Suntory Yamazuki 12 year old to steer me further from Scotland whenever whisky comes to mind.

It's not cheap up here at the pointiest end of the world's malt whiskies. but you'll find yourself being satisfied earlier in the sesh whether you brood or joke through it. If you want to guzzle follow the mob down into the new caramel-thick malt specials at half the price.

That first Tasmanian bottle, a 10 year old, had a comforting painting of a bloke taking a leak on a bush track while his dog waited respectfully at his side. Nice reflection on Tasmania's new luxury goods audacity viv a vis Old World whisky/whiskey, I presumed: somebody pissing quietly on Hellyer's Road, as that was their own brand name. Perfect antipodean self-effacement as direct in-your-face marketing aggression. 

Dig a little, and it's not, of course. It's all a bit more Tassie-fractal. The road was pushed through in the 1820s by Henry Hellyer, an architect, surveyor and explorer who sought to connect the remote white hillbilly settlements in the Tasmanian hinterland with the north-western coastal port of Emu Bay. Then Emu Bay became Burnie and Hellyer's road became Old Surrey Road and the dairy farmers started a distillery there and named it after the road's previous name.

It is said that Scotland makes malt whisky by default while the Japanese make it by design. As far as design goes, this Hellyers Road Distillery Tasmania Single Malt Whisky Aged 10 Years is a beautiful work of design, closer to the Yamazaki than the Highlands. Tassie barley, rain, yeast and used American oak whiskey barrels are the ingredients. That wood is very American, but it's as clean as a whistle and smells more like paper-dry coconut husks than the sweet dessicated stuff you expect in Bourbon. Its selection indicates a lot more astute approach to quality than many Scots are showing in the delerium of their current export boom. When it's time to pillage the stacks to feed such fortune, the big Scotsmen tend to accept any sodden old barrel in their blends, expecting to dilute its influence and mask its faults with a whack of caramel. In contrast to that mentality, this is a clean, ultra-light sprint car rather than a rolling oak-and-leather limo reeking of stale cigars. It's a racy, bracing whisky of very high finesse. ($90; 700ml., 46.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points)

East End Cellars also sells, for $125, a boxed set of three 250ml bottles, including the Original, which seems a slightly more husky and abrupt assemblage than the 10YO. At one end it has more burlap and hemp, at the other a tiny dab more honey. It's fluffy of texture, and while it's still 46.2% burnies, it seems a little hotter (89 points). Then there's the Slightly Peated, which adds a bit of real Scotland bog. This twist of smoke is neither particularly floral, as in shallow heathery peat, or iodine sharp and kelpy, as in older, deeper, more decayed peat. Its middlin form makes a cheeky, salacious whisky with a lick of lipstick or cheek cream about it: some freckles and a giggle (93 points).

Then comes the model simply called Peated. This peat seems to come from a bit further up the lug, where you scrape out the darker ooze to die the real deep tan tweed. It's more chimney than bog. There's no florals in this peat: it's closer to the younger Laphroaig than Lagavulin, but more clean and slender and a little lighter than both of those. These young peaty Hellyers Road whiskies really are bold and brash if a wee tweak hot. Even if you put a bit of rain back in them, they make that bloke pissing on the road look a tad slow and agricultural. (91 points).   

Is that dog laying cable?

18 November 2014

LIVING WITH THE FRINGE: SENECA KNOWS

'Twas a busy decade, but enjoyable, living in the attic of the Botanic Hotel through the 'nineties ... until The Fringe arrived and put an end to slumber ... this is the author serving fizz on the Widow's Walk ... photo Leo Davis

The qualities of various rackets:
industry is one thing, but the
din of vagrant artists will kill you
by PHILIP WHITE

Handling the noisy agri-industrial nature of life in Adelaide's East End in the glory days of the Wholesale Market was one thing, but sleep became totally elusive 24/7 when The Fringe arrived ... so DRINKSTER sought counsel from Seneca, who learned all this cool inner-city apartment living stuff 2,000 years back. 

Village life. Chitter-chat. This spat the Lord Mayor-elect is having with the inFringistas before he even gets the friggin chain around his neck is like remembering an ingrown toenail from forty years back.

Dude, might as well make that 2000 years. We never learn.

My insistence on loving East End life in Adelaide's main street inevitably brought me to read the stoics in my final decade living there. Eventually, I inFringed myself right outa the precinct when I got to the last paragraph of Lucius Annæus Seneca's fifty-sixth letter to his secret friend in Epistulæ Morales ad Lucilium. 

It was really fucking noisy living in Rundle Street in the 'seventies and early 'eighties. The wholesale fruitaveg market rattled with vendors' shouts and whistles and the metallic buzz of huge diesel engines all night three times a week. Without strong drugs, sleep was impossible. The streets were blocked by refrigerated pantechnicons idling and forklifts and barrow men trundling until the buzzer rang when the sun was up so the prices were set, everything was packed, and off they roared into Australia. Bugger Woolworths: this was fresh stuff.

Before they replaced the East End Market with housing, The Exeter would open at 4AM to make breakfast for the market workers ... nowdays, it's more likely to be closing at 4AM ... Adelaide-built Valiant photographed by  Philip White

So, in dribs and drabs, the entire East End enclave of artists, architects, painters, chefs, sophists, designers, writers and musicians would migrate to the West End, spend our money getting fried and boogied to death in that Gilded Palace of Sin called Hindley Street, to then stumble back east into the rising sun at breakfast time. We'd pick up our free fruit and vegetables from the leftovers bins, climb upstairs and hit the sack, to be washed asleep by the swish of normal daytime traffic.

'The Earth is the Lord's, and the Fullness Thereof" - so reads one of the surviving facades on the old East End Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market

When a writer visited from the northern hemisphere I'd mystify 'em by insisting on meeting for a coffee at 4AM and then showing them that beautiful market in purpose-built facilities in our main street. They'd be dumbstruck - their Old World had lost all its central wholesale suppliers of fresh produce. Then we'd walk around to the retail Central Market for breakfast and more coffee with a grappa and man they'd be dazzled for life.

Now that East End Market is a set of modest apartment towers and the Central Market has a dangerous rash of cake shops and coffee bars replacing its, er, fresh food stalls.


Seneca's letter LVI - On quiet and study discusses his apartment life upstairs in a noisy precinct, and how the better mind should overcome the racket of humanity and think straight on through. I discovered it when I lived in The Botanic Hotel and that inFringement thing devoured the park around the Australian Light Horse Memorial. 

The Stag Hotel and East Terrace in 1903, looking straight past my joint in The Botanic Hotel at the end on the left into the Adelaide Botanic Gardens
 
Seneca writes about how his superior capacity for serene contemplation helps him ignore the grunts of the gymnasium and bath house, the street minstrels, the bark of the hawkers, and the shouts and squawks that follow a roisterer up the street. His stoicism appears outrageously sanctimonious, but enviable nevertheless.

Well worth learning.

There atop that lacy wedding cake rockhouse I grew used to living beside 50,000 vehicles a day. I could sleep through diesel buses, force-fed Subies and open-froat Harleys, the shrieks and roars of drunks all night and even when the State Rescue chopper visited the roof of the hospital just across the street I rested happy in the knowledge that one hurtin' unit was in the very best of care and fell straight back to sleep. If ever anything on the East Terrace side woke me, it would be the muffled clip-clop of uniformed men on their Walers, emu feathers in their hats, gathering for a dawn remembrance of the Light Horse.

 photo courtesy ABC

Then the inFringement hit that east side. Some nights I could count four bands playing at once in the park just across the street. Well into the morning. Straight at my windows. To make matters worse the late pre-hipster with the bar downstairs installed a doof box so he could feel his preferred thump and I found myself in the position of a man who had to crank his own music up to destruction numbers in order to drink himself to sleep.

Even bohemia must sleep.

This is what happens when you suddenly put everything noisy in one spot. That inFringement goes on for weeks and weeks every year in Rundle Park. Any resident who dares to complain gets shunned with hisses about spoilsports and how whingers hating the arts should stay out of the city.

The Producers' Hotel: another early opener.  This is about 4PM, at the start of the rush hour (!) on a wintry day. It would be mixed grills and a few schooners of stout before heading back for the price setting buzzer around  sunrise and then the clearing of the streets ... Like other streets around the East End Markets, this vast expanse of Grenfell Street would be blocked with idling semis and pantechnicons three nights a week ... 1974 photo Philip White

Not that I totally lack form in the arts. I attempted to edit the Fringe newspaper when the headquarters and bar were in a polite secluded hall on Kintore Avenue. Once I saw the whole damn thing as a bi-annual race to attract more and more acts and innocent hopefuls regardless of your incapacity as organiser to keep your publicity promises and guarantees of technical stage assistance with lights, kit, crew and audience, I quit, leaving the job to the lugubrious Christopher Pearson, who delighted in the access it provided to keen young performers.

This chookfight all hackled up over the Fringe's annexation of Victoria Square has fizzed out a lot of chatter about such things. Like virtual wineries, the flimsy pop-up nature of the event gives the shits to many full-time vendors of fine music and vittles who actually bother to pay their rates and rent or buy real buildings made out of stone and build magnificent kitchens; folks who really try to look after their staff and their customers all year round.

In response to Fletcher Doherty's telling InDaily piece on this yesterday, a sage called Nicko reminded everybody that between inFringista invasions of Rundle Park and Victoria Square 10,000 people a day would not be attending their regular haunts for over a month.

If this arts racket was spread out amongst extant hospitality professionals, it would also spread and dilute the din these frolics generate. Better buzz.

But then, in Victoria Square's favour, if you must assemble such a noisy concentration of creatives and middle-distance pissheads, you might as well do it on Australia's most expensive traffic island.

The author visits the Mines Department, Rundle Street, East End, 1973. The Hungry Jack carpark on the corner of Pulteney and Rundle replaced the lovely, fusty old Department and Geological Survey, which was the decaying Foys department store of five storeys built around two light wells later converted to inexpensive offices populated 100% by incredible nerds and rockdoctors ... when I eventually went to work there, it felt like we lived in a Raymond Chandler special ... photo Chris Langman, daubed by Maire 'Mizzo' Mannik (left)

Perhaps because readers remain dumbstruck by his closing twist, few people who don't suffer it seem to notice Seneca blithely describing our post-traumatic stress disorder as he spins out, paraphrasing Virgil:

"... fearing for his own concerns, he pales at every sound; any cry is taken for the battle-shout and overthrows him; the slightest disturbance renders him breathless with fear. It is the load that makes him afraid."

This is no excuse for the immorality of laying claim to a groovy inner-city apartment and then complaining about the noise of the arts of inner-city living, the old boy says. For those with the wit and ken to eventually overcome sonic intrusion he concludes

"You may therefore be sure that you are at peace with yourself, when no noise readies you, when no word shakes you out of yourself, whether it be of flattery or of threat, or merely an empty sound buzzing about you with unmeaning din."

Then he takes a shock turn which leaves the smug and pious high and dry.

 " 'What then?' you say, 'is it not sometimes a simpler matter just to avoid the uproar?' I admit this. Accordingly, I shall change from my present quarters. I merely wished to test myself and to give myself practice. Why need I be tormented any longer, when Ulysses found so simple a cure for his comrades even against the songs of the Sirens? Farewell."

Once I'd read that, I fled to the country, where I happily stay. As in Rome, one can simply piss off.

When the paranoid Nero eventually ordered Seneca to suicide, the old man climbed into a hot bath and opened a vein. His wife, Paulina attempted to go out in sympathy, but survived even against her own determined will. Seneca's suicide succeeded. I don't recommend this.