“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)





18 January 2017


Wine Industry Network calls joint symposium of cannabis, wine and tourism industries

"Alcohol and marijuana, if used in moderation, plus loud, usually low-class music, make stress and boredom infinitely more bearable." 
Kurt Vonnegut

So quotes the top of the page of the California-based Wine Industry Network's (WIN) announcement that it will host an intensive one-day Wine and Weed Symposium in August at Santa Rosa in Sonoma.

The meeting is "dedicated to the legalization of cannabis and the impact on the wine industry."

California's a touch ahead of South Australia in the cannabis business, but we're wending, as they say, our way along.

While most Oz newshounds were transfixed by the astonishing political chaos in the US Presidency, South Australian Manufacturing Minister Kyam Maher quietly called a round table meeting for the end of this month where "industry groups and companies looking to make things like medicinal cannabis, building products, clothing, textiles and skin care products" will get together to discuss the viability of "creating an industry".

"We want to look at what barriers we can remove to the industry and then it will really be up to the market forces to decide whether this crop is a viable and sustainable crop in South Australia," Mr Maher said.

"Viable?" "Sustainable?" He's gotta be joking.

The Sonoma symposium arises from a one-hour session WIN ran at its wine conference in Santa Rosa last month.

Rather than kick off as enemies, California's cannabis and wine industries are keen to work together on their commonalities, "from agriculture and terroir to legal, financial and distribution regulations."

"People have been questioning the impact that this is going to have on the wine industry for a long time," said George Christie, WIN president. "This is an opportunity to learn from the experts, the cost of entry and what is and is not allowed. We plan to provide a better understanding of the inevitable competition for consumer attention and how best to prepare for what’s coming and what new opportunities might exist."

Back in Adelaide, Industrial Hemp Association of South Australia president Teresa McDowell voiced optimism that the Government would "move forward with regulatory reforms ... If you look at places like Canada, their hemp seed and oil alone export market last year, to September, was $114 million," she said.

"There are various different industries that industrial hemp can move towards: there are composite materials, automobile composites and bio fuels."

DRINKSTER takes definitions by the master, D. J. Mabberly, from his Mabberly's Plant Book (Third edition, Cambridge 2009)
No mention of the possibility of your, er, actual intoxication in any of the South Australian public discussion, note. Even government's recent licensing of two medicinal opiate farms in the Riverland wine region went largely un-noticed. 

Industrial hemp, meanwhile, is not for smoking stoners, although wartime sailors have been known to smoke rope.

It appears that some level of intoxication is a given in the California equation.

There, experts from both the wine and cannabis industries will join Tawnie Logan, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, to discuss California's new recreational cannabis laws, their regulations and licensing requirements, and their relationship with hospitality, tourism, and farming.

"The cannabis and wine industries have more in common than what one might see at first glance," the WIN announcement continues. "Both are based in rural areas with a major emphasis on agriculture and quality. Place of origin and American Viticulture Area is important in both categories.

"Other topics include growing cannabis in vineyards, cannabis and wine hospitality, learning from wineries in states where cannabis is legal, cannabis infused wine, the banking industry and what wine regions can expect in the coming years.

"To a significant degree, they share a common consumer and will be overseen by the same government agency. Like the wine industry, the cannabis industry will also be heavily regulated and because of that, will experience tremendous overlap with regard to legal, financial, compliance and distribution regulations.

"Both will compete for visitor attention and dollars in California’s most notable wine regions like Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Lodi Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz counties, the Sierra Foothills and more."

This California advancement was to be expected. For years the cannabis media has reported and reviewed marijuana-steeped wines, many of the hippy/neo-Mennonite variety, some more secretively made by respected established winemakers.

Professional outdoor cannabis growers are becoming very serious indeed about terroir, generally making much more precise scientific studies of their site selection than most of the wine industry has ever considered.

Winemakers and viticulturers can learn from these people.

In their marketing, too, US cannabis industry researchers have shown wine scientists their heels in matters like the medicinal influences of the vital efficaceous cannabis terpenes which are also common to much red wine. Are our œnologists embarrassed that some of the most prominent health-promoting components of their product also occur in cannabis?

In Adelaide, we're still tolerating police raids on folks like Jenny Hallam, who was supplying around 100 patients with medicinal cannabis extracts she'd been making from donated pot. She has never charged her customers and now awaits further news from the courts.

Jenny had been expecting a visit. She told the police there was cannabis and cannabis oil on her premises, used only to treat people who are sick and dying and that anything the officers removed could result in someone's death.

She has not been invited to Minister Mayer's meeting. It seems he'd prefer to follow "the best possible expert medical and scientific advice on those pathways."

in any contentious issue of plant nomenclature and clarification DRINKSTER goes straight to the astonishing Mabberly's Plant Book (Third edition, Cambridge 2009)

Perhaps it's time we advanced sufficiently to also take the advice of extant practitioners, an embrace the California wine people obviously have no hesitation in making.

There are precedents. The South Australian government has taken very serious advice from California wine leaders before. The essential 2012 Character Preservation Legislations (McLaren Vale and Barossa) which have put a halt to further urban intrusion into these vital agricultural and wine tourism provinces were very much steered by what Agriculture and Tourism Minister Leon Bignell learned from the planning authorities he visited in the Napa Valley.

If Minister Mayer is seriously keen to remove barriers perhaps he should be planning with the Agriculture/Tourism Minister an official visit to the WIN Wine and Weed Symposium in August.

The principal barriers, it seems, are his blinkers.

Bring on the market forces.

the first front cover of The Pennsylvania Gazette under the ownership of Benjamin Franklin

17 January 2017


Rogier van der Weyden (1400 - 64) 
Portrait of a Woman with a Winged Bonnet (detail), 1430

13 January 2017


Matt, Ali, Neil and Alison Paulett ... photo supplied

Pauletts Polish Hill River Clare Valley Riesling 2016 
$23; 12.8% alcohol; screw cap 

I shall never forget visiting Alison and Neil Paulett in the Polish Valley with Stephen Hickinbotham soon after the disastrous Ash Wednesday bushfires and floods of 1983. The poor folks had fled the horror of losing an infant in a playground accident where Neil had worked at the very early Rosemount in the Upper Hunter. He'd first gone up there to work at Penfolds' Dalwood.

But that all went wrong. No sooner had they driven half-way across Australia to start a new life in Clare and got their shoes off in their little renovated cottage than the vineyard caught fire and a mudslide came down the hill and went straight through their new abode. It was pure Grapes of Wrath. But when Hickie and I arrived, they'd already taken another big punt and bought the incredible hilltop where their winemaking, tastings, sales and café now stand, and their grandchildren hover.

I mention my best mate Stephen because he too had lived a little wolvish, a very wise risk-taking winemaking scientist who spent a fair bit of time baying at the ramparts. He was my weathervane: he could see a shard of brilliance if there was one anywhere, and he left the Pauletts that day chattering as if he'd just spent a day on a mirror ball.

From that Paulett eyrie, you look east across the Polish Valley, the head of the Polish Hill "River" and some minor hillocks to the vast flats of the Australian Mallee  where the sun rises. If the world was all flat you could wave to the folks on the veranda of the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains at Sydney. That's the next hill across. 1,200 kilometres away.

Johnny Ruciak, the last Pole in the Polish Valley, photographed at his home by Philip White in the early 1980s. Perhaps more joiner than mason, he lived elegantly with his trunks of astonishing copperplate diaries, his dog, and no electricity, phone or plumbing

Here's a powerful example of the Riesling distinctive to that old Polish settlement. It's unflinching and staunch. It has its chin out. It's clean and pristine, with all that fleshy pith of citrus blossom and its fruit decorating a straightup squeeze of the sort of tiny limes we used to pick on Dum In Mirree Island, somewhere near where the terrifying Dundee Forest hits the Timor Sea up The Territory.

It has plenty of that lychee and rambutan flesh that sets Polish Valley Rieslings apart from those of the calcrete of Watervale a few kays to the west, facing the sunset. But it's that full-bore citrus that rules 16 Pauletts, leavened with a whiff of the local slate beneath the summer sun.

While we're talking ridiculous distances and dramatic geography, you might just as well take a bottle to the shucking shed at the Coffin Bay Oyster Farm, with crunchy white bread, butter, some lemons, Tabasco and a pepper grinder. Right as the live oysters wince when you hit 'em with the lemon and chilli, that's when you slurp into this. Bread and butter.

Otherwise, drink the local Boston Bay Riesling with your oysters and put this one in the dungeon with a ten-year alarm. 

Pauletts Helsmford Watervale Semillon 2016 
$23; 13.1% alcohol; screw cap 

In those early 'eighties, there was an excited buzz about Semillon in Clare, especially if grown on the calcrete slopes of Watervale, or Quelltaler, where the Alsace radical Michelle Dietrich was relishing the fruit from the ancient bush vines of Buring & Sobels, from which he made beautiful wines fermented in new French barrels, just as he'd made Chardonnay in Burgundy.

Isabelle and Michel Dietrich at Watervale in 1984 ... photo Philip White ... and here they are at Casa Blanca in 2013 ... apart from running their Château Haut-Rian in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, they still love driving around deserts in Africa and Australia

Unless you go and visit and sit and look and studiously taste, it's hard to grasp the way the Clare  flavours change from the old rocks facing the sunrise across the Polish Valley, to the intermediate upland north-south valley holding Sevenhill and Wendouree, and then, further to the west, the sunset-facing youthful calcrete of the Watervale Côte Blanche which is an appellation I just made up.

This is the second release of Paulett Watervale Semillon. It has none of the gingery oak toast of those old Quelltalers but has more soft chalk to sniff than the Riesling's austere slate, with gooseberry and snow peas, which may sound unlikely but stacks up to a racy but more approachable luncher than the whiprod Rizza.

Then, when you drink it, the gentle butyric nature of Semillon - that lovely lemon-butter custard - just soothes everything down and parts your hair with a lick of spit and a kiss and puts you safe on the bus.

A couple grams more residual sugar - like just enough to be detected - softens it a bit more.

If you want it more crunchy, chill it a touch harder. Easy.

When Iain Hewitson and Siggy Jorgensen opened the radical Clichy in Melbourne back in those days, Hewie'd make a warm salad of peeled steamed hazelnuts fried in butter with garlic and whole snow peas. Bring me those and a slab of pink salmon with this bonnie dram please.

Oh, and yes. Some crunchy-crust white bread and butter.

Dammit, if the chopper was handy Sunday morning I'd put all this together for brekky and deliver it to all them Pauletts before they even get out of bed.

The calcrete slope - the Côte Blanche - of Watervale looking east toward it from O'Leary-Walker ... photo Philip White ... and here's my first print reportage of the horrors of 1983:



Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre at Café de Flore in Paris by Grace Easton



All white at Casa Blanca 

A favourite example of a smart new wine biz enterprise is the Jericho family story. A graphic designer, an accountant, two winemakers and a very knowing wine game mum sit at that table.

Their annual release is among those I anticipate keenly. I always want to see what they've done.

Over the break, I didn't feel at all inclined to drink red wine, so cleared the deck of the pre-Exmess glut of whites. Apart from a few stalwart favourites reviewed last year, it was largely boooring. Depressing, in fact. I get to the point where I think there's something wrong with me, scouring their ranks for exception.

Until I hit these. I have left the Jericho reds there lying on their backs, glowering at me for a later date, knowing this lovely brace of dry white wines is all I want this week. 

Jericho Adelaide Hills Fumé Blanc 2016 
$25; 13.3% alcohol; screw cap 

She be smoky-voiced, husky, sultry this wine. If you were alive back in the Cambrian, you'd recall an actor called Laren Bacall. She was married to Humphrey Bogart. Their old black-and-white movies were full of smoke.

Cut to Technicolour. It's also got a fresh beach reek about it, with citrus blossom in with all manner of dunal blooms. Bogie and Bacall drinking gin and smoking Chesterfields on the beach. Shootin the breeze. How come Bogie never gets sand in his hair oil?

Drink. Ewie, that's not Savvy-B! That's unctuous and viscous and comforting that Fumé Blanc there in your glass. There's butter and honeydew and bits of the sweeter side of her demeanour. Then the feline bit stalks back in taughtly and sure, it reminds you of a Sauvignon blanc you can't remember. Because while you wish you did, you probly never had it.

This could be it. You won't forget this one.

While it lingers, it leaves you puckery and starving, and finishes real tight and crunchy. See if they've got cockles on at The Salopian and get them all over your front with this stuff. It's on the list. 

Jericho Adelaide Hills Fiano 2016 
$25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap 

Heady and swoony and some melon I can't place, citrus rind and verbena with a whiff of cordite ... a dusty, baking summer day in old Oz ... then after that waft of slighty threatening desert it brings you dangling from the enamel blue back into the comfort of those first cool heady fruits ... man, it's a ride. Suddenly there's lots of pink musky silk and satin.

Like the Fumé, this beauty has a reassuring viscosity. It feels like a gentle red. Then it tapers out and strings you on so clean and long with its acid authority ... this is the best Australian Fiano I can recall from recent years. In these lower Austral parts, this variety can get very oily quickly when it ripens fast in a hot summer: it gets close to over-ripe Frontignac. Which sorta misses the point. This is a cool year, picked later and finer.

Speaking movies, it's grainy. Casablanca.

Pink saltimbocca with lemon juice and capers. Bouillabaisse.

The Jericho family after dinner at  Mum and Dad's: Andrew (left) and Kim, standing; Neil, Kaye, Steve and Sally, seated ... photos Philip White

12 January 2017


Driven by the raw sexuality of the The Yearlings, James Halliday has a bit of a look at Nick Ryan at the 150th birthday of Olivers' Taranga in October 2011. Since Max Allen left The Australian, Nick seems to have his space in the front. So it's now the James and Nick Show.

The ebullient Max, who seems to prefer being regarded as a mandolin picker, has never been slow to step forward for a solo. So he starts his occupation of what was Tim White's column in The Australian Financial Review when that hits the fizz in about two hours.

Which means he's followed both me and Tim into privileged positions, me in the news pages of The Oz; Tim in The Fin, where it seems Max expects to reach a more discerning and spendy clientele. Let's see if he can come up with any new ideas.

That's Max on Bill Monroe's veranda; me and Tim below, with Peter John in the middle. This was his family's A. P. John Cooperage 125th party.

Too many white blokes for my liking. All photos supplied.