“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)


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11 February 2016

NUFF BOOZE? TRY SOME BLUES

if you can't work, play ... when I work out how to do it, I might put some guitar play on here ... photo©Noah Vice ... bit furry but you get the drift ... bluesy eve on Casa Blanca veranda

10 February 2016

VINTAGE 16 ROLLS RIGHT ON IN


the brides after rain: Yangarra Ironheart Shiraz outside my front door on January 30th; netted to keep the birdies out ... unless otherwise acknowledged all photos©Philip White

Another re-write of extreme: record December HOT; record January WET: fingers crossed
by PHILIP WHITE

It seems like months ago that we sat around the tables of Fino Willunga for the last time. Proprietors Sharon Romeo and David Swain were off to concentrate on their new business in the Barossa; serendipitously it was the Feast Day of St Vincent, the namesake of our bonnie Gulf, and patron of vignerons, viticulturers and, cough, vinegar makers.

Of course said St Vincent of Saragossa's day, January 22, happens in the winter in the Old World: it's a different kettle of fish in our sunny south. But this was not why the winefolk assembled at that last lunch were nonplussed when I recited the good saint's rhyme: If St Vincent's Day be fine, twill be a lovely year for wine ... 

We'd had that horrid, unnatural-feeling record heatwave in December, and vignerons along the big inland rivers had commenced their vintage the year before its calendar number came up. Even famously cool places like the Yarra Valley were facing their earliest harvest yet. But suddenly it was wet and windy. In some places, depending on the style of vineyard, its ground and its husbandry, the parched vines were gulping up the rain and berries were gorging and splitting. Add the marauding moulds that humidity brings to such exposed wet sugar and few growers felt confident about 2016.

Many had already erected their bird netting, an expensive and tricky job which precludes later tractor access should the crop require a last minute misting of fungicide. Warmer than average nights and twice the normal January rain in some vignobles seemed set for an explosion of botrytis and mildew like we endured in the horrid 2011, when the whole State ran out of spray.

reject muck from 2011

But in my neck of the woods at least, McLaren Vale, the Fleurieu and its South Mount Lofty Ranges, the thundery rains seemed always followed by solid gusty winds which dried wet canopies quickly: winds not wild enough to damage the netting, but strong enough to penetrate the leaves and bunches and make fungicides unnecessary.

This has all been further advantaged by the nature of the crop in the better-tended vineyards: while the number of bunches is high, their set is clean, even and open: there's enough space within the bunch to let that drying air through; the berries tend to be small and thick-skinned. There've been the odd moments of panic in those vineyards where the berries didn't drink enough to burst but swelled sufficiently to make the bunches tight and impenetrable to the healing breezes, but that threat seems to have subsided as this even, moderate warmth settles in with the breezes and the rain holds off.

January 1st: pre-veraison Ironheart Shiraz, after the December heat
 
If the rain holds off: It's been an interesting time to watch how the different soils and rocks have influenced the crop. The ground is very dry to a great depth in most vignobles. In many places, even that record January rain penetrated only a few inches. The downfalls washed and rinsed the canopies and wet the topsoil only: so little of the water got to the roots that the berries hardly slurped any of it. Many vines were still in atrophy, having shut down in the pre-Christmas heat.

It seemed that in the sandier, rapidly-draining grounds, the water rushed straight past the roots down into the clays which are often beyond the reach of juvenile plantings. Many of those vineyards came through January more like a fresh and invigorated athlete out of the shower than a wastrel who'd drunk too much.

... just to disprove all my theorising: this is the solid terrazzo-like slab ironstone that lies just beneath - only centimetres in some places - the sand in Ironheart ... that water had no place to go but sideways or into the roots, yet the vines show no sign of having had too much to drink ... I hope others have enjoyed the same illogic in their vineyards! 

Apropros St Vincent's homily, there will certainly be some vinegar made this year. Not everybody's come through well. With each year of new, wilder extremes of weather, the quality gap widens between the fruit of beloved, hand-tended vineyards, and those of rote industrial management or worse. The discount bins and enormous virtual winery businesses - those opportunists and sharks with brands but no vineyard or winery of their own - will have quite a lot of very ordinary goonbag plonk to, as they say, move.

Now, everything's changing quickly. The roads and tracks are filling with farmers delivering fruit, and the night air is buzzy with the sounds of the harvesting machines, which look like giant floodlit motherships in the dark.

Take much care when driving in the wine regions these next two months. Tractors come out of anywhere, and chug slowly around those blind corners.

At this time of the year, the roads belong to the locals.

we could use some signs like this in Australia: image © @JMiquelWine

I see fresh young faces in the street: backpackers here to pick and drag hoses and wash floors and tanks; foreigners trying to work out our alien supermarket brands and searching the liquor stores for beers they know. Wandering amateur folks with hippy vans full of surfboards, empty cans and sleeping bags; the more confident-looking professional vendageurs who work vintages in both hemispheres while they have the fitness and curiosity to learn as much as they can before choosing where to settle into their own businesses ...

So. It's fingers crossed; touch wood; trust St Vincent's confounding trickery and work like people possessed. Trust those most who can maintain the thousand-yard stare, and be ready to drink some perfection and quite a lot that's not.

Good luck folks. See you on the other side.


... speaking of The Other Side: everything's spick and span and ready for vintage to hit but check this shiny alien I spotted in the Yangarra winery yesterday: an amphora-shaped stainless steel temperature-controlled egg fermenter/maturation vessel ... what came first? HINT: This is Shiraz outside the winery ... 

09 February 2016

HOMELESS GRAPES OFF TO BOTTLING

It's hard to believe that nearly a year has passed since McLaren Vale vigneron Jock Harvey donated a vineyard of Shiraz to Vinomofo in order to raise money for the Hutt Street Centre, a charity which assists feeding and clothing homeless people in Adelaide.

At very short notice, a great mob of volunteers rocked up at sunrise in the Willunga vineyard in McLaren Vale and the vines were picked within a couple of hours. 

The fruit then went to Yangarra Estate for winemaking. 

This process is now complete, so yesterday the final Homeless Grapes product was taken from barrels, blended and sent off to be bottled at Torresan.

DRINKSTER can happily guarantee that while this very fine fruit came from the other end of the McLaren Vale vignoble, the wine has that typical polished Yangarra touch, achieved principally by careful bunch and berry selection, fastidiously maintained  temperature controlled ferments, hand-plunging of the right amount of whole berries in the cap throughout ferment, gentle pressing, then a good long slumber in the barrels. 



The wine is lovely: intense, elegant Shiraz: all savoury black cherries and licorice at this still-juvenile stage. The barrels were taken from the stacks in Yangarra's climate-controlled oakhouse, spread on the winery apron for final tasting, then topped up with a sprinkle of dry ice to prevent oxidation as each barrel was pumped into steel tanks on the truck.




To see more photographs of the picking day, click here. To see the fruit going through the destemming and sorting process, click here. To learn about their ferment, click here. To see their final pressing ready for barrel, click here. Learn about the entire process!

That's Yamgarra winemaker Shelley Torresan with assistant Nick Hunt, having one final taste before the wine went off to Torresans (Shelley's in-law family) for bottling. Picking, transport, winemaking, barrels, bottles, labels, capsules, bottling and box packaging - the whole damn lot - were donated for this radical and highly successful project. 

Andre Eikmeyer and his scary crew at Vinomofo sold the then unmade wine to their internet customers in advance - before the grapes were even picked - so he could present a cheque for $36,000 to the Hutt Street Centre people before the bins left the vineyard.

22nd March, vintage 2015: Jock Harvey of Chalk Hill Wines, Yangarra GM and boss winemaker Peter Fraser, Hutt Street Centre's Danielle Bayard with her big cheque, and Andre Eikmeyer of Vinomofo. Done and dealt!

Those smart enough to have paid Vinomofo in advance may like to know their wine went to bottling at  3.53pH, 6.5g/l acidity and and a delightfully modest 13.5% alcohol. It's blue-black and inky, intense yet sublimely fresh and lithe. Watch your Vinomofo mail for delivery details once the bottled wine has had some serious resting time. Delivery details will be announced once the wine has settled. DRINKSTER promises it's delicious!

all photos©Philip White ... click images for bigger ... here's some wallpaper of the wine coming straight from the press, tripping out with the reflection of my blue bucket:


07 February 2016

PAULETT'S: MORE TOP CLARE RIESLING


Last week I gurgled Rieslings from the four Sevenhill sites, in an upland vale south-east of the township of Clare. Moving a little further to the south from those Sevenhill/Spring Farm Road vineyards, and a smidge east, we find the Paulett family's vines in the very old rocks overlooking the weathered sediments of Polish Valley, spilling down into that bonnie vale overlooking the entire Murray Mallee.

A whole lifetime ago - in 1983 - I visited that lofty hill top with the winemaker Stephen Hickinbotham. He had a vineyard and a winery on a volcano at Anakie near Geelong. He knew the value of freaky high sites. Neil and Alison Paulett had just moved to those North Mount Lofty Ranges near Clare from the Hunter Valley: I remember thinking what a dramatic change that must have been for them. We stood gazing out over the Mallee lands, wondering about the flavours their brave new site had to offer. I remember joking that the next hill in that direction was in the Blue Mountains, with the Hydro Majestic Hotel on the top. We waved.

There's a beautiful winery, cafe and tasting complex on the Pauletts' hilltop now: perhaps the most picturesque site in Australia. Neil and Alison's son Matt and his wife Ali are now vital parts of the team; they have 25 hectares of vines on that ridge and down towards the little Polish church and that intermittent trickle of a 'river' that flows north toward Burra and fizzles out on the flats.

When it rains.

Pauletts Rieslings have always been classic Clare: all those lemons and limes and crunchy, austere acidity. Their opening offer, the Paulett's Polish Hill River Clare Valley Riesling 2015 ($23; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is typical of their consistent style: all that bright citrus but with the beginnings of the more tropical ly-chee and rambutan fruits found in the best of the Polish Valley vineyards. There's also an ethereal waft of summer wheatfields in the glass, a smell I often associate with some of the finest Chardonnay of Champagne.

The wine is not so much raw lemon as some of the vineyards elsewhere in Clare: it has the complexity and fleshy softness of Polish Valley, and then that bone dry finish typical of the Rieslings of the rest of the region. Delicious!

In special years, they release a true luxury: currently, it's the Pauletts Antonina Premium Polish Hill River Riesling 2015 ($50; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap). This wine is made from the first free run from the heart of the Polish Hill vineyard. It has everything I love about the standard release, but with a more sultry, smoky bacon pudge atop all that citrus. It also offers a faint waft of spice, like whole fresh nutmeg, or maybe its skin, which we call mace.

The flavours are richer and softer, and they seem to move into your mouth and settle there like they own it, rather than pass through it and over it. While the standard wine is the sort that seems hardly to settle in the icebucket and the damned thing's empty, this is the one that makes you sit down and think and stare and ponder. It's a profound, provocative mystery.

More frivolous, even funny, is the old-fashioned Pauletts Late Harvest Polish Hill River Riesling 2015 ($20; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap). Made after what we used to call the spætlese style, it's been kept slightly sweet. That extra dash of unfermented grape sugar seems to trap sweet honey florals in the bouquet, and adds a slightly fluffy texture to the regular austerity of the steely Riesling foundations.

If you're feeling traditional and maybe a touch Polish or Silesian, this baby is perfect for elevenses, with sweet white tea and apple streuselkuchen. If it's dark and late, I'd take its straight to the local Thai, and have it chilled with a table laden with chilli, garlic, galangal, coriander, lemon grass and all those other lovely lift-me-ups.  Rock AND roll.

06 February 2016

KAY BROTHERS: 125th VINTAGE LUNCH

The Kay family, owners of Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards in McLaren Vale, gave a lovely lunch today in their 1895 cellar to celebrate the launch of a fine family history book, Kay Brothers - The First 125 Years, written by Alice Kay with James Dunsmore and Colin Kay, and published by the very special Adelaide company, Wakefield Press.

This is Colin Kay speaking. Many members of the Kay family took their turns to pay loving and witty respect to the tireless generations that went before. We took a tasty lunch with beautiful Kay Brothers wines. That dry vintage air hung heavy with memories and anecdote for three perfect hours.

Many Kays gathered around to assist Colin cut the book cake. We ate slices of it with their first sparkling Shiraz, a brilliant rich but balanced wine which has immediately taken a place in the front ranks of this rare Australian style.

That's young George Kay with his Mum Elspeth and Grandpa Colin. At four years of age, he made a good speech, too, about how he loves tasting the grapes with Grandpa at vintage

Watch DRINKSTER for a forthcoming review of this important book. It's a telling glimpse into the sort of tireless toil that builds these mighty enduring Australian wine families. 

The Kay Brothers board, just by the way, is always 50-50, men and women.

photos©Philip White
 

YEAR OF THE RED HOT MONKEYS

Yiu Lai Shuk, usually called Grandma, hits her hundredth on the fourth day of this Chinese new year. 

This year is Red Monkey of the fire element: hot headed Monkeys! 

Grandma, her daughter Dora and grand daughter Gi Gi were the first folks to bring classical teochew 潮州菜  regional cuisine to Adelaide, with chef So, in the famous T-Chow.

That's Grandma with Chris Sykes, GiGi's partner, and the author in Park Lok. 

05 February 2016

WIRRA WIRRA BELL RINGS VINTAGE 2016

'Twas the beginning of vintage bell-ringing this morning at Wirra Wirra, bang in the heart of McLaren Vale. A fine big mob left their wine presses to turn up for a lot of drinks and a delicious repast on the lawn. First WW boss Andrew Kay made a good speech while Bushing King Steve Pannell looked on, with Queen Fiona Lindquist ... then King Steve made a speech: "Make wines that you want to drink," was his sage advice to the vendageurs ... 

... after which the royal party entered the special inner chamber and pulled the hell chimes outa that huge bell ... Trotty woulda loved it ...

... after which they fired the trebuchet up to hurl a few watermelons at the Wirra Wirra sign on a barrel up the hill in the vineyard ... this is Cath Trott letting one go ... she missed the target, but got the greatest distance ... lotta depth in their trebuchet, them Trotts ... they have an admirable approach to siege machinery ... at the bottom is the great Wirra bell tower reflected in a rainbarrel ... photos©Philip White 

... and here's our beloved Trotty, who I miss terribly ... he died a quick decade back: