“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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26 November 2008

NUDGING THE HONEY MOON BARRELS

by PHILIP WHITE - This was published in The Independent Weekly on 21 NOV 08


There’s nothing new about vineyards being subdivided for villa rash. South Australian winemakers have been at it since the colony began.


John Barton Hack’s North Adelaide vineyards were barely two years old when he subdivided the land in 1839, took his money to Echunga and started again: 500 vines to begin; 3000 more in 1842.


There’s nothing new about South Australian developers and speculators going broke, either. Hack had barely got his first vintage fermented when debt swallowed him in 1843; by 1844 Walter Duffield had the vineyard and became the State’s first wine exporter when he sent a case of his Echunga Springs to Queen Victoria. He was then prosecuted for selling wine without a license.


But Duffield had 14 acres of vines and orchard at Para Inga, on the river north of Gawler, by 1862, where he soon learned about the fickle nature of irrigation. “We are sure a considerable quantity of very tolerable raisins might be gathered” wine writer Ebenezer Ward scratched drily upon his visit in the drought of February 1862.


At least Duffield got his vineyard mix right that time: while Echunga was all white grapes, the Gawler vineyard included shiraz and mataro alongside the verdelho and muscats.


Back to Echunga. Enter Hylton McLean and Jane Bromley, quite a few years later. Their brave little Honey Moon Vineyard rides the ridge east of the village, above a gully laced with springs. They planted reds there in tough podsolic soils shot with ironstone in 2004; their first wines are stunning.


“Our climate’s half way between Burgundy and the Rhone”, says Hylton, “so we reckon shiraz and pinot noir can co-exist here”. And co-exist they do, just as they work perfectly, given the right soils, at Romney Park, on a similar ridge the other side of Hahndorf. And again on the piedmont of Mount Barker, at Ngeringa.


We stood nudging the barrels on the apron of the neat Honey Moon cellar last week, a warm breeze stirring the leaves. If the air was not so sweet and acrid from eucalyptus and very Australian grass pollens, and the kelpie not so persistent in troubling us with sticks, we could indeed have been in Burgundy in the summer.


The barrels certainly smelt of Burgundy: a range of oaks, of differing ages, from the better forests of France, wrangled, toasted and wrought by the coopering world’s equivalents of Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy. Their contents were Burgundian too: pinots that evoked cellar after cellar from that amazing slope of gold; but sinister gunblue shiraz that glinted with as much Australian depth as earthy Rhonish elegance.


As Beaujolais is between France’s pinot and shiraz vignobles, I couldn’t help wondering what bright games its gamay grape might play in these Hills. Somebody will try it. That would be fun, and an earlier-drinking, cheekier red that would see some winery income a year or two quicker than the more serious models.


Hylton McLean taught wine science for may years; he now works on experimental oenology at Pernod Ricard’s Rowland Flat winery. He’s certainly not a sub-divider. One can’t tread too much of the Honey Moon property without being aware of how painstakingly it was sought and selected.


“We’re at 420 metres here, so at night it’s more continental”, Hylton said. “This last vintage, it’d be 41 degrees in the day, but we’d be quickly back to twelve at night.”


The 2008 Honey Moon Vineyard Rosé ($19; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points) is a bright and cheeky young thing made from pinot and shiraz. It’s all saucy raspberry, strawberry and cranberry, with, as Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks observed, “a maraschino cherry sitting on the top”. But as the seduction continues, stone fruits and kernels become apparent further down the drink, while an acrid edge of those mean weathered soils adds a sexy, husky dry note. The flavours are pretty much what those aromas prophesied, but better. It’s deep and delicious stuff, bone dry, with the texture of a good chardonnay.


While that rosé was pretty much along the lines of your Folies Bergere, the 2007 pinot noir was straight to a modern Burgundian cellar. The oak had squirted a streak of gingery lemon through a precise cordial of raspberry, wild cherries and juniper berries. It’s nutty, like a cheeky Dujac, and finishes very very deep, juicy and long. $33; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points.


Honey Moon Vineyard Shiraz 2007 ($27; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points) is a triumph in the inevitable march towards lower alcohols. It’s almost like malbec: as much gun blue as shiitake and blueberry; as much British Racing Green in mood as your pinus full of black cockatoos. Black tea; black pepper; black fruits ... Glory be.


If you feel like sending some to the Queen, Hylton, I'll frock up right away.

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25 November 2008

POSH DROPS ROT ON LA SHELVERY

FROM THE LA TIMES:

High-end bottles languish on shelves as shoppers opt for cheaper vintages. 'The state of the economy' is nothing to celebrate, a retailer says.
By Jerry Hirsch
November 22, 2008
In most years, store manager Diana Hirst considers herself lucky if she can snag six bottles of $265 Araujo Napa Valley cult Cabernet Sauvignon to stock in her Costa Mesa wine shop.

This year she can get dozens -- a sign of how the Wall Street meltdown is rippling across the alluvial fields of Napa Valley to the chalky limestone vineyards of Champagne in France.

Sales of high-end wine are plummeting, wine merchants say, and once-rationed top California Cabernets are in ample supply. The coveted 2005 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild from Bordeaux is languishing on store shelves for $549. That's an astronomical price for less than a liter of fermented grape juice but only half of what it sold for just a few months ago.

And Champagne -- that universal symbol of largess? Sales have plunged because "the state of the economy" is nothing to celebrate, said Randy Kemner, owner of Wine Country in Signal Hill.

People are still drinking wine. They are just spending less.

"I still drink wine with my wife every night, but before I might have bought Santa Barbara County Pinot Noirs for $20 to $30; now I am paying $9.99 for a Castle Rock Pinot from Mendocino County," said Pablo Urquiza, a freelance television producer who lives in Marina del Rey.

He's not alone.

Sales of wine for $9 or less make up the fastest-growing segment of the wine market and sales above that price are starting to trend down, said Jon Fredrikson, a Woodside, Calif., industry analyst.

Consumers are trading down to wine they consider "values," Fredrikson said.

Kemner of Wine Country is trying to get ahead of that trend. Last month he went on a supermarket shopping spree, buying about 50 bottles of mass-market "corporate wines of the type we usually don't sell."

The wine merchant and his staff tasted the wines and selected two dozen to offer in the store as "recession busters" starting from $5.99 for a FishEye Merlot to $14.99 for a La Crema Chardonnay. Armed with his sales receipts, Kemner demanded a price break from his distributors so that he could match supermarket prices and still make a profit.

Kemner hopes the less expensive selection will take off as the holidays approach. Sales at Wine Country were off 28% in October compared with a year ago. November sales are running 16% below last year's figures, even after factoring in a bump-up around the presidential election earlier this month.

"We are working leaner and we are still profitable but we understand that we have to dig around for wines that overachieve," Kemner said.

Hirst also is pushing bargain wines at her Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. She's looking for lower-priced wines from Spain, Argentina and Chile to fight off the slump in costlier selections.

"Every time the stock market takes a dive we see a few slow days," Hirst said.

Champagne and signature California reds such as the 2005 vintages of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Joseph Phelps Bordeaux-style blend are particularly slow even though they are well-regarded wines, she said.

Hi-Time Wine has cut its inventory by about 10%, "and we have not hired for the holidays; we are all just going to work more hours," Hirst said.

Wine retailers aren't the only ones feeling the pain: Consumers are dining out less, slashing wine sales by as much as 15% in restaurants, Fredrikson said. All of this translates to lower sales for California's wineries, which sell wine with a retail value of $19 billion annually. Americans drink $30 billion worth of wine each year.

"Our sales are down about 10%, and I am surprised they are only down by that amount," said Ron Melville, owner of Melville Vineyards and Winery in the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

At Charles Krug, visitors to Napa Valley's oldest winery are spending less, said Peter Mondavi Jr., whose family owns the business. Tasting room sales have held up compared with last year only because the winery has undergone a major renovation and more people are visiting, he said.

As retailers and dining establishments cut back, many small wineries -- which don't produce enough to have a large presence in grocery or other chain stores -- are seeing their inventories bloat. Distributors and wholesalers are cutting orders because they don't want to purchase wine that could take months to sell.

"This creates a real question with tight credit now about whether some of these wineries will have the credit lines available to wait this out," Fredrikson said.

And there are more ominous signs for smaller wineries that sell directly to consumers. Oenophile Urquiza cut back on his membership in wine clubs -- where customers sign up for discounted shipments of wine -- to just one from three.

Still, if you have the cash, the slump has created a unique opportunity to invest in First Growth Bordeaux and Burgundy Grand Cru vintages -- among the elite of the wine world -- said Steve Wallace, owner of Wally's Wine & Spirits in Westwood.

While the price of that '05 Mouton-Rothschild has fallen by half this year, the 2007 vintage sells for less, $383. Both vintages are highly rated by Bordeaux wine guru Robert Parker.

"These prices are from back in the 1980s," Wallace said. "I never thought I would see that."

Hirsch is a Times staff writer.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com
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23 November 2008

KIWI RECORDS SMASHED; NO PANNELL BEATERS

PRESS RELEASE FROM STEVE PANNELL


Good News Story #1


Tonight, the title ‘Best Sauvignon Blanc’ has been wrenched from the hands of the Kiwis after a six-year strangehold, with the epithet awarded to Stephen Pannell and his S.C. Pannell 2007 Sauvignon Blanc.


The annual Tri-Nations Wine Challenge is a tough competition chaired by three judges who represent the who’s who of wine sovereignty in their respective nations – James Halliday (Australia), Bob Campbell MW (New Zealand) and Michael Fridjhon (South Africa). They choose just seven wines in each of the 15 categories, totalling 315 wines for judgment. The wines are entered by invitation-only, making these awards unique by world standards.


With Sauvignon Blanc being the signature variety of the New Zealand wine industry, this loss presents a crushing blow. Stephen Pannell, owner and winemaker of S.C. Pannell wines, strongly believes an Aussie win was long overdue. “The Kiwis won the Best Shiraz trophy yet again this year, so quite frankly the judging panel has assigned a little bit of justice. And we need to win something - it’s clearly not going to be in the cricket,” remarked Stephen.


The win also demonstrates that sauvignon blanc can reap some sound rewards with a little more time in bottle. Unlike his friends across the ditch, Stephen chooses to release his sauvignon blanc a year after vintage.


Good News Story #2


The Alternative Varieties Wine Show, held each year in Mildura is arguably the most exciting and intriguing show on the wine calendar. It aims to cultivate emerging varieties and styles, and is a true discovery ground, bringing to the fore the type of wines usually marginalised at mainsteam wine shows. It now attracts some 600+ entries from throughout Australia and New Zealand. The show has just wrapped up, and the panel led by Chair Max Allen reckoned the S.C. Pannell 2006 Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo an absolute stand-out, and was the only wine awarded Gold in its class.


Good News Story #3


On a recent trip to London, Stephen was hosting a dinner with renown Barolo producer G.D Vajra whom Stephen had also spent some time working with in 2004. It was the usual, very serious wine affair, with eight of London’s top Italian restaurant sommeliers in attendance. In one of the wine tasting brackets, guests were served the 2004 Langhe Nebbiolo from Vajra and S.C. Pannell’s own 2005 Adelaide Hills Nebbiolo. The wines were masked and the guests were told that one wine was an Aussie, the other an Italian, and the challenge was set for them to guess which was which.


Out of all sommeliers, only one of them got it right.


About Stephen Pannell


Stephen Pannell grew up in the wine industry as a member of the family which founded Moss Wood in 1967. Stephen’s extensive knowledge and experience has been garnered over many years working with some Australia’s iconic wineries (including Wirra Wirra, Hardy’s Tintara and BRL Hardy where he was Chief Red Winemaker from 1999 to 2003) alongside numerous overseas vintages at such places as Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy, Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux and G.D. Vajra in Barolo. Other highlights in Stephen’s career include winning the title of International Red Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine Challenge in London, winning the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, twice winning the Max Schubert Trophy at the Adelaide Wine Show as well as being listed as one of the 50 most influential contributors to the world of wine by Decanter Magazine. In addition to establishing his own label, S.C.Pannell, Stephen has a wine consulting business withclients in Australia, Argentina, UK and Spain, and is a member of the Qantas wine selection panel. “This is a label which is well on the way to icon-status.” - James Halliday, The Australian Wine Companion 2008.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 21 November 2008


For further information and images, please contact: Llawela Forrest - RUN FORREST. M: 0400 586 991. E: llawela@runforrest.com.au


FOOTNOTE FROM PHILIP WHITE:


The new Pannell wines will soon be reviewed on DRANKSTER. The nebbiolo is from Frank and Rosie Baldasso's PROTERO vineyard between Gumeracha and Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills. For the latest PROTERO knockout, read the article below.


COMMENTS


Anonymous Lord Byron said...

"They choose just seven wines in each of the 15 categories, totalling 315 wines for judgment. The wines are entered by invitation-only, making these awards unique by world standards."

While I quite like Steve's wines, and am growing sick and tired of over-cropped industrial Marlboroughs, I find the above quote very interesting. Is there any such thing as an honest blind wine competition anymore?

November 24, 2008 7:50 AM


AND ANOTHER ONE:

How many more of these claims are we gonna get from this tasting these three blokes had of wines they’d nominated themselves? This is the spin from McWilliams:


Press release


AUSTRALIA’S GREATEST WHITE WINE


AUSTRALIAN WINE THAT BEAT THE KIWIS AND SOUTH AFRICANS RELEASED TODAY!


An Australian wine which has garnered international attention and critical acclaim will be released in Australia today. Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2003, which won three trophies including ‘Best Wine of Show’ at the Tri Nations Wine Challenge, can now be found in limited quantities on shelves across Australia.


The wine’s ability to reward cellaring for up to 30 years is a rarity with Australian white wine and has been appreciated by international critics and wine show judges for more than five decades, however Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon is still relatively unknown among most Australian wine drinkers.


Described by leading UK wine critic Matthew Jukes as, “…the finest single vineyard Sem in the

world,” Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon has also been named a ‘Landmark Wine of Australia’

and is rated ‘Excellent’ on the prestigious Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine IV.


“Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon represents a style unique to Australia and the Hunter Valley, from a very special piece of soil in the region. I’m pleased that these distinctive elements have been recognized. It is also pleasing to see Australia once again demonstrate why we’re such a powerful player on the international wine stage,” Mr Ryan said.


The 2003 vintage of Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon – released today – won the Best Other

White Trophy, Best White Wine Trophy and Best Wine of Show Trophy at the Tri Nations Wine

Challenge, announced last Friday night. The wine has also won a gold medal at the International

Wine and Spirit Competition, in London, and a gold medal at the Melbourne Wine Show.


The Tri Nations Wine Challenge sees wines from Australia, New Zealand and Africa compete to win trophies in several categories. Wines can only be entered after receiving an invitation by an

esteemed group of judges that includes UK wine critic Robert Joseph, James Halliday (Australia), Bob Campbell MW (New Zealand) and Michael Fridjhon (South Africa).


Due to the tight criteria for entry and the status of the judging panel, the competition has quickly

established a reputation as one of the most challenging and demanding to win.


Overall, Australia – supported by the success of McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon – was named as ‘Country of the Show’.

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22 November 2008

NOTHING LIKE A KNOCK ON THE HEAD

by PHILIP WHITE - This was published in The Independent Weekly on 14 NOV 08

Great week for thirst. Must have been that knock on the head. One minute I’m making a speech to a restaurant full of people about the wonders of Frank and Rosie Baldasso’s Protero wines, grown on the ridge between Gumeracha and Lobethal, and the next I’m regaining consciousness with a lovely blonde ambo asking are you still with us, Mr. White. Nice pink smudge of blood and hair on the wall at my head.

Having experience in these matters, I believe I woke demanding to know who’d hit me.

After an audacious and stunning repast in the Greedy Goose, 10/10, I’d attempted to stand, and with my slydexia and everything, got my chair caught in the carpet and went arse-up, headlong onto a brick window sill. Out cold. Years of painstaking back recuperation suddenly put back, well, years. And people think this job is easy.

Funny things, restaurants. The main reason for my need for recuperation was a restaurant. Auge. Or the blokes it had in it. Gary Steele, the ex-SAS Burgundy shipper of Domaine Wine Shippers, wanted me to take dinner with him and Roman Bratasiuk, the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science refugee who after many, many long lunches and a swillion beers in The Exeter, escaped government service to make a few feral wines vaguely after the style of his Balkan brethren, which of course attracted the attention of Robert Parker Jr. and eventually earned young Roman a scarlet Ferrari on his Clarendon Hills account. Steele arranged the dinner to patch up any misunderstandings I might have had with Bratasuik, but picked me up for a cuddle and fell on top of me. I knew that was gonna take a long time to heal before I even hit the floor. Gary is about 6'5" and 22 stone.

Bratasiuk is not my friend. He sells his wine through Steele and buys his Bordeaux and Burgundy from Steele. Steele is my friend. He would probably be a closer friend if I had enough of the Clarendon Hills money to buy Bordeaux and Burgundy from him.

But that was another restaurant, another time, and by the Protero dinner, I had almost repaired.

During a moist, confused epoch which might politely be called this, my most recent recuperation, I dreamed I heard Barack Obama claiming victory in the American elections. I thought I heard Laurie Oakes saying he’d written a book, and an Irishman saying the track was too hard for poor old Septimus. Something about the Reserve Bank. Dudley Brown, of Inkwell vineyard, loomed distortedly, claiming he’d won the Melbourne Cup sweep and that he hadn’t left the Republican Party; it had left him. There were thirteen wood ducks on the lawn. And then, through the whiskied mists of concussion, Paul Holloway said there would be no more housing in the wine regions of Barossa and McLaren Vale.

“Because the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale are important economic areas of the state”, I dreamed I heard him say, “because they’re wine regions, also significant tourism regions, it would not make sense to have urban encroachment to a significant extent into those areas. So we’ll avoid those areas and the areas that we’ll be looking at for future expansion are those areas where there’ll be less impact on the important tourism and economic areas. So yes we do recognise those areas but look it’s simple common sense: why would you want to encroach on areas that are important to the economy because of the significant contribution that they make to the state’s economy through the wine industry and the tourism industry? Clearly that would be put at threat if we allowed rampant urban development within those areas.”

Clearly. Leaving the Barossa bit out for the moment - I’ll write about that end of the see-saw once my head has cleared and I’ve been up for a chat with the leading locals - the implications for McLaren Vale are enough for now. There’d been a stand-off for months, as rumours of government relaxing development restrictions on the key villages of the Willunga Basin had developers rattling their bulldozer keys and winegrowers panicking keenly about the value of their vineyards.

The main street of McLaren Vale is a developer’s breakfast. The tractor dealership on the corner of the main street and the Kangarilla Road has shut, so there’s another golden opportunity to make a mess. The ribbon development to McLaren Flat grows like cancer; the latter village is malignantly busting its boundaries. Willunga: ditto. More houses? Rather have a hole in the head.

Not to mention the little matters of the prospective Bowering Hill development – the last chance for the Vales vineyards and agriculture to actually reach the gulf St Vincent, patron of viticulturers - and Glenthorne Farm, O’Halloran Hill, on which the University wants to plant 1,000 houses.

Both these contentious villa rash prospects lie within the officially gazetted McLaren Vale geographic boundary. The northern boundary was quite deliberately drawn around Glenthorne to ensure nobody could in the future argue that it wasn’t part of the McLaren Vale wine district.

When the winery then called BRL-Hardy promised to buy the fruit the vineyards would produce under the deed the University signed, the boundary was drawn around Glenthorne so any wine thus made could be called McLaren Vale.

So what, prithee, could these dreams mean? What might the ambiguity of “urban encroachment to a significant extent” permit in the nefarious wiles of the future? Do 1,000 houses on Glenthorne add up to significant?

Patrick Conlon says the government will not release the Bowering Hill land for development, throwing the gauntlet back to winemakers to come up with a workable solution. Glenthorne Farm is another matter.

But back to the Olden Days and that Protero dinner. That was real. Viognier: elegant, austere, bone dry tannins. Lovely. Chardonnay: pears and schist. Lean, clean and bone dry. Appetising. Cabernet sauvignon: feminine, elegant, perfumed and floral. Cellar for five years. Merlot: think Bordeaux. Sweet, clean, pretty. Coffee and chicory; chocolate. A neat rival to the stunning Romney Park. Merlot cabernet: much better! More complex; cream and moss; beautiful natural acidity. Dry as a chip. Needs seven years.

Now Philip, don’t, whatever you do, don’t stand up too quickly ...

12 November 2008

NAPA EXTENDS PLANNING HOLD TIL 2058


Can South Australian planning experts learn something from the Napa Valley? You bet. Ambiguous statements by SA Planning Minister Paul Holloway deeply concern lovers of beautiful wine regions, like McLaren Vale (pictured) and the Barossa. Click on the photograph to go to Wines And Vines, the source of the following story.Photo: Milton Wordley

by Kate Lavin - 7 November 2008


Napa, Calif. -- Residents of Napa County on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to extend Measure J, the agricultural lands preservation initiative passed in 1990, for another 50 years.

Like its predecessor, Measure P required a vote of the people in order to redesignate agricultural, watershed or open space land within the county and make it available for development. Supporters said that the five-member Board of Supervisors should not wield sole control over the future of open space within the county.

"Everybody likes (Measure J), and what happened in the intervening 18 years (since it passed) is that people have seen that the measure does nothing against business. It isn't bad for anybody--the realtors are making tons of money since the land prices are sky-high anyway, so nobody is complaining," said Volker Eisele, founder of Volker Eisele Family Estate in the Chiles Valley viticultural area.

Measure P gained the support of 62% of the voters who cast ballots by Tuesday. Although there were no formal opponents in the ballot arguement, and it was supported by all five cities within Napa County as well as the Board of Supervisors, 37% of voters rejected the proposal. "A lot of people just vote 'No' on propositions," said Peter Nissen, president of the Napa County Farm Bureau, which backed the initiative.

Nissen added that there were a couple of tweaks to the original measure, which was almost identical to its 1990 predecessor. Besides the 50-year extension, Measure P included a passage allowing it to be in compliance with the housing requirements the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) makes of Napa County. Measure P states that, "Where necessary to comply with applicable state law governing the provision of housing, the board may redesignate land designated as 'agriculture, watershed and open space' or 'agricultural resource' on the land use map…without a vote of the people."

Although the original proposition, Measure J, wasn't due to expire until the year 2020, its authors decided to include the extension measure on the Nov. 4 ballot because the 2008 presidential election was predicted to draw a huge number of voters.

"This is a convenient year because it was a normal election year," said Mel Varrelman, one of the authors of Measure P and former Napa County supervisor. "That measure was due to sunset in about 10 years or so, and we started looking at (an extension) a little over two years ago."

Shortly after voters approved Measure J in November 1990, four residents joined Richard DeVita in bringing a lawsuit against Napa County. The suit, backed by the Building Industry Association of Northern California, alleged that the General Plan could not be changed at the will of the voters. After a series of verdicts and appeals, the case was argued before the California Supreme Court, which sided with the county and upheld Measure J.

Since the enactment of Measure J, voters have approved a handful of the proposals put before them--expansion of Bistro Don Giovanni, the Stanly Lane pumpkin patch and a boat storage facility in Lake Berryessa--while rejecting others, such as a large development project south of the city of Napa.

"It has kept out several massive projects out of Napa County," Varrelman said, citing a large project one developer hoped to build south of the city of Napa. "And I think, because of the Measure J requirement, we can't count the number of people who were discouraged" from even trying to get their projects approved.

Although winegrapes are the most popular agricultural export from Napa County, Eisele said that the legislation was crafted to protect all land designated for open space, watersheds or agriculture.

"If I switched from growing Cabernet to growing tomatoes, the land would be just as important," he said. Measure P "is not winery or vineyard specific. It really puts the bar a little bit higher, since supervisors are an easier place to get exceptions than the voters at large."

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SENSIBLE NAPA PLANNING IDEAS TO COPY

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The Land Trust Of Napa County


The Land Trust of Napa County is a local non-profit organization formed in 1976 charged with maintaining the rural character of Napa County by protecting the area's most important open space and agricultural lands for present and future generations. The Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization supported by more than 1,600 members. Since our founding, we have worked cooperatively with private landowners and public conservation agencies to permanently protected over 33,000 acres in Napa County. Over 20,000 acres of these lands are covered by conservation easements with private landowners. Napa's extraordinary beauty and its proximity to the Bay Area mean that housing pressures for our County will likely continue to increase. The vintners and growers on the following list have made a loud response to this threat. Through the use of conservation easements on their properties, they have permanently assured that their lands will forever remain in open space and agriculture. www.napalandtrust.org


Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group


The Napa Valley Vintners supports the Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group - a group dedicated to promoting sustainable farming practices including natural farming, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), pesticide reduction or elimination and, restoration of natural habitats on vineyard properties. The mission of the Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group (NSWG) is to identify and promote winegrowing practices that are economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally sound. Specifically, the Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group promotes viticultural land stewardship through educational outreach. Formed in October 1995 the group is comprised of members representing Napa winegrape growers, vintners, and local government and educational organizations. Additionally, the group is interested in identifying and acknowledging sustainable practices that are already being used effectively throughout the district. Visit the Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group Web site at www.nswg.org.


The Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group recently released"Vineyards in the Watershed: Sustainable Winegrowing in Napa County." The book, written by local author Juliane Poirier Locke was funded by the Napa Valley Vintners and other community and environmental groups such as the Audubon Society Napa-Solano Chapter; Friends of the Napa River; Sierra Club; and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, among others.


The concept for the book began as a technical treatise targeting vineyard managers. It evolved into a collection of feature stories that richly describe how local vintners and grape growers are developing and implementing environmentally friendly, sustainable farming practices. Vineyards in the Watershed is comprised of a series of case studies and personal interviews with local farmers. Topics addressed include soil erosion, wildlife and habitat protection, organic farming, water use and quality, and more. Cost for the book is $15.95 plus tax. For a list of retail locations or to purchase Vineyards in the Watershed, contact the Napa County Resource Conservation District at 707-252-4188 or via e-mail at: nswg@naparcd.org.

Watershed Task Force


In 2000, a group comprised of representatives from the County Planning Commission, environmental community, vintners, growers, developers, engineers and county residents was appointed by the Napa County Board of Supervisors to identify possible ways to improve the Napa River Watershed.


After working together the task force submitted an official set of recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Among the recommendations were changes to the existing conservation regulations, including ways to improve conditions for the habitat and for restoring the health of the Napa River.


The Napa Valley Vintners, Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa County Grape Growers and the Napa County Sierra Club came together to support and endorse the recommendations of the Watershed Task Force which includes Biological Analysis and Resource Protection, Oak Tree Preservation, Erosion Control Plan Requirements and, Watershed Protection Incentives to name a few.


San Francisco Bay Estuary Institute


The Napa Valley Vintners supports The Napa Watershed Historical Ecology Project of the San Francisco Bay Estuary Institute. The project is a collaborative effort to learn the history of the local landscape. The project seeks to recover, organize, and interpret diverse information about the early local landscape and how it has changed. Since conditions have changed rapidly in the last two centuries, historical research is necessary to explain current conditions of local streams, forests, wetlands, and other habitats. The project can help the community define and understand the existing environmental challenges and suggest how they can be successfully resolved. The San Francisco Bay Estuary Institute is an independent, non-profit science organization. Visit the Web site at www.sfei.org.

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Napa Sets Long Green Example



MARANANGA, BAROSSA: While Paul Holloway, the South Australian Planning Minister, says his government won't put too much more housing in the Barossa and McLaren Vale, concerned lovers of the country think a deal like the one that exists in the Napa Valley might be more comforting. Photo: Milton Wordley



From Napa Vintners:


While it may appear to the casual observer that Napa County is bursting with grape vines, the truth is that only nine percent of Napa County is planted in vineyards and less than three percent remains suitable for grape planting, according to the findings of the Napa County Watershed Task Force.


Napa County encompasses 485,120 acres in total and just 45,275 acres are planted in vineyards.


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, landowners realized that the encroaching urban growth to the south all but guaranteed that their land values were about to increase exponentially. Left unchecked much of the Valley could by now have become paved over and covered in tract-homes and strip-malls similar to Santa Clara Valley, once a thriving agricultural area.


In 1968, Napa Valley vintners and others in the community had the forethought to preserve open space and prevent future over-development by enacting the nation's first Agriculture Preserve. Since its adoption, not one acre of land has been removed from the preserve. This land-zoning ordinance established agriculture and open space as the "best use" for the land in the "fertile valley and foothill areas of Napa County." Initially the ordinance protected 23,000 acres of agricultural land stretching from Napa in the south to Calistoga. Today, more than 36,000 acres are contained within the Preserve.


Thirty years ago, in the formative stages of today's Napa Valley wine industry, local vintners joined the community's successful opposition to Caltrans plans for a freeway running up the valley. Twenty years ago, vintners and others promoted the successful passage of Measure A. Eleven years ago, the "2020 Initiative" was passed to hold all county land zonings in place through the year 2020 unless changed by a 2/3 vote of the people.


Local vintners are well into a second-generation effort to preserve the Valley. Working with the the Land Trust of Napa County, vintners are joining other property owners in placing their land into Conservation Easements. These easements dictate how designated parcels will be used in perpetuity - without a sunset date.


Of the approximately 11,000 acres of Napa County acreage that is forever guaranteed to remain rural through the Conservation Easement program, 5,100 acres been set aside by vintners. Those who place their land in these easements are making a bottom line sacrifice. Another 16,000 acres are protected under the Williamson Act, a program that provides incentives to keep land in agriculture production and open space.


Vintners have played a big role in the history of the Napa Valley's preservation. And we will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that the pastoral beauty and intact natural environment that we all enjoy today still exists for future generations.


http://www.napavintners.com/about/ab_2_land.aspx

Good Time Charlie’s Got The Booze

















Graham "Charlie" Melton of Charles Melton Wines



by PHILIP WHITEThis was published in The Advertiser in 1992


These are very strange times. Strange times indeed.


Vintage has started, right? Right. Because of that, and the forthcoming Barossa Vintage Festival, the Barossa boys have been pretty quiet in the promotion ring, right? Yep. The wine industry’s in a nosedive anyway, sos there’s not much money going into the promotion of anything, right? Unfortunately, yes. Right. Charlie Melton runs one of the smallest wineries in the state, right? Yes, of course. If not the state, then most certainly it’s the smallest in the Barossa. Right. So he’d be the last bloke you’d expect to be campaigning his brands through the wineshops of Melbourne like he was running for Presidency of the United States, wouldn’t you say? Well, sure. So what am I doing in Melbourne, at Charlie’s expense, sitting back with the fat Melbourne food and wine prophets and scribes, chin-deep in fabulous tucker and completely awash in French wine?


Why? Launching the new releases of Charlie Melton’s Nine Popes, dunderhead.


Strange times indeed.


This is a true story. And, it turns out, a story of success.


We’re in a lovely grotty pub in the backblocks of Richmond, see, surrounded by terrible high-rise apartments crammed chock full of Vietnamese. This pub, the All Nations, is Richmond’s version of the Exeter, see. Charlie, who’s really called Graham, and never Charles, which is written boldly across his bottles, is nervous. He gets nervous when there’s Big Stuff afoot, as anyone’s who’s caught sight of him on the eve of things like the Barossa Classic Gourmet will guarantee. And here is, trapped in the All Nations, a long, long way from home. The more hardened members of the Fourth Estate are tipping in freezing beers with the Fifth Columnists, the back-biters and syndicators at the pock-marked bar, while the more prissy of the pressfolk hover warily in the background. Charlie’s pacing up and down.


“Well”, he says, “well I might have a beer with youse and then, well, some of us might like to go through for the tasting ... well, it’s just a bit of a tasting I’ve set up.”


“Gorn Charlie you’re jokin’ arncha? Not a masked tasting!” the brutes guffaw, and Charlie says “well it’s a bit of a tasting” so we up and down the beers on Carlie’s tab and head through to the tasting where our man has masked a string of bottles which include several medium-to-good Chateauneuf reds, a wicked little Italian dolcetto, and his own Nine Popes from 1989 and 1990.


Now Nine Popes is so named because that is what Charlie thought neuf-du-pape meant, and he makes the black, wickedly sinful stuff more or less from the grenache grape, which is the prominent red berry in that veritable zoo of weird grapes which they run in the lumpy limestone of the Chateauneuf-du-pape region of France’s Rhone delta.


Grenache has also been a very widely planted variety in places like the Barossa and McLaren Vale, where in days gone by it was the staple red for blending with shiraz. The advent of the steely-eyed wine technologist, however, saw this rather farmyardy workhourse berry fall from favour, and things like the notorious Vine Pull Scheme sentenced swillions of lovely old grenache vines to death by dozer.


Remembering the agricultural majesty of those grand reds from the past - Max Schubert says he happily used grenache in the odd Grange – and observing both the continuing significance of the grape in France and its fall from grace in Australia, Charlie quite correctly saw it as a cheap way of getting back to the heartland of traditional Aussie wine lore, while offering his customers something warming and unusual along the way.


It worked. Nine Popes became a cult item. But here on the bench at the back of the All Nations in Richmond, the more callow of the hacks began mumbling that Charlie had gone too far, putting his booze up against the expensive Frogs.


But these are strange times, remember. To a bitch, sorry, woman, the Melbourne winos and foodists, who are not only the nation’s fattest, most precious, and certainly most parochial and parsimonious, voted Charlie’s Nine Popes 1990 the best tot on the table. Not just the best, but the best by about six furlongs. And a nose. The Barossa boy triumphed.


They all take these things with great reverence and seriousness in Melbourne, so during the meal, the guests stood, one by one, and offered their testimonials and judgements and their admirations of Melton, and I have to tell you, it gave me a little gooey rush of pride for our side of the border and latter-day pioneers like Charlie.


There is some irony in that while doffing his hat to the smelly old Aussie grenache wines, and the smelly old Chateauneuf-du-pape red wines, Charlie makes very modern, clean grenache under his Nine Popes label, and it seems this perhaps accidental major doffing of the Melton hat to squeaky cleanness and stainless technology is what attracted the palates of Melbourne’s press.


Being more of a traditionalist in the true barnyard sense, I was much kinder to many of the imported wines, and when my turn came for testimony, I suggested there was some tragedy in the ruthlessness with which my esteemed colleagues beheaded the brews which showed all those lovely whiffs of cowsheds and meatsafes and unwashed children and isovaleric acid.


These, I believe, are the very smells which make many of the greatest wines great, the not so great wines good, and, of course, many of the worst wines awful. They are not, in themselves, a sinful act. They are simply there, like the red colour, or the wetness. The mob sniggered at this blasphemy, so I sat down, and let Charlie enjoy his day.


While I completely agree that the Nine Popes 1990 is a good wine, I suspect that its reliance on grenache alone makes it more straightforward than the Chateauneuf-du-pape wines, which usually include a further fruitsalad of varieties like cinsault, mourvedre, muscardin, vaccarese, cournoise and shiraz. It is also common for the French to add measures of the white varieties piccardin, roussanne, terret noir and bourboulenc to the reds.


Few of these varieties are grown in Australia, and, until they are, close comparisons of such blends to wine like the estimable Nine Popes, or indeed the Rockford Dry Country Grenache, are of little value other than to satisfy curiosity, and, I suppose, as seemed to be the case in Melbourne, opportunities to reinforce old prejudices.


I must say that Nine Popes aside, I found the Clos du Papes 1984 great fun because of its naughty turned French pungency and long, teasing finish; the ’83 Jaboulet Chateauneuf deeply satisfying because of its profound toasted chocolate and leather; and the ’85 Guigal Chateauneuf-du-pape fascinating for its impenetrable, taut nose, a common indicator of astonishing longevity in many of these warm climate reds. All these were purchased in Melbourne shops for around $25-$30.


The other unsung star of the day was the Charles Melton Cabernet Sauvignon 1989: a taut, big, silky, simmering wine; sweet and long and jumping with a lovely whiff of violets in there among all the darker stuff. It needs at least five years in bottle, perhaps ten, and sells for about $15. It costs less, of course, at Charlie’s cellar door. In a sense, this clean, sharp mod was closer in style and gastronomic intelligence to the Nine Popes than any of the funky imported punksters.


Anyway, we burbled and bubbled and frothed the afternoon away in the All Nations, and only when the Melbourne lot began to fall did Charlie suggest we try another establishment for the quiet cleanser. One bright spark said he’d take us to a Spanish pub, because the Spanish have grenache, and we zig-zagged through the cobbled backlanes of four or five suburbs and drew up outside a noteworthy thirst emporium prominently labeled The Robert Burns Hotel. Inside, its walls alternated from big swathes of tartan to white Spanish stucco, and, yes, the place was overflowing with Spaniards. This of course played a major role in me missing my aeroplane, my being vigorously frisked, nay, rough-handled at the aerodrome, my being finally placed in a seat surrounded by silent Moslem women, and my consequent whiling away of the hour aloft listening to a team of rather brimming footballers chatter quite loudly about the possibility of these hooded women being on a suicide mission while Charlie emptied his red ute of the wines he had for sale and drove himself back to the Barossa .


Strange times. Strange times and perilous.

.

Good Year For Feathers







by PHILIP WHITE – This was published in The Sydney Review in 1990


Now I’ve become a city slicker I shall miss the muck of vintage. It infects the lives of everyone in some necks of the woods, neo-Dionysians and Primitive Baptists alike.


I lived for a while in the arid badlands north east of the Barossa. Dutton was a dry ghost town perched on the side of the last hill before the land swept down to the endless Mallee flats. Well, it looked like a ghost town. Most of the cottages had people in them, but there was no shop and you never saw anybody. The most recent ghosts were the souls of the poor kids the Truro Murderers buried down on those vast flats around Stonefield. Vintage even affected us there.


If you drove east from my hut, down the slope and off across the flat lands toward your Gilded Palace of Sin on the east coast, the first real hill you’d strike had the Hydro Majestic Hotel sitting on its top, and that’s a bloody long way away.


Most of Australia’s grapes are grown between those two hills.


I lived perched there on my hill, halfway between the Barossa Valley, which doesn’t really look like a valley, and the Murray Valley, which looks even less like a valley. In fact, it’s all the flat land between my hill and yours, fourteen hundred bloody kilometres away. Every damned truck of grapes or must or wine or bottles that sang from one place to the other spread my little joint with a layer of fine red dust.


The starlings always told me when harvest was nigh. A few weeks before any of the first grapes were ready the starlings would call in at my birdbath. It was the only water for thirty kays. They’d muscle the grass parrots aside and spray the feed dish with grape pips. It must have been terribly uncomfortable for the poor little bastards, flying all that way with their bellies tight with green grapes. The nearest vineyard was at least as far away as the nearest water. They would have been busting for a drink as well as an evacuation of their little gizzards by the time they got to me.


The birdies could also be relied upon to signal the beginning of harvest. The roar of the trucks would gradually build up and suddenly, instead of carrying rocks or tractors or oranges or ready-made houses they’d be chock full of the earliest vintage pickings. Even ordinary tip trucks get in on the act. The drivers glue their tailgates shut with giant tubes of stuff they call Gorilla Snot.


Mechanically harvested grapes bear little resemblance to the pleasant peasant basketsful that winery propagandists have preferred we consider down through the ages. The machines literally bash the fruit from their vines, so not only do the bunches shred, but the berries are torn separate and they leak their juice so by the time the tip truck has covered the two hours of dirt road between the River and my place the top layer of its cargo is caked in road dust and the bottom half of the tray is awash with browning juice and regardless of the strength of that Gorilla Snot the tailgates leak. So the roads get sticky with fermenting grape juice which attracts most of the insects in the world which attract most of the birds in the world which get so heady and confident there in their terrible feeding frenzy they tend to get squashed by the next truck. So you can tell when harvest has commenced by the feathers on the roads.


This happens too during the grain harvest. The roads are sticky with dead galahs, and their broken wings signal sadly as you drive by, pink and grey, pink and grey. Once your road has acquired a good layer of grain or insects eating carcases, the carrion birds get in on the act to pig out on the flesh of those who’ve gone before, and they get squashed, too. So there in the beautiful array of grass parrot, rosella and galah feathers you start to get the jet black of the raven, the speckled khaki of the prey birds and some white from the odd maggie and the whole thing makes driving a lot more interesting. Unless you’re on a motorbike, when it becomes lethal. You either end up plucking a drunken hysterical cocky from your visor and face, or slip in the guts of the fallen and catch a painful case of gravel rash mixed with feathers and bird guts and the first wine of the year. There are better ways of ingesting it.


Silly things happen to the trucks, too. A few years back a brace of them were struggling up my hill, their tanks filled with freshly-crushed Murray Valley must. They weren’t chilled tankers. The day was hotter than expected and the trip took longer than they’d planned, and by the time they’d got to my place their must was fermenting vigorously. Half way up the slope the first one blew its top and released a geyser of two or three tonnes of bright purple juice, skins and pips. The second fellow drove straight into this, lost vision, lost traction, and slid gracefully over the edge into a paddock, spilling his fizzy burden into the same thirsty dust. Very absorbent place, Australia.


There are dark little pubs like the Snakepit, undefiled by tourists, where drivers of these trucks see to their thirst and it’s always a delight to join them in their work. You hear the fair dinkum wine industry news, like which Barossa winery is making wine from concentrated apple juice; or which one’s selling Murray Valley plonk to the Hunter, pretending it’s Barossa. Or the one about the rookie with the shiny new tanker. He backed into the winery, sucked out his load of booze with a big mono pump, and looked around at the critical moment to see the whole damn tanker crumple up like Alfoil because he’d forgotten to open the aircocks at the top and that thirsty big pump turned his new truck into one enormous vacuum.


If you’re particularly good to them, these drovers of the long wine paddock will even arrange samples for you, so the strategically-placed critic can get to taste much of the Hunter vintage before the Hunter winemakers do.


It’s a pity that this year I won’t be able to keep you informed. But then again, the call of the wine road is strong, the Snakepit is dim, quiet and cool, and there are a million avian souls to toast.

.