Squeaky McLean Resurrects As Big Bob
Barossadeutscher McLeinig Sheds Skin
Somebody Please Shout Him A Kilt!
by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this story was in The Adelaide Independent on 13 MAR 09
Let’s face it. If I were Big Bob McLean’s knees, I would have given up too. Not just from carrying his mighty frame around the hills and gullies of city and field the wide world round ... it’s the sheer number of drinks that needed support.
Anyway, they did wear out, and McLean shrunk.
Not in girth, mind you. McLean’s equator is constant. What altered was the altitude. As those poor legs approached serious kiltspreader bandy, McLean got shorter than me: a difficult thing for an old bouncer to digest. McLean did big time door at the Redlegs Club and The Old Lion when he was a lift electrician and I had spiky hair and ripple soles. Suddenly he was PR at Orlando, and somehow he got Bacchus to tell MD Guenther Prass to send him to live in Sydney to promote Pol Roger champagne, which he did so thoroughly that for a time there in Australia’s brash biz gizzard, PR in fact became Pol Roger, and that front bit of McLean’s vast equatorial zone was known as Pol Pot.
McLean nearly squashed Sydney, which only intensified its thirst for PR.
Sir (Arthur) Roden Cutler VC AK KCMG KCVO CBE, Governor of New South Wales, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his matter-of-fact valour in Syria, which cost him a leg. He was a 'go in do it' sort of fellow; a dignified humble man who enjoyed intelligent, honest and hearty company, especially if there was good red about. Sir Roden was accorded a State Funeral on Thursday 28th February, 2002. He left a big hole at the top of Australian living history. This photograph is from Wine And Spirit Buying Guide, DEC 84, which was edited by me. I reckon I may have taken this photograph. If it's yours, please correct me. Sir Roden was at least 6'6". Bob was big.
That was a long time ago. McLean went on to wear his knees out kneeling on them during his Petaluma years, then using them as a sort of PR forklift in the St Hallett epoch. By the time him and Wilma put McLean's Farm on the top of Mengler’s Hill in the high Barossa Ranges he was shorter than me. Which is handy getting through a fence with a shotgun.
To make up for this lowering, McLean, with Wilma, Sarah and Adam, added 500 metres by planting 6,144 vines in the tough sandstone and schist of that speccy ridgetop, way up in the weather and the yaccas. Dry grown bush vines. Riesling, grenache, mataro and shiraz. Nuts. Wilma runs it more or less along the lines of bio-D, and uses her fat-tailed sheep for weed control and fertiliser. The vines are in their seventh year now, and have spent half of that time in drought. Poor little buggers.
Last summer, which was bad enough, when we sat there on the winery apron, gazing reverentially through the heat at that vinous garland on the ridge, we agreed that something was keeping those vines alive. We took a sledgehammer, and knocked a predominant piece of the vineyard off. In a bucket of water for a while, the weight of that grey stone increased by almost half.
This was something I’d learnt at Mountadam, whilst drying the dishes with David Wynn in the cliff top eyrie he built there with Patricia. The actual bedrock loomed in a huge outcrop outside the kitchen window, and through most of the year, he pointed out, you could watch the water oozing from it. That whole long ridge is ancient seabeds, and the sandstone’s like a sponge.
McLean’s rocks held so much water through the last summer that it wasn’t weeds that needed munching: the vineyard suddenly sprouted thousands of red gums.
BOB McLEAN IN THE SHADE OF HIS NEW WINERY APRON IN A VERY HOT VINTAGE: THE CRACK WAS GOOD
I was scared to visit or call this year. But,you know, things being what t hey are, McLean reckons his crop might be down twenty or thirty per cent or so. The vines look quite healthy; even happy. Some leaves yellowed in the heat; they fell. Others took over.
Make an appointment to visit and buy and sit there looking up at that vineyard and drink it: the first vintages are beginning to ooze out of bottle, and both red blend and riesling are exciting indicators of many joys to come, hell or high water.
Some of McLean’s wines are from grapes around about the Eden Valley and Kalimna, on the Barossa floor. Some are blends of that with some Mengler’s fruit. And some, the barr-Eden wines, are off that amazing vineyard, 100%.
The barr-Eden grenache, shiraz and mataro blend is a sultry old oak and wild yeast raven: about as farm gate as you can get. McLean’s cruisy nonchalance on the old basket press had impressed me during its manufacture: the mighty left arm disinterestedly winding the ratchet down – a job due two men - the right switching twixt cigar and glass. It is the fruit of all that you see: McLean’s lovely shed full of barrels, which has the dry gizzards of a library growing within it, as wood panels, books, and the consequent knowledge are the best insulator. Open the wall, and you’ve got that wild, crazy vinegarden on the hill.
And the riesling? With Col Forbes’ help, it’s a rarity of true blue beauty. Like the original Orlando Steingartens. Go, sit, buy.
What I meant to say was McLean’s got new hinges in his knees. A year with the quacks and he’s Big Bob again. Whew! He’s no good short.
BOB AND WILMA McLEAN'S VINEYARD ON MENGLER'S HILL. IT'S TWILIGHT, AND WE'RE LOOKING DUE NORTH FROM THE WINERY DOOR. SEE HOW THE LIGHT'S BRIGHTER IN THE WEST, WHICH IS LEFT. THE VINES ROLL ON OVER ANOTHER RIDGE OR TWO. THIS WILL BE A LEGENDARY VINEYARD.