“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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01 July 2009

KYEEMA: PLANE CRASH TOOK THE BEST

THE AUTHOR AT THE REYNELL VINEYARD FIRST PLANTED 161 YEARS AGO: A PRICELESS HERITAGE GARDEN SENTENCED TO DEATH BY SUB-DEVELOPMENT BY CONSTELLATION, THE COMPLICIT ONKAPARINGA COUNCIL, AN INTELLECTUALLY DECREPIT GOVERNMENT AND A DEVELOPER DELIGHTFULLY CALLED PIONEER HOMES. WOULD GREAT MEN LIKE THOSE WHO DIED IN THE KYEEMA BE BUILDING A YUPPIE GHETTO HERE? photo KATE ELMES

Trophy Honours Great Wine Men
Who Would We Now Mourn?

by PHILIP WHITE - This was first published in The Independent Weekly

Colin Gramp, a friend and mentor, has sent me a letter. It came in a parchment envelope, with his fair hand’s perfect cursive gracing the front. Inside was The Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette of November 1938, which contains the obituaries of his Dad, Louis Hugo Gramp, Sidney Hill Smith, and Tom Mayfield Hardy.

Together with a great South Australian parliamentarian, Charles Hawker, and fourteen other worthy souls, these leaders of the Australian wine industry died when the Douglas DC-2 which carried them, the Kyeema, crashed into Corhanwarrabul, below the summit of Mt. Dandenong in Victoria's Dandenong Ranges.

Colin was seventeen years old at boarding school, enjoying the usual afternoon cuppa with the boys in the common room when he heard the terrible story on the four o’oclock news.

Colin is a chipper, bright man to this day, but talk of the Kyeema brings a cloud to his sparkle, and he casts his gaze to the side, and down, and pauses his conversation while he remembers, then regroups his thoughts, and very carefully comes back to you.

It is a sobering treat to read of these patricians. Sidney Hill Smith was 41 years of age. He’d enlisted in the 3rd Light Horse at eighteen, was badly wounded at Romani, and lay on a stretcher in Egypt until he was shipped home. At 26, he was managing director of Yalumba. He travelled the world promoting Australian wine and Yalumba, and was a king hitter on the Viticultural Council, the Winemakers’ Association, and the Chamber of Manufacturers. He was a hyper-active member of the golf, jockey, tattersalls and commercial travellers’ associations. His cortege at Angaston was one mile long. He left a famously revered widow, Christobel.

Tom Hardy, “one of the leading vignerons in the Commonwealth ... and a gentleman to his fingertips” was a bachelor of science studying viticulture and oenology in France when the King of England went to war with his cousin the Kaiser. Tom came home, joined the 9th Light Horse, and went back to fight in Egypt and Palestine. After the war, he ran the Federal Viticultural Council, sat on the Wine Board, and became managing director of Thomas Hardy & Sons. Like his amazing wife, Eileen, he was a formidable competitive sailor.

JOHN REYNELL'S ORIGINAL VINEYARD BY THE CREEK: SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S FIRST COMMERCIAL VINEYARD? WOULD TOM MAYFIELD HARDY HAVE RIPPED IT UP FOR INTENSIVE HOUSING AS CONSTELLATION IS DOING? Photo - KATE ELMES

Hugo Gramp, managing director of Orlando, was “an expert judge of wines” and “a thorough and persevering type ... meticulously painstaking in all he undertook”. He sat on both the Viticulture and Winemakers Associations and while “he possessed a retiring disposition and his whole life was absorbed in the industry he loved,” he was nevertheless the untiring patron of his Barossa village, Rowland (Orlando) Flat. His cortege could not be measured: the graveyard was too close to his new house, where the service was conducted. But 2000 mourners sang Abide With Me.

When these men died, the wine industry hit a great warp. Their influence had been immeasurable.

Imagine what it would be like if the bosses of Fosters, Pernod Ricard, McGuigan/Australian Vintage and Constellation were suddenly removed from the international wine mess. I don’t wish them death, by any means; I just imagine them all suddenly sailing away. There would be no change. These absentee landlords have no names, and their corporations are loaded with queues of young wannabees and wouldbe-couldbees panting to get hold of the power. Say then, they too, would be gone. There would be no difference. Like other average businessmen, they would fade quietly into oblivion.

The Constellation boss who decided to uproot the old John Reynell vineyard to install an intense yuppie ghetto must have felt that crude surge of power unique to those who decide to destroy. In doing so, he proved himself a greater businessman than his predecessors, who couldn’t quite bring themselves to do it, and so failed in battle, thus begrudging the shareholders their essential fast returns. Anybody who has worked with such creatures, and watched them at close range, would know the perverse rippling of jaw muscles and necks that accompany such deliberations.

The men I mentioned first worked hard into their futures. They thoroughly knew and respected the decade-long cycles of the wine industry, and were constantly planning two, three, and four cycles ahead. They were conservatives, meaning they conserved what was good.

Now we have gum-gnawing sophists who call themselves conservationists whilst they turn entire communities off, empty our only River of its water, and destroy sacred landforms and sites in the pursuit of quick return for the faceless shareholder, so that within a few years, they may move on out, victorious, and sit instead on the board of something else, where this raw and rude dance of destruction and indulgence can be repeated.

Andrew Hardy has set up a wine show award to honour his grand-dad’s cousin, and Michael and Robert Hill Smith’s grand-dad, and my dear friend Colin’s Dad. Their sombre, great cortege continues to extend. Which is not what you could see happening to the caskets of anybody now running the show.

12 comments:

Ian Hickman said...

This whole situation stinks, and honestly while I've always been a pretty healthy skeptic of the major parties of State politics on both sides of parliament, I've pretty much now lost faith in the local winemaking industry in general because to date they've hardly said a damn thing about Constellation's actions. Let's blow millions on a huge white elephant in the centre of Adelaide, but not protect the site of the first vineyard in SA, or for that matter one of the few wineries with any real "deep" heritage in the Clare Valley (let's face it, what's left up there that stretches past 40-50 years? Wendouree, Sevenhill and Leasingham, and that's really about it).

The same old shit happens over and over again in this country - eventually someone comes along with enough money and an agenda to make more which will ultimately result in the demise of something their predecessors have worked so hard to build up. Everything has a price and will be plundered, but at the same time this hurts the reputation of the whole industry while they're ironically trying to pitch higher priced/icon level wines overseas and divorce us from an image of producing little more than cheap, industrial swill. We continue to be our own worst enemy: we think we're smarter than the Yanks, French and everyone else, yet it seems we're dumb enough not to see the big picture.

Philip White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Hook said...

I think this is one of your best works, Mr White. It is very inspiring but also depressing at the same time.

I find myself wishing I could have worked for John Reynell.

He would send me to work out in the vineyard. He would have been a hard task master. Exacting, fussy, critical of any mistakes but at least at the end of the day you would have earned your keep....

I also could have been an apprentice next to the young Thomas Hardy. I imagine him even then dreaming up sales and schemes in the colony of South Australia.

These were flesh and blood people, who did deeds and built farms and businesses that lasted until today.

Matthew Moate said...

Great blog. Yes, there are few giants in the game today that will be remembered so vividly as those you have written about here.

Sally Marden said...

Heartbreakingly depressing.

Galaxy Man said...

Whitey,

You've obviously got an Independent, a Democrat, and the admirable and tireless local Labor man, Leon Bignell, all on side.

So what's with the government?

Didn't Holloway (Planning) promise in November that there'd be no more housing replacing vineyards in Barossa and the Vales?

Are they so sick of the whingeing and chicanery of the wine industry that they simply no longer give a shit?

Or are they, as you suggest, simply intellectually decrepit?

Where's the outrage from Sir Jim and the Hardy mob? There's hundreds of em! But not even the great Barbara makes a squeak. Are they still up to their wallets in Constellation shares? Surely not ALL of them sell grapes to Constellation?

I've seen and heard plenty of people complaining bitterly about this destruction, including the three admirable pollies mentioned, but where's the flood of support for Constellation's plan?

Marie Linke said...

Sorry to hear that Philip. The frustration of doing all that work, thinking the masses (and those with the most interest after all..?) are behind you, then turning to find you are all alone must be very disturbing. Again, if you need a posse from the Barossa, yell out. Like I said earlier, you are just a bright white golf ball..... Not an easy job is it?

The Prince of McLiavelli said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Grant said...

A powerful piece of writing, obviously from the heart, and as stated by James, one of your best works. I have seen you in various forums, fighting the good fight.

Clearly those of us who fought with you were out numbered by a cabal consisting of 'CONSTELLATION, THE COMPLICIT ONKAPARINGA COUNCIL, AN INTELLECTUALLY DECREPIT GOVERNMENT AND A DEVELOPER DELIGHTFULLY CALLED PIONEER HOMES'

What hope did we have. I will continue to make my comments in blogs such as yours, and any other place that I can find.

Grant said...

Dear Fellow Nimbys

Apparently I am suffering from 'nimbyism' according to Peter Bell who is quoted in the Australian. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25730592-5006787,00.html

And for all of the other opponents around the place, you too are suffering nimbyism. Bell's as yet unpublished Devine sponsored report,
unequivocally concludes that the vineyard "is of no heritage significance" and that much of the lore around it originated in wine marketing campaigns.

"In past decades, both Chateau Reynella and Thomas Hardy & Sons for their own reasons exaggerated John Reynell's role in establishing the wine industry,"


so, it appears, you are all to blame for this hysteria, not the benevolent burghers of Devine and Constellation. It seems he is blaming the tellers of history for this problem, not the ones trying to destroy history.

Hopefully Devine will make Bell's report public, so all of us "nimbys" can make our own assessment of the findings.

Ian Hickman said...

Minister for Planning Paul Holloway in today's fluff piece "South Australian Government unveils vision for Adelaide" again had the nerve to say:

" ...Virginia, McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley had been protected to save agricultural and wine regions from intrusion."

http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,25739496-5006301,00.html

If this is his idea of protection, I'd hate to see what open-slather is...

Ps. Prince of McLiavelli, the financial woes of Contellation have occurred post the sale of BRL Hardy to the corporate, and they only have themselves to blame. For a company who at the time of the takeover said they saw no point in messing around with such a successful operation, they've made some shocking decisions which has devastated both their bottom line and reputation.

Margaret Sexton said...

As a regular reader of Philip White's column I am often impressed by the substance and quality of his writing. In your 12-18 June issue he has contributed writing that should get picked up by Penguin as one
of the best essays of 2009. While shorter than their usual selections
it is certainly worthy enough to be included. Covering historical,
political and sociological themes while discussing features of the
wine industry from a personal perspective is no mean feat. It's great writing!

Margaret Sexton