30 March 2009
Hahndorf Hill Adds Alpine Style To Germantown
Strassendorf, Fachwek, Trollinger, Limberger, Grüner Und Max
by PHILIP WHITE - a shorter version this was published in the ADELAIDE INDEPENDENT on 27 MAR 09
It wasn’t quite like this at the time, but once it had sunk in, it retrospectively seemed like all the Hahndorf kids got off the bus one morning and sang in unison “We’re gonna have tourism”. I was just a kid at Mt Barker High and I didn’t really know the word. Tourism. Anything with ism on the end was very suss, like Calvinism, Catholicism, or Pentecostalism.
Their parents must have had a meeting or something, or got briefed by a developer, because it was quick. I reckon it was before 1970. It was not quite a boast, because everything uttered was filtered through a bale of good old Lutheran stoicism. Yet it was more than an utterance, because it contained a degree of emergent confidence, like a boast. Fair though to register the overt uncertainty of a generation promised an improvement which they could not understand.
My school was populated by the pimply kids of brickmakers, miners, abattoir workers, tanners, butchers, smallgoods makers and the freckled milkwashed bubbies of dairy farmers. The cleanest, most polite ones generally came from Hahndorf. We could tolerate ’em. But anybody professing a sudden belief in tourism was up themselves.
They sure got their tourism, “them Cherman kids”. I doubt that any of those old families with the thick accents are still there. They couldn’t afford it. I reckoned even then that the tourism notion was more likely to have squirted from a Duffield than a Schubert.
Hahndorf was, as far as German villages go, pretty schmick. It followed the Strassendorf town plan: fachwerk cottages eave-to-eave up a street, with only 100 metres of long, skinny back yard. Not enough, in other words, to be self-sufficient farm-wise. You could feed chooks and a pig or two from your scraps, and run a veggie patch already, but the men would have to do other work.
A village like Lobethal, on the other hand, was a Hufendorf in the planner’s manual of the day. These cottages were a little more widely spread along their street, but most significantly, they had front gardens, and a back yard that was a practical farm, as the ribbon-long block would extend several hundred metres, ideally reaching or crossing a creek before it hit the next lane. Mediæval strip-farming. Even then Lobethal had an early planning advantage over Hahndorf: right from the start, it had inbuilt plans for industrial developments.
I always find amusement in the notion of the Barossa Hufendorfers’ kids, like those at Bethanien, politely leaving their mediæval strip farm each morning, and climbing over the Kaiser Stuhl and Mengler’s to go to work on the rolling park-like estates of the Smiths, Angases or Randall’s, all sitting up there smoking cigars and drinking port. The Germans were always too damned nice to the English.
HAHNDORF VILLAGE FESTIVAL
And the English, of course, knew what a good thing they were on. “Germans”, be they Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant, from Prussia, Posen, Silesia, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg or Pommern, were much better than convicts. They wanted to pay for everything and feed themselves. You didn’t have to lock them up. And they worked and worked and worked.
Look at old Hahndorf now. Germanworld. Shizen. But I quite like some of it. Walk into – no, walk’s wrong. Respectfully enter Max Noske’s butcher shop, for example, and inhale. Not a better smell on Earth. I can’t name a better butcher shop. The Noske’s grow nearly all their own beasts in the hills nearby. Name a butcher who does that. Try Max’s kassler. Then, I love the leatherworker whose sign promises “All our leather was grown on vegetarian cattle”. I love the little breezeblock dairy next to Paech’s that we used to call the Golf Club. I drank Bacardi there while I first listened to a new record called Bridge Over Troubled Water.
At that stage my waters were troubled. I had shit on my liver. Dirty water on my chest.
Now, like Jeremy Clarkson, I’ve written myself into a corner before even mentioning my topic, which is the wineries: Starvedog, Shaw & Smith, Romney Park, Nepenthe and Hahndorf Hill. Hahndorf Hill more specifically. The Burgundy-fetishist’s Romney Park’s had a deservedly good trot in DRINKSTER ; the S&S cousins act as if I hate ’em and don’t spikka; and that fierce lady at Starvedog fanged me a few weeks back for suggesting this was a difficult vintage, which it is, on top of her boyfriend making his dislike of my attitude obvious for those many years when his wines left a bit to be desired, so, well, you know, Nepenthe’s part of the decaying McGuigan empire and Hahndorf Hill is real and it’s good and I’ve not been there for years. Out there on the springy ridges where I used to kiss girls in Spriggy’s old man’s Fairlane. Mmmm.
Marc Dobson and Larry Jacobs came from South Africa via Sydney and bought Hahndorf Hill, a young vineyard of freaky Germanic grapes: trollinger, limberger, and now, grüner vertliner. They got posh French varieties too, but in Hahndorf anything German makes more sense.
After a few years making their wine at the troubled Nepenthe, Hahndorf Hill’s now back at Shaw & Smith, and jesus you wouldn’t believe how good the wines are.
They should be good, mind you. Larry’s a biodynamic viti man, who’s recently left his stint as chair of the Adelaide Hills winemakers’ Environment Committee. Under his leadership, the Hills became the first region in South Australia, if not Australia, to have a functioning and government endorsed Environment Management System available to its members, just pipping McLaren Vale, which is close, but not quite there.
HAHNDORF HILL IN AUTUMN
While being totally snookered time-wise in such a role, Larry managed nevertheless to improve and enhance the Hahndorf Hill vineyard until it became a benchmark of healthy, responsible management, and a grower of fair dinkum flavour.
You must visit the winery and dine, gaze out the window and taste everything, polish up the plastic and stack your cellar with these lovely drinks that are perfectly suited to late summer/early autumn moods and cuisines.
And call in at Max Noske’s before you leave town. Try that kassler. See if you can get it home without eating it in the car.
Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Trollinger and Lemberger Rosé 2008
$19; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
As this is the only incidence of either of these varieties in Australia, I’ll admit it’s difficult know what to compare a blend of them to. Compare? Campari’s a good start. All that blood orange, Curaçao orange and bright lemon, with saffron. And then the fatty acids, adding the smell of soap and rolled cold pancetta porkfat. Take a slug, and ooh! That’s viscosity! Somewhere between rosewater and turkish delight, making sense of the illusion of confectioner’s sugar in the bouquet. But then those citric acids swish back in, adding refreshment to the comforting nature of that viscous texture. Dusty ironstone and podsol tannins, reflecting the dirt outside, play neatly off that acid and you’ve another dead serious, bone dry rosé that will improve with a few more years’ bottle, or knock your socks off if you have it chilled, now. Achtung!
Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills White Mischief Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc Pinot Gris 2008
$19; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
Not to take my name too lightly, this White Mischief’s my territory: intelligent blending: realistic alcohol and a price to match. So we’re off to another good start. That hard ironstone soil makes its presence felt again, with dust, spice, and hessian tweaks at the cutting edge of a perfume that follows with comfy honeydew melon and clingstone peach, and then the isovaleric acid smells that often delude us into imagining we’re receiving a pheremone that makes men drop their voices and become dangerously protective of women while women want to suckle: it smells as fresh and fleshy as a hot scrubbed bubby. As you’d then expect, the texture is fleshy, too, and carries a refined silky polish which gradually becomes velvet as the tannins of the terroir and that steely acid wind up the finish. Stunning. It’s a most intelligent and creative use of three much-abused varieties, with a total that’s better than the sum of its parts. It’s like a really good Alsace gewurztraminer.
Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2008
$21; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
Amongst the best ever Hills savvy-Bs, this bouquet transported me to Chateau Rahoul ca 1980 when the finicky Dane, Peter Vinding-Diers, was making exquisitely fine, perfumed dry Bordeaux whites that were beginning to change the whole notion of such a beast. Sure, it’s crunchy and brittle, with hints of oxalis and gooseberry amongst the shattered windscreen, but even the bouquet has enough fleshy filling to make very clear this is not your front lawn doused with battery acid sort of HillsBilly no savvy. The palate’s full. Full-bodied. Check that glycerol! It’s almost as if the fruit had a gentle botrytis strike and StepHen Hickinbotham got at it. This is a perfectly-balanced wine in its extreme infancy, and maybe the best sauvignon I know of emerging from the S&S cousins’ weinhaus. And we’re only half-way through. The finish is a real tease: leanly astringent, with that counterplay of citrus and podsol common to all these lovely wines.
Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio 2008
$24; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+
If Campari was made from lemons, and not oranges, it’d smell like this. It’s almost limoncello in its precise reflection of lemon pith. Then, this is like garganega, like a really smart, austere Soave without too much trebbiano. Rizzardi. It’s not greasy or slimy, like Kath Quealy’s get-all-over-you slimebombs from Mornington Peninsula. “We deliberately avoided the gris style” said Marketing Marc. No, this is lean, entertaining Alto Adige style grey pinot. Which leads me to ask: “would Australians flock so much to pinot gris and pinot grigio if it was called grey pinot?” Nope. But sauvignon fanatics would like this ravishing palate, that finishes so friggin bone dry it’s like it’s made from smashed up bone china. It’s intensely satisfying, appetising wine.
Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2004
$26; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points
Crême caramel, clingstone pêche, faintly gingery oak, lovely creamy elegance, this is what chardonnay’s sposed to be like: clean and precise in the palate, with really lovely fine acidity and general finesse. Try it with kassler from Max Noske, cool fresh tomato and basil, sourdough from Bullocks in Mount Barker, and a good swoosh of Blair’s Original Death Feel Alive Chilli Sauce. I await more eagerly the chardonnays that S&S will make from HH fruit.
Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2005
$29; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 92+ points
I doubt that slick, polished, silky shiraz like this would ever have ripened in the freezing weather I recall of Hahndorf when I was a kid. Not only the main street has changed. But this sure has ripened, and it’s packed with smooth, harmonious mulberries, prunes and plums flavours; even maybe a little black fig. It has no more tannin than the furry skin of a ripe fig would impart. It’s luxurious, opulent, self-satisfied wine. I can’t help suspecting it would be more entertaining if it hadn’t got quite so ripe. S&S will do a better job. In the meantime, have this with one of Max’s incredible fillets, blue, with blue cheese sauce and capers. Practice cooking them on your own for a few months, and once you’ve got it nailed, ask that one around that you’ve never been game to ask. Clean sheets please.
Soft Spot For Wrattonbully
And The Sentiments Of The Harassed Rat In Specs
by PHILIP WHITE
Peter Goers, an iconoclastic columnist in Adelaide’s Sunday Mail, and highly amusing evening announcer on the local ABC radio, has big problems with smokes and drinks. Borborygmia and emphysema both come to mind.
His editor once called me late of Friday to ask “Whitey, how do get on with Goers?”
I explained that I had no problem with him, that I had never actually had a row with him, and had, in fact barely met him, and although I frequently found him to be highly entertaining, my attitude to things thespian had probably coloured my opinion, given his overt lust for the likes of Thespis of Dionysos.
“Philip, never trust an actor”, my beloved English master, Billy Brooks, had advised me sagely in about 1970. “How can you measure sincerity in somebody who acts well?”
Having made these confessions to the editor, I asked why he’d enquired.
“Well, he’s written a column about you. You might want to take a look at it before we go to print.”
This was fair, considering I wrote for the Mail’s sister paper. Same building. Same proprietor. Same lawyers.
The article began with doggerel as dilly as “I wish I could be like Philip White, and be carried home drunk every night”, and proceeded to put in the boot for about a thousand extra words.
I advised the editor to publish it immediately. My readers would love it, and with my out-of-court settlement from Rupert, I would never have to work again. Of course it was promptly withdrawn, Goers had to think up another page, and I was obliged to carry on with my work.
As you can see.
Although he didn’t directly name me, he had another go yesterday, this time confessing his doctor had given him the proho word in 1987.
“If I was only allowed one drink a day I was already up to June 30, 2097”, he wrote. “I was a lousy drunk ... I had no appreciation for wine and the cheapest plonk was as good as Grange to me”.
“I’m appalled by the galling pretention of many wine writers who stretch metaphors into the absurd”, he continued. “We remain amused by the a wine writer’s famously witty remark that a wine had the bouquet of ‘a whore’s handbag’, but our most famous SA wine writer once wrote that a wine has ‘a taste of lignite in its swampy bouquet.’ Yuk.”
I seem to recall this descriptor amusing, nay, confounding Goers in that previous column, but thought I had set him right since, and explained how such a metaphor was perfectly apt.
Grapes, as he still fails to appreciate, are full of lignin. Lignin gives plants their stiffness, and makes up the skeleton of grape skins and pips. It also forms oak, as in barrels, and makes matches stiff, and holds tobacco leaves together, although it has been chemically removed from cigarette paper, leaving the cellulose. When it oxidises sufficiently in the right conditions, lignin becomes peat, then lignite, and eventually maybe anthracite. It’s full of volatiles which easily convert to liquid petroleum, or alcohol. Wine is made from grapes which are made from lignin. It contains alcohol. It oxidises as it matures. Big deal.
While his affront this time was much more measured, I was surprised to see such a determined teetotaller launch into your actual wine appraisal. “I have a soft spot for the nascent Wrattonbully wines from Naracoorte”, he says of a district plagued by endless industrial monoculture and vineyards for sale. He then claims the Barossa to be our only traditional wine district, which is patent crap, and launches into a comparison of the value of the almond tree vs. the vine, much preferring the former.
Goers gets stuck into McLaren Vale big time. He calls it ugly, which, of course, the main street certainly is, as is the brutal, dumb ribbon development between it and McLaren Flat, which is being destroyed by mindless villa rash, some of it in a swamp. And he calls the road between Willunga and Port Willunga “the ugliest road in rural SA”, which it could well be. Many of the vineyards in that awful black cracking dirt, in what I call The Wok, would be much better replaced by swamps and native veg.
But McLaren Vale, the district, has as many beautiful corners and vistas as any vignoble in Australia, and is a fore-runner in green awareness, native reveg, water recycling, and putting an end to the old petrochem spray regimes that dominate places like Wrattonbully.
It was the efforts of McLaren Vale that have just halted the University's sub-development of Glenthorne Farm, and McLaren Vale negotiators have convinced the government to halt the impending villa rash on Bowering Hill, giving it one last chance to tastefully fulfil its slogan "Where The Vines Meet The Sea". As far as wine regions go, internationally, McLaren Vale is amongst the best.
Goers then suggests wine should be taxed as heavily as cigarettes and carry similar health warnings with photographs of gizzards and the like, and complains of the “horrible stinky breath” of drinkers, which is a nice thing, considering his peculiar miasma is that of the chain smoker.
Anyway, true to form, Goers has got the whole wine industry, and all who work in her and around her, completely off side: so much so that some who normally hate me have suddenly sided with me today, expecting a retaliatory spray. It’s a huge relief.
But I don’t see much point in losing any temper I may have had. Having examined this column closely, I think it has the form of something which was cobbled together in a rush, as if Goers’ editor had trashed his first attempt at “pompous catering to the worst excesses of the chattering classes”, leaving him to come up with something else rather quickly, off the top.
Which he's very skilled at: he gives really good wireless. I love him with The Girls.
But I think research would show the handbag line referred to my grandmother, and a wine full of florals and powdery whiffs. She was a street preacher’s wife.
Russell Maloney once wrote of James Thurber that he was “a tall, thin, spectacled man with the face of a harassed rat”. But it was Thurber who drew the inspired cartoon with the caption that best summarises the sorts of things that seem to trouble Goers: “It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”
Dry Your Glassware With A Ring
by PHILIP WHITE
Apart from my dark suspicion that on a good night, somebody like Geoff Merrill might attempt to drink from one of these, designer Guido Ooms has had a bright idea.
Each of these US$120 glass-globes contains twenty warm white high intensity light-emitting diodes that might last a decade, or 30,000 hours, whichever comes first.
The next step will be to offer them in a range of colours: Oloroso, Aged Claret, Burgundy, Rosé, and for the darkest, naughtiest night, Barossa Black Shiraz.
These globes are a lurvly kitsch partner for the doorbell Peter van der Jagt designed in 1994. It can be mounted as a hanging, upright, or horizontal ringer, and ideally should be set to gong every morning at elevenses, as well as advising you that a potential drinking compadre is at your door.
That’s all very well, but the obsessive hot-rodder within would have me quickly attempting to replace these rather utilitarian glasses with mouth-blown Riedel crystal. You could change your ding-dong at whim: you know, on a sombre day you’d have the solemn leaden gong of the Bordeaux Grand Cru on one side, and the Burgundy Grand Cru, with its pouty twisted lip, on the other. Feeling more sparkly? Try the crystal chime of the Riesling Grand Cru playing tintinnabular counterpoint to the svelte Vintage Champagne.
This would present a challenge to the Riedels, who, after all those long years blowing glasses, must by now be running out of ideas, or at least getting tired. They could then concentrate their austere Austrian technocracy on ensuring that every glass has perfect pitch, which would add some interest for the teetotaller or musical drunk as well as making the world a better place.
I was once introduced to the great Gorg Riedel, who appeared to click his heels before shaking my hand. Having congratulated him on the beauty and craft of his glassware, and praising him for the fact that I have yet to encounter a leaking Riedel, I explained my technique for removing the canker from the impossible-to-reach reaches of the beautiful Ultra Magnum ship’s decanter, which is a gorgeous thing to tip wine into, then observe and adore, but nearly bloody impossible to pour wine from. You can never empty the last glassful from the damned thing without inverting it the full 180º, at which point it presents the table linen with a flow about as precise as your average Tyrolean cow.
Anyway, I explained that the cleansing trick is to empty the lead shot from a carton of twelve guage duckshot cartidges, spill them into your beautiful Ultra Magnum with some warm water and detergent, and simply swish it about awhile. While he gradually turned his head away, his eyes gazed intently at me, widening, transfixed.
Before his eyes followed the aversionary motion of his head, I suggested he produce a firm glass with the bowl of, say, the Tinto Riserva, but with a thick glass base in place of a stem. These, I suggested would be so successful that the return customers he’d lose through diminishing breakages would be easily replaced, and more, by others suddenly confident enough to risk a glass that looked nowhere near as dangerous a proposition for the enthusiastic drinker with a limited receptacle budget.
Receptacle brought me to spectacle, and before he turned and fled I explained that in Australia we call spectacles glasses, so he should do a line in designer shades and prescription eyewear. You know, we could then choose to wear The Nebbiolo, The Fino, or the Vintage Port. Riedel wine glasses! He’d make a motza!
Now that I notice my penultimate suggestion is well and truly in production, without so much as a thankyou Herr Weiss, I trust my dear friends in the Riedel family are hard at it, working on the mouth-blown, hand-made drinkers’ eyeglasswear, comfortable in the knowledge that there’s no fee other than their service of my trust that they never ever let Austria be naughty again.
But I’d still love a pair of Riedel Nightsight Grüner Vertliners with cross-hairs in the lenses.
Once they've perfected those, they can begin work on the perfect wine closure.
25 March 2009
STATEMENT from the offices of the Premier Mike Rann and Hon Paul Holloway, Minister for Urban Development and Planning
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
GLENTHORNE FARM DEVELOPMENT REQUEST DECLINED
The State Government has today declined a request from the University of Adelaide to set aside a section of Glenthorne Farm for housing.
Premier Mike Rann said the University had requested that some of the farm near O’Halloran Hill in Adelaide’s south be redeveloped to fund its Woodland Recovery Initiative.
“The Government has declined that request and has instead offered to work with the University to find alternative sources of funding for its aim of reafforesting the property to create native
woodland,” Mr Rann said.
“Glenthorne Farm has a special relationship with the community in the southern suburbs as well as the winemaking industry at McLaren Vale.
In 2001 Glenthorne Farm, the former CSIRO research facility at O'Halloran Hill, was handed over to Adelaide University by the State Government for use as a vineyard and winemaking facility.
The former State Government purchased the 200-hectare property from the Commonwealth in 1998 after CSIRO’s decision to quit the site.
Minister for Urban Development and Planning Paul Holloway says the proposal put to the State Government by the University failed to meet the terms of the deed and land management agreement signed at the time of the transfer in 2001.
“The State Government's view remains that the land was transferred to the University on the basis that there would be no housing on the site and that it would become a teaching and research centre for the wine industry,” Mr Holloway says.
“The University proposes to reafforest 150,000 hectares of woodlands in the Adelaide Hills face, a concept which has some merit.
“I have written to the University vice-chancellor offering to work with his staff to identify Alternative funding through research grants that can finance the woodland recovery initiative without requiring any of the land to be sold off for housing.
“The State Government supports the retention of open space within the metropolitan area.
“We remain committed to ensuring that the pressure to develop land within the urban growth Boundary is balanced by the retention of sufficient public open space for community use.”
for background to this strange odyssey of humans vs. hubris type Glenthorne Farm in the search box top left corner
Will The Ockers Listen To Anybody Who Isn’t Bob Parker?
Maybe The Heat Of ’09 Will Flush Out Some Lighter Wine
by PHILIP WHITE
A version of this story was published in The Independent Weekly on 20 MAR 09. I shall post a much extended version soon.
“They say it’s the ’eat” croaked Chips Rafferty, the dehydrating copper, explaining the suicide rate in The Yabba, his blistered patch of outback. “I like the ’eat.”
This was Wake In Fright, the profound 1971 film which launched Australia’s modern movie industry. While buffs raved internationally, Australians hated it – it was far too frank an appraisal of our condition. Our disgust was more overt because the movie had been highly-anticipated, being a British and Canadian endeavour.
All known prints were let rot.
We’re addicted to blithe praise from famous others. It’s sick. Press, pollies and public beg foreigners to like us, tell us they love it here, that we put on a good bicycle race, a great festival, world-class tucker. Mike Rann formalised this grovelling by spraying money at his Thinkers In Residence, shiny foreign carpetbaggers who pick the brains of anyone who can think who actually bothers to live here. They transcribe and paraphrase our ideas, hand it in, pick up their two or three hundred nicker, and mosey back to the Old World. If they are critical, we never hear.
One foreign critic influenced South Australian life more than any of Rannbo’s mercenaries. The American Robert Parker Jr. changed the way our winemakers make red when he fell in love with the highly concentrated tinctures of a few of our best tiny winesmiths.
Parker made these famous; the wines sold abruptly, some people made good money, and within a few years, in the fey hope that they’d also get rich and be beloved by foreigners, everyone’s red was suddenly above 14.5%.
Recently I posted to my blog an archive story about Mick Morris and his very strong Rutherglen durif. “Yes, it’s about 15.1%”, Mick admitted, “... apparently oblivious to the rest of the winemakers in Australia, who try to keep their table wines between eleven and thirteen percent alcohol by volume.” That was 1991. By 2000, 15.1% was standard.
As Parker has withdrawn hurt, and now sends Jay Miller to taste Australia, his influence is receding rapidly, and a new wave of critics is rising. As an highly-unpaid thinker in residence, I’m humbled by these great foreigners finally agreeing with my tiny provincial attitudes.
The USA blogosphere now fizzes with disdain for the sorts of wines they call “Dan Phillips gobstoppers”, referring to the Californian merchant who first took those strong specialist reds to the Parkerilla. And, finally, major newspaper columns are begging for wines of more finesse, better balance, and less dumb thickheadedness.
“Finessed and Light: California Pinot Noirs With a Manifesto” was the headline on Eric Asimov’s piece in last week’s New York Times. “I could see my fingers on the other side of the glass ... It was vibrant and refreshing, nothing like the dark, plush, opulent wines Mr. Guthrie used to make ... ‘It got to the point where I didn’t want the wine to be fatter than the food’, the winemaker said.”
Which won’t work here - our winemakers are permitted 1.5% “error”, so 14.5% can be 16%; 15.5% might be 17%!
“But poor imitations abound”, McIntyre wrote. “ ‘Food friendly’ used to be a politely dismissive term to describe wines that show poorly in competitive tastings against big, floozy blockbusters. It's time to elevate ‘food friendly’ to the top rank of praise and reward wines that complement, rather than obliterate, dinner.”
See? He likes to eat. The lighter move is on, heavily.
Ocker winemakers might just manage to follow this criticism, even if it’s coming from the USA. They have a really good excuse. They can blame it on “the ’eat”. Scared of a repeat of last year’s record heatwave, thinking winemakers picked earlier this year, and from the hottest vintage ever, they’ll release wines two to four per cent lower in strength.
Prepare your sensitivities for these promising delicacies, and for the freshly-restored print of Wake In Fright, screening soon. I’m afraid we’re still very much the Australia portrayed therein. Like too many of our dumb, clumsy, dehydrated wines.
21 March 2009
20 March 2009
Would VVP Fly Without A Vodka Bar?
by PHILIP WHITE
It’s been a long time since DRINKSTER paid much attention to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. We regard him as a bellwether of accoutrement and innovation: anything he takes to is often highly fashionable within a few decades.
However, afford him too much attention and we find ourselves influencing his behaviour, so we withdraw.
His wine empire, which he shares with Moamar Gaddafi Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi,
Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution, King of Kings, chairman of the African Union, which will soon be the United States Of Africa, is back into the dream stage since we advised him about Australian consultants.
Our Eastern Blocster since leaked us this image of Vlad2P at a secret Saudi airbase.
His test pilot and instructor is 84 years old Crown Prince H R H Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Crown Prince of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and First Deputy Prime Minister. DRINKSTER advises yon Vlad2P should take note of the Crown Prince’s beard: how black they’ve got it looking; how it gives Aziz a zizz. You know: fru fru. He’s looking better, having recuperated in Morocco since the removal of a cyst from the Royal gizzard.
Prince Sultan is also the inspector general for the kingdom, and is Chairman of the Board of Saudi Arabia's national airline, Saudi Arabian Airlines.
The photograph registers Vlad2P with CP Aziz, during secret trials of a new flying carpet.
Primary witnesses report the Russian made no attempt to hide his doubts about the project, and kept his Ilyushin 96-300 ticking over nearby.
THE ENGLISH HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING FLYING CARPET SALES SINCE KING-HELL ADELAIDE SPARKY BOFFIN SIR MARK OLIPHANT SHOWED THEM HOW RADAR WORKETH IN WORLD WAR TWO
19 March 2009
Bird Man Flies
by PHILIP WHITE 13 AUG 03
a version of this story appeared in The Advertiser
Jim Robinson, the Raptor Man, died of cancer last weekend. He was one of the last of our falconers: one of the very special blokes I’ve found on my rounds of the lost edges of the wine industry. He spent his gentle life fixing and rehabilitating birds of prey, or raptors, that had damaged themselves, often by smashing their wings on trellis wires whilst pursuing smaller grape-eating birds through vineyards.
If we had a proper balance of raptors in our vineyards, there’d be much less problem with frustrated grape farmers resorting to bird scarers to deter marauding birds. The imbalance brought our exports close to crisis when government relaxed the laws on shooting native rosellas and parrots in vineyards, which sufficiently disgusted nature-loving wine drinkers in California and London to suddenly drink only French. As if the French were more sympathetic to wee berrudies.
In gastronomy, as in politics, all things are connected to everything else. Mulling over Jim’s life, I had an overwhelming desire to eat pigeons. Cooked with juniper berries, in good red. Raptors eat pigeons, and now, without Jim around to fix them, there’ll be fewer raptors, more pigeons, and more gas guns.
The falcons, eagles, buzzards, kestrels, and hawks exist at the far extreme of the food chain, living on meat that grew up eating everything else, where all the poisons from the dining environment end up, concentrated. They’re the first to go when things go wrong, like during the ’seventies DDT fashion, when their egg shells wouldn’t harden.
These days, we have plastic inflatable raptors flopping around on stupid little poles like fishing rods. They never seem to scare anything, because they never straighten up and fly right, like the rulers of the sky which they dumbly, lifelessly emulate. There’s no evidence at all that their inventors ever looked a raptor in the eye, like I’ve done at Jim Robinson’s.
THIS IS NOT NONAMI'S FOOT. THIS ONE, COMPLETE WITH RADIO TRANSMITTER ON THE JESS, BELONGS ON THE ANKLE OF AN HEBRIDEAN HARRIS HAWK. LOVE THOSE NAILS!
Not too close, mind you. Get too close, touch them for a few seconds too many, especially whilst they’re weak and wounded, and raptors lose the arrogant psychological edge it takes to stoop like lightning through the sky and drive their talons through the flesh of others for a feed. The sky is their restaurant.
But while a brown falcon, for example, can thrash through the leafiest bit of a red gum, in starving pursuit of a smaller bird to eat, it has learned in recent decades to avoid pursuing them through vineyards, because vineyards have something that red gums do not have: those deadly, invisible wires, stretched tight.
There’s a posh, multi-storey, heritage-listed dovecote in the vineyard near the main gate of Chateau Reynella. It houses, without rent, hundreds of pigeons. Jim was one of the few who really knew what that dovecote was for. Pigeons don’t eat grapes. But raptors regard pigeons as aerial chocolate truffles, and they’d sweep through that vineyard to guts themselves on the bits of the pigeon with the most sugar: the pumping heart and the brain. During the chase, they’d frighten all the grape-eating birds away. The grape crop survived, at the expense of the pigeons.
When Gough Whitlam introduced equal pay for women, the old wine families that owned the wine business refused to pay pickers and pruners men’s wages. Most of the pickers and pruners were women. This forced the rapid development of the grape harvesting machine, and the machine-pruning devices. These both worked more efficiently with hedged vinerows. Gradually, one humble fruiting wire became two or three, in pursuit of higher tonnages, and the wires killed the raptors.
Observing Jim mending the wing bones of the broken ones with plastic drinking straw splints, and replacing broken feathers with good ones plucked from his collections of raptors in the deep freeze, was to witness an incredible healing ritual that came from the dawn of time and was all over before anybody knew it, least of all the bird. First of all, if the bird was irreparable, he'd kill it immediately and put it in the fridge. If at any stage his repairs weren't working to his rigorous expectations, he'd kill the bird. If the bird had been handled too much before he got it, he'd kill it. He hated vets, who couldn't resist handling the wounded, to investigate their damages. If a bird had been in the warm hands of a vet, he'd usually kill it.
He’d keep the wounded ones roosting on his bed head with all the blinds drawn, observing them over a day or so, until they’d fall asleep from exhaustion and pain. He’d learn about their ailment by watching, then while the bird was drooping, suddenly grasp their broken bits and feel the damage, so he could then plan a subsequent rapid attack to make the repairs. Then came a long season of retraining: teaching the partly broken bird to be wild again, to fly, hover and stoop to kill. So it could be released.
Hovering was the biggest test. Hovering is very difficult. If you haven't got your wings working evenly, and you can't hover, Jim wouldn't trust you to survive.
Which leads me to the matter of pigeons. If you’re squeamish about dressing your own, you can order them through Angelakis Brothers in the Central Market. Don’t let anyone sell you homeless punks from the street: skyrats that grew up eating cigarette butts taste like ashtrays and take a lot longer to cook. Ensure they’ve come from a cage with plenty of organic corn and hempseed. I dry them with salt and pepper, and stuff them with coarsely-chopped walnuts, smoked bacon fat, black olives and brandy. I wrap them with thinly-sliced Schulz’s or Linke’s bacon, tie them, and brown them in my iron griddle with butter.
Once I’ve put the birds aside, I brown baby beetroot, fresh shiitake mushrooms and little onions in the same griddle with some chopped bacon and fresh herbs. Then I glug in half a bottle of woody shiraz with a cup of chook stock and a dozen juniper berries, and reduce the whole glorious potage by half before putting it in a covered casserole with the pigeons, in an oven already set at 230 degrees C. (Don't put the shiitake in til late.) You can see when your pigeons are done: your nose will tell you. Before serving them in bowls, I take the bacon off them, chop it up, and add it to the hot stock and veg before dousing the birds with it.
A bottle of Mitchell’s delicious screw-capped Clare shiraz 2001, and a stack of mash, and I’m back at the contemplation of dear sweet Jim – a very special, sensitive and clever man who has taken with him all the secrets.
What maddened verse gives raptors the rhythm
To thrash through shrubbage and scrub
Risking wings to get at the tucker
And peck the brains from pigeon, parrot, and bat?
I just looked an Australian hobby in the eyes.
She’d done a wing on a vineyard wire,
Humping through the trellis to get the wee birdies
The vigneron erected plastic falcons to scare.
Her falconer had set her up well,
Never holding her down like the dreaded vet,
Keeping her weight up, earning her trust
’Til she up and off, one crook wing tip hanging just
Enough to attract that peregrine that
Drilled a shocked silent hole in the sky,
Smashing all sound of bird into nothing:
A sudden feather-free vacuum of death.
But she came back, that broken one,
Now setting herself on her ground crew’s glove,
Staring black and yellow to my soul, as if to say
“You thought I was fucked then didn’t you”.
1 April 2002
Wildu – Aquila audax
Slow to leave the roo somebody’d hit last night,
a wedge-tailed eagle wobbles starving into the up and
lurches to stare from sixty metres off as we draw to a halt.
“There’s another one dead over there” you say.
His gizzards unrolling in the sun, talons locked open.
I pull feathers to freshen my dead brother’s hat.
The highway kills its carrion addicts,
and these wingtips are worn half way through
from years of mothy heaving ’gainst the tarmac to escape.
He’d lost his grasp of air, finally rising so slow
he got splattered with his beak full. Too easy to miss.
Now the female’s twitching to resume her feast.
Can she know? Does she feel it go?
They found the hat in a place like this.
24 Sep 07
Canada v. Australia In Oldest Life Arguments
Barossa Boasts Looking Really Silly Now
by PHILIP WHITE
Barossa winemakers claiming their soils and geology are some of the oldest on Earth might like to bone up on news from northern Canada and Australia’s Pilbara, in our far north-west.
Geologists working in the Pilbara have published an article in today’s Nature Geosciences, claiming that simple photosynthesising life forms were farting oxygen into the oceans 700 million years earlier than previous estimates. Masamichi Hoashi, David C. Bevacqua, Tsubasa Otake, Yumiko Watanabe, Arthur H. Hickman, Satoshi Utsunomiya and Hiroshi Ohmoto are the rockdoctors concerned.
“The timing of the origin of photosynthesis on the early Earth is greatly debated”, they write.
“It is generally agreed, on the basis of the presence of biological molecules found in shales from the Hamersley Basin, Australia, that oxygenic photosynthesis had evolved 2.7 billion years ago. However, whether photosynthesis occurred before this time remains controversial. We report primary haematite crystals and associated minerals within the marine sedimentary rocks preserved in a jasper formation of the Pilbara Craton, Australia, which we interpret as evidence for the formation of these rocks in an oxygenated water body 3.46 billion years ago. We suggest that these haematite crystals formed at temperatures greater than 60 °C from locally discharged hydrothermal fluids rich in ferrous iron. The crystals precipitated when the fluids rapidly mixed with overlying oxygenated sea water, at depths greater than 200 m. As our findings imply the existence of noticeable quantities of molecular oxygen, we propose that organisms capable of oxygenic photosynthesis evolved more than 700 million years earlier than previously recognized, resulting in the oxygenation of at least some intermediate and deep ocean regions”.
This key finding is critical in the unfolding natural history of Earth. Microscopic organisms such as cyanobacteria create oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis. The date of their arrival is an essential key to our understanding of the evolution of life.
“The evidence comes from tiny crystals of the iron-oxide mineral haematite in a 160-metre-long core section that forms part of the Marble Bar Chert”, reported Heather Catchpole on ABC Science.
“Haematite can form in the presence of aerobic or oxygen-loving bacteria in the water, or by photo-electric processes in the upper 10 metres of seawater.”
“Microscopic analysis of the rocks show no sign of wave action or other structures characteristic of shallow-water sediments” Catchpole explains. “The orientation and nature of the grains of haematite also show that it precipitated directly from the seawater, rather than forming later from other processes, such as the movement of groundwater.
“These data strongly suggest that oxygenic photoautotrophs flourished in the photic zone of the 3.46 billion-year-old oceans and supplied molecular oxygen to the deep water.”
This new research presents a problem for those with previous findings: geology Professor Malcolm Walter, from the University of New South Wales, says previous research suggests a much later date for the evolution of photosynthesis.
“Evidence from uranium deposits and iron-rich rocks in the nearby Hammersley region of Western Australia point to the earth's atmosphere and oceans first becoming oxygenated around 2.4 billion years ago” he says. “[This new claim] suggests that photosynthesis must have evolved before 3.5 billion years ago and that despite that, it took one billion years to oxygenate the surface of the earth. That's hard to reconcile with what we know about how this sort of bacteria would have spread”.
But researcher Professor Hiroshi Ohmoto from the NASA Astrobiology Institute and Department of Geosciences at the Pennsylvania State University says other data backs their claim for an early development of photosynthesising life.
“Recently accumulated massive amounts of geochemical and biochemical data can be better explained by a theory postulating the emergence of oxygenic photosynthesis and the development of a fully oxygenated atmosphere in the very early evolutionary stage,” Professor Ohmoto said. “Once cyanobacteria appeared in one area of the ocean, it probably took less than 10 million years to fully oxygenate the atmosphere and oceans.”
Another team, working on the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone on the tundra on Hudson Bay, Canada, say these are Earth’s most ancient rocks, at 4.28 billion years of age. They claim these are 250 million years older than any other rocks known.
DON FRANCIS AND JONATHON O'NEIL OF McGILL UNIVERSITY, MONTREAL, AT WORK ON THE NUVVUAGITTUQ GREENSTONE
Writing last year in Science Journal, this team claims their pet rocks may contain evidence of the earliest life. Co-author Don Francis, geology professor at McGill University in Montreal, cautioned that this had not been established.
“The rocks contain a very special chemical signature - one that can only be found in rocks which are very, very old,” he said. “Nobody has found that signal any place else on the Earth. Originally, we thought the rocks were maybe 3.8 billion years old. Now we have pushed the Earth's crust back by hundreds of millions of years. That's why everyone is so excited.”
BBC science writer, James Morgan writes that before this study, the oldest whole rocks were from a 4.03 billion-year-old body known as the Acasta Gneiss, in Canada's Northwest Territories. (The only things known to be older are mineral grains called zircons from Western Australia, which date back 4.36 billion years.)
Professor Francis and his McGill University colleague, Jonathan O'Neil, sent Nuvvuagittuq greenstone samples to the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where they were dated by measuring isotopes of the rare earth elements neodymium and samarium, which decay over time at a known rate.
The oldest rocks, termed faux amphibolite, were dated within the range from 3.8 to 4.28 billion years old. “4.28 billion is the figure I favour,” says Francis. “It could be that the rock was formed 4.3 billion years ago, but then it was re-worked into another rock form 3.8bn years ago. That's a hard distinction to draw.”
The same unit of rock contains geological structures which might only have been formed if early life forms were present on the planet, Professor Francis suggested.
The material displays a banded iron formation - fine ribbon-like bands of alternating magnetite and quartz. This feature is typical of rock precipitated in deep sea hydrothermal vents - which have been touted as potential habitats for early life on Earth.
“These ribbons could imply that 4.3 billion years ago, Earth had an ocean, with hydrothermal circulation,” said Francis. “Now, some people believe that to make precipitation work, you also need bacteria. If that were true, then this would be the oldest evidence of life. But if I were to say that, people would yell and scream and say that there is no hard evidence.”
“The exciting thing is that we've seen a chemical signature that's never been seen before. That alone makes this an exciting discovery”, he said.
For the information of winemakers who don’t understand the difference between rocks and soil, prone to make blithe back label claims about the oldest soils on Earth, the oldest rocks in the South Australian vignobles are from the neoproterozoic, which concluded about 540 million years ago and stretched back another half a billion years before that.
Early Writing From Twin Trencher Terrors
Goat Finally Makes The Adelaide Infidel Plate
by PHILIP WHITE and JOHN McGRATH
from Adelaide Preview, September 1979
This was the first time the author ventured formally into writing about food. It is also the first published work of the revered Adelaide food critic, John McGrath. His crafty work is still regularly published in The Adelaide Review, which arose from the ashes of Adelaide Preview, and, with The Independent Weekly, to this day maintains Adelaide's tradition of feisty independent publishing. DRINKSTER understands there are moves afoot to rekindle the Sydney end of the Review, so we may again see a Sydney Review, which would be a good thing.
We two broad innocents had heard of a place where the mining industry had somehow linked arms with the gay pinkos to purge the Flinders and Middleback Ranges of those whalers of native flora, the goats. Those goats go in the curry every Friday lunchtime at the Royal Oak Hotel on O’Connell Street in North Adelaide, and the clientele was rumoured to regularly incorporate both miners and artistic directors. Little tongues lapping, off we did trot.
But no. No marriage of obviously separate schools here in this Royal Oak. Instead, we were instantly consumed by the riptide of a Green Frog Enterprises board meeting. These infidel truckers were taking a little business goat with a criminal lawyer, a captive nations sort of blonde woman called Chook who bore absolutely no resemblance to any variety of feathered creature, and a South Yarra Screamer sporting some wonderfully assymetric eyebrows and attendant earwear which matched. The eyebrows.
Now there’s no room for shirkers at these meetings of the Green Frog, so keen to look like a part of the bunch, your two food reporters opened fire on the carafes of red and white that deck the tables as you enter. Each pair of diners gets a carafe of their choosing as part of the $6 per head meal cost, and though there are many who’d rather a lager with their goat, the vino vapourised fairly quickly. By Jove, there’s always beer to be had, but grape? Gratis?
When one first enters the Royal Oak, the immediate realisation is this that is one of those labyrinthic jobs that are the result of a century of relatively haphazard remodeling and sub-dividing, all piled there, two stories high, on top of the mulled colonial publican’s dream. She’s a graceful chap on the outside, but once in, there are little rooms leading into darker, more comfortable little rooms, with little rooms to left and right, with diners a-wander in each, all bearing that strange smugness peculiar to doyens of the curried goat. One of these rooms boasted a particularly smug lot, and there, tucked against a wall like a little brass Buddha: a table, bearing four electric crockpots, one marker “beef vindaloo”, one “chicken”, and “mild goat” and yes, a-bubbling there amidst them, their chief: “HOT GOAT”. Scattered around the feet of this remarkable evidence that east sometimes does meet west, the appropriate accompaniments: tomato in mint, banana and lemon yoghurt, cucumber yoghurt, two lots of white rice, pappadams and cheppattis, and, lingering in their bowls like limpet mines at low tide, three sauces, anonymous in the dark. Severe helpings of the lot were collected, we assure you.
Back at our table, the lawyer had begun to mumble about his lack of faith in his current client, and the Frog truckers, sure that they’d secured a large contract distributing some rising newspaper, were locked in a study of how to cover their fleet in case of rain.
The curries are the best in town. We struggled out a list of four other eating houses that specialise in this brand of tucker, and this outshines ’em all. Each of these curries is cooked in its own sauce – a rare pleasure in these days of the one or two sauce restaurant – and the side dishes are just as good. One of the Frog men, although sufficiently toughened by years in the bush to happily manage footy shorts and thongs in the cold heart of winter, is all tender inside, and he praised god for mild goat.
Chook liked the chicken. And we food reporters loved ’em all until our colourblind member, possessed of a great momentum and pleased with the heat and beer, moved mistakenly in the yellow light from his pungent pile of HOT GOAT through the delightful lemon pickle and straight into a significant stack of the Royal Oak’s chilli sauce. That momentum ensured that he’d downed a good rapidfire seven spoonsful before his stomach lining, or lack thereof, gave him notice that his eyes had failed him again: “Driver this is no goat curry you’re pumping down on us, this is your pure bushfire blend chilli sauce!”
Too late! The room was obviously a swirling mess to our chap – the Rules Of The Bar mirror had merged into the gingham tablecloths and tapestry wallpaper, the sweat poured down, the magnificent Victorian Olympian print on the dining wall developed a nasty Cecil B. de Mille animation, and our poor boy grabbed his notebook and twisted it into a gross mistake of pain and intense heat as our company broadcast silent shock and this chap prepared to die in Chilli Hell.
We have found it impossible to accurately gauge the importance of that notebook, but we are certain that it was the trigger that flung words to the lips of our asymmetrical South Yarra Sister. “Are you Sol Simeon?” she asked. The dyee had barely gasped an astonished but final “No!” when she followed up with a good old 1,2,3 “I can write!” and sure, she could write anything. That seemed to please the Frog director in footy shorts who rattled back: “Aaah, good! I gotta friend in Sydney who hasn’t heard from me in six years!”
Unperturbed, our writing lass offered us scandal, upper crust gossip, and the true story of the horse breeders who burned down the Morphetville grandstand before somebody notified her that the “funny meat” she was gobbling actually came off a goat. At that, she foundered in a thick bank of silence.
By that stage the chilli demons had slowed to a simmer in old colourblind’s blood, and the two of us fled to the social security of the front bar. It was still daytime. A sturdy barmaid pulled the taps there, the horizontal barroom lightbeams catching the beer and her topaz rings in one cool sweep. She blushed excellently, and managed perfectly the soft barrages of conversation that drifted over her bar. “Looks like the winter’s blown in ... ” “... Yeah ... ” “... Cold ... ” “... Cold ... ” “... Yeah ... ” “... Very cold ... ” “... Got a coat on ... ” “... Yeah ... ” “... Rolled me sleeves down ... ”
This hotel was on the verge of demolition until a bunch of bothered locals raised hell several years ago. We know little of its history prior to that, but it’s been a steady supplier of astoundingly inexpensive bottleshop bargains since then, and now, these curries ... look, this wonderfully strange old pubful of these people is enough. But add, just one lunchtime per week, this HOT GOAT and you’ve got one of the town’s warmest corners, with excellent folk, food and value. Just be very careful if you’re colourblind, and remember to book a table before you arrive.
The South Yarra Screamer turned out to be Ang Tolley, only recently (Nov 2008) married to her long-time partner, David Paxton, of Paxton’s Wines, McLaren Vale. Sol Simeon was the nom de plume of two Adelaide journalists, Jeff Turner and Tony Baker (both now deceased), who somehow managed to find 52 Adelaide restaurants a year to praise fulsomely in The Sunday Mail. The Royal Oak has gone from strength to strength. Its cuisine is now rather more varied than it was in those ginger days.
16 March 2009
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.
13 March 2009
One Table, Two Decades Of Perfect Lunch
A Legendary Restaurant Changes Hands
Ten Thousand Bottles Of Wine Later
by PHILIP WHITE
photographs by MILTON WORDLEY
Sometime about 1990, when I lived in the inner City of Adelaide, I discovered a new restaurant in the Central Market/Chinatown precinct. It was tiny, seating forty or fifty souls, on the corner of Gouger and Market Streets. Its staff were newly-arrived Chinese; its cuisine Chui-chow; its name the appropriately Ockerised T-Chow.
Language was a problem, but it would have been much worse had it not been for Dora, who worked kitchen with assistant Chef Singlet No. 1 and, occasionally, Chef Singlet No. 2. Dora had been a teacher of English in Hong Kong, and soon taught me that this cuisine came from a small part of Canton where not a lot of overt herbs, spices or flavourings were used.
Dora’s daughter Gi Gi, a speaker of perfect English and student of concert piano at the Elder Conservatorium, was a waiter.
Each Saturday morning, I would select a couple of bottles of good wine, walk from my flat to the Central Market, buy my next week’s food, and the day’s newspapers, and settle down in T-Chow to read, drink, graze, smoke, and take notes on the better wines.
A Singha first, with pickled cabbage. Fish skin next: only from the snook, which was used to make the fish balls. Fish balls, I learned, needed to bounce, and the best bouncing flesh came from highly oxygenated fish flesh, from fast fish which lived in fizzy water. Like the snook. The skin was peeled from the fish, and flash deep-fried in a light rice wine batter. It was utterly scrumptious, and its oils helped stave off winter colds.
I ate T-Chow duck, carefully cooked to drain off most of its fat, bones in. Seafood hot pot, with stingray, mussels, prawns, great lumps of bean curd and shiitake. Whole flounder, baked or steamed. Scallops roast on their half-shells with shallots and mandarin peel. Chiuk-sung with Chinese broccoli, shiitake and ginger. (Chiuk sung is like a tiny loofah: the skeletal remains of a sun-dried, cucumber-like gourd which lives as a parasite on the trunks of baby giant bamboo. Rehydrated and cooked, it’s rich in glycerol and fibre, with an inimitable al dente crunch amongst its lovely slime.) Twin pepper pork: capsicum slices with black pepper and ribs cooked and served in a hot pot. Pig stomach soup: pork tripe, cleaned in milk, and souped with mustard seed and black pepper. Ground pork with string beans and Chinese olives. Omelettes: radish or oyster. Perfectly understated food: you’d never leave feeling overstuffed or uncomfortable: click T-Chow on Google, and you’ll get reams of reviews. I’d rub my belly, say “Thankyou. Thankyou. Happy stomach!”, bow to my hosts, and depart.
Once we gathered the pluck to ask for a little bowl of hot chilli in oil on the side, Chef So became very concerned that we thought his food lacked spice. With Dora’s translation, we explained that no, the food was exquisite. But those of us who’d eaten similar cuisine in Hong Kong or China knew that a little chilli was admissable; that quickly became the norm, and everybody was very happy.
T-Chow’s gentle cuisine became renown for its healing capacities, especially on the stomach tenderised by overly enthusiastic imbibition on the previous eve.
As more City trenchermen discovered T-Chow, the Saturday lunch gradually became a ritual, and at different tables, different little groups gradually made it a regular observance. The restaurant air would fill with the smell of everybody’s baskets of fresh vegetables from the market, and mingle, tantalising, with the smell of roasting duck.
Gradually, we got to know each other. It began with the swapping of glasses and bottles, from one table to another, the recommendation of different dishes to newcomers, and, eventually, the sharing of tables.
A critical moment came the day when a bloke I called Buddha - never to his face, but in my notes and my private mind - rolled in with an imperial of Irvine Merlot. An imperial is six litres – eight bottles worth. Buddha earned this private name for his enormous bulk – 6’4” x 24 stone in the old money - and the satisfaction that glowed from him as he ate and drank, and, when he’d finished, the pacific silent humming omm that he radiated as he remembered what he’d eaten. I commented on the notable fact that a diner should arrive to a quiet solo lunch with an imperial.
“Thinking man’s stubby”, he said, offering me a glass.
For international readers, a stubby is a small bottle of beer.
This turned out to be Big Bob Skurray, of Travel International. Skurray knew the numbers of every flight to almost everywhere on Earth, provided there was a great restaurant or winery at the other end. If, for example, somebody wanted to attend the Russian Tea Room in New York to celebrate a birthday, he would rattle off the best flight for that date, explain the best route from the airport to the most appropriate hotel close to the Tea Room, explain how long the traveller would have to shower and change, give the customer a card with the restaurant’s telephone number, advise how far ahead a booking should be made, and everything would be fixed. Over the Saturday Table.
In the early ’nineties, few Australian winemakers had done much international travel. There had been no call for it. Few had even bothered to visit the great vignobles of France whose wines they were, to all intents and purposes, copying. The Australian wine export boom was then but a dream. But the wine industry quickly realised that Skurray was the man to be organising all those tentative, exploratory journeys into the wine markets of Britain and the United States, or tours of discovery in Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy. He looked after his charges.
SAYING A HEARTFELT THANKYOU TO A BELOVED RESTAURANT CREW WHO CHANGED THE WAY MANY AUSTRALIANS EAT
By the late ’nineties, for example, a young Californian wine merchant, Dan Phillips, would trust Bob to advise him of which flight to catch in LA so he could alight thirty hours later in Adelaide, and catch a cab straight to the Saturday Table.
In 1993, I was pushing my way through the throng at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, and “BOO!” ... Skurray the giant leapt from behind a hedge of potted kentias, scaring the bejeezuz out of me. We swapped yarns of favourite tinctures we'd tasted in that great hall, and then discussed what we’d be eating at T-Chow when we got home. What we'd drink with it. It felt like we’d just met in the Adelaide Central Market: perfectly natural.
A few days later, Monica and I had caught a dangerously late TGV from Bordeaux to Paris, to make a non-transferable international flight home. The train was short when we embarked, and made only two or three stops en route to Paris. I’d scoured my maps of the complex Parisienne railway system, and knew that it would be touch and go, changing varieties of train twice more from the TGV to Charles de Gaulle and getting to the plane on time. When we disembarked, we were shocked to discover the TGV had grown to what seemed to be a kilometre in length. It had picked up many more carriages in those few stops, and now we were at its tail end, with mountains of baggage and wine, and a very long run to make the connector into town. We ran. Halfway along that interminable platform, we came upon a huge shape, punching a trolley vending machine. It was Skurray, trying to get his money back. We didn’t stop. “See you at the Table Saturday”, he yelled, as we scurried by. “T-Chow duck, bones in”. Which we did.
T-Chow became so popular the owners soon rented a much bigger space around the corner, in Moonta Street in the middle of Chinatown. There was misplaced panic as myopic cynics alleged the bigger the restaurant, the worse the food would become. But no. The bigger joint had a bigger kitchen, and the quality, whilst varying a little depending upon the composition of the kitchen crew, remained very high.
Because there was much more room, the tables were bigger, and the Saturday crew from the old premises began to share a round table. It started at eight seats. Big Bob was a founding member. With due deference to the Formula One Grand Prix which took place in the City streets each year, he’d say the grace: “Gentlemen, start your stomachs”, and off we’d go. Occasionally his fiancée of fifteen years, Anne, would join. Peter and Min Cox, also in the travel business. Steve Tracey, wine merchant. Paul James, aka Petshop, because he owned petshops.
We began to invite guests, and over the years, people of every walk of life attended that table. Musicians, winemakers, wine merchants, warriors, photographers, writers, sportsmen, hookers, jewellers, priests, designers, artists, comedians, film-makers, lawyers, pharmacists, private detectives, alleged murderers, depressives, policemen, inventors, chefs, poets, doctors, drug dealers, restaurateurs, nurses, shrinks, builders, publicans, gutter rats, enforcers, martial artists, their trainers, schoolteachers, real estate people, egotistical bastards, newsreaders, politicians, reporters, schizophrenics ... you name ’em, that table’s had ’em.
CHEF SO, THE AUTHOR, AND CHEONG LIEW, DRINKING DELICIOUS TOURIGA NACIONAL FROM OLD MILL ESTATE, OWNED BY PETER WIDDOP, THE GUY BEHIND CHEONG, HIS WIFE VICKY,AND THEIR FOUR DAUGHTERS.
It didn’t take long to discover that Big Bob Skurray was a revered black belt Tai Kwon Do man who had a deft hand at massage and back manipulation that he'd learned in that martial training, so it became a regular fixture that he would throw me around like a rag doll after lunch and then put my buggered back into alignment.
“Now, you might get a bit of deep tissue bruising here”, he’d mutter in my ear, reaching his mighty fingers into one of my lumbar vertebrae, to grasp it and move it back to its proper spot. Then half the staff would crawl over his giant frame, attempting to get their fingers into him.
Bacchus knows, Skurray’s saved me $50,000 of physiotherapy and massage fees in those two decades. He’s literally kept me on my feet.
Nearly a decade back, Leo Davis, a self-confessed statistically-obsessed pedant, and amateur taxonomist, began to attend. Before long, he was keeping a spreadsheet, detailing who attended, who introduced them, which wines they brought, and so forth and so on. He’d photograph every gathering, and keep an amazing record, including the label from every wine bottle consumed; even detailing the nature of the conversations, which were often rather heated.
In his nine years, Leo's spreadsheets show that 523 different people have sat at that table, with a total of 5185 chairs filled. You could add, say 70% of that again and you'd have the gist of how many souls have enjoyed gastronomic fellowship there. Around 1997-99, it ballooned for a while to thirty to forty people per lunch, but eventually settled at a more workable twelve to fourteen. Sometimes it’s a pensive, but delicious six or seven, and we can all partake of every bottle. There are no bookings: you get there after noon, and take a chair. Once the table’s full, you start another. To keep it simple, one trusted regular always orders for the whole throng.
We have watched regular, beloved diners gradually grow ill and die during the life of that table; others were there, fit and healthy one week, only to drop dead before the next. So we grieve. We are good grievers. Divorces and marriages have ebbed and flowed; lovers have come and gone; babies have been born. It has been a whole village; a railway station; and it has most certainly been a Vinexpo: around ten thousand wines, including many priceless treasures, have been savoured and shared, remembered and written about.
Chef So was always dependable for something extra special when Cheong Liew and I organised a Duck Walk.
But the other day – you knew this was coming, didn’t you – the other day, dear Dora, and her longtime partner in the business, the formidable Chef So, did their last shift. They cooked us some perfectly drunken chicken and a juicy farewell pig, closed the kitchen, and retired. Just like that.
It was one of those days. The table filled quickly, so we started another. That filled, too. So we built a bridge to connect the two. Round tables are notoriously difficult to adjoin.
Jack Hibberd, the great playwright and poet, flew in from Melbourne to read us a special poem he’d written to mark the occasion. I made a speech about how that restaurant, those beloved people, had changed our lives. We presented Chef So and Mrs So, and Dora, with framed copies of Leo’s spreadsheets from the last twelve months – the ten year job would have been ten metres long.
We dined once again like royalty, and left. Chef So and Dora locked the door, and went away. There are new owners now, of a different gastronomic persuasion from a different part of China, and I have not yet attended under their regime. I may be brave enough tomorrow.
Many, many waiters and chefs learned their dots in that kitchen, on that floor. Two rival restaurants, Ying-Chow and Ky-Chow were started around the corner by people who got their break in the T-Chow kitchen, and these now have their own pilgrims.
Now that I’ve written this, I know that the story will grow and transform as more memories and sentiments float to the top, and different souls tug my sleeve and say “Whitey, you shoulda ... ”
In which case, Whitey shall. The Saturday Table’s like that.
BIG BOB BUDDHA SKURRAY CONTEMPLATES TWO DECADES OF SATURDAY LUNCHES, NOT TO MENTION SOME 10,000 BOTTLES OF WINE. STOP PRESS MILTON, WHO MADE THIS PHOTOGRAPH, AND BACCHUS BLESS HIM FOR THAT, SAYS WEE RAB WAS ACTUALLY ASLEEP.