“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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29 June 2009

MARIUS - TOP REDS FROM THE FAULTLINE

ROGER PIKE AT HIS MARIUS VINEYARD ON THE WILLUNGA FAULTLINE, WILLUNGA, IN MCLAREN VALE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA - photo: KATE ELMES - click for link

Glowering Glints Below The Bling
Spotting The Right Gravel Stuff

Wines With Bibles And Snakes
by PHILIP WHITE - this story first appeared in The Independent Weekly

“I wanted a place where I felt right about the piece of land” said Roger Pike, drawing aromatic smoke from an old briar pipe with half its side burned away. “I spotted that gravel stuff, and that felt as good as the view. It had old almonds on it. Plus there was a little go-kart track out the back which was a lot of fun.”

“Forty-five years ago I lived at Reynella”, he said, with a voice as gravelly as that Marius vineyard dirt. It’s full of adventure and mystery from buccaneering about Europe with the top down; chasing fast lasses along the Riviera ... “I sort of went off into the rest of the world,” he continued, waving his pipe at the sunset and the Gulf. “Big corporations. Ran businesses. Came back after all those years and everybody was still here. Now I’ve got a beautiful wife, a lovely daughter, and a vineyard in this weird dirt.”

We sat there during vintage, gazing from the verandah on the fault line just north of Willunga, tasting an array of delicious wines from that freaky fanglomerate. At some stage in the past, there’s been a towering cliff or embankment which shed a talus, or scree slope of rocks of all sorts. It looks like it was dumped there in one big ker-sploosh, but before it was dumped it was already mashed up and ground down and slopped about by ice and ancient waters, and mysterious, mighty upheavals.

“I’m not even picking this year,” he said at that time, staring at his vines from a big easy chair. The heatwave had toasted much of the crop, and while a neighbour wanted the rest, Roger wouldn’t let his harvesting machine in. “I’ve still got plenty of beautiful 07 and 08 waiting to emerge, and, well, I just don’t feel like making a wine that’s not up to par,” he said. “And I don’t want a bloody machine in here, compacting the ground. Knocking my babies around.”

The first wine I tasted from this very special four acre enterprise was made in 1998 by the Bordelaise magnate, Jacques Lurton, for the French market. The vines were just four years old, but a touch of Gallic finesse rendered an intense yet delicate wine of lovely balance and style, quite unlike the chubby homogenised stuff most of the Vales churns out. I reckon it was the first export wine I’d seen with the words “Fleurieu Peninsula” on it ... it was very, very good.

Since then, Roger generally makes three Marius wines a year. The best, and slowest to emerge from its surly slumber, is the Symphony. It’s $35. There are still a few boxes of 05 surviving, miraculously. I awarded it a measly 93++ here a couple of years back: I’d go 94+++ now it’s begun to show its hand. We shared an 04 the other day at The Victory, and while it’s 100% shiraz from a special slice of the vineyard which has had no irrigation for six years, it seems as seamless and luxuriously silky as the 98 of Lurton: there’s something sweetly hedgerow berry Bordelaise about its cushy plushness.

When the vintage is not perfect, the ultra-premium Symphony fruit goes instead into the lower appellation, called Simpatico. This occurred in 2006, and if its quality is any guide, Roger could well have called it Symphony anyway. This is probably the only wine I’ve had which reminded me of decaying e-type Jaguars, crows in the racing green pines, Bibles and snakes. I like a wine with snakes. $25; 93+++.

Not the least of the black Marius trinity is the Symposium, a fifty-fifty blend of mourvèdre and shiraz. Contrary to the slow-food modest-living Epicurians of the annual gastronomy symposia founded by Michael Symons in the ’eighties, Roger rightly maintains that a symposium is really a noisy, boisterous, after-dinner booze-up.

“When I began planning this blend the winemakers round here said I was nuts,” he said. “You couldn’t sell mourvèdre, they reckoned. Stick to shiraz. So you know what I did? I went straight back to my shed, and tipped all the barrels in a tank, so it was blended. Then I put it back in the barrels. Nobody’s taken it apart.”

As far as symposia goes, these two swarthy varieties are certainly having a party, but it’s more an orgy of treacherous midnight whispers than anything boisterously boozy. The brilliant 06 is nearly gone at 93+++ points and a steal at $30.

Few vineyards have such a specific and freakish geology to infest their wine with such character: amongst all the plush silken sheen and polished syrupy fruits, the Marius wines always glower: you can feel dark glints of ironstone and dolomite amongst the quartz and schist bling at the bottom of this garden. Mystery, see? Deep, sweet mystery.

03 June 2009

CONSTELLATION RAPE HITS JESUS BOX

BECAUSE THE McLAREN VALE WINEMAKERS MANDARINS HAVE SHEWN NOT A SKERRICK OF INTEREST, OR HAVE BEEN HIDING FROM THE MIGHTY TRANSNATIONAL, CONSTELLATION, I THOUGHT I MIGHT JUST AS WELL POST A BAROSSA PHOTOGRAPH HERE, IN PLACE OF THE SACRED HEART OF McLAREN VALE, THE 1838 CHATEAU REYNELLA, WHICH I RECKON IS ABOUT TO GO ANYWAY. THIS IS BAROSSA WINEMAKER ROLF BINDER, LEFT, WITH THE AUTHOR IN HIS BARONS' FROCK AND CEREMONIAL SILVER ASHTRAY, CHRIS 'RINGERS' RINGLAND, OF THE "R" WINE CORPORATION, AND MICHAEL WAUGH OF GREENOCK CREEK VINEYARDS AND CELLARS, HAVING TAKEN THEIR AWARDS AS BAROSSA BARONS VITICULTURER AND WINEMAKERS OF THE YEAR BACK WHEN I WORE A PONY TAIL. CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FREE TV SHOW! pic: Leo Davis

Reynella Uproot Hits The Tube
Dimbo Vinepullers Get Famous
PR Victory For Small Good Folks

by PHILIP WHITE

South Australia's most wine-aware general news journalist, Channel Nine's Kelly Clappis, has done a very clean job of reporting the disastrous Constellation plan to remove one of Australia's oldest and most significant vineyards from McLaren Vale, South Australia.

There was no help from the local winemakers' association, which appears to be so close to undead it calls itself MVGWTA. Which is, actually - and I think this is a first - it's an abbreviation of an acronym, which is, in turn, a marketer's record-breaking horror. If they were honest, it'd be MCVGWATA, which at least sounds kinda African.

One of these days, these confounding and arcane bodies will hire a smart writer, and realise that being called the McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association is a long way from Coke, which appears to be a slightly more successful brand.


So enjoy the Barossa photograph above, and then realise we're not in the Barossa, but we're going back to the deep south, to that king-hell rival of the Barossa, MVGWTA, a.k.a McLaren Vale, to watch the current Constellation state of play, or lack thereof, in that peculiarly humid and beautifully Mediterranean-mellow neck of the woods.

As this scandal undressed itself, it became more and more obvious that the main reason the Vales winemakers would not speak out was their callow hope that Constellation would continue to buy their grapes. They're scared. An enormous amount of the Vales crop is sold to big refineries for amorphous blends that leave most wine enthusiasts nonplussed.

This is not a fair reflection on the potential and quality of the region's better fruit. Traditionally, McLaren Vale reds have provided what was called "the middle palate of Australia", not to mention most of the wine that was sold in New South Wales as Hunter Valley. McLaren Vale is much better than this, but needs to be increasingly vigilant, and throw much more energy into sub-regional terroir-driven wines of higher quality than the leviathan megaswill plonkmongers will, or can, ever manage.

It cannot be long, for example, before Fosters closes its Rosemount refinery on the site of Jim Ingoldby's old Ryecroft winery, which provided Burge & Wilson with their Jimmy Watson Trophy winner in the late 'seventies.

At the same time, there are revered Vales vineyards which always go into Grange, and beautiful facets of wonder like the Oliver's tempranillo which makes 100% of Penfolds stunning forthcoming Cellar Reserve tempranillo, which I think is the best version of this variety yet made in Australia.

Many vineyards are in the wrong places, planted for the wrong reasons, by the wrong people.

But there are many treasures, and these must eventually win wide recognition.

Click on my tastevin above, and you get to see Kelly's neat TV reportage of something which is not at all funny.

Wake up, McLaren Vale!

The comments are flooding in. You can post through the comments box below of hurl 'em at my facebook.

Dear Phil,

Firstly, many thanks for sending this story through.....indeed, it will be fascinating to see how things develop!

Is it true that the vines are diseased, and can this “disease” be eradicated?

Hoping that this message finds you well and I look forward to being in touch with you again soon.

Regards Stoppa.

Grant said:

Clearly they need to remove the 'TA' from their appalling acronym, because tourism is certainly something that doesn't appear to be part of their current action plan.

That would make it 'MVGWA', or if they used the vaguely African sounding version that you propose, 'MCVGWA', which is probably an African word for sellout.

Keep up the good fight.

ben said:

Phillip,

MLC David Winderlich asked a question about this in Parliament on Tuesday

So at least there is some question being asked about this disgraceful issue.

This is all part of a broader disregard that the Labor SA Government has for heritage, local communities' representation or anything that stands in the way of developers having carte blanche to do whatever they like.

Just look at the (closer to town) issues of Glenside redevelopment, Searle's Boatyards, Urban Infill, Cheltenham Racecourse, developer donations, Residential Development Bill, etc etc

Cheers

Ben

http://davidwinderlich.net/2009/06/02/stony-hill-vineyard-question/

Legislative Council - Tuesday 2nd June 2009

The Hon. DAVID WINDERLICH: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for State/Local Government Relations, representing the Minister for Environment and Conservation, questions about the impending bulldozing of South Australia’s oldest commercial vineyard, Stony Hill at Old Reynella.

Leave granted.

The Hon. DAVID WINDERLICH: The Sunday Mail of 31 May reported that Stony Hill at Old Reynella is set to be bulldozed to enable the construction of just 41 homes. Stony Hill was established in 1839 by John Reynell and was planted with 32 hectares of cabernet sauvignon vines. Only two hectares of this vineyard remain.

According to Onkaparinga council, the vineyard was removed from the state heritage list by the Department for Environment and Heritage. This is a very strange decision, because the vineyard clearly meets at least three of the seven criteria for listing under the state’s Heritage Places Act: it demonstrates important aspects of the evolution or pattern of the state’s history; it is an outstanding representative of a particular class of places of cultural significance; and it has a special association with the life or work of a person or organisation or an event of historical importance.

To delist such an important part of our history for such a small gain, 41 homes—we are not talking about this vineyard blocking the development of Roxby, for example—raises the concern that nothing is safe. It also raises questions about the integrity of the heritage listing process. My questions are:

1. Why was the Stony Hill vineyard taken off the state heritage register?

2. Was the minister aware that the Department for Environment and Heritage had removed Stony Hill from the state heritage register?

3. If the minister was not aware, will he undertake an investigation as to why the Department for Environment and Heritage made this bizarre decision?

4. Will the minister step in and prevent the bulldozing of the Stony Hill vineyard until he has completed an investigation as to the reason for its removal from the state heritage register?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy): I thank the honourable member for his important questions. I will refer them to the Minister for Environment and Conservation in another place and bring back a response.
June 4, 2009 9:49 AM

Peter made a comment about your link:

i am greatful that someone is keen to save the wine heritage of this state, your efforts will be appreciated in years to come.

being a former west aussie i am scared what the same company will do to the Gingin blocks houghtons sourced its moondah brook chardonnays from for years. i know in these tough times the company has deserted the growers it pushed to plant in this region.

like the cabernet at reynella, many west aussie chardonnay vineyards are planted from cuttings of the original gingin block.

Hi Philip,

Been following every word of this – you came over well on telly.

Just can’t comprehend the news of so much apathy from MVG TWAT or whatever they are called.

Keep at 'em mate, many of us are with you, though I still haven’t joined facebook...

Cheers

Harold, Adelaide

Whitey,

How did they remove the heritage listing? Gov? Council?

Cheers,

JD (Barossa)

It's an outrage!

Hope the program stirs some ire and passion in the people.

What else can be done? I'm sure you and others are working on it.

Thanks for sending the info on ... I missed the current affair program, yet knew it was on, due to their promos earlier in the week.

Keep stirring the pot, Whitey.

Cheers,

Annabelle (Langhorne Creek)

Whitey,

I wanted to buy Stony Hill from Rothmans in 1980 - not for the history, but because it was always the best Cabernet in the cellar - Reynella, McLaren Vale or Coonawarra.

Hack (Adelaide)

Greedy, insensitive bastards. We live in an unfair country.

Michael (Adelaide)

Not Good. No point having somewhere to live if you have nothing to drink.

Tony Ford (Port Lincoln)

Whitey,

Can you believe these arseholes?

Cheers Ox (Adelaide Hills)

Great job …. “Yuppy Ghetto” …. “Clap Trap”…. Lovin’ your work man.

Seriously, good work and keep up the fight.

Paul (McLaren Vale)


If you'd like to add your steam, use the comment box below or get to me on youtube. Meanwhile, there's plenty of background argument on this fiasco if you have the time to read on ... first up comes Geoff Hardy refuting Constellation's claims that the famous Reynella Selection cabernet did not come from the block they intend to convert to a yuppie ghetto.

01 June 2009

HARDY WIZ BLASTS OLD CLONE THEORIES

THE NEW HARDY MOB WILL BE MAKING HERITAGE; NOT BUTCHERING IT ... GEOFF HARDY'S KIDS: BEC, HANNAH, JESS AND SEB. CLICK ON 'EM TO LEARN ABOUT CREATING THE FUTURE ... APOLOGIES FOR USING THE SAME PHOTOGRAPH TWICE, BUT GEOFF WOULD RATHER HAVE THESE STAUNCH VISIONARIES SNAPPED THAN BE RE-RUNNING HIS DETERMINED VISAGE. THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT CLONES!

Geoff Hardy: It's Not A Clone!
All Theories Total Codswallop
Stelzer Unfoxed By Fluffmonger


COMMENT by
GEOFF HARDY
:

"Noel Chapman was the architect of the current Reynell selection (not clone) which he told me was a process of elimination through three generations of plantings and he told me it was most recently from about 7 separate mother vines. We know that at least one of these is quite virus affected but I suspect it is two, without having done the testing. I understand the ‘current’ Reynell selection is the older Stony Hill planting (1968?) and this is where I have sourced perhaps 400 acres of planting material from, propagated or distributed through my own nursery business and this is the tip of the iceberg in an Australian sense.

"As regards naming the Stony Hill block I think Noey told me this was his doing because of the limestone in the higher part but my memory is very vague on this. Apparently there’s no mention of Stony Hill’s existence in Margaret Hopton’s significant writings on the Reynell family.

"David O’Leary mentioned a year or so ago that Noey is still alive so I may be able to find out a little more.

"The block has produced some great wine that I know of but I lost contact with its quality ratings in the late eighties.

"It certainly has a lot of history and is in the wrong hands at the moment."

(GEOFF HARDY'S FAMILY BUILT THE THOMAS HARDY & SONS WINE COMPANY, WHICH PURCHASED AND RESTORED CHATEAU REYNELLA BEFORE BECOMING BRL-HARDY WHICH WAS EVENTUALLY SWALLOWED BY CONSTELLATION WINES.)

COMMENT by TYSON STELZER:

"As you suggest in your response in your blog to my Spectator piece, it’s important that we get our facts right, but you have accused me of “regurgitating standard Constellation PR fluff” when the point that you refer to was not suggested to me by Constellation at all.

"If it turns out the clone did originate from the vineyard in question, I will be eager to report this. Constellation has been unable to confirm this to date, and I have not found evidence elsewhere to support the assertion.

"As stated in the article, "The Stony Hill vineyard at Old Reynella in McLaren Vale was first planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1838 by the district's first settler, John Reynell." Not the mid-1840s, as suggested elsewhere.

"One reason for the assertion that "It's more likely that the clone originated from the nearby Reynella vineyard, planted by Reynell shortly after Stony Hill" is that the clone was only brought into the country in 1838 and into McLaren Vale in 1844. It is more likely, then, from a vineyard planted after Stony Hill.

"This information was not provided to me by Constellation or by Sheralee Davies, although I have made a point of speaking with her about these matters."

TYSON STELZER IS REACTING TO MY CRITICISM IN THE PIECE BELOW

ROTHBURY AND SEAVIEW PLACES NO MORE

Fosters Appellations Appall
Why Not Register Australia?

by PHILIP WHITE - this originally appeared in The Independent Weekly

Rothbury is a place in the Lower Hunter Valley, New South Wales. It has a postcode, and it’s on the map, quite logically south of Rothbury North, near Pokolbin.

Seven years ago, Hunter winemakers applied to the Geographical Indications Committee of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation to have Rothbury recognised as a Geographical Indicator for that sub-region, so the appellation could officially label bottles containing at least 85% Rothbury fruit. This involves about 40% of Lower Hunter wines.

But Rothbury was also the name Len Evans and Murray Tyrrell gave to their new winery there in 1968. Fosters bought the business in 1996, then sold the winery but kept the name.

The Deputy Registrar of Trade Marks has finally ruled that Rothbury is an “ill-defined area in the Lower Hunter Valley ... Most people and businesses within the area ... appear to identify their geographical location by use of the word Pokolbin.” In any case, the ruling states, the name signified the well-known Rothbury Estate and was not known as a geographical reference, so it should not be granted status as a geographical indication without the approval of whoever owns Fosters at the time.

This means Michael Hope, the bloke who now owns the Rothbury winery at Rothbury, cannot use the word Rothbury on his wine, which comes from Rothbury, while Fosters releases wine called Rothbury, Rothbury Estate even, made from fruit from anywhere else.

“The important thing about this is what happens in the future” says Andrew Thomas, formerly of Tyrrell’s, son of Wayne, now of his own formidable wine brand, and a leading member of the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association.
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“Viticulturally, Rothbury’s the heart of this district,” he says. “Just because few people were using the word Rothbury to explain where their grapes were grown – well in fact you’re no longer permitted to – should not mean that they can’t in the future, when sub-regions become much more important. It’s not just Rothbury. Like McWilliams owns the Lovedale trademark, and that’s a place where many people grow grapes for many products. We don’t want corporations owning place names, so the association’s acting to protect other places, like Belford and Mount View.”

There’s nothing new about this sort of carry-on. Fosters ended up owning Seaview, the old Edwards & Chaffey winery below Seaview in McLaren Vale. You can’t see the sea from the winery, which is in a valley, and is now strangely called Rosemount. Mountains are cool, see? After a chain of idiotic marketing decisions the Seaview brand ended up on a bottle of sweet fizzy hot region plonk with a snow-peaked mountain on it. Now the growers at Seaview want their McLaren Vale sub-region GI officially delineated, Fosters is again guarding its brand, however low it has fallen.

In the late ’eighties, when a vineyard company bought the land around and including Pewsey Peak, the highest point in the Barossa Ranges, Yalumba wines immediately registered Pewsey Peak as a brand name to protect the reputation of Pewsey Vale, a vineyard it owned kilometres away across the valley. Keen for marketing height it didn’t have, Yalumba registered the name of a mountain it didn’t own, away across the other side of Jacob’s Creek.

Which is another weird reflection on our capacity to bullshit. Apart from the vineyards at Mountadam, which is its source, there are bugger-all vineyards along the course of Jacob’s Creek. So there can hardly be any Jacob’s Creek fruit in Jacob’s Creek wine, which is a French brand anyway.

On it goes. With the money he got selling Petaluma to the beer mob who are now selling it to the Japs, Brian Croser established Tapanappa with Bollinger and Lynch-Bages, bought the old Koppamurra cabernet sauvignon vineyard near Naracoorte, and called it Whalebone, which has nothing to do with the Whalebone cabernet winery in Adelaida, near Pasa Robles, California, and named after the whalebones in the rock beneath. Croser’s terroir violin plays on about the “35 million year old Oligocene limestone (very similar to St Emilion in Bordeaux) and it is in this limestone that the bones of a whale were trapped and are now exposed in a cave eroded into the limestone beneath ... the name is probably derived from the local aboriginal language meaning ‘stick to the path’...”

As with most purloining of their language by the very industry which poisons them, no aboriginal clan or tongue is attributed. Neither is the fact that tapanappa is really a geological group absolutely nothing like Oligocene limestone and half a billion years older. Kanmantoo bluestone is tapanappa: it’s metamorphic sandstone. But then, there’s no Petaluma fruit in the real Petaluma. Croser lifted that name from a run-down town in California, currently going bankrupt. Famous for its shabby strip joints, arm-wrestling and chook sheds, it’s like Tailem Bend on the path from Adelaida to the Napa, not tapanappa in the Adelaide Fold Belt.