“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

.

.

.

14 November 2009

CHARDONNAY MONGERS' MEETING

SIR ARTHUR STREETON: 'FIR'ES ON' (LAPSTONE TUNNEL) 1891 - AUSTRALIA'S MOST AROMATIC PAINTING? CLICK ON IMAGE TO READ STREETON'S LETTER TO FRED McCUBBIN











The Look Of Smell
Sexy Sexton Stuffs
The Desert Weed


by PHILIP WHITE - A VERSION OF THIS APPEARED IN THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY


They say the difference between drunks and alcoholics is alcoholics go to meetings. The chardonnay addicts have obviously had a meeting. But bugger their meeting: here I sit drinking chardonnay, gazing at an Arthur Streeton painting.

So what’s chardonnay got to do with Sir Arthur Streeton? Well, it has to do with the look of smell.


I can tell the chardonnay addicts – and I mean those addicted to growing and making the stuff - have had a meeting because everywhere I hear the breathless news that chardonnay is coming back. My e-mail is full of this naive hope. I find this advice rather telling, if not threatening. I even heard it, for Bacchus’ sake, at the McLaren Vale wine show. (McLaren Vale grows about 6000 tonnes of ordinary chardonnay a year, which is a drop in the total 444,000 tonnes Australian bucket.)


I’ve heard it all before. Len Evans, that old rogue who ran the wine show system for thirty years, preached incessantly that ‘chardonnay will become the vanilla of the Australian wine industry’. They took this variety from the snow and chalk of Champagne and Burgundy and planted it all over the desert and prayed that it would turn into vanilla. They told us it HAD turned into vanilla. And then they put caramelised oak chips and whatnot into it so it tasted more like vanilla. But it’s a thirsty weed in our desert: never even
getting vaguely close to vanilla essence; much less the true and perfect vanilla bean.

THE LATE LEONARD P EVANS: LA-LA IN VANILLALAND

Industry leaders Dick Smart, Adrian Read and Ian Kidd even planted chardonnay at Bourke. Or got some other poor bugger to plant it, as a millennium PR stunt: the first wine on Earth to be picked in the new millennium. Read: ‘Kidding’, Smartypants.

One of the reasons our wine business is on the nose is that all the punters in the world will not, cannot, drink all the terrible chardonnay that Australia grows. If, like with albarino, they suddenly discovered it was really savignin or traminer or something they’d been passing off in ignorance, and they could rename it and relaunch it, even then it wouldn’t be drunk. Not for a profit.


There are about ten true estates in Australia making good chardonnay. Cullen, Lubiana, Leeuwin, Ashton Hills, Marchand and Burch, Tarrawarra, Romney Park, Montalto, Mountadam, Tallarook ... all reliable chardonnay makers.



Fosters and Constellation can do it well with bought fruit, but they make lakes of the worst stuff, too. And as the chardonnay gets worse, fatter or thinner, so does the dodgy intellect of those who persist with it at the swill end of the market.

Who do they think we are?


Which leads me to the 24 year old Arthur Streeton, in the Blue Mountains in 1891, painting the colour of the air above the Lapstone Tunnel, an excavation the navvies were making for the new trainline. There was an explosion, and a man lost his life. So Streeton painted the faintest wisp of blue smoke over his perfectly-measured air, there in the dry eucalypt bush with the sweat and the horses and the broken hearts and stone and gunpowder. This could be Australia’s most aromatic painting.

I am tasting five successive vintages of Giant Steps Yarra Valley Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay, made by that Merlin, Steve Flamsteed, and Dave McIntosh. These are distinctive and beautiful wines to sniff, because they do not resemble vanilla. They have a range of fruity esters that spread from the smell of Kingston Black cider apples, through stewed to fresh crunchy pear, maybe quince paste, then lemon juice and ginger, to the very edge of oxalis, like the whiff of rhubarb pie, or the taste of a soursob stalk, and on almost to methoxypyrazine, the smell of a tomato leaf, or sauvignon blanc.
They are lean, naturally acidic sentinels of great longevity, almost carved from stone. And each one, to varying degrees, also has the acrid, nostril-twitching aroma of Arthur Streeton’s ‘Fire’s On’, (Lapstone Tunnel) 1891, which you can disappear into at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

These wines are grown without poison sprays, and made with the yeasts of the air. They need no shovelled acid; only a drinker patient enough to realise their beauty is not always overt, like the old peach syrup/Dolly Parton chardonnays of Rosemount’s Roxburgh, a vineyard which has just been bought by BHP-Billiton, who can smell coal.


The Giant Steps chardonnays do have a little of the chubby fatty acids that often mark the best Burgundian versions, but these simply make these staunch wines more wholesome. The 2008 version has about as much butter as the thinnest layer of flake pastry, as if all the abovementioned fruits were on a lightly-cooked tart.


Despite them regularly winning major shiny at the Royal Melbourne, these pristine, honest wines, from an honest, lovingly-tended garden, are not the sort of chardonnays those refinery managers decided to persist with at their meeting. I’ve already drunk glumly to that.

FOOTNOTE: After publishing this, the author discovered there had indeed been a meeting to stir the troops to get chardonnay back on the shelves in place of the dreaded Kiwi savvy-B. Fosters called the meeting. The wine show judges promptly obeyed!

04 November 2009

FALL FROM GRACE WITH AN AIRLINE GIRL

GILL GORDON-SMITH AT FALL FROM GRACE: BUZZY LITTLE WINE CENTRE IN THE MAIN STREET OF MCLAREN VALE ... photograph by KATE ELMES/INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

Are You Rhonesome Tonight?
Mediterranean Hits McLaren Vale

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this first appeared in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

Those prone to guzzling pink, yellow or blue electrolytic health drinks to cure the effect of too many other drinks may have recently noticed their back label texts: the whole sweetwater industry seems suddenly to be marketing itself like wine.

Not a lot of difference in most cases, other than the electrolytes will do much less damage.

But while these products are all drinks, I
bought a mop the other day, from the hardware store in McLaren Vale, branded “Oates Premium Mop Refill” on the front, and “Premium quality blend mop yarn” on the back. Premium blend, see? It included instructions of storage and application, like “to be used in conjunction with good hygiene practices”, and, just in case you felt a perverse urge, “do not use to clean aquariums”. Nothing about using whilst pregnant, mind you, and no photographs of open-heart surgery.

Which leads me to the disgusting rash of signage that has turned the main street of McLaren Vale into Parramatta Road. I’d love to get to it with a chainsaw and an angle grinder. It’s vile. There’s no porn emporia, yet, but the window of what was the lovely little
fishmonger bears a note explaining that it’s about to become a tattoo parlour.

There’s a rare streak of humour at the hardware joint. “Wine barrels”, it says, “full - $49.95 - half $34.95”. Turns out a barrel not yet sawn in half to make flowerpots costs less than twice as much as half a barrel. Both lots are empty.


Which is not what you could say about the cute and comely promise behind a tiny sign beside Blessed Cheese. “Fall From Grace”, it says. “Lifting the Vale”.
This promotes the most exciting new thing to hit the south since Chester Osborne went into the fashion business. Unlike Chester, who presumes we’re all ready to spend $500 on a pair of pre-stressed d’Arenberg jeans in order to look just like him, this tiny shop is there to teach people about wine.

Of course Chester does that, too, but, you know. Fall From Grace is the inspired, crazy work of an ebullient and comforting lass called Gill Gordon-Smith, a McLaren Flatster who escaped into the blue Qantas skies many vintages ago, to become what we affectionately used to call “a hostie”.


“I basically used Qantas as a tasting tour of the world’s best cellars”, she says, explaining that she generally ensured her days off were mainly in France. She was soon adding training to her cabin attendant duties, and gradually built up a formidable list of wine education qualifications, amongst other sage wisdoms. Like the warm speechette she recently delivered about how the seasoned traveller, especially when in Russia, soon learns to carry plenty of high quality toilet paper. “Quilted”, she said, without even hinting that she may have suspected I was a Delsey man. In her role as a sort of den mother for junior hosties, it seems that she spent a lot of time supplying the poor little blossoms with toilet paper behind the Iron Curtain.


Or something to that effect. Her honeyed contralto oozes straight through my filters.

Fall from Grace specialises in beautiful
honest biodynamic and organic wines from the south of France. And some champagnes which my mate Roberto would call, with nothing less than admiration and amazement, Farmer's Fizz. Little guys.

The south of France bit makes perfect sense, given McLaren Vale's propensity to make wines after the Mediterranean style. It has, after all, what one spark called "the best Mediterranean climate on Earth". (I think that was the terroir master, Brian Croser.)

You ring up to arrange a berth on, say, a Friday night flight, make it to the Fall on time to pay your $20 or $30, and cruise through a tutorial on three or four delicious
wines you’ve never ever heard of before, and suddenly want to drink a lot more of.

Fall From Grace is licensed to serve fourteen tasters at a time – this is intimate – and you’ll need to make your travel arrangements succinctly, or you won’t be able to squeeze in on account of the joint being full of dumbstruck winemakers oohing and aahing and searching stupidly for faults like brett, which your hydrangeas will be more likely to get if you buy their second hand barrels from the hardware store.


The cheese is always good.

Sundays Gill does a seriously giggly but educational suds day, serving champagne made by like-minded otherwise unheard-of souls. Book for that, too. Or just go and buy books: she stocks the best little selection of educational wine books, along with luxury Spiegelau wine glassware - made by Riedel but a helluva lot cheaper – of which she is the SA wholesaler. She also sells Leguiole corkscrews, which are deadly efficient works of great beauty that never wear out, and Opinel picnic and field knives from Savoie, which are compulsory kit for all Francophile wine sluts.


Gill also does brill tours of Vales wineries, or visits you for custom tastings, and, well, generally settles you down with a nice drink and a big grin, just like air hostesses used to do. And I almost forgot. Her sign sports the well-formed calves of winemaker Justin McNamee, balanced precariously
on the edge of a tank full of fermenting red. Poised to fall. Which is a back label, really.

Fall From Grace is my kind of school. You’ll graduate bubbling with love and knowledge; you won’t need a blue drink or a premium blend mop to sort out any mess, and just between you and me, the lovely hostie gave me her
phone number. It’s 08 8323 8089.

APPELLATION SOUTH AUSTRALIA: NUTS

CARTO GRAPHICS' CLEVER NEW TOPOGRAPHIC MAP FOR BAROSSA GRAPE AND WINE AS SEEN BY THE FIGHTER PILOT ... THE ALTITUDES HERE, HOWEVER, ARE EXAGGERATED FOR EFFECT. CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.

Mount Lofty Ranges Regions
Wrong Borders, Wrong Names?
Who's In Charge Of Change?

by PHILIP WHITE - this story originally appeared in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

The Barossa Grape and Wine Association has just released a clever, handsome and revealing topographical map of the viticulture zone called Barossa. This transverse slice of the South Mount Lofty Ranges was delineated by the local vignerons and the Geographical Indications Committee, a subsidiary of the Australian Wine And Brandy Corporation, the Government statutory authority which polices wine law.

The map was made by Carto Graphics. As it was completed, I coincidentally noticed an increase in wineries using Mount Lofty Ranges as their location. The official wine appellation doesn’t suit them.

There are two reasonably distinct ranges that run from the tip of the Fleurieu to Peterborough; South Mount Lofty Ranges from Cape Jervis to around Eudunda; North Mount Lofty Ranges further to the west, running through Clare and Burra to fizzle out in the desert around Peterborough. North and west of them run the Flinders: Southern, then Northern. These names are official topographical names for standard maps, so they can be easily located by people all over the world.

Not so for our official wine appellation boundaries. These are, well, different. There’s a huge slab of country called The Adelaide Superzone, which includes the Barossa, Fleurieu and Mount Lofty Ranges Zones. The latter Zone contains the Adelaide Hills, the Adelaide Plains and the Clare Valley Regions. The Adelaide Hills Region contains the delineated Sub-regions of Lenswood and Piccadilly Valley, as well as other land that extends north to where the appellation abruptly and illogically becomes the Eden Valley Region in the Barossa Zone, as distinct from the Barossa Valley Region to the west.

Like the Barossa Zone, the Adelaide Hills are not on any ordinary map. This is a colloquial and nebulous term for some of the hills in the South Mount Lofty Ranges. Kuitpo, Mount Barker, and Hahndorf are in the Adelaide Hills Region, Harrogate and Kanmantoo are not. Dumb.

What a pity these boundaries were not set on existing place names, or more easily determined geographical and geological features that were on maps for a century before Australian wine appellations were invented! I initially suggested that the Adelaide Superzone was so named because everyone in the wine world was presumed to know of the whereabouts of Adelaide University, which is smug about its wine course. GIC members have since scorned this idea. Because Adelaide proper is not in any hills or ranges, the South Mount Lofty Ranges Superzone would have had more natural clarity, as Adelaide is on their floodplain and piedmont.

Then, the North Mount Lofty Ranges would make more sense as a Zone, as does the Southern Flinders Region, which I had the pleasure to officially open some years back. There’s not much call for a Northern Flinders Region yet, but this may become necessary if those who insist the Earth is cooling prove correct.

When you examine the fine new Barossa map, it becomes very clear that the Barossa is a distinct valley that runs north-south between the Barossa Ranges on the eastern side, and the ridge that runs from Kalimna in the north, south through Greenock to Gomersal on the western side. The enormous, monocultural tax-dodge vineyards recently planted outside the Valley on the western flats around Sandy Creek have nothing to do with the Barossa or its flavours. This should be Adelaide Plains. Similarly, the upland vineyards in the chaotic network of ranges and valleys to the east of the Barossa Range have nothing in common with the Barossa, other than that Valley’s propensity to use their finer fruit to improve its own, which they can still do without losing the precious Barossa moniker. The dodgy intellect of this is revealed by the new map. They made their Barossa far too big. Dumb.

THE HILL OF GRACE VINEYARD, MUCH IMPROVED BY PRUE HENSCHKE SINCE MILTON WORDLEY TOOK THIS PHOTOGRAPH. IS THIS IN THE BAROSSA VALLEY?

The South Mount Lofty Ranges are a continuous geological feature that extends to Cape Jervis, and yet the Southern Fleurieu is not included in the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone, while Clare is. Dumb.

The McLaren Vale Region is part of the Fleurieu Zone. It sensibly drew most of its boundary according to its geology and topography, following the escarpment formed by the Willunga fault line from the Victory pub to Kangarilla. The western boundary is sensibly the sea. Part of the reason this region stretches north across the Onkaparinga to include Glenthorne Farm and Chateau Reynella is to protect them from housing development. Which will look really dumb if governments and owners continue with their nefarious villa rash. Which the intellectually decrepit Rann government has just permitted to occur in letting Constellation Brands rip out John Reynell's heritage vineyard which had been in full premium wine production for 161 years. Forty-one tiny apartments will replace it. The winemakers of McLaren Vale can take a deep bow for permitting this to happen. And Onkaparinga Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg, who will eventually fall on her own fork. Show Lorraine a hill, and she'll immediately want somebody to put a shed on it.

In the meantime, there's an unholy row brewing between Jane "Spock" Lomax-Smith, the Minister for Tourism, and the McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association over the naming of the Fleurieu, the Peninsula which McLaren Vale sits upon. The McLVGWATA should not really be claiming any holier-than-thou rights to naming intelligence until it cleans that idiotic acronym up. But the winesmiths of the Vales want the Fleurieu name officially changed to Fleurieu and McLaren Vale, which J-Lo the Vulcan will not abide.

Consider Doug Govan of The Victory Hotel. His two tiny Rudderless Vineyards behind his mighty pub sit astride the boundary separating McLaren Vale from Southern Fleurieu. This line should logically follow the creek, flowing just south of his pub down through Cactus Gulch to the Gulf. Instead, the appellation line actually divides one of his three tiny Lots, as delineated on the Hundred and Section maps determining ownership.

Doug’s dog Swahili could have worked that one out.

Just as we constantly adjust electoral boundaries to suit demographic changes, and rename electorates, surely we can begin correcting some of this really stupid mess.

VICTORY HOTEL PUBLICAN, DOUG GOVAN, TOOK THIS PHOTOGRAPH OF HIS BELOVED SWAHILI, WHO IS CONSIDERING THE BOUNDARY OF McLAREN VALE AND FLEURIEU. SWAHILI IS IN McLAREN VALE. THE COOPERS SIGN IS IN SOUTHERN FLEURIEU.

McLAREN VALE GEOLOGY MAKES FLAVOUR

RHONE EXPERT JOHN LIVINGSTONE-LEARMONTH ENJOYING A GLASS OF GRENACHE ON A BONNIE SPRING DAY IN McLAREN VALE ... photograph by KATE ELMES - INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

Rhone Man Tastes Vales Stones
500 Million Years Missing
Some Hammy Ironstone Survives


by PHILIP WHITE ... a version of this first appeared in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

John Livingstone-Learmonth is a student of the Rhone. He has crossed its countryside, kicked its dirt, contemplating its geology, and studied its wines for thirty-five years. He knows three generations of growers, and has watched their attitudes and vineyard husbandry change. Or not change. He is the living library of Rhone whites, cellaring, and knowing implicitly decades of viognier, roussane and marsanne. He was in Condrieu, the home of viognier, when its total plantings had dwindled to around twelve hectares. He has written scholarly books about this; now he is attempting to encourage those Rhonely types to learn more about their geology.

“Take Saint Joseph, in the Rhone”, he said, over a breakfast tasting. “It is transversed by streams which come down from the range to the west. When I taste those wines, and study their prices through history, these vary in parallel to my opinions of their quality, depending on the various alluviums they have washed downstream ... the geology of these sources are vital sources of flavour. The old growers accepted all this for centuries, without knowing why; without appreciation of precisely why and how geology influences the flavour and structure of their wines.”

“We need an international guest at our wine show” Vales PR flak Elizabeth Tasker had said, half apologetically, “to give it weight in the publicity ... we need a point of difference to elevate our image.” Which is why John was here. But we were discussing something bigger than PR.

Way beneath the Willunga Basin lie the rocks of the Neoproterozoic, stuff that was there around a billion years ago. Before multi-cellular life really took off. A billion years before humans invented God. Atop those lie layer upon layer of deposits left by repeated intrusions and retreats of the ocean, which has all occurred during the ice ages of the last sixty million years. Only in that time have we drifted away from Gondwanaland, the great Antarctic continent. That may seem a long time back, until you think of the preceding billion years or so.

When Earth’s water concentrates, frozen, at the poles, the sea falls. Eighteen thousand years ago the beach was away off on the edge of the continental shelf, at least one hundred kilometres from where it now stands. Ten thousand years ago, you could walk to Kangaroo Island. There were aboriginal people living where the Bass Straight now flows.

I attempted to explain the differences between the geology of McLaren Vale and that of the Rhone, the target and source of John’s life’s fascination, when a weird reality hit me with newfound clarity. Apart from their newer stuff, which was laid down or exposed in the same last sixty millions that saw the top layers of the Willunga Basin form, the basement Rhone is from the Jurassic, the age of dinosaurs and coniferous forests, from 135 million to 180 million years ago.

I found myself having to explain that those layers of history do not exist in McLaren Vale. They are quite simply gone. Away. I can show you sites in the Vales where you have a layer of Neoproterozoic rock topped with layers of stuff that are sixty million years old, from the Eocene. Five hundred million years of geology have vanished. The stuff that once filled that gap is the geology on which the Rhone Valley grew. So we had an exciting point of difference: the bit missing from the Vales is the bit in which France happened.

Regular readers will know of my obsession with licking rocks and dirt to taste their flavour. In spite of some nonsense circulating about some boozy US geologists claiming the opposite, grapes are little bags of sugary water, which are directly influenced by these flavours of the Earth.

Soil, the obsession of Australian winemakers, is the dandruff of the Earth to the geologist. Drive through any cutting on any of the roadways in our Hills or the Vales, and look at the soil: it’s usually only a metre deep, if that. The key roots of vines drive quickly through that dandruff, and derive flavours from the skull bone beneath. John Livingston-Learmonth understands this more than any wine writer I have met. I passed him a small lump of ironstone from the Yangarra sands. It tasted like a slice of smoky Iberian ham.

UNIRRIGATED 1946 MODEL BUSH VINE GRENACHE IN AEOLIAN SEMAPHORE SAND AT YANGARRA ESTATE NEAR KANGARILLA

A team of master geologists, W. A. “Bill” Fairburn, Jeff Olliver, and Wolfgang Preiss, all colleagues of mine from the old days of the Mines Department in the ’seventies, has almost finished work on the official PIRSA geology map of McLaren Vale, due for publication soon. I have assisted in this publication, having first dreamed of it with some of these clever men in the SA Geological Survey all those years ago.

This map will fairly quickly unlock many of the mysteries of the flavours of the region, replace most of the winemakers’ preoccupation with dandruff, instantly begin to influence grape prices, and therefore land prices, and will play a major role in future town planning and development issues. I trust that Premier Rann’s Thirty Year Plan for greater Adelaide will be sufficiently flexible to absorb these realities, which have been there a helluva lot longer than he has.

MURRAY MOUTH FAKES ONE LAST FLOW

WOODEN BOATS RACING BENEATH THE HINDMARSH ISLAND BRIDGE AT GOOLWA, WHERE THE MURRAY RIVER PREVIOUSLY FLOWED INTO THE GREAT SOUTHERN OCEAN ... photograph by KATE ELMES/INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

Turning Water Into Wine
Viticulture Helps Kill River

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this first appeared
in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY


Aquacaf is a great little seafood restaurant at Goolwa. It sits on the edge of the new fake lake the government’s made with its dam wall at Clayton. It now looks as if the Murray River once again flows into the sea. Where the Finniss waters would normally gush into the channel and make a sharp left hand turn to flow north into Lake Alexandrina, flushing, filling and oxygenating it, she now turns left and bounces off the new earthern wall, then sorta swirls around and back, filling Tom and Wendy’s boat thing, even spilling a little over the Goolwa Barrage into the Southern Ocean after the good rain.

There were a jolly lot of diners there last week, watching a fleet of classic wooden boats perform a polite race in the snot-green water. “Actually it’s more like khaki”, my fierce off-sider told her perfect gravadlax, which came on a wooden trencherboard.

Very ancient ritual, serving food on a trencher. I thought of the rough hands of the carpenter breaking bread for the rough hands of the fishermen at another meal in another epoch. They would have used trencherboards. I wondered how the Damascus rosé looked at that last strange supper; how it glinted in the light. How well it accompanied whatever they’d caught.

Aquacaf provides the perfect platform to gaze upon the Hindmarsh Island bridge. Its gentle bulging curve is easy on the eye, humping, as it does, from out of that old street of stone harbormaster’s offices, across the narrow channel to plunge straight into an aboriginal graveyard.

It’s an highly evocative place to sit, there at Aquacaf. Look north, across the bridge, towards Clayton and Langhorne Creek, and if your brain’s like mine it fizzes with rage and confusion about what the wine business has done to these waters. There was a good fresh aquifer there, but greed and ignorance saw it sucked until it turned too saline for use. More modest use of it has seen bits of it return to something like normal, but the Lake and the Bremer will never again be normal, although the Bremer actually flowed a little the other day, and I liked the thought that it might be putting what my Mum would call “goodness” back into the aquifer, and maybe even the poor buggered Lake.

I thought of the abandoned tailings dams at the old mines of Kanmantoo and Brukunga, then, and how much of their poison seeped downstream with the lovely rains. The wine in my hand came from the safer side of those headwaters, at Romney Park, between Hahndorf and Balhannah, where the water runs the other way, down the Onkaparinga and into the gulf accidentally named after the patron saint of viticulturers, Vincent.

That Hahndorf chardonnay is about as good and fine and precise a drink as the South Mount Ranges have produced thus far. It’s the perfect thing to have with such perfect dishes as Aquacaf’s squid and gravadlax.

While I wallowed in this repast, there with the bridge and the boats and the tupperware tuscany, I wandered back to the days of Premier Dean Brown, who moved some water allocation permits from upriver to Langhorne Creek, to feed the incredible explosion of viticulture that occurred there as soon as the tap came on. In 1991, there were 471 hectares of vineyard at Langhorne Creek: an area limited by the amount of available water coming down the Bremer, and the varying freshness of the aquifer.

The wine industry councils released their thirty year plan in 1995, outlining the amount of vineyards Australia would need to keep the world supplied through to 2025. Thanks to Premier Brown’s new water, the Langhorne Creek bit went very quickly. By mid 1997, there were about 2,500 hectares; by vintage 1999, there were 4317 hectares: a tenfold explosion in eight years.

In one $30 million hit, Vinescape Management Services, planted 320 hectares for the Guild Pharmacists’ superannuation fund, on completely unproven samphire country. It soon grew its own little salt pan, smack in the middle. I still keep the Orlando press release boasting of the size of its new planting: one vineyard with 200,000 trellis posts, 1,000 kilometres of drip line, and 50,000 kilometres of wire. Must be good eh? They planted riesling for Bacchus’ sake! That vineyard’s been on the market for years now.

Anyway, the mighty wine industry sure planted everything its thirty year plan outlined. In about five years. Not just in Langhorne Creek, but all along the Murray, and right across the nation. Nobody seemed to notice this unseemly haste.

HINDMARSH ISLAND BRIDGE ... photo by KATES ELMES/INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

As the waters of the Finniss gradually wear their way through the sinking dam our government has built to seal the fate of our greatest river system, I wonder what wise counsel Dean Brown offers Ms Maywald and Mike Rann today?

What punishment would this mob of rack ’em, pack ’em and stack ’em bullies deal out if this destruction had been wrought by, say, a gang of unemployed thugs from Murray Bridge?
.

CADENZIA: ADDING CADENCE TO GRENACHE

McLAREN VALE: HOME OF AUSTRALIA'S BEST GRENACHE ... photograph by MILTON WORDLEY

Cadenzia Hits Six For Grenache
McLaren Vale Getting The Point

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this first appeaered in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

There’s a big district on the Rhone delta away down in the south of France where an unholy number of Popes shacked up after 1308. They call it Châteauneuf-du-Pape. An appellation gradually evolved there. Unlike any other in France, this one permitted a great number of varieties, and while over 70% of it is now planted to grenache, fourteen other varieties can go in the blends.

So a red Châteauneuf will most likely be grenache noir-based, but may also contain any percentage of other stuff, like the reds (cinsault, counoise, mourvèdre, muscardin, picpoul noir, shiraz, terret noir, and vaccarèse), and the whites (bourboulenc, clairette, grenache blanc, picpoul blanc, picardan, and roussanne).

Early this millenium, grenache was beginning to earn some overdue respect in the Barossa, with the wiser small producers paying it the attention and winemaking budgets previously shewn only shiraz.

It seemed to me that since McLaren Vale grew grenache of a strength, finesse and character that deserved particular attention since the 1860s, the variety had fallen from favour in the post-war Croserised Roseworthy epoch. So I invented Cadenza, a sort of sub-appellation for wines made principally of McLaren Vale grenache, which could be made by any winery, but marketed together. The idea was to improve the profile of grenache in that region, to the advantage of growers, makers and, most importantly, to my readers, the thirsty.

A cadenza’s a passage of classical music where the lead player gets a chance to improvise a few riffs while the rest of the band sticks to the composer’s written score. It’s the beginning of jazz. My idea was that like the winemakers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Vales makers could take the opportunity to have a bit of a blow, and after all the standard boring varietals are put to bed, blend something unprecedented in its complexity and form.

Because a couple of winemongers elsewhere on Earth traded under the Cadenza name, the Vales version blended in an i to become Cadenzia, and now the project is in its sixth release, with seven winemakers participating, fewer than some years, but increasing again. The winemakers’ council owns the name, which was donated, along with the whole idea, and any local producer may release a Cadenzia provided it contains more grenache than any other variety and passes a quality examination conducted by a panel of independent judges.

The project has been a little disappointing to me in the sense that so many of the wines are straight grenache, which is permitted, but hardly takes full advantage of the spirit of the original idea. Maybe the winemakers are taking longer than the punters to learn what grenache is like; perhaps some have no varieties suitable for blending. Which is not to decry the quality of any of these new Cadenzias, straight or blended. There’s little market resistance to well-grown and made grenache, best manifest in the fact that the price of good quality Vales grenache fruit has doubled in the decade, sometimes trebled, whilst other stuff has tumbled.

This year’s release contains three blends and four straight wines. For obvious reasons I’ve paid close attention since the project commenced six short years ago, and sat on the quality assurance panel. This lot’s the most accomplished yet.

Of the straight wines, the Oliver’s Taranga 07 may seem more intense and inky than many expect of grenache, with Clare-like kalamata and dense black cherry dominating any raspberry that may lie beneath. The palate’s silky, then chalky with tannin, and there’s some American-looking oak adding sap. Tapestry’s 07 is even more austere, tight and sooty to sniff, with juicier fruit in the mouth: black russian tomatoes and mature beetroot come to mind; the tannins finer and softer. Samuel’s Gorge 07 is headily perfumed, like His & Hers parfumiers crashed into Ditters; its palate velvety and slightly doughy, like chocolate sourdough. The Dog Ridge 07 seems more like traditional McLaren Vale Dry Red, with sinewy athleticism leading to sweet plum pudding, and Mississippi mudcake tannins.

D’Arenberg’s 06 Cadenzia is grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre. It has that classic d’Arry stripe of stubborn red character - like his old “burgundies” when babies - somehow imparting plump plummy fullness as much as balancing lemony sinew before the velvet tannins arise. The extra year has done it proud. Yangarra’s 07 grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre will do well with another year, or fifteen, as its wood is still very fresh, and its intense complexity and dense, taut stance guarantee the longevity of a top Châteauneuf. Gemtree’s 07 Cadenzia is grenache, tempranillo and shiraz, and is the only wine to step off the Châteauneuf-du-Pape template: it’s done a runner across the Spanish border, picked up a very classy travelling companion, and with all that pomade, perfume and shoe polish, is determinedly heading to the bull ring.

Go catch the Cadenzia train. That was the idea. Get a driver, do the cellars, and stock up for next winter.

CANNED WINE = CANNED MUSIC, WET

SOME THINGS DON'T BELONG IN A TIN

Sofia's Canned Sophistry
VinTins V. Bladder Pack
Penfolds Goes All Glassy

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this first appeared in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

Sceptically mumbling that there’s nothing new under the Sun, your thirsty correspondent was amused and bemused to hear that Sofia Coppola, the film-directing daughter of the famous film-directing Napa wine magnate Francis, had released a sweet blend of pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc and muscat called Blanc de Blancs California. In a pink tin. With a straw attached.

In a rare accurate use of the word, the press bumpf insists this is aimed squarely at the “sophisticated” market. (My Oxford On Historical Principles advises that sophisticated means “mixed with some foreign substance; adulterated; not pure or genuine; deprived of primitive simplicity or naturalness; rendered artificial; falsified ... ”)

This was a Californicated shot at the cute little splits of champagne popular in the sorts of night clubs your writer consistently fails to frequent. After all that utter codswallop about which shaped glass the precious makers of champagne insist their suds are best served in, they feel no quirks about putting it in cute little bottles with plastic stoppers so supermodels can suck it seductively through straws when they’re draped across bars. Lipstick don’t smudge with a straw, see.

Barokes, the South Melbourne winemaker, has had the Vinsafe Wine-in-a-Can on the market for a fairly unremarkable five years. They won something shiny for their canned chardonnay at a show in Singapore, which was fortuitous, because they’re aiming their tinny ordnance at Asian sophisticates, of which there are apparently quite a few.

As the wine glut continues to swill biliously back and forth across the sodden globe, plonkmongers are trying anything, everything, to attract attention and move juice. Most of these are being sold in a fashionably verdant light: the producers generally claim their allegedly new container is more environmentally-friendly. Stuff like like PET plastic bottles, new angles on the bladder pack, and Tetra Packs.

Don’t laugh. The first Tetra-Pak wine these eyes saw was in Robert O’Callaghan’s flash leather briefcase at the Mascot airport in the early eighties. Rocky had not yet learnt the marketing filip he'd get by getting all verdant, and Rockford was still as small as it can only pretend to be today. He’d been working, with adman Tony Parkinson, on a way of emptying the tanks of the old Angle Vale co-op winery. That was back before the arrival of the green angle, but kiddylikker issues were already fomenting, and Rocky’s Sydney promo trip was futile. Parky went on to invent such magnaminities as Black Chook, Timbuktu, and Woop Woop.

And now we’ve got the new aluminium bottle. Aluminium and wine don’t marry. Many metals affect the flavour of wine. Drink your favourite red from a pewter chalice and you’ll know what I mean: it tastes like silver paper stuck in an old amalgam filling. The Barokes folks claim they’re got this cured with their patented plastic film which lines the can, but the consequent flavours still fail to impress this gnarly hack.

What the new USA users of various shapes of aluminium bottles are using to solve this problem is a mystery. Perhaps they imagine there is no problem.

Then, if you're talking about carbon footprint, the cost of smelting aluminium in Australia far outweighs the cost of doing it in nuclear-powered countries: Australia's electricity unfortunately comes from burning coal.

The glass container, for storage and serving, remains the preferred tankard at Casa Blanco. And now, it seems, it may also become the preferred seal.

PENFOLD'S GRANGE MAKER PETER GAGO

For many years, Peter Gago, Grangemaker, has fantasised about somehow having a glass bottle with a glass closure. Not like the natty Vino-Lok glass stoppers gradually appearing now; these have a polyvinyl chloride o-ring seal: the same stuff used in the thin film over the sealing wafer of a screw cap. What Peter dreamt of was a glass-on-glass closure, an emulation of the old apothecary’s bottle, with the machined glass tapered stopper in a tapered, machined glass neck.

This is, of course, impossibly expensive for a modern bottler.

But Peter’s nearly got it, shall we say, cracked. He’s found a machine that can shave the opening of a standard bottle so that its top edge is to all extents and purposes, perfectly flat. Upon this sits a special glass disk, also flat. In prototype trials your writer has observed at Magill, this can be held in place with a ceramic clip or a screw cap yet to be perfected. It is indeed glass-on-glass: no plastic touching wine.

“We know the PVC in the screw cap holds white wine stable for decades without taint”, Peter said, “but red wine? We won’t know until the same sort of time scale has passed. Glass-on-glass will remove any such concern.”

The Grange trials are borderline hush-hush, but they continue. For those wanting more oxygen in their wine – like, say, a cork would admit over time – psuedo-sintered glass is available, meaning the bottler can offer a range of disks with the capacity to admit varying degrees of oxygen ingress without the wine seeping out. So the Grange buyer could take a case in which four bottles will live for almost ever with minimal oxidation; four bottles with, say the degree of oxidation generally achieved with screw caps, and four with the same sort of oxidation you’d get with cork. And no faults.

Totally unsophisticated, see.

03 November 2009

TROTT FAMILY TROPHY AN HONOUR

EMILY TROTT, DAUGHTER OF GREG, WITH THE AUTHOR AFTER SHE AWARDED HIM THE TROTT FAMILY TROPHY 2009.

Emily Trott’s Award Speech
The Trott Family Trophy


Thankyou.
It gives me pleasure to be back here again.

Having enlisted considerable help in piecing together this trophy’s history and its recipients, as Dad was not good at keeping ordered records, I learned that this trophy had its beginnings in viticulture, to even the ledger on this day of “The
Winemakers’ Lunch”.

However, over the years, the trophy has deviated, meandered and weaved its way to many who have contributed to McLaren Vale, as seems natural as this area was Greg Trott’s delight. Dad would have a vision and he would subsequently weave his
magic, meander his way, for example, into state parliament, and, on the odd occasion, deviate agendas to the betterment of McLaren Vale and the South Australian wine industry as a whole, and there is no better example of this than Glenthorne Farm.

Most of you know the history.
Glenthorne Farm has been many things to many people. In 1839 it became known as The Lizard Lodge named so by Major Thomas O’Halloran. After that it became a horse estate; in 1913 an army property, followed by the CSIRO in 1946 and in 2001 Glenthorne Farm was passed from the CSIRO to its current guardian the University of Adelaide. Importantly, since the 1830s, Glenthorne Farm has always remained a green buffer between development and the southwest.

This land was
transferred to the University on the basis that there would be no housing on the site and that the land would be used for viticulture, research and winemaking. However, this year the University of Adelaide wanted to sell 63 hectares of the farm for housing to cover the cost of returning the rest of the land to its pre-colonial bush state or native woodland.

With
contributions from politicians, significant petitions from Friends of Glenthorne Farm, and through sheer persistence, on the 24th March 2009, the Adelaide University proposal was rejected by the state government.

Instrumental in this fight, with perpetual lobbying, and an even louder voice, and words, and then even a louder voice than before, was Philip White. He was around at the time of the original proposal by Greg Trott and was subsequently mortified with the idea that Glenthorne Farm might be earmarked for housing, as were many. He wasn’t pleased and chose to do something about it, as this was contradictory to Greg Trott’s initial vision and in total disparity to the agreement made on the existing deed.


What Philip has helped to achieve by preserving Greg Trott’s intention for Glenthorne Farm is more than protecting a great friend’s
vision when he is no longer around to physically watch over it himself.

More importantly, what Philip has vehemently helped to protect, is the vital, green, ever-buffering
farmland, and its practises, which, in turn, is to the benefit of all of us, and crucially, the future.

I can safely say that Dad would be pleased.


It gives me great pleasure to award the Trott Family Trophy 2009
to Mr. Philip White.

GLENTHORNE FARM ... LEO DAVIS PHOTOGRAPH ... FOR LATEST GLENTHORNE FARM NEWS, CLICK ON IMAGE

MEDIA RELEASE from McLAREN VALE GRAPE WINE AND TOURISM ASSOCIATION
2nd NOVEMBER 2009

Paul Carpenter Crowned McLaren Vale Bushing King

Paul Carpenter of Hardy’s Tintara Winery in McLaren Vale was crowned the 2009 Bushing King at the Winegrapes Australia McLaren Vale Wine Show Luncheon on Friday 30th November 2009.

Hardy’s Wines won the prestigious regional award for their 2004 Eileen Hardy Shiraz.


Paul is the winemaker* behind two trophy-winning wines at this year’s McLaren Vale Wine Show. The award winning wines consisted of the 2004 Eileen Hardy Shiraz and the 2007 Tintara Reserve Grenache which won both the Grenache Trophy and an International Judge trophy.

A tradition that has been carried out in the region since the 1970s, the Bushing King or Queen is selected from winemakers receiving trophies in the McLaren Vale Wine Show. The Bushing King or Queen award goes to the best wine of the show.

Paul and Alix Hardy undertook the ritual ‘coronation’ and were officially crowned by event sponsor Dave Wright, Chairman of Winegrapes Australia.


Paul made a passionate acceptance speech in front of the 500 strong crowd, thanking the Hardy’s team with special mention of the history and heritage of the brand which is based in McLaren Vale.

“I am very proud to accept this award on behalf of
Hardy’s and has special meaning as someone who has lived the majority of my life in this wonderful community based region” Paul said.

Alix was particularly pleased to be carrying on a family tradition as her father, Bill Hardy, had been crowned Bushing King in 1988.

The Bushing King/Queen tradition was taken from medieval times when Tavern owners would place ivy bushes above their tavern doors to celebrate the arrival of the new vintage wine, or fresh mead.
In the early 1970’s, McLaren Vale’s winemakers incorporated this symbol to 'ring in' the new vintage by hanging olive branches over their cellar doors.

PETER JOSEPH COOMBS, THE ADELAIDE DESIGNER AND JEWELLER WHO MAKES THE McLAREN VALE BUSHING TROPHIES AND SHIELDS

MEDIA RELEASE from McLAREN VALE GRAPE WINE AND TOURISM ASSOCIATION
23 October 2009

McLAREN VALE REDS LEAD THE WAY

The results of this year’s Winegrapes Australia McLaren Vale Wine Show confirm the region’s strength lies with red wines, however with Chardonnay making a comeback. Sixteen gold medals were awarded by the judges to red wines and three gold medals for white wines.

Chair of the Winegrapes Australia McLaren Vale Wine Show, Chris Thomas said that the number of overall gold and silver medals were in line with previous years.

“Although the region has recently experienced challenging vintages, the results show the region continues to produce some great quality wines, with white wines beginning to show great promise.”

In particular three wineries each enjoyed two gold medals, Hardy Wine Company, Leconfield and Serafino.

“In addition to Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache, it is fantastic to see other varieties like Chenin Blanc, Rose and Tempranillo being awarded gold medals.”


The judges were impressed with the 2008 Grenache commenting that “It is a strong class with winemaking respectful of variety. This is a region where this variety should shine and does.”

2009 McLaren Vale Wine Show

Trophy Winners:

Chardonnay - 2008 Serafino Reserve Chardonnay
Single White Variety – 2009 Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc

Rose Style – 2009 S C Pannell Rose Arido
Grenache - 2008 Vinrock Grenache
Cabernet Sauvignon – 2008 Richard Hamilton Hut Block Cabernet Sauvignon

Shiraz (Less than $25) – 2008 Richard Hamilton Shiraz
Other Single Red Varieties – 2008 Gemtree Vineyards Luna Roja Tempranillo
Grenache -2007 Tintara Reserve Grenache Shiraz
Shiraz (more than $25) – 2004 Eileen Hardy Shiraz

Fortified Wine – Woodstock 500ml Very Old Fortified
Fleurieu Shiraz and Shiraz predominant blends – 2008 Lake Breeze Bullant Shiraz
Fleurieu Dry Still White Wine – 2007 Geoff Merrill Reserve Chardonnay
Fleurieu other single varietals – 2008 Bleasdale T&M


This year’s International Judge, John Livingstone Learmonth, awarded his choices to:
2007 Tintara Reserve Grenache
2008 Richard Hamilton Hut Block Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 The Old Faithful “Top of the Hill”
NV Woodstock 500ml Very Old Fortified


* The Eileen Hardy Shiraz 2004 was actually vintaged by Rob Mann and Simon White.


02 November 2009

CONSTELLATION WINS BUSHING CROWN

BUSHING QUEEN AND KING: ALIX HARDY AND PAUL CARPENTER

Consto King Takes Hardy Queen
One Trophy For Them
One Trophy For Us


BY PHILIP WHITE


I don’t know whether McLaren Vale has its own local Bacchus and Pan pulling the strings of its court, but there was some wired poltergeist at work, on somebody’s behalf, at the Bushing King crowning on Friday.

One minute I’m up there weeping, taking possession of the revered Trott Family Trophy for my efforts protecting McLaren Vale’s dwindling green belt, specifically Glenthorne Farm, and then Paul Carpenter gets up to be crowned king of McLaren Vale’s winemakers for a year. Paul’s the amiable and respected guy who played a great central role at the Grand Cru show at the Victory a few weeks ago, displaying four reds from different bits of McLaren Vale. On that day, he felt awkward, as he said, representing Constellation at a show for tiny shedsters. The irony lies in the fact that no small Vale Cru-sized winemaker could do what his giant mob could do, and bother to make small batch wines from different sub-regions.
.
THE AUTHOR WITH PAUL CARPENTER AT THE VALE CRU TASTING ... LEO DAVIS PHOTOGRAPH

When he got up for his crown in front of the five hundred on Friday, Paul was regal and statesmanly in his clear appreciation and expression that he worked for Constellation. I'd give him a job straight away: he could be in charge of my palace guard. Vigilant loyalty to his employer was the trademark he left there on the air, as the applause took it all away.

But this is the company that has just uprooted John Reynell’s famous cabernet and malbec vineyard at Chateau Reynella, where Thomas Hardy got his first vineyard job. So I get a trophy for saving some vineyard land, which still has no vineyard on it, and the bloke who works for the mob who’s just ripped out an irreplaceable historical vineyard gets one too. That priceless little block that's disappearing under a ghetto as we speak made good wine for 161 years.

There’s more irony in here: nearly a decade ago, when Greg Trott was busy saving Glenthorne, and needed a big winery to agree to take its fruit, it was the pre-Constellation Hardy’s that put its huge mitt up in the name of sponsoring essential vineyard research. How times have changed!

Since it has so well and truly trashed so many of its Australian adventures, Constellation has a new morality mantra. Its army of PR flaks have “defined three areas in which all of its Corporate Social Responsibility focus will take place: sustainable business practices, philanthropy and social responsibility. From these three focus areas flow specific categories of emphasis, including our environmental impact, corporate giving, marketing and advertising codes, community involvement and much more. All of Constellation's social responsibility efforts flow directly from its values and culture.”

But there was another delicious layer of irony, as thick as whipped cream. The new King Paul was accompanied by one of the enormous Hardy tribe, a descendant of Thomas Hardy. This was Alix Hardy, whom Paul has chosen to be his queen for a year.

Now this was Friday, remember. My paper, Adelaide’s brave little Independent Weekly, that morning ran my piece examining Constellation’s new corporate mantra and strange panicky behaviour. This (see below) went round the world rather quickly, with links appearing on boozy hives like Dr. Vino. For some reason, on Sunday, Constellation felt obliged to make a statement. This contained little that was new. Basically it’s the collision of two great husks: one, the shell of Constellation Australia, rattling emptily with the remains of all the great companies and properties that leviathan has gutsed up, trying to make some sort of sicko procreative act with the great husk of Australian Vintage Limited. This latter lot, the remnants of Brian McGuigan’s third empire, had even taken his name off its flag to make things look better. To no avail. McGuigan, Simeon, Australian Vintage, Galaxy, Milky Way, Universal – doesn’t matter what it’s called. It has always spent a lot of its time in the shallow edges of wine’s gene pool.

RAZOR WIRE AT REYNELLA; THE 161-YEAR-OLD VINEYARD OPPOSITE IS THE ONE THAT'S GONE ... photo by KATE ELMES

Which is not to say these great corporations can’t make good wine, of course: Australian Vintage’s Nepenthe gets regular gongs, and Constellation, as well as the Bushing Trophy, has absolutely cleaned up at the Royal (yep, they still call them that), at the Royal wine shows of Adelaide and Perth.

So on Sunday, Constellation Brands Inc., the world’s largest winemaker, releases a statement from its CEO, Rob Sands, which says “The Australian wine industry is facing unprecedented negative operating conditions”. And suggested that if a deal could be done with Australian Vintage, where Constellation swapped some of its carcases for a substantial equity stake, but not a controlling one, the new combo “would create synergies between the two companies, better positioning the new entity for success in the current challenging operating environment”.

If a transaction results, the combined companies would operate as a stand alone wine company, which would be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, but typically, Sands also said the talks with Australian Vintage are preliminary and may not lead to a transaction. The company didn’t identify any other potential partners. But there was one pretty obvious one on the stage at the Bushing lunch, being crowned queen of Constellation’s new king.

There has been a quiet, somewhat ungainly attempt at courtship with certain branches of the Hardy family tree, with Constellation exploring the possibility of the lovely Hardys finding the money to take Chateau Reynella back off its hands.

Which would go some way to explaining why key Hardy winemen who were first aghast at the notion of Constellation uprooting the first vineyard their great founder worked in, suddenly withdrew their support from my failed campaign to save Reynell’s priceless little vinegarden.

And why not one squeak of support from the stupidly-named McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association in my battle for the Reynella vineyard? Like why did I lose? Partly because everyone who may have been likely to voice some enragement depend upon Constellation buying their grapes. And partly because, whatever its name at the time, that association has been fed for decades by funds from the Hardy Family, from Hardy’s Reynella, from BRL-Hardy, and then Constellation. Now that money’s drying up, maybe even the McLVGWATA’s sufficiently swift to sniff the disappearing possibility of the odd pound note wafting down from the tables of whichever Hardys would be crazy and/or brave enough to have another go at what has already proved to be beyond them.

Those Hardys meanwhile, whom are serious grape-growers, must feel rather uncomfortable about just who will be buying their grapes should the remnants of their old family show finally die in bed with Australian Vintage.

Not to go on too much about the work of Constellation’s incredible PR hacks, but the last bit of their Sunday statement more or less said it all.

“This news release contains forward-looking statements”, it said. “The words ‘anticipate,’ ‘intend,’ and ‘expect,’ and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements, although not all forward-looking statements contain such identifying words. These statements may relate to Constellation's business strategy, future operations, prospects, plans and objectives of management, as well as information concerning expected actions of third parties. All forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those set forth in or implied by the forward-looking statements.”

CHEESEFEST 09 MAGILL ESTATE JUDGING

CHEONG LIEW - PHOTOGRAPHS BRENT LEIDERITZ

Australasian Alfresco Cheese Festival Show Judging
Kris Lloyd Runs The Perfect Competition


BY PHILIP WHITE - THIS FIRST APPEARED IN THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

If you took all the badges off a new Jaguar, and gave it to a motoring writer to review in the presumption that the writer would not recognise the car, and review it fairly, you have motoring’s equivalent of the wine world’s blind tasting. No doubt there’s a peanut somewhere who wouldn’t recognise that the car was a Jaguar, love the free drive, and write a thousand words about it before the badges were glued back on, but what credit could the reader afford such a critic?

Regular readers know this writer’s attitude to the wine show circuit: if a winemaker doesn’t recognise his or her own wine, then they shouldn’t be a wine judge. If they fail to give their own wine style high marks, they shouldn’t be making it. Similar is the judge who fails to recognise a rival’s wine style.

There are winemakers who, appreciating the last category, think such judges need prompting to give a mate the odd gong. In shows where the masked bottles are not revealed to the judges, it was common to ask for a second pour, so the judge could get a quick glimpse of the neck of the bagged bottle. I recall two winemakers who habitually entered their wines in heavy burgundy bottles, so the very shape of the bag or unlabelled bottle was a good hint at who’d made the wine.

Similarly, a glimpse at the capsule of a screw-capped bottle is always a good start to help the dodgy judge decide how to regard it points-wise. Good show stewards will always pour the second glasses in another room to avoid this provision of clues, but this fails to solve the conundrum described in paragraph two.

Like a courthouse, it all comes down to your selection of judge. And then, trust.

Last week, with two dozen others, I was pleasured to judge the Australasian Alfresco Cheese Festival Show at Penfolds' beautiful Magill Estate restaurant. The management and stewardship of this show were utterly professional, and exemplary, under the direction of the remarkable Kris Lloyd, of Woodside Cheesewrights, and the chairmanship of Regency Park’s esteemed Derrick Casey. Every attempt was made to disguise the brands of the entries, like removing all labels and packaging, but cheeses are impossible to properly judge without thoroughly appraising their appearance. We look for inappropriate moulds, poor colour, bad physical condition and whatnot before even sniffing the fromage.

Whilst there were respected judges present who could no doubt recognise most of the cheeses in the show – that’s their business – even this relative novice found himself identifying several entries on their appearance alone.

There’s an enormous amount of faith involved in such a competition: the cheese eater must have a certain amount of trust in the honesty and fairness of the judging. Given all this, the Sumptuous cheese show was judged in the most thorough manner. Teams of three judges worked through a couple of classes each, picking their favourite, and nominating, say, five or six runners-up. After this initial judging cycle, every judge examined all these runners-up, awarding points. So every judge got to have an opinion on every finalist, and the cheese with the highest points through this whole rigmarole won the gong. There is no better way of doing it. Then you depend upon the buyer’s trust. Which, in this case, would be well deserved.

Tasting cheese is a little like judging wine: it’s a matter of balance. The aroma, the fats, the acids, the piquancy must provide a harmonious effect. Some cheeses even suffer the dreaded trichloranisole corky taint that spoils many wines: chlorine used to clean the vats and sanitise the wrappers can react with the moulds in the cheese, just as occurs on dodgy cork.

The huge National Foods, now a subsidiary of Kirin, the giant Japanese brewer, took the Champion Cheese of Show award with its Heidi Raclette, a handsome critter from Burnie. It had my middle going runny without even being heated. The comparitively tiny Denmark Farmhouse Cheese of Great Southern, Western Australia won the Winemakers’ Award with its Scotsdale, made after the gouda style. And the Media Award went unanimously to King Island Dairy’s gorgeously sinful Seal Bay Triple Cream: a perfect white rind log of wickedness. I wanted to stroke its soft snowy fur. But not for long. The pace at which it vanished into the stewards reflected everyone’s overwhelming desire to devour it. Get yourself down to Smelly Cheese immediately.

One thing. At a wine show, mild cheese is provided to ease the erosive effect of acid and tannin on the judges’ palates. At the cheese show, in the midst of a couple of hundred mouthsful of delicious fat and salt, I craved a cleansing sauvignon blanc.

Which just goes to show that red wine with cheese is not always the way to go.


1.Champion Cheese of Show
National Foods, Burnie - Heidi Raclette

2.Wine Makers Award

Denmark Farmhouse Cheese, WA - Scotsdale

3. Media Award

King Island Dairy - Seal Bay Triple Cream

Gold Medal Winners


Class One - White Mould Cow
King Island Dairy - Discovery Ash Brie
King Island Dairy - Seal Bay Triple Cream

Class Two- White Mould Goat
Woodside Cheese Wrights, SA - Vigneron

Class Three - Fresh Unripened Non Textured
La Vera Cheese, SA - La Vera Ricotta

Class Four - Fresh Unripened Textured
National Foods King Meadow, TAS - South Cape Tasmanian Feta

Class Five - Lactic Fresh
Udder Delights, SA - Ash Chevre
Udder Delights, SA - Goat Curd

Class Six - Lactic Matured
Woodside Cheese Wrights, SA - Edith

Class Seven - Washed Rind
King Island Dairy - Black Label Brie
King Island Dairy - Stormy

Class Eight - Blue Vein
King Island Dairy - Endeavour Blue
Apostle Whey Cheese, Vic - Blue Vein

Class Nine - Semi Hard Eye
National Foods, Burnie - Heidi Raclette
Denmark Farmhouse Cheese, WA - Scotsdale Pepper
National Foods, Burnie - St Clair
Denmark Farmhouse Cheese, WA - Scotsdale

A FEW WHITE RINDS FOR BREAKFAST

01 November 2009

CONSTELLATION'S VALUES AND CULTURE

THE AUTHOR AT THE GATE OF JOHN REYNJELL'S VINEYARD, NOW DESTROYED BY CONSTELLATION AFTER 161 YEARS OF FINE WINE PRODUCTION.

The Big C Pulls One Out
Constellation Refines Its Strategy
Premiumising Philanthropy
by PHILIP WHITE ... This first appeared in The Adelaide Independent

“In fiscal 2009, we made significant progress toward premiumizing our portfolio and saw the early benefits of this effort.”

The premiumizer is Richard Sands, Chairman of Constellation Brands, the world’s biggest wine company, owner of what was Hardy’s. His brother Rob is CEO. Their headquarters are in Victor, New York.

Part of this premiumizing directly affects many aspects of South Australian life, in line with the Sand’s brothers “refined strategy”, which has the bold goal “to elevate life with every glass raised” and to “make a positive difference in the communities in which we live and work”.

In the late eighties Mike von Berg, one in a long chain of colourful PR flaks, summoned the Australian wine press to Hardy’s new headquarters at Reynella. He lined us up, clicked his heels, and told us our attitudes to the bulk wine market were far too negative. No longer would flagons be called, well flagons. “We’re relaunching them”, he said with a grin. “They will now be known as Jolly Jugs.” The new Jolly Jug was a flatter flagon that would fit in the door of a fridge.

Like von Berg, the Jolly Jug very quickly disappeared into oblivion. But it’s the same old same old at Constellation. The grand old Hardys Nottage Hill brand has been granted bladder pack status for the first time, and is selling in the huge UK liquor chain, Sainsbury’s, in Freshcase, a 2.25-litre bladder pack with the tap built flat into the base. It can be stored horizontally in the fridge, and one can fill a glass without removing the whole pack. Sainsbury’s hails this as “one of the most exciting packaging innovations in wine that we have ever seen ... offering real benefits to the consumer in keeping premium wine fresh for longer in a convenient pack”. Premiumizing, see.

Constellation’s PR troops have been working very hard on their premiumizing. They’ve now “defined three areas in which all of its Corporate Social Responsibility focus will take place: sustainable business practices, philanthropy and social responsibility. From these three focus areas flow specific categories of emphasis, including our environmental impact, corporate giving, marketing and advertising codes, community involvement and much more. All of Constellation's social responsibility efforts flow directly from its values and culture.”

Values and culture, eh? The terrible reality is too much of this business depends entirely upon a sick Aussie dollar, an eternal oversupply of grapes and cheap water to pump them up, and a market that will drink everything you can tip into it. And all that’s dependent on the discount bins of the Old World, where profit barely exists. Given all that, Constellation appears to be marching backwards out of Australia.

It’s closing its eleven year old, $20 million Stonehaven Winery at Padthaway because it can’t find a buyer. It has closed its brand new Leasingham winery at Clare. The brands will remain, but they’ll be virtual, now being glued on wines made at Reynella, Tintara or Berri. Constellation has eight other regional wineries for sale around Australia, and has managed to sell only seven of the 23 vineyards it no longer wants: 175ha of vines in Padthaway and Clare are being pulled, so the properties can be sold as farmland.

In recent months, Peter Dawson, the chief winemaker, was sacked. John Grant the CEO soon followed. Even the revered environmental scientist who ran Banrock Station, Tony Sharley, has had the chop. Banrock, by the way, has just released a suite of wines called The Mediterranean Collection. These “Mediterranean” wines are grown at Banrock and made at Berri, which shows incredible sensitivity to the notion of honest labelling and terroir.

The cruellest metaphor for this whole bloody mess is the recent removal of John Reynell’s 161 year old vineyard opposite his elegant colonial cottage at Reynella. Constellation hired an historian who found that this vineyard was unduly respected, because generations of PR people had overblown its historical importance in order to sell more wine at a higher price. This information led the Onkaparinga Council to approve the destruction of the vineyard in spite of a heritage listing on the entire Reynella site. It will be replaced by 41 tiny apartments.

This leaves the door open for another team of PR flaks to take the blame should another manager decide to sub-divide the much bigger heritage-listed vineyards to the west and south of the enormous Reynella winery. If a historian could be found to contradict the first one, as I most fiercely do, it would be easy to admit to a terrible mistake, thereby show that the important vineyard was indeed the one now removed, leaving the greater vineyard with no valuable history, but an enormous value as housing land. Watch that space!

CONSTELLATION'S HISTORIC CHATEAU REYNELLA. JOHN REYNELL'S FAMOUS CABERNET MALBEC VINEYARD, CIRCLED AT LEFT, ORIGINALLY PLNATED 161 YEARS AGO, HAS BEEN UPROOTED TO MAKE WAY FOR A YUPPIE GHETTO. ,

Brazen backflips are not new in Constellation’s community involvement. Until recently, it flogged its USA kiddylikker, Wide Eye Schnapps, a potent mixture of caffeine and alcohol, with the promise that “consumers who drink Wide Eye will remain alert when consuming alcohol.” The social responsibility came into play when Constellation suddenly agreed with the Federal Trade Commission ’s ruling that their marketing “was deceptive, unsubstantiated, and in violation of federal law”.

Like John Reynell’s 161 year old vineyard, that one got pulled, too.



.