“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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06 December 2010

SPRING: THE VALES STREAMS WERE FIZZIN'!

PAN by SYDNEY LONG 1898 ART GALLERY of NEW SOUTH WALES ... LOOKS A LITTLE LIKE AUTUMN, BUT CALL IT A SMOKY SPRING EVE, SQUINT YOUR EYES, OPEN YOUR NOSTRILS ... YOU'LL GET THE DRIFT

Return Of The Juicy Sward Spring Hits Casa Blanco Start Playing The Flutes
by PHILIP WHITE - from the recent archive

10 September 2010

Start playing the flutes. The wood-sylphs and trolls of winter are not yet faded, yet already the elves and pixies of spring are loose in the landscape, making the fields vibrate. August had not yet taken his bow when that glorious sploosh of a winter made way for the first bonnie days of the new season. The streams are fizzin’, the flats are squelchy; the hillsides are making water. Suddenly there are lambs everywhere; the baby waterbirds will be next, and lines of stern ducklings will soon be marching across the lawn. The air is sweet.

The glory vine at my casement is pumping out leaf as the last few pruning gangs adapt to the change from pruning in the rain to pruning in the crisp spring frosts. Their expert job is almost done.

It is hard to explain the depth of delight I derive from watching the mentality, the very technology of viticulture changing like it is. Not too many years back nearly all our vineyard country was so thoroughly blitzed with petrochemical herbicides that if you suddenly removed the vines there would be desert.

In some Lutheran vignobles, it seemed the pastors must have been preaching the gospel of Recreational Cultivation: when there’s absolutely nothing left that needs doing a bloke feels nervously obliged to jump on his tractor and get out there give those vineyards hell. Miss one blade of grass and your wife might get shunned at church. This technology is gradually fading.

Many proud professional viticulturers have found the trend confronting to their vanity: the vineyards don’t look nearly so tidy with other plants in them, and Lord knows, everybody that drives past can see that half of that is weeds!

BRITISH RHONE EXPERT, JONATHON LIVINGSTONE-LEARMONTH, DRINKING GRENACHE IN McLAREN VALE IN THE SPRING - photo KATE ELMES

But increasingly, particularly in McLaren Vale, the vineyards are full of juicy sward and the growers are using sheep and cattle to replace the weeds with neat little dollops of the best fresh fertilizer. So we see electric fences appearing in vineyards, and stock gates. In search of a bit of a scratch the cattle may break the odd tap or weak post, but they soon learn to graze along the vine rows in a bunch, and there’s no need to spray anything.

Suddenly, there’s a reason to have a couple of winery dogs. But these will be tougharse kelpies to work stock, not loll around the fire at cellar door, sniffing the women, waiting for the photographers from the Winemakers’ Dog porn annual to come around for the spreadshot.

SPRING IN McLAREN VALE: DOUG GOVAN'S RUDDERLESS VINEYARD, ON THE GULF St. VINCENT, AT HIS VICTORY HOTEL ON SELLICKS HILL - photo
MILTON WORDLEY

One morning at Yangarra I found all the staff catching a fine feed of redfin in the dam. Uh-huh. After two brisk hours of casting spinners, the buckets of fish were mulched and fermented in fertilizing tea for the vineyard. The tank containing this sinister brew, with all its herbs, bacterium and yeasts, is near the dovecote. It’s called The Bitch, and some days she smells like Bangkok. She’s greedy.

The dovecote is there to attract raptors: the white pointers of the sky. Neither prey birds nor pigeons eat grapes, but the hearts and brains of pigeons are full of the high-octane sugar the raptors need to make their deadly raids. As the goshawks and falcons call by this convenient drive-in, they scare the bejeezus out of all the starlings, parrots and pesty birds that eat grapes.

It doesn’t completely beat the gas guns, but by Bacchus it helps. If we could somehow make the tight wires of trellised vineyards less lethal to the hunting raptor’s wing bones, they would be much more at home, and feel like an essential part of the team.

EARLY SPRING IN THE HIGH SANDS VINEYARD AT YANGARRA: PREMIUM GRENACHE BUSH VINES NOT WATERED SINCE THEY WERE PLANTED IN 1946 - photo STACEY POTHOVEN

Goshawks are particularly messy diners. One got sprung red-beaked in the dovecote, and my goodness he’d made a mess. The survivors were cowering in the eaves watching the carnage unfold below.

“Get that thing outa here! He just ate my wife’s brain!”

THE HERITAGE-LISTED DOVECOTE AT CONSTELLATION WINES' CHATEAU REYNELLA


I notice the dovecote at Constellation Wines’ Chateau Reynella could use a little careful restoration and cleaning. This, the Algonquin Hotel of the Pigeon World, used to sit further up the hill, in the vineyard where all the houses want to be. It was there to attract raptors, to scare the grape-eaters. Now it’s attracting the odd goshawk to the corporate carpark, where the Falcons have wheels.

And vignerons end up erecting those dumb plastic falcons that flop sickeningly about on the ends of their dumb poles.

As you drive around our vignobles this spring, become your own aficionado with my vanishing vineyard test: imagine what the field would be like if the vines suddenly disappeared. If there’s still balance in the garden, compliment the winemaker. Befriend them.

Look at the pruned vines now, before they are lost in their leaf. Have they been manipulated to grow great yields of industrial plonk? Or are they mean and racy like those vineyard kelpies, trimmed for persistence in an honest, modest expectation of success? You’ll soon learn the difference. Compliment the landlord. Buy the wine.

I’m sorry to mention those spring frosts.


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