“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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30 January 2010

BAROSSA FINALLY GETS ROCKS IN ITS HEAD

LOUISA ROSE, CHIEF WINEMAKER AT YALUMBA, HOST OF THE 2010 BAROSSA TERROIRS TASTING: A RE-ASSURING CONFIRMATION OF LAST YEAR'S INAUGURAL SHIRAZ TASTING BASED ON GEOLOGICAL TERRANES

Getting Below One's Roots Rockstars 2nd Year Hit Yalumba Tasting Bites Paydirt

by PHILIP WHITE - A version of this story appeared in The Independent Weekly ... an expanded, more inclusive and detailed version will appear in place of this piece soon.

Barossa staged a tasting last week that history will regard more profound than most attendees will realise.

This year, hosted by Yalumba - who loaned their beautiful tasting chamber and numerous inestimable members of their staff - sixty wines were served blind in eight groups, according to their geology. A similar event was held at Seppeltsfield a year ago, but to garner support from the region’s constituents, that nervy exploratory fixture was held mainly for famous wine critics from around the world, some of whom got the point.

It's a tragic reflection on Australia's dumb forelock-tugging mentality that it seems no wine region can get a project up unless there are humans from foreign shores to endorse it before it starts. This happens too, in McLaren Vale, where local press, who understand the detail of the deal, are forced to take back seat to, or be replaced by, overseas hacks, or peanuts from dumb glossies, because such humans impress the paying members sufficiently for them to agree to proceed, regardless of whether anybody understands it or not.

The winemakers who observed last year’s Barossa event, but didn’t participate, have had twelve months to ponder. We then tasted shiraz wines from 2008, from older, neutral barrels. This year it was 2009s, to establish the foundations of a database which will, after further decades of tasting, suggest descriptors unique to each vague sub-region. Twelve tasters, including twitchy industrialists, ticked four pages of boxes for each wine, covering its spectrum of flavours, aromas, styles and strengths. This will be compiled statistically by the astonishing Louisa Rose and her crew at Yalumba, isolating words that re-occur frequently for future use in describing each zone’s characteristics.

In spite of vintage variation, my responses almost identically matched last year’s.

TOPOGRAPHICAL MAP OF THE BAROSSA, WITH THE ALTITUDE GREATLY EXAGGERATED TO MAKE THE HILLS APPEAR SUDDENLY TO RESEMBLE THE SWISS ALPS ... AN ACCURATE GEOLOGY MAP IS BEING PREPARED BY THE TEAM WHO HAVE FINISHED THE SAME TASK IN McLAREN VALE, AND AWAIT PUBLICATION. CLICK ON IMAGE TO MAKE HILLS EVEN BIGGER.

The first set came from the higher vineyards between Williamstown and Lyndoch, and a few from the older country over the Para around Gomersal. These are largely in alluvial sands laid down in the last million years or so, overlying the micaceous schists, siltstones, calcilicates and quartzites of the Upper Burra group, all older than 540 million years. These were perfumed and fragrant delicacies with hints of fennel, aniseed and wintergreen over their elegant cherries and dark berries. They were generally of moderate alcohol and acidity; concentrated, yet modest and pretty, reminding me of the floral cuties from the schist of northern Beaujolais.

Next, the western piedmont of the Barossa range, from Rowland Flat north through Bethany and Vine Vale, along the Stockwell fault to Saltram. Most of this is sediment of sand, gravel and clay, younger than 1.8 million years. These, too, were perfumed, elegant wines, musky, juicy and delicate over their cherries and blackcurrants. Fleshy rather than mineral, with meaty charcuterie hints.

The bracket from north of there, in similar geology, from Nuriootpa past The Willows and Light Pass, was quite different, with a touch more acidity and alcohol, and classic Barossa chocolate adding to their rich fruitcake and leather. In these ethereal, juicy, wines, dried apple, an aroma typical to the more westerly vineyards, began to emerge. Some showed the minty influence of eucalypts.

Across the range, the wines of the High Barossa - from McLean’s Farm atop Mengler’s Hill, south past Mountadam to Eden Springs and east to Craneford - rocked. This geology - metasiltstones, metasandstones, slates, gneisses and granites - is 490 to 545 million years old, when sluggy critters, arthropods and trilobites were evolving. With stony mineral basenotes perfectly reflecting their source, these were stacked with marello cherries, blackberry jam and prunes, in ethereal, juicy, bouquets; below lay charcuterie meats and earth. The alcohols seemed modest, as did the acidity, but the latter looked natural, which always beats shovelled tartaric!

The wines from north of Eden Valley town, out past the Henschkes, were more boisterous, minerally and stony, with blackcurrants, blackberries, dark cherries, prunes and sinblack jams abundant. Milk chocolate appeared here, and more charcuterie; even metwurst. The tannins were earthy, yet sinewy.

Back to the Moppa: the flats north of Nuriootpa, where the great old vines of Ebenezer and Kalimna somehow live in dry alluvial sands deposited 1.8 to 50 million years ago, with bits of more recent wind-blown sand on top. These were what I’d call classic, mighty, fruitcake Barossa: black and thick with prunes, cherries, mulberries and cassis, with dark chocolate, and meaty, leathery tones glowering below, and higher alcohols to match. The tannins were soft, yet earthy and mineral.

South then, and west to Greenock, Seppeltsfield and Marananga, and the Valley’s strongest, most complex wines: packed with jams and fruitcake, prunes and figs, dried apple and pear, leather, cooking chocolate, and walnuts. The rocks north of the Marananga Church to the by-pass highway are schists, siltstones and quartzites from the Upper Burra Group, from away back in the Neoproterozoic (545-1200 million years), when multi-cellular life was beginning. Climate and altitude aside, this is where I dream that the older, more complex rocks give flavours to match.

THE NEOPROTEROZOIC ROCKS IN THE HILL AT GREENOCK CREEK VINEYARDS AND CELLARS' ROENNFELDT ROAD VINEYARD ARE MUCH OLDER THAN MOST OF THE BAROSSA FLOOR GROUPS - LEO DAVIS PHOTOGRAPH

And so to Stonewell: the ironstone south from Marananga to Tanunda. Some of these wines smell like a blacksmith’s shop, with hot coke burning below horseshoes glowing on anvils. You’ll find aniseed, walnut, fig and leathery aromas here, with much of the Greenock character, contrasting in a more elegant, creamy structure, somewhat akin to chocolate crême caramel, towards the softer custardy textures of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

While the winemakers who entered wines in this event were brave, showing unfinished produce to so many fusspots, I bow to them, very, very deeply. They will be remembered. Too many others failed to attend the next day’s event, when everything was on display. They’ll slip off the map.

NATASHA'S GASTRONOMIC INTELLIGENCE

NATASHA MOONEY: KICKING AUSSIE ARSE WITH THE NEW WAVE OF OLD WORLD VARIETIES




After The Albariño Affair Knocking Off A Few Marines Tash Mooney's Got The Touch!


by PHILIP WHITE - A version of this appeared in The Independent Weekly

When somebody, somewhere, decided that the Iberian variety, Albariño, was the great white hope to save Australia’s wineries from damnation, this writer was confounded by the reasoning. What would we be copying? Had anybody actually been in Spain and Portugal to see how, why and where it was grown and made? Had they checked the source geology to see whether we had anything to match it? Had they considered its tendency to put on high alcohol, given the world’s abandonment of our narcotic deadhead plonks?

Highly sceptical about the first efforts made here – they seemed too oily and lacked the precision of good Alboriño – I tended to put their awkwardness down to naive winemakers struggling to perfect something new. But the stuff wasn’t Alboriño at all. It was Traminer, an awkward grape indeed, used mainly for making autumn-brown sherry-like wines in Jura, and fairly agricultural, messy things in other obscure bits of the Old World. Somebody’d imported the wrong cuttings; the CSIRO distributed them; everybody planted them.

Now they expect us to drink them.

Traminer is the warty fat grandfather of the stylish, aromatic Gewurztraminer, a much more alluring variety which Australia has singularly failed to perfect. We can’t make the easy one, so what do we do? Attempt to make its awful progenitor, and call it Savignin, because that sounds a bit like the mega-trendy Marlborough, NZ, Sauvignon blanc which we drink by the oiltankerload. Sheesh. Who do they think we are?

Knocking off a few marines with Natasha Mooney before Jesus’ birthday, I tasted her range of “alternative varieties”, and immediately nominate her to be the selector of new things we should try: while she admits to being a learner, her uncommon gastronomic intelligence sees her doing greater things with the newbies than most blundering tossers.

After Roseworthy, Tash worked through some rather serious wine stables: Penfolds, Lindemans, and Barossa Valley Estates. Wisely selecting fruit from the ancient vines of the two mighty Elmores, Roehr and Shulz, she virtually invented E&E Shiraz. Her first bash at this beauty got her best red, then best wine, at the International Wine Challenge and only the second Australian to make the Wine Spectator top ten. So she has a profound and abiding respect for the works of those who went before, and understands, as she says, that “profit is still shiraz-driven.” But her experience working vintage across the Old World is what we see emerging in her brave new landmarks.

She tipped me an Arneis from Caj Amadio’s vineyard on the banks of the South Para Reservoir, north of Kersbrook. It’s for the pointy end of her Fox Gordon range: branded as Anniversary Hill. It equals the two excellent 09 Langhorne Creek whites – a Fiano and a Greco al Tufo – that Briony Hoare released last year under her Beach Road label. Beautifully aromatic, richly flavoured and textured wine, with only 11.9% alcohol. This is the duck’s guts.

If purple had a smell it would be her Barossa Aglianico, an obscure variety from Greece via southern Italy, which was next. Blanched cashews and deep cherries in a silk sheen that gradually becomes velvet as the tannins rise and the swooning begins. Then a Barossa Sagrantino, the Umbrian grape: all musk sticks, beetroot, prune and white pepper; impossibly enveloping in its aroma, and yet fine and focused and furry with lemon pith tannins as it winds its way down your little red lane.

A bright and cheery Sangiovese next; squishy and jolly; bouncy and beautifully bright; a drink that leaves the purple kisser grinning while the paw goes out for more. Just to show she can do the odd Parkerilla, she showed a Zinfandel, made big and alcoholic for Darryl Groom’s Californian business.

“To me it’s good honest fun mucking about with these varieties, and while this is a very difficult one – there are better varieties than this – these guys are very persistent about the style they want, so it’s a pleasure, in away, to learn. But my other hobbyhorse is Cabernet ... ” and on she went to explain her concerns about how much of the new varieties the community can absorb, and just how great the traditional stalwarts can be, pouring classic Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, and blends of the two, concluding with her mighty Barossa Valley Estate E&E Black Pepper Shiraz 98.

“You’ve got to respect the old masters”, she added, staring into the glass. “We’ll never replicate this with new varieties.” And then, with the wonderment of a teenage pop fan, she explained her thrill when, delivering Meals on Wheels in the Barossa, she discovered her next call was Ray Beckwith, the great Penfolds wine scientist from the thirties, who among other world-breaking discoveries first revealed the importance of pH in winemaking.

“It was like serving David Bowie”, she said. “I want to go back and listen to him."

Which she has since done, and will do again. As well as taking the odd Harley scoot with her winemaking husband StepHen Dew, of Kaesler Wines, managing two scarily sharp kids, and training thoroughbreds by riding big time trackwork every morning of the week. I dunno how she does it.















CHECK TASH'S FOX-GORDON RANGE FOR A LOOK AT BOTH PAST AND FUTURE

20 January 2010

WINE EXPO'S WAR WITH GLOBALISED SWILL





















COULD YOU BUY A GLOBAL WINE FROM THIS MAN? UH-HUH ... NONE IN THE SHOP. ROBERTO AT WINE EXPO IN SANTA MONICA

Barraged By Forces Of Evil Food, Drink, And Arsewipes Coles Duo Sees Light Down Under
by PHILIP WHITE

In the great Harry Dean Stanton movie, Repo Man, the punk Emilio Estevez works in a supermarket whose shelves are stacked with cans labeled only “FOOD” or DRINK”. I thought that was funny in 1984.

Unless you have been trapped in the yuppie ghetto of Port Willunga, where winemakers concentrate at times like this, to perve on each other’s partners and pass Burgundy and Ribero del Duero around the Star of Greece while their own vineyards roast, you’ve probably learned a lot about the blander corners of your Coles or Woolies grogfloggery. As the holiday moneys wane, the cleanskins and bladder packs look more savoury.

Until the winelake seeps through the community kidneys, we’ll see again how oversupply leads to a sickening slump in quality. The wine industry trains its customers to accept and expect plonk of ever-diminishing provenance. Soon, what we drank at the end of the holidays becomes acceptable day-to-day. We learn what our great wine industrialists expect the rest of the world to drink.

EMILIO DUMPS GENERIC BEER IN REPO MAN

Flick for an illo to Wine Expo, Santa Monica, California: a liquor store with sassitude, customers to match, and a battle royal against “globalised wine”.

“Once you guys succeed in making all wine taste the same, what will you do for a living?” Manager Roberto demanded in last week’s newsletter. He complains of being “absolutely barraged by the forces of evil (well, severely misguided, focus group driven winemaking and marketing at least) ... It seems the consensus ... is that Americans want wines from all over the world with fanciful names and long histories as long as they all taste the same and don't have any disconcerting ‘ethnic’ character.

“So, do we just give up and roll over? NO!!!!!!”, he concludes. “We continue to champion wines with true personality, regional style (or even outright idiosyncrasies) and a distinctive point of view while reminding those in the supply chain that those wines are huge crowd favorites at OUR ‘focus groups’ where we offer true diversity instead of merely different brands of the same old things.”


Australia’s two supermarketeers - count ’em, one, two - rank communities on their spending power, and stock the shelves accordingly. The McLaren Vale Coles is in the same district as the perverse villa rash of the down-at-heel coast, for example, so its shelves are stocked to suit the battered Datsun drivers, who outnumber the 4WD Benz and Bimmer blomos who get their fromage at Blessed Cheese, their fruitaveg at the Willunga Market, and their lovers next door. So stuff like my favourite biscuits, Vita Wheats – hardly a posh gastronomic investment, but mostly free of sugar and fat – gradually work their way to the bottom shelves as their space is taken by Coles crap, and eventually they disappear.

I learned this whilst editing Wine and Spirit Buying Guide in Sydney in the early ’eighties. Australia’s leading wine magazine, it had been bought by John David, so he could corner the Australia distribution of these new things that were called boutique wineries. John and his brother and sister owned David’s Holdings and Australian Liquor Marketers, huge, hyper-efficient trucking businesses that specialised in supplying supermarkets with food and booze. The three of them turned over a billion dollars the first year I worked there. This was partly due to their invention of the virtual Black and Gold brand. The staircase outside my office was always jammed with furtive lugubrious swarthies trying to sell shiploads of unlabelled canned beans, spaghetti, soup, lavatory paper and whatnot so Davids could wrap it in their handsome black and yellow livery and take up shelf space by undercutting hard-working Australian suppliers who branded their own products and tended not to leave too many band-aids in the beans.

While I was laughing at Estevez, this was happening under my nose.

There’s a bright duo at Coles who are bravely fighting to reverse this trend in their Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice stores. True wine lovers Jeremy Stockman and Grant Ramage scour the world – and, increasingly, Australia - for inexpensive wines with personality, regional style, outright idiosyncrasies and distinction. These offer a bright contrast to the endless shelves of crap which might just as well be labelled Dan Murphy’s DRINK or Black and Gold DRINK. Go, peruse.

This is not the time to sacrifice your last cubic centimetres of functioning liver drinking supermarket plonk for Australia. If you’re feeling nationalistic, take a drive to the Barossa, Clare or the Fleurieu and fill the boot with premium stuff from your favourite honest strugglers. These guys are doing it really tough. But shop for your daily drinkers in the imports section of VC and 1stC, and join my campaign to force, as part of the planning approval process, all new supermarkets make their roofspace available for free community vegetable and herb gardens. More of us may then tend to stray into their rotten cavernous rip-off acres of FOOD, DRINK, and arsewipes.

THE CONSTANT TEMPTATION FOR AUSTRALIA'S INDUSTRIALIST WINEMAKERS IS TO ATTEMPT TO EMULATE EVERYTHING EUROPE HAS TO OFFER. SOMEBODY SHOULD TELL THEM ABOUT THE DESERT.


11 January 2010

HILTON TIGHTWADS EMPTY THEIR GRANGE

THE AUTHOR IN GOOD CULINARY COMPANY, WITH CHEF SO HON HUANG, LEFT, AND CHEONG LIEW, RIGHT, CLEBRATING SO'S RETIREMENT AT T-CHOW LAST YEAR. ALL EYES ARE ON CHEONG NOW: WHAT''LL HE DO NEXT?
MILTON WORDLEY PHOTO


A Triumphant Exit The Great Cheong Moves On Hilton Lets Its Genius Go
by PHILIP WHITE - A version of this story first appeared in The Indepndent Weekly


While you were away, the Hilton military determinedly set about the closure of its restaurant strangely called The Grange. They had a farewell dinner for Cheong Liew, the singularly great chef they singularly failed to appreciate, respect, or support, with, well, funding. They wouldn’t even buy him a wall for his restaurant.

Many of the old hard-core trencherboard faces were at the trough that night, and a few pretenders. People who live off, not on, magazine food: stuff designed to be photographed, celebrated and discussed, but rarely eaten. The chow that feeds our booming gastroporn industry. Some of them even seem to think Cheong’s food fits that same bitter bill. Expecting an embarrassing and emotional night, I went in tidy.

I know I’ve said this before, but it deserves drumming in. Since he arrived here, a reffo, in 1969, Cheong has had a bigger effect on the lives of Australians than any politician. He changed the way we eat, with his invention-cum-liberation of our tucker. East-west fusion they called it, twenty-five years ago. Cheong, the ultimate Australian, now calls it “Australian food”. Perfect. You rarely hear the fusion word uttered now, wherever on Earth this cuisine appears and it appears all over the Earth. Most people simply think it’s food, shovel it in, and wash it down.

THE STUFF WE USED TO EAT



















We’re very lucky the Australian name has not followed the fusion, for while the awkward sprogs of this cuisine are now served all over the world, most of it is half-hearted crap, disrespectfully ignorant of its pedigree of tireless, rigorous ingenuity.

Given the weight of the occasion, and hugely keen to see what they would pour at this feast, I was impressed to see the old faithful, utterly professional floor staff proudly serving Dom. For a naive instant, I thought the budget must surely eventually extend to the even greater Krug, but that was dumb.























We sat, and yes, out came wave after wave of utterly remarkable food. Brilliant, delicious inventions made triumphantly to be adored, savoured, and digested. Healthy food, for Bacchus’ sake! The gastronomic encapsulation of thirty years of relentless invention. But as the evening progressed, the quality of the wine took a determined dive. If they had made a serious attempt to raid what’s left of the cellar, pity help the future Hilton diner. I am not well known for leaving a table littered with half-full glasses, but there they were.

One of the suits made a speech about the complete set of Grange there in the big glass case being the only one on public view: a cool quarter of a million bucks worth, lying on their backs like dead marines. We were supposed to ooh and aahhh. Cheong followed this with a humble, statesmanly delivery in which he revealed a secret otherwise known only to the two of us. He never let on that the Hilton actually leases that set of Grange from Fosters, who dutifully add the new release each year, or that the restaurant pretty well had to close, as the cabinet’s full, and times being as they are, well, the Hilton budget wouldn’t stretch to a new one, and, Jeez, you know, Fosters certainly hasn’t any spare furniture cash lying around. But Cheong didn’t spill them beans.

Instead, he concluded: “Don’t worry about the set of Grange. Philip and I drank that years ago.”

The thing about a complete set of Grange is that nobody ever drinks one. So nobody will ever know whether that set was long ago kidney-filtered by Cheong and Whitey, who simply drank it, refilled it with Jacob’s Creek, recorked it, fudged the capsules from bits and pieces scavenged at Grange recorking clinics over the years, and locked the bottles back in the cabinet. Like gastroporn food, and The Grange, this Caucasian artefact has value only as long as it is never used for its original purpose.

Anyway, we ate our exquisite meal, and suddenly, there we were, the Liews and Whitey, out the front of the Hilton. A calm and dignified exit. Queuing for cabs like everyone else, in a city devoid of a winemaker who can match Cheong’s culinary revolution. A city which now has not one serious cutting edge restaurant. Of course you can go silver service and pay ridiculous amounts for the wine to keep the linen budget covered, but there’s not much food on that top-end napery that will beat the lovely, inexpensive stuff you can find in Wah Hing or Indian Village.

The Grange name can now go back safely to the 1844 farm at MacGill, where Dr. Penfold’s fierce winemaking wife, Mary, picked her first crop of grenache, and set this whole mighty ferment fizzing. And there in Victoria Square young Simon Bryant’s brasserie absorbs that sacred gastronomic battleground while he replaces Maggie Beer with a Quixotic campaign to stop the Chinese eating dogs. Woof woof.



The Grange Restaurant & Cheong Liew’s Last Long Table

Friday 18th December 2009

The Adelaide Hilton International Hotel
Victoria Square
Adelaide
South Australia




MENU


Prawn Plum
2000 Dom Perignon

Jellied Abalone Chicken and the Sea Dances
Drunken prawns, oysters
Olive fried octopus
Calamari turban with squid ink pasta
Tuna with soy-cured egg yolk pasta
Fried soft shell crab with salted duck egg yolk
Turnip in pastries
2008 Mountadam High Eden Riesling
2007 Cape Mentelle Wallcliffe Sauvignon blanc Semillon

Shark fin pouch in game consommé
Salt-baked ocean trout, grilled vegetables with fragrant rice
2005 Chandon Vintage Rosé

Roasted Muscovy duck with sour cherries
Spice-grilled Wagyu beef
2007 Mitolo G.A.M. Shiraz

Russian praline torte
Portuguese custard tart, chocolate sauce, durian cream
Black rice and palm sugar pudding
Flavoured fruit ice, sorbet fruits, agar agar, adzuki beans
Veuve Cliquot Demi Sec NV

Vale


CHEONG JUDGING AT KRIS LLOYD'S CHEESE FEST AT THE PENFOLD'S MAGILL ESTATE RESTAURANT LATE LAST YEAR. WILL THE GRANGE NAME NOW RETURN TO THE PLACE IT BELONGS? BRENT LIEDERITZ PHOTOGRAPH

06 January 2010

DAMAGE MANAGEMENT IN RECORD TIMES

BUSHFIRE NEAR MELBOURNE, VICTORIA, SATURDAY 7th FEBRUARY, 2009

Where There's Smoke There's Fire Call The Messenger A Liar 09 "Excellent Year ... Excellent Wine"
by PHILIP WHITE

"Elizabeth and Dudley themselves were under no illusion as to the unpleasant construction that was being put on the tragedy." - Anne Somerset, Elizabeth I


On January 28th last year, DRINKSTER began reporting the extreme weather conditions which threatened vintage right across south-eastern Australia. “Another torrid vintage hits”, was the first headline. “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.

From that day on, I published honest, day-to-day reports and opinions of the havoc Global Warming, a freak summer, the ongoing drought, whatever, was delivering to the vignoble. As the heatwave built and bullied and smashed all records, then moved across the border to blitz Victoria, I attempted to project to the international reader just a hint of that violently confronting horror.

It’s sobering reading; so blank and frank it now seems to have been written by someone else. The shock and depression triggered by the mass death and general destruction seem to have been erased from the Australian psyche as its collective brain defragged and scandisced itself back into some sort of basic operating form. We all knew people whose crops were damaged or ruined. We all knew folks in the bushfires: many had friends and lovers who perished. I was affected so severely I could barely write about wine for months. It’s called Post-traumatic Shock Disorder. It’s a very confronting thing to realise your planet is bucking you off.

So I coughed a whole mouthful of Inkwell Shiraz into my keyboard last night when I discovered that McLaren Vale, the district I love enough to make my home, now has its very own personal weatherman: it’s my mate Dudley Brown.

Dudley, an upstate New Yorker from the same school as the Sands brothers, the bosses of the beleaguered Constellation, is a fairly recent blow-in, like me, but he’s the chairman of a body called McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism, which is supposed to hold this bounteous Vale together, and ensure its image is sparkling clean. (“Try marketing anything via an acronym like MLVGWATS”, the writer’s doppleganger whispers.)

Upon his election, Dudley appointed a mate from his canasta club, Elizabeth Tasker, to be his propaganda manager and office lass while he got on hand-weeding his tiny Inkwell vineyard and worked out how to scare all the lazy courtiers clear outa the palace.

DUDLEY BROWN

Not yet famous for holding his counsel when confronted by humans who don’t measure up to his exacting demands, Dudley has had Elizabeth send a royal-ish decree to his three hundred constituents, commanding them to cease talking to people like me about things like weather. The sarcastic, the cynical, and the conspiracy theorist could call this another example of the panic rife in the skrillion management councils of the buggered Aussie wine biz, but it’s better presented as an example of ordinary hubristic blundering and normal provincial naiveté.

However, the matter deserves examination. Particularly as the whole wine business hunkers down to stare another scary summer in the eye. This vintage, South Australian records began exploding in the spring, when November, the hottest ever recorded, gave us daily maximum temperatures roughly 10 C (18F) above average, and eight consecutive days above 35C (95F), the hottest November sesh since records began in 1887. This seriously damaged the McLaren Vale grenache crop in the hotter terrains. Those in the cooler spots which flowered later, did rather well.

TYPICAL HEATWAVE-EFFECTED SHIRAZ, MCLAREN VALE, 9th FEBRUARY 2009

Senior climatologist at the Bureau of Meterology, David Jones, says each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the previous one, and warns that this year is set to be even hotter, with temperatures likely to be between 0.5 and 1 degree above average.

"There's no doubt about global warming: the planet's been warming now for most of the last century," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Global warming is clearly continuing. We're in the latter stages of an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean and what that means for Australian and global temperatures is that 2010 is likely to be another very warm year - perhaps even the warmest on record."

WILTING GRENACHE, MCLAREN VALE, 2 FEBRUARY 2009

That digested, we should get back to our friends at the MLVGWAT.

“Dear Members,” Dudley says (this Virgo admits to correcting petty errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling), “We have begun to receive media enquiries about the effect of the warm weather on the grape crop in McLaren Vale. As you well know, heat at this time of the year is not a major concern provided adequate irrigation is available.

“As most of you will well remember, we received a great deal of negative publicity during last vintage's heat wave as a result of a few poorly chosen comments made by both winemakers and growers. The effect of these comments was to attract enormous follow-on media coverage that badly affected many growers’ ability to sell their fruit. Moreover, this publicity cast an unfair aspersion on the overall quality of the vintage in McLaren Vale. For many growers in later ripening areas and with later ripening crops, 2009 was an excellent year and excellent wine was made from them. This sort of publicity results in damage to the McLaren Vale brand for all of us - growers and winemakers alike - both now and into the future.

“From hard experience, we know that the sort of stories that result from these sorts of enquiries only get used if there is something negative to report. No matter how well-intentioned members’ comments are, they will only result in unflattering publicity for you, your brand, your crop, your neighbour and the region as a whole.

“Given this and the economic uncertainty in the grape and wine industry, we are strongly requesting that all media enquiries received by all members be re-directed to McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism at 8323 8999 and that no comment be made about anything, no matter how brief or flippant.

“Your cooperation in this is essential if we are to effectively provide the service that all members financially contribute to - marketing Brand McLaren Vale.

“Finally, please make a point of mentioning this request to others in your business.

“Sincerely, Dudley Brown, Chairman, McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism.”

DRINKSTER sincerely thanks those who realise that the wine critic is indeed one of the "others in your business", and I'm grateful to those who've obeyed their chairman's orders well enough to immediately mention his request. Copies of his e-mail have even come in from rival regions, who can't believe the scale of the matter. I shall thankfully consider the document sighted, and carry on.

But next time there’s a bushfire, or a phylloxera scare, a planning threat to this bonnie vignoble, politicians to be introduced or dealt with, or another record-breaking example of this thing the green pessimists seem to be calling Global Warming, I’ll look forward to phoning Elizabeth to tell me whether her Dudley thinks it’s really happening.

McLaren Vale is one of the best vignobles on Earth. It deserves better PR than this.

STUNNING McLAREN VALE ON A NORMAL DAY: DOUG GOVAN'S RUDDERLESS VINEYARD BESIDE HIS FAMOUS VICTORY HOTEL - MILTON WORDLEY PHOTO