Biggles Flies Straight Into 'Em Bright Polly Says What His Electors Daren't Jittery Grapegrowers Clam Up As Multi-nats Clean Up
by PHILIP WHITE ... a version of this appeared in The INDEPENDENT WEEKLY
Last week Leon Bignell MP, the Labor member for Mawson, made a statement that was bigger than any made by any politician about wine since the ’eighties Vine Pull Scheme.
In his parliamentary report, G’day, UK, Bignell suggested that Riverina grapegrowers with unsustainable irrigation schemes should be forced to put warnings on their wine labels.
“It is time for the federal Government to mandate the amount of water which grapegrowers can use on each hectare of grapes”, he wrote. “Those who exceed the allocation should have Unsustainably Grown Wine stamped on each bottle.”
Bignell was reacting to newspaper advertisements he saw in London last year. The Sunday Times Wine Club was offering Riverina wines at less than $A100 a dozen.
“Bonzer!” the ad read. “Grab them while you can. The smallest grape yield in Australia for 30 years has put real pressure on stocks and that means prices have been going through the roof.”
“There is no shortage of Australian wine” Bignell snorted. “We’re in the middle of the biggest glut in history.”
Bignell’s southern seat, Mawson, is Labor’s second most marginal: a mere 2.6 per cent swing would see it lost. It awkwardly includes suburbs packed with working families and strugglers, like Hackham and Woodcroft at one extreme, with the silvertails who own the posh wineries and vineyards of McLaren Vale at the other.
“Woodcroft’s got the biggest Primary School in the state”, he said. “960 pupils, with both parents working. There are a lot of very clever small to medium-sized companies like Krix hi-fi speakers, and Boart Longyear which exports really smart mining technology to places like Canada. Dinky Di Engineering at Lonsdale makes precision mining equipment, but also produced the international yo-yo of the year in 2008!”
Bignell, who has surprised the wineries with his untiring fight to protect their vineyards from housing, and assisting them export to new markets like Russia, takes great pride in McLaren Vale’s status of making wines at good profit using no Murray water. In a brilliant first for Australian wine, McLaren Vale increasingly incorporates recycled water from the seaside suburbs in its irrigation regime.
Bignell has been instrumental in extending this recycling scheme for the good of all.
“Making ordinary wine in places grapes weren’t meant to grow does immeasurable harm to Australian regions that do produce top quality wines,” he wrote. “The UK market seems more than a little schizophrenic with its approach to sustainability. There is a lot of talk about airmiles and the need to eat food and drink wine that hasn’t travelled around the globe but, when that argument doesn’t suit them, they revert to selling cheap wine that has actually cost our country millions of litres of valuable water.
“While UK newspapers fill their features, news and opinion pages with missives about sustainability they don’t mind peddling unsustainable goods when they are profiting from our environment.”
While mainly delighted with his outrage, the growers of McLaren Vale were singularly silent in response. They need the best wishes of Fosters and Constellation to survive, and the dramatic cuts to grape prices they’ve just been dealt, in one of the best vintages in decades, has left them dumbfounded and jittery. Since a respected grower suicided last week, locals are quietly gearing up to assist each other fight depression.
The gossip and mumblings within the wine industry councils has been more overt, but again, all off the record.
“Yeah, but who’s paying them?” Bignell responded. “The big guys are their biggest constituents by far.”
VALE CRU GATHERING OF McLAREN VALE'S SMALLEST, HIGHEST QUALITY WINEMAKERS, MOST OF WHOM CANNOT AFFORD MEMBERSHIP OF THEIR REGIONAL ASSOCIATION, WHICH KOWTOWS TO CONSTELLATION AND FOSTERS AND STAYS SCHTUM WHEN CONSTELLATION RIPS VITAL LOCAL HERITAGE ITEMS APART AND SUDDENLY CHOPS PREMIUM GRAPE PRICES BY HUNDREDS OF PER CENT, IMMEDIATELY BUTCHERING THE LOCAL ECONOMY.
His report explains that wineries using sustainable practices struggle against non-sustainable plonk “because there is no onus on the latter to do or say otherwise ... The Australian wine industry has largely been taken over by international conglomerates. They behave more like oil companies than traditional wine organisations. They have plundered our land, our heritage, our workforce and scarce water resources in the desperate scramble to make money.
LAST YEAR: JOHN REYNELL'S ORIGINAL VINEYARD, A CONSTANT PRODUCER OF SUPER-PREMIUM CABERNET SAUVIGNON AND MALBEC FOR 161 YEARS, AND SOURCE OF AUSTRALIA'S REVERED REYNELLA SELECTION CABERNET, WHICH IS NOW PLANTED IN MOST PREMIUM DISTRICTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY. THIS PRICELESS HERITAGE ITEM WAS RECENTLY FLOGGED FOR A FEW BRIEF MILLION BY CONSTELLATION TO MAKE WAY FOR AN INTENSIVE HOUSING GHETTO. WHILE THIS IS NOT IN HIS ELECTORATE, BUT THE NEIGHBOURING ONE, LEON BIGNELL LED THE CHARGE TO SAVE THIS IRREPLACABLE GARDEN, YET THE JITTERY McLAREN VALE GRAPE WINE AND TOURISM ASSOCIATION REFUSED TO SUPPORT ITS RETENTION (SEE BELOW) photo KATE ELMES, INDEPENDENT WEEKLY
“These big companies have also hi-jacked industry associations throughout Australia,” he continued. “The small and medium sized operators are drowned out by the people paying the biggest slice of the membership cake. Growers often refuse to speak out against the actions of the big companies as they fear they will have nowhere to sell their grapes.”
Which is rather more precise than the retort of Liberal agriculture spokesman, Mitch Williams.
“If somebody's suggesting that water that comes naturally from rain fall in a place which is fortunate enough to have a high rain fall, as opposed to somebody irrigating, changes something fundamental about the reason why somebody would buy a bottle of wine, I think is nonsense,” he blustered on the ABC’s Lateline. “I think, to be quite honest, I think this is a desperate act by somebody who wants to play politics.”
Bignell’s bosses haven’t done much better. As his report circulated, another came jointly from the SA Wine Industry Council and Paul Caica, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.
Wine: A Partnership 2010-2015 is a shiny “statement of intent” arising from countless hours of committee meetings. This document fluffs on about “increasing awareness” and “continuing to work to inform ... compile and disseminate ... support information flow” and myriad other vague marketing and environmental goals so ambiguous their success can never be measured.
But the biggest, most glaring hole concerns tax. While it suggests the maintenance of “a watching brief” and confoundingly lists the objective “Recognition as an advocate for the reduction and/or removal of barriers to trade”, the new report makes absolutely no mention of Ken Henry, Kevin Rudd’s favoured policy mandarin in the Federal Treasury.
As published in Thirst a few weeks back, Henry, as part of his mammoth rewrite of the entire Australia tax system, has wisely recommended that all alcohol be taxed by excise. This means the tax is paid on the volume of pure alcohol sold, and no longer on the price per unit. Expensive wine would be cheaper, and the cost of the irrigated cheap stuff would soar. We would no longer be able to buy wine at the price of bottled water.
Under the excise, the cost of the unsustainable $14 four litre bladder pack would double, to $31.07, while a $30 bottle, as produced from recycled water in McLaren Vale, would fall to $27.53. Half of Australia’s wine is guzzled from bladder packs. Henry’s proposal would quite simply close the Murray-Darling irrigated wine business down.
While this would see an instant ocean of water flowing toward the Murray Mouth, Premier Mike Rann has made not a bleat about the proposal.
As the member for Mawson makes clear, there’s no doubt about the stance of the wine industry councils.
JOHN REYNELL'S OLD HOMESTEAD AT REYNELLA, NEAR ADELAIDE. CONSTELLATION IS REPLACING HIS ORIGINAL VINEYARD WITH A CLOSE-SPACED HOUSING ESTATE, AND HAS REMOVED AND SOLD (FOR SWEET FUCK ALL) THE BEAUTIFUL ANTIQUE FURNITURE INSTALLED HERE SINCE THE HOME WAS RESTORED BY THE HARDY FAMILY, WHOSE FOUNDER, THOMAS HARDY, FIRST WORKED HERE IN 1850.
The following is a letter sent by Dudley Brown, below, Chairman of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association, in answer to a New Zealand journalist, Sally Marden, who had written urging the association to oppose the uprooting of Reynell's 161 year old vineyard. Brown sold his fruit to Constellation until a dispute over his grape quality four years ago, soon after he arrived in Australia. He came from the same upstate New York school as the Sands brothers, chairman and MD of Constellation, which was founded by their father.
Thank you for your note.
As our Association represents the interests of multiple industries, we have long had a policy of not commenting on commercial matters of members or disputes between industry groups except to the extent that they violate the law.
Constellation’s forerunner company, Hardy’s, has been a member of our association in good standing since the inception of our forerunner bodies.
We have and continue to actively lobby on matters of urban encroachment in our region (including the recent Glenthorne Farm matter) where and we can.
CARP ON THE MURRAY FLOODPLAINS ... WHERE'S CONSTELLATION'S MIGHTY IRRIGATED ENVIRONMENTAL TRIUMPH, BANROCK STATION, NOW, EH?