“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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28 January 2011

McLAREN VALE MAKES SOME NICE NEW ADS

PUBLICAN DOUG GOVAN'S PHOTOGRAPH OF HIS DOG, SWAHILI, DROOLING ON ANOTHER PERFECT SUNSET AT THE FAMOUS VICTORY HOTEL, McLAREN VALE ... IF YOU WERE THIRSTY, WOULD YOU PREFER TO ATTEND A PLACE LIKE THIS (PART OF DOUG'S TINY RUDDERLESS VINEYARD CAN BE SEEN BEHIND THE COOPERS SIGN) OR FOLLOW A SULLEN BLONDE WITH NO WINE BUT A CHAIR ON HER HEAD THROUGH AN INDUSTRIAL MONOCULTURAL VINEYARD WHICH NOBODY IN McLAREN VALE CAN RECOGNISE?

Getting That Image Down Pat
New Wine Region Propaganda:
Dog's Breakfast Or Clever Sell?
by PHILIP WHITE

Some years ago, I helped arrange a fiftieth birthday party for a beloved wine industry friend, Stephen Tracey, who was dying of cancer. He was beloved partly because he had been the SA sales manager of Champagne Krug and Remy Martin cognac, which was offset by the fact of him holding the same position at Mildara Blass.

But he was mainly beloved because he was such a damned good bloke, and many who knew him will find a tear welling with a fond smile at his memory. My memories are many, and splendid.

The party was at the Glen Ewin complex, in the hills near Houghton. He chose this location because it was secluded, he rented a cellar there, and there would be less chance of us being interrupted by whingeing neighbours.

We had, after all, hired the dying man’s favourite band, The Donkeys, the best rhythm and blues trio this country has yet seen.

Just before his wolfhounds savaged my lover’s beautiful buttocks, the landlord turned the power off because he felt the music was a threat to the license he was attempting to secure. This coincided with the event reaching such a level of success that Lord Twining, eminent and dignified in his tweeds and overcoat, took a moonlight stroll in the dam.

With a white plastic chair on his head.

I still feel that more hearts may have been won had said landlord restrained his giant slobbering curs, and done something to ensure innocent eccentrics couldn’t take accidental strolls in the dam in the dark, with or without chair, but there you go.

The party came to an abrupt halt.

Which is not what we can say about the lack of bite, or better, the dogged amateurishness evident in the marketing of the bits of our premium wine regions which have not yet been consumed by villa rash and ghetto.

Due largely to this blockheadedness, these remnants of a golden age seem doomed to whimpering exits, sans bang.

Lord Twining’s headgear came to mind when I saw the new McLaren Vale advertising at the Adelaide Airport.

This shows a fair Rhinemaiden a few years short of her rhinoceros stage, who reminds me of the buxom dirndled virgins the Barossadeutschers paraded in their pagan vintage festivals in the sixties.

But where those plaited valkyrie wore pale blue gazes of determined abandon, no doubt nurtured by Apex Bakery pasties and too much Sparkling Rhinegold, this lass carries a rather sullen, sedated countenance, after the style of the maidens the great illustrator, Arthur Rackham, captured in the last moments before their terrible ravagement.

The lass looks resigned, slightly fat of lip, and zombied, as she stalks determinedly downhill through a rather industrial-looking monoculture vineyard. Carrying a baroque claw-foot chair. On her head.

If it weren’t so goddam fol-da-ree fol-da-rah gothic, reminiscent of something tragic and about to get messy in the court of Mad King Ludwig, it may suggest the last minutes of, say Virginia Woolf. She has the rocks in her pockets to better avail the matter of sinking, and she’s heading to The Canal, but maybe if she tires on the brink, she might just choose to sit awhile til the Mogadon kicks in.

“McLaren Vale”, says the slogan, “one thing leads to another.”

And that’s it. No mention of wine.

Much to the derisive chagrin of the SA Tourism officials, who like to control these things, the belligerent McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association hired its own expensive experts to devise a new campaign, brochure, and website to support this billboard, which was erected a month or two prematurely.

The rest of it had better be good. And I hope that the stringy bits of the text aren’t simply ripped off the Victorian ad campaign.

It looks like the same lass in both ads, although she seems happier in Victoria ... not to mention the line the other Victorian vignoble, Heathcote, uses: “If it’s not one thing, it’s another”.

But hang, on – surely that’s her again (above) in the contentious “Lead a double life in Daylesford” ad, with the dirndled darling singing “Let’s go down to the river to pray”.

I suppose prayer beats suicide.

This great McLaren Vale effort is surpassed only by the same region’s attempt to suddenly hit us with a suite of Shiraz wines that’ll set us back the minor consideration of around $100. A bottle.

Rather than depend upon the skill of the local winemakers to independently and honestly grow and produce quality wines that are genuinely worth the money, then rely upon the consummate skill and discernment of the judges at the local wine show to confirm their excellence with the awarding of trophies, not to mention the willingness of the marketplace – read us punters – to fork out said grey nurse/prayer mat sized currencies, the powers that be/were have launched a determined Stalinist drive to enforce such a marketing development from above.

I mean, if these winemakers felt they could make a wine and sell it for an honest hundred, why wouldn’t they have done it before?

Winemakers are like chefs and cooks, whatever their region. Some couldn’t cook dogfood.

Some are lucky to get to Maccas or Colonel Sadness level. Most slave their lives away in the sorts of joints you’d find Kevin Foley in.

And then there’s Cheong and Bilson.

Any McLaren Vale winemaker who thinks they’re the vinal equivalent of Cheong or Bilson would have their $100 beauty out already, no?

This secret operation, some years in the making, was called Rare Earths. The wines were to be collectively labled this way, and marketed as the very best the region could produce. Until, no doubt, some clever flash Harry not yet emergent chooses to launch the $200 Rarer Earths range. And so on.

THE AUTHOR (left) AND GEOLOGIST JEFF OLIVER WORKING ON THE GEOLOGY OF McLAREN VALE MAP IN KEVIN'S CUTTING AT HARDY'S SCRUB - photo KATE ELMES

While my colleagues and I were working on the hugely successful Primary Industries and Resources SA map, Geology Of The McLaren Vale Wine Region, we struggled to convince the winemakers that they should choose a more appropriate name.

You can’t appear to be serious about geology and terroir, we suggested, if you proceed with this stupid idea.

The Rare Earths are a collection of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table. They have names which don’t leap readily from memory: Lanthanides, Yttrium and Ytterbium – that sort of thing. Apart from the fact that some of them are radioactive, they happen mainly to reside in China. They are used in such things as the nuclear business, advanced weaponry, big TV screens and electric car batteries, if not electric chairs.

The Chinese, who are very proud of their ownership of this lucrative business, recently played a dangerous game of international brinkmanship by ceasing their supply to Japan, which prides itself on the manufacture of these goods and has a rather large economy dependent upon their constant supply.

Perhaps the Rare Earth cabal belatedly believed my suggestion that as a nascent wine market for such products, China might find such an appellation rather strange. Or Japan, for that matter. But it’s more likely that the name finally went on the nose with the recent reportage of the China blockade, if not the contentious new port which mining minister Paul Holloway proposes for the fragile waters of the northern Spencer Gulf, for the shipment of the few skerricks of these obscure metals remaining in the Australian outback.

Whatever the dawning, the secret McLaren Vale Rare Earths operative recently decided to abandon the name. But they have replaced it with Scarce Earths, a term whose pronunciation is almost as difficult as “the sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick”, a cruel tongue-twister I practiced determinedly, but hopelessly, back in the days when I took my class three malocclusional lisp to the Voice Training Police.

Imagine your Shanghai or Tokyo agent trying to pronounce scarce earths. They have no trouble with the Barossa equivalent, Barossa Terroirs or even that region's swish website, Barossa Dirt.

At the same time, another McLaren Vale project, Generational Farming, has wisely gone a little quiet on its logo, a circular seal, as you see on deeds and great documents, but bearing the image of two hands clasping. This appeared in magnificent gloss on the back of the international wine Bible, Decanter magazine, in an advertisement for the district which - consistent with the wan lass with the chair on her head – didn’t seem to mention fine wine.

If one were forced to rip off an emblem, logo, or official seal, one would best avoid ripping it off a firm of very stern lawyers, accountants, and debt collectors, which is more or less along the lines of what Fox Symes is.

The logos are pretty much identical.

I know this because when the devils at Telstra slow my internet download - they allege I have used too much of it on an account they assured me has no limit - and I’m trying to file copy to my desperate editors just after the whoosh of deadline has passed, I am forced to wait while said logo infuriatingly, ever-so-gradually, assembles itself in the right hand column of my e-mail screen, assuring me that Fox Symes can solve the little matter of my debts.

Anyway, all this psychoweirding is suddenly surpassed, or bypassed, by the grand new quarter of a cloverleaf which minister Pat Conlon’s transport troops have decided to impose on the entry to the McLaren Vale township.

Build a one-way freeway, I say, and eventually you’ll have to double its size. Even the Romans knew traffic goes in both directions. Build a quarter of a cloverleaf, and, well …

One can already ride upon a beautiful piece of digital bitumen curvature in a delightful little promo film viewable on a government website.

“Community Engagement”, the brief promises, “is anticipated [to] commence towards the end of 2010 once detailed planning and an environmental impact assessment have been completed ... Community engagement and detailed design work will be undertaken before commencing construction in 2011. The construction is expected to take up to 18 months to complete.”

The internationally-followed Facebook site WE OPPOSE SEAFORD HEIGHTS surprised the residents of McLaren Vale by announcing the imminence of this proposal, and suggesting the cute smooth ride which the government’s propaganda site exhibits was merely the first proposal.

PART OF THE GREAT PROCESSION OF TRACTORS IN THE RECENT RALLY AGAINST THE SEAFORD HEIGHTS DEVELOPMENT. THE PROPOSED BY-PASS COULD POSSIBLY MAKE FUTURE PROCESSIONS RUN MORE SMOOTHLY photo LEO DAVIS

“If you can get past Seaford Heights,” the feisty protest site reports, “you'll soon hit the new overpass. This was the first plan we saw. It now seems the real plan is for an overpass 12 acres wide, which will by compulsory acquisition knock out two houses, one small business, and a cellar door. The first quarter of a classic LA cloverleaf.

“The ‘community consultation’ is a meeting of four people - those ‘directly affected’. ‘Don't stress’, they've been told.

“The first overpass would have been okay! The second plan is monstrous!”

Local tour operator Robyn Smith suggests this big road thing immediately threatens Shingleback Wines’ new restaurant and landscaping, and a home recently approved and only half-built.

Justly fearful of diminishing their recompense, those ‘directly affected’ are conforming to government instruction to refrain from public complaint.

So while the wine business can be guilty of some abject dunder-headedness, it seems we can always depend upon this wreck of a Labor government to blow such amateurishness away when it comes to listening to the naïve but desperate communities which elected it.

Planning and Development Minister Paul Holloway (him again) has yet to play his cards on the dreadful Seaford Heights development, which involves planting another droll suburb on the only piece of the precious old geology left undefiled or unplanted.

Rare Earth indeed. Cement it over, brave developmentalists!

But there IS one major advantage of the proposed McLaren Vale interchange. It will smother the eighty or so winery signs which clutter the entry to the main street. These form an alley of stiff regimental flags, each promoting a different winery. If any driver even begins to attempt to look at them, Bacchus only knows who or how many they’ll kill in the ensuing prang.

Which makes one wonder who is intended to read them. Perhaps they make the winemakers feel proud.

Further up the street, of course, it’s more pennants than Agincourt: the horrid tat of promo whip flags of a myriad confusing types, the gauche yellow and blue of the real estate mobs, and the infuriating footpaths lined with dumb sandwich boards make the main street of Hahndorf look quite tasteful.

Forget the giant new Coles supermarket about to hit - I knew the joint was cactus when the fishmongery became a tattoo parlour.

Maybe those champion cyclists photographed pranging horridly on the front page of The Sunday Mail did so because just one of them glimpsed at the poxy clutter of sandwich boards and tatty fingerboards outside the delightful Salopian Inn.

Maybe we can look forward to this visual cacophony being replaced by the big picture: a troubled lass with a chair on her head, treading wearily across the scarce earths, suicidal because she didn’t call Fox Symes in time.

And now I’ve gone on too long. One thing, as they say, leads to another.

5 comments:

WOOFA said...

You're a mad dog Whitey!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Seaford Heights is as LA as you can get in a town that is as unlike LA as you can imagine (apart from the music scene and the hills) - a true blight. This from someone who visited once but loved living in LA for years. Someone who lost interest in rare earths when he sold LYC at 43 cents. But the thing that intrigued me was "determined abandonment". I will struggle wth that...

Philip White said...

That wasn't meant.

fussypants said...

if they were fair dink to the harrassed and oversupplied drinker, any Vale wine which doesn't precisely report the vineyard/s location of its fruit should be cheaper

withheld said...

Hi Phillip,
for what is worth I wanted to say how much I rated your article.
I thought it was very well written and spot on the money. Am looking forward to many more to come.

(Name supplied but withheld by DRINKSTER in the interests of peace in the valley)