“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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27 March 2011

MILK AND WINE: A NOMENCLATURAL MESS

No Fat, Low Fat, Full Cream,
Extra Dollop, Skinny, Skim,
Semi-skim, Added Calcium ...

by PHILIP WHITE - WRITTEN FOR INDAILY - 9 MAR 11

“There’s No Fat, Low Fat, Full Cream, Extra Dollop, Skinny, Skim, Semi-skim, Added Calcium, Added Omega-3 … ” this was a representative of Choice, the Australian consumer-interest magazine, discussing the many brands of milk on Radio National’s Breakfast this week.


But Choice laboratory tests showed that the 80 or 90 brands of milk on Australian shelves
basically fall into only three categories: full-fat, light, and skimmed … and there’s no appreciable difference between supermarket branded milks and other milks. The milk business has much in common with the wine industry, and it goes well beyond the droll sameness of the wines behind the many thousands of brands available. Neither is it restricted to the current fiasco where the duopolist supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, seem determined to destroy Australia’s independent diary farmers in a brutal discounting war, just as they seem keen to gut the wine business in their determination to get ethanol into Australians at the lowest possible price.

After famous winemaker Wolf Blass infamously demolished his new Rolls Royce and abandoned it beside the stobie he’d knocked out on Portrush Road in 1987, he blew 0.138 when eventually tracked down by the fuzz, and was finally convicted, fined, and suspended from driving. His PR gurus then convinced him to abandon his TV ad campaign for his own Classic Dry White for a time and, with a cheeky grin, advertise that other classic dry white, milk.

Blass (above) could have been a real hero, done more to cut the road toll, AND sold more wine if he’d simply stood in front of his wrecked Roller, flicked a
rueful thumb over his shoulder and admitted to camera “That cost me three hundred thousand dollars ... it could have cost lives … don’t drive when you drink”.

Instead, he promoted the one drink that little kids start on, leaving a very thin veil over the white he hoped they’d graduate to as adults.


In matters of naming, the marketers of milk, like many other commodities, are copying the sophists of the wine industry, and disguise the drab
repetition of their products with a great many nonsensical names and back labels. If you were interested in accuracy and honesty, include the wine business OUT. Until it’s limited by anti-bullshit regulation, the grape ethanol business habitually fibs to its customers. In fact, its anti-bullshit regulations themselves are very dodgy. Wines are rarely 100% what their labels claim, whether it be the varieties, the alcohol, the source, the maker, or whatever the drinker imagines to be important.

I could see
the turning point emerging in the early eighties when I asked famous Hunter winemaker Mark Cashmore a simple question.

“Why,” I enquired “did you change the name of your Richmond Grove blend of Chardonnay and Semillon from Richmond Grove Pinot Riesling to Richmond Grove Semillon Chardonnay?”


His magnificent clarification came thus: “Pinot Riesling doesn’t mean very much at all. Chardonnay’s not Pinot Chardonnay and I don’t think Riesling in the context of Pinot Riesling means very much. I mean Riesling is Semillon and Pinot is Chardonnay, and we have more Semillon in the wine than Chardonnay, so it should be Semillon Chardonnay.”

And so we got tighter rules. But they are
breathtaking in their nature. Take the elastic alcohol reading. A wine claiming to be 15% alcohol can in fact be 16.5% - the legal tolerance permits a 1.5% margin either side of the stated figure. Winemakers can legally include up to 15% of any variety not mentioned on the label, and 15% of a vintage other than the nominated one. The same elasticity is permitted in claims of the wine’s geographical source, its appellation. So a wine labeled as a 15% alcohol Barossa Shiraz 2010 can legally be a 85-15% blend of Barossa and Riverland with 15% Grenache and 16.5% alcohol. In other words, 46.5% of the wine in the bottle can legally be something other than what its label states.

The naming, and the text, usually mislead the drinker to a more disgusting degree. There are no real meanings of low yield, low irrigation, small berries, premium oak, reserve, or whatever.
The vast majority of Australian wine is not made by the famous person the consumer thinks is responsible.

The naming and delineation of our wine regions itself is a mess, and a
telling reflection of the dodgy intellect of the wine business. Years ago, the European Union declared it would make it impossible for Australia to sell its wine there without precise legally-declared delineations of its regional boundaries. This was a great relief to wine critics who’d been calling for such clarification for decades: our winemakers should have seen the EU demand as a helpful excuse for them to do something which they’d been avoiding for 170 years.

The resulting scramble of amateur mappers, all heavy with self-interest instead of measured expertise in topographical and geological exactitude, must have set Europe roaring with laughter.


Most half-good maps of South Australia feature two major ranges where vines are viable. These are all I need to prove my point. They are the Mount Lofty Ranges (Cape Jervis to
Peterborough) and the Flinders Ranges (Crystal Brook to Lake Callabonna). In turn, these two ranges each have a southern and northern half. The South Mount Lofty Ranges spread from Cape Jervis to Eudunda. The North Mount Lofty Ranges spread from Kapunda to Peterborough. The South Flinders Ranges spread from Crystal Brook to Wilpena; the North Flinders Ranges from Angorichina to Lake Callabonna.

Wherever you were on Earth, any good map showed these clearly. So what did the wine industry do? The first thing it did was choose names that are not on most maps.


Starting at the south end, we got Fleurieu Zone, which goes from Kangaroo Island to Harrogate. This Zone includes the Regions Currency Creek, Langhorne Creek, Southern Fleurieu, McLaren Vale, and Kangaroo Island. But there’s a great slice of land down the middle of this called the Adelaide Hills Region, which is part of the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone. They gave us the Barossa Zone, which goes from the South Para River to Truro south-to-north, and, strangely, from Shea-Oak Log in the west to way out east of Springton.


We got the Far North Zone, which so far includes only the Southern Flinders Ranges Region, which is the only one with any real logic.

But the strangest one of all is that Mount Lofty Ranges Zone. This includes the Adelaide Hills Region, which is in the South Mount Lofty Ranges and extends from the South Para River near Mt Crawford, south to Mount Compass, away down on the Southern Fleurieu, a very long distance from anything anybody ever called the Adelaide Hills.

This warped Mount Lofty Ranges Zone also includes the Adelaide Plains Region (which is not in the Ranges at all), and, wait for it, the Clare Valley, which is in the North Mount Lofty Ranges.
The Barossa Zone, which is mostly Mount Lofty Ranges, is not in the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone, while Clare (ninety kilometres to the north), IS in it. Similarly, the Southern Fleurieu - which is all in the Mount Lofty Ranges - is 120 kilometres to the south of the Barossa, and yet not in the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone.

Duh.


Anybody keen enough to find the boundaries of this mess on the internet will quickly find themselves confounded by a dog’s breakfast of contradictory, overlapping, badly delineated maps published by well-intentioned privateers who obviously can’t get their head around any of the wine industry’s confusion.


Which leads me to the Member for Mawson’s call for the renaming of the McLaren Vale Region, which is part of the Fleurieu Zone, and the Mawson electorate. Said member, Leon Bignell (right), is notable for his striving to stop his colleagues in the Labor government from choking the wine regions of McLaren Vale and Barossa with housing. Many of the winemakers in Mawson are folks who make no bones about tending to the pro-development Liberal Party, but admit they are grateful for Bignell’s efforts, like his draft Agricultural and Tourism Preserve Bill, due for debate later in the year.

Last week Bignell hit the southern press with his suggestion that the McLaren Vale Region should be called the McLaren Valley. Officially, the Region spreads from the Victory Hotel in the south to the northern boundary of Glenthorne Farm on O’Halloran Hill, and, like the Clare Region, and the Barossa, includes many valleys.
How such a change will give more clarity to the above mess beats me.

But then, there are some very strange namings in the McLaren Vale
Region and the Mawson electorate. Most residents might be surprised to learn of the Pridham Detention Basin at Aldinga. If this place, which looks like a swamp to me, is indeed designed for the detention of illegal immigrants, they will be helped a great deal in their escape by the sign at the end of the adjacent road, which points south and carries the image of a boat much better appointed than the ones they arrived on.

It is in fact a proper government road sign directing Aldinga people to the ferries at Cape Jervis, sixty kilometres to the south. As there is no accompanying sign showing the way to the Adelaide International Airport, or Darwin or Broome for that matter, I can only surmise it is intended to quietly funnel the Aldinga boat people safely south.
It went up without any input at all from the wine industry.

As for milk, I’ll be sticking to the creamy wholesome goodness of the organic-biodynamic stuff from the Paris Creek Dairy, which is smack in the middle of the Southern Fleurieu.
Or is it Adelaide Hills?

MEETING ON WILLUNGA HILL, ON THE RIDGE ABOVE Mc;LAREN VALE: photo by LEON BIGNELL MP

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