“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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03 December 2011

WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS WINEMAKER

THE WEDDING AT CANA by PAOLO VERONESE 1562-3 ... EVERYONE'S THERE ... SULEIMAN THE MAGNIFICENT'S GOT HIS BACK TO WALL ON THE LEFT

Wine As Drunk By Jesus Christ
Putting New Wine In Old Bottles
Big Wedding Has Long Finish

by PHILIP WHITE

With the solemn approach of his birthday, it is utterly appropriate to ponder the technique used by the most famous winemaker in history. It is indeed belated attention: humans have been thorough at mimicking, marketing and channelling carefully-selected aspects of whatever they think was the life of Christ, but for some dumb reason, everybody forgets his winemaking.

Given its current parlous state, the Australian wine business could learn a lot from a little scripture.

What a pity the James Hallidays of the day hit the cutting-room floor during the haphazard and scandalous assemblage of the scriptures! As it turns out, only one of the gospel writers, John, managed to squeeze the first miracle into his book. Matthew, Mark and Luke make no mention of it. Maybe they didn’t get to the wedding. Maybe they had so much to drink that they forgot the details, or lost their tasting notes. Unless, of course, some savage proho dry simply removed the good bits of their accounts to prevent too much in the way of fun going down at every wedding since.

Maybe they were just total wankers. But I quite like the panting paranoia of Mark, who I imagine could easily have forgotten all about the wedding, whether he got there or not. While he was always paranoid about the catering arrangements being inadequate, anywhere they went, I reckon that given the right depth of shade, I could listen to Mark over a plate of sardines, a crusty leavened loaf, a mug of pink and a quiet draw on some Bekaa chocolate.

As its stands, John’s account leaves a fair bit to be desired. He seems more interested in the way Christ rebukes his Mum. The lads have been partying on the beach at Galilee. Clambake, skinsful of fresh Damascus rosé, Mary of Magdalene dancing in the sand in the moonlight. The Lord must have itched in those moments to make his first miracle the invention of the ghetto blaster. But he held off. In the morning, he must have dryly thought of inventing the blue electrolytic hangover drink and the portable fridge, but again he held off, true to his determined sado-masochistic edge. Imagine them. Wake, sandy and groaning in the bright sunshine, reaching for fresh water which isn’t there. Christ reminds them they’re two days late for the wedding his Mum insisted they attend, so, you get the picture. A ratty hungover procession up the dusty mountain track to Qana and there she is, akimbo in the road, hissing about them being so late that the wine had all run out and according to the Jewish tradition, there were still four full days of partying to go.

“Mother,” he spits. “What am I to do with thee?”

Regular readers will recall my theory that as a famous winebibber, and friend of publicans and sinners, Christ would have been fluent in the latest winemaking techniques introduced by the occupying forces. The boundaries of the Roman empire were always determined by the edge of viable viniculture, as any self-respecting Italian soldier would refuse to march without his wineskin. And as the Son of God had refused to invent the fridge, the matter of keeping wine fresh was a bother.

As it was, they drank it wild and young and fizzy. Thus the line about not putting new wine in old bottles. The bottles were wine skins, bags without boxes, which would burst if the wine hung a malo.

Back at headquarters, in Rome, the peanuts were still using red lead to stabilize and preserve their best table wine, resulting in the sorts of behaviour typical of the rulers of the day: Nero, Caligula, Claudius and Co.. Away out on the frontier, not only was such luxury out of the question, but the troops would never operate efficiently with lead poisoning.

Enter the grange. The middle east may have been the Holy Land, but in such a dusty, godforsaken wilderness the only way of keeping fruit was to dry it. Every village and major household had a grange, where they’d store their currants, raisins and dates, maybe some pots of honey. The water pots would be in there, too, in the cool. You could make fresh wine anytime you liked.

MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN
WINEMAKER CADUCEUS
SINGER TOOL
MAKES WINE OUT OF AIR AND STONE
UP A MOUNTAIN AT JEROME AZ
IF YOU CLICK HIM
YOU MAY NEVER GET BACK






Put simply, the amarone technique used to this day in Italy involves the fermentation of dried grapes. So when Christ called for the water pots to be brought into the sun, it would been just plain dumb not to throw in some fruit, maybe even dates and honey. And he wasn’t mucking about: the six water pots were of two or three firkins apiece.

An ale firkin, or barrel, is about 40 litres; a wine firkin about 300 litres. So he made somewhere between 600 and 4500 litres of the best, which should have got the nuptials rockin. No wonder three of the four scribes forgot to record it, and the one who did, on reflection, think it was a miracle.

OPEN DAY, CASTAGNA WINES, BEECHWORTH VIC, NOVEMBER 2011 ... NOTE THE CONCRETE FERMENTERS IN THE CORNER photo PHILIP WHITE

What does seem miraculous to me is that somehow the water jug is making a comeback in winemaking. At Castagna wines last month I was surprised to see Julian’s fermenters: two metres high, thick concrete, and egg-shaped, like amphorae. He explained that the concrete breathes, like oak; and that this organic natural shape ensures the wine circulates constantly and gradually within, ensuring maximum lees circulation to protect and enrich the wine; that there are no corners which are difficult to clean, and that the solidity of them keeps their temperature naturally constant and cool. The tapered shape also affects the thickness and form of the cap of skins during ferment.

This new international move to the past began in some Roman ruins near Nimes in 1991, when the keepers of La Mas de Tourelles, a museum of ancient winemaking stuff there began using the old tools to make new wine. The classic amphora shape seemed to impart a half mystical typicity to the wines: they seemed more smug and composed, and retained better freshness. In the twenty years since, many experiments were conducted, making egg-shaped fermenters from terracotta, concrete, plastics and polymers, steel, and now oak.

Some south-of-France winemakers are combining these technologies with the ancient techniques of Caucasian Georgia, and partially burying their amphorae.

But the biggest, newest egg-shaped buzz came from Italy, and SIMEI 2011, the recent Milan technical show. Through coopers Foudrerie Francois, Bordeaux artisan Joseph François launched his big oak eggs to instant fascination. Strange that it took 2000 years for somebody to combine Christ’s waterpots with his first employment, carpentry.

But perfectly apt that they should be unveiled in Italy. It’s time the Italians tried something new.

And it's not an egg. It's a grape.


















MARRIAGE AT CANA - GIOTTO 14th CENTURY

The amarone technique was never lost to the Jews. Before he came to found his wine empire in Australia Samuel Weintraub annually purchased dried grapes in Odessa and the Caucasus. He took these by railroad to his ghetto in Poland and made kosher wine for the community “to meet the demand of a sweet-toothed public.” On his arrival as a refugee in Melbourne in 1913, one story goes, the immigration clerk queried him about his surname. Having no English, he somehow explained it meant wine grape, indicating his occupation. The clerk chose to abbreviate this to wine, but used archaic English spelling. At the Victoria markets, the new Sam Wynn was delighted to discover not only dried grapes in abundance, but fresh ones too. Thus began S. Wynn & Co., a brand which endures to this day in Coonawarra’s most famous winery.





















SAM WYNN PORTRAIT IN WALTER JAMES'S WINEGROWERS DIARY 1970 ARTIST UNKNOWN ... SAM USED THE AMPHORA SHAPE IN HIS FAMOUS BARREL FLAGONS ... AUTOGRAPHED BY WINE MERCHANT DAN MURPHY, WYNN'S WINEMAKER NORM WALKER, AND HIS SON NICK, OF O'LEARY-WALKER ... THE WYNN'S COONAWARRA ESTATE CLARET 1953, MADE BY IAN HICKINBOTHAM FOR DAVID WYNN, WAS THE FIRST COMMERCIALLY-RELEASED WINE ON EARTH TO HAVE UNDERGONE A DELIBERATELY INDUCED AND SCIENTIFICALLY MONITORED AND MANAGED MALO-LACTIC FERMENTATION ... IF YOU FIND A GOOD CORK, THE ODD BOTTLE STILL DRINKS WELL ... GOT ANY? photo PHILIP WHITE

6 comments:

TOOLBRAIN said...

SO MAYNARDS THE WORLDS MOST FAMOUS WINEMAKER

Philip White said...

He probably is.

KID EAGER said...

WHITEY IF YOU SCROLL DOWN THAT ONE REAL QUICK IT LOOKS LIKE A LOT OF OLD FASHIONED ROCKETS GOING UP IN THE AIR

Anakha said...

Would love to see a review of Caduceus' Judith cabernet from an Australian writer to see how it compares to our local Coonawarra and Margaret river finest.

Philip White said...

Where you, Anakha?

the snake said...

If you squint at Sam Wynn's portrait, you can see an upright Christian cross. Is this a secret Rosicrucian symbol, or something even more secretive? Did Sam go to Heaven?