“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




28 January 2011



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

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.


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.


“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.

24 January 2011


What The Hell Does This Mean?
Aussie Flag Is Five Crucifuxions
Three On The Wrong Damn Cross


It is becoming a DRINKSTER tradition that we discuss the flag of Australia each year on Australia Day (previously known as Anniversary Day, Foundation Day and ANA Day), the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, this day commemorates the arrival of the British First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag there, the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of "New Holland", and all the numerous peoples who had lived on this continent for up to forty or fifty thousand years before England or God were even thought of.

At Easter, the chalk board outside the little Protestant bookshop in Clare sported a sketch of a cross. “Jesus built a bridge”, it said, “with two planks and three nails”.  Christians seem to like the idea of the son of God being slaughtered on a neatly-joined, planed and chamfered triumph of carpentry.

Overlooking the fact that Jesus Christ's so-called bridge was actually built by the Italians, whose consequent, un-Christlike version of Christianity turned their straightened version of his cross into the world’s most powerful and suppressive trade mark, I began wondering again about the Australian flag.

It was very strange, hearing people like Prime Minister John Howard, decry the savage hoods of Cronulla for draping themselves in their own flag during Sydney’s race riots those short years ago. Even stranger were the subsequent demands that mosques should be flying its violently aggro "Union Jack" and stars.

The crescent moon and star on the flags of many Islamic states represent life and peace.

That should do at a mosque.

The Australian flag - really the British Blue Ensign with some southern stars on its blue fly - carries five primitive representations of the Roman form of the gallows.

It's the perfect poncho for rioting yobbos (photo above by Warren Hudson).

And that’s just the beginnings of the religio-racial horrors involved in our flag. Some of these are explained in an amazing little book that every Australian should have read: Carol A. Foley’s The Australian Flag, (Federation Press; 1996).

I annually discuss this book, and other issues here, on the occasion of Australia day.

It says something for the musical Welsh that they never insisted on having a cross, a leek, or even a harp, included in the current Union Flag of Great Britain: the Blue Ensign that we disrespectfully call the Union Jack. Maybe they realised that their harp would have to go in the middle of all those crosses, on top of the cross of St. George, which the English would never permit.

The Scots scored with the cross of St. Andrew – a white saltire on a blue ground, a saltire being a diagonal, X-shaped cross, like the tail of the early Christian fish graffito carved repeatedly into the walls of the Coliseum. This variant on the “Greek cross" represents in Roman Christianity the initial of Christ, the Greek letter χ , or chi, and the number 10.

It is the original Christian cross.

It predates the Roman Catholic church’s revisionary right-angled upright cross by several hundred years.

Roman crucifixions were principally conducted on saltires, not on the standard vertical cross later popularised by these revisionist Christians, who made it their logo, and used its shape as the floorplan of their church buildings.

There would be many fewer right angles in modern architecture had the saltire correctly been the model.

Most Roman executions were summary: fairly abrupt affairs which would not afford the expense of nails, or the types of posh carpentry evident in most tidy Christian portrayals of the crucifixion of Christ.

Crosses were made in minutes by tying two lengths of wood together at their half-way points, and placing two ends of these in shallow holes in the ground.

They were normally held upright by a third supporting beam propped against their intersection at an angle from behind, or were commonly simply leant against walls or embankments.

Nobody knows exactly why the Scots adopted Andrew as their patron in the eighth century.

Foley makes clear that he wasn’t a Scot, and his saltire didn’t begin to appear as a national emblem until about 1290. At least he was crucified, a distinction begrudged Saints George and Patrick.

We think St. Andrew died on his saltire in Greece, at Patras, in 69AD.


Three hundred years later another Greek, called Regulus, took some of Andrew's preserved bones and a tooth – for good luck - on a journey which ended with them both shipwrecked on the coast of Scotland, where the live one eventually started a Roman church called St. Andrew’s.

St. Patrick was the dissolute son of a Scots monk. He eventually took the cloth and worked his way up to Bishop before heading south to Ireland as a missionary. While there were never any snakes in Ireland, his famous purging the Emerald Isle of them had a lot more to do with him ridding its infant church of its dangerous tendencies to accommodate wisps of Druidic, Moorish, pagan Roman and Coptic theology, not to mention its obsessive confusion of the Virgin Mary with a sort of profligate faery queen, the Mother of Life, whom they celebrated with keystones in the arches of their churches.

Other bas reliefs of this woman, squatting on her bottom, her arms about her vertical shins, her hands holding open the labia of a vagina that extended sometimes to her grin, were installed decoratively about church walls, like stations of the cross.

These stones, called sheilagh na geeks, or sheelanagigs, gave Australia sheila, its colloquial term for females.

It was amusing to hear feminists decry this patois as sexist in the 'seventies - it's really a term of deep adoration and reverence.

While the pious St. Patrick had these images removed from the church walls, thousands of them miraculously survived, and still lie in the basements of the museum in Dublin, and in other places around the British Isles. These generally take the vague form of two saltires, with the vagina in the middle, where the saviour should hang.

It's obviously from whence he came.  Given its marketing, the mixed-up pagans of the day must have wondered at that vagina being ideally virginal.

 Patrick, by the way, was never crucified. He died of long life in Armagh in 463AD.

The Irish used the golden harp or the shamrock as their emblem, and we don’t know precisely how the red saltire on the white ground ended up representing them on the Union Flag, although it seems to have been convenient to the graphic artists of the time - its red saltire fitted neatly within the white of saltire of St. Andrew.

But it also has to do with the fact that this saltire (right), finally named after St. Patrick, was in fact the flag of the Fitzgeralds, who’d been sent by the leonine Henry II, father of Richard I, to bash the Irish into submission in 1169.

The English cross of St. George, a ‘cross throughout’ in heraldic terms - in this case a vertical red cross on a white ground - came from France. French warriors fought beneath it in their invasion of the Islamic east in the Third Crusade (1189-1192). Their English mates carried the opposite: a white cross on a red ground. But by the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) the English had adopted the French version and sometime thereabouts also adopted St. George as the patron of England.

There’s a serious move afoot to have St. George’s Day (April 23rd.) made a public holiday in England. It's years back but still perfect pondering that in its St. George’s Day Special Issue of 19th. April 2008, The Spectator Diary was written by that venerable British scholar, Beryl Bainridge, who called St. George a scroundrel. “Why on Earth [he] was made our patron saint is a mystery”, she wrote.

Born in 303AD, George was a soldier in the time of the Emperor Diocletian. He made a great deal of money selling pig meat to his fellow troops before he was ordained Archbishop of Alexandria, a position from which he gorged his coffers by taxing the bejeesus out of the Christians while he gave everyone else, like the Jews, the horrors, by pillaging their places of worship.

Eventually he was imprisoned, but a mob broke into the jail, dragged him about the streets and chopped him into bits which were chucked into the ocean. Call that a matyrdom if you must; it seems highly unlikely that he died on a cross, although in its early determined efforts in brand reinforcement, much Roman catholic history insists he was first tortured on one form of cross or another; perhaps a wheel.

George's spirit was believed to have miraculously assisted the English by visitation to battles fought centuries later by the terrible warriors Richard I, Lionheart, (who was tough on Jews, Moslems and the Pope), and Edward I, Longshanks, (who was tough on the Scots, the Welsh and the Moslems).

The bit about the dragon seems to have been invented by an Italian biographer of saints, Jacobus de Voragine. George killed many pigs, but a dragon? Uh-huh.

Bainbridge recounts asking her grandson whether they’d taught him anything about St. George at school. “No”, he said, he hadn’t, “apart from the fact that George had a friend who was a dragon.”

That accounts for three crosses. The Union flag clearly has four. But the fourth is a phantom: it’s not really there. Then, you could say it was always there.

When the first Union Flag, named after Queen Anne, was designed in 1606 to symbolise the union of Scotland and England, the creative types down at heraldry found they had to retain some of the white background of England’s flag (St. George's cross), to avoid breaking the heraldic law ruling that blue and red should not touch. At the same time, had they not retained its blue background, the white saltire of St. Andrew would have disappeared into the white ground of George’s cross. And the English cross, of course, had to lie atop the Sottish one, lest the Scots dream of dominance. So the fourth cross, the narrow white outline around the cross of St. George, represents nothing more than the English presumption of superiority.

The Fitzgerald's saltire, meanwhile, masquerading as the cross of Ireland, fitted quite neatly within the white saltire of St Andrew.

On the Australian flag, we have a fifth, even more ethereal cross.

To somehow imagine a group of stars was put there by God to remind us of his son’s forthcoming crucifixion is well, stretching it. Why didn’t he stand it up the right way? What does it look like from below? Did he deliberately tilt it, like a saltire? It stands up as straight as a Roamn Catholic cross on our flag, but never does in the heavens. And why is there the annoying fifth interlopering star near the centre? Is that the original Crux, the middle star, slipping down to the right?

It’s too late now to ask Augustin Royer, the French astronomer who first named it Crux Australis in 1679 ... in the days when austral meant something grave, sober, harsh, stern, austere, dry, windy, threatening, astringent and tannic in the great southern unknown.

On the 1901 version of the Australian flag, the five stars in the group each had a different number of points, indicating its magnitude of brightness in the heavens. Poor old Epsilon, the stray one fleeing the centre, rarely visible these days from our cities, scored only five. Which it still has. For ease of manufacture, the rest had officially settled at seven points by 1908.

The seven was convenient for flagmakers in that the large Federation Star, aka the Commonwealth Star, below the Union Jack, has seven points, indicating the six states and Papua New Guinea.

Yep. Papua New Guinea.

No wonder troubled souls from the bordering waters between here and there say they have a right to come here to live, as they were never consulted about being cut off our country. We opened their batting for them, by taking their country and putting them on our flag. Now we leave them on our flag but burn their boats and ship them home.

If the Gaelic states, Ireland and Wales, had united and colonised Australia, we could have a flag bearing a sheila, playing a harp and cavorting amongst the shamrocks.

Which reminds me of South Australia’s first official state badge, or cartouche (left), of which many variations survive.

These display a helmeted Britannia standing coolly on a beach, surrounded by cliffs like those at Rapid Bay. Her blowing, flowing robe looks as loose and casual as hippy cheesecloth in some versions. She has casually put her shield on the sand, resting it against her right hip, and extends her left hand to a naked original bloke who’s sitting on a rock, holding a spear.

Maybe it’s her spear. They’re obviously having a chat. Might just as well chat about spears. Within a few years the English had destroyed all the native yakka spear wood and axe glue on the Fleurieu Peninsula, adjacent to that beach, to export glue and stain for British cabinetmakers.

Just what the Australian flag represents to our original people gives me the horrors. There are many indigenous words for bits of the Crux Australis; of course many tribes had their version of how those stars got into the sky, or who, or what they are, but they never, of course, saw a cross in it, preceding, as they did, the invention of God and crucifixions by tens of thousands of years.

Pretty hard, too, to imagine what a God-fearing Islamist sees in our flag. Unless, of course, it’s wrapped around the shoulders of the white crusaders of Cronulla, where it makes absolutely perfect sense.

The Australian flag was best summarised by Seinfeld during his visit to Adelaide. Having spotted the huge bugger flapping in Victoria Square outside the Hilton, he said “I love your flag. It’s like England at night.”

He had no idea what the adjacent flag, same size, same height, on a matching pole, was about. Here it is:

The Australian Aboriginal Flag (above) was first raised on 12 July 1971 at Victoria Square in Adelaide. It was also used at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972. The top half of the flag is black to symbolise Indigenous people. The red in the lower half stands for the earth and the colour of ochre, which has ceremonial significance. The circle of yellow in the centre of the flag represents the sun. The Australian Aboriginal Flag is displayed at Aboriginal centres and is well recognised as the flag of Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It is flown during NAIDOC Week to celebrate and promote greater understanding of Indigenous peoples and culture and during National Reconciliation Week in recognition of 27 May as the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum which removed from the Constitution clauses that discriminated against indigenous Australians and 3 June as the anniversary of the High Court decision in the Eddie Mabo land rights case of 1992. Mr Harold Thomas from Northern Australia designed the flag. The Australian Aboriginal Flag was proclaimed on 14 July 1995. Permission is not required to fly the Australian Aboriginal Flag. The Australian Aboriginal Flag is protected by copyright and may only be reproduced in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 or with the permission of Mr Harold Thomas. Contact details are: Mr Harold Thomas, PO Box 41807, CASUARINA NT 0810 [!].

Flag: The Spirit of Ballarat, used with kind permission of the artist, Peter Clarke, of Ballarat. "Of course you can use it," he said. "That's the people's flag.  That's what it is!"  Mr Clarke's flag combines Harold Thomas's Aboriginal flag with the Eureka flag first raised by  downtrodden gold miners at the Eureka Stockade Rebellion at Ballarat in 1854. "The cross is important," Mr Clarke said. "The cross is us - our spirit."  He told The Courier that the Aboriginal flag's yellow circle was also reminiscent of the hub cap he used for gold panning as he grew up in St Joseph's Home orphanage.  "It pretty much represents what we're all about - black and white. The early days of Ballarat, the goldmining, and the Irish and Chinese which came here seeking their fortune, this made the place such a multi-cultural city. The Spirit of Ballarat is a symbol of hope and one of spirit. I painted it as me."  The Spirit of Ballarat hangs in the Trades Hall in Camp Street.

STOP PRESS: [10 MAR 2014]

As Scotland's independence looms, St Andrew's flag will lose its right to stay on the Union Flag. Presumably, Australia will have to adjust its own strange flag accordingly. This is one suggested design for the new "Jack":

For other possibilities, all of which will be deliciously contentious, check this piece from The Atlantic.


AUSTRALIA comes from the Greek αυστηρός, through the Latin austerus, which means severe, and gave itself to the Middle English auster, or austere, meaning the south wind and its source. By 1541, austere was also used to mean sour, or bitter and astringent, and harsh to the taste. This gradually came to cover anything that was harsh to the feelings generally; stern; rigorous; judicially severe; grim in warfare; severe in self-discipline; strict and abstinent. In 1597 it meant severely simple; without any luxury. By 1667 austere also meant grave and sober. The Latin austeritas became the Old French austerite, which, by 1590, as the English austerity, meant severe self-discipline, abstinence and asceticism. In 1634 austerity also meant harsh to the taste, or astringent sourness. This soon also covered general harshness to the feelings; judicial severity, or stern or severe treatment or demeanour. By 1713 it meant rugged sternness, and by 1875 austerity also meant severe simplicity or lack of luxury. The Latin australis became austral by the time of Middle English, and was used to indicate something that was belonging to the south. Or was southern. It also came not only to mean influenced by the south wind, but also warm and moist. This Latin australis gave its name to the great continent rumoured to lie in the south, Terra Australis. The French were the first to use Australien, meaning of Terra Australis. By 1693, the English language included the word Australian, also meaning of Terra Australis. The Terra was leaving Australis by 1814, in which time the English-speaking world had begun to use Captain Matthew Flinders’ suggested name for this huge southern beach-fringed slab of sand, dust, and stone, Australia. Now. About those original inhabitants …


Salman Rushdie writing about his visit to Writers' Week in Adelaide in the Tatler, London, October 1984:

‘Don’t you find,’ Angela Carter said one evening, ‘that there’s something a little exhausted about the place names around here? I mean, Mount Lofty. Windy Point.’ On another occasion, Bruce Chatwin said something similar: ‘It’s a tired country, not young at all. It tires its inhabitants. It’s too ancient, too old.’



You should get back to making wood, peckerhead. Australia rocks. And dusts. And blazes. And waves. And we love it, austerity and everything. Stay away! But if you change your mind, we'd handle that, too. Easy come, easy go. And vice versa.


As a soldier who has "served under" that flag I do not share the sentiments of so many of those, who in resisting change to a more appropriate bunting, always use the defence that the flag is somehow sacred because so many have "died under it".

From my experience that is a load of codswallop. Certainly, in Vietnam there was no such flag sentiment that I ever noticed. Unit logos, badges and other less formal signs, usually of black humour, dotted the unit lines at Nui Dat. I don't recall seeing too many Australian flags flying although there may have been at Task Force HQ. Vehicles carried stenciled red kangaroo logos to identify us as Australians and there were no Australian flags on our uniforms (I do note that our modern day diggers in Iraq and Afghanistan have Australian flag badges on their uniforms and fly Australian flags on their vehicles but I presume this is because they operate in multi-national forces and they do it to be recognised as Australians). It is always a good idea to ensure that you cannot be mistaken for an American.

I reckon soldiers, particularly those in war zones, are not very flag conscious at all. Not in my day anyway. Everyone was too busy getting the job done and getting home in one piece to be that patriotic - although scratch a digger not very deeply and patriotism will gush forth.

In 1967 if you had asked an Australian digger in Vietnam what the Australian flag should be he probably would have said it should depict a can of VB with two Melbourne Cup winners rampant.


A few years back, on a rare visit to the old country, I was driving a carload of Scottish rellies to a wake (my mum's, it was a good one). We passed a church flying the Union Flag - not sure why they do that since it was the Church of England - and I said: "Oh look, there's a large corner of our flag." Much mirth.

More seriously, I have long thought the Australian flag would look much better without the mishmash of Christian mythology in its top left quarter and a proportionately enlarged Commonwealth Star centred in the left field. We'd lose a bit of red - but I reckon it would look bloody lovely. Comments?


Get your shit stars, get your shit stars, get your shit stars off our flag.


Whoever that Barmy bugger is, he/she should be given an Order of Australia. That's true republicanism!


Imagine if we lived in a cross-free world! I like your way of thinking.


they never taught any opf that in school.



22 January 2011



Famine Then Floods Now Mildew
God Smites Aussie Grape Cockies
Vignobles Limp To Later Vintage

I slid into the Sevenhill pub the other day, it being the favoured watering hole for the thirstier breed of Clare winemaker, and Ned, its publican, being a reliable one-stop shop of information for the itinerant wine hack.

“Much mildew around, Ned?” I asked of the fluffy vine mould which thrives in the wetter weather we’ve been having.

“Nah Whitey, not too much”, he said.

“Anybody going broke?” I asked, broke being the status, declared or not, of many folks in the wine game at this peculiar point in time.

“Nah Whitey,” he said, “most of ‘em are telling me how much money they’re gonna make this year.”

And there we had it. No expensive public relations twister required. A vintage round-up in the time it took Ned to pour two schooners.

After my plate of fish’n’chips there on the veranda – close to bloody perfect – and a quick bottle of Crabtree Watervale Riesling 2010 – better than bloody perfect - I got to thinking about the conversation later in the day, when the winemakers would ease in and settle their bellies against the rubbing strakes of Ned’s cool bar.

“Anything happening Ned?” somebody would be asking.

“Aw, not much,” he’d say. “Pretty quiet. Whitey called in for lunch.”

“Oh really? What’d he want?” they’d ask.

“Oh, he asked about the mildew.”

“Shit! Did he? What’d you say?”

“I told him nah, not much mildew.”

“Ar good. What else did he ask?”

“He wanted to know if anybody was going broke.”

“ Bastard. What’d you tell him?”

“I told him how you blokes keep bragging about how much money you think you’re gonna make this year.”

“Aw, good. Caniva nuther Pale, please Ned?”


And that’s pretty much it. That’s how it happens. I mean if James Halliday had rung up the Clare Valley Grape Wine and Tourism Association from Sydney or wherever he lives, asking for a vintage report, he couldna got a more precise summary of the 2011 vintage, and there would have been a great deal of fuss about what to tell him.

I mean, if he’d asked a McLaren Vale winemaker a similar question, the winemaker would have to explain that he or she had been forbidden to speak to the press about the weather, and that he’d have to ask Elizabeth Tasker in the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism office for the real truth. Again, there would be a great deal of fuss.

If there’s one thing I can tell you about Whitey, it’s that he’s your man on the ground. Intrepid, they used to call reporters of his ilk. Not like these sweaty poofters that can’t taste wine when their lappy batts go flat.

Anyway, I’m here to tell you that in the course of a week, I cruised around the hills from Kangarilla, where I live, up the eastern side of the range to Eden Valley, where I slept, and then on to Stanley Flat, up north of the Clare racecourse, where I surrendered to what the experts would probably call a coma.


It is highly unusual for a bloke to be able to drive, as we did, from Kangarilla to Eden Valley, in the middle of January, through fog. All the way. No sooner had we climbed over the Willunga Escarpment than we were in it, and my phone was beeping out its warning from James Hook at DJs viti supplies, telling me the conditions were ideal for mildew in the hills. It's stayed more or less that way for days.

Vintage will be late and low this year, even if we do get a summer.

Mildew is something that’s not too difficult to spot. It’s very topical this year, as there’s an acute shortage of the fungicide sprays required to handle it, and, as I’ve reported here before, it’s rife along the River from Blanchetown to Bourke, even before the vineyards fill up with houses washing down from Queensland.

But, you know, in the premium regions, you know the moleskin country, well, with, cough, proper vignerons, well, it just wouldn’t be an issue, would it. No. So a bloke gets in a car and takes a bit of a look around for himself.

Anybody who says that they have no mildew this year is a bullshitter. But, like at Yangarra (below), where I live in my cosy rented depot, responsible, calm, long-sighted vineyard management sees it kept to an absolute minimum, even within the spray restrictions of the organic certification organization viticulturer Michael Lane wisely chooses to observe. The big vineyard looks sweet, smells sweet, feels sweet, is sweet. The vintage will be strangely late, but here, it looks very very good. Sweet.

Up through the fog past Hahndorf and into Charleston, there aren’t too many Charlestons being danced, but there’s a fair bit of mildew, and a fair bit of belated panic spraying going down by those who’ve managed to secure the fungicide.

It was misty more than foggy by the time we lobbed at Vanessa Hall’s cottage in the Henschke Cabernet vineyard at Eden Valley, and my trusty warning from DJs Growers made chilling sense. Sousing ourselves in Mars Linke’s stunning Karra Yerta Riesling on the veranda, it was apparent that this was perfect mildew weather: shivery as much as misty. The sky cleared long enough for us to souse ourselves in a blazing Garden of Eden sunset, before retreating to the warmth inside.


But I woke to the gentle mumble of women chatting in the vines. They were addressing the vines, really, one at a time, plucking off the odd unwanted leaf, giving them a pat, and a word of encouragement. That vineyard looked schmick: thick of leaf, and clean. Sweet, see. Fussed over. Another of Prue Henschke’s biodynamic triumphs.

There are two obvious reasons for the better organically or biodynamically-managed vineyards looking better than the monocultural industrial grapeyards. The first is that people who care enough to do away with the petrochem regime will be spending more time in their vineyards anyway. There's a lot more hands-on TLC, making for a better-balanced garden.

The second is that vines which have grown, continually coddled by the mindless protection of chemical prophylactics seem to have no reason to grow tougher leaves, bunches and cell structures, and are vulnerable when something goes badly wrong, like when the spray runs out. The vineyards which have grown without these chemical carapaces tend to have tougher leaves, and thicker cell structures, and are more resilient from the start.

The tiny patch of determined bush vines which gave me my coma are on the northern edge of viable viticulture as far as the Clare Valley goes. Not much chance of a flood there: they slurped up their inch of rain so damned greedily I reckon they sucked their veins full of dust. A few wisps of mildew on the odd leaf there, but those grumpy old coots aren’t gonna notice. Even the crows give them a wide berth.

Sweet wouldn’t be a word I’d use in their case, but their fruit will be just runny enough to wet the specks of dust in their veins, and will ooze out a tincture flavoured mainly of determination. Dust is damn fine fungicide.


Heading south, through the major Clare vignoble, well, there’s a bit of mildew here and there, and some of it would be a great embarrassment to the perfectionist. I sat on the grand veranda at the new café and tasting area at O’Leary-Walker, savouring their magnificent Drs. Cut Polish Hill River Riesling, gazing out across the Main North Road to that beautiful swathe of vineyards on Watervale’s priceless calcrete slope.

Somebody there’s sprayed so much copper sulphate on their vineyard it was turning blue: heading toward the colour of eucalyptus: Blue Hills. You wouldn’t want to be a mildew spore on that block.

And so on.

The Barossa’s full of locusts, but they’re concentrating their admirable feasting skills on the weeds and grasses pushed up by this very damp spring and summer, and so far, have left the vine tendrils alone. Yes, there’s a touch of mildew here and there, but most of it’s been sent skipping. Sensible farmers have it pretty much under control; the lazy and the forlorn and the ones who couldn’t afford the spray are still sufficiently confident to look at your shoes when they talk to you. You know it’s a bad year when they look only at their own shoes.

So there’s your vintage assessment from Whitey. Oh, I should say that the Barossa and McLaren Vale Shiraz crop will be rather short: the vines look happy, but pull those leaves aside and you’ll see the bunches are very scrawny and meager. I suspect this damage occurred away back in the terrible heatwaves of the previous summers, when the tiny buds were still forming in the wood, and the air temperature blasted into the fifties. Something’s gotta give, and, well, you know, if it’s not flood it’s bloody famine.


Anything else you need to know? Duck up to Sevenhill and ask Ned. Take a few days. Compare the essential qualities of the excellent regional platters at, say, Reilly’s in Mintaro, and the one at O’Leary-Walker. Compare the views from Reilly’s veranda (you’re looking straight at the Magpie Stump Hotel) and the Sevenhill pub (you’re looking at the track to the Sevenhill Winery).

Or just find yourself a cottage in a vineyard, lie back with a tumbler of Good Catholic Girl Riesling and a big ice block, and worry about the mildew until your coma arrives.

21 January 2011



Small Flood, No Casualties
Wet Brisbane Night's Role
In 1980s Vic Wine Boom


In the interests of injecting a little humour into the horrific muddy mess covering eastern Australia, here’s a late exclusive.

Few readers will know of the great Brisbane flood of, about, er, 1983? and its role in the resurrection of the Victorian wine industry.

Victoria’s wine business had been the biggest in Australia until it was ravaged by the dreaded root louse, phylloxera, in the late 19th century, giving the great wine families of South Australia, the Gramps, Seppelts, Hardys, Penfolds and Hill Smiths, their chance to expand and fill the gap.

Which, with chill confidence, they did.


But by the early '80s, it was a different scene. The rosy flush of South Australia’s Don Dunstan premiership was gone: Adelaide was not about to get any more feature stories in The New Yorker; pink shorts were out in parliament, and the gay dude who had been Australia’s most nationally-coveted leader was sulking in self-imposed exile. Suddenly the City of Light, the Athens of the South, seemed to be governed by straw-sucking cockies with beards. It was shockingly, depressingly dullsville.

To add insult, Victoria went and elected its shiny new glamourpuss Labor government of John Cain. Like Our Don, Cain, too, sported the odd safari suit, and the determination of his mob to bring on big time economic change equalled the drive South Australia’s winemakers had shown when they kicked the Vics all those years before. To really add insult, he appointed Don Dunstan to the driver’s seat of Victorian tourism, with a special brief to revive its wine business.

This seemed eerily to coincide with the South Australian government's disastrous Vine Pull Scheme, when taxpayers' money was spent paying fourth and fifth generation grapegrowers to uproot priceless old vineyards and get out of the wine business.

So Victoria wasn't merely beeing cheeky. It was throwing down the glove. Battle was declared, but there were no rules of engagement.

The third member of its new muscateers was deputy premier Robert Fordham (right), who was fondly regarded as “The Member for Wine”. As a punk wine editor and great fan of the revolutionary genius of Dunstan, I just had to nail a good long interview with the mercurial Fordham. For reasons that had a lot more to do with smoke than mirrors, this opportunity eventually arose in Brisbane.

Fordham, who was little known there, and not recognised, had a PR flak I called Hacca - he looked very much like celebrated corporate raider Robert Holmes a’Court, with that tall, elegant bearing. The three of us plunged through a restaurant and sufficient bars to break Queensland’s vicious laws of congregation with a midnight rendition of The Red Flag, warbled in the sweet harmony of the drunk outside Brisbane Town Hall. In Bjelke-Petersen’s day, this was an act of illegal demonstration if not plain revolutionary uprising.

We laughed about being arrested. Which we weren’t. But we must have looked suffiently besuited for most people to think Fordham and I were security men for Hacca. Rather than attempt to convince the citizens of Queensland that the shorter member of our team was really the deputy premier of Victoria, we found it easier to let people think they were suddenly in the company of Holmes a’Court, Australia’s most stylish billionaire.


They would have locked us up if we’d insisted that Bob fordham was the deputy premier of Victoria.

This unplanned masquerade gave us perfect cover to drink and discuss wine. Intensely.

Eventually, I crawled to bed up the top end of what was then the poshest hotel in Brisbane. But hardly had the thick head hit the pillow than the bedside phone buzzed and an anxious voice said

“Mr White, are you awake?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’m answering the phone.”

“Are you alone?” she asked. “This is reception. We have an emergency.”

She warned me the floor would be wet when I dropped my feet over the side, that we were on emergency lighting, and that I should pop on my dressing gown, leave the room immediately, and wait with the other tenth floor guests in the lift foyer. Under no conditions were any of us to open the door to the fire escape or call the lift.

By the time we had gathered there in the gloom, we were up to our ankles in water. I’d lost my two compadres: they were further up the building. We could hear a mighty torrent rushing down the fire escape stairs, and when we snuck the forbidden door open a crack to see, it was almost impossible to force the door shut again.

Things looked very grim.

“If we’re this high above the river,” someone said, “and we’re under water, this is a bloody big flood. It must be a hundred foot deep!”

We stood there, fuddled, boozy strangers looking awkward and helpless in the dim, waiting for our submerged building to fill up with floodwater, when an official arrived with a torch and explained a swimming-pool sized water reservoir on the roof had led go, and that we simply had to wait til it decanted itself into the downstairs bar and car park, which it did over the next hour or so.

In fair dinkum Queenslander style, they soon had us in safe, dry rooms, and had dried the top floors out by next evening. The downstairs bar had stuff floating around in waist-deep water, and the whole joint smelled like a bad cork for weeks, I was told, long after Robert Holmes a’Court and his minders left town.

But I left that meeting with no doubt that Fordham and his gang would revolutionise Victorian winemaking. They were fizzin! Within years our tiny rival state had more cellar outlets than we did: an entire new crop of boutique, top shelf vineyards and cellars were spread across cool Victoria, an array whose depth, quality and colour trounced complacent South Australia.

The punchdrunk reeling of today’s wine industry demands the sort of determined revolution of those Cain-Fordham-Dunstan days. With the mighty flood easing the drought and beginning to rinse our river and the Mallee on a scale that will shock, atop the collapse of huge wineries like Constellation Australia, and the scary viticulture implications of global warming, it’s time we had a Minister for Wine.

Is there anybody smart enough?

While Fordham got the wine job done, he eventually quit the deputy premiership in 1988 as the Cain government wallowed in a series of crises mainly caused by dumb business decisions: the same old same old bugger-ups we see cyclically in leftish governments whose frontliners suffer a pugnacious pathological obsession with proving that they are as good at business as the businessmen they are expected to merely govern.

“Politics is the art of the possible,” such a polly sagely advised me over his Riedel of Bordeaux last year. I have since become convinced that successful politics is really the good management of change, and the intensifying struggle for the retention of power eventually leads all politicians to avoid changing themselves. They should resign earlier.

Eventually even premier Cain resigned after taunting his party with a "back me or sack me" ultimatum. “We appointed a few dills but we weren't crook,” he said as he quit, leaving the finances of his state in tatters.


Dunstan, indeed, had quit the Victorian Tourism Commission two years earlier, after a hissy spat over a photograph was published of him with Monsignor Porcamadonna, a leader of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, a gay activism group.

Stefano di Pieri, Cain’s advisor, fled to Mildura, where he married a publican’s beautiful daughter and set about floating his gondola on the Murray, and poor old Hacca? I reckon we lost him in the Great Brisbane Flood of 1983.

The reinvigorated Victorian wine business still stands, however, proud, brave and generally delicious. As a committed Murray mudplugger, maybe Stefano is the man to sort the Australian wine business. He wouldn’t let history repeat itself, would he?


17 January 2011



From Australiana To Greywacke
Via Ch. Reynella And Cloudy Bay

Juddy Drags Kiwis Back On Track

Sittin' at home last Sunday mornin' with me mate Boomerang. Said he was havin' a few people around for a Barbie. Said he might Kookaburra or two.
I said, "Sounds great, will Wallaby there?" “He said "Yeah and Vegemite’ll come too". So I said to the wife "Do you wanna Goanna?" She said "I'll go if Dingos". So I said "Wattle we do about Nulla?" He said "Nullabors me to tears, leave him at home." We got to the party about two and walked straight out the kitchen to put some booze in the fridge. And you wouldn't believe it, there's Boomer's wife Warra sittin there tryin to Platypus! Now, I don't like to speak Illawarra, but I was shocked, I mean how much can a Koala bare. So I grabbed a beer, flashed me Wangarratta and went out and joined the party.


So began Australiana, a piece of Ocker rapperel written by Billy Birmingham and performed by Sandy Gutman’s alter ego, Austen Tayshus. It contained a racist slur against an "Indian" girl. We didn't seem to notice.

Warner Brothers released this performance as a single in June 1983. It promptly sold over two hundred thousand copies, and remains Australia’s biggest-selling single. It even sold like mint sauce to our eternal rival, New Zealand.

Australians reckon New Zealanders wear mint sauce for after-shave.

All of which is a fitting start to a circuitous tale of these wild and wooly antipodes, and the wondrous things we offer the world.


In 1984, when Gutman was very hot property, I asked him if his Tayshus character would pose for a cover shot for Wine And Spirit Buying Guide. I’d just become managing editor of this glossy monthly journal, and wanted to make a serious splash. It would be the November issue, the Champagne and Aussie sparks special in the lead-up to Christmas. In return for me offering Tayshus this great free publicity, I would shout Gutman and his girlfriend lunch at Berowra Waters Inn.

I wanted to give the infant premium Australian sparkling business a shove by making a most Australian cover, rather than the usual simpering rollover to the Champenoise. We needed a friggin’ huge Australian flag. Susie Curtis, my off-sider at Wine And Spirit, happened to be the daughter of General Jack Kelly, head of the Australian Army, who lived in the beautiful Victoria Barracks in Paddington.

So. Through the big gates and all the machineguns and marching men we drove, us young punks, into that incredible 1840s historic mansion, where adjutants in full dress uniform, with all the braid and baubles, marched in their mighty boots about the polished floorboards, delivering hearty wallops of malt whisky and chips. The grand Jack laid back in his trackies and socks, with the casual air afforded only those with obscene power, chinking ice against his glass.

“Yep,” he assured us, “I can get you a flag. Shouldn’t be a problem. You want a really big one, do you?”

My secretary, Shazza, rounded up a forklift from somewhere. So we wrapped Austen (left) in the biggest Australian flag in the country, stood him on a pallet, and hoist him there beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House in the background, in a gentle Ocker piss-take of France’s gift to the USA: the Statue Of Liberty. In his trade-mark cowboy hat and wrap-arounds, Austen held aloft an open bottle of Aussie sparks bearing the Advance Australia logo; we published, and sold out.

Whitey had hit Sydney. The next job was to sack Len Evans, but that’s another story.

My heart fell when our car arrived at Gutman’s apartment in Bellevue Hill. The comedian emerged from the lift in character: rather than the surly, super-bright Gutman, I would be taking the outrageous Tayshus to Australia’s greatest, most dramatic, delicious restaurant.

The other guests included David Hohnen (right), the surfing hero of Margaret River winemaking, whose ’82 Cape Mentelle Cabernet had just won the Jimmy Watson trophy. He didn’t then know that the ’83 he had sitting in wood was set to win the next year’s award, too, but let it be said there was a fair frisson of young masculine confidence about that table.

Hohnen’s Sydney PR flak, Jane Adams, was there, and the Anakie winemaker Stephen Hickinbotham, with his new partner, Jenny Regan. Apart from Ray Beckwith, who's about to hit a hundred, Stephen was the only Australian winemaker I’ve known who pushes the word “genius’ to the tip of the tongue.

We were dropped at the Berowra boatshed, and caught the restaurant’s humble de Havilland river truck which slid us up the Hawkesbury to the Inn, which has no road access. The restaurant was fully booked, and the service, as always, impeccable, although for some reason sommelier Michael McMahon was shirty about the wines we ordered.

I mean we wouldn’t know what we wanted to drink, would we.

Austen, who never drank alcohol, came out of the toilet with the sniffles, and complained about the menu. Apart from his perfect steak not being sufficiently overcooked for his liking, its presentation annoyed him.

“See! See!” he hollered. “I toldja everything’d be covered in bone marrow!”

It was akin to asking Sir Anthony Hopkins to lunch, and finding Hannibal Lecter at the table, wearing wrap-arounds and a tattered cowboy hat. Not many people wore cowboy hats to Berowra in those days. Proprietor Gay Bilson was not amused. We winced at the attention we attracted, but noshed on.

“So what are you up to Hickie?” Hohnen asked Hickinbotham ... “You’re always ahead of everybody? What’s happening next?”

I knew Stephen (left) had been talking to the Indian government about assisting with the establishment of vineyards there, but he didn’t mention that. Instead, he said he’d found a place in New Zealand which would make great Sauvignon blanc. While he had Indian ambitions, simultæneously dreaming of building a new wine region on Mornington Peninsula, he also envisioned a wild new combination of variety and terroir: the top of the South Island of New Zealand, he said, contained a great valley at Marlborough, whose loose young alluvium and cool climate seemed perfectly suited to Sauvignon blanc.

Hohnen’s ears went up. He said Kevin Judd was working there somewhere, and that he’d give him a call. Which he later did. Judd found some Sauvignon blanc, which he made into wine after hours at Selaks.

Later that year, Juddy, probably the quietest man in the wine business other than Smoky Dawson, walked into my office grinning like a giant clam and said he was into this new thing with David Hohnen of Cape Mentelle. But New Zealand? Yep. A place called Marlborough.

“We’re gonna plant Sauvignon blanc”, he gurgled through his smoke. “Best place for it.”

Kevin Judd does not waste words. Because of this, and the fact that his mates will talk about him all night because they admire him, you won't get much of Kevin Judd talking about himself in a story about him.

The author then (right) liked two Australian Sauvignons blanc: one yellow softy made at Angle Vale by Rocky O’Callaghan in the late seventies; the other was Hardy’s tawny fortified made from Bob Hardy’s ancient vines at upper Tintara.

Wolf Blass had also been buggering about with some, blended with Riesling and aged in mostly American oak(!).

Then came the radical Vales blitzkriegs Iain Riggs made in ’81 and ’82, at Hazelmere Estate (now Serafino Maglieri’s). Riggs used fruit from the Edge Dennis vineyard that d’Arenberg bought about a year ago. He picked it into milk crates so the grapes wouldn’t squash and oxidise, chilled it, then gave it the Oenotech treatment devised by Dr. Tony Jordan and Brian Croser, using their distinctive R2 yeast.

The wine was a blast: crisp, grassy and fresh as a lemon, with all those alarming estery R2 whiffs of banana and passionfruit. It caused a feverish stir upon release, but fell stale rather quickly in the bottle. Was it the yeast?


R2 had been isolated in Sauvignon blanc territory, by Croser, at Chateau Rahoul near Sauternes in Bordeaux, where Len Evans was spending Peter Fox’s money. But the financially-challenged Fox solved his Adelaide Holdings problems by driving his Ferrari flat out into a concrete wall, and Peter Vinding-Diers bought Rahoul, to make exquisitely fine, almost brittle Sauvignon blanc. The new Savvy-B explosion ignited, and soon Rob and his cousin Michael Hill Smith had a great lunch at Yalumba, where they served Vinding-Diers’ inspiration: “Y”, the dry Savvy-B from the mighty home of sticky, Chateau d’Yquem, in Sauternes.

Sometimes d’Yquem picks its Sauvignon early in the vintage to make a dry wine, dare I suggest like Graves, rather than letting it botrytise with the Semillon and go into the mighty sticky for which that Chateau is revered. Sometimes, I suspect, the botrytis doesn’t look sufficiently promising to risk waiting for its unlikely development. There have been only 23 vintages of “Y” since the first in 1959.

So we guzzled our “Y” while the Hill Smiths quizzed us over the chance of dry Savvy-B becoming the next Chardonnay. Rob eventually went in the Viognier direction, and while I have a tape recording of Michael deriding Savvy-B that day, he went on to make it a stalwart at Shaw and Smith, which he set up with some of the money he got when cousin Robert bought him out of the old family company.

The Adelaide Hills makes too much watery stuff from Sauvignon, and yet gain lavish publicity from my wine writing colleagues. I have a few favourites, but I'm sure a lot of the the Hills could be planted to varieties more appropriate.

Since those brazen cocky days, after much tedious and ignorant speculation, Australia drowned itself in awful Chardonnay. But fueled by that excited Savvy-B buzz, Hohnen and Judd gave Kiwi Sauvignon blanc such a kick that it has since almost drowned the whole Earth.

There was much discussion in those days of the cat’s piss grassiness of the variety, which comes from its natural methoxypyrazines (3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine and 3-isopropyl-2-methoxypyrazine). These compounds are common to Cabernet sauvignon, soursob, rhubarb, tomato leaves, and grass. Hemp, and jute, or burlap, or hessian, is full of it, and sometimes austere Sauvignons smell rather like superphosphate sacks, which combine the remnant methoxypyrazine with the smell of guano, from whence the superphosphate comes, but which I reckon, in wine, comes from combinations of sulphur, soil, rocks and yeast.

Humans detect methoxypyrazine at around one part per trillion, which is like smelling one grape in the entire Australian crush. The grape manufactures it to deter predators, and only when the pip is ripe enough for germination does the vine suddenly cease its production and instead pumps sugar to attract said predators, which become incubators for those seeds.

Vignerons panic if they can’t get their Sauvignon off quick enough in heatwaves, as the plants quite abruptly cease manufacturing this compound. On a hot day, the value of a crop can plummet in hours. The winery wants the methoxypyrazine for its distinction, but suddenly it disappears, leaving the grower with a grapeyard full of sugar but devoid of character and smothered in birds. Something along the lines of flat Semillon mixed with worse Chardonnay.

The constant maritime cool of Marlborough makes this little drama a lot less likely.


“I knew Stephen Hickinbotham was sniffing around Marlborough - he knew Sauvignon had a future there”, Hohnen told me many years later. “He was first into everything. Kiwi Sauvignon had the eyebrow factor: nose in the glass and up goes the eyebrows. But it was all too sweet and too acidic.

“When I asked him whether there was Sauvignon blanc fruit available for purchase in Marlborough, Juddy said yes, and I said buy it and make it dry. People loved the wine.

“Juddy instinctively knew what to do. He’d worked four vintages with Merrill at Reynella, then went to Selacks in New Zealand. We found three or four growers with 120 tonnes. They didn’t know what to do with it. Juddy made it after work. I borrowed an enormous amount of money and we built Cloudy Bay in ’86, and off it went.”

Austen Tayshus was consumed by the endless stand-up rock comic circuit after that lunch, and still tours hard. Stephen Hickinbotham was killed in a plane crash not long after, with his beloved Jenny, and five other mates. Hohnen’s businesses in the West and Marlborough flourished, and Juddie went on to lead Marlborough into its phenomenal Sauvignon blanc tsunami.

To the end of April 2010, Australia bought 21.3 million litres of Sauvignon blanc, from anywhere, in take-aways. In the financial year to June, we imported 40 million litres of white from New Zealand. Most of that, nearly all, would be Sauvignon blanc. The nineteen million litres unaccounted for must have been sold in restaurants.

Now, of course, the inevitable has occurred. The quality and price of Marlborough Sauvignon has plummeted as international oversupply inexorably butchers the business. The winemakers are gradually realizing that they’ve done their brand great damage with too much crook wine, grown and made cheaply for the sickening bottom of the discount market, where no profit lies.

A year ago, Dr. John Forrest, of the winery bearing his name, said Marlborough's wine image could be forever tarnished if the export market was flooded with cheap Sauvignon blanc.

“Marlborough's vintage size increased by 61 percent from last year to a record 194,639 tonnes this year which has caused talk of excess wine and oversupply within the industry”, he told The Express.

He said most wineries had taken in more fruit than they needed, of which he estimated about 20 per cent was “of compromised quality ... this compromised wine should not be blended with good wine,” he said.

"If you believe that by flogging cheap 2008 when the 2009 is available and waiting will not compromise the long term viability and profitability of the New Zealand wine industry then I think you are kidding yourself.

"How do we save the Marlborough and New Zealand wine industry from slipping down to produce bulk white wine like you can buy for around £3 to £5 in the UK from Chile? I feel like we are standing on the edge of a cliff and once we go down I don't see how we can come out of it."

He suggested the winemakers should begin tipping their plonk down the drain. They refrained.


After much typically silent rumination, whilst enduring life there under Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, who finished buying the Hohnen empire in 2003, Juddy “suddenly” quit Cloudy Bay last year, to make a little wine for himself, and get on with his mistress, photography. Hohnen’s back in Margaret River, watching his grandchildren surf while together they build a new premium family wine business.

Judd called the new business Greywacke, after the layered grey sand and mudstones that form most of the highest mountain ranges of New Zealand, and therefore contribute greatly to its soils. Securing the name had been a coup: the equivalent of somebody using Ayers Rock or Terra Rossa as a trade mark in Australia, where Brian Croser is likely to be the only winemaker who uses the name of a geological group for his brand, Tapanappa. While Croser’s major vineyard at Wrattonbully, Naracoorte, has geology as far removed as one could get from the distinctive Tapanappa group, at least Judd’s new business and fruit sources are in Greywacke up to their chins.

It turns out he’d had his own Greywacke Vineyard since the first Cloudy Bay vintages, and in a visionary flash, registered its name for a trial wine from those vines in the early nineties.

I was rude enough to visit Cloudy Bay in Judd’s absence a decade back, and enjoyed tasting various tanks and bottlings of the famous Cloudy Bay Sauvignon. But mischievously I suggested the wine would be much more interesting and complex if some better respect was paid the traditional wooded versions of the grape’s home in the Loire Valley.

I reckoned this would have been in Hickinbotham’s mind.

“You know,” I said. “Some wild yeast, older oak, lees stirring … build some texture into it.”

There was a muffled meeting of winemakers in the corner, after which I was asked to promise not to say anything about an experimental wine if they showed it. The boss was not to know. Tight along the line of the style that had danced in my imagination, that bold thing, or its offspring, eventually became Te Koko, the expensive top-shelf Cloudy Bay.

Tim Atkin’s new blog reminds that the first of these experiments, years earlier, was released as a Greywacke Vineyard wine, from the block of that name. It wore the 'standard Cloudy Bay Sauvignon 1992 label, without the word Blanc but with Greywacke Vineyard in small type on the front.

"Seeing the label - it was seeing it on the label that made me think I should register it," Juddy just now said. From Dublin. From Tim to Dublin. The Sins Of The Wicked.


Since the Judds called by for a schluck before Christmas, away back near the beginning of the current tour, I have tasted both the current Cloudy Bay Te Koko (2007), and the forthcoming Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc 09, and I must suggest that whilst the former seems to have strayed a long way from its ancestor’s track, and seemed broad, blowsy, and too much like hard-worked Semillon/Chardonnay, Judd’s new wild child (due for release any minute), is a feisty, lively, gunpowder, ricotta and gooseberry delight, tighter and yes, wilder.

His standard 2010 Sauvignon, meanwhile, stands as a staunch reminder of what entry-level Marlborough Sauvignon blanc was supposed to be like: complex, yet retaining the freshness and zest expected of the best of this unique variety matched to unique geology. And it shows how quickly the copyists forget what they’re copying. There are few this beautiful. Bitter melon, honeydew, strawberry pith and gooseberry zing round with the methoxypyrazines, snowpeas and lime juice in the fruit division; the stony alluvium of the valley floor gives an acrid reek somewhere between chalk and guano. While it’s neatly, naturally acidulous, it has gentle, comforting unction.

Judd has also released a Riesling, after the style the Barossa called spatlese until Germany had our law changed. It meant just slightly sweet, rather than late-picked. While Australia seems unlikely to regard this forgotten style with the same delirium it showed the early Cloudy Bay Sauvignons, the wine is better than the gradually-swelling pool of “off-dry” Rieslings various Australians have recently attempted.

I really enjoyed the Greywacke 09 Pinot Gris. Although it’s a touch on the alcoholic side, it’s also more accomplished and confident than many Australian versions of this grape, the Mornington Peninsula wines of Sandro Mosel and Kath Quealy aside. Judd has played a little here with wild yeast and old oak, but not to the extent shown in the Wild Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe he’ll go further.


The 09 Greywacke Chardonnay is another big mutha, miraculously balanced with natural acidity - a much better Chardonnay than the 07 Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon blanc, as one would expect. Its oak, its cream-and-honey have much more immediacy and life, which makes me suspect the Te Koko would have been much better sold and drunk a year or two earlier, before it lost its Savvy.

Maybe Juddy learned his lesson there.

Despite his teetotalling, Austen Tayshus didn’t ever seem to learn his. In his search for that unique Sauvignon blanc grassiness, sans alcohol, he’d already played his prophetic hand before we had that lunch at Berowra, finishing Australiana thus:

Barry pulls a joint out of his pocket. Bill says "Great, Barry, a reefer. What is it mate?" "Noosa Heads of course. Me mate Adda laid 'em on me." And it was a great joint too, blew Mountains away and his three sisters. Well I thought I'd roll one meself, I said "Chuck us the Tally Ho Bart". He said "They're out on the Lawn, Ceston, can you get em for us?" Burnie says "It's okay mate, she's apples, I'll get em for ya" Just then Alice springs into action, starts to pack Bill a bong. And you wouldn't believe it, the bong’s broken. I said "Lord, How?" "Hay-man" somebody said "Will a Didgeridoo?" I said "Hummmmm mummmm mummmmm mummmmm maybe it'll have ta." I look in the corner and there's Bass sittin there, not getting into it, not getting out of it, I said "What, is Bass straight or somethin?" Boomer said "As a matter a fact mate, he's a cop" I said "Ya jokin mate, a cop, I'm getting outta here, let's go Anna." She said "No way, I'm hangin round till Gum leaves. Besides, I don't wanna leave Jack around a party on his own. Have you seen him? I think he's trying to crack on to Woomba, he's already tried to mount Isa. And he'll definitely try to lead you astray Liana!"

Apples, fresh sea air, hemp, lawn, the leading of a nation, astray … the gastronomic inferences here seem to have been the source of the back labels of too many Kiwi Savvys-B. Maybe it had something to do with that masterly PR propagandist sitting, listening, at that lunch. Jane now looks after Greywacke.

Juddy, meanwhile, is leading nobody astray. After months on the marketing promo trail, he’s peeved that he hasn’t had much chance to work at his photography. But it looks like he’ll sell out of his first release of Greywacke wine before vintage 2011 starts, so there might be a slender chance there for him get a little emulsional with his old Bronica roll film camera.