“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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25 April 2011

WHITE WINE: SUCK ON THIS YOU BASTARDS

Search For Great White Hope:
Australia's Floundering Future

Desert Chardie & Kiwi Savvy-B?

by PHILIP WHITE

At the beginning of the 1980s, there was a rush of blood to somebody’s head. It was a question, more than an idea. It went around the wine industry like mildew: “What will the new Chardonnay be?”

Funny thing was, Chardonnay was only just beginning to be planted in Australia. This was rather strange, given this country’s blind addiction to copying the great wines of France, and the fact that the greatest white wine of Burgundy had been Chardonnay for centuries.
Former Mt. Isa Mines storeman, Len Evans, OBE, flushed, no doubt, with magnificent Burgundian Chardonnays he’d pillaged from the astonishing cellar of his mentor, the surgeon Ray Healey, was running around the country saying that Chardonnay would be “the vanilla of the Australian wine industry”.

This would surely have drawn a derisory guffaw from any Burgundian, who would have known
the most common white grape of Burgundy, the humble, but rarely discussed Aligoté, was the true vanilla of that region. Chardonnay was a very rare, and incredibly expensive nectar for gods. It grew there where it snows each year, and surely could never thrive properly in the Australian desert, non?

LEONARD P. EVANS OBE: VANILLA ESSENCE DRESSED AS DESERT CHARDONNAY, PREACHING FROM A FAKE VINEYARD AT A BIG WINE THIING SOMEWHERE.

But Australian winemakers were cockily assured that the Evans-driven commercial Chardonnay rush would be huge and ongoing now that they’d suddenly discovered the variety. They knew that Evans, as the dictator of the Australian wine show system, and Chairman of and shareholder in Petaluma, the ascendant cool-climate Chardonnay church of Brian Croser, would ensure that favoured converts would be duly rewarded with bulk showhall bling. But they had no real idea of how to make it: very few of them had even bothered to visit France, and Croser’s knowledge of the grape had come largely from California.

Nevertheless, the biggest companies of the day - we derisively called them the PLO: Penfolds, Lindemans, and Orlando - were delighted that Evans appeared to have solved a huge problem for them. They hated that pesky bushfly, Wolf Blass, whose cabinet was full of show gold, whose Yellow Label Riesling hovered around the number one slot as far as national bottled wine sales went, and who prominently preached that Chardonnay would never work here, as he never grew any and had the peasant Riesling growers sewn up. Evans depended on the big guys' support for him to retain control of the wine shows, which were his toys, in a way. I have already called him a dictator, so I must now qualify: like Qaddafi, he needed big allied support to maintain his fiefdom. Chardonnay could be theirs, whatever it tasted like. Just trust Evans.

Chardonnay was hardly a new idea. In the dawning of the South Australian colony, 140 years earlier, Sir Samuel Davenport (right) scribbled in his ampelography (grape variety encyclopedia), that Chardonnay would be THE white grape for the colony. This mighty volume of hand-coloured etchings resides somewhere in the State Library of South Australia; I have held it and stroked it. I seem to recall it was a gift to him from a French professor of viticulture. We think Big Sam planted some Chardonnay at freezing Norton Summit, and maybe at his first vineyard at chilly Macclesfield, but will never really know. He certainly had no ambitions to grow it in the desert.

David Wynn claimed his cuttings for his bold high country vineyard at Mountadam were not stolen from Murray Tyrrell’s little Chardonnay vineyard in the Hunter, as ran the court titter, but were propagated from a single vine found near Norton Summit at Marble Hill, the 19th century summer residence of South Australia’s governors. As the vine, and the ruins of the mansion were cindered in the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983, we’ll never really know.

MARBLE HILL IN 1900 ... THE OLD RUINS ARE FINALLY BEING RESTORED TO THIS ORIGINAL SPLENDOUR, BUT WE'LL NEVER KNOW WHETHER OR NOT DAVID WYNN FOUND A CHARDONNAY VINE HERE TO PROPAGATE THE 'NEW' VARIETY FOR HIS MOUNTADAM VINEYARD ON THE HIGH EDEN RIDGE.

Mountadam became Australia’s first seriously-planned big Chardonnay vineyard, as Wynn commenced work there in 1969, and planted it through the ’seventies as he acquired the land - I think he eventually bought great slabs of five separate farms to get the ridge he wanted. Evans and Croser followed at Piccadilly; and, bankrolled by New Guinea coffee king Bob “Wild Oats” Oatley, Philip Shaw plunged in with the Rosemount Roxburgh Chardonnay vineyard in the sub-tropical Hunter. As a butcher’s son who made wine as a kid, Shaw had been a student at Scotch College under the head prefectship of the ersatz silvertail Croser who then had no idea that he’d soon be foregoing his blazered grazier ambitions to become a winemaker. There was no love
lost there.

Neither was there love lost between the Evans/Croser axis and the Wynns, David and his son Adam, who was just back from duxing the Bordeaux University winemaking course, and kicking huge Chardonnay arse in the true Burgundian style. Knowing how the show system worked, and precisely who worked it, the Wynns would never enter their Chardonnay in the competition; and as there was an even bigger chance that his wine would not be recognized, neither was Croser silly enough to enter. There was far too much at stake.


But Shaw would have a go at anything. His obese lumberjacked butter-and-peach Roxburghs were easily recognised blind by the judges, who were happy to deck them with gongs on the
grounds that at least they came from Evans's beloved Hunter Valley, and repeated awards made the judges look consistent. Roxburgh Chardonnays soon became the darlings of the Sydney Harbor boulevardiers, fizzhags and even The Neville Wrans for a decade, or at least until they all switched to Cloudy Bay, and thence to Kiwi SavvyBs. Any Kiwi SavvyBs. The extreme opposite of Philip Shaw's Rosemount Roxburgh Chardonnay.

Anyway, feverish with expectation that they’d discovered a grape that would become a sort of blanched equivalent of the omnipresent Shiraz as far as piss-easy farming, shelf space, and the ongoing occupation thereof was concerned, rebellious Ocker plonkies were soon wondering about the next thing after that.


Sauvignon blanc very quickly became the buzzword. With their cunning influence over Iain Riggs (left), the young winemaker at Hazelmere Estate in McLaren Vale, Croser and his partner, Dr. Tony Jordan, were instrumental in trialing the first “grassy” Sauvignons blanc which were much talked about, despite the Vales being exactly the wrong place to grow it. Robert O’Callaghan, aided by his backer-to-be in Rockford, Woodstock's Doug Collett, had made some in the late ’seventies at Angle Vale, but these were quaint, rustic, quick-to-age-and-soften golden wines from hot area fruit, and bore little resemblance to any other Sauvignon blanc known.

It wasn’t until David Hohnen and Kevin Judd, on the advice of Stephen Hickinbotham, began the Marlborough, New Zealand, SavvyB explosion
that Australia began scrambling around for something to replace the grape that replaced Chardonnay. By then, the Hohnen-Judd Cloudy Bay enterprise was already showing pretty much once and for all that there was little chance of Australia ever matching the Marlborough region’s quality. Or quantity, for that matter. Marlborough grew SavvyB as easily as Australia grew Chardonnay and Shiraz: like weeds.

The most recent attempt at creating a new fashion was the utterly scandalous Alboriño episode.
Somebody, somewhere decided this unknown Portuguese white would be the next rocket to catch, so suddenly scrillions of cuttings were propagated at the government’s CSIRO vine nursery, distributed, and planted. Fascinated, as a fan of scarce wines like the Burgáns Rias Baixas Albariño 2006 imported by Coles, and the grander Paso Señorans Rias Baixas Albariño 2007, I tasted the first local releases keenly. I felt obliged to suggest that they seemed much more oily, greasy and coarse than the elegant versions I’d liked, and put the difference down to Australian ignorance of how the Iberians grew and made the wine. It had taken twenty years for them to learn how to make Chardonnay, after all.

What followed was one of the most telling examples of how bereft of intellectual, gastronomic and moral exactitude the wine racket can be: when the antipodean Alboriño turned out to be
Traminer, the coarse sherry grape of Jura, they adopted another of its monikers, calling it Savignin in the vague hope that there’d be some rub-off from the phenomenal success of Marlborough’s Sauvignon blanc, and carried on as if nothing had happened. So nothing else happened, and Australian Savignin is already being hidden unnamed in other wines, just as occurs with the previous tragedy, Viognier. Which is being hidden in Shiraz, and never mentioned.

DAMIEN TSCHARKE, BAROSSA WINEMAKER, BECAME AN EARLY ALBORIÑO EVANGELIST, AND PLANTED IT BIG TIME, ONLY TO THEN DISCOVER IT WAS IN FACT TRAMINER, THE JURA SHERRY VARIETY, WHICH IS NOW MARKETED AS SAVIGNIN, AND GOING NOWHERE FAST. LIKE ALL THE OTHER RUBES CONNED IN THE DECEPTION, HE NEVER SEEMED TO REALISE HE WAS MAKING SOMETHING THAT WASN'T WHAT HE INTENDED.

The weekly Key Report is essential reading for winebiz aficionados: it’s the best wine industry newsletter in Australia, and a reliable antidote to ramblings like mine. It is written with admirable acuity by Tony Keys, of Bangalow, NSW, and is distributed only by e-mail.
Last week’s edition rekindled the question earlier put to Keys by Leanne de Bortoli: what will be the next big thing?

The wine industry’s response to this very important question is breath-taking in its fey sparsity. ‘Is it possible to predict the next big thing?” Keys (left) enquires. “Recent history would seem to steer us towards the negative; at some point in the 90s the world appeared to have an insatiable thirst for Australian Chardonnay. As more was sold, more was planted and part of the crop was stretched with other varieties. Anything and Chardonnay would sell in the UK because the consumer focused in on the word Chardonnay and not whatever was the major variety. How ironic was it then when decent single variety Chardonnay was coming to the fore and excess oak had, in the main, been tamed? New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc started moving up the popularity ladder and the zealous pattern of over-planting resulted in oversupply and falling prices.’

Malbec, like Argentina; Chenin blanc like South Africa; Sauvignon blanc on steroids; Chablis-like
Chardonnay; cool climate Chardonnay; Clare Valley Riesling; Canberra Riesling; Pinot gris; Vermentino; Arneis; Semillon; Semillon-Sauvignon blanc blends, and even Merlot were the suggestions. Jesus.

BLENDS OF SEMILLON AND SAUVIGNON BLANC ARE AMONGST THE INDUSTRY'S TIPS FOR THE NEXT BIG THING,WITH A LITTLE RESIDUALSUGAR. BUT DRINKSTER DOUBTS THEY'LL BE MAKING TOO MANY WINES LIKE THIS THINKING MAN'S STUBBY, ENJOYED WITH SOME BIO-D GREEN IN THE DARK iIN THE MIDDLE OF SOME OLD BAROSSA GRENACHE BUSH VINES.
photo LEO DAVIS






Richard Gawel, the Wine Research Institute’s glamour sniffnerd, suggested Grüner veltliner, not mentioning that Hahndorf and Prospect Hill are probably the only places ideally suited to it, climatically, in South Australia at least.

If you can't sell Riesling, forget Gr
üner, I say. Your site will be wrong.

Brian Miller, formerly PR/marketing flack at Mitchelton, Seppelts, Richard Hamilton and Andrew Garrett, very wisely mentioned quality, and was the only contributor to do so, which
may explain why he’s now in the jewelry business.

‘Just make better Chardonnay’
Miller said … ‘At a CSIRO conference years ago I was asked, "Is it hard to sell wines made from new grape varieties?" I replied it's hard to sell wines made from old grape varieties. Semillon, Riesling, Cabernet etc.’.”

And then came a telling and astute essay from a retailer using the name Jason.

‘I think you can best predict the next big thing in whites by looking at what it won’t be,’ he wrote. 'The fact that many customers still believe Riesling is automatically sweet rules it out as being the NBT. This has been the perception for decades, and if it hasn’t changed by now, I
seriously doubt it ever will.’

He went on to weave his scholarly way similarly through Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot gris, Chenin blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sauvignon blanc, Sauvignon blanc mixed with Semillon, Alboriño and Colombard, deftly explaining what is least likely to happen.

Jason concluded thus: ‘I don’t think there will be a next big thing in wine. What we’ll see in the wine industry is the same thing we’re seeing in the music industry and many others, which is continuing fragmentation into niches. The main stream will still catch on to what the "cool kids" are doing several years after the fact, and a year or two after that certain elements of the industry will finally catch on and graft or plant (or force growers to) in time to contribute to an oversupply. The producers who will do best at avoiding cyclical factors will be the super-premium producers of boutique wines, and those who like to adventure on a budget will find an ever-growing number of cheap imports to play with. We’ll still see variation in sectors and varietals, but I doubt it will be anything as dramatic as the Marlborough SB factor, at least not within the next decade. Beyond that? Well, that’s the Next, Next Big Thing.’

So there you go. Only one person, Miller, spoke simply of better quality, and Jason was the only person to mention blends.

Personally, I'm confident flavour will have very little to do with it, outside a very vague parameter. Australian winemakers have always exaggerated the amount of flavours their gastronomic intelligence is capable of conjuring, let alone their capacity to identify the required varieties and their ability to grow them and make them with any sensitivity: most of their wines taste dreadfully similar, regardless of variety. To be a really big thing, the grape will have to grow well nearly everywhere, which points to Sultana, until recently Australia’s single biggest
wine grape.

And then nobody mentioned the sound, and look of the name we’ll need to replace the very cool words Chardonnay – easy to pronounce; sounds posh – and Sauvignon blanc – a little more angular, but similar. Semillon will never sell particularly well, simply because people aren’t comfortable pronouncing the word, which is partly why Hunter winemakers passed it off as Riesling until the Europeans forced us to outlaw the practice in order to sell wine to them. And anyway, since the PLO and Evans blasted Blass's Riesling off the top of the charts, that old Hunter deception would never work now.

Given its ratty presumption that grapes like Chardonnay will perform well in the Australian desert, I don’t believe the wine industry can be depended upon to discover the Next Big Thing
through gastronomic imagination, oenological science or viticulture.

Linguistics and typographics are what we have left, and these too are rarely considered, and never even vaguely understood by winemaking graduates. Remember what Tony Keys said: ‘Anything and Chardonnay would sell in the UK because the consumer focused in on the word Chardonnay and not whatever was the major variety.’

If I were, say, Len Evans OBE reincarnate, I’d be hiring a writer to devise a brilliant new word to stick on bladders and bottles of a blend which may never be revealed or stuck to but could be constantly grown and consistently manufactured in everything from refinery to wheelie bin. And I mean a writer capable of coming up with a name like Coca-Cola or The Beatles.

There’s nobody with such writing skill within the wine racket, and very few who could invent such a blend, regardless of the vast array of varieties available to them. These Roseworthy/Adelaide/Charles Sturt grads are NOT parfumiers. Just smell them. And read their writing? Holy shit.

All the words we’ve seen this business come up with lately show this. From the confoundingly verbose Chester Osborne's Scarce Earths (unpronounceable, geologically misleading and plain friggin stupid - what's he on?) to the entire industry's Apera (a pair a what?), they simply have not got it, and they probably never will.

d'ARENBERG'S CHESTER OSBORN, LEFT, DE FACTO PRESIDENT OF THE McLAREN VALE REGION, DRIVING AROUND AUSTRALIA PRETENDING TO BE GAY FOR CHARITY ... WHAT'S HE ON? SCARCE EARTH?





Peter Nixon, the National Fine Wine Manager for Dan Murphy’s, recently speculated in The Key Report that there might be a switch of category from wine to cider, which was prophetic. The clever lads at Lobo Cider in Lobethal have already sewn up Perry, the most common name for pear cider, but then, their cider is the best I’ve tasted in Australia, so I know they’re clever. And they make fine cider, not wine.

I can think of only one popular/cult winemaker in my neck of the woods who’s moving towards
cider: Justin McNamee of Samuel’s Gorge. Whether or not he’s doing it in response to Peter Nixon’s powerful self-fulfilling prophecy, he’s made one he calls Justin Cider. As a work of genius this remains equal to the late Wayne Thomas, who was offended when the powers that be refused him permission to call his beautiful fizzy red Black Slut. Thommo’s son, Andrew, has followed his dad with Kiss Shiraz.

As far as straight names go, Roxburgh wasn’t too bad, but that vineyard’s a coal mine now.

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17 April 2011

PATRITTI SWAPS PIEDMONTS: ITALY TO S.A.

GIOVANNI PATRITTI, LEFT: A VERY NEW AUSTRALIAN, SELLING ICE CREAM BY THE ADELAIDE BOTANIC GARDENS GATES IN THE LATE TWENTIES.

The Patrittis Throw A Top Party
Great New Tasting & Sales Suite
At Aussie's Oldest Italian Winery

by PHILIP WHITE


There was a special party in an ordinary little back street in Dover Gardens, Adelaide. The Patritti family had used some of the beautiful Jarrah hardwood from their old wine vats to make a stylish new sales and tasting suite at their suburban winery that hardly anybody knows about. Now it was complete they thought they’d have a bit of a knees-up with politicans and the mayor and their business colleagues, customers, and drinking mates.

A CELEBRATION AT THE SAME WINERY IN EARLIER YEARS: ITALIAN DANCE PARTY IN THE FIFTIES. CHECK THE DUDE IN THE SHADES AND PALE SUIT SECOND FROM RIGHT OGLING THE PRETTY GIRL'S DERRIEIRE ...

I stood outside the marquee to the side, brooding over a ravishing Patritti Barossa Saperavi 2009 ($14; 93+++ points), watching Ines Patritti take the microphone to welcome us. She was shy, and she was obviously moved, and her story was even more moving.

“My Father, Giovanni Patritti, arrived in Adelaide in 1925 at the age of 25 from Piedmont, Northern Italy,” Ines said with humble dignity. There were some sniffles, the big inhalation, recomposure, and a fresh start. You knew that what she was about to say would somehow explain how that mighty winery behind her grew there, and it was obvious she’d grown with it, and in it, that they were part of each other..

“We have no idea how he managed with no English and a community with few native countrymen. However, manage he did – initially doing odd jobs, even selling ice cream as you can see from the old photo taken in front of the gate at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

“He came to live in the Marion district around 1926. Making wine was second nature and through the production of wine for his own consumption came a business enterprise. As more Italians arrived in steady numbers, the demand for Italian style red also increased and the business began to flourish.”

Some big people in suits, and a lot of quite ordinary folk, stood in dead silence as they absorbed the weight of the Patritti story. Ines’s description of those long decades of sweat and toil emerged with its own patina in place. Her words had the same beige tint as the old family photos flickering on the screen.

Giovanni (right) leased some land to start with, and gradually purchased more, some of which was planted to old bush vines, as was much of the Adelaide Hills piedmont. There were vineyards from Skye right along the slope to Marion and hooking back north to Glenelg: very fine vineyards which were gradually devoured by mindless villa rash.

I have an etching from the la
te 1800s, made from somewhere around Skye, looking south across the Grange Hermitage and Romalo, down along that rich piedmont slope. Adelaide is a distant smoky village; the great swathe of vines fades gradually into the Gulf St Vincent, patron of vine growers, thirty kilometers away.

Some of the most recent vineyards to go, those last few hectares the Patrittis owned, were compulsorily acquired by the state government to build a school. The family decided to stay put with the winery, nevertheless, as modern transport made it very easy to truck grapes from over Flagstaff Hill around Morphett and McLaren Vales. Fully understanding that they were
part of the population growth essential for the colony’s growth, they thought a school was the best idea, if indeed population growth meant their beloved vines had to go.

THE PATRITTI BROTHERS PAUSING FOR A STOCKTAKE IN THE LATE SIXTIES

But you see a bristle of quiet rage when you ask where the school is.

“After a few years they knocked the school down, sent the kids further away, sub-divided the land, and built more houses,” Ines’s big winemaker son, James Mungall, said later, eerily
reflecting what the University of Adelaide plans to do with Glenthorne Farm, the 206ha research property it was granted for a dollar a decade ago, just over the ridge. How stupid we are to imagine that houses are more vital than productive gardens, education and research!

In the dark old vintage halls out the back, James, and his trusted buddy, winemaker Ben Heide, annually crushes around 1000 tonnes of grapes. With 500 tonnes crushed elsewhere, and brought in as must, they make fifty products, give or take a few.

GIOVANNI AND GEOFF PATRITTI WITH THE NEW VINTAGE FRUIT: NOTE THE HAND-MADE BRICKS IN THE WINERY WALLS: EVERYBODY CHIPPED IN TO MAKE THEM AFTER WORK AND ON WEEKENDS. WHEN THEY HAD SUFFICIENT, THEY'D BUILD A NEW WALL.

“The original buildings that had been constructed with corrugated iron - and seaweed for insulation - were slowly rebuilt with hand-made bricks that were manufactured on the winery premises,” Ines continued.

“Power was made available when Dad’s third son, Geoffrey was born in 1947 and this was when a 10 hp Blackstone motor drove the wooden Horwood & Bagshaw crusher.

“Dad met and married my mother, Giovanna Callegari, in Melbourne in 1938. Mum was a sister of one of his Melbourne-based customers. They went on to have three sons and a daughter (me), all of whom entered the family business.”


THE SECOND GENERATION OF AUSTRALIAN PATRITTIS: PETER, JOHN, GEOFF AND INES IN THE LONG-GONE DORADILLA VINEYARD AT DOVER GARDENS IN THE EARLY 70s

English Adelaide got a bit shy about its European immigrants during the wars. If you were German, or Italian, with the wrong attitude, or the wrong contacts back home, you were locked up for the duration of the war. But after the second war, influential people like winemakers Ian Hickinbotham (Kaiser Stuhl) and Colin Gramp (Orlando) made it fashionable, if not a little quaint, to be German in such a quaintly English settlement. People came to the Barossa to look at the Germans, listen to them, and try their food and wine.

There were, however, “New Australian” Italians quietly filling up backstreets and market gardens all that time, enduring the kind of loutish irrespect earlier settlers of this land habitually show the newest wave of immigrants, whatever their homeland. Life was tough for those we derided as Spags, Eye-ties, and Dagoes. It wasn’t cool to be wog in this town until those scarlet Ferraris screamed around the streets in the first Adelaide Formula One Grand Prix in 1986. After that it was compulsory.


Ines made no mention of any of this. She pressed on with the story of the family’s export success, explaining how their first cargo of barrels of red wine were sent by ship up the east coast of Australia to the Queensland cane fields in the ’forties. The tireless Italians who built a good deal of modern Australia need lots of good red wine.

Giovanni Amadio also knew this. He leased vineyards north along the Adelaide piedmont at East Marden, and sold his Amadio Dry Table Wine to the Australian government. This was served to Italian prisoners of war in the internment camps up the Murray - they were a happier lot with some good red wine at mealtimes. Surprise, surprise. And they were the enemy. We lock genuine refugees up in similar camps now. Imagine the outrage if their guards gave them a civilized glass of wine at the taxpayers’ expense!

Faithfully, but prematurely imagining that Australia was ready, in 1962 the Patrittis imported all the necessary machinery and built a state of the art pasta factory beside the winery. Patritti Pasta Gloria was rightfully adored by the few Australians in the know, but the rest of us knew proper spaghetti was squishy white worms in a tin of bad tomato sauce. The business struggled, faded, and ceased, just in time for the winery to require another shed. On things went. To commemorate that brave excursion into fine Italo-Australian cuisine, they now make an incredibly cheap Gloria range of premium wines, using the original pasta label.

GIOVANNI PATRITTI, PATRON OF JUVENTUS SOCCER CLUB, PRESENTS A TROPHY. JUVENTUS EVENTUALLY BECAME ADELAIDE CITY, THE CURRENT CLUB
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Ines went on describing the huge grape glut of the early ’seventies, when her brother Geoff had a brainwave.

“Geoff revels in new ideas and is a constant advocate for the development of new products,” she said. “After considerable thought, the development of the non-alcoholic juice production went ahead and he and my brother John produced the first batch of juice in 1974. After all – what did they have to lose? At worst it could always be turned into wine! What was produced and bottled during that 1974 vintage proved to be so popular it sold out very quickly. In the 1975 vintage, the quantity of juice produced was quadrupled and also sold out prior to the next vintage.”

Once again, Ines sidestepped a scary reality: 1974 was the wettest vintage in Australian history, when the destructive moulds were akin to the ruin of the second wettest, 2011. When nobody else could produce anything worth drinking, Patrittis made unfermented pasteurized juice at a profit. The secret lay in their modern technology: sanitary pressurized bottling and careful pasteurization, as had just been perfected by Ian Hickinbotham, Wolf Blass, and Colin Gramp.

“The juices went into green pressure Riesling bottles with screw caps,” Ines explained. “The range included a Sparkling Grenache, Sparkling Golden Muscatel and Sparkling Pedro. In following vintages, a Sparkling Shiraz grape juice was added. Bottling took place as soon as the juice was stabilized. As it is now, the juice is in-bottle pasteurized. In those days it meant that my brothers, Geoff and John, would spend long into the night making sure that pasteurisation took place correctly as it was done in batches using tanks with two or three batches at a time, whereas now bottling is continuous using a tunnel pasteurizer.

“The 20,000 units (1.5 containers) produced then must have seemed an enormous quantity,” she continued. “When John was telling me about these early times - still with the excitement of the achievement of producing 5,000 units and going on to quadruple it, I was thinking to myself – but that was only 1.5 containers; now only a morning’s work!”

PATRITTI MEN MAKING AN EXPORT DELIVERY IN THE EARLY DAYS

She talked about exporting juice to Canada, about getting Halal certification, which only upset the USA given its tetchiness about Islam, and about how the ’eighties Gulf War saw their sales to Saudi Arabia stop dead. But other sales picked up in the ’nineties, and Patritti opened other markets in Sweden, New Zealand, Malaysia, and India.

Ines recalled her phone ringing in the street in Glenelg. Somebody in Vietnam wanted seven containers of sparkling juice for the Chinese New Year. She ripped back to the winery, everybody dropped everything and they got those containers packed and delivered on deadline in six weeks. Last year they sold 37 containers of Patritti juices in Vietnam.

But not without a hiccup. Literally. Instead of copying Grange, some genius with “close links to the Vietnamese army” launched a counterfeit Patritti Non-alcoholic Sparkling Apple Juice there, but at 11% alcohol. Their agent was wisely tremulous at the thought of legal action, so they pumped some promo money into a big print campaign advising people of the difference and the danger. The true blue no-alc Patritti won the sympathy of the ’Nam punters, and they sold everything before the Chinese New Year. Back to packin’ ships from Dover Gardens.

The Patritti Chinese exercise is fascinating. They sold juices to China; then lower-end reds. And already they’re getting Chinese enthusiasts working from their bladder packs into the lower-priced bottles, and then up toward the top end, where my hypnotizing Saperavi smugly sits at $14.

GIOVANNI PATRITTI, FAMILY AND FRIENDS AT THE VISIT OF PRIMO 'THE AMBLING ALP" CARNERA. AT 197CM AND 129KG, CARNERA WAS THE HEAVIEST WORLD CHAMPION BOXER IN HISTORY. HE BEAT MOST OPPONENTS BY KNOCKOUT, AND ATTRACTED WHAT SEEMED TO BE THE ENTIRE ADELAIDE ITALIAN COMMUNITY TO PATRITTI. BACK IN NEW YORK HE KILLED ERNIE SHCAAF BY KO IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, AND WENT ON BECOME A HEAVYWEIGHT WRESTLER AND ACTOR. HE APPEARED FAMOUSLY IN MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, A BIG APE MOVIE WHICH AFICIONADOS REGARD AS SUPERIOR TO KING KONG IN THE QUALITY OF ITS SPECIAL EFFECTS.

“We believe it’s the wide variety of packaging options that we can offer that’s helped provide starting points for these export customers,” Ines said. “The Indian market has embraced our de-alcoholised wines and some juices. Once again, we negociated with our clients and the labels were modified to suit their requirements. Because we have our own production and packaging facility, we’re able to tailor the products and packaging requests to suit the client.”

As it grew, Patritti remained self-contained, an incredible rarity for wineries today. Not only do they have their own packaging and labeling lines, but they can make just about any type of sparkling anything and bottle it to order at your price. I was surprised to find they didn’t own a printing press. Check the Patritti website and marvel at how cheaply you can sell wines if you do everything in-house.

And when you consider how they turned the botrytis disaster of 1974 into good money with modern technology, you can bet Patritti will be the one winery to make the most of this year’s mess after another 37 years of perfecting the old Hick/Blass/Gramp technology. Not many wineries boast a continuous pasteuriser!

THE ANCIENT PATRITTI BUSH-VINE GRENACHE VINEYARD SOUTH OF THE SUBURBS AT TATACHILLA IN McLAREN VALE IS GRADUALLY BEING REJUVENATED.

Finally, to really rip the strings of this sultry heart, the Patrittis have taken over the management of the council-owned Marion Vineyard on Oaklands Road. Surrounded completely by houses and light industry, this final single hectare of the great southern suburban vignoble was planted to Grenache and Shiraz in 1907. Saved from conversion to a fast food wasteland for obese taggers by my Adelaide Vines project, and Brian Miller in 1989, it had once again been let fall into disrepair. Council decided in 2006 to invite the Patrittis to look after it in exchange for its precious fruit, which they are doing with fastidious skill. Their first release from the rejuvenated vines is the delicious 2008; each vintage the pressings go into a special fortified, yet to be released.

Along with the remnant of the Grange Hermitage Vineyard now called Magill Estate, and the tiny 1932 Montmartre Vineyard in Paris, this is the most significant suburban vineyard on Earth. Traffic should be forced to slow down as it passes, and learn some respect. It has the earliest vines, and at last it’s in appropriate hands: the oldest Italian family-owned winery in Australia. I could think of no more appropriate, nor delicious Adelaide souvenir to give foreign guests or new Australians.

But make yourself a gift: go visit Patritti. Be astonished. You won’t need much money, and you’ll leave with a freshly-warmed heart.


OLD OAK VATS AT PATRITTI: STILL LOVINGLY MAINTAINED FOR WINE STORAGE

07 April 2011

2011: 2ND BEST WORST WETTEST VINTAGE

STOP PRESS:  
Mollydooker Wines FaceBook 15 April 2011 posted two images on their wall: one a vineyard which had been harvested, across the road from their block, which means nothing, and another of their own block, with the following caption: "Both of these photos were taken yesterday:one is our vineyard and the picked vineyard is over the road. We are watering to keep the sugar levels down and the canopy flourishing so that the Mollydooker grapes can continue to bask in the beautiful Indian summer sun. The vines are maturing and sending ripe tannin signals to the grapes, which gain extra flavour and richness every day. Exciting news - we have already got argh- cut me off...should read- Exciting news - we have already got two blocks at VELVET GLOVE level!"

Well, they sure look velvety. A close look at this image shows grey, velvety, botrytis-and-mould-riddled berries. So what is Mollydooker doing? They're watering? The vines are sending ripe tannin signals to the grapes? Which gain extra flavour and richness every day? If the silly buggers up the River had only called Sparky Marquis for advice there would now be hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grapes making the Velvet Glove grading, no? Not to mention the Barossa, Clare, the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, no? Watering? Those leaves are falling off, for Bacchus' sake!

So is it, or isn't it Aussie's best year ever? Select your preferred degree of propagandist bullshit!
 
by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this was published on INDAILY, and the shorter version published here previously has been deleted


This is a bad time to be a wine writer.

There’s far too much competition.

At the climax of a vintage as horrid as 2011 there’s a parallel peak of nonsense spoken by those who know their wines will not be as good as usual.

The astute observer will have already recognized the formation of little twists of spin which look promising to those who somehow utter them. By the time the wine is clarified and packaged, these seminal stutterings will have bloomed into gushing back label texts and blurbs that can be cut and pasted by idiots for centuries.

My opinion of vintage 2011 is largely formed. The vintage is well over half way through. I have toured vineyards and tasted grapes, ferments and wine in enough places to get a fair idea of what happens when you have the wettest vintage in thirty-seven years.

EDEN VALLEY RIESLING KING, COLIN FORBES, WHO HAD BEEN CONTRACTED TO MAKE THE DRY-GROWN BUSH VINE KARRA YERTA RIESLING FOR MARIE LINKE LINKE, RIGHT, WON'T BE PICKING A GRAPE SINCE THE CROP WAS BUTCHERED BY BOTRYTIS AND OTHER MOULDS photo MILTON WORDLEY
 

There are those, of course, who are disarming in their honesty. The tiny-scale Barossa Ranges Riesling aces, Bob McLean (McLean’s Farm) and Marie Linke (Karra Yerta) have stated quite simply that their heavily-Botrytised Riesling is not worth picking. But while their write-offs are symptomatic of the year, their frankness is not indicative, unfortunately, of the general industry spin.

EVEN THE FASTIDIOUSLY HAND-TENDED ORGANIC NEVER-IRRIGATED RIESLING BUSH VINES AT McLEAN'S FARM ARE SUFFICIENTLY DAMAGED BY BOTRYTIS AND OTHER MOULDS TO PROHIBIT PICKING

The summer of 2010-11 was, in fact, the second wettest on record for Australia.

"Nationally we averaged 354.7mm, 70 per cent above normal and second only behind the infamous summer of 1973-74 when 419.8mm was recorded," said Tom Saunders, meteorologist at The Weather Channel.

“Victoria’s had its wettest summer on record,” he continued. “Western Australia recorded its second wettest summer. South Australia recorded its third wettest summer. New South Wales recorded its fifth wettest summer. Queensland recorded its sixth wettest summer. Northern Territory recorded its eighth wettest summer, and Tasmania recorded its seventeenth wettest summer.

THE RAIN AND FLOODS CAME VERY EARLY IN THE VINE CYCLE, AND PERSISTED UNTIL A GREAT VINTAGE WAS UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE ... THIS IS A NORTHERN VICTORIAN VINEYARD

"And after a decade of drought, The Murray Darling Basin also recorded its third wettest summer," he concluded.

Just as a perfect vintage, ideally dry, slow and cool, deserves recognition in the odd chance that it may occasionally occur, so do record numbers like these. These are not matters of opinion.

Neither are the simple facts evident to anybody who knows vines well enough to jump over the odd fence and identify Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, and Botryitis cinerea. Botrytis not only rots the skins of grapes, but it also attacks the stems of the bunches. When you stand in highly regarded vineyards and watch the vibrations of the mechanical harvesters shaking bunches onto the ground before they even reach those vines, you know something’s wrong. When you watch bins of mouldy slurry, rather than your actual grapes, arrive at winery hoppers, you know this is not what the wineries would like their drinkers to see.

BOTRYTIS CINEREA ON SHIRAZ BERRIES photos by JAMES HOOK, CONSULTING VINE SCIENTIST AND PROPRIETOR OF LAZY BALLERINA WINES, McLAREN VALE.

The need to recognize and identify mere opinions intensifies once frightened winemakers wheel out their most trustworthy employees to tell us that everything’s much better than it is. Such phenomena are not determined by the size of the business, other than in the sense that little guys can bullshit more convincingly than big guys because they’re little.

Troy Elliker, viticulturer for the big McLaren Vale vineyard management company, The Terraces, may feel a little sheepish about calling it too early when on February 19th he said “We've had a very good season and it looks like we are going to have a good year … There will be some really good quality fruit, hence quality wines, coming out of McLaren Vale for the 2011 vintage ... It's a bit later this season because of the weather conditions ... This summer we had cool nights and warm days, which was great for growing grapes down here."

Baron of Barossa, Louisa Rose (below), chief winemaker at Yalumba, warned against calling it early. This Barossa winery takes vast tonnages of fruit from the Riverland, and lesser amounts from the more premium vignobles in the ranges and interstate. At 31,600 tonnes, it is ninth on the list of the biggest Australian wineries measured by winegrape intake.

I could feel poor Louisa squirming when she told The Advertiser "The wines that are going to be made for the 2011 vintage are going to made from very good grapes and those wines are going to be very good drinks."

See the back label forming?

“Ideally cool conditions produced beautiful fruit of good natural acidity and elegance,” a good spindrifter could write, more or less along the lines of what winescribe Max Allen wrote in The Australian. You could easily stretch this to insinuate that 2011 was the closest Australia gets to the general vintage conditions of, say, Bordeaux, strangely reflecting what Clare Riesling hero Jeffrey Grosset told the same paper, about a fortnight after I’d facetiously suggested it on DRINKSTER.

Not to suggest the astute Ms Rose would extend her spin so far. She had already stated "Too many people assume that the whole vintage has been ruined and that's not the case … It's far too early to make bold claims as to what the vintage is really going to look like. Making big claims about the success or failure of a vintage while grapes were still being picked was a foolish exercise … While there had been some sad individual cases of growers with disappointing harvests, that did not tell the story of the whole vintage.”

From a winemaking family famous as champions of positivism at all costs, Neil McGuigan (below) of Australian Vintage (157,000 tonnes) told the influential industry business e-mail newsletter, The Key Report:

“Vintage has been very challenging across Australia with the Hunter and WA both having excellent vintages. The irrigated districts were ‘under the pump’ but those vineyards that were managed correctly and had a bit of luck were able to harvest most of their fruit. Some rejections did occur, and some varieties were adversely affected by Downy Mildew. Barossa looks good but the SE of South Australia has been adversely affected by the weather as well.”

So you have a choice in the Barossa. Either you believe that it “looks good”, or you give ear to the champion grapegrowers’ representative, Baron of Barossa Leo Pech, who said this was the worst vintage he’d seen in 61 years, as reported here at the beginning of vintage.

Judson Barry, of Brian Barry Wines (less than 100 tonnes) more recently told DRINKSTER “I can speak first hand for the Clare district. The Riesling and Shiraz grapes that I have crushed and seen crushed thus far are 1st class quality. A higher than usual amount of fruit has indeed been left on the vine however, due to poor quality arrived from disease. Harvest is approximately 1/2 complete. One must take into account that it is not just fruit quality that determines the final result of the wine quality. This depends heavily on the particular winemaking method that the fruit is subject to. Winemaking techniques or methods are infinite!”

THE GREAT CLARE RIESLING ACE AND MASTER WINE JUDGE, BRIAN BARRY, THE AUTHOR, AND JUDSON BARRY AT BRIAN'S RECENT 84TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS

In the Murray Valley, organic wine grower Michael O’Donohue of Tom’s Drop (less than 20 tonnes) insists he has very good fruit ripening calmly. Another organic Berri company, 919 Wines (less than 100 tonnes), was slightly more specific when Jenny Semmler reflected Judson Barry’s opinion.

“Quality has been marvellous when the fruit comes in clean,” she said. “This vintage will be a test of the winemaker - his or her skill at working closely with the viticulturalist to ensure the fruit is picked at the appropriate time.

“We’re generally finding the fruit is ripe at lower Baumés than usual this year, but with delightful flavour/sugar/acid/tannin balance. Then of course, a good winemaker will be able to be a good custodian of the fruit ... there are traps for unwary players, however.”

TOP-QUALITY EARLY-PICKED SHIRAZ FROM OLIVER'S TARANGA, McLAREN VALE

Closer to home, Inkwell (under 20 tonnes) proprietor Dudley Brown, of McLaren Vale, reports ideal ferments. His neighbour, Paul Petagna (under 10 tonnes) has a winery full of calm, clean ferments. These tiny super-premium local heroes are joined by Roger Pike, of Marius (under 20 tonnes), who says one of his ferments is a bit tricky, but the other two are more or less ideal. Oliver’s Taranga, which picked early, has magnificent wine.

In the Barossa, Tim Smith (right), who will soon be the former winemaker of Chateau Tanunda as he pursues his own revered brand, insists there are some very fine parcels of fruit in that district, while admitting it has not been ideal for many.

So take these claims as you wish, and prepare to see them reflected, or not, on the back labels of the 2011 bottles, if not the bladder packs.

But if it’s forensic accuracy you want, you can’t go past Louisa Rose’s forerunner at the winemaking helm at Yalumba. Brian Walsh, now director of strategy and business management there, wrote a vintage report that is blistering in its honesty and precision.

“The wettest growing season [of the post WWII period]” he stated “being the second wettest year on record. The rain and cold conditions extended right through vintage leading to big losses from disease and produced mostly thin wines from unripe grapes … growers suffered severe losses (as high as 40%) from Downy Mildew due to the wet season – in fact Peter Lehmann did not make any red wine suitable to bottle … ”

Trouble is, Walshie was talking about 1974*.




FOOTNOTES

1. *This quote is from BAROSSA (Barossa Valley – Eden Valley) Vintage Classification 1947 – 1998 (authors: Peter Fuller and Brian Walsh; publisher: Barossa Wine And Tourism Association 1999).

2. A much shorter version of this story first appeared here. I have deleted it, but saved the comments already posted.

Marie Linke from Karra Yerta said...

“About to catch up on your latest posts, Philip. I lapsed into a coma last night for eleven hours which was probably a good thing. Bad thing was, when I woke up, it was still vintage.” April 5, 2011 5:15 PM

Anonymous said...

“There is Barossa Shiraz that has already been graded Grange by the Penfolds team!!

“Both Barossa Merlot and Cabernet are the best we have seen in years.” April 5, 2011 5:31 PM

Jenny said...

“Quality has been marvellous when the fruit comes in clean. This vintage will be a test of the winemkaer - his or her skill at working closely with the viticulturalist to ensure the fruit is picked at the appropriate time. Generally finding the fruit is ripe at lower baumes than usual this year, but with delightful flavour/sugar/acid/tannin balance. Then of course, a good winemaker will be able to be a good custodian of the fruit.

“Traps for unwary players, however.” April 6, 2011 5:33 PM

Cam Haskell said...

“Great stuff Whitey.

“A few points. McGuigan thinks some of it's going to be alright. Which begs the question as to why so much of their wine will be so boring.

“The rainfall in WA figures are a tad misleading. Sure, we got a shedload up north, but down here (in Margaret River) we've only just got some yesterday after super tinder-box-dry conditions since Jan, when we had one day of rain. The fruit I've seen has looked AMAZING, and I think this will be a breakout year for Margaret River shiraz, in particular.

“Your point about trumpeting every vintage is bang on the mark. Vintage variation is real, and it's foolish to suggest that, no matter how judicious, selective and pernickety a producer is that it might match up to a better year. It's irritating and largely mendacious in my opinion to go around treating climate as though it is something that can be overcome in the winery. Absolute bobbins.

“As for fruit being graded as grange, given they make this wine every year, what does that mean? Anything?

“In any case, keep up the good work. Best of luck to the rest of yer still picking and crushing.” April 7, 2011 10:25 AM

Anonymous said...

“This vintage should not be the test of the winemaker, unless he is forced to take fruit with laccase problems. This growing season was surely the test of the viticulturist: his/ her sensitivity, forethought and diligence (and in all likelihood budget) in carrying out cultural operations proactively. This year, perhaps winemakers will actually be stewards of fruit for once, since the requirement for bags of acid and the old culebra negra is vastly dwindled?” April 7, 2011 12:36 PM

CLICK BELOW TO READ OTHER COMMENTS AND ADD YOUR OWN

01 April 2011

URGENT NEED FOR FULL-SCALE ENQUIRY

Australian Wine Biz: Shattered
Chaos Demands Forensic Probe
Time For Some Due Diligence

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this was published on InDaily

Given the chaos and destruction rife across the Australian wine industry this vintage, there must be somebody, somewhere, willing to address the entire wreckage with an astute judicial review.

The mighty Australian wine boom depended on three presumptions, breath-taking in their hubris: an illogically-biased tax system, an endless supply of impossibly cheap water, and an unnaturally weak dollar.

Two of these three have rightly gone; the third, the ridiculous tax advantage, will also inevitably, eventually evaporate.
We have Tony Windsor, the Federal Independent Member for New England, running his investigatory committee suggesting there may be no need to cut irrigation allocations in the Murray-Darling Basin if everybody suddenly gets efficient; on the other hand a mess of commissions and policy wonks and Craig Knowles and the Murray Darling Basin Authority going all soft and gooey rather than hardening sternly on the management of the river system we have almost destroyed.

We have huge refineries and industrial grapeyards using up to 1200 litres of water to make one litre of wine which sells for less than the cost of good bottled water but is three times the alcoholic strength of your average beer. And twice as sweet.

In a country which usually has no water.

We have entire Murray-Darling communities going broke, a river system which is on the nose and worsening the further down you go, and professional long-term grape-growing families finding it impossible to compete with faceless tax-dodging conglomerates who plant enormous industrial grapeyards and don’t seem to care much whether they make a profit or not.

We have the ridiculous obsessions of our biggest grape ethanol manufacturers with the discount bins of Britain and Australia whilst they simultaneously go to war with the killer Australian duopoly, Coles and Woolworths, for control of the part of business where there’s barely any profit.

We have the unseemly hissy between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition as they taunt each other to do something about the horrendous alcohol abuse which is wrecking Alice Springs and all those misplaced desert mobs.

We spend well over $16 billion a year addressing alcohol-related harm, yet never connect that a great deal of this destruction comes from the bladder pack plonks which make up half of our national wine consumption and come from the wreck of the river.

We have treasury boss Ken Henry departing, leaving unaddressed his suggestion that part of the way to fix all this is the replacing of the current tax system – which is jigged to assist the bladder refineries – with a simple excise tax, which would treat all alcohol equally whilst decreasing the price of good wine, and increasing dramatically the price of goonbag plonk.

That suggestion’s still sitting there on the Federal leather, as obvious and popular as a steaming turd.

We have Jacob’s Creek, which is French, the cadaver of Constellation, which was American, and Fosters, which is from somewhere else entirely, running most of the show while they also run for it.

We have total disarray in the enormous and diverse wine industry councils and representative bodies, proven useless to the extent that the old family companies who set them all up have now formed their own marketing and shared-interest body, Family First Wineries, as a direct rival.

And this week we had Professor Larry Lockshin, of the University of Adelaide, releasing a report which found – surprise, surprise – that people mainly buy wine on price.

Anyone who has an honest grasp of the droll homogeneous nature of most of Australia’s wine would suggest there is no other sane method of making the selection. Who do they think we are? Do they really think we believe their tacky little bling stickers indicate any sparkles in the Stalinist monoculture of most of the wine in Australia?

There must surely be somebody out there who realizes that all this is connected: it is indeed the one big problem. Its monetary, environmental and social cost increases annually, and there’s not a soul in public life with the wit and balls to stand up and demand a complete, forensic, public examination of wine’s role in Australian life, and how it can be steered to offer a brighter, more positive reflection of our civilization and its propensity to conserve what is good.

Which is what conservative once meant.

Not to mention our gastronomic creativity, which is NOT reflected in ninety per cent of our wine.

And now, in a vintage where it seems very little of anything good can be conserved, where many of the wrong people will go unfairly to the wall, the whole damn wreck is screaming like never before for some astute intellectual attention.

Where might this come from?

The shattered and soused grape cockies of the Murray-Darling won’t be asking for it. Tony Windsor won’t be asking for it. The Federal leaders won’t be asking for it. Coles, Woolies, Jacob’s Creek, whatever’s left of Constellation and Fosters won’t be asking for it. The Family First wineries won’t be asking for it – half of them depend on Murray-Darling fruit. The independent retailers won’t be asking for it.

Which leaves us with the tattered broke specialist growers who have no respected representative body.

No money or poke there.

It leaves us with over 2,400 boutique winemakers, most of whom produce little product of any gastronomic exception, having got into the business for all the wrong reasons.

Total disarray there.

It leaves us with the medical lobby; the health professionals who would dearly love to see their tragic end of this addressed: but dangers of this being seen as neo-prohibitionism dilute its legitimacy from the start.

It leaves us with the fanatical proho dries, who all seem too busy getting rich in the name of Jesus to worry much.

It leaves us with the Police, who would love it, but can’t get sufficiently political to really scream for it.

It leaves us with the representatives of the wrecked aboriginal communities in the bed of the Todd River, who have been begging for it, to no avail.

Indeed there’s the perfect metaphor for the idiocy of all this: in the name of the finer things of life we are tipping one dying river system into an even drier one, the Todd, butchering the communities at both ends.

So who’s the saviour? The Greens? Nick Xenophon? Ken Henry?

Would anybody listen?