“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

.

.

.

26 May 2011

McLAREN VALE LOSES ROUND # 14 TO LABOR

HON JOHN RAU, MINISTER FOR NEARLY EVERYTHING, CENTRE, ANNOUNCING THAT HIS LABOR GOVERNMENT WILL IGNORE LOCAL HOPES AND WISHES, AND PIG-HEADEDLY GO AHEAD AND COVER SOME OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S RAREST AND MOST REVERED VITICULTURE GEOLOGY WITH A BRAND NEW GHETTO. LEFT IS THE DELIGHTED RETIRED VET, DAVID GILL, OF THE FRIENDS OF WILLUNGA BASIN, AND RIGHT, A VERY SOMBRE MAJOR LABOR APPARATCHIK, JIM HULLICK, CHAIRMAN OF THE SOUTHERN COALITION OF CONCERNED CITIZEN ACTIVIST GROUPS.

Planning Minister Imposes Brand New Ghetto ... Food Minister Destroys Rare Geological Ground ... Tourism Minister Buggers Beautiful Gateway To The South
by PHILIP WHITE

McLAREN VALE Thursday 26 May: Hon John Rau, is South Australia’s Deputy Premier. He is also Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, Minister for Urban Development, Planning, and the City of Adelaide, Minister for Tourism and Minister for Food Marketing.

Yesterday he approved the highly contentious Seaford Heights housing development right in the gateway to
the McLaren Vale wine region, the beautiful Willunga Embayment, and the Southern Fleurieu tourism and farming region.

NOT SEAFORD HEIGHTS, BUT STILL SIMMERING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN:HAVING PAID MUCH MORE THAN THEIR CURRENT VALUE FOR THESE VINEYARDS ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE McLAREN VALE TOWNSHIP,, THE WISHFUL DEVELOPER KARIDIS INTENDED TO REPLACE THEM WITH 1200 UNITS FOR THE AGED. WHEN DRINKSTER BEGAN INQUIRING, KARIDIS WAS TOLD TO TAKE A DIVE BY HIS PANICKY LABOR PARTY MATES, TO WHOM HE HAS BEEN A HUGE DONOR OF FUNDS SINCE THE DAYS WHEN HE INTRODUCED THE DODGY FINANCIER TIRATH KHEMLANI TO THE WHITLAM GOVERNMENT IN THE EARLY SEVENTIES. THAT RELATIONSHIP EVENTUALLY LED TO THE KHEMLANI LOANS AFFAIR, AND THE CONSERVATIVE COUP WHICH OVERTHREW THAT GOVERNMENT AND SAW MALCOLM FRASER AND THE LIBERALS INSTALLED IN CANBERRA photo KATE ELMES

While his government was recently elected after promising there
would be no more housing in McLaren Vale or Barossa vignobles, the Minister maintains the deal was done in 1989 and therefore could not be stopped.

The plan involves the erection of
1180 houses in a place where roads are already clogged, employment is minimal, “mortgage stress” is standard and infrastructure is stretched to the limit. It would add to a coastal mess of ugly eave-to-eave housing where prices are tumbling, unemployment, vandalism, crime and violence is high, and little, if anything, is done to ensure any of this ugly villa rash is in any way energy efficient or eco-friendly. In the driest state of the driest inhabited continent, where summer temperatures soar, macho black tile roofs are the fashion and solar panels a rarity.

Recent suburban developments along this coast have seen the housing go in first, with local and state governments struggling to provide the necessary infrastructure once these homes are sold and inhabited. Roads are terrible, public transport messy and infernally slow, and basic shopping always involves driving to a few ugly central supermarket precincts surrounded by hectares of car park.

This decision has been made without any consideration of the geological
importance of Seaford Heights.

While this publicly-owned land had been rezoned from
agriculture to housing early in the ’nineties, a consortium led by David Paxton and the late Greg Trott later managed to have the zoning for some of the land reversed to agriculture in order to make way for their adjacent Gateway Vineyard. The fruit from this vineyard makes evident the amazing quality of wine which can be grown on this rare Umberatana geological group, which is over 650 million years old. This is the only incidence of this group of geologies in the Willunga Embayment, the heart of the McLaren Vale district. (The same ancient geological group re-emerges around the Barossa Greenock Creek/Marananga/Seppeltsfield sub-region, and again around the Sevenhill/Polish valley region of Clare, both vignobles which produce a myriad of internationally-revered wines, trophy-winners, and perfect Parker scores.)


ACE VITICULTURER DAVID PAXTON, PROPRIETOR OF PAXTON WINES, IN HIS PRICELESS GATEWAY VINEYARD, WITH THE SITE OF THE SEAFORD HEIGHTS GHETTO ON THE HILL BEHIND HIM. THE PROPOSED 'BUFFER ZONE' OF NATIVE VEGETATION WILL NOT BEGIN TO HIDE THE NEW VILLA RASH FROM THIS VINEYARD, LITERALLY THE GATEWAY TO McLAREN VALE AND THE SOUTHERN FLEURIEU PENINSULA. photo KATE ELMES

The Minister
chose his moment. Leon Bignell, the Member for the local seat of Mawson, was on other government business in Whyalla, two gulfs and hundreds of kilometres away. Bignell, a friend of the winemakers and an enthusiastic defender of McLaren Vale’s rural purpose and amenity, was convinced by his caucus colleagues to accept a compromise, with buffer zones planted to native vegetation to hide the new suburb. Either Mr. Rau chose to move behind Bignell’s back, or Bignell suggested he’d rather the announcement was made while he was away.

Bignell says his trip had been long planned. As he is parliamentary secretary to John Hill, the Minister for
health, he was in Whyalla to discuss hospitals and health issues.

Late on Tuesday afternoon Minister Rau called a meeting for early Wednesday morning. The press release warning that he would be making his announcement following this meeting was released Wednesday morning, while Bignell was on a plane, so there was little chance of many co
ncerned parties, or indeed the local Member, attending, if any of them indeed wanted to.

The first this writer heard of the meeting was on local ABC radio just before 9:00am, when the forthcoming announcement was also signaled. Pip Forrester, the new Chair of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism association, was interviewed, obviously before she entered the meeting in that association’s offices.

Announcer Ian Henschke asked Forrester whether she thought she was about to be informed of a “done deal”.


“Well”, she said, “we hope not. We’ve been opposed to this
development right in the entrance to our tourism region. We’ve been working through the process, and until we were advised that the Minister was coming down this morning we were waiting to hear about the consultation and our key concern, other than that we would prefer no development on that site, and we certainly want, whatever does happen, to be non-visible from Victor Harbor Road and Main South Road.”

Forrester suggested that there had been changes made to the plan due to consultation, like the
removal of a string of “big box” light industrial commercial businesses along Main South Road, but suggested they were waiting for further consultation, admitting “at this stage we’re not sure, but we’re looking forwards to the announcement and we hope there’s something positive for us. We haven’t had a warning for this. It is a surprise. We hope it will be a pleasant surprise.”

Forrester said that in an ideal world the Minister’s combination of portfolios would be advantageous, for example to her business in food marketing, “some really good synergies could happen, but it probably does put him in a
difficult position with respect to the Seaford Heights development. But I know he’s sympathetic to the concerns that we have, so maybe he’s come up with a solution that’s positive.”

When this writer arrived at the offices of the Wine and Tourism Association, Forrester could be seen with others at the private meeting underway in a meeting room with a temporary sign on the door stating: “The Office of the Hon. John Rau MP and Stakeholders”. Outside stood local councillor Yvonne Wenham, the chair of the local government Planning Committee, who had not been invited.

When these deliberations came to a close, the Minister seemed ill-prepared for the knockabout press conference which followed. Most reporters were politely waiting outside the
building for the Minister to emerge, yet once the suited developers scuttled away, he began his statement back in the almost-empty meeting room, and it took this writer to dash outside and advise the press that the statement was already being made within the building.

The Minister and his staff seemed surprised that anybody not invited to the closed-door meeting had
bothered to turn up to witness his following announcement, and his response to a few brief but pertinent questions was irritable, dismissive and condescending.

“You just don’t understand it” was his mantra.


Minister Rau made a few quite startling admissions. He suggested that South Australian developers, planners, and architects were so far unprepared to build the sort of higher-rise, more intensive, smaller-footprint village housing that many locals prefer, and indeed his own government insists is ideal for infill in the city of Adelaide proper according to his government’s new 30 Year Plan. (As it is land owned by the citizens of South Australia that is being sub-divided, broadacre sprawl development will provide greater returns to a cash-strapped government upon the sale of the land.)

He said it was impossible to change the
contract with the developer, although it emerged within hours that his last-minute “compromise deal” on Seaford Heights involved the developer being given more land to compensate for the buffer zones now included in the development, to hide the housing from the view of some.

It would seem unlikely that this could have been done without changes to the contract.
It emerged that some of the land now called “buffer zone” includes the margins of the local rubbish dump, which government environmental law precludes from any housing use.

Wh
en this writer asked why such an exemplary housing development would need to be hidden from the public view, and not be seen from the start to be something that everybody could be proud of, he was curtly dismissive.

He said he was unaware that government could have
retreated from the contract as recently as six months ago. He admitted that he had no idea of how much compensation government would have to pay the developer should the former decide to withdraw from the contract, but suggested it would be “many millions”.

LOOKING SOUTH: THE WILLUNGA EMBAYMENT, THE SOUTHERN HALF OF THE McLAREN VALE WINE REGION, WITH THE ONKAPARINGA RIVER GORGE IN THE FOREGROUND, AND THE WILLUNGA ESCARPMENT RUNNING PARALLEL IN THE TOP LEFT. ALL THE ANCIENT GEOLOGY - PERHAPS THE BEST FOR VITICULTURE - IN THE NORTHERN HALF OF THE REGION, OFF THE BOTTOM OF THIS IMAGE, IS UNDER INTENSIVE VILLA RASH, WHICH YOU CAN SEE CREEPING FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE PHOTOGRAPH, SOUTH TOWARDS THE TOP. THE McLAREN VALE VILLAGE IS SLIGHTLY TO THE LEFT OF CENTRE OF THE IMAGE; SEAFORD HEIGHTS IS IN THE BARE COUNTRY TO THE RIGHT OF IT, NEAR THE COAST. photo STACEY POTHOVEN

As the
Seaford Heights development is repeatedly said to be worth $500 million, including the percentage government would take for its sale of the publicly-owned land, simple arithmetic says the houses would cost $420,000 each: an unlikely figure in a district where prices generally sit between $280,000 and $350,000. Prices in the adjacent Seaford Rise have fallen 20% in eight years. But at $420,000 per house, government nevertheless stands to take a windfall $24 million in stamp duty alone, should all the houses be sold.

When challenged about the dodgy nature of any “community consultation” that had occurred – it was scant and prohibitively hurried at best, and most of the advice offered government was scorned or
ignored – he suggested that the chance for such consultation was in the days ahead, when locals would be given the chance to devise the boundaries of their region, to assist government decide where new housing would be prohibited. When this writer suggested the boundaries had been clear for years, according to the gazetted Geographical Indicators for McLaren Vale, as approved and regulated by the appropriate government/industry organization, Wine Australia, he seemed unaware of such boundaries and spoke as if new ones would be required.

He also said he was unaware that on another contentious site, 20 kilometres to the north, the University of Adelaide is once again moving to have it released from its Deed of ownership of the 206ha Glenthorne Farm, in order to make that last spread of greenfield available for subdivision. Glenthorne is only a few kilometres from the University’s Waite Campus, where wine science and viticulture is taught. The property is surrounded by dormitoria.

This Deed, which saw the research station transferred to the University for $1, very specifically and repeatedly states that the land must never be subdivided and used for housing, but instead be devoted to agricultural, viticultural, oenological, and horticultural research. As Planning Minister, Rau would be responsible for approving changes to the Deed, and as Attorney-general, he would be the chief legal advisory officer in the matter.

When this writer explained the McLaren Vale GI boundary had been deliberately set to include Glenthorne Farm, he said he was unaware of this.

GLENTHORNE FARM, 20 KILOMETRES NORTH OF THE SEAFORD HEIGHTS SITE, AND ALREADY SURROUNDED BY TUPPERWARE TUSCANY: MINISTER RAU CLAIMED TO BE UNAWARE OF THE UNIVERSITY'S PLAN TO HAVE HIM RESCIND THE DEED WHICH CLEARLY PREVENTS IT FROM SUB-DIVIDING THIS 206HA RESEARCH STATION, WHICH IT WAS GIVEN A DECADE AGO FOR PURPOSES OF VITICULTURAL, OENOLOGICAL, HORTICULTURAL AND AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, BARELY A SCRAP OF WHICH IT HAS ATTEMPTED TO UNDERTAKE. INSTEAD, IT HAS CONSISTENTLY CONSPIRED TO SUBDIVIDE THIS SITE, WHICH IS ON ANOTHER SET OF GEOLOGY FROM THE VERY SPECIAL UMBERATANA GROUP photo LEO DAVIS

Wine and Tourism Chair Forrester was ashen-faced by the end of Minister Rau’s announcement. She seemed to some to be embarrassed at the persistent questioning her predecessor in the Chair, Dudley Brown, put to the Minister during the conference, while she remained silent.


Brown’s few pertinent questions irritated the Minister to the point at which he threatened “You’ve had a pretty good go”, and made to leave the room, while his
security guards twitched menacingly. Only when one reporter said “I thought this was a press conference” did Rau return to the table.

As he made his announcement, the Minister was flanked by a retired veterinarian, David Gill,
representing the Friends Of Willunga Basin, and senior Labor local government mandarin, Jim Hullick, chair of the Southern Coalition, a union of a dozen bodies akin to Gill’s organization. Gill seemed delighted at the compromise the Minister had made, obviously enjoying his place in the light; Hullick was unforthcoming, and, more appropriately for a wise man, very solemn indeed.

TRACTOR ACTION; LAST YEAR'S TRACTOR DEMONSTRATION CLOGGED LOCAL ROADS FOR HOURS, IN THE HOPE THAT THIS WOULD BRING SOME SENSE TO THE SEAFORD HEIGHTS ISSUE. MANY HUNDREDS TOOK PART. photo JAMES HOOK

The rage around McLaren Vale today is palpable and seething, with many constituents of the Grape Wine and Tourism Association wondering why they were not warned of the Minister’s visit, nor indeed invited to attend to witness his following announcement.

While many changes were made to the Development Plan Amendment during this long planning process, all without the further
community consultation required by law, this final meeting and press conference provides with great clarity an indicator of how South Australia’s arrogant, impoverished and desperate Labor government sees its responsibility to listen to its citizens.

Recent polling suggests the Labor Party’s primary vote is now on only 24 per cent, a record low, whilst its two-party preferred status has its government on 40 per cent, with the Liberal opposition on 60 per cent. This indicates at least 15 Labor seats would fall if an election were held now.

Utterly disillusioned McLaren Vale people are busy searching for a solid candidate to run against local MP Bignell, one of the best representatives the wineries have had, but one who was steamrolled by his own party on the one issue critical to his re-election.












SEAFORD HEIGHTS DECORATED WITH IMAGES OF THE LOCAL FEDERAL PARLIAMENTARY MEMBER, HON. AMANDA RISHWORTH, ANOTHER LABOR POLITICIAN. THESE WERE STOLEN ELECTION POSTERS WHICH APPEARED SURREALLY OVERNIGHT, EARLY IN THE FIGHT TO SAVE THE RARE AND PRECIOUS SITE FOR VITICULTURE.


As Deputy Premier, Mr. Rau is second in line to the throne of South Australia: he’s Boss # 2. As Planning Minister, he is responsible for enforcing the Planning Act. As Attorney-general, it is his duty to ensure his government obeys all the law. As Minister for Justice, it is his role to guarantee a fair go for all: justice. As Minister
for Tourism, it is his role to ensure this state is a damned fine place to visit. As Minister for Food Marketing, it is surely his responsibility to jealously protect every millimeter of land which is important, unique, or particularly well-suited to the production of healthy, fine food or drink.

Given all this, yesterday’s events, and indeed all those leading to them, have provided Mr. Rau with countless opportunities to face problems of difficult vested interests. While this writer is certain the Minister’s pre-eminent standing as a lawyer would ensure his deliberations remain exemplary in the eyes of his colleagues at law, yesterday’s performance offers scant hope for the quality of consultation and response we can expect in the delineation of yet another boundary for one of the world’s most beautiful, profitable, and environmentally-aware vignobles.


HOW THE FRENCH WOULD DO IT: BUILD A WALLED VILLAGE WITH INTENSIVE TWO AND THREE-STORY HOUSES OUTSIDE THE WALL, THEN PLANT AN EXEMPLARY VINEYARD INSIDE THE WALL. KRUG'S CLOS DU MESNIL,THE EXQUISITE CHARDONNAY CHAMPAGNE WHICH GROWS HERE, CURRENTLY SELLS FOR $1500 PER BOTTLE. ONE OR MORE SUCH VINEYARDS WOULD LOOK JUST SCHMICK ON THE SEAFORD HEIGHTS LAND, AND PRODUCE SOME STUNNING WINE, BUT WITHOUT THE CAVITIES FOUND IN FRENCH FIZZ ...

09 May 2011

NEW GRANGE BEATS FOSTERS OUT: TA-TA

Penfolds True Blue Frontline
Final Hot "A"-Lot From Fosters

Gago True To Huge Max View

by PHILIP WHITE

In the tribute queue at Max Schubert’s funeral I found myself following Ross Wilson around Max’s flag-bedecked coffin. Bacchus knows that Heysen Chapel is about as bland a departure lounge as you can get, but the whole affair felt rather strange, being managed by Penfolds PR consultant of that day, Adrian Read, who’d couldn’t seem to remember my name. The service was largely about Penfolds. There was good mention made of Max’s war service, and his widow, Thellie, and even his family got a brief mention, but it was by and large a Penfolds affair.

As we placed our blooms on the casket, Ross (left), the managing director of Southcorp - which was his burgeoning baby and included Penfolds - looked me in the eye and said “Bloody hell Whitey. I know Max gave the company his life, but I never thought I’d bought his soul.”

Since then, Penfolds grew mightily – aided a great deal by the Wilson’s enlightened leadership and the sudden atmosphere of glasnost he instilled in place of the old realm of secrecy, a hangover from the days of the Penfold-Hylands. But as it grew beyond Wilson, and through the Rick Allert thing, the company shed many more casualties. The Rosemount/Bob Oatley/Philip Shaw reverse takeover, for example, saw utter carnage. When the long knives eventually scraped on the door of Grange maker John Duvall, The Advertiser street posters yelled “GRANGE MAKER QUITS”.

Winemakers don't get that sort of coverage anywhere else on Earth.

One gets the feeling that the current Grange custodian, Peter Gago, will not be giving his soul to Fosters, current owners of Penfolds. Bacchus also knows that Gago has quite literally given the company his life since his ascension after the Wild Oats coup: like Max, he has become Penfolds, in the sense that his major role seems to have been to protect the company from its owners.

This he does, in my opinion, by inspiring his team to tirelessly ensure constant improvements in the wines of Penfolds, and then travelling the globe relentlessly to ensure everybody knows about it.

AUSTRALIA'S MOST BEAUTIFUL SPITOON? CERTAINLY ONE OF THE MOST COVETED AMONGST THOSE WHO PREFER TO SPIT: GLASS BLOWN BY Dr SACHS FOR THE PRIVATE TASTING ROOM AT MAGILL ...THAT'S JOHN BIRD'S RETIREMENT WATCH.

So while various corporate raptors struggle to convince Fosters they should be selling Penfolds separate from the rest of its troubled Beringer-Blass axis of wine brands, and Fosters determinedly refuses as it repackages the whole wine side of its arsenal for sale with the bland name Treasury, I think we can rest assured that Gago will still be there in the flesh protecting Penfolds and his beloved Grange.

Intrigue of the intensity that Grange and Penfolds triggers makes each year’s release of the top range of Penfolds wines a time of aggravated frisson around the wine world, as anxious editors try to force their contributors to break the May 1 embargo, and publish the first tasting notes of the new Grange.

I’ll sleep straight tonight knowing that true to form, I waited a whole damn week.

Penfolds Reserve Bin 09A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2009
This year, I think this little sister to the “White Grange”, Yattarna, has doffed its cap to the more expensive wine, and sits a little further down the scale than last year’s. But this is still a mighty wine, sharp with the acrid prickle of matchbox sulphurs and wild yeasts, and probably a new benchmark for big company Chardonnay in Australia, given some appropriate rest. It really does need the sort of cellaring usually reserved for mighty reds, in which time its pithy citrus fruits (grapefruit and blood orange) will bloom and better balance that appetizing, prickly bouquet. Although it’s had nine months in French oak barriques (62% new), and has undergone a full malolactic ferment, it is probably best regarded as the grand, but austere Chablis of the pair, such is its elegance. ($90; 93++ points)

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2008
Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills provided the fruit; France provided the barriques, 49% of which were new. And we’ll have to say France has also provided the inspiration: this is more than a tribute to the great Chardonnays of Burgundy – its power and grace will give a good deal of them a run for their money. The bouquet adds ricotta and lemon custard fats to the wine’s mellowing butter-smooth pear and magnolia florals, and there’s just the right amount of nostril tickle going on thanks to much stirring of the lees in barrel. It is a bigger, smoother, rounder, more relaxed wine than the 09A, but will cellar equally well. ($130; 94+ points)



Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Grenache Shiraz
Mourvedre 2009
This one’s a beauty: maybe the best Grenache yet from Penfolds. From an awkward year, when a brief heatwave damaged Grenache pollens at flowering, causing a severe drop in yields, the wine was left to relax in old American hogsheads for a year, then blended with 21% Shiraz and 11% Mourvedre from similar oak. It’s bright, living, classic soulful Barossa, packed with bitter cherries, blood orange, tamarillo and fig aromas as much as the omnipresent mulberry and blackberry. The palate is more cuddly and unctuous than that aroma indicated, yet the finishing acids and tannins very long and pleasantly astringent. Ten years of dungeon will produce a true wonder, but it’s just slurpishly cute now. (price varies; 93++ points)

Penfolds Bin 389 South Australia Cabernet Shiraz 2008

While the total volumes of this, a huge earner for Fosters, are a well-kept secret, you can pretty well presume that the vague appellation, “South Australia”, indicates this is a huge blend from all over. Given that, it’s a triumph of the sort of cross-regional blending that made the wine export boom possible. It’s cheeky, flirtatious red, rather than presenting as the meaty old blood pudding and sweaty harness offerings of the past. It has enough of the avuncular cardigan-and-slippers wisps of tobacco, briar and tweed, to keep it in the Penfolds corral, but there are vibrant freshnesses and frivolities abundant, too. Let’s just say the old uncle is enjoying the company of some wicked late-teen nieces. Max always thought the presence of some beautiful women greatly enhanced proceedings, so I suggest this is perfectly fitting. (price varies; 88++ points)

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Coonawarra, Barossa, and Wrattonbully grapes spent fourteen months soaking up 100% new American oak hogsheads, and emerged with that forestry pretty much absorbed, in the aroma department at least. This is nothing like the sappy old AmOak lumberjacks of the past, but a very stylized, beautifully designed and structured wine of great allure. It has sultry feminine florals – musk, violets, lavender water – teasing and entwining around the well of fresh crème de cassis we expect of the very best Coonawarra fruit. The palate is intense and challenging in this its stroppy punk stage, and it is here we first encounter oak sap. This wine is not for drinking now. The tannins and acid force evident in its mighty finish will not settle for many years. It’ll be smoothing out in 2020, utter luxury in 2030. ($190; 94+++ points)

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2007
The crew took Shiraz from most of the best SA vignobles for this esteemed old trooper, but the biggest component came from the marine dunal geography of Robe, giving the wine hints of an aroma akin to the floral dune succulent we unfairly call Pigface, very much after the style of bouquet we find in Mornington Peninsula wines. This adds allure to the standard red berry aromas common to the old St Henris, somehow enhanced by extended maturation in big old oak vats that are older than me. Or does it? That marine DMS reek could be seen as an unwelcome intrusion to the traditional St Henri addict. Time will tell. I like the wine, then query it, then like it, then query it … fifteen years dungeon will sort it out, and I expect I’ll have to wait til then. ($90; 90+++ points)

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2008
The old Grange vineyard’s typically big sars fruit sits much more happily in the predominantly French barrel library now secure at Magill – this is a much more wholesome and satisfying wine than those from the old days of sappy 100% new American hogsheads. And it is a star in this release. The Magill vineyard ripened well before the terrible heatwave of 2008, and that oaking has added sexy musk and cedar, maybe even sandalwood to the vineyard’s moody, autumnal bouquet – very much, indeed, like the aroma of an old fruit grange on a hills farm, ripe and burnished with the aromas of old pears, apples, cherries, parsnips, spuds and burlap. The palate is still a little shy, but perfectly-formed and velvety; the aftertaste a little brash, needing time. Ideally? 2030. ($115; 94++ points)

Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2008
As Peter Gago says, it looks like the Red Wine Test proved its point, after fifteen years. You CAN make good red wine with Barossa Shiraz and French barrels. Amazing already! But then, the Barossa’s pig-headed sluggishness to even trial French oak was probably equal to its notorious reluctance to accept the chilli pepper, which I first smuggled in there in 1988. The Barossa ate mainly white food: fritz, cabbage, bread, spuds, carrots, cauliflower, pork, chicken, and yabbies. The most powerful of the flavours there came from the butchers’ smokehouses. Many of the valley’s most influential winemakers (Peter Lehmann, John Glaetzer, Max Schubert) grew up in smoky kitchens and were chainsmokers by the time they were twenty. The smell of charred American oak was right up their gastronomic alley. The more subtle French oak was something the Barossa coopers couldn’t get their head around until it was nearly too late. Anyway, this is amazing, luxurious, and sinister red which would look plain dumb if it had been bashed with new AmOak. It has more than a dash of scary black slithery things and the sort of tannin you’d find in dried Devil’s wings: I’m almost surprised that it doesn’t make a rustling sound as I drink it. It certainly has the flavour of the drippings from the grille at the bottom of Hell. Astonishing, utterly wicked, delicious dry red. I wish Gerard Jaboulet could come back for a bottle. ($175; 95++ points)

Penfolds Grange 2006
Grrrrrrrrrrrr. This is a mighty brute of a Grange, and one which will take about thirty years to get a civil tongue in its head. White pepper, figs and licorice come to mind, while the anticipation of more carnal wickedness rises in the sensory sector. There are hints of dark charcuterie meats (Italian more than German), and very little in the way of fresh berries. It’s intense and immediately demanding. It draws the moisture from your salivaries, and makes the blood course close to the skin behind the lips. I can imagine sitting in the little office with Max, drinking this with a grand cheddar: he’d love it! One of the most traditional-feeling of the modern Granges, and one of the very best. This wine entwines the souls of Schubert and Gago, but remind yourself as you drink or dream: they may have given their lives to Penfolds, but the Grange got all their souls. ($600; 95+++ points)

FOOTNOTE: Would the anonymous pea-brained scum purporting to be "The Fosters Cellar Crew" who makes repeated attempts to post gutter-level libelous scandal on this site realise that I can trace them? Desist. Grow up.

GLENTHORNE CARVE-UP BACK ON TABLE

Hard-core Vineyard Researchers Could Learn From Gum Guardian: Do Science On Glenthorne Farm!
by PHILIP WHITE

Having seen enough vineyards rotting away this vintage, your correspondent was delighted this last week to attend what is Australia’s leading arboretum of eucalypts at Currency Creek.

This amazing plantation is largely the work of one obsessed man, Dean Nicolle Ph. D.; B. Sc. (Hons) Botany; B App Sc. (Natural resources Management). By the age of eight Dean (above) knew he would be dedicating his life to botany, by his sixteenth year he knew his focus would be the eucalypts, and was hard at work collecting and propagating seeds for his collection. He plants four trees from each source tree, and preserves other seedlings which are stored in scientific repositories elsewhere.

He now runs an arboretum of over 900 species and sub-species, totaling some 9000 plants. He talks of individual source trees in the Kimberly, the Simpson Desert or Cape York with the sort of familiarity most of us show our nephews and nieces. With other scientists, he is constantly running essential trials and experiments, and showed us an amazing study in progress examining the carbon-storing capacities of different types of eucalypt. To scientifically test the effect of bushfire on the different types, he even burnt a large part of his original plantings to a cinder, with the help of the local fireys.

It is alarming to realize that the knowledge of our most common indigenous tree rests so much in the zeal of one man, who has tirelessly done most of this off his own bat, working as a consultant to raise the funds to keep the whole complex exercise alive. To visit this quiet corner of the Fleurieu is a humbling, confounding experience.

Which brings me to Glenthorne Farm, the 206ha research station on O’Halloran Hill. In the late ’nineties, the late Greg Trott and I fought for some years to have this saved from sub-division and established as a research vineyard and winemaking site as part of the campus of the University of Adelaide. With some acute wheeling and dealing, and the assistance of Senator Robert Hill, Minister for Environment, and Di Laidlaw, local Minister for Planning, we eventually convinced the CSIRO to dramatically drop the fee it expected. The State government bought the land and a deed was drawn to have it transferred to the University for a dollar.

This deed was very specific. Amongst its Recitals are the following:

B. For many years the CSIRO has used the land for purposes of agriculture and as an agricultural research facility.

D. The CSIRO has only agreed to sell the Land on the proviso that the Land will be preserved and conserved for agriculture and other related activities and will not be used for urban development.

E. The University, as the person nominated by the State, has agreed to purchase the Land from the CSIRO, to preserve and conserve the Land for other related activities and not use, develop or permit the Land to be used or developed for urban development.

Furthermore, the Obligations of the University included the following very specific clauses:

4.1 The University covenants with the Minister that it will, subject to obtaining all necessary statutory approvals, do all reasonably necessary things to ensure that the Land is

4.1.1 preserved, conserved and used for Agriculture, Horticulture, Oenology, Viticulture, Buffer Zones and as Community Recreation Area, and

4.1.2 is available for Project Research Activities, University Research Activities, Education Activities and operating a Wine Making Facility.

4.2 The University covenants with the Minister that it will not at any time hereafter:

4.2.1 use or permit the Land to be used other than as provided for in subclause 4.1 unless such other use is approved in writing by a Minister acting as agent of the Crown,

4.2.2 undertake or permit Development or seek to undertake Development of the Land for uses other than those specified in subclause 4.1 unless such other use or Development (excluding Urban Development which will not be approved) is approved in writing by a Minister acting as agent of the Crown.

4.4 The University covenants with the Minister that it will not at any time hereafter sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of the whole or any portion of the Land unless it shall first procure from the purchaser or transferee a binding undertaking either to be bound by this Deed or to enter into a Deed with the Minister on the same terms as are contained in this Deed.

The University spent almost two years considering this deed before affixing its seal; Trott eventually set up a joint venture with BRL-Hardy, which would buy fruit from the first commercial-scale vineyard there, providing some of the funding for the further development of the facility according to the deed. The transfer eventually went through smoothly, and in the University newspaper, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mary O’Kane promoted the deal as a sensible triumph for the future of viticultural research in Australia.

“The partnership agreement between the University and BRL Hardy—two of the icons of the South Australian wine industry—will strengthen South Australia’s position as an international leader in wine research and education,” she said.

“This is a strategic, long-term investment based on sound financial principles and an assessment of the future needs of the Australian wine industry.

“In addition to state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment at the Waite campus, the University will now have access to a large commercial vineyard managed by one of the world’s fastest-growing wine companies. This will be a tremendous advantage in ensuring that the University and the South Australian wine industry stay at the forefront of viticulture and oenology research and education.”

Professor O’Kane said most of the land would be put under vines and some research facilities would also be located on the site. The commercial vineyard would contribute further money for research at the University.

“We expect that the vineyard will begin to generate income for research from the third vintage,” Professor O’Kane said. “We have entered into a long-term contract with BRL Hardy for the management of the vineyard and sale of the fruit, more than 50% of which will be available to other winemakers.”

Through hopeless mis-management, and perhaps some nefarious long-term scheming, none of this occurred, and after nearly a decade the University attempted to sub-divide enough of the land to build a thousand houses. BRL-Hardy was absorbed by the giant Constellation Wines of upstate New York, which has now sold everything at bargain basement rates, dumping $1.6 billion, and virtually left Australia. Your correspondent nevertheless spent over a year lobbying to ensure the University kept its side of the very generous deal, and eventually then Planning Minister Paul Holloway ruled that the University should conform to the agreements it made in the deed.

Two short years later, now with Robert Hill as chancellor, the University is again angling to wriggle out of the deed and grab some cash, so the writer is dumbly preparing for another battle, the third, to see this land used to avoid some of the destruction and mismanagement we have seen in Australian viticulture in the last few years.

There are countless trials and tests which urgently need to proceed in the world of viticulture in this time of extreme climate, global warming, and ever-changing wine trends. There are thousands of grape varieties never even trialed in Australia. We need urgently to source better flavours, and more drought and disease resistant grape sorts. There is a desperate need to research better irrigation practices and recycling of water, and scientific tests of organic and bio-dynamic procedures must be commenced to keep international shelf space as the whole world of gastronomy moves toward more wholesome, eco-friendly farming and manufacture.

To think that all the billions invested in the wine industry sit there awaiting their Dean Nicolle leaves me angered and frustrated. With the disappearance of Constellation, and the possible fragmentation of Fosters wine group, now called Treasury, McLaren Vale suddenly has no big winery presence to rekindle that sensible JV arrangement and get on with it.

But now Angoves, the giant Riverland winery more aware than most of the troubles of irrigated viticulture is moving into McLaren Vale with a new cellar door and vineyards, perhaps it’ll take one of the last great wine families to rekindle some sense and some hard, cold science. Any company that saves precious southern vineyard and farming land from ghetto rash would rise immediately to hero status. Internationally.

GLENTHORNE FARM: THE UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE IS ATTEMPTING ONCE AGAIN TO WRIGGLE OUT OF THE DEED IT SIGNED, IN WHICH IT PROMISED TO USE THIS RESEARCH STATION FOR VITICULTURAL SCIENCE, WINEMAKING STUDIES AND HORTICULTURE WHILST PRESERVING AND CONSERVING THE ENTIRE 206 ha PROPERTY photo LEO DAVIS