“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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05 January 2013

ANOTHER STRANGE SHOW: McLAREN VALE

Freshly-crowned Treasury/Rosemount winemakers Andrew Lock, left, and Matt Koche, 2012 McLaren Vale Bushing Kings, take a draught from their top trophy after winning nearly half of the trophies awarded in the local wine show.
 
No Go With Wine Show Results
Damn Things Lack Exactitude
Tell Us About All The Losers!
by PHILIP WHITE

This was first written for the free Adelaide e-mail news bulletin, InDaily, in November 2012. After the huge response to the following piece on the Jimmy Watson Trophy and the Royal [sic] Melbourne Wine Show, it was pertinent to publish this again on DRINKSTER.

Treasury, the biggest wine company with property in McLaren Vale, and what looks like its biggest surviving refinery, won ten out of a possible 26 trophies in the 2012 McLaren Vale Wine Show.  These trophies went to good wines under Treasury’s Rosemount and Wolf Blass labels.

Matt Koche and Andrew Locke, boss winemakers at Rosemount on Ingoldby Road, were both crowned as Bushing Kings.  These are very good winemakers.  And this is a very strange kingdom.

Stephen Pannell, who once was boss winemaker at BRL-Hardy when it was the district’s biggest refinery, reinforced his dominance of the littlies by walking out with four trophies for his S. C. Pannell brand, a powerful result which should help him pay for his first vineyard, which he has just procured. Steve and his wife, Fiona Lindquist, won last year’s Bushing crowns.  Like most of the littlies, Pannell has no winery of his own.  But he’s a brilliant, if conservative, winemaker. 

Since the nonsensical Australian wine show system finally began to realise it had hit a critical and credibility meltdown, countless meetings have been held; a skrillion strategies discussed; and what-ifs and would-be-could-bees have been tabled by countless wannabees and whenisers and not a few seriously well-intentioned folks with too much to lose.  McLaren Vale was foremost amongst these thinking tanks, with a committee of, count ’em, nineteen local king-hitters, who between them shared twelve of the trophies finally awarded, not to mention the kingdom itself.


Over months of deliberation, they’d devised a mission statement which includes many admirable dot points, from leading the way for other shows, through retention of integrity and the inclusion of some “non-traditional” judges, to, finally, and perhaps most critically, “to assist in facilitating media interest for brand McLaren Vale and McLaren Vale stakeholders”.



































In providing my modest shard of media interest in response to their noble, if rather selfish  endeavours, I’ve been troubled about just what useable information this huge business provides me, or indeed you, my valued reader.

Having attended the excellent Bushing lunch as a guest and later unloading the 68-page document which lists the results, I took particular interest in the advertising sponsors.  Dan Murphy’s, that brutal branch of Woolworths which competes directly with most of this show’s exhibitors by making its own wine and discounting theirs, is foremost.  It is a great friend of Treasury.  There’s a picture of Dan himself on page 2, saying “One must admire dedication in any form” which he uttered in 1982, before he went to jail.

A little further into the booklet, Dan comes in again with his promise “Dan Murphy’s – lowest liquor price guarantee”.  The other, lesser half of the duopoly which specializes in such things, Coles, is glaringly absent.

The booklet closes with an ad from an outfit called, this is fair dinkum, CARTeSIAN WxG = [(w,g) w€W and g€G], the naming rights sponsor for the event.  This firm is in the business of “offering you a choice of specialty wine solutions enhancing your strategic advantage,” a quote from the new boss, Nick James Martin, formerly winemaker and travelling evangelist for d’Arenberg.  That’s followed by a quote from Descartes: “Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it”, which is more or less what I’m trying to do as I consider all this nonsense.


Of the 700 -- give or take a few -- entries, only the scores of the medal winners are listed.  Everything else, which is the vast majority, shows no score.  It fails to reveal who judged the wine, and what points they awarded.  My media-type interest focuses on the reason for this fact, as much as the vacuum of information it offers. After all those committees and then fourteen judges slaving away to give us these results, I’d like to be able to report just how these wines scored. 

Not to mention why.

As the consumer advocate Choice pithily suggests, “a gold medal is better than a silver, from any show; a bronze indicates it’s of sound quality, but not much more.”

The suggestion put forward by the Australian Society for Viticulture and Oenology clearly states “points for non medal winners should be given in the results catalogue, so that an exhibitor receives an indication of whether the exhibited wine was of acceptable quality or faulty.”  I want to know this stuff, so I can report it.  It’s at least as vital as the list of winners, which most people will never get to drink.   Most people drink losers. 


I want to list the losers.  Any producer, and most significantly the biggest, is much more accurately evaluated on the quality of its cheapest mega-volume grog, and not its tricked-up trophy-winners which few can ever purchase.

Given that a bronze, the lowest award made, indicates nothing more than a wine which is of sufficiently sound technical quality to be safe to drink, why, just for example, would a winery of the legendary status of d’Arenberg have entered 60 wines, and ended up with 36 below bronze? 

I’m not singling d’Arenberg out for any other reason than the obvious: after the mega-refineries of the booming Treasury (formerly Fosters) and the shrinking Accolade (formerly Hardy’s), d’Arry’s is the region’s most famous biggie, and is glorified by the cogniscenti, which loves such wines “of place”. 

d’Arenberg won 17 bronze, of course, two silver and one gold, and d’Arry Osborn was duly awarded the Trott Family Trophy for his lifetime commitment to winemaking in his beloved region.  But d’Arenberg’s wines must surely be better than these results would indicate. Some of their losers are $100 a bottle.

After all that discussion and money, and proclaimed intent to attract the attention of media dudes like me, why aren’t the losing wines explained?  If they expect me to believe and report that their favourites are good, why wouldn’t these learned judges help me understand why they think most of the wine in the district is not even worth a bronze?

So.  In lieu of full understanding of these issues, I shall attempt to summarise my personal conclusions.


First, it seems the wine show is the region’s own extravagant attempt to give praise where it thinks the media has failed.  But it does this, and can only do it, at the expense of that majority of its exhibitors whose wines its selected judges consider worse than sound.  It must be bullshit. This brings me back to the notion that shows should not be used as marketing tools, but should revert to quiet local events where winemakers can learn the hard facts about their products, if indeed they believe the opinions of the judges they’ve chosen.

Second, I can’t believe that when that huge committee began its interminable deliberations to rewrite the old wine show rules, it expected to be handing more than a third of its trophies to the biggest refinery in the district.

Third, a winery of the scale of Treasury’s Rosemount -- it processes between 10,000 and 20,000 tonnes of grapes each vintage, compared to d’Arenberg’s 2,500-5,000 tonnes -- should surely be able to knock together the odd clever batch for show or research purposes.  I hear Treasury awards bonuses for trophies, but to the grower, or the employee/maker?  Please let me know; I suspect the booty goes to the latter.  If that expert crew can’t deflect a few tonnes of perfection here or there for show specials, while they otherwise get on with making Diamond Label, we’re doomed. 

Fourth, I thought it was wondrous that the Bushing Crown was won by the schmick Rosemount Nursery Project Mataro 2011.  It’s good to see this much overlooked variety no longer disappearing completely into bland GSM blends.  The horrid GSM acronym was invented at this winery, when a marketer fell in love with a lab abbreviation.  The trophy-winning Rosemount GSM was a neat and tidy wine, too, by the way.  And Mataro happens to end with an O, which seems to be prerequisite for anything above silver in the new wave Ocker wine scene.

Last of all, it was good to see the Yangarra Estate Grenache 2011 -- which I contentiously praised here months ago -- winning the Chairman’s Trophy.  This is a radical wine of only 13.5% alcohol, and it’s made by Peter Fraser, my landlord.

Tellingly, the chairman of judges, Yarra Valley winemaker Tom Carson, is a Pinot maker.  The Chairman’s Trophy is awarded by the Chairman alone.  It could be interpreted as a signal that the Chairman suspected his army of judges had missed something vital.

I have always believed that good Grenache makes better Pinot than port.


To declare an interest, this is the author, who rents a small flat on the property, with weed-eating sheep in the certified organic/bio-dynamic Yangarra High Sands Grenache vineyard: never irrigated, planted in 1946, and winner of the 2012 McLaren Vale Wine Show Chairman's Trophy ... photo Stacey Pothoven ... click to enlarge image

4 comments:

Gavin said...

I suspect that there'd be a fair few very good wines amongst those that missed out on medals. For one thing, describing a wine as "faulty" is a lot more subjective than perhaps it sounds it should be.

I'm also rather sceptical that you can make a meaningful assessment of a wine from a few sips in the middle of a bracket of fifty others. Or at the end of the bracket. I'm fairly sure I couldn't.

Chromshop said...

Nie mogę przestać o tym myśleć

PTS Rabka said...

Dobra puenta.

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