“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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29 July 2013

A FITTING FAREWELL FOR THE GREAT PL

The throng gathering at Peter Lehmann's Old Redemption cellar at Tanunda in the Barossa ... photos by  Dragan Radocaj  for the Lehmann Family

A few quiet schlücks for Peter
No speeches at Old Redemption
Barossa folks honour Lehmann
by PHILIP WHITE
 


The day had a regal air.  The sky was blue and clean and the light had that honest clarity that only a perfect Australian winter day seems capable of turning on when it’s needed.

The gathering in the late Peter Lehmann’s name was appropriately held in the Old Redemption cellar at the mighty winery he built.

They came from everywhere.  From Canada and Keyneton, Switzerland and Kapunda.  Millionaires and simple farmers fronted the bar in the sort of quiet unity that communities these days scarcely manage to afford.


Rob Hill Smith, Norty Schluter and Charlie Melton photo Dragan Radocaj


There was dear Norty Schluter, who loved PL like a brother.  Norty’s family has owned the Greenock Creek Tavern since 1870.  Norty laughed heartily, as he always does, but with quiet tears on the side.  

Norty and PL taught me about harness racing when the big Lehmann house was going up and paying for that took many a seasoned wager at the Kapunda Trots.  We sat one night in the pub, adding a few schlücks to the schnitzels when PL muttered that he needed a big win that evening to pay for his veranda posts. 

“They’re a hundred and ten bloody dollars each,” he said.  “That mightn’t seem too bad Whitey, but there’s a hundred of the bastards.”

Wolf Blass was there in Old Redemption, advising me again that I don’t support business growth. Wolf blended his first red out the back of Norty’s pub. 


Riesling King John Vickery photo Dragan Radocaj


John Vickery, the revered  Riesling meister was there, as gentle and determined as ever.  When I was a babe in this game, I was at his winery once at four o’clock in the morning.  It was vintage, and there was Vickery, riding around the winery on his pushbike in a dressing gown, pyjamas and slippers, with a torch.  Just keeping an eye on things.  Reminding a winemaker to rinse a tap.

The stalwart Andrew Wigan and Charlie Melton were there, and Peter Scholz, and many other winemakers who are now senior men but started as boys working for PL, just as he started a whole lifetime ago, learning his dots working for Rudi Kronberger at Yalumba. Rob and Michael Hill Smith arrived together.  We noted the marks of the years we carry, feinting surprise.

There was a good turnout from the McLaren Vale mob, with names like Paxton and Tolley and Parkinson: people who build things from the ground to your table, like their Barossa colleagues do.  People who look after grand old buildings and simple farm sheds as much as special vineyards and favourite slices of country; people who keep our countryside looking like countryside.


David Franz Lehmann, Philip Lehmann, and the author photo Dragan Radocaj

 There was an army of wine critics from near and afar, all looking a bit lost about the disappearance of newspapers coinciding with the terrible lack of winemakers who offer the sort of Christmas pudding stories that fell off Lehmann like ripe fruit in a heavy year.

Big Bob McLean was there on speech duty.  The modern curse of the open microphone leads some grievers to talk too much on such days.  Big Bob was on orders to grab anybody who looked like opening up
.  There were no speeches.

There were restaurateurs and food merchants from paté magnate Maggie Beer to fishmonger Michael Angelakis; there were musicians and arts entrepeneurs and Rod Schubert, the Mengler’s Hill painter whose works have for decades helped flood the Lehmann household and wineries with colour.


Doug Lehmann and Grant Burge photo Dragan Radocaj
 

Andy Piewell was there.  He builds giant timber dining tables which will never wear out.  Important people, see?

There were wine merchants, of course.  The Saturno Brothers.  People who help us decorate our lives.


Light Pass growers Colin Kurtz and Dudley Boehm with neighbour of the Lehmanns, Ron "Snow" Andriske photo Dragan Radocaj



And there were The Growers.  Farmers wizened by winter pruning; men with leather in place of skin, and knowledge of country and weather and nature occupying the slabs of brain most of us now devote to television, i-phones and Facebook.

Then, of course, there were Lehmanns.  Doug and Libby surviving from Peter’s marriage to Nan (both her and their son Bruce are deceased); Philip and David from his life with Margaret; and a restless herd of vibrant grand children carrying that loud Lehmann gene that seems certain to guarantee us that there will always be Barossa folks who look just like PL.


Margaret Lehmann photo Dragan Radocaj

And Margaret.  The bright and fierce one who showed a whole generation of us how humans can achieve truly remarkable things by lining their love nest with intellect as much as fearless determination.

After the crowds went home, or off into the pubs and restaurants, a small band of fortunates sat around that famous kitchen table, drinking bottle after bottle of the 1970 Saltram red that PL made for their wedding.  We had it with pizza.

Margaret Lehmann in the big kitchen photos Philip White



Next morning I woke in a darkened room and a big bed with black sheets and red pillows, with fake leopard skin suitcases stacked up beside.  While I found some relief in the fact that I was alone, I wondered where the hell I was.  Eventually I remembered the brandy, and the Golden Scrumpy my host David Franz Lehmann had carefully decanted into me at his place - the old ironstone home where Peter and Margaret lived years ago.  Said tincture's 40% Riesling, 23% Golden Delicious apples, 20% Semillon, and 16% Jonathan apples (top gear; 8.2% alcohol; $80 a slab from David Franz).  

Pillage: Dustin Rogers and David Franz Lehmann photo Philip White

The feeling was similar to the morning I woke spreadeagled on Doug Lehmann’s kitchen floor, after his fortieth, with a strange head on my shoulder, breathing malty miasma into my ear.  It took some courage to turn my own head to discover which mis-placed blossom was the source. 

Fortunately, it was Rommel, Doug’s labrador.   

When somebody asked me who had been there at the big PL house that night, I found it tricky for a moment.  It wasn’t so much identities that had shared that gallant evening, but a team I could not easily describe.  Then, like all things Lehmann, the elusive suddenly became very obvious.

“There were a lot of feminists there of about my age,” I said.  PL liked it like that. 


The author in PL's cellar photo David Franz Lehmann

5 comments:

longrun said...

Great story and superbly written - insight, humour, sincerity, humility and RESPECT. A lot like PL really!

Sal said...

All as it should have been. The photos brought fond memories and tears to my eyes; the one of Margaret made them flow.

Thank you, Philip, for bringing the sense and feeling of PL's farewell to those who couldn't be there.

Brian said...

A very warm and loving description.AW….See you at the next gig. Will say hello this time…..

Thorsten said...

Fantastic!

Charlie Melton said...

Whitey,

Just a note to say I have seen a couple of your pieces on PL’s memorial. Both beautifully written.

Top stuff.

Regards

Charlie