“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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30 January 2013

ROCKY WASHES QUIETLY AWAY

Robert O'Callaghan - still very much centre screen in his PR spin and images - and his replacement, Ben Radford, at Rockford Wines.


O'Kolhagen Slinks To The Side
O'Callaghan Clings To Crafted
O'Crocodile Lies In Shallows

by PHILIP WHITE

There’s a quiet transition afoot at one of South Australia’s star nuts-and-berries wineries.  After 29 years, Robert O’Callaghan, the founder of Rockford, is more or less stepping aside to make way for his winemaker of six years, Ben Radford, to take the role of managing director.

This transition business seems a textbook copy of the infernally slow but carefully managed transition from Mike Rann’s premiership of this state to Jay Weatherill’s: by the time the move is complete it will barely be news.

O’Callaghan has always been a painstaking schemer.  In matters vinous-bidness, he's matched only by Brian Croser in the control stakes.  He even seemed deliberately to slow the growth of Rockford to the point at which nobody was ever startled by change.  The whole thing was staged from the beginning.  Quiet funding from Doug Collett, the Woodstock Wines founder, and Richard Lindner, now owner of Langmeil, quiet stonemasonry by the master, Michael Waugh of Greenock Creek, quiet acquisition of a suite of grapegrowers (not risky vineyards, mind), quiet establishment of a mailing list, quiet building of the winemaker as local hero and social conscience, quiet investment alliance with a handy  refinery, Barossa Vintners, to make all the wines that cannot possibly be hand-shovelled through that famous wooden Horwood Bagshaw crusher.

And, of course, the quiet but stalwart accounting of Helen Martin.  Years and years of it.  Anybody who could successfully keep an eye on Doug Lehmann’s Basedow books – as she previously did – would be a likely ally for a fellow of O’Callaghan’s craft.


 
Back in the days when O’Callaghan answered to the name of Rocky – O’Kolhagen was also popular amongst the impish Barossadeutschers; Rocket O'Crocodile came later in the nickname division – he launched Rockford with a cutesy-pie watercolour wash of a label with vertical gold stripes across it like bars.  It glinted.  I recall comparing it to another bright new brand of the early ’80’s, Elderton. While they lacked any similarity of appearance, both labels seemed brash enough to offer something new, even if it were only attitude.

It wasn’t long before the wash went down the drain, to be replaced by Rod Schubert’s precise label with the gilt vine leaves.  Like all the best labels, that beauty stays put, all those years on.

Those were the days of the notorious Vine Pull scheme, when O’Callaghan launched the Barossa Residents’ Association, which through careful lobbying and constant public shaming of government, eventually managed to have that tax-payer funded destruction stopped on the grounds of civic amenity.  The wine industry was such a wreck there was little chance of stopping the uprooting on any sensible business basis, so the scheme was more or less brought to halt on the grounds of it changing the look and culture of the Barossa far too radically.

Nearly thirty years later, I’m still trying to get hold of a copy of the report written by Di Davidson and others who preached the Adelaide Hills gospel, declaring loud and clear that brave new cool climate viticulture would soon nudge aside much of the Barossa warm area tradition.  For some reason, this report, which led to much tax-payer-funded destruction and the expenditure of many millions from the public purse, has simply evaporated from all government files.  Former Minister Patrick Conlon promises me his staff scoured the archives for a copy for weeks, but all in vain. This report gave the Bannon Labor government the ammo it needed to heed the lobbying of the biggest wineries of the day, who were determined to modernise and industrialise Barossa viticulture to limit the number of growers they were forced to deal with. Thus came the Vine Pull; O’Callaghan’s stalwart opposition to it brought his winery many adoring buyers.

It’s hard to portray the scale of that destruction.  For two winters the Barossa was spooked by the smoke from smouldering piles of century-old Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro, Carignan, Cinsault and the like.  It was common to see gnarly men of the land weeping in their beer in pubs like the Greenock Creek Tavern, having just taken their pieces of government silver to bulldoze and burn irreplaceable heritage vinegardens planted by their great-grandfathers.

Counter to this image of winemaker as saviour,  O’Callaghan was also capable of brutal opportunism of a more overtly commercial type, like his attempt with Tony Parkinson, now of Penny’s Hill, to launch the first Tetra-pack wines in Australia: Angle Vale red in cute little boxes, just like pineapple juice for the kiddies’ lunchbox.

He repeated this contrast to his core small grower Barossa Shiraz philosophy a few years later with his release of the lucrative Rockford Alicante Bouchet, a simple raspberry-sweet rosé aimed directly at the sugar addicts.

But these precise marketing moves were always balanced to a degree by the cultivation of the image of the social saviour, if only on a rebellious Irish larrikin level.  Amongst all that smoke and chaotic destruction, Robert Hill Smith released Yalumba wines with a moderation warning on the back.  This was a voluntary move to pre-empt the wowser uprising of the day.  O’Callaghan was quick on the market with back labels contrarily boasting “Black Shiraz is the sort of stuff I was weaned on.”

Fame or that carefully managed larrikin infamy: it didn’t seem to matter much to the burgeoning Rockford fan club, just as long as everybody believed it was still true to its growers and them, its customers, and that O’Callaghan was a morally sound bloke who wouldn’t think of ripping them off.

A fifth-generation Barossa man, Radford managed some big winery operations in his years in South Africa, so he brings handy experience in large-scale logistics as much as his sensitive winemaking touch.  Rockford is not a little business. 


To fund his buy-out of his partners at Langmeil, Richard Lindner sold his 25% share of Rockford back to the company some time ago, leaving Woodstock’s Scott Collett, son of the late Doug, with about a third of the shares and a deep determination to ensure that things remain steady as she goes.

“We’ve had plenty knocking at the door with offers to buy,” Collett said, but “it’s always thankyou very much, but no.”


 
“I’ve known Ben since he was a boy running around with my kids,” O’Callaghan said in his press release.  “He is a good winemaker – our wine has never been better – and a natural born leader.   He is here to stay.  This is a winemaking company and it is critical that it is run by a winemaker, someone who understands that wine is crafted, not produced. 

“I’m staying in the business but my role is changing.  I’m doing this to ensure the Rockford principles are held and doing it now because I want to be part of the transition and make sure it is done well.

And as for the new MD?  “I love Robert’s vision of keeping the traditional wine trade alive and preserving the skills and techniques associated with that tradition,"  Radford said.  “It is such an important part of the Rockford story.  That vision extends to our customers and having personal connections with each of them.” 

“When I first came to Rockford to help with the 2006 vintage, I didn’t realise it was a three month interview for the winemaker’s job.  You could say I’ve had a six year interview for this new position. 

“I’m here to work alongside Robert, carry on his very clear vision for Rockford and, of course, amplify it with my own vision for the future.”

Sounds like more of the same stubbornly gradual determination at Rockford



 

DECEMBER 2012 BASKET PRESS TASTING at T-CHOW

On the occasion of his birthday, my good friend and fellow guitarist, Joe Manning,  generously brought a collection of Rockford Basket Press Shiraz to lunch.  All these wines had been carefully cellared, but their condition varied according to their corks. Being a rather noisy big Saturday Table, the conditions were hardly ideal for a thorough analytical appraisal of such a respected suite, but for what they’re worth, here are my notes.  I should say that it was slightly confronting to be reminded of the old VA-driven house style of Rockford: the wines seemed rather quaint and countrified, and gave me the distinct feeling that Basket Press is best consumed at ten years of age. All bottles were tasted upon uncorking, then double-decanted before serving. Given the conditions, I should make clear the fact that I erred on the side of generosity in all these scores.

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 1995

At first pour this wine was flat, old, frail and simple, with acidity that was no longer harmonious.  It seemed to lose fruit in great globs.  After double-decanting, it revived to a degree, growing some ferny truffly earth and the type of chocolate flavours typically made possible in those days by the local cooper, A. P. John. 70 points on the first pour; but after decanting, and a dramatic, but short-lived jump in flavour, I bumbled around 88, just for a while.  Simple old wine with rather harsh acidity.

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 1998

Once again, this old frail seemed about ready to drop its flesh on the ground, and stand there teetering, trying to balance its angular acid bones.  Double decanting saw it draw a deep breath and thrust its chest out long enough for my sentiment to consider 94 points, but not for long.  “Firm, stainless steel rapier of acidity holds this soft old lush on the track” I wrote, “coffee/mocha/choco crème caramel … smells like dessert wine … reminds me of the Mexican choco sauce Cheong once made to pour over baked fish in the World’s End Hotel … stunning for a while … goes all umami-fishy and acetic in another ten minutes … quality falls as volatile acidity intrudes.  Osteoporosis.”  

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 1999
“More fruitcake and spice here than in the previous chocolate cake models”, I wrote.  “Mace, nutmeg and star anise here … the palate’s fleshy but it, too, seems to be separating from that whiprod of acetic acid.  Sad to have no more to taste – it’s obviously popular - can’t complain; it’s triffic: 92++”

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2000
Although this was a really shitty vintage year, the wine followed the pattern set by its predecessors.  “All the above,” I wrote, “but with fresher balsamico amongst all that Parade Gloss boot polish and chocolate custard/chocolate ice cream.”  Another ten minutes after the decant, it took on the aroma of tight kalamata olives in balsamic, which led to the following confusing note:  “She might be a village idiot but at least she’s got freckles. 93.” 

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2001
This wine had more volatile acetic acid, holding the house style, but with fresher whispers of coffee, cassis and marello cherries.  It also brought salt to mind, and maybe apple vinegar as much as balsamic.  After double-decanting, the cherries seemed to gather confidence, and managed to flatten that acid with chubby love and chocolate junket.  92.  

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2002

“This one’s more delicate, yet cheeky and vivacious,” I wrote.  “It has the most drawing capacity so far … it’s in your face.  Perhaps the most desirable levels yet of volatile acidity and fruit: it’s cheeky more than authoritative.  Black pepper.  Chocolate.  Caramel.  Blackberry.  Shorter juniper tannins.  Spot on its fulcrum point.  92+++.”  

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2003

Somehow this vintage was poured into my 2002, so I refrained from making a note.

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2004
“Star anise!  Bright and whizzing creams and fluff, like confectionery and fairy floss.  Then the alcohol hits, reminding me that this will age in exactly the same manner as the others. Does it show some aspalgic acid?   Gigi thinks it has an asparagas character, which is close to the matter.  93-92+++”

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2005
“All the right ingredients are here to ensure the survival of the house style, but the wine seems a little advanced for its age; it seems to suck oxygen into itself, growing more acetic and skinny as it does.  My company, however, seems deeply content, having become much more smoothly moderate and oozy as this very cool afternoon rolls on. 92.”  

29 January 2013

BUSHFIRE DAMAGE CURRENCY CREEK

Firefighters reported dripper lines working like cordite fuses at the recent bushfire at Currency Creek, in the Murray Estuary, South Australia.  Once the fire gets serious, the power goes off, the irrigation pumps stomp pumping, the dripper lines quickly dry out, and then they catch fire ... photos Philip White

Wild Bushfires vs Biodynamics
Green Vineyards Burn Brighter
Reason To Revert To Roundup?
by PHILIP WHITE


When bushfire whipped through several big vineyards at Currency Creek a few weeks ago, it sent the biggest shiver of fear through the wrong mob. 

Not long ago, most industrial vineyards were usually absolutely blitzed with the highly poisonous herbicide,  Roundup.  Nothing was permitted to grow between the vines.  Every blade of vegetation which was not a vine was the enemy, robbing the vine of its goodness. 

Which was ridiculous really, when you considered the chill industrial refinery regime which then thrashed that fruit to render up its ethanol: the only sensitivity and care in the entire procedure seemed solely to be that sort of sanctimonious piety exuded by those who could sit in church safe in the knowledge that there was not one blade of grass left alive in their vineyards.




Barossa grape farmers even joked about practicing “recreational cultivation”: when there was nothing else to do, one would climb on the tractor, select the music, and head out and slaughter any rogue strand of life.

I often recall my first interview with Leo Pech, the spokesman of the grapegrowers there, a year or two after Ash Wednesday.  As if to teach the young wine writer some healthy Lutheran patience, he left me waiting in the rain while he finished hand-pruning a long row.  Once he’d finished he unlocked his truck and we took shelter.  He spoke with pride of the beauty of his vineyard, which was mainly bare swept dirt.  I suggested the best measure of its beauty was to imagine all its vines disappearing suddenly: I’d prefer to judge the health of its ground by the vigor and balance of what was left. This blasphemy was greeted by a derisive comment on the darn thing then being a firetrap.  

In recent years, wherever they farm, the better growers have become much wiser and less paranoid.  They have learned to regard their ground with a lot more understanding and sensitivity.  Fear of the residuals left by Roundup, fear of their soil blowing or washing away, fear of soil which is microbiologically dead, fear of ridicule from rival growers whose vineyards boast a healthy sward of grassy growth – many things have led to the vineyards changing appearance.

 
Led by a few radical ecologists in McLaren Vale, it is increasingly common to see Australian grape farmers fencing their vineyards so that during the dormant time of the vine, they can introduce stock which grazes on the winter grasses and weeds which grow after the grapes are harvested.  At the end of winter, when the vines’ new leaf begins to sprout, the stock is removed, leaving a thick well-mown sward of pasture and a million small pellets or pats of healthy natural fertilizer in a ground rich in fresh animal urea.


In the old blitzed earth regime, when such nutrients had to be purchased from petrochem dealers, dissolved in the irrigation water, and pumped through the drippers, vineyards generally did not burn in bushfires.  A few incinerated in the extreme conflagration of Ash Wednesday, in 1983, but generally, vineyards were regarded as reliable firebreaks.  The di Cesare and Amadio families’ new vineyards at Gumeracha, for example, were treated with sceptical derision until they stopped a big fire from eating the hospital, and then the town.

The vineyards which burned the other day at Currency Creek were not what I’d call biodynamic, organic, or even particularly green in their industrial philosophy or design, but they had some grasses growing between their rows, and these rapidly burnt to dust.  That fire burnt with a speed and ferocity which shocked the firefighters.  While only a few vines actually blazed to ash, leaves dried and burnt, the ripening berries quickly dried out, and some trellis posts burnt. 

In some instances, it seemed that rather than stem the blaze, even the dripper lines acted like cordite fuses: once the fire got hold, the power went off, the pumps ceased, the water in the black, heat-retentive plastic piping evaporated, and once a critical temperature was reached, the plastic burnt.


This has led many “I told you so” Roundup addicts to snigger quietly about the new “greenie” undervine vegetation regimes being irresponsible.  It’s as if any farmer with grass on his ground should be held to blame for Global Warming.

Uh-huh.  If we’re gonna start measuring the quality of our viticulture by its capacity to ignite in a conflagration, we’d better get straight back to concretin’ and choppin’ down trees.

I yearn for the day when back labels can boast “No Roundup was used in this vineyard”.  Such cleanliness can already be taken for granted in certified biodynamic vineyards.

If you’re interested in supporting responsible viticulture, buy your wine accordingly.  Learn to read the vineyards as you drive around our bonnie vignobles.  The best-managed, likely producing the best-flavoured wine, will be those without extreme leaf and cane growth, but with a healthy balance of leaf: just enough to offer the fruit dappled shade when sunburn threatens, but not so much as to stop cleansing breezes when moulds get a grip after rain.

 
The least residual Roundup, amongst other nasty herbicides, will obviously be left in wines from vineyards with a healthy sward of grasses growing beneath the vines.  If there’s a strip of black dead stuff running below the vine row, you can suspect Roundup, but check closely: the more responsible grower may have docked any weed growth there by the addition of mulch.

Where I live, at Yangarra, they’re planting large areas to new bush vines, which will become the old dry grown bush vines of the future.  While all the gnarly old pre-phylloxera bush vines we emotionally adore must eventually die unless they’re replaced, nobody else does this on such a grand scale.  But viticulturer Michael Lane finds that training baby bush vines to compete with weeds and native grasses and get their start in this life is tricky: stock will eat their juicy little shoots; they like a bit of a drink, and weeds easily outgrow them, stunting their growth; even eliminating them.
So those bare stripes below the brave baby bushvines?  That’s where a big crew of folks sharpened their hoes, and dug all the weeds out by hand. 

All that aside, never ever stop your greening for fear of hellfire.  It was the bare earth policy that helped bring on this evil New Heat.  Keep painting your biggest green picture if you want to cool the whole joint down!     



27 January 2013

COREY-TREVOR TAKES HIS FIRST BIG SWIM

Say "gidday cobber" to Corey-Trevor the tortoise.  Yangarra cellar sales manager Genevieve Molloy raised him up from a tiny lad the size of a 20 cent piece. Seven years later, she decided it was time that Corey-Trevor had a chance at the wild life, and the search for a girlfriend, so she brought him to work and let him go in the home dam.  He made a serious tortoise-speed charge at that big water!

 


26 January 2013

THE VIRTUAL WINERY : LOW ON VIRTUE?

Virtual Virtuosity Devalues Vino
Leftover Men Repackage Scraps
Good Or Bad For The Business?
by PHILIP WHITE

“I buy grapes from growers and wineries,” a passionate wine-trading reader wrote this week.”  We’d been discussing ‘virtual wineries’.

“The grapes are crushed and wine is made by arrangement with a couple of local wineries (not contract processors), and in a couple of mate’s sheds around the place, but always fully under my direction. I pay a good, fair and sustainable price for grapes, perhaps too much in some cases. These grapes go into our wines that we sell for a minimum of $18 per bottle. Otherwise, potentially, these grapes may go on the ground, be sold at an unsustainable price, or end up in some big bulk blend somewhere destined for China @ $0.50/litre.

“I don’t wish to de-value my region by flogging more wine at lower prices and capitalising on my region’s name,” he continues. “That’s not sustainable and is indeed very harmful.  It does happen around here.  We’re trying to do something serious and sustainable.”

This letter has been on my heart, triggering a mess of confused thought which crystallized this morning with the arrival of a visitor.

Dudley Brown is no firebug, but he’s usually on fire.  The proprietor/grapegrower/winemaker/blogger of Inkwell Wines, and former chairman of McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism, was burning.


Dudley (above) has a very sharp analytical brain for business logistics and efficiencies.  He’s been thinking a lot about the nature of the Australian wine industry since he came here from California to start his little winery.  He talked about the clay feet of this business, how once a winery gets real big, it must descend by its very nature into a psyche of compromise and damage control.

It never gets to the point at which it can boast of preventative maintenance.

“Like,” he said in his agitated staccato, “they can no longer pick when the fruit’s ready.  They can’t get if off and into the winery at the ideal point.  There’s just not the capital in the business model to be able to afford it.  So the fruit comes in a week or two after the best moment, and it’s too late to make great wine.  Regardless of how much effort went into the viticulture.  They have to correct it; fix it up with chemicals and tricks.  The whole damn thing works on fixing shit up afterwards.  Too late!”

Some distant background.  I’ve been up to my neck in history these last months, writing a big book about Penfolds Grange.  The minute that’s done, I begin on Ray Beckwith’s biography.  For those who came in late, Ray was the Louis Pasteur of the international wine business, making incredible discoveries in his revolutionary career, beginning with his discovery of the importance of pH adjustment in winemaking, thus eliminating the 25% average waste incurred by bacterial spoilage in wineries before his eureka moment on the Murray Bridge train in 1936.

Ray happened to be the bloke who convinced the Penfold Hylands to appoint Max Schubert as chief winemaker at the Grange at Magill when Max came home from the war to discover he’d been demoted to the role of lab assistant, simply for defying Frank Penfold Hyland’s warning that anyone who signed up for military service would be sacked.


Penfolds winemakers Ray Beckwith, Alf Sholz and Max Scubert

These men, and the astonishing team of scientific brains Penfolds had assembled by the fifties, after Frank’s death, revolutionised winemaking forever.  By his retirement in 1973, Beckwith was convinced they’d finally got the technique to such an incredible point of advancement that the days of fixing things up after they’d gone wrong were all in the past.

But Dudley’s ascerbic summary is spot on. Accountants and greed and corporate idiocy has almost rendered redundant the lifetimes of work put in by brilliant men like Schubert and Beckwith. 

Time to swap companies, and cross the line from the Penfolds winery at Nuriootpa to Kaiser Stuhl, next door, where that other brilliant wine scientist and marketer, Ian Hickinbotham had quickly risen from lab assistant to general manager after his 1954 appointment.  As “Becky” had recognised and promoted Schubert, it was “Hicky” who brought Wolf Blass to Australia in 1961.


These were the days of the Pearl Wars.  Hickinbotham (left) was determined to save the old Barossa Co-operative Winery Ltd.  He convinced his board to embrace their Germanness and promote their culture.  He changed the name to Kaiser Stuhl, and began a pitched battle for control of the sparkling market, which meant chipping away at the incredible success of Barossa Pearl, the creation of another mighty Barossa brain, Orlando’s Colin Gramp. He, in turn, had imported his own German fizzmeister, Guenther Prass.

Wolf Blass
Blass’s first task was that forerunner of the wine cooler, the essence-flavoured mix of fizzy sweet white with other fruits which we now politely call RTDs – ready-to-drink: kiddylikker. Cheekily pinching Gramp’s nomenclature, Hicky named Blass’s first creation Pineapple Pearl.  It came in a pineapple/hand-grenade-shaped bottle with a lurid green plastic emulation of the crown of the pineapple around its stubby neck.  Last time I was pleasured to visit Blass at his home, he still had a row of these proudly displayed along the shelf atop his bar. 

The advancements Hickinbotham made in sparkling wine manufacture soon had Kaiser Stuhl making enormous volumes of wines for its rivals.  He saved his growers.  Penfolds, Seppelts, Yalumba and many merchants all over Australia were soon depending on Kaiser Stuhl for their sparklers; even the phenomenally-successful Leo Buring Sparkling Rinegolde came from Kaiser Stuhl.

Mammoth profits came from these developments, which were all new technology: consistent quality-based works of intellectual rigour and secret pride.  But when that generation passed, it left a corporate mentality of anonimity and secrecy which has since decayed to a sickly, totally destructive point.

Nowdays the refineries do indeed eventually afford to pick what started out as good fruit, and then set about attempting to correct its accountant-driven faults later. This is why Australian wine judges were for fifty years trained simply to search wines for faults, rather than evaluate them with any regard to good taste, new flavours, and, God forbid, the gastronomic arts. 

And it has given rise to the virtual winery, where men with i-Phones  and Porsches trade in the slops that the huge refineries either cannot repair, or simply can’t be bothered with.  These bottom-feeders buy wine on the grey market and pay others to bottle it.  They hire somebody with pointy spectacles and a graphics computer to think up a label, and tip their mess into the market at prices that start at the dreadful bottom and move quickly up to rip-off.

It is in their immediate interest to destroy the small legitimate wineries who have bothered to grow grapes and build a winery of their own. They profit from this destruction, not just by making space available on the discount shelves for their “own” nefarious works, but by pushing onto the market the undervalued wrecks of the legitimate, whether it be winery equipment, unpicked vineyards or half-finished wine.  This is their stock in trade.


The scavengers encirled the carcass this last fortnight of Barossa Valley Estates, the remnant of that same Barossa Co-op which Hickinbotham converted to Kaiser Stuhl, and built into an incredible success.  After years of typical big company bad management and a disastrous union with the utterly hopeless giant, Hardy's-Constellation-Accolade, the Commonwealth bank rolled the Woolworths-Cellarmasters' meagre offer and moved to close the business down as it owed its growers nearly $18 million, or 40% of their total grape invoices for their 2012 harvest. It'll be interesting to see how that big (1000-2500 tonnes) new winery's stocks are eventually presented to us.  

 
Now we have the Wine Australia wine police actively scouring the records of small wineries with forensic obsession, searching for the tiniest inaccuracy, it must be possible, for perhaps the first time, to change the labeling laws so that the vendor and drinker can learn before purchase where each wine came from, who made it and where.  Like immediately learn its long wasteful path.  Not vague virtuals, post office box numbers or trendy insinuations of things which simply do not in reality exist.

I want to see the names of the humans responsible, the where and why.


And I want to know which wines, on those vast hectares of shelves, have been made by real people who have bothered to go to the extent of buying land, growing vineyards and building a winery, versus those which were not.

Like the worried bloke who wrote my opening paragraph, there are still honest traders amongst the shady at this end of the game, just as there was honour and pride, if secrecy, in those old Kaiser Stuhl days.  Such rare people should feel relief that they can finally come out of their closet, and enjoy the good reputation they have if they’ve earned one.

But until we have this clarity, this glasnost and perestroika, we will continue to watch the wine industry follow the fate of the dairy farmers of New South Wales and Queensland.  Since the milk wars of the duopolists began with their promise of cheaper milk, great swathes of that country is now bereft of fresh milk.  It’s all UHT.

Back to my letter-writing friend.

“I’m not seeking to defend or justify my business to you,” he explained, “but this is a heart on sleeve explanation of what we do – with a real commitment to our wine community – and why I believe we differ from the swathe of ‘virtuals’ that came after.  I loathe the word ‘virtual’. It doesn’t really capture what I think we do, and it comes with a stigma, a lick of opportunism. My whole original plan, as much as you could have one in this line of work, was to eventually buy or lease a small 5-10 acre vineyard, deck it out with a cellar door and a small shed of winemaking gear, and see out my days. The romantic, altruistic vision.

“There’s no ego here,” he continues, “but there are quite a few of ‘me’ around ... altruistic guys sans vineyard/winery. In some ways we’re bringing colour, diversity, creativity and freedom to the field, are we not?  It was never about selling a huge amount of wine and making a motza … given that domestic retail options are dwindling, it would seem unlikely that I will make my fortune this way anyway!”

Exactement!

Dudley left in a burning rage, back to throw his headful onto his blog The Wine Rules.   Somehow somebody’s gotta start listening to people like these, or we’re all back to UHT.

18 January 2013

HEATH CULLEN'S NEW ALBUM : FREE SONG!

Friend of the DRINKSTER and McLaren Vale, the scary beanpole balladeer Heath Cullen, is back from LA where he recorded his second album with Jim Keltner, Mole Taylor, and Marc Ribot. Not bad going for the boy from Bega!  Click here  for a free download of the first single off the cool hot platter, which we can't wait to hear in its entirety ... photo of Heath at Lazy Ballerina winery a few weeks back by Philip White, who lusts after that short-neck twelve string! This album's gonna work its way into the Australian canon before the summer's gone. Just watch. Best listening drink? Blue Poles Margaret River Allouran 2008, (Merlot/Cabernet franc) after two hours in the jug. Or in you.

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17 January 2013

ANGRY BROWNMAN IN AGEIST OUTRAGE

Dudley Brown, proprietor of Inkwell Wines,  former, and I hope future, chair of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association, has made an outrageous attack on sixty-year-olds on his rabid blog, The Wine Rules.  While he splatters sextagenarians with the back of his axe, he spreads general feathers and excessive product all over the chookhouse of the wine industry councils and governing bodies.  You better read it ... photo of the author and Mr Brown by Leon Bignell MP, the Labor Member for the McLaren Vale parliamentary seat of Mawson, and author of the far-sighted bills which will protect McLaren Vale and the Barossa from future suburban sprawl.

STOP PRESS:
You gotta follow this discussion! Brian Croser has now sailed with his bow doors open (twice), showing just how much head prefects of the old British type misunderstand the bright American revolutionary.  And now Max Allen has delivered a king hit.  A king is above a head prefect.



15 January 2013

A TOAST TO THOMMO; HE WOULDA BEEN 71


Wayne and Bev Thomas, having just been crowned McLaren Vale Bushing King and Queen - for the second time - in 2007 ... photograph courtesy of On the Coast and www.victorharbortimes.com.au

The Gamblin Man's Riz, And The Kingdom's His, But His Wines're
For Me And You: Dear Thommo!
by PHILIP WHITE 10 JAN 2013

Andrew Thomas, the ace Hunter Valley winesmith, Tweeted me today, advising me to raise a glass in memory of his Dad, Wayne, who was always Thommo to those of us who were close.

Thommo would have been 71.

Thommo was a fair dinkum dag.  He came from an age when winemakers actually drank.  If one was asked to attend his winery for a tasting, this would commence, often before opening time, in the gambling den of the McLaren Vale pub.  It would be Cooper’s Ale and the nags for starters, and half a packet of fags, then up the street to the winery for more beer.  Eventually, almost as if by accident, wine would appear, and then more beer from that vintage Kelvinator.  It was usually an alternating sort of affair, attacked through that omnipresent cloud of smoke. After a late steak and one or two bottles of red it was home for gin and tonic, and beer, with the nags running incessantly on the tv and then a bottle of Muscat.  Or two.  If one was eventually pointed toward the guest bedroom, one would fall asleep knowing that unless some miracle of redemption occurred, the whole crazy pattern would repeat in the morning.

"Dja wanna a beer to take to bed with ya Whitey?" he'd say, hoping desperately it wasn't the last thing.


The thing about this was Thommo was the sort of bloke that one really wanted to drink with.  He was never surly or changeable and was one of those punters who usually seemed to win something, but took a loss with a huge grin.  He’d hold the ticket in both hands and gaze at in child-like wonder, as if it were a guarantee that a huge win must be next.

All that aside, Thommo was one king-hell winemaker.  His first serious gig was at Stoneyfell in 1961 when he assisted Jack Kilgour make the Metala Cabernet Shiraz which won the very first Jimmy Watson Trophy. Then he went to Saltram to work with Peter Lehmann.  More trophies.  And even more when he moved to McLaren Vale, to assist the great Jim Ingoldby.  


Last big win: Bev and Thommo at their second crowning, having won best wine in McLaren Vale with the Wayne Thomas Shiraz 2005, which is only now beginning to show its true promise: a profound, deep, and like Thommo, totally disarming piece of work  ... photo from On The Coast and the  www.victorharbortimes.com.au

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He worked with the  Sacardo Bros at Angle Vale before those lovely old Adelaide Plains vineyards were eaten by the houses.  Then it was south again for a stint at Steve Maglieri’s Gully Wines before Jim Ingoldby sold him a spot beside Ingoldby at McLaren Flat where he founded Thomas Fernhill Estate with his spunky wife, Pat in 1975. Something went wrong there so he worked for Murray Tyrrell at Chateau Douglas in the Upper Hunter for a few years, then came back west with a fistful of dollars to found Wayne Thomas Wines.

Pat was another dag again.  A frisky designer in the zappo fashion and the pointy specs, she was pretty much a smokin’ and drinkin’ dude, too.  If offered a glass of white without bubbles, she’d say “White wine?  With me, it’s like foreplay -  not necessary,” while she lit up another one and charged relentlessly into the fizz.  Or the G&T.

Pat died quickly after her cancer was diagnosed and Thommo was bereft until he collided with Bev, whom he loved just as hard. 

Andrew, son of Wayne and Pat, went to work with Tyrrell in the Hunter fairly early in the piece, but in the spirit of his relentless Dad, founded Andrew Thomas Wines in 1997 and went on accumulating a stack of gongs with his own delicious works.  He’s one of the first winemakers to release a suite of reds according to their unique geologies, and with his genetic larrikin streak invented brand names like Kiss Shiraz, which was easily in the league of his Dad’s Card Table red fizz – “have two or three and your legs fold up”.



Thommo was always utterly – sometimes blindly, in more ways than one – faithful to his mentors, and he too was a generous mentor to many.  But while Andrew is his legacy in the Hunter, he left one of similar caliber in McLaren Vale: Tim Geddes.

Through all those crazy days at Wayne Thomas Wines, there Tim was, quietly in the background, emerging, bearing fresh samples from the gloom of the barrel cellar to gaze at his boss with the same sort of awe and amazement that Thommo would show those losing tickets: a quiet look of astonishment at the whole damn miracle.  This duo won two Bushing King Crowns – 2004 and 2007 – and then Thommo followed Pat through a nasty dance with the big Mr. C, and died soon after he took his lovely wife and shotgun rider Bev up to be crowned together for that second Bushing triumph.

A Kiwi, Tim started as a hosedragger at home on Hawke’s Bay in 1992.  He banged through the Adelaide Uni œnology degree, worked in the Barossa and Hunter, and eventually went south and dug in at Thommo’s.  Tim knew he was in for life when Thommo one day shouted him a brand new oak barrel and told him to get on with his own winemaking, which he did.  He took the lease of the McLaren Flat winery upon Thommo’s death, and is building a beauty of his own beside the home he shares with his bright cheffy wife Amanda and their two kids in the Blewett Springs gully.

He’s got the touch.  He’s up there with the very best of the Vales winemakers, plugging quietly away with three tiers of crackajack reds, all beautifully moody, soulful reflections of their particular patch, each wine imbued with that mellow softness and intensity that McLaren Vale does better than anywhere else in Australia.  He’s well past a dozen trophies of his own. 


Tim Geddes in Thommo's old winery, now called Geddes Seldom Inn ... photo Philip White

The entry level white label Geddes Seldom Inn wines are about $20.  There’s a cosy, comforting, Grenache Shiraz Mataro blend, a perfectly mellow, classic Vales Shiraz for the cellar, and a brilliant Cabernet from 40 year old vines, so prettily perfumed and bright to drink right away, but a dead set guaranteed winner for a decade of dungeon.  These are all 2010 vintage.  They are remarkable value.

Next up is the trippy trio Geddes Experimental, again from the schmick 2010 vintage, selling for around $32.  These are truly exemplary wines.  There’s an Old Vine Grenache (swoon); a Mataro (purr) and a nutty, appetizing Dolcetto which is the best example of this Piedmont red variety I have seen outside of Italy (pirouette).

Above that you drop your clutch and lurch into 2008, with the crowning glories: a Cabernet sauvignon - Petit Verdot blend and another Shiraz, appropriately called Another Shiraz.  These are bargains, too, at $42.

So in honour of your duty to yourself as a thirsty person, shake your tail down to Geddes Wines and stand there at Thommo’s window.  Bow to the mighty Kelvinator, which is always stacked with fresh cold beer. Tim regards that Kelvinator with the sort of respect a monk shows his altar.  He slammed the door with his knee this afternoon, arms laden with stubbies, and, recalling Thommo, said “There’s nobody around like that anymore.  I mean, when you walked in here, you knew you had a story, didn’t you.” 

It wasn’t a question.  And it still works.  




PS: I should acknowledge the source of my headline quote.  It comes from Willis Alan Ramsey's first album, about 72, produced by Leon Russell for his Shelter label.  The quote's from a song of Willis's called Boy From Oklahoma, and I reckon it's the best song ever written about Woody Guthrie.  I can play it over and over; still got the fresh vinyl import.



10 January 2013

CUT DOWN TREES PUT UP A PARKING LOT

Main Steet, McLaren Vale. There were beautiful shady mature gum trees here. Mr. Scarpantoni, of Scarpantoni Wines,  has cut them down to make this lovely car park.  I notice he parks his car in the shade of the one tree remaining, this side of the flags, behind  your shoulder to the right.  I doubt very much that this would have occurred if Greg Trott were still alive. He would have driven  down there and stopped it. In his gentle way. The rest of McLaren Vale must be dead on its self-satisfied feet. If I'd known it was happening I woulda been there with an army ... Buy your wine accordingly ... photo: Philip White

09 January 2013

NATURAL WINE IS BY NATURE UNSTABLE

Brian Barry, 85, one of the great Australian winemakers, watching my interview with wine scientist Ray Beckwith, who was nearly 101 when he died late last year.  Beckwith spent his life fighting nature's destructive influence in wine so that subsequent generations could enjoy cleaner, more stable and healthy beverages; Barry is one who still uses Beckwith's discoveries to magnificent advantage - we last dined together at Penfolds Magill in December 2011, at the Old-timers lunch, also attended by Thelma, Max Schubert's widow ... image captured by Milton Wordley on his telephone

Ethanol: A Chemical Compound
Fermentation Is A Natural Rot
Sulphur Is A Natural Element
by PHILIP WHITE
  
There’s nothing new about natural wines.

The first labeled ones I encountered came from McLaren Flat, where the late Gabor Barenyi made them in the old Hungarian style in the ’seventies.  I recall his white, which was orange but called Gold.  His rosé was brown. Sometimes I swore they had polka dots.  He recommended that they be drunk cut half-and-half with soda, as they were extremely alcoholic, which he thought protected them from spoilage.  He had a red fortified to 29 per cent alcohol. I had a friend who habitually necked them from the bottle and boasted that they never gave him hangovers. 

“No chemicals,” he’d say, unaware that all wine was composed entirely of chemicals, not to mention the ethanol he craved.

Gabor himself was on the record saying “You won’t get any headaches from my wine.  You can drink beer or anything else after them and wake up clear-headed in the morning.” 

They never gave me hangovers.  They never got a chance.  They had all the loveliness inherent in natural biological acitivity: volatile acidity, aldehyde, rampant bacterial business ... I could tell there was something extremely natural going down, especially when I compared them to the crisp fresh brightness of the sorts of whites Colin Gramp had invented at Orlando, or the brilliance of the Leo Buring Rieslings John Vickery made from Clare and Eden Valley fruit.

On the other hand, I’d observed unlabelled red ones many years before in my father’s little church.  Believing the world’s most famous winemaker - after Maynard James Keenan - was a teetotaler, he preached that the wine referred to in the Bible was in fact unfermented grape juice, which is what he attempted to share with his faithful congregation as a symbol of their God’s blood each week at communion.  

The thought of natural grape juice staying fresh in the Holy Land 2000 years before the invention of the fridge was anathema to little Whitey.  But even the Old Man’s grape juice wasn’t natural for long.  Granny Davis was the God’s blood monitor.  She’d get red grape juice, boil it, and sometimes blast it with saltpetre to prevent it from fermenting in all those little glasses in the blistering Mallee summer.  She used saltpetre, or potassium nitrate, because it was the preservative which kept the pink colour in her corned beef.  Maybe she felt it would maintain the hæmoglobin count in the Lord’s vinous blood; only he knows what her damned saltpetre did to his veinous yeast.  We had a nerd in the congregation who reckoned the nitrogen in it fed the Candida strain.  I’ll never know whether it was Candida in those glasses, but the battle between God and the Devil was usually well underway by the time the blood was drunk: I could see it fizzing.

There’s not much difference between rotting and fermentation: in both cases tiny critters and perfectly natural chemicals eat the stuff under consideration and make something else from it.  If the result is really bad for you, it’s considered rotten.  If it’s not so bad, and is, say, merely ethanol, we instead say it’s fermented.  As if ethanol was harmless.

Regardless of this micronit-picking, this is why the Romans used red lead to stop their fermented grape juice from going rotten.  It made the wines seem sweeter, heavier in the krater, and killed whatever lived in them, like residual yeast and bacteria.  But red lead is so poisonous it makes people go crazy awhile and then it kills them, too.  This was one of the reasons for the Caesars of Christ’s time being abject nutters: you wouldn’t want to do too much accubating on the divans of Nero, Caligula or Claudius.


Caligula: a right nutter!

So they invented the use of sulphur as a general bug killer, added that instead, and tended not to marry quite so many horses or make senators of them.

While the natural wine movement is driven by folks who like to plunge backwards through time to the pre horse wedding days when everything was pristine and wines had no added preservative at all, the general quality of the wines they make today indicates that some of them are stuck dangerously in the middle.

Once they’ve replaced the vineyard tractor with a perfectly natural draft horse they’ll have to face the possibility that their beloved hayburner may need some shoeing, footware which, being made from a metal which is dug from the ground, must be as unnatural as sulphur and lead.  These are dug out too,


Which leads me to the slightly more sophisticated marketing arm of the naturalists: the frigging amphora.  Many natural wines are made by squashing grapes, letting them ferment, straining the result, or decanting the best bit off the top, and bottling it.  Or storing it in a bucket or carboy or something.  But the latest fad is amphoræ.  Fair dinkum.  Amphoræ.


Everybody’s suddenly making natural wines in amphoræ.  My mate Julian Castagna uses huge egg-shaped concrete fermenters he sometimes calls amphoræ to make delicious biodynamic wine, but he wouldn’t call it natural in the way the natural wine movement insists things must be natural.  Instead, he suggests there’s a natural movement in the form of a gentle current which occurs in the wine stored in such vessels, minimizing the need for intrusive and violent stirring and pumpovers.

As his big concrete eggs are quite thick, they obviously offer a certain degree of insulation, too, and as concrete is porous, there’s probably a small degree of evaporation occurring on their outer skin, keeping things cool.  After such fanatical attention to detail, Castagna sensibly stabilizes his wines before bottling by adding a minimal amount of sulphur.   


Tarandsud, the French master coopers, will sell you an amphora-shaped barrel for $45,000, boasting of its natural lees circulation capacities
I was in a Twitter skirmish with a natural wine aficionado last week.  She said natural wines, with or without amphoræ, are an important alternative to the sorts of wines “everyone else” makes.  She really meant the mindless sanitary products the vino-industrial complex harvests in its over-irrigated Roundup-blitzed monocultural grapeyards for manufacture in its refineries. 

These bland, confected wines are as easily recognized as the worst of the naturals.  While they’re basically sanitary, and make up the majority of what’s on our shelves, they have nothing on the sorts of beautiful, responsibly-made wines that I slave away to isolate and recommend.

As inanimate storage vessels, amphoræ don’t begin to deserve the ridicule the natural winers have brought them. They’re no more responsible for the advent of today’s worst natural wine than they were for the madness of the Caesars.

But the most interesting aspect of natural wine is the vivid proof it offers that many people who consider themselves to be connoisseurs and aficionados seem happy to threaten the livelihoods of the makers of wines which burst with the signs of maximum love and care of both environment and customer but who can guarantee their wines will not quickly become unstable, or really horrible, in the bottle.

There IS hope, however.  When I asked my naturist whether she would accept a transfusion of blood which had been kept naturally in an amphora for a year or so, she said no.

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