“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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31 December 2015

HOW TO BREAK IN A SHACK

Triffic night breaking in a new/old Wordley beach shack: first feast at Anne-Marie and Milton's place on The Scrub: Mick Wordley, Anne-Marie Shin, Milton Wordley, Robyn Chalklen, Robyn Wordley and Chris Parkinson ... nine fine matured Rieslings with dinner ... co-organiser Warts and Playford had done a runner by this mature stage of the evening ... twas grand to see them Yearlings! ... photo Philip White

27 December 2015

MR GRANEY COMES BACK TO TOWN

I see the strangest things in Penaluna Place, whether I'm there intentionally or sucked in by the gravity lens that surrounds the Metropolitan pub. 

Last night I was led by a deep yearning for a Masterclass in Cool, as best supplied by Dave Graney and the MistLY - PUSH TO PLAY.  I climbed on my heels and went forth:

If one watches long enough, someone will come through a door ... in this case percussionist/drummer/keyboard-playing/songwriter/spouse/chanteuse Clare Moore ... Clare's from a line of Adelaide city publicans ... landlords whose dead-reliable rubbing strakes these knees of mine have nudged ... Juka Lester, anybody? Traitor's Gate?

... while David - I prefer to call him David - comes from Mount Gambier, a remote South Australian timber town which built its hospital inside the caldera of a dormant volcano



to be at the centre
to be at the scene
to be seen to care to be seen
to have a drink in your hand
to know the score
to flick the blood from your lapel
and yawn

two attentive young folk watch the band ... the music was like great aged muscat ... with a spritz of Steely Dan at their most pretzel lyrical and maybe some Boz Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered ... even Nancy Wilson/Tom Jobim dammit ... but it wasn't them it was them ... true cool and deadly ... brilliant original music

The Metropolitan Hotel was one of the first beautiful bluestone piles in Adelaide city to be properly fixed up ... my neighbour Colin Bond bought it and painstakingly put back its Victorian public house properness around 1980 ... the powers that were took instant dislike to the bright original colours he restored once he'd uncovered them after chipping a century of paint away ... long since, The Metro's exterior's been dulled back by some mob of faceless style police ... she's still perfect of heart, however ... a serious old Adelaide thirst emporium 

all the photographs above by Philip White

lyric by Dave Graney [Night of the Wolverines]

heart of Mount Gambier image below must be by God


24 December 2015

TWO FLESHY ITALIANS FROM THE VALES

The Italians pretty much invented Jesus' birthday, along with Gina Lollobrigida and the Vespa. 

They have also played a big role in the life and style of McLaren Vale, always adding a touch of Latin passion to the aloof cool brought by the Brits. 

With that in mind, take a look at this Serafino Bellissimo Fiano 2015 ($20; 13% alcohol; screw cap): Fiano is beginning to slot into the local gastronomic vista a bit like a white Grenache. Like Grenache, it's pretty and poised at lower alcohols, but quickly turns to porty gloop if let ripen too far. This model displays the fleshy face cream aroma typical of the riper sorts, and follows that with just the right amount of comfort in the saddle. Importantly, though, its resilient bones are never lost in its corpulence: while it flashes the flesh it retains just enough poise and dignity to bring refreshing lemony balance to the table. It can handle a serious chill, even chilli, and draws my hunger in the direction of chicken casserole with plenty of garlic and fresh herb, or a spaghetti vongole with fresh-picked Italian parsley. It's a good thing. 

Sophie Otton, Charlie Whish and the author ran the International Grenache Day masterclass at Serafino ... this went really well ... photo by Milton Wordley; photo below (Otto, White and Whish about to flee) by Rusty Gallagher

A little farther along the track from Serafino Maglieri's vast temple of pulchritude, you find the valley of the Italians on Sand Road. This is where the Petrucci family has lived and farmed for generations. Significant amongst their recent revelations is Joe and Michael Petrucci's Sabella Colorino, an ink-black astonishment that'll suck all the water out of your eyes, along with the last tiny beam of light from the room. 

On the other hand, the notion of making rosé from the black Aglianico seems in this case to flood the same room with colour and light: the J. Petrucci & Son Sabella Aglianico 2015 ($25; 12% alcohol; screw cap) is one of those fleshy pinks that paints smiles all over everyone. It smells like those cured hams hanging in the window, but served with a quivering maraschino cherry jelly. Once again we have a wine richly endowed with puppy fat, but never so much as to hide its racy bony frame: beneath that chub and pickled cherry there's an acidity as stiff and crunchy as bone china. You can have this on ice with a splash of soda with your breakfast panettone, or, dammit, chilled with that sugar-cured Christmas ham and crunchy white bread from the brilliant McLaren Flat bakery.  La vita è bella!

J. Petrucci & Son: Joe and Michael at Sabella ... photo Philip White

GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER

We dragged Mick Wordley out of the studio for an afternoon of veranda music yesterday. Mick's been trapped in there for a very busy year. Folks love recording at Mixmasters. Joe Manning came down off his riverboat and we got the corkscrew cracklin' and some serious old timber hummin ,,.  photo Philip White

this photo by GiGi

I'm lucky to have been absorbed by the Wordley family since my own tribe has died or dispersed across this big old country..

This is a favourite image of my adoptive mob: three of the four siblings: Milton, Dixie and Mick. At T-Chow, of course ... photo Philip White

And here's Mick rockin' his goldie with the Large Number Twelves and Charlie Owen ... in his living room.

this photo by Leo Davis; these below below by Philip White

Mick with Australia's rockinest r&b trio: The Donkeys, who manage to reform whenever Karski's coming through town: Jeff Algra drums, Les Karski guitar 






23 December 2015

2015: A JAUNDICED REFLECTION

Spinout by Philip White

Last message from the depot:
a year not had very well by the not very well but killed by others
by PHILIP WHITE

Now that was a year. My hermit life became very challenging after braining myself on a low veranda whilst moving house last Christmas; an injury which rekindled the damage of many other head wounds from my reckless past.

So my written output has been a tad erratic. At times it's been tricky to perform and now I look back on the twelvemonth through the blurred and bent eye of a bloke living in fear of becoming a very shitty old prick.

Apart from the odd notable outing, retweeting other people's bad news seemed about as good as I could do most of the days I could crawl out of bed.

There were too many funerals. One miserable morning I removed thirteen names and numbers from my phone. That was enough; I drew the line at that. There are more dead ones in there. Drinking the wines of the dead is little delight when their departure is still raw. The cheapest comfort comes from imagining how much worse it must be in Syria, and the Yemen - you know the long terrible list of hell holes - and that's no comfort at all. The world is in ruin; our politicians' treachery easily oozes through their silly thin shine.

There was no writing for pleasure this year. For the first time in my life poetry seemed impossible.

I tell you this in warning: my recollections of what is normally pleasurable are jaundiced.

Nothing much changed in the big volume end of the wine industry. The Aussie dollar fell, making export easier, but if the likes of Kingston Estate boss Bill Moularadelis are any guide, electricity price hikes he blames on solar and wind power would appear to have cancelled that relief. His Riverland refinery processes five per cent of Australia's wine. He exports it in bulk, obviously at the thinnest margin. Maybe he wants a nuclear reactor across the river, like they have in Bordeaux.

It doesn't take too many outbursts like Moularadelis's effort in TheFinancial Review last week to show this belatedly greening world how lost many big Oz wineries are beginning to look.

As this El Niñio progresses, and the drought of five and six years ago repeats, perhaps even more viciously, the irrigated wine business of the Murray Darling is sure to face horrid prospects indeed.


As I reported here in September, when Winemakers Federation of Australia  Chief Executive Paul Evans reported a 5% increase in grape prices, he added "This is an industry average and many producers in the warm inland regions in particular continue to experience enormous challenges. Our analysis shows that 92% of production in warm inland areas is unprofitable."

That came as no surprise to those few of us who keep our noses to the winestone. What did surprise and reassure was the number that then emerged from the top end of the market.

Wine Australia's Export Report September 2015 outlined the strongest rate of growth since the peak of October 2007. That was the last time the Aussie dollar was worth zilch.

In the 12 months to September 30 this year, the value of exports rose 8 per cent to A$1.96 billion. This wasn't the work of the giant bladder pack business. Uh-huh. A lot of that export bulk came from wine grown at a loss by those Murray Valley irrigating families who've not made a cent for years. But wine above A$50/litre rose 54 per cent to a record A$133 million. This is only 0.2 per cent of total exports by volume, but the report shows it's worth 7 per cent of total value.

In October, Wine Australia Chief Executive Officer Andreas Clark said "We’re seeing the strongest rates of growth in our premium price segments. Wines above A$10 per litre grew in value 28 per cent to A$426 million, a record for this segment. Wines in the A$20-$50 segment increased 13 per cent to A$88 million."


Enough said about that. The industrial revolution in much Australian wine seems to have failed.

While it did that, a predictable counter-revolution pre-occupied me for a brief moment. This was the advent of brown and orange hippy wines that called themselves natural. It was a tiny volume which gained a totally disproportionate degree of attention from the hipster sommeliers and those  writers who aim at that millenial audience. The fad of such wines, those with a shelf life briefer than unpasteurised milk, is mercifully waning.

Smarter premium grower/producers, however, are certainly learning to make much better, cleaner, more environmentally sound wines in larger volumes, which last as well as the most preservative-soused premiums of yore. That's very cool.

While I quote those reports of the country's two biggest wine industry representative and administrative councils, I should also report that their continuing failure to grasp the realities of the gap between the premium, profitable end of the business and the vast volume-pumping, loss-making, environmentally-destructive bottom end has never looked so indictable.


While these two, and other bodies, are currently attempting to merge into one supergroup, they continue to miss the point: there are two wine industries in Australia. One is premium and profitable, the other is bulk and simply not. While the biggest investment is in the latter bit, those practitioners need more and more to depend on the pointier, sharper, more respected and profitable end to give them camouflage in the export markets and to a lesser extent, within Australia.

While these two ends of the business masquerade as one, their propaganda and lobbying efforts are far too easily ignored by significant politicians. I know various key pollies of both sides of the houses at both state and federal levels who quietly say they can't afford to take too much notice of wine industry councils.



Which leads me to those who write about wine and its manufacturers. In the major newspapers, the most reliable industry commentaries appear in the better business pages, even when written by folks who are not wine industry specialists.

As their space continues to diminish, the wine recommenders in the food and wine pages become more and more slavish to the wine producers, and less likely to ever publish anything that gets close to honest criticism.

Like the stuttering repetition of the out-of-date wine show system, their relevance seems to fade as surely as the wine industry councils they consistently fail to analyse and report.

The fractal chaos of the blogosphere is not much better. Waves of would-be could-bees quickly subside into forgotten coulda-beens as they realise there's no money in it unless they get into financial bed with those they hope will keep them supplied with free booze forever.


So there. A jaundiced view from a jaundiced hack. There's no pleasure in writing this.

But I happily stand by the reviews of the many delicious tinctures I have recommended here throughout the year. Many of them retail for not much more than the cost of three or four pints of beer.

I look forward to having a couple of weeks away from the keyboard while I replace the tasting bench with the accubation table, and continue to get my ratty brain back into line.

Be very careful in the heat and the celebrations. Never drive if you drink. Don't forget the water. Don't waste money on presents nobody wants - send the money to the poor bloody refugees that somehow manage to stay afloat as they flee Armageddon.

I'll leave you with a better summary than I've managed here. It's musical and poetic and perfect and it fits my attitude to all the above and reflects my respect of you, dear reader: it's Guy Clarke and Karen Matheson singing Guy's Dublin Blues. Pour yourself a big one, roll up a racehorse special and find it here on Youtube.

In the meantime, have a very merry thing. See you on the other side. 

Ka-chink!


22 December 2015

YIU LAI SHUK FANGIN AT THE TONNE

Yiu Lai Shuk, usually called Grandma , is my dear and always merry friend. She holds my hand and just squeezes and squeezes and won't let go. She'll be 100 years of age on the fourth day of the Chinese New Year. That's not far off. She had a bit of a stroke yesterday, but is happy and well in Flinders Medical Centre. 

If you have any wishing energy units left, hurl 'em Grandma's way.

Those Adelaiders lucky enough to recall dining in the original T-Chow on the corner of Market Street 25 years ago will remember Dora and Gigi, Grandma's daughter and grand-daughter, who ran the show with Chef So and Chef Singlet No. 2.

When they brought their regional Chinese cuisine to Adelaide, these wonderful people blew our minds delivering brilliant fresh food true to their teochew 潮州菜 roots at deliciously low prices.

These folks changed Adelaide's attitude to gastronomy.

After a few years of only average food, the big T-Chow in Moonta Street Chinatown is back in its straps and fangin' in the top tucker division.

Raise a goodly glass to Grandma.

I'm shivering keen to have my knees under the table at her  hundredth. She rocks. 

Vibe her on, good brethren. 

Gigi took that photo of her partner Chis Sykes, master chocolatier, with Lai Shuk and the author. 

'Twas a good night well-had by experts. More please.

POSTSCRIPT: It worked! Lai Shuk is now home and happy for Exmess, and wondering what the hell happened. 

18 December 2015

MORE EXMESS REFRESHMENTS



Twenty-five years ago Stefano Lubiana triggered a considerable rift in his tribe when he suggested to his father that the vineyards they'd slaved away establishing in South Australia's Riverland were not exactly in the best place to produce wines of finesse. He sold up and moved to the banks of the Derwent in south-eastern Tasmania, and set about building that fair isle's first and only certified biodynamic vineyard.

Stefano makes three brilliant sparklers. The Stefano Lubiana NV Brut ($34; 12.5% alcohol) is a Chardonnay (60%) Pinot noir blend of two and three year old reserve wines kept on lees for two years. The wine has an alluring honey richness which never seems to interfere with its delightful capacity to satisfy and refresh: while you may not, the wine remains elegant and refined to the end of the bottle.

That end, I warn you, is far from dead, but comes rather quickly, even if you're flying solo.

Go ten bucks up the ladder and you're in the pink: the Brut Rosé 2010 ($45; 12.5% alcohol) is 100% Pinot released after four years on lees and ten months on cork. It has that lovely fleshy character that reminds me of the best smoked salmon from those parts, and makes the perfect accompaniment to that fine fish on toasted rye with chèvre and capers; maybe a sprig of fennel. I don't know of any French pink for less than twice this price of a similar supreme quality.

But it's when you stretch another tenner from the wallet that you really see stars. The Grande Vintage 2007 ($55; 12.5% alcohol) is another 60-40 Chardonnay/Pinot, but it's had seven years on lees and ten months on cork. What I see as elegant honey in the NV here becomes a dreamy cinder toffee, like the heart of the old Violet Crumble. To add edge and focus, there's a whiff of ironstone soil like you'll smell in that drought-prone vineyard on a hot summer's day.

But forget the sniffing: it's not really going to make much difference until you tip it into yourself, which is a very easy thing to do. Scrumptious stuff! Unless you're really driving high into the sparkling wines of that part of France they call Champagne, like Krug realms, this bargain beauty is guaranteed to make you feel very happy about sticking to Australia. While you're at it, give your glasses a chink to the pluck of Stefano, a man with a true gastronomic vision.

While this vicious heat riles on, however, the full bottle of fizz is not always the most sensible hydration vehicle. If you prefer the right to manage the strength of your holy water at this sacred time, the smart folks at Bickfords have just the tincture. While regular readers will know of my affection for the efficacious nature of ginger, this product makes me think somebody at Bickfords has been reading me too. It's called Honey Lemon Ginger Cordial, and if you slosh it in a tumbler of Absolut with soda and ice, a slice of lemon and a shaving of fresh Zingiber officinale root, I'm sure you'll feel properly blessed in a casual sort of way.

Now for some real torture. Forget the Exmess pudding. You can drink it. It's called Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Rutherglen Rare Muscat ($350-$400 for .375 ml., 18% alcohol; screw cap). It'll change your brain forever. It's prickly to sniff: spicy and packed with all that rich fruit mince and suet and whatnot that grannie would pack in her steamy pud. It's dangerously fluffy of texture, never cloying, and its impossibly dense royal fruit is balanced perfectly by staunch natural acidity.

From a solera commenced by the Chambers family in the 1890s, this is quite simply a mouthful of the history of Australian winemaking. It'll make you go all runny in the middle. Exquisite!

Bill Chambers can be my Father Christmas anyday ... photo from the Rutherglen website

17 December 2015

A MESSAGE IN THE SKIES

In blistering heatwaves like the record belting South Australia's enduring, I like to gaze into this favourite photograph, taken by the Melbourne-based ocean-racing sailor and photographer, Annie S. Boutrieng.

Yesterday was the beginning of a frying record hot spell ... senior Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Matt Collopy reports that such a four-day blitz of temperatures above 40C  “has never happened in December since records began in 1887”.

On a brief venture forth into the dazzle and fry, I  just bumped into Michael Lane, the vineyard and farm manager of the Yangarra vineyards that surround me ... I don't know how blokes like him can handle watching his hundreds of acres of precious babies endure conditions like this.

"Just gotta keep doing the best we can do," he said, with textbook stoicism. 

Map courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology Australia

BARGAINS FOR JESUS' BIRTHDAY


Longhop Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris 2015 
$18; screw cap; 13% alcohol 

Just feast your eyes on them weenie little alcohols. Then get cross-eyed over the price. That must embarrass and annoy many more pretentious practitioners of the gris arts. Always up the top end of my bottom spend sector, the wines of Dominic Torzi, Tracy Matthews and Tim Freeland come in three brands and it's a sweet thing that these Longhop ones have lobbed in time for the birthday of Our Lord. 

I'm sure that had he actually been a real living walking dude, the Nazarene would've fit tight the scriptural account which warned "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners."

If I just happened to be gluttonising with publicans and sinners I'm certain they'd love these wines, even before they saw the price. If the Son of God then walked in off the dusty track I'd pour him a jug of this baby straight away. He'd love this stuff.

Grown up on the ridge at Lenswood, it's a calmly-perfumed, confidence-stroking beauty. I tortured it with a deep chill and it seemed the perfect bushfire drink. Like your last one. Avoid that extreme and give it only ten or twenty minutes in the icebucket and it's so smooth and brook-simple and honest in its gentle viscosity about the only thing left to howl for will be the loaves and the fishes. Crunchy leavened bread with Paris Creek butter and kippers.

Selah.

Smoked salmon if you don't extend to kippers.

It smells pale and creamy like like big fleshy petals of the magnolia and water lily, with a touch of ripe yellow peach juice. It tastes like a cool, poised, bone dry healing unction.

It goes on and on and makes you really happy.

When He arrives, we'll join together in singing "I've tried the broken cisterns Lord, alas the waters failed."

But just for contrast. Not a whiff of failure here. This is Masterly. He'll get the joke. 

Longhop Mount Lofty Ranges South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 
$18; screw cap; 14.4% alcohol 

Crisp, jumpin'-up-your-nose Cabernet with all its twitchy secret-service agent Cabernet ticks; its pretty violets and blueberries; the soft 6B carbon and wood of the builder's pencil; the cooking chocolate; the blackberries and mulberries glowering like conserve down below: this looks like a very rich bastard's wine. If it weren't so dainty at the pointy end, and steely clean in the worry of its long slice, it'd be right wing, like maybe Bin 707. 707 cuts blunt.

Drink. Glory be. Unctuous then sharp then looooonnngg. Acid at the end. While that train went past my eyelid cinema played random frames from a vast canon of gastronomic scenes, leaving me to wish very simply for dribbling pink lamb or baby goat cutlets and a fresh lemon.

If you're a staunch vego and my sentiment seems barbaric I reckon you'd be safe just hitting it all by itself. But then it's clean and determined enough to go with your hairless shampoo-washed-rind cat cheese. Joke only. Your cat will rush you for the cutlets. You can't milk cats.

This is brilliant, clean, intelligently-made upland Cabernet: fine humourous and lively, at a really silly little price. Start your stomachs, face the ink, BANG. 

 
Bellevue Estate McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014 
$20; screw cap; 14.5% alcohol 

Cigars and old jarrah rafters be wafting up here, adding their funk to the constant groove of the Bellevue parfumerie and confectionary down below.

And the fruiterers: We got lemons and bananas and musky confectioner's sugar; we got candied violets and turkish delight; we got half-dried prunes and pickled morello cherries; we got dried apple and soft fresh nougat. We got eau-de-cologne mint.

For years I've been first to belly-flop into raves about these releases from Corey Vanderleur. (That's his delicate hand, above.) Every one has then gone on to kick serious arse in the commercial gong races and The Edinburgh Hotel punters' taste-off. Like the '13 has just come second, regardless of price, in the huge Winestate Australia-New Zealand Shiraz thing. No surprise to this little black duck. All sold out, dammit. You first read of it here.

Corey's done it again with this 2014. Grown in some of the only real trusty limestone of the district, which is of course in the main street with terra rosa on the top if there's no houses in the way, it's a tickly, prickly youngster, sure. But like its older kin, it'll grow as well as many wines you may prefer to go out and spend an extra $100 on.

The only horror is that Corey's obviously feeling a bit like earning something, so the price has just gone up 10%. Seriously. All the way up to $20. That's three beers if you're lucky.

There are many Shiraz wines wearing the exclusive McLaren Vale Scarce Earths value-adding badge that wither in the presence of this flash, stylish bodgie. They may seriously cost $40-$100 more, but the buyer with the biggest grin will usually be the red-lipped one with a couple boxes of this stashed somewhere.

It's another elegant, tight, gloop-free zipping boogie of a Bellevue wine, ideal for swooshy, spacy music like that Notorious Byrd Brothers album nobody average remembers. Rickenbacker twelve-string; Crosby steering the vocals. Then coz everyone was bitch-tripped and dwuggled they threw Croz out and put a horse in his place in the photo. And went ahead and used his perfect voice all over the fucking thing.

It'll also sound good with a minimalist spaghetti parmigiano, if you must have solids.

Crackerjack.

Sorry about the swarms of adjectives. But you know.

16 December 2015

DON DITTER DIES AT 89 YEARS OF AGE

Don Ditter, Penfolds chief  winemaker from 1975 to 1986, died last night in Sydney. He was 89 years of age. That's Don in the white shirt.

An absolute gentleman of the old school, Don took the reins at Grange after Max Schubert's retirement. His wines were perhaps the most staunch and firmly-oaked of the entire Penfolds canon. His Granges from 1977, 1983 and 1986 remain as outstanding examples of his art and craft.

The only time I ever saw Don without a blazer and tie was at Ray Beckwith's 100th birthday lunch at Penfolds Kalimna homestead in the Barossa in February 2012.

The photographer Richard Humphrys, nephew of Thelma Schubert, caught this image of Penfolds men John Bird, Don and Ray with Sandie Coff and her Mum Thelma, Max's widow, on that great historic day.

I am about to draw the appropriate cork. I can hear similar poppings all over the fine wine world. Vale, dear man. Ka-chink!

15 December 2015

JOHN CHARLES BANNON, PREMIER BLOKE

John Charles Bannon as I'd best remember him: tidy marathon runner and Premier of the free state of South Australia, on the steps of our parliament house, 1987 ... from the excellent book, Made in Adelaide, written by Marie Appleton, photographed by Stephen Hardacre and Denys Finney and published by Savvas, Adelaide 1987


Bannon clocks off: the death of a good honest man who trusted the wrong bastards and got shafted 
by PHILIP WHITE - a shorter version of this was published in InDaily


South Australian Premier Don Dunstan knew about wine. On the wall opposite his desk hung a huge bright splash by Tom Gleghorne, called The 120 year old Shiraz.

When he wasn't out, being amongst his people, or writing cookbooks, Don gazed into that dazzling beauty all day, every day. Every time he lifted his eyes from the official papers. Every time he answered the phone.

He chose it. It was there.

The 120 Year Old Shiraz ... I know the colour registration's all wrong but the images I dig from Tom Gleghorne's 1970 model iPhone are all a touch dodgy and the original's locked somewhere in the bowels of the Art Gallery Of South Australia ... thanks Tom for your approval to use it ... and thanks for inspiring Don and your life of brilliant work ... respect

Those were the times when our Premier also had a solid silver cigarette box full of Rothman's King Size Plain on his official coffee table. I think it was a gift from somebody in Penang. 

Context: Back then, Her Majesty the Queen, and her Mum, smoked Rothmans King Size Plain every afternoon at four in their special naughty room in the palace. I understood from courtiers I courted that good Queen Bess favoured a Campari, her beloved Mum a London dry gin. With their smokes.

Don's low table sported a great big heavy Dunhill 'table' lighter and a huge ash tray. If things weren't so bad as to prescribe a malt whisky, his was usually a good office for a glass of fine South Australian red and a smoke.

Don was fun royalty.

Two premiers followed him: Corky Corcoran and Honky Tonkin, neither of whom seem to remembered for much other than the safety of their forgettable heterosexuality.

The electorate, led by the media, felt contrast was desirable in those bony years.

Then, in 1982, South Australia elected the fresh-faced marathon runner, John Charles Bannon to take its premerial management chair.

Being the isolated village Adelaide is, it was impossible for a young hack to avoid getting to know Bannon; even call him a mate.

Bannon the thespian: the carafe is empty

Bannon would abide 'a good red' but he was really a posh Coopers Ale bogan: a Saints boyo. Way back before cloudy became fine. He was outstanding as a law school student for stuff like dressing as a mediæval peasant with Tony Brady to hand Prosh magazines to the gentlemen coming and going from the Adelaide Club.

Bannon buddy: Wendouree co-proprietor/co-winemaker Tony Brady at the new toilet block he designed and built, complete with Zen contemplation retreat ... photo Philip White
 

But wine? Bannon's Minister of Environment and Planning and Deputy Premier, the protestant trumpet-blowing preacher Don Hopgood, was in charge when 25 hectares of the Penfolds Grange vineyard was removed from the Register of State Heritage to permit its subdivision and destruction by the unholy alliance of John Spalvins, managing director of the Adelaide Steamship Company, beleaguered owner of Penfolds, and the former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, the developer John Roche.

I'd been campaigning and lobbying to have the entire Grange MacGill/Magill property saved as the Australian Wine Centre. It was all under threat. There was nowhere on earth, I argued, where one could come off an international flight, get in a car, turn right, drive in a straight line through the prettiest, most naïve Victorian-era bluestone city and be in that country's most famous historical wine complex within thirty minutes.

Max Schubert cried when they pulled his vines out. They broke him. 

He was my friend.

Max Schubert in his tiny office in the bond store at Penfolds Magill ... photo Milton Wordley
 
Schubert Court, Grenache Avenue, Traminer Way, Hermitage Road ... the street names in that bland Tupperware Tuscany are obviously the work of some mega-sensitive developers' poet.

I wonder how much they paid for such sensual lyricism.

Roche spent some of his profits developing a vineyard at Frankland in Western Australia. That was the first vineyard I watched die of salt. Spalvins can still be spotted here and there, dining on beef with tables of suits, drinking old vintages of Penfolds most right-wing wine, Bin 707.

A wine named after a 1960s Boeing passenger jetliner, for Bacchus' sake.

In a rare public spray, Spalvins made the news in October, claiming that the current owner of Penfolds, Treasury Wine Estates, was overvalued.

He'd know.

Reflections in the window of the great restaurant of Penfolds Magill Estate, Saturday 12 December 2015 ... finally, Treasury Wine Estates, the owner of Penfolds, has put some proper money into making the place what it should be ... that's Dr and Mrs Mary Penfold's original Grange cottage in the foreground, with the only surviving block of vines ... Shiraz, of course ... photo Philip White
 
Back to more ancient history: Bannon and his Agriculture Minister, Kym Mayes, were suckered again by the big wine ghouls: Penfolds, Lindemans and Orlando, the PLO. Under the guise of relieving an oversupply of grapes somebody came up with the evil Vine Pull Scheme.

The PLO sought a Barossa and McLaren Vale that looked like Coonawarra or the Riverland. They hated dealing with so many peasant grape-growers. They wanted cheaper, vaster, mechanical monoculture.

They were bedding Monsanto.

The oversupply, of course came from the swinging seats of the irrigated Riverlands, where the wine was largely crap and the profits scarce for everybody other than the toughest refinery-owning ethanol peddlers and the discount retailers of the day. Proto Shoppies.

Who were a colourful lot. Within a couple of years of the uprooting Dan Murphy himself did six months of a two-and-a-half year sentence for sales tax fraud. He was deemed too crook to serve the other two years.

Vine Pull. Folks like Brian Croser, keen to develop the thing he called the Adelaide Hills around himself, and vineyard development consultant Di Davidson, who made money putting new broadacre vineyards everywhere, were suggesting that Barossa viticulture as it stood on the old hand-hoed father-to-son scale was over. Just over. Full stop. Finito. Verboten. Kaput.

There was a report, commissioned by and paid for by the Bannon government, which led to that Vine Pull destruction. Not to mention the wasting of many millions of taxpayer dollars they then threw at growers who pulled up and pulled out.

Us punters paid cash in advance to diminish the quality of the wine we bought.

All the Iberian varieties we need in this new heat were trashed. While the cool climate Cabernet/Chardonnay/Pinot evangelists had their day, irreplaceable, century-old, pre-phylloxera bush vine Grenache, Mataro, Cinsault, Carignan and Shiraz were bulldozed and burnt by the great-grand-children of the pioneers who planted them.

Bacchus only knows the genetic stocks we paid to destroy forever. 

Gone.

In doshing out our cash like that, Bannon's government diminished the quality of the wine we were addicted to buying from the unionists in the bulk discount bins. The pattern was set: to this day they ensure that ethanol remains our only permitted self-administered drug. Through their stranglehold over the Australian Labor Party through the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, these Woolies/Coles/Colonel Sadness/Macca's/Bunnings/Hungry Dan's/Shoppie shelfstackers and tilljockeys now dictate our town planning, our cuisine and ethanol types; its price ...

Before I get too far into that, let me explain I got sick of writing that old men were crying in the Barossa pubs because the PLO wouldn't pay them fair money for their fruit. Like the standard minimum grape price was set by government at $186 per tonne. So a big-squirting Riverland Sultana grower could squeeze out twenty or thirty tonnes per acre at $186 the tonne, whilst a Barossa  dry-grown heritage bush vine vigneron would be picking less than a tonne per acre and be paid that same $186.

I recall the 1983 Grange, just for example. Very roughly, two tonnes of dry-grown bush vine fruit made about one pallet of Grange: 60 dozen. That wine was soon selling for the same price per bottle that Spalvins' Adsteam's Penfolds had paid for a tonne of the grapes.

Guess which grower took the $4000 per acre Vine Pull cash?

"I just bulldozed my great-grandfather's garden," they'd sob. I'd sob. The smoke hung around for three years. The Barossa was blitzed. Nearly all the bush vine Grenache in McLaren Vale was bulldozed and burnt.

Thirty pieces of silver.

I have tried for thirty years to procure a copy of that report that we, the people, paid for. Patrick Conlon, as Minister in the Rann Labor government, sincerely assured me eight years ago that he'd spent ten grand of taxpayers' money attempting to find a copy in the government files. Last time we spoke, he guaranteed it still wasn't there.

Now Patrick's not there.

For fuck's sake. Labor spent millions of our money butchering this country's irreplaceable viticultural heritage, and they haven't got a copy of the report? Surely folks who write such diatribes at the taxpayers' expense are obliged by contract to keep a copy for inquisitive folks? Gimme. What have they got to hide?

The Australian National Wine Centre: an ordinary suburban arena imposed upon the Adelaide Botanic Garden, with its back to the people ...  now little more than a bling-rich wedding joint

The other mob's no better. Thanks to folks like Croser, the National Wine Centre rose from my old Penfolds Magill idea. But his gang insisted their Shangri-La should be new, and his Liberal mates agreed. Liberal Premier Dean Brown wanted to squeeze it into Tram Barn A on Hackney Road. He was toppled by his colleague, John Olsen, who dared to impose it on our Botanic Gardens.

The joint was virtually bankrupt before it even opened. It was run by the person who's just landed in the Senate, without election: Ann Ruston (left, with her son and another bloke), more or less the deputy deputy Prime Minister Bananaby Joyce's assistant minister for all the water in the Murray-Darling Basin if there's any left and Bananaby lets her. She owns Australia's biggest rose garden in the Riverland and now the National Wine Centre's our most ridiculous wedding shack, with a wing full of the offices of the hipster equivalent of the children of the wine bureaucrats who put it all up there at the small consideration of about $50 million of our money.

Roses. Roses everywhere. Weddings.

But Labor's back in, of course, and such tasteless nonsense is repeating through the current government's Regional Development Fund, where taxpayers' money is being shloshed around like somebody else's water. Who are these people? From where I stand, not one serious grant has made much sense. $2 million to Wolf Blass? $2 million to Chester Osborn? 

There are more of these extravagances coming. It's our money, not the bloody government's.

But back to John Charles Bannon. At our first official encounter he came out from behind his desk, sat on the easy chair beside me, put his right leg over his left knee, pulled his sock down and his trouser up and played with a hair on his tight marathon-running calf for about half an hour.

I knew he was a good, truth-telling sort of a bloke. But then the State Bank splattered all over the wall behind him while his dad, the great artist and printmaker, Charles Bannon, emerged from the Flinders Ranges to begin nudging the rubbing strakes beside me in The Exeter. John's gubmunt was crook; Charlie Bannon was still rooster cocky with his chest thrust forward, but inside he was in worse shape than the economy. Cancer. The hospital was a block away.

Everyone in that pub knew that the bank was down three or four billion, yet it had never been mentioned in parliament or the press. It took a respectful conservative, Jennifer Cashmore to eventually stand up in the house and ask the big question: is the bank crook, too? Upon which everyone feigned aghastment. Two years too late.

When Charlie was really full-bore dying of cancer he phoned and asked me to get his war service revolver from the glove box of his ute in the car park and smuggle it into his ward so he could step away from the horror at his own leisure.

He teased me when I explained I'd even consider shooting him as a mate, but whether I did it or he did, I'd be an accessory to his slaughter, having smuggled the roscoe. Heaven for him; gaol for me. Instead, the painters Basil Hadley and Tim John smuggled proper food in, and we delivered the odd good red, whether he could drink it or not.

In the middle of all that I was on the local ABC891 doing the morning show and I'd just fanged through a half hour of queries about the bank and asked who'd got all the billions and why wouldn't the Premier answer our calls. That was hard work that stuff, because I still admired John and his commitment and ordinariness and knew far too much of who'd ripped this naïve state off and what that Premier's own father thought of his son's management capacities and how much he thought that son of his felt obliged to prove.

I ran down the corridor to the toilets in the newsbreak. When I got back the producer said "Whitey, Bannon's on the phone. He called back. He'll only speak to you."

No mention of the bank. He told me Charles was dead and asked whether I'd eulogise at the funeral gathering in the Don Bradman Room a few days hence.

"He loved drinking with you blokes in The Ex," he said.


That, I thought, and think more, was a mark of John Bannon's greatness. He was jealous of his fierce Dad's ability to sit in the pub and drink Coopers with his mates. And he was simply, country-boy naïve. He never expected to find real bad guys in his town.

Since his premiership, look at who's had their arse on that awkward chair. Remember Dean Brown? He was toppled by John Wayne Olsen (fair dinkum), who was of the same party, but could waterski barefoot and went to live in California. Mike Rann? Remember him? He went to live in Italy.

We pay for these blokes to go and live in such places.

Jay Weatherill? He just gave $2 million to Wolf Blass and another $2 million to Chester Osborn. Our bloody money.

He was no Don Dunstan, and he was a runner more than a smoker, but at least I can remember John Charles Bannon. He caught the same deadly stuff that topped his canny Dad, and lived it out as proudly.

But as Premier of our state? Bewildered and hoodwinked by the big bad end of town, he gave our money to the busted-arse grape-growers.