“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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17 September 2017

HONEYMOON VINEYARD AND ROMNEY PARK

My friend Rose Le saved me from too much blues yesterday and arrived in a van full of mates to carry me away over the range to visit the Honeymoon Vineyard and winery of Jane Bromley and Hylton McLean at Echunga.


Rod Short drove across from his Romney Park vineyard and winery at Hahndorf to meet us here at the halfway Honeymoon house. We sat back to drink and marvel at the decade of wines these two bold and brilliant little businesses can now put on the table.

Between them, these cool-country wineries grow and make ultra-fine  Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Shiraz for brilliant sparkling and still wines.

The Quaker and temperance advocate  John Barton Hack planted the first vines outside the city of Adelaide just over that ridge at his Echunga Gardens farm in 1839, only three years after the colony of South Australia was declared a province of Great Britain.  

This rich upland country is where the Peramangk people had lived for many millennia before they were killed by summary brutality or slow white man disease or somehow assimilated into the culture of their coastal neighbours, the Kuarna.

After a solid six-hour sesh at the snifters: L-R: Tracy Simpson, Rod Short, hosts Jane Bromley and Hylton McLean, Scott Simpson, Rose Le, the author, and Katy Phan ... a truly memorable and delicious day it was, although I did find this strange shred of hillsbilly gothness in my camera this morning:


 all photographs by Philip White

15 September 2017

McCARTHY'S PEEPTOE PEARL AND COCO

McCarthy's Orchard The Peeptoe Reserve Old Vine McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 
($45; 14% alcohol, screw cap) 

Peeptoe is a familial term of endearment for the mighty Pearl McCarthy, who, at three years of age, seems ready for her first Harris tweed. She's already determined that she's the only one wise enough to run the joint. Adults are so damn analogue and dorky to Pearl. They're disobedient. They laugh too much. Any sensible woman knows that happiness is no excuse for laughter. 

McCarthy's Orchard is the amazing farm opposite Goodieson's Brewery on Sand Road. I wrote of it recently but got stuck on their disarming pale Grenache Rosé. They grow just about every fruit one can squeeze from a decent sandhill, including mangoes. Mangoes. This farm of Pearl's adults is probably the only place on the planet where mangoes grow - admittedly begrudgingly - alongside gnarly Shiraz vines that are nearly as old as me. 

This wine beats a lot of hot brash glamorites with post-modern monikers and labels made by people with a haircut; many much more expensive and certainly more famous than this fairly-priced, smouldering, sultry marvel. It is, put simply, better at being it than they are at being that. All those surly, smooth, intense red berries we expect of such determined and venerable vine gardens are merely poking a toe out from beneath the duvet so far, and the silk-and-velvet texture of the wine, with that lovely staunch acidity, are truly deserving of the seasoned French barrels which tickle the edges of Peeptoe Pearl's namesake in a much more alluring manner than any American oak could do. 

I'm sure that Pearl, when she's officially old enough to sit down to a proper glass of this, will approve. It'll live that long. It'll be glorious. 

McCarthy's Orchard My Coco Reserve Old Vine McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2015  
($45; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Named after Pearl's minder, her elder sister Coco McCarthy, and made from more fifty-plus-year-olds by Andy Coppard, this is another grand sleeper carved out for your best Riedel stemware beside a candle, a Vegemite glass that don't leak beside a block of proper cheddar and a slice of quince, or a good cellar with a lock. 

It has all the intensity and brooding promise of the Peeptoe, but with the extra florals and fragrances grand old Cabernet sometimes affords us. This morning, for example, it waves eau-de-cologne mint, violets and musky/marshmallow confectioner's sugar at my flaring receptors. Come in, sunshine. 

It's juicy and sinuous, sweet yet bone dry, supple yet intense, with flavours akin to the dried figs and jujube berries McCarthy's have for sale at their farm gate. While Peeptoe may sometimes think Coco has dangerously frivolous tendencies, these two remarkable wines are very well named. 

I'll bet, like their namesakes, they'll be hunting in a scary pack of two in fifteen years. Good cop; bad cop.  Shivers. 

Lisa and Mark McCarthy ... photos Philip White

13 September 2017

CALIFORNIA MOUNTAINS VINTAGE REPORT

NOT CALIFORNIA CABERNET:
Bushfire-scorched wine grapes on the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia, vintage 2013 ... contrary to common myth, vineyards will burn if the weather's hot enough ...  and as its patterns hang about long enough to be climate, weather's getting hotter and wetter and it moves around quite a lot quicker than it used to do

'This shit is real' California Cabernet king talks of vintage in the New Heat
by PHILIP WHITE

"How much warming, then, can justly be attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases? Taking all evidence into account, the proven amount is: none ... from a viticultural viewpoint we can conclude that any anthropogenic changes to mean temperatures will be small and, for some decades to come, unlikely to have major effects beyond those of natural climate variability." 

That's the revered grandfather of many dogmas in Australian viticulture, the Western Australian Dr. John Gladstones, writing in his Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2011). 

Dr. John has many fervid disciples in positions of power in Australian wine superstructure, even on its bridge. At the wheel. These gubernators have gone a shade quiet on the topic this year.

As most grapegrower-winemakers tend to do, Raymond Haak, a representative of the vignerons of the Gulf Coast wine region, in Texas, rather blithely dismissed the fact that their vineyards 40 kilometres from Houston had just taken nearly 1,500 millimetres of rain.

That's almost the height of the average human if you need to measure it on the gulp scale. But most of the Gulf region's grapes were already picked and in the tank. 

Whew. Close one!

"We had a little bit of water in the cellar, and lost power for about 16 hours," Raymond told Wines & Vines when the rain stopped. 

"But now we’re doing great; we’re back on our feet. The crop was all off the vines, and that takes a load off the vine. They can have wet feet for several weeks if the crop is off." 

If the crop is off.

It's only started coming off and there's no wet feet in California. While the south seemed to sink, the north of the USA was glazed in bushfire haze while the west sweltered and burnt. Cross to Chris Carpenter, maker of some of the best - and most expensive - Cabernets in California. He makes wine from the peaches-and-cream mountaintop vineyards of the Jackson Family: Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota and Mt. Brave, as well as their prime Hickinbotham Vineyard at Clarendon on the Onkaparinga Gorge south of Adelaide in South Australia.

Chris Carpenter with Cabernet sauvignon from the Jackson Family's Hickinbotham Clarendon Estate in South Australia

"Two days before the heat hit," he responded to my query, "as we were watching that high pressure system roll in, two of my irrigation pumps went out, on two different mountains in vineyards that desperately needed a drink. 

"Fitful days ensued: earnest pleas to colleagues, pump engineering wizards and friends and foes alike just to make sure that we got them fixed. There was not a doubt in my mind that the heat was coming.

"How could it not be?  There were killer hurricanes, one heading to desperate souls in Texas and right behind it was another, its eye on Florida.  Los Angeles and much of the West was on fire. Northern California wasn't going to let the rest of the country have all the fun. Somewhere Hal Lindsay was smiling.


"Three days of 45-46C.  Three days of hiding indoors, as even the coast didn't offer relief.  Three days of watching trees, shrubs and ornamental plants meant for climates in places like Canada lose their grip on their time on this planet. Three days of contemplating mother nature's feverish attempts to rid her body of the virus that is humanity. The planet is an organism, and like all organisms it reacts to changes in its health with heat and we are living that reaction. 

"Mother nature's flu virus is us and the massive fever we are experiencing is meant to eradicate it."

Annika Berlingieri, who usually cooks bounteous weekend long-table lunches at the Petagna-Piombo families' Sellicks Hill Wines in McLaren Vale, reported from Tuscany that superfrost followed by superdrought had severely limited the crop. The Vinosalvo Shiraz and Sangiovese vineyard established there by Alison Hodder, third woman to graduate from the Roseworthy Winemaking College, with her partner Claudio Berlingieri, was not spared. 

Alison Hodder surveys the survivors of her sparse 2017 crop at De Vinosalvo vineyard in Tuscany ... photo Annika Berlingieri

"Yields are very low and it's depressing," Annika reports. "The Shiraz vineyard last year produced 14 tonnes. This year 2.5! Alison has purchased a bit of fruit to top up but no one really has much to sell, especially Shiraz, here! I've seen some pretty dry shriveled vines and grapes the last week. But what she crushed is looking beautiful so fingers crossed!" 

As most of the great vignobles of Europe can testify. Some of the biggest, and most famous are whispering about a harvest that could be the smallest since 1945. France, overall, is looking to be around 20% down on last year; Italy 24% lower. 

This is all directly related to climate changes.

Back in California, Chris reports extra damage from critters. He says that heavy rains of winter produced "a huge growth of the cover crop plants between the rows. So much growth that it was nearly impossible to keep up with the mowing needed ... the rodent population exploded.  Gophers, ground squirrels and voles made their way through the cover of grasses ... undetected by owls, hawks, falcons, snakes, and the occasional feral cat. None of these combatants could see or smell their elusive and prolific prey. When the heat hit [the rodents] took to the plants to suck what water they could from their roots and graft unions, exacerbating the devastating affect of the heat.

"Merlot is the preferred variety of rodents: I have seen this effect in our vineyards most on this particular variety.  Take that Miles."

That unusual winter rain had Chris's favourite vineyards 10 days behind in picking. "With the amount of water in the soil we were looking at a late harvest and it was likely that it would happen all at once. That is no longer the case as we began picking almost immediately after the weekend. The sugars shot up but the acid metabolism stalled. Again a good thing as we will likely be picking with pretty high acids. And the phenolics are outstanding in the berries I am tasting.  I have yet to figure out that part of the equation. 

"Speaking of variety the thick skinned varieties seem to have fared better, and are bouncing back a little better as we have tried to rehydrate some of the shriveled berries post heat." 

While I write this, I'm enjoying a lovely white from 700 metres up the mountains east of Tokyo and directly north of Mount Fuji. Grace Gris de Koshu 2016 ($45, 12% alcohol; compound cork) is from the Koshu variety, which found its way along the silk route from the Caucasus, where it's been for over a thousand years. 

Beautifully floral, rich with nectar and fine honeydew melon flavours, with really refreshing steely high-country acidity, this baby shows no warming unless you refer to the wine losing some of its crisp chill and growing a little muscaty as it warms in the glass: it's more or less along the lines of the Mediterranean French Picpoul, which is beginning to appear in smart vineyards around McLaren Vale. 

It's simultæneously comforting and bracing. Yin and yang. They say it goes well with sushi, but I reckon, more to the point, its slightly sweet flesh is perfect for counterbalancing the sharp ammonia of wasabi. You can't do that with Sauvignon blanc.

My point being that rodents and pumps aside, we're gonna have to get used to a lot of our vineyards moving to the mountaintops, in places like the Americas and Japan, like countries that have the big cold white pointy things, or grow them closer to the melting poles.

"Ultimately we got our pumps fixed, Chris writes. 

"It was 11th hour heroics and we had several relationship casualties along the way but we were able to get water everywhere it was needed.  We lost some fruit both to shrivel as well as sunburn but overall it could have been a lot worse." 

Things are changing faster than anybody seems to grasp. Forget Gladstones and his zealots. Or, better still, seek them out and remove them from positions of power. 

"This is just the beginning my friends," Chris Carpenter concludes. 

"There is a new paradigm and the fucks in political office better start paying attention. Too many of them have viewed their food from the aisles of a grocery store wrapped in flashy packaging and always available. Food is grown in a set of conditions that have a very small bandwidth. We are disrupting that bandwidth to a degree that Silicon Valley 'disruptors' would be jealous of if it wasn't ultimately going to starve them. Now more than ever those who grow our food need to sound the alarm. This shit is real and if we don't start facing it in drastic ways we are done." 


PS: Chris Carpenter on vine physiology in excessive heat:
 
That heat was ponderous. One of my friends who is not in the business asked me why I wasn't in the vineyard. I laughed. Why? So I can stand there sweating, angry and absolutely not able to do a thing? 

Vines stop transpiring around 39ᵒC.  Their stomates close, which are the kidney bean shaped cells on the leaf surface that open and close allowing water to move through the vascular system of the plant, simultaneously moving water and nutrients around the plant and cooling the surface of the leaf. Stomatal closure is like heat stroke in animals. It is not good. Plants start to fail quickly as the surface area of the leaf gets hotter and hotter which ultimately causes the leaf to more or less burn from the inside out. Plants with bigger leaf surface areas like grape vines do not fare as well as a plant like the olive tree with its smaller leaf area and lighter overall color. 

For those who did get water on the vine, who maybe had not been as aggressive with leaf pulling and who had trellises that were not designed for what was once considered a cooler climate they fared better as the stomatal closing effect probably only lasted for about 3-4 hrs each day leaving the rest of the day with a bit cooler understory. 

Remember it’s still shaded under the canopy and up until the plant reached the 39ᵒC threshold there was some cooling going on.  Most did OK.  A lot of vines did suffer though, those that were weak in the first place particularly.


Hickinbotham Clarendon vineyard photographed by Maynard James Keenan ... apart from the Tuscan image, all other photos, including Fleurieu vineyard fires by Philip White

ARIZONA VINTAGE LETTER FROM MAYNARD

A family affair: some key Keenans on a Merkin Vineyards/Caduceus Cellars Arizona mountaintop vineyard, vintage 2017

Maynard's Merkin Vineyards knock harvest over on September 11th
by PHILIP WHITE

Whitey! It's been a strange blessed vintage," Arizona mountaintop winemaker Maynard James Keenan reports. 

"I try to ignore the fright feed from all over the shifting globe. I have this nibbling at my earlobe feeling that it's a universal wrap. We're the clown band on the Titanic arguing over a set list. 

"Having said that," he continues, playing sweeter music to my ears: "I put what I learned in 2015 to work. That year I picked everything earlier than has ever been advised. 22-23.5 brix (roughly 12-13ᵒ Baumé) across the board." 

Depending on the efficiency of the yeast, one degree Baumé ferments to one per cent alcohol in a dry wine.

These figures pull focus through the murky past, searching out alcohol numbers of a sensible modesty perhaps best called pre-Parker. Before his retirement, that single USA critic was responsible, accidentally, for warning the wine world of one of the primary results of global warming, a vector which far too many ridiculed. 

It seemed that Robert Parker Jr. could barely appreciate any red below 15% alcohol: his years of preaching saw alcohol levels soar internationally, as fawning winemakers competed to make bigger and bolder booze in pursuit of that elusive, life-changing, perfect 100-point Parker score. 

Now that changing weather and climate means many winemakers can get those 100-point alcohols without trying, there's nobody nearly so influential, fortunately, standing in the Parker power spot. 

Except perhaps Maynard himself. Along with fellow thespian Sam Neill he must be one of the world's most famous winemakers, if not yet as influential within that community as he deserves to be. It's a bad mistake to write this bloke off as a very successful rock star.


Tool's last Australian tour seemed to serendipitously coincide with the release of a new Grange, making possible this battle with MJK's trusted friend, Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago AC ... this photo Milton Wordley, others by Lei Li Keenan

Maynard knows his moves. He thinks with more clarity and bravery than most winemakers. He has an exceptional gastronomic intelligence, and has carefully planned his route to making comfortable appetising wines of smooth ease and very pointy characters at the sorts of alcohol levels I'd expect to find on a particularly civilised table. Like below 14.5%. 

He reports his recipe involved "Mostly submerged [skins] cap and a few extended macerations to polymerize any grassy-assy. It worked. Lovely palates and aromatics. Acid retention." 

This too, was partly climate-change-driven. "My rationalization for this approach was that annual threat of monsoons during vintage. This year was exactly that worst case wet scenario. Roughly 9 inches of rain plus in 6 weeks. The wrong 6 weeks for growing grapes. 

"Most of my so-called peers were semi to fully fucked. The ones that are grape greedy. Lots of rot for them. Not nearly as much for me. We walk the path of Petrus. Drop that fruit to one cluster per shoot. When we're doing that our neighbors resemble The Scream. They visibly shudder. But once you taste the difference there's no going back. Undeniable." 

More than most winemakers, Maynard seems better-skilled at selecting varieties that suit his style, his sites, tastes and his driven highland frontier vision. 

"I pulled off my first blocks of Sagrantino, Souzao, and Aglianico on the new Eliphante blocks," he says. "Promising. I'm thinking the Sagrantino could be the return of the Caduceus Sensei but it's too early to say. 

"Managed to pull off roughly 35% wild ferments this vintage as well. Shit pinching at first. But once you get through a couple, no more kegels." 

He's also adept at the wry sign-off: "First fruit came in around July 25," he concludes. "And our last was September 11. Fitting in a way."
 

08 September 2017

FIVE POSH AUSTRAL PINOTS

The tomb of Philippe le Hardi - Philip the Bold - Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, Dijon

Refining wave hits Oz 600 years after Philip's bold old move in Burgundy 
by PHILIP WHITE


In July 1395 Philip the Bold of Burgundy made enemies of most of his Burgundians by outlawing the region's main red grape, Gamay. 

Mr and Mrs Philip the Bold

Calling his kingdom's big-yielding, safe-and-sure, cheap quaffing red an "evil and disloyal plant ... injurious to the human creature," Philip actually banished Gamay south to Beaujolais.   

Instead, he insisted the Côte d'Or grow only the clone of that other pesky, high-acid, low-yielding red with the bunch shaped like a pine cone: pineau

One needed lots of monks. Rome paid the monks. 

Look what happened. 600-odd, slow years later Australia's getting around to having a bit of a go. Most unlike the brazen boozemongers that established this country's plonk rackets with the gooey sweet strong stuff, there's been a lucky break, not for Gamay, but the finer, leaner, tricky-tricky little earner with the greatest longevity. The pale pineau that nobody could be bothered with. The one we now pass off as noir

Bold move for such a hot joint. It snows in Burgundy. 

My desk has been deep in Austral Pinot noir for a week. Some of it comes from snow country. 

Whether surly and sullen, or spritely and bright, cherry-simple, or tannic as tea, good Pinots are a felicitous, confounding business riddled with risk, driven by the elusive glimmer of perfection that was no doubt made more readily available to that previous Philip's table. 

Allow me please to appraise some famous Austral Pinots:


Oakridge Willowlake Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($38; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) smells  fleshy, like framboise liqueur and thick cream. It also has that slightly-threatening edgy reek of dry bay leaf and the nightshades. As you'd expect, the flavours and sensory mouth feelings immediately reflect this counterpoint of flesh and bone; chub and acid chunk. Over several days some of its initial bright cherry shine settled down to this adults-only dry raspberry liqueur state, where it sits pouting, immobile, hanging a right royal shitty.  

Oakridge Hazeldene Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($38; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is more pretty and perfumed. Chanel, but more No. 19 than 5. 

It has all the heady, concentrated-but-fluffy fruits of the Willowlake, in this case in some sort of protofoam, but with the sweetest, fungi-rich forest floor, all ferny and certainly on the aromatic march, giving the recipient a deadly urge to quit campaigning and try a touch of frotting on the mossy sward. More risk, see? Sore? 

This one's wickedly sensual. And sensuous. Carnal. Rubens.

Oakridge Henk's Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($38; 14% alcohol; screw cap) has a shard of the best of each of the above, all shimmering of wellness and nowness, but in a bath of lemon verbena. My goodness. This one tickles the old wolf genes sleeping in one's nostrils. I suspect it has as much to do with the selection of forest in the barrel stave compilation as much as vineyard distinction and a slightly earlier pick. So what's a wolf doing with mouthful of oak in her majesty's bath chamber? Oh? It's kindling for the heater? Bring more, you slinking scoundrel. Now scrub her back. Gentle, gentle. Shut those nostrils. Stop dribbling. Behave. Okay: sit! 

Moss Wood Willyabrup Margaret River Pinot Noir 2015 ($60; 14% alcohol; screw cap) was an oversized mohair sweater sort of affair from the start. Hey daddy, she's wearing your jumper again. If it's not the mohair, it'll be the felted alpaca poncho: whichever one you just reached for. The Yak. I don't care. It was a dark and furry and dusty feeling from the start. I've been waiting for days for a diamond glint of acidity to put a stripe across the painting, or a touch of creamy flesh, but it hasn't happened. It's like a punky goth pupil of Vermeer trying to paint without the window. 

Stefano Lubiana Tasmania Pinot Noir 2016 ($50; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap), after five days open, is the most red wine red wine of all of these. It seems to have the stiffest chassis. But it also has the prettiest, most cherubic perfume. It has musky flesh. It has developed a slightly spiritous parade gloss reek. It runs off into the forest and giggles through the trees. I reckon this is close as you'll get to the sort of pineau that forced Philip The Bold's hand. Like the Yarra wines are tantalising, but this is fair dinkum royalty. 


Monique and Stefano Lubiana in their vineyard on the Derwent in south-east Tasmania ... planted in 1990, certified biodynamic in 2013

Which inspires me. Note on fridge: #1 Take power of the region. #2 Banish Shiraz. #3 Work out what to plant, relative to geology. #4 Stay alive for 600 years. #5 Consider and discuss: If you replanted any Shiraz, where did you put it? Why? Did it work?

07 September 2017

McCARTHY'S McLAREN VALE MANGOES

McCarthy's Orchard, Sand Road, McLaren Vale ... Lisa and Mark McCarthy

Where to start on McCarthy's park ...  a sand dune orchard of plenty
by PHILIP WHITE

This report should start with rosé. Grenache rosé that's neither pink nor as simple and sweet as raspberry cordial. Rosé that tastes more like white wine with the sort of inexplicable intensity of texture white wine scarcely offers. Intensity and finesse with a comforting umami "Ooh Mummy" warm soup thing going on that reminds me of the finest clarified fish stock. 

But here it's perfectly  cool. It's like the Semillon Stephen Hickinbotham made at Anakie near Geelong in the early 'eighties. Pale lemon butter, zabaglione and umami. 

Tell me about texture. 

Shivers. 

Maybe I should have started the yarn in the ute, bumping around that big long sand dune on Sand Road, McLaren Flat. We're in an orchard ... "the old original types," Mark McCarthy says, " ... and we got six different types of table grapes down the bottom there we're just trialing out with just a third of them. Lady's fingers, like we got the old types. These are avocadoes. These are Reed variety here on the end. You can see Hass there in the second row. But these ones here get the size of emu eggs. 

"We got some mandarins - we could do without those - and a few orange trees. 

"We got a little farm in Merbein just outside Mildura in Victoria where we grow pistachio nuts. We grow a Siora variety that was developed by the CSIRO just up the road from our place in the 1970s. We're near where the vineyard station was on the corner of the Sturt Highway there. We have a few different types of dried fruits there. Sultanas; some muscats. Summer muscats. Flame Seedless which is a table grape but we use it as dried fruit. Currants. You can cane prune it. 

"We do figs. We do a lot of dried figs. We just cut 'em in halves and dry 'em naturally. We don't use any preservatives or anything on them. A few quinces. We had a few pomegranates but they got a virus and died. The quinces go quite well there. 

McCarthy's Orchard quince, ready to be sliced and poached in 50-50 botrytis white and Pinot noir with a clove or two


"I have a theory that anything your grandmother grew in her backyard was a good thing. They generally don't need a great deal of water and you can look after 'em easily." 

We talked of great mulberry trees now lost in the landscape, some taken from cuttings from the first European tree planted in this colony, the poor ancient mulberry on Kangaroo Island. And if I hadn't interrupted so excitedly at this couple's endeavour he woulda told me twice as much. 

"Here we grow six or seven types of apples," Mark barged on, swapping some gears in the sand. "Six or seven types of pears. We grow some cherries. A patch of cherries. We do stone fruits and nectarines, peaches, apricots and plums; a little patch of asparagus we've put in; then a patch of avocados ... and ... mangoes. 

"And donkeys. Donkeys. Which try and eat everything." 

It was as if the donkeys would take my mind off the mangoes.

"I think that's about it ... "

He had forgotten something like, how you say, in your face. 

all photos by Philip White

"Oh yeah then there's the old Shiraz, the old vine Cabernet ... yeah, and a patch of vines that we grafted to Nero. Our youngest vines are like 27 years old. The majority of our vines are like fifty-plus. 1965 planted. That's sorta half the farm and the other half are all those fruit trees." 

So I coulda started the story with the donkeys. Or maybe the cider. How they're rounding-up some of the old forgotten cider varieties. They have both apple and pear ciders. I haven't got my head around them yet. 

But probably the best place to start the story was a few months ago when I was very ill. I recall a phone conversation I didn't quite understand then a couple of hours later a knock at the door. 

"Hullo Philip I'm the Lisa McCarthy who phoned," said a person I didn't know. There was a white van behind her. "You met Mark at the Farmer's Market the other day and he said you weren't well so I've made you some food. We all look after each other in this community." 

And then she unloaded a stack of their home-grown fruits and dried produce and cooked stuff and a smoothie made off the property that kept me buzzin for eighteen hours. I sat inside and sobbed happily for awhile after that. Anyway, as I crawled forth since those bad days, I couldn't wait to visit. 

McCarthy's Orchard is right opposite the best little brewery in the south, Goodieson's, on Sand Road. Just east of the Herb Farm. The McCarthys are busy getting built for visitors and guests. Like a a proper cellar door and stuff. It'll happen. They always have a cooler room open, stacked with the best juicy fresh and dried produce, with an honesty box where you leave the money. 

They have under assemblage some twisty gateworks: vines made from the more strangely-turned rococo exhaust systems of worked cars. With fruits and grapes suspended, of course, in cast iron. Them gates'll make Dali's moe twitch. 

Another starting point loomed: there building a retaining wall at the front of the home garden was the mighty McLaren Vale stonemason Tiger MacMillan, who I'd not seen at work since we commenced photography for the book McLaren Vale - Trott's View in 1999. Tiger was building the magnificent wall at Penny's Hill on that occasion. I'd been too scared to ask around about whether the great mason remained working among us. 

One can measure the quality of a community by visiting its most revered stonemason. We discussed rocks and good quarries. 

"It'll stop the chooks from spreading all the mulch on the path," Lisa said. 

Lisa. Whew. Runs a household of four young daughters and does deliveries: kids, produce and wine. Like sales. Nuts. So how'd she arrive in this business that started up the river with Mark's father? 

Lisa was special events manager at Kew Gardens, London, to start with. Or not to start with, but that's not a bad start. The best and grandest of the old Empire gardens, and now one of the most progressive. She had great fun. She flipped through an astonishing book of shows she'd mounted in her years there. Fantastic fruit and vegetable displays; florals; fireworks ... dreamworlds ... I'll run some on my blog when we find some digitial copies. 

Then Lisa came back and played a big role in getting the wondrous Willunga Farmer's Market off the ground. Met Mark and got cracking. Looks after the staff. The fruit sorters, the pickers, the diggers and hoeing folk. I don't mean to tack her on the end here like a post script, because she's nothing of the sort. She's a friggin dynamo bright with sparks and the most constructive and energetic heart. Just that I had the mike pointed up Mark's baritone purr while we did the farm. 

Supersuits the giant husband right down to the ground, methinks. He brings home the fish, too. Filleted King George whiting grilled perfectly on the plate in three minutes. With that rosé. Reminded me of that other giant, Cath Drogemuller at Paracombe. And Paul her big fisher. 

I'll write some descriptions of the hearty and true, fine and blessed McCarthy's Orchard reds soon. In the meantime, go try that Grenache Rosé. I reckon they bought that fruit from a neighbour and Andy Coppard made it. Masterly. 

Hang on, I shoulda started with the Jujubes. These damn things have my dark gizzards chirping. They're also called the Chinese date, and they grow loose on a tree. They grow them at Merbein. Miracle fruit. You can get them dried in the honesty box cool room. Chew them like a date, taking care to work around the stone. Make tea from them and go to sleep. Go straight to sleep. And eat the softened fruit in the morning. 

Which is not to overlook the mangoes. Yep, mangoes. This bloke's growing mangoes on a sand dune in a vineyard/orchard cornucopia at McLaren Vale. Obviously slow starting, to look at the trees, but he convinced me. They'll crop this year. I shoulda started there. Or his plans for growing coffee. But mangoes. McLaren Vale. FFS.

01 September 2017

TRYING TO LEVEL WITH SAUVIGNON BLANC

Be warned: the author is never quite on the level when discussing crunchy Sauvignon blanc ... he loves other things

Wowique Single Vineyard Lenswood Sauvignon Blanc 2016 
 ($28; 13.3% alcohol; screw cap) 

Warwick Billings is a brave man. 

At the peak of my ranting about catpissy/battery-acid/lawn-clippings Sauvignon blanc, the great cider and perry maker sent me his new Savvy-b. With a note. "A bit of the weed from highest Lenswood," he wrote. "Was trying to avoid excess NZ and has spent all its life in barrels. I think it works!" 

So does it work? 

To start, it doesn't smell much of oak. It smells of Sauvignon blanc. Not that rank reek of the capeweed you just ran over with the mower, but the clean, sharp oxalic acid of oxalis and rhubarb. It's sort of lemony; sort of gooseberry (Ribes grossularioides - also tellingly known as the catberry). 

If you let it warm a little, it grows a thin spread of lemon butter and its dry dusty burlap and hessian aspects become more prominent. Okay, okay, the trained hooter can smell some neat oak. But it's not a fumé blanc like the smoky, complex Sauvignons of the Loire. 

Drink. It's lean, but it's not all oxalic. It has bones as well as leaves and stems and gooseberries. But it has plenty of those, too. The trick is not to chill the poor bugger: pour it when it's just cool, like Adelaide cellar temperature. Late winter Casa Blanca windowsill in the shade temperature. Chet Baker cool.

This is a personal matter. I'm in neither lust nor love -  but I dribble at the thought of cooking a big wild chook slowly in the Le Creuset in scrumpy cider, capers, garlic, juniper berries, a big handful of fresh tarragon and some shallots.  Grind some white peppercorns over it, and serve it with a glass of this very fine example of a Sauvignon made with a great deal of thought and a buzz of the thrill of risk. 

To summarise, it smells like the top of Coldstore Road, Lenswood, where everybody's called Green - I went to school with Marilyn - there are perfect apples everywhere, and on some spring days the northerly blows a gentle breath of the bush over the ridge from the Torrens Gorge. On a good one, everything there smells so vibrantly verdant it's brittle as much as sweet. And in my experience, any countryside that grows fine pines and apples with ease is damn fine for wine. 

O'Leary Walker The Lucky Punter Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2016  
($18; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)  

Clean, clean, clean. Pristine. Pretty little flowers, like Mimosa pudica; maybe even chamomile. This is a Nick Walker white: fanatical in its purity and crystalline reflection of its family and its source. You gotta dance with the one who brung ya. So why am I searching the wine so hard for everything other than typical pristine Sauvignon blanc  characteristics? 

It's like being a large white bloke called Whitey at this point in politically correct Australian history. Hardly comfortable, but you do try to be an outstanding example and not like the rest. Which never impresses everybody. 

It's pretty good - nah it's rock'n'roll; rockabilly - with soft fetta in good fine oil and herbs and some crunchy green olives. And an apple from a tree, not a friggin supermarket.

Grown in one of the first Oakbank vineyards, south of the racecourse, this has always been a Hills Savvy-b that makes Niewzillun unnecessary. And if you find the tiny Unitarian Cemetery there where the great sculptor and Rat of Tobruck, John Dowie lies, go check his inscription, which says "this is the best I've felt in years." Then breathe the tiny wild orchids. 

PS: If you promise to keep totally schtum about it, I'll tell you something else, like beyond peppercorn squid, I like to do with these prime crunchies. If you get a posh Shiraz that's like $80 and disappointingly dead with alcohol and lumberjacks and somebody's humourless greed, or a stale one of any price, or a hippy one that smells of roadkill in the summer, hit it with a tiny dribble of the blue-eyed blonde sauvignon.Odds are on it'll shock it back to life, and knock the rusty convict shackles off it. Like just one teaspoon per glass. In spring, if you get a slightly flat Riesling, a dash will help there, too. Or Chardonnay. Have a liberation. 

30 August 2017

BURGUNDY CHARDONNAY HARVEST BEGINS

Yolande Coent Margerit of Ch Pommard just posted this photograph of the 2017 harvest beginning in Les Folatières in Puligny-Montrachet

TAXPAYERS BAIL OUT OZ BOOZEMONGERS

Fairyland: reflections in the window at Penfolds Magill; the Grange cottage in the vineyard ... with the Federal government's new cash splash, anybody'd think all cellars can now have a free view like this ... and the sort of profits Penfolds earns ... photo Philip White

Taxpayers fork out $50 free million for Oz vino-industrial complex
by PHILIP WHITE

This week two people who are ministerially responsible for managing the water in the notoriously mismanaged Murray-Darling Basin, Australia's biggest wine region, came to Adelaide to give $50 million of our money to the liquor industry. 

One of them, Country Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, is a Queenslander with New Zealand citizenship. 

While he seems to prefer beer, New Zealand supplies Australia's biggest-selling bottled white wine, Sauvignon blanc. 

Many great legal brains suggest the Deputy Prime Minister's dual citizenship made him ineligible to run for parliament, but here he was, giving quite a lot of our money away. 

He is a stalwart supporter of the coal industry, which many very fine responsible farmers, like those on the Liverpool Plains, or indeed the winemakers of the Hunter Valley, regard as a direct threat to their livelihoods, water resources and precious country.  

With him was his off-sider, the Liberal Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston. The Senator was previously Senior Policy Advisor to the South Australian Minister for Industrial Affairs, Tourism, Recreation, Sport and Racing, Graham Ingerson, who eventually resigned that ministry over his handling of the racing business, and later resigned also from his position as Cabinet Secretary over his handling of the Hindmarsh Soccer Stadium. 

Speaking of stadia and grandstands, the National Wine Centre (above) looks a bit like one without a playing ground. Ms. Ruston became chief executive of this financially-disastrous folly, which was eventually passed to the University of Adelaide in a long-term peppercorn rental deal and is now sub-let and used as offices by the wine industry councils and operates as a glorified wedding shack in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. 

Ms. Ruston was eventually appointed to fill the Senate position vacated by Mary Jo Fisher who resigned after twice being charged for shoplifting. 

With the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. Ruston appeared not at the National Wine Centre, but Penfolds winery at Magill, where they announced the $50 million handover. 

Tim Whetstone, South Australian conservative parliamentarian representing the irrigated  Riverland, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Senator Anne Ruston  

Under the tireless stewardship of chief winemaker Peter Gago AOC, Penfolds is singularly responsible for a great proportion of Australia's most profitable wine export bracket, expensive bottled wine, which is worth nearly $500 million per annum in total, in dollar value almost a quarter of the $2.2 billion of Australian wine exported but only a tiny fraction of its total volume. 

Having left Australia at the weekend, off on another of his endless international tasting and sales tours, Mr Gago AOC was not at the winery for the announcement. He's busy earning money for the shareholders.

The $50 million "Export and Regional Wine Support Package" is designed to "transform the Australian grape and wine sector by driving demand for Australia's wine exports and showcasing the nation's wine tourism offering." 

Some of the money will go to the cider industry, which competes for shelf space in the ready-to-drink canned kiddylikker category. 

"Australian Vignerons, the Winemakers' Federation of Australia and Wine Australia have worked in close consultation with the Australian grape and wine sector to develop the business plan for the package, which will be delivered over three years," Wine Australia's statement reads. These bodies "will jointly sign off on the developed plans and campaigns to ensure all Australian wine exporters are supported through the proposed activities." 

The Deputy Prime Minister said the money would be invested "to further expand the market globally for wine. The target now is to go from $2.2 billion worth of wine to $3.5 billion by 2021." 

So everybody, from Yellowtail to Kingston Estate, will suddenly follow Penfolds into the halls of irrefutable excellence and provenance? Not even free money can do that, unfortunately. 

Some of the money will be made available by grants to approved cellar-door operators, to improve their facilities. 

"With the cellar-door process," The Deputy Prime Minister said, "we have made sure that it's $350,000 with a possible extra $100,000. Now I know that's not gonna make much difference to Penfolds, because they're such a global brand and so exemplary, but with other small wineries, if they're growing the grapes, if they're actually producing the wine and they're selling it at their cellar-door, that is a big advantage." 

At a time when Australia produces so much poor irrigated wine that the $3 Murray-Darling bottle is now a standard expectation for many drinkers, this export handout is hoped to make producers of such liquor more profitable, principally in the Chinese and USA markets. Neither of which is stupid; both of which have very long memories. 

If this exercise succeeds, Coles, Woolworths and Aldi, who - until Amazon takes over - between them control two-thirds of internal Australian wine sales will be pressured to import more wine at lower prices. 

China, meanwhile, is rapidly expanding its vineyards. Now second in the world for total winegrape plantings, it is already exporting cheap bottled wine into markets Australia has long regarded as its own, like the United Kingdom. 

The Deputy Prime Minister stressed producers in the irrigated arid land vineyards, like the Riverland, stood to significantly improve their lot. 

As South Australia produces about 60 per cent of Australia's wine, the $50 million seems likely to prop up, or at least calm down, many of this state's struggling producers, who are concerned that changes to the inequitable Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) rebate will make their financial lives impossible. 

Equalisation, of course, is the wrong word here: wine is currently taxed so cheap plonk is unfairly hit at a lower rate than more expensive premium. 

There will be a state election in South Australia in March 2018. On July 1 the WET rebate will be cut from $500,000 to $350,000. Many New Zealand producers of wine sent to Australia will still have access to the rebate. 

While the package is wrapped to please many small winemakers, sceptics are quietly suggesting, however, that the majority of the money will go to assist the biggest marginal refinery-style wineries, who enjoy the camouflage provided by the tiny nuts-and-berries ivy-covered cellars. 

The expenditure of the $50 million will be overseen by Wine Australia, Australian Vignerons and the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia. A board of marketing experts from Accolade Wines, Fullglass, Kingston Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Pernod Ricard, Taylors, Treasury, Yalumba, and Yellowtail will look after that side of the cash. 

Just what does $50 million buy? That's roughly what the National Wine Centre cost the taxpayer all those years ago. The outfits which will supervise this expenditure still enjoy offices there. $50 million is also roughly what Treasury's insurers will pay its shareholders to settle a class action after it wrote down $160 million of cheap USA stock acquired in some ill-advised purchasing there, to be accused of misleading the market and breaching continuous disclosure obligations. 

But $50 mill is still a lot of money. It can buy a lot of parties. There will be a campaign of huge tastings and wine promotions in many of Australia's export markets. Just how the cellar-door grants are spent will depend on who gets them. One presumes the money will be more artfully spent than providing the desperate, unprofitableMurray-Darling irrigators with a string of deconstructed Rubik's Cubes. 

The winegrowers of Australia, meanwhile, could use some viticulture research money pronto if they're going to fulfil the Deputy Prime Minister's promise of increased profitability through better quality products. 


The incurable phylloxera vine-killing bug (above) is on the march in Victoria, the newly-imported Pinot gris vine virus - which kills other varieties as well - is little understood and threatening to spread, die-back or dead-arm is spreading in vineyards everywhere, dramatically reducing vine health and yields and global warming is quickly rendering our warmest winegrape regions very tricky to manage. 

The deputy Prime Minister is famously on the record for saying the climate change reality is "an indulgent and irrelevant debate because, even if [it] turns out to exist one day, we will have absolutely no impact on it whatsoever."