“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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28 September 2017

ANOTHER PAROCHIAL DAWN

A bloke I know in Melbourne thought he'd let me know a lot of his mates thought I was parochial. I considered that this morning once I'd worked an hour, put the second pot of coffee on and opened the front door curtain to see this. Talk about parochial. That's a Zen corner of the Ironheart Shiraz vineyard on Yangarra Estate. Then I took the little Sony around to the east and saw this: 

that's baby bush vine Grenache, in a few inches of dirt on slab ironstone ... the old vines of the future ... photos by Philip White, chthonic parochialist, currently superterranean

27 September 2017

SLOW LAUNCH FOR WINE IN SPACE

Feds and big winers slow to catch Jaylon juggernaut in big export opp
EXCLUSIVE: Philip White

It was a shame that the wine industry was far too busy preparing for this week's Royal [sic] Adelaide Wine Show to squeeze a wee sponsorship out for the International Astronautical Congress, the largest and most significant yet staged on Earth. 

Since I ceded responsibility for the annual wine races to younger folk with so much more to learn, it is nevertheless fortunate that the intergalactic export potential available to South Australian winemakers has captivated my good friend Mr Elon Musk. 

In our years of private negotiation, we have made great progress in the matter of wine in space. Musk was just a kid when together we perfected the screw cap, one huge leap for man previously obsessed with bashing the unsanitary organic bark of Portuguese trees into sterile silica bottles. 

He was the first to realise the risk of bashment relative to Newton's Third Law in environments of weightlessness, a dictum former Prime Minister the Hon. Tony Abbott MP and Mr Astro Labe realised last week in Australia's principal satellite, Tasmania. 

The keen young Musk was quick to realise that applied to popping corks in enclosed weightless environments with unconfined liquid ethanol, Newton's Law had tricky implications. 

In space? Screw, don't pull. 

Perhaps by the advent of next year's Royal [sic] Adelaide Wine Show the learned judges and their associates from Wine Communicators Australia (WCs) will be better prepared to trial the SpaceXL6 solar-built wine snifter. 

I can reveal Musk has invented and perfected this using fine South Australian glass sand previously regarded as an inconvenient contaminant in his Lithium Battery Mines in the sandy deserts of the Pastoral Lease country. 

This Sahara-sized stretch of mineral sand overlies the radio- active bounties of the Gawler Craton, north-west of the old Roxby Downs Station. It must be removed before we can get to the uranium deep beneath. 

When not in use, this radical SpaceXL6 stemware is designed to hang in racks inside spacecraft windows, where each unit harvests sunlight to drive its own interior gravity field, making possible, in weightless environments of challenging gravity, the standard swirl developed by wine connoisseurs over the ages. 

The interplanetary passenger can now swirl, sniff, sip and swallow without globules of the wine straying loose in the cabin. 

Titanium, another contaminant in the lithium extraction business, is used to coat the glass crystal in an invisible protective layer. When exposed to the ultra-violet light of the spacecraft window, this conveniently renders the snifter non-stick self-cleaning properties without the need for water or dangerous detergents. A small solar-powered fan above each glass rack removes remnant wine particles and sends them to the spacecraft's liquids recyling system. 

A matching crystal spitbucket has been perfected, using the same theory. We are convinced that in the normal gravity of the Earthly competitive arena this brilliant glassware will guarantee substantial savings in standard industrial-level wine show spillage. 

Once this news filters through, the WCs are certain to love it: Musk plans to make available a substantial grant for their members to develop the products' sales brochures and website, stressing this non-drip convenience. 

It's important to appreciate the long-term co-operation that existed between South Australia's arid-land pastoralists and the early space business. This commenced when the young Byron H. MacLachlan tasted his first Château Lafite, which he'd discovered in his father's Jumbuck House cellar during World War II. 

Having convinced them of the advantages of vast amounts of space as a visionary defence tool, B.H. made available to both British and Australian governments his properties and those of his neighbours, vast swathes of sheep country like Commonwealth Hill (10,000 sq. km.), Balgunya and Mulgathing Stations, for use as a downrange landing zone for Woomera rocketry. The subsidy he thus collected was equivalent to these pastoral leases increasing their stock intensity from half to two-thirds of a sheep per square mile.

With his new bonanza, B.H. was able to develop and expand Australia's largest premium French and German wine importing agency, which used the Adelaide Club and its associated establishments in other capitals as its distribution arm. His eager young accountant, Mr Brenton Fry, quickly adapted his skill - checking timesheets and making $6/week pay checks for jackeroos - to managing this booming Premier and Grand Cru wine agency. It eventually became the famous Negociants Australia, the lucrative wine distribution outfit further developed by Mr Robert Hill Smith when Fry took his services from Jumbuck House in French Street to Hill Smith's Yalumba cellars in Grote Street. 

Another great progress in outback wine appreciation was the government's installation of blast-proof bunkers on each of B.H.'s vast pastoral leases. 

From the introduction of the radical Black Night Rocket in the mid-'fifties, through the giant British Blue Streak ICBM, stray spent space vehicles frequently splattered themselves around this country. 

Desert dwellers, like DRINKSTER illustrator George Grainger Aldridge, have been forced to employ arcane voodoo rituals and sonic ectoplasm to detect and deflect errant rocketry (see above). 

Based loosely on the original sod-roofed cellar built by John Reynell at his pioneering Château Reynella in 1845, the bunkers government provided to wealthy sheep cockies are permanent vibration-free, constant-temperature storage capacities for the extravagant vintage collections they procured from MacLachlan, Fry, and then Hill Smith in the comfort of the Club. 

By the end of this week's historical Congress, we are assured these significant achievements will be freshly recognised by the conservative Federal government and its friends in the wine industry councils. 

These bodies are currently preoccupied with the Royal Adelaide Wine Show and spending the $50 million taxpayer-funded grant recently made available to them by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the coal-loving Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and his assistant, Senator Anne Ruston. 

This generous gift is designed to assist our biggest irrigating wine companies mount terrestrial wine tastings. Insiders say it's only a hint at the rivers of backing the Federal government suddenly sees necessary to fully develop wine appreciation classes for inter-planetary tourists. 

The first pastoralists to settle and develop sheep runs on other bold leases elsewhere in this solar system will also require safe, cool, taxpayer-funded  cellars. 

Once these beachheads are secure, the potential of intergalactic wine export is out there for the taking. 






















Wine leaders guarantee they'll have better time to address these issues after Friday's big WCs' wine awards lunch at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds. 

It was a telling seminal signal this week that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sent his Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham to the space Assembly early in the piece. There he delivered promises of further Federal funding to alleviate charges of the initiative being one-hundred per cent the work of the Jaylon Axis, a keen intellectual business partnership of South Australian Labor Party Premier The Hon. Jay Weatherill and our other visionary friend, Musk. 

Significantly, Birmingham took to the Education portfolio like a fish to water after his long faithful service as a lobbyist for the wine and hotel/gambling industries. He is a seasoned expert in his field.  

 These accomplished gentlemen are not fools: they can now see the future brightly through the crystalline brilliance of the SpaceXL6.

26 September 2017

GRIFFITH WARS AND YELLOWTAIL

I once asked Coonawarra and Mountadam winemaker David Wynn why Australia's biggest official internationally recognised wine appellation was called South East Australia.

"Because they won't say 'Griffith'," he said with a chuckle.

David had been deeply involved in setting up the current model of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme (MIA) with the Whitlam government in the early 'seventies. This was made possible by the diversion of Australian Alps waters as the finishing touches were being put to the Snowy Mountains Scheme, Australia's huge hydro-electric generator in New South Wales.

Various branches of the Wynn family ended up owning big MIA vineyard blocks at Griffith, along with their generous irrigation water allocations.

David Wynn with the author and Howard Twelftree, aka John McGrath, in the early 'noughties.

Terry Jones was the editor of the local Griffith newspaper in those heady days when not only enormous amounts of cheap wine came from Griffith, but also a great deal of Australia's marijuana. 

The veteran Late Night Live broadcaster Phillip Adams has reviewed Terry's new book, The Griffith Wars, co-written with Tom Gilling, and just published in paperback by Allen and Unwin.

You can hear Phillip and Terry discussing it here.

The growers of Griffith are quick to hit the streets and demonstrate, like when the Murray Darling report came out, advising irrigators that their water allocations may be reduced to keep Australia's biggest river system alive.

Meanwhile, talks of the Mafia drug connections outlined in The Griffith Wars linger on.

Pertinent to the wine industry, former Yellowtail director Marcello Casella remains on bail after his alleged involvement, with two other men, in a $5 million drug bust.

In 2015 Casella, a champion clay pigeon shooter, and owner of Australia's biggest ammo factory, Bronzewing, which he built in Wynn's old Yenda winery, paid less than $3000 in fines after Griffith police seized five tonnes of ammunition and 86 kilograms of explosive propellant illegally stored in a shed on his property. Those charges forced the closure of the factory.

To read an expert outsiders' view of the Yellowtail business, check David Morrison's blog The Wine Gourd. 

To view Yellowtail's contentious 2017 Super Bowl ad, click here. As if the lingering whispers of those bad old days were not enough, this ad was widely ridiculed for taking the image of Australia and its wines back to the Ocker seventies


THE DAY AFTER - EDVARD MUNCH


21 September 2017

TICKETY-BOO SO FAR FOR VINTAGE 2018

The creeks are full and clean after good winter rains on Yangarra ... When the weird unseasonal northerlies gave us a break yesterday I climbed the Casa Blanca fence and took a walk with my camera ...

... the old vines are pumping life into the new leaves for 2018, the sward is lush  and the air smells as sweet as a florist's ... that aroma's one of the first things that returned when they replaced the old industrial/petrochem regime with biodynamic/organic management ...



... I haven't yet dangled a line this year, but I'll bet the silver perch are thick enough for a good feed when I need one ... I can smell 'em!


20 September 2017

GRENACHE ON TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY

Grenache revival Down Under: proceeding from one day to another
by PHILIP WHITE

It was already a tricky business, coming down off International Idiopathic Hypersomnia Awareness Week in this, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, without the confusion delivered on Friday, which was both International Day of the World's Engineers and International Democracy Day. 

Friday is named after a woman, Frigg, an old Pommie and Norse god who helped give us the word friggin. She's mixed up with Freyja, Venus, and  Aphrodite, and was the main squeeze of the boss god, 

Odin. Frigg (above) was worshipped as the goddess of married love, a notion currently more contentious than whether friggin is a sanitised stand-in for sexual intercourse  or refers to the less penetrative frotting, which means rubbing: sometimes, but not necessarily, oneself. 

Then some ethanol peddler somewhere decided it was also International Grenache Day. Considering there are over 10,000 wine grape varieties it's probably lucky for Grenache that it got a share of the day of engineers and democracy without a mention of the other 26 wine grape varieties that also deserve recognition if you divided the year up fairly amongst those 10,000. 

It's going to get twisty when each of them eventually has its day. 

Since Frjá-dagr we've got through the International Day of the Preservation of the Ozone Layer on Saturn's Day and World Water Monitoring Day on Moon Day, both observances of matters a touch more important than Grenache, although some do claim it to be the world's most widely-planted red wine grape. 

Speaking of the lumpen vernacular and abbreviated patois synonyms on this World Talk Like A Pirate Day I consulted the website of a direct-order ethanol retailer called Vinomofo. 

"Happy Grenache Day!" Michael Ellis had written there. "I bet you didn't know that was a thing ... apparently there's a day for everything. There's even a movement to get Fairy Bread Day up and running here in Australia. That's a stretch, but we're all for celebrating wine so Grenache Day is fine by us," he wrote, before outlining a brief history of the grape's life in Australia, where it has mainly been used for making sweet fortified rotgut called tawny port. 

"It's a very easy-drinking style of wine and for many a mofo it's been a gateway wine to other reds as its approachability makes it a safe choice when dipping your toes into the world of wine," Michael continued, repeatedly calling the new wave Grenache a "medium-bodied" wine. "So if you will," he concluded, "raise a glass as we propose a toast, to Grenache! And we'll skip the sculling, we're going to take it easy and sip this one." 

Sculling? A proto-pirate term from the Vikin sköl, as in drinking from the skull of somebody one didn't particularly like ... photo Derek Adams, Natural History Museum

As a writer who has loved and promoted carefully grown and made dry red Grenache for nearly forty years, one is irked by this International Grenache Day. 

Sure, it may lift the general human awareness of the variety's existence a bee's dick closer to our appreciation of democracy, engineers, and in today's  instance, frigging in the rigging, but in so doing it is more an opportunity for bottom-feeders whose wine is hardly loved to hoik a grappling hook onto the stern of the makers of really good successful ones without having to, er, well, actually grow it properly and learn to make and market it honestly themselves. 

Both Bacchus and sweet Frigg know how few and far between are beautiful Grenache wines. Like, in the scheme of things, they're hardly here at all, especially in Australia. It's only a nascent thing, a development in its infancy. Those eager to swarm like pirates from the wake of the successful and honest, to clamber over their gunnels and pillage their hard-earned glory are limited by the amount of truly good Grenache vineyard remaining.

Best Grenache vineyard in Australia? Wayne and Bernard Smart in the little vineyard Bernard's dad planted in  æolian sand high above the Onkaparinga Gorge at Clarendon, McLaren Vale, in 1921. Winemakers queue up for this fruit ... photo Philip White

International Grenache day serves mainly to assist sales of those manufacturers who lack real understanding of the variety's facetious beauty, and have little chance of access to any of the few truly great Grenache vineyards to survive. 

Take McLaren Vale, where I live. Since the winemakers here spurned Grenache to chase Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay sales, most of its precious Grenache vineyard has been bulldozed and burnt as also occurred in the Barossa and Clare after the post World War II port addicts had all died of it. 


Para Grenache vines at Seppeltsfield in the Barossa ... photo Philip White

Fortunately, the subsequent Chardonnay fetish is also over and gone here, while Cabernet is currently sidelined in the pop stakes, leaving the district with a ridiculous amount of Shiraz. Some of this is gorgeous. But most is forgettable; some is torrid, and fortunately, a lot of it is rarely picked. The fruit hangs to rot, unsold and unkempt, incubating diseases which spread to superior blocks, forcing their owners to head down to DJ's Growers to pick up some spray. 

We saw the winemakers align to seduce consumers with an ornate sales engine called Scarce Earths, where they invited wine celebrities from afar to come and taste the Shiraz wines to guarantee they were honest representations of their specific geology and terroir. How anybody not intimately versed in the variety and each vineyard's terroir could do this reliably, much less scientifically, was a stupid notion. Most of the local growers and winemakers have no idea how this synergy works. 

On they went, however, using Chester Osborn's pet name for the project, and in the spirit of former winemakers' association chairman Jock Harvey's suggestion that every cellar should have a $100 Shiraz for sale, they pushed this fool notion for years. 

While it's all gone a bit quiet on the Scarce Earths front, at the expense of those few who grow and make beautiful examples of it, the current feverish infection is Grenache. So we see those who aren't as popular or pricey or famous as they want to be confecting sudden allegiance to International Grenache Day. 

Grenache in æolian sand at the top of Blewett Springs, McLaren Vale ... photo Philip White

Rather than admit and address the reality that they should first grow or procure better fruit and then learn to make better wine, they construct fantastic marketing and image scams: sophisticated devices which leave the curious consumer confused about which wines the region really thinks are good. Like most wine shows, such marketing sophistry works as a leveller, pushing a status quo, a state-of-the art designed to help everybody sell more Grenache of any quality to the gullible and confused. 

It might as well be port. 

Just to be clear, 'state-of-the-art' is a patent attorney's term for what exists, not the wondrous glories, new inventions and developments yet to come. 

So, McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association, please back off the feverish promotion awhile as you help your vignerons, viniculturers and oenologists train up to produce more exemplary wines. Encourage them first to recognise good ones: the wines they never had the nous to make before. Work out which of your geologies grow the stuff best and plant more there. 

If you have a wine show, keep it to yourselves. Study those wines your imported celebrity judges prefer. Visit their vineyard sites; pore over their science; argue: learn! And do the same for the many they reject. 

Get your product sorted before you suddenly expect us all to believe every cellar in the joint can suddenly lay claim to an infant Grenache that costs $100. Or even a meagre $40. 

Before you choose your price, consider Grenache as port. Penfolds uses solera-aged Grenache to make its exquisite Grandfather. This wine is fortified (money) and committed to oak (more money) for decades (a helluva lot more money) before assemblage at what the makers call "a final minimum average blended age of 20 years." 

After all that, it's still only $100 a bottle. 

Of course you should make the new wave local wines available for prospective drinkers to appraise and consider, but importing famous hired guns, who have little idea of the local terroir, geology, or state-of-the-art, is cynical and patronising to the rest of us. 

It may make you look busy in the eyes of your members who pay your way, but we all want to be careful to avoid veering toward friggin piracy. 

The punter is not a mug.

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."