“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)





25 December 2019

Nurse Betty makes healing move

Nurse Betty Clare Valley Grenache Rosé 2018 
$22; 12% ethanol; screw cap 

Rosebud jelly with the crunchy dust of summer in stony old Clare and a whiff of freshly-ironed, starched uniform from the days of Gossamer hairspray, before the death of hospital-grade stocking welts ... this is a lovely adult blush of a thing. Having spent so many years making the wines for the Jesuits at Sevenhill, Liz Heidenreich, of that rare Barossa Anglican family, knows the secret of the amount of Grenache that goes into Sevenhill's revered fortified altar wine to give it that rosey tint. The saviour's blood. That's a responsibility. Now she's out on the loose, making her own typically fine Heidenreich wine from her family's old vineyards and other purchased fruit. She's a master at finding the flavours; how best to entrap their complexity and delicacy. This baby, from her less spendy Nurse Betty range, is as dry and resilient as her hospital sense of humour, healthy and well from two successful careers back. But it leaves a little lozenge shaped bud of a secular fleshy flavour and feeling I should only describe as the work of a deeply caring soul. That's Grenache, and that's Liz! I coulda used a big infusion of this delightful haemoglobin in the chemo ward ... 

With Liz and David O'Leary, who visited at the height of the weekend  bushfires.

20 February 2019


Where have I been? What's the time? 

Sometime in November I felt crook and with the deft diagnosis and advice from a brilliant local GP, ended up in the incredible cancer ward at Flinders. It looked like this.

The excellent people there at the Cancer Research Centre (thankyou Lance Armstrong!) quite simply saved my life.

After a few days in intensive, recuperating from a huge pelvis quarrying and the fitment of half a new hip and leg, I went to stay with Berls (Annika Berlingieri) and Adrian Glass, who have a spare bedroom with an en suite fitted for handicapped people. 

I re-learned walking on Adrian's dad's  spare Zimmer. On a crutch or stick now.

Adrian, a winemaker, and Annika, a professional cook with a serious tomato fetish, spend most of their time talking about food. Or actually growing it. Making it. Eating it.

Bonnie, Adrian's ancient Staffie, looked at, rather than after me. But she cares. In spite of everything, we had a great time. No better recuperation possible ... my photos

Then I stayed awhile at Milton Wordley  and Anne-Marie Shin's place a block further down Aldinga Beach. Milt and A-M's baby Staffie, Myrtle, looks after them.

My uncle Philip, really the first professional creative person I met in my childhood, came to visit. He is the last surviving sibling of my Mum's lot. He was a designer and interior decorator. He made me a tiny card. "See," he said, "I'm pushing eighty but I can still do it!"

photos Milton Wordley

When I was well enough to come home to the wee cottage in the vineyards at Yangarra, my brother Stephen (Stemmo, Stavros, Whitey) came from the West ... he took this one

Determined to give the cancer wards a bit of a fashion jolt ... photo by Leon Bignell:

Amongst many other dear old friends, Dennis Atkins called by with Terry Plane - brash hack colleagues in the '70s; a tad more deeply weathered now ... Leon Bignell photo ... Biggles, also a journalist in those grainy days, is the MP for the state seat of Mawson, which includes McLaren Vale, the Southern Fleurieu, and Kangaroo Island. 

He's been part of my Beloved Transport Corps, a squad of volunteers who've been driving me to and from the hospital each day. Here he is with George Grainger Aldridge:

These are Philip's daughters, my loving cousins Kathy and Jan, with us Philips and Bruce Buchan ... it's a deep treasure discovered, re-establishing contact with my far-flung family

photo Milton Wordley

Freshly aware that I'm not alone, apart from being extremely sick, I am very well for an old bloke half-way through a long period of hormone-radio-chemo therapy and some pretty radical surgery ... I feel like a building project manager, just keeping control of all the genius subbies, but still can't line up the right blocks for a proper column.

My sensories have gone nuts ... they rejected me. Evacuated. So far, most of my creative energy has gone into that building project, staying alive and posting the odd tweet.

I have a grand troupe of helpers, friends and supporters from all over the ball, and have little idea of how to thankyou for your care, feelings, time and generous gifts.

You may see the nature of DRINKSTER change as I return.

I'll have to be lot more careful, though. Deep grovelling fulsome apologies to the bunch of folks who recently posted comments which I just now accidentally erased. Damn!

13 December 2018


Sunset tonight over the Yangarra High Sands Grenache, across my back fence ... after that dead-dry spring, it's been a wild and sinister few days of weather, restive and unpredictable ... laundry all over the lawn ... the dam is still way down and there's been bad frost in some of the lower blocks ... 

These young hares, meanwhile, have finally ceased boxing the living shit out of each other. The jack spent the morning whacking a male adversary then this jill he thought he'd won - she's bigger - bashed the hell out of him for dessert before commencing the formal peace ritual. Read bonking: working on raising a leverett or two ... photos Philip White


Retweet: Damon Baker @ bottlehands "Tried to liberate one @whiteswine" ... never, ever, ever give up DB! 

To keep this crazy voyage fully coloured, I'm well-and-truly back on the prayer lists of the righteous brethren, who send me daily thoughts like this "your best hope" one from Geoff Ives:



"You seem a long way off, Walter," I told my mate Clappis on the blower. 

This was W. W. W. Clappis, the biodynamicist behind McLaren Vale's opulent Hedonist wine on Strout Road.  

While these Clappisses share a refined enlightenment at the trencherboard and jug, Walter is not to be confused with his cousin, Andy Clappis, the chef up the Range above Willunga. 

"Matter of fact I'm in China," W. W. W. said. 

"You're not in Shanghai are you?" 

"Yep. I'm here right now." 

"You're not in the Old City by any chance?"  

"Yep. Just came into the square." 

 "Bullshit! See that tea shop on your right? Can you duck in there and get me 500 grams of Ku-ding Cha?" 

This is the sort of thing that happens when one commits to hunting the freshest, sweetest, most efficacious Ku-ding. It's usually found in China, but in Vietnam is known as Trà đắng. 

It's a tea-like infusion, not made from the regular Camelia sinsensis leaf which is commonly fermented to blacken, but rolled straight and green from the leaves of the Chinese holly, Ilex kaushue, which is also known as Ilex kudingcha. It's a not necessarily a bush. It has shiny labial leaves like the sinsenis shrub but it'll grow like a tree. 

Regardless of its loftier height and shape, it ranks with the Mediterranean wormwood (Artemus absinthium); the tropical groundcover Gynara procumbens; hot chillies; raw ginger and garlic at the pointy end of my bottle-scarred herbal, foraged or cultivated. I live on this stuff. Now the cancer's suddenly rampant in my ramparts, and I find myself surrounded and advised by the best medical scientists and surgeons I've encountered, I feel I gotta sharpen my focus on every level. 

Maybe Radio Free China RT'd the InDaily news of the Australian Wine Business Monthly's piece - no idea how he found out - but Walter called again from China the other day when he heard that with the tumour farm I seem to suddenly be running in my dark gizzards I'd probably be in need of a fresh Ku-ding shipment any minute soon: two days later it was steaming on my desk. 

I've had the whole system set on RINSE since. Astute man that Walter. 

I'm sure the Degarelix helps, and some intensive photon radiation, but for whatever cause,  various torrid odemas have since shrunk, which is not a surprise. I have long used Ku-ding cha to keep my plates o' meat trim enough to fit my favourite Spanish boots.

Ku-ding is extremely bitter. Like the wormwood and the gall in the cranky old Protestant hymn so hard right it grieved founding Methodists John and Charles Wesley, it's about as bitter as bitter can get short of death.   

If it's stale or cheap Ku-ding's just too far out for most humans. But get magic fresh stuff like W. W. W. somehow tracked to an organic trader somewhere there in the little matter of the Orient and let them leaves unroll in your bowl and you somehow have one of the most refreshing and restorative anti-oxidant brewages known on Earth. I heard it fixed Merrill's gout. 

Top-sheIf Ku-ding finishes very gently sweet. One can enhance this: Keeping them intact, split and slice a few of the new season cherries from Lisa and Mark McCarthy's vineyard and orchard down here on Sand Road, and put them in the bowl with the leaves. 

McCarthy's are picking the perfectly luscious Sam cherries (pictured) again this week. 

Do the same with a couple of the semi-dried Jujubes (Ziziphus jujuba), add the crackling hot rain and watch the leaves unroll. 

I often let it cool; it's fine with fizzed water on the rocks and makes a handy mixer. Even the addition of honey barely touches that bitterness. 

In his determination to introduce foods which require less irrigation in the dying Murray-Darling, Mark's father David brought this most efficacious date-like fruit to Australia. He also introduced the pistachio through his enlightened research farm near Mildura. 

"They thought he was mad," Lisa chirps, "replacing thirsty citrus, almonds and grapes with these foods." 

Lisa and Mark in the old vines at their McCarthy's Orchard, opposite Goodieson's Brewery on Sand Road, McLaren Flat. These clever folks even grow mangoes down here. This one, and photos above by Philip White

But using Ku-ding with citrus juices, Bickfords Lime, and maybe a squirt of Cointreau or Strega one can get soda-close to the bitter scaffolding of, say, the Seville Orange rind in Campari. 

I like bitter flavours. I play with them. Juggle their bright aromatic hues. Add vodka when required - it's like a photographic fixer in the developing tray. If the Jujubes are still there in the cooling liquor of your cha, squeeze the juice from them through the slits you've cut.  Watch the stain spread.


For flavour direction, think Green Chartreuse: towards the terpenes you find in cannabis and Rosemary. Otherwise, while that idea's better kept for the winter I'll have three or four pots of hot water refill over the same leaves. 

I'm keen to see somebody rip into the scientific research of Ku-ding as thoroughly as they've excavated Gynara procumbens, which will drop dead in a normal Kangarilla chill: being jungle headland cover in the tropics, the poor thing needs to come inside with lights and heat to survive winter down here on the Great Southern Ocean. 

But it's summer now and the pots are blooming: I love this stuff in a roll or wrap with fish and sprouts and fetta. It's like a crunchy carrot-flavoured watercress, and goes just tricksy with Ku-ding made with cooling honeywater and an ooze of lemon. 

I'd also like to see the pot researchers teach the Ku-ding/Gynara growers their brilliant display wheels to interpret terpene flavours which compare their sources and various medical efficacies. Spin me with science baby. 

Our three-or-four thousand years of the Cannabis revolution is only the beginning of such great unveilings. Peel open the millenia of forgotten natural efficacies and you realise these enlightenments are never learned early nor won cheap. In the criminal case of pot prohibition, we've permitted a century of big pharma's active stifling and denial of the science surrounding this miracle plant. 

Increasingly, marketers fall shy and  retreat from ancient and famous claims of many restorative foods as medications while the the patent attourneys shred the entire pharmacopoeia in their race to own and exploit it. In the meantime, we're left with unscientific fluff like this: 

"With a reputation as being a longevity and sliming [sic] tea the medicinal properties are vast. Chinese Medicine doctors prescribe it for coughs and the common cold, itchy eyes and headaches. It is also used for fever and bad diarrhea. Any memory issues can benefit helping raise ones [sic] spirit. More contemporary western medicine acknowledges Ku Ding as a tea that can help with blood circulation and blood pressure along with lowering blood lipids like cholesterol." 

Organic Coonawarra winegrowers from Highbank Dennis (left) and the late Morgan Vice with the author at an early visit to that miracle tea shop ... and below, discussing possible tea and wine investment projects with the Major of Yangzhou in 2007 ... not many Australian wine folk had dared make their way into China those few short years ago

Between you and me, and you can do bitter, and track the stuff down, Ku-ding Cha's the duck's guts. 

Focusing tighter, ku means bitter and ding is nail so let's launch the new marketing with something about nailing death to a tumour with Ku-ding then winding up them photons in the nuke ward to vaporise the whole rotten mob. 

Speaking of unscientific fluff and my propensity to quote it, especially at this time of our saviour's blessed birthday, here's that goddam Methodist hymn about bitter. 

Check the buzzwords: even "prostrate" seems perversely  evocative whilst one tunes the lyre, and we're seeing stars with the floating balls and old Jesse's rod before we even get close to the bitter end! 

I prefer to sing it to the tune of Alex Chilton's The Letter.

All hail the power of Jesu’s name! 
Let Angels prostrate fall; 
Bring forth the royal diadem, 
To crown Him Lord of All. 

Let high-born Seraphs tune the lyre, 
And, as they tune it, 
fall Before His face who tunes their choir, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Crown Him, ye morning stars of light, 
Who fix’d this floating ball; 
Now hail the strength of Israel’s might, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Crown him, ye martyrs of your God, 
Who from His altar call; 
Extol the stem of Jesse’s rod, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Ye seed of Israel’s chosen race, 
Ye ransom’d of the fall, 
Hail Him who saves you by His grace, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line, 
Whom David Lord did call; 
The God incarnate, man Divine; 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Sinners! whose love can ne’er forget
The wormwood and the gall, 
Go—spread your trophies at His feet, 
And crown Him Lord of All. 

Let every tribe, and every tongue, 
That bound creation’s call, 
Now shout in universal song, 
The crowned Lord of All! 

I'm thinking about becoming a self-hating Gentile. 

Merry Exmess from the nuclear ward.