“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)


.

.

.

.

19 September 2018

A LIGHTER SHADE OF PALE

Light and precise: see how these Grenache rosés have grown paler with consecutive years ... photo Philip White

Firsts for South Oz: pale, precise rosé; more boisterous chrome Blanc blend
by PHILIP WHITE


It is no secret that I live like a crofter hermit with a pen on the back block verge of Yangarra. Neither is it an accident: for many years I've been fascinated by this unique slice of terroir, and how its manager/winemaker, Peter Fraser, respects it and reads its best potential. 

With these two new wines, he's raised the Yangarra bar, but also opened a new gastronomic track for McLaren Vale. 

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Grenache Rosé 2018 
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap 

A few decades back, a great deal of the grand old vine Grenache that South Australia grew went into sweet lollypop pink rosés. 

The Tollana version was a fine example, coming in its flattened pear-shaped bocksbeutel after the Mateus style. This ancient shape was developed to prevent bottles rolling away from the drinker but became very handy with the invention of the fridge: you could slide 'em in the door rack where they looked extra neat and tidy and wouldn't fall over if you slammed it. 

In recent years winemakers have learned to make very fine red wines from the Grenache that survived, inspired in some cellars by the style of Pinot noir perfected in Burgundy. 

Yangarra Rosé 2011 photo by David Burnett ... others by Philip White

But still a determined few have been honing more adult styles of rosé, reaching past the red skins into the berries for their most fragrant, elegant heart juice. 

In the case of this svelte delight, the winemaker has preferred to keep that pale blanc-de-noir hue by rigidly limiting the duration of skin contact, a method which also stops short of extracting much phenolic tannin from the skins, keeping that juice as fresh and fine as possible. 

This is assisted by picking early, before the skins ripen fully. The result is an alluring aroma that avoids the usual overt, even brash raspberry/redcurrant/cranberry characters. Instead it offers a distinctive agave/prickly-pear juice finesse after that delicious cactus fruit adored as the heart flavour of spring and summer by the Maltese since they were Phoenecians. 

Yangarra Rosé 2017

So we have a wine that's pretty much along the lines of a white Grenache. The curious side of me would be tempted to pick some even earlier and make a serious sparkling wine after the methode Champenoise. In either case, I suspect it would attract the sort of drinker much less likely to let the bottle roll away or kick a fridge door shut. 

Yangarra Rosé 2014

I'm very happy indeed to sit toying with this mischievous wine, sans suds. 

Speaking Mediterranean, it does a proper job with most of the snacky platter cuisines from Lebanon to Morocco. Very old ideas in a new style; a new direction. Get down. 

Yangarra Vine Estate McLaren Vale Blanc 2018 
$25; 13% alcohol; screw cap 

Here's a brand new blend for Australia: a push into realms paler than that posh pink above. 

Convinced that his upland old vine Grenache indicated a very special affinity between Yangarra and the north-west Mediterranean, winemaker Peter Fraser has spent ten years importing the white varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 


This wine is a certified biodynamic/organic blend of Grenache Blanc (35%), Clairette (30%), Roussanne (20%), Picpoul (10%) and Bourboulenc (5%). It was made with indigenous yeast in 675 litre ceramic fermenting eggs. 

"Back in 2009 we had an attempt to first bring in Grenache Blanc." Fraser says, "but it was rejected in quarantine. It had corky bark virus. When a variety is first imported, it is only in very small quantities. It takes time to pass quarantine, and then some years to populate the planting material to have enough for commercial plantings." 

Very gentle tootsies on some 2014 Roussanne

As it's a first on many levels, it's not surprising that this Blanc doesn't remind me much of other Australian wine. Nor for that matter, even the whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They tend to have a more rural/rustic approach than Fraser's measured blend of science and nature. He gets more precision in his chaos. 

It is a reassuring, wholesome wine of a special finesse. Its fragrance is once again after the cactus flower and the juice of the agave, aloe and prickly pear, with the accent on streamlining all that into a tight chrome sheen. It's polished; seamless. It has a tad more tannin than the Grenache Rosé, giving it more authority, but overall it's a smooth and shiny thing. It needs no oak. 

In the 170 years since white boozers pushed into this Kaurna country. the embayment and uplands of what became McLaren Vale after a surveyor, Bacchus only knows how many white varieties they've tried here, but it's pretty much everything from Sauvignon blanc to Savignin; Chardonnay to Chenin. 

Most forgettable. Although I have had some lovely Rieslings from the northern uplands of the vignoble, some Cudmore Kay showed me at 30-35 years of age. Golden beauty in those caterpillar/barrel flagons with the cork. I think Sam Wynn invented them for recycling. And I've had some lovely early 'nineties Rieslings made by Brian Light at Tapestry from Yangarra vines. All gone now.   

Dare I suggest this new selection of ancient Mediterranean types offers better hope, in these days of new heat, less water, and a much more discerning drinker? 

Funny that it took us so long. Try it with a cool bean and pork belly stew.


15 September 2018

ANNUAL CLARE RIESLING TEMPLATES



Spring is Clare Riesling time. O'Leary Walker always sets an early template
by PHILIP WHITE


O'Leary Walker Watervale  Clare Valley Riesling 2018 
($22; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Just limes. Pure and simple. 

Oh yes. There's also the wild high smell of that chalky Watervale slope after a light summer sunshower. Dampened dry pasture. A general feeling of nature and delight. Good Clare Riesling does this. 

And the O'Leary-Walker blokes are the masters of getting all this into the bottle, safe and sound for decades. My annual wait for the arrival for these truly distinctive whites, after nearly twenty years of them, has become a bigger deal than Christmas. The frustration is handling the idea that each year seems better than its predecessor. Yep, this year seems better than all of them. 

This really is about as definitive as Watervale gets. Precise, fine, uncompromising, taut: it's hard to handle the notion of something so steely and humourless being so packed with life. And we're still just sniffin'. Drink. As predicted: limes and shiny, shiny steel. Refreshment with its own inbuilt challenge. 

Prime slice of Watervale's Côte des Blanc, viewed from the tasting and sales room ... these photos Philip White  

This is no joke, but it makes me smile. It's full-bore austere, yet it's really a solid billet of generosity. Confident. It pretty well moves in and just sits there, totally occupying the mouth. 

Fresh Emu Bay King George whiting sizzled briefly with butter, squirted with lemon, fresh grind of black pepper, crunchy bread and butter, bottle o' this ... hear me leer. 

O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Clare Valley Riesling 2018 
($25; 12 % alcohol; screw cap) 

Grown in the older schists, siltstones and slates across the range to the east of Watervale, the Polish Hill River wine usually has more tropical fruits, like fleshy, aromatic lychee and rambutan, than the straight down-the-line steely citrus offered by the Watervale chalks. 

Same here in 2018: maybe there's more of both tropicals and Ozzie dust. This is looking increasingly like a mighty year - these ARE better, or maybe just more obvious than usual, if that means anything. 



So in there with the grapefruit pith, the magnolia petals, the star fruit, the entire jungle fruiterer, that reek of high summer dust, you'll find a less austere, more open-heartedly generous, more coddling and cuddling sort of a companion. 

This is the wine for fattier river fish and marron with garlic in butter. Reminds me of Jean Meyer showing me how his Alsace Riesling from ancient marine geology went better with seafood while his Riesling from freshwater riverine geology was best with freshwater fishes. 


Shiitake. Enoki. I suspect that of the great longevity both wines promise, this year the Watervale wine is the real long-hauler. It'll outlive me. The Polish Hill offers more humourous pleasure and immediate comfort and reassurance in this its youth. I intend to outlive it. This bottle, anyway. Get up to Clare and rattle a few glasses. And buy a bottle or two of the right royal 2013 Drs. Cut Riesling while you're there. That'll shiver some timbers.

Here be the lads with the serious pre-party jitters. Have we done the right thing? Like which is the better Riesling? Have we invited the right people? 

They'll be cool when the guests arrive!

"Whole lotta things that I never done - I ain't ever had too much fun!"


I hope that Peter Dutton keeps this snap close to the front of my file: I was invited to do the business welcoming Prime Minister John Howard and introducing him at the opening of the O'Leary Walker winery. You don't get too many Prime Ministers opening too many wineries anywhere on Earth these days. Together, on the day, we did a good job. I reckon overall, Howard handled my low pH intro speech pretty well. Not chatted since, mind you. 

Six Prime Ministers later, and the O'Leary Walker is the only constant. The Rieslings get better organised every year.



QUIET LUNCH WITH THE CLAPPIS BLOKES


No sorry mate we're shut today for renovations. This is just a work lunch.
by PHILIP WHITE
 

Under cover of renovations Enzo and Andy Clappis gave a lunch for a few senior blokes. Their Our Place is a buzzy tavola di famiglia for lost weekend lunches and special events. It's down The Range from Casa Blanco, across the Willunga Fault atop its escarpment. 

You look out over the Gulf St Vincent from up there with the eagles. 

Father and son served astonishing dishes through a lazy afternoon, including hung pheasants with porcini risotto. Shivers.

A bright young prominently necktagged health inspector from the local council seemed surprised when he strode in to interrupt the Member for Mawson dutifully stirring porcini juice into the big risotto pot. 

The inspector withdrew, suggesting he should return to make an appointment after the renovations - and lunch - were complete. 

Pane di Andy is a tru-blue gastronomic highlight of McLaren Vale life. Andy Clappis by Tony Lewis for Indaily.

When I was green in this game, Greg Trott, explaining his region advised "Young White, there's no competition between McLaren Vale and the Barossa. They're German. We've got the Italians." 

We sure do. This is the menu: 

Pane di Andy and Michael Harbison’s olive oil

Baccala Mantecato alla Venetziana

Pesce in Savor (Coorong mulloway)

Vitello Tonnato (classic Piedmonte dish)

Trippa in Bianco served with freshly grated Padano

Fagiano con Castangne e risotto in bianco con Fagiano e Fungi Porcini

Verdure selvatiche from our paddock (wild broccoli)

Gorgonzola dolce con pere


Joe and his brother John Petrucci were there. Wine people. Growers. Joe brought his confounding Sabella Colorino, which is the syrup of starless nights. This is Joe and his winemaking son Michael. 

photos at top and this one by Philip White

Enzo and Andy are heroes in Adelaide pub history. When they had the Maylands, they were I think the first publicans in Australia to put a posh espresso machine on the front bar. Their food was exemplary. 

Premier Don Dunstan called Enzo "The King of Offal". The last bottle of Penfolds Bin 60A I shared with Max Schubert was in the Maylands. Robbie Robertson brought it. That's what sort of a joint they ran in the face of a towering wave of Colonel Sadness and Hungry Dan's. I have lived a blessed life. 

Thankyou dear Enzo and Andy for adding such rich new layers. And that al dente honeycomb tripe was pretty trippy.

Enzo Clappis by Tony Lewis for Indaily

12 September 2018

ŻUBR AND THE GREASY GRASS


XXX Chardonnay substitute made from rye and buffalo grass. In Poland.
by PHILIP WHITE

 Żubrówka Bison Grass Flavoured Vodka  
($55 for 700ml; 40% alcohol; screw cap) 

In the matter of stronger drink, spring is Żubrówka season at Casa Blanca. Seven times distilled, this is the Polish rye vodka flavoured with Hierochloe odorata, the fragrant buffalo grass much beloved by the żubr, the rare European bison politely named Bison bonasus by Linnaeus in 1758. It's also called the wisent, from the viking visundr

There are precious few of these lumbering beasties left - they're a protected threatened species - but every now and then one human hero or another will post a photograph of themselves with a żubr they've managed to slaughter with a high-velocity rifle. 


Pretty hard to miss, the old żubr. 

This trophy business has been going on a lot longer than the firearm: old Germanic tribes used żubr horns to make their battle helmets look more scary. Contrary to Hollywood myth, Vikings used sea eagle or raven's wings on their bloodbuckets, not horns. They tended to use the horns they'd get from their enemies' helmets as drinking vessels, after taking their first victorious draught from the sköl of the vanquished. 

Sköl as drinking vessel for the Viking victor ... photo Derek Adams, Natural History Museum

As far as herbal business goes, Hierochloe odorata had long been a favourite medication for humans. It was, and still is in some quarters, harvested for its natural phenylpropanoid, coumarin, an efficaceous compound that works a bit like low doses of wormwood, Artemesia absinthium, in its calmative capacity. Coumarin has been claimed to be analgesic and antiseptic. For centuries buffalo grass was used to ease siezures, settle heart palpipations, ease odema, shrink tumours, reinforce the immune system, kidneys and liver, soothe asthma and thicken ageing bones. Like nettles, you can make tea or soup from it. 

In the USA, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms people found that coumarin too closely resembled dicoumarol, a manufactured anti-coagulant which in huge doses causes internal bleeding and is used in rat poison. So in the US, Żubrówka is spared its natural flavourant, which is replaced by a synthetic essence, and sold simply as Żu. Even the single blade of buffalo grass which comes in every bottle in Australia and Europe is replaced by a strip of green plastic in the US. 


For perspective, a teaspoon of cinnamon contains around 10mg of coumarin - not dicoumarol - while one litre of Żubrówka holds about 12mg. German health officials rule that humans can safely handle 0.1mg per kilogram of body weight per day, which means I'd have to consume about 1.5 litres per day of 40% alcohol Żubrówka to even nudge the coumarin safety limit. 

If you need inspiration, a healthy żubr of about one tonne weight devours about 30 kg of the raw grass per day and is known for its ability to leap a two metre fence from a standing start. 

As far as a drink goes, Żubrówka is nothing like other vodkas, flavoured or not. Without being too much of either, it's bitter-sweet, with a comforting unction, after the nature of cold chamomile tea, which also happens to contain coumarin. The sweetness is an illusion: it's more a slightly oily viscosity than your actual sugar. 

Being a human who likes bitter flavours, like Campari, I quite enjoy a slow neat Żubrówka on an ice block. It's also alluring chilled with soda - it's like a XXX-rated Chardonnay in some ways - and those who like a touch of true sweet in their bitters may enjoy it with lime juice or a dash of Bickfords. Blackcurrant also suits it, or cider. It's great with a proper perry. Garnish? Try a slice of lime or fresh ginger root. 

Above all, it's the alluring meadow perfume of Hierochloe odorata that gives Żubrówka its distinction, and made that grass an essential part of the ancient parfumier's arsenal: as well as providing its own verdant plains aroma, it works as a fixer, stabilising other more fleeting floral fragrances. 

So as you drink, share a ka-chink with your colleagues, toasting the few remaining żubr in the hope the buffalo grass keeps them leaping from the cross hairs of the jerks who insist on hunting them. And you may well draw a second schluck in recollection of General Custer and his last foolish brigade, perishing there on a whole fragrant prairie of the stuff. That massacre at Little Big Horn was first known as the Battle of Greasy Grass. Breathing this soothing perfume, Custer and co. bled to death there on the plain they did not own, long before the petrochem business even dreamed of dicoumarol. Always best to reflect on such stupid plains wars with a natural soporific that can hoist a bison two metres, methinks. 

Żubr; Altamira, Cantabria, 18,500 - 4,000 BCE ... photo Ramessos

NO BLEACHED BARK IN PROVENCE PINK



Provence Grenache Cinsault rosé stays fresh and pink with screw cap
by PHILIP WHITE


You know the feeling? Years of dreaming of eventually reaching Marseilles to bog into a real bouillabaisse with a bright Provence rosé to finally arrive and discover most of the rosé was rotten? 

I know it too well. That acrid carrion twang of trichloranisole (TCA), the perfectly-named rotten cork compound. You have a spongiform wild oak bark steeped in wind, rain, dust, squirrel piss, birdshit and those dainty titbits left by bulls relieving itches. You peel that bark off the Quercus suber trunk and bleach it so it looks clean. Natural. Food-grade. But the bleach reacts badly with some of the resident cork fungi and leaves that damn stink. Shove cork in bottle; TCA moves into wine; eats all primary fruit leaving bitter gutted corpse of the original drink, ribs to the sun. 

Twas on that lovely sunny first day in Marseilles I discovered that in the south of France the drying, eviscerating nature of trash Portuguese cork had become so prevalent that most wine vendors, from cellar to somm, thought that was simply what their local wine was like. I couldn't believe it. You're in a spaghetti western, you got buffalo ribs sticking outa that cracked desert clay, right? The visitor does not complain. 

Eat your bouillabaisse, son. We make our rosé dry. 


TCA makes wine taste dry. Dry bones and coal dust. In those days, the locals would not use screw caps. Many still won't. So it's cool, decades on, to be sent the wine I went to Provence to drink with the local fish stew. 

Note I say Provence, not provenance, which I discussed here below. This wine came from yet another  company whose website has yet to assemble itself, if it's providence that interests you. On the bottom of the texturally/graphically-pleasing paper letter that came full speed by snail were the address of another website and a twitter handle. Nothing there either. 

The producer is a mob called Debussy, which seems to be a negociant-based thing which I reckon might get its wine made to order in one south-of-France co-op or another. The packaging and texts make me suspect there are Brits in the background: "Rameau d'Or," it says, "A specialist Rosé producer from Provence. The name, Rameau d'Or translates to Golden Bough and comes from a fantastical French tale of enchantment love and transformation - a perfect match for this quintessential summer rosé." 

What do you think? Brits? 

I reckon the back label's even worse. It introduces the ugly prince. 

Never mention the ugly prince. 

The wine is distributed in Australia by red+white, a well-reputed wholesaler which has absolutely nothing to do with me. To me it means pink when it's not clarified, and as a colour-blind person, pink is a colour I do not see. 

Tell me about it.

Debussy Rameau d'Or Golden Bough Côtes de Provence Rosé 2017 
($28; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

That mild rosepetal/rosebud perfume that wends from the thorns all the way along to Turkish delight is here. There's a bowl of lemons on Mamée's same dappled linen, and the acrid dusty dry of the Provence farmyard well after the lavendar's all picked, packed and gone off to the stills. Hard bread covered in dusty flour. Long before I reached the top of the label I could smell chook feathers blowing around. We are at the long Sunday table in the four o'clock sun. Fully replete, Old Pop snores as his chins nod closer to the cheese. The accordionist is drunk. The nieces are giggling. Does gingham have a smell? 

I know cantaloupe - called muskmelon by some - wrapped in prosciutto is ideally a flavour from across the border in Italy, but this drink actually tastes like that. With some lemonburger pear, as grown by McCarthy's Farm down my way. And then that hempen burlap smell of sacks stacked right there in the barn. All those flavours, with the slender acid of the grapes - Grenache 70%; Cinsault 30% - and the tiny residual hints they leave: insinuations of gingery lime marmalade and leatherwood honey - are all here jumping and dancing so fresh and lovely BECAUSE IT HASN'T GOT A GODDAM CORK! 

This is a bonny dry rosé of the best sort from the one place it suits as well as mine. You'll find it more easily around the internet if you drop the Debussy. Rameau d'Or will get it. Strange, that.

Fish for bouillabaisse in Marseille ... photo Annika Berlingieri ... below is Fish catch and Dawes Point Sydney Harbour by John William Lewin, who was the first big time white bloke painter ashore. This surreal documentary 1813 painting is one of the oldest colonial treasures in the Art Gallery of South Australia.

09 September 2018

SOME SNAPS FROM A COLD DRY SPRING

As spring is in but dry I find myself wanting to keep a photographic record. 

More than usual, I mean. 

That's Yangarra's Ironheart Vineyard in the foreground above, looking out across another neighbours' vineyard on the fen. That remnant coppice on the left is a roo ghetto.

It's suddenly the beginning of blossom time out the back of Casa Blanca.

Took a walk up the near creek this afternoon, to the High Sands Grenache. That's still a frigid hill at this time of year. This is the dovecote near the mulch heap.



I interrupted a few slumbering roos whilst fumbling for this shot of my back door out on the shoulder. This creek hasn't run yet this year, but the smaller ponds have some water and  there's plenty of feed ... all for the roos now budburst is imminent and the sheep have gone for the year ... all photos Philip White

This is the season for very chill nights when there's no wind or cloud, many bright sunny days, and this year, not nearly enough rain. 

It can still suddenly storm up though, like it did on this afternoon last October:


07 September 2018

NOTES ON A WINE UNTASTED


What price provenance? Pondering the new Coonawarra superwine
by PHILIP WHITE


Reluctant to write of wines he has not actually consumed, this correspondent is nevertheless attracted to fancy releases of great price, and how they tend to be launched. 

Such things seem to come and go; some, one-offs like Peter Gago's astonishing Penfolds Ampoule ($168,000), or his Penfolds G3 ($3000), sell in flash, rarely to reappear in the auction circuit; others slug on, holding their value as they occasionally poke their necks up for resale. 

This week's release of Henschke Hill of Grace 2013 rings its usually Grangey price - $825 a pop, just ahead of next month's annual wave of superwines from Penfolds. Such monumental luxury goods maintain their own heady values, having proven their breeding for many decades. 

The less fortunate attempts at the miracle megabuck bottle, usually of very suss provenance, simply disappear, or lie in their maker's shed for the decades it takes for them to drink it all.
  
The families Balnaves (above)  and Redman of Coonawarra have just announced their William Wilson Coonawarra Shiraz Cabernet 2016, "A unique blend of families and varieties, the limited edition $300 a bottle 'traditional claret' will be the most expensive wine ever released in Coonawarra," Kirsty Balnaves' release says. 

William and Agnes Wilson came to Penola in 1861"and quickly erected a four-room slab hut with a bark roof," I first discovered in Corartwalla - A history of Penola, the land and its people (Hanna, Abbey, Clifford, Roper; Magill Publications, 2001). 

"Apart from a six-year stint in the Black Watch, and some shepherding on Maaoupe, Wilson had pursued the trade of gardener." 

"He really was the region’s founding father ... " Balnaves says, "... born in Scotland, served in the Scottish Highlanders in Ireland and Greece ... emigrated to South Australia in 1849 at the age of 33 ... 

"It was during his posting on the Greek Islands of Zephalonia, Zante and Corfu that he learnt about viticulture and the role that soil type played in vine health and vigour." Corartwalla relates. 

William and Agnes Wilson

"Initially he learned a living through fencing and selling produce from a small garden behind the hut." 

Short of cash, he took off to the Victorian goldfields and made himself four hundred pounds, which his partner stole as Wilson packed to leave, "So he stayed until he had made another three hundred pounds, and then doggedly pushed his wheelbarrow all the way to Penola." 

In his two year absence, Agnes fed and raised their kids doing washing and mending for the neighbours. 

"Early one morning she found the local Pinejunga stacking wood against the hut, and was terrified they would burn the house down. Then one explained that her husband had been kind to them, and they were helping her while he was away." 

Classic Coonawarra terra rossa on limestone ... photo Milton Wordley

Wilson had been very quick to appreciate the fast-draining nature of the Coonawarra terra rossa soil he'd found in his garden. Within years he developed a market garden whose produce consistently won awards at the agricultural shows and sold briskly throughout the south-east of the state. He grew all manner of grapes, fruit and figs and took them to markets as far afield as Naracoorte and Mount Gambier in a sprung horse cart. 

The prominent local pastoralist, John Riddoch (read loaded Scot) took close notice of this geological form Wilson had discovered and in May 1890 announced his philanthropic dream, the Penola Fruit Colony. 

"Impressed with the success of William Wilson's orchard in Petticoat Lane, he noticed that the terra rossa soil ran some miles north of the township," Corartwalla explains, "and he was advised by Professor Perkins, chief agriculturalist with the state government, to utilise it as a fruit colony." 

By August Riddoch had sold nearly all his "one hundred ten-acre allotments at ten pounds per acre, at five per cent interest over ten years ... by 1891, ninety-five thousand vines and sixteen thousand fruit trees were planted." 

In July of that same year, Wilson died. 

"In every respect a grand type of the pioneers who are rapidly passing away," his obituary in The Border Watch concluded. "Men honest, manly, and stout-hearted, who possessed indomitable patience and perseverance which enabled them to meet and overcome all the difficulties that beset them in their efforts to form homes for themselves in Australia." 

Riddoch built the famous winery now known as Wynn's Coonawarra Estate just in time for the Great Bank Crash of 1893. A brave and inspired experiment hit the deck, to be most famously re-launched as a private wine company by David Wynn in the 1950s. 

Mal, Bruce, Michael and Dan Redman

Wilson's grandson Bill Redman hung on. His sister-in-law married William Balnaves, and now Wilson's great-great-great grandchildren Kirsty and Peter Balnaves, with Dan and Michael Redman, release a $300 red. 

It's a good yarn, but provenance enough for the price? 

Nearly forty years ago I attended a Redman tasting in Sydney, the grand Owen Redman officiating. He scared me, but as a bloke from the sticks, he was probably terrified of Sydney. I poked a wobbly mike at him and asked "Mr Redman, what's the best Redman Coonawarra in the cellar?" 

I don't think he even looked at me as he uttered "The oldest one." 

No further questions, your honour. 

Soon after that I was at Coonawarra as the new Lifetime Patron of the Coonawarra Guinea Pig Racing Association, a guest of its founder and chairman, Doug Balnaves, who also supervised  swabbing the pigs for drugs and other veterinary issues. 

They were Australia's most coddled and polished cavies, I guarantee. Those who witnessed the mighty Noble Rot, a glistening rocket of a rodent, winning the steeplechase will still glaze over and shiver with the vainglory of that recollection. 

There's some more provenance for you. But add to that the countless deep garnet glints of memory from bottles grown and made by those mighty Coonawarra mobs, and I reckon I'm ready to give them the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, there's the press release appraised and abridged, with a bonanza of free extras. I look forward to telling you how I feel drinking the wine if I can sell a banjo or something. 

I am intrigued to learn what these people mean by 'traditional claret'. I love the notion.

On matters of worth on the turf, best refer to the Penola poet and horse ace of Wilson's day, Adam Lindsay Gordon, who seems to have been a hopeless melacholic romantic, which must mean depression. Snap.

"He wins, yes, he wins upon paper,
He hasn't yet won on turf,
And these rhymes are but moonshine and vapour,
Air-bubbles and spume from the surf.
So be it, at least they are given
Free, gratis, for just what they're worth,
And (whatever there may be in heaven) 
There's little worth much upon earth."



I have since enjoyed the following letter from Doug Balnaves (above)

Dear Philip, 

I was delighted to read your note regarding the William Wilson Wine. We realise that to assess a wine that you have not seen, is quite a challenge and we are rectifying that immediately. 

I was also delighted, and pleasantly  surprised to find that the  magnificent exploits of Noble Rot have not been forgotten. I have to say, in all seriousness, that the Guinea Pig experience has been a great help to me. I have  occasionally been asked to speak to gatherings about the wine. This is not a subject that I am at all qualified or comfortable to speak on  and I have quite often been able to move the subject to  Guinea Pig Races and this is much easier and I feel quite often perhaps more interesting to the audience. 

I was once asked to speak at a black tie Dinner at the Australia Club in Melbourne and I was literally scared witless. However, the MC in introducing me said that over the years, they had welcomed Judges, Ambassadors, Premiers etc. but never a Chairman of a Guinea Pig Racing Club. I could have kissed him, I was able to talk nonsense for a few minutes and then both I and the audience relaxed. 

Had a similar experience at the Alexandra Club in Melbourne that also went well, but tried it in a “Club” on North Terrace with mixed success.  Of course, with the passing of the years, the memory fades and not everything that I mention may have actually happened. 

I am undertaking a course in short story writing and have written a story about Noble Rot and his downfall which has been very well  received. The Patron has a mention in the story. Once again the Guinea Pigs have come to my rescue. So thank you Philip on both counts. I hope that you enjoy the William Wilson. It has been an enjoyable experience working with the Redman family and being able to bring to life some of the history of Coonawarra. 

Cheers Doug