“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)





30 January 2009



Austral Records And Ambitions Tumble As Mercury Soars
Oversupply Suddenly A Thing Of The Past?

The winemakers of south-eastern Australia are at home in the aircon, desperately drinking freezing beer, avoiding the bank manager. If indeed they still have an electricity supply.

Widespread blackouts have added to the forlorn misery of the savage heatwave which is literally frying the grapes of vintage 2009.

Railways are closing as tracks buckle and carriages derail. The Indian Pacific is returning to Adelaide to hide in the shade. The whole electricity grid is collapsing. Streets and highways are empty. Twenty three people have died in Adelaide today, from what the whitecoats politely call “sudden death”. They mean impossible heat.

Adelaide, the capital of Australia’s wine industry, had just endured its fourth successive day with temperatures over 40 degrees Celcius (104°F). It was 43.1°C today, and 45.7° on Wednesday, when one householder reported 54.5°C (130°F) at Strathalbyn, just over the range from here. That thermometer was in the shade beneath a verandah under a leafy tree. Last night we recorded our highest ever minimum temperature, 33.9°C. It is expected the next few days will continue in such blister zones, with a cool change coming on Tuesday, when the max is expected to fall to a merciful 38°C.

But then it goes on and on and on.

Vineyards are frying; leaves dramatically yellowing and collapsing; and grapes which were just beginning veraison (colouring) have suddenly changed their phenolic manufacture to put on heat shield toughness in their skins. Provided their leaves hold up.

Mercifully, acids seem to be holding in the cooler regions, as vines go into shock mode, but leaf damage is heartbreaking.

Only the fittest, healthiest, best-balanced vineyards can survive this.

McLaren Vale, the Barossa, Clare – even Coonawarra – are generally cactus. The Murray Valley is pretty much post nuclear.

Vines which were out of balance, with little leaf and large crops, are literally collapsing. New plantings are dying, regardless of how much water viticulturers apply. If, indeed, they have any.

Thredbo, the main resort in the snow country of the Australian Alps, has had its hottest day on record, at 32°C.

Melbourne, the infamously chilly capital of Victoria, expects a major respite with a predicted maximum of just 37°C tomorrow. It has just endured its hottest week in two centuries.

Melburnians have endured three successive days of temperatures above 43°C for the first time in recorded history. The mercury reached 45.1°C, 44.3 yesterday, and 43.4 on Wednesday.

Today’s 45.1°C at 4.27pm was the second highest temperature ever recorded in Melbourne, behind only the 45.6 recorded on Black Friday, 13 January 1939.

Melbourne's most sustained heatwave occurred in January 1908 when temperatures reached 39.9 (15th January), 42.8 (16th), 44.2 (17th), 40.0 (18th), 41.1 (19th) and 42.7 (20th).

Fireys extinguished over 750 fires in the tiny state in the last two days; the Strzlecki Ranges remain ablaze.

Geelong, on the very cool Bellarine Peninsula, today recorded 45.3°C.

Even Champagne-cool Tasmania saw an all-time record today – it was 42.2°C at Scamander.

This is another year of absolute heartbreak for grapegrowers and winemakers in south-eastern Australia.


Unfortunately you've nailed the current state of affairs in our battered vineyards.

Just over a week ago I was looking at relatively healthy and happy vines with nicely developing fruit. Tonight I went to turn on the irrigation and took a look at my raisined Grenache which being a slightly later ripening variety hadn't had the time to kick into its darker shade yet and so the green berries have been slaughtered by mother natures blast furnace.

The Shiraz vines are still hanging in there but the fruit is somewhat confused about whether it is acidic or cooked jam so I don't know where this will leave us.

Not good at all and just another nail in the coffin.

As if the global issues and ever present pressure from wineries wasn't bad enough, now the growers may not have anything to show for their efforts.

Paul Petagna signing in for all my fellow Blow Torch victims. Hang in there however you can.
January 30, 2009 11:40 PM

29 January 2009



There was a photograph here of Dr. David Paton, which I took from the University media releases website. The University has asked me to remove it on copyright grounds. I have asked the University to supply me another file photograph.

Later that same day: I have just recieved the following response from the University Media Officer, David Ellis:

"Thanks for your response. I'll definitely look for another pic for you, but I'm not sure we have that many of him, unfortunately."

So, while we wait for the mighty University of Adelaide to find a photograph of their most prominent environmental scientist and pre-eminent media player, I trust you'll be happy with this one: this bloke may act as if ALL the media works for his advantage, he may play some of the press with with a musicianship challenged only by the fiddler with a tommy-gun in his violin case, he may even be an dishonest greedy nut, which is of course highly unlikely, but he's obviously got a handfull of balls!

Why Give Land To These Flash Harries?
Need To Read Deeds Escapes Boffins


“The University is committed to putting at least 100 hectares of woodland habitat back onto this system” Dr. David Paton greenly advised Channel 9’s Kelly Clappis on A Current Affair on Tuesday night.

He forgot to say it was a farm, not a system: a beautiful farm which had been given to his University eight short years ago for vital viticulture research.

“And that's going to be the exemplar that shows what you can do on an individual farm” he finally said, “and then we're going to take what we do at Glenthorne and put it across a range of other properties along the Mount Lofty Ranges.”

What the desperate-looking Paton didn’t tell the television viewers of South Australia was that his example to other farmers is first to put 1000 houses on the land his University was given.

So, officially, we now know: bugger the vines. Every ten houses pays for one hectare of forest. Especially if you get the land for nuthin'.


Check out the vast reforestation of the Willunga escarpment and the Front Hills to Sellicks.

That was done by well-organised volunteers. Thirty kilometres of new bush. Two or three kilometres deep on very steep country. Organised by winemakers.

Paton failed to explain the Glenthorne land was given to the University, in perpetuity, for $1, on the grounds that they would NOT put houses on it, pick up $100 quick million, and put in a few flashy trees and a bit of scrub and promise to do more.

He also failed to say that the University had pledged eight years ago, in a solemn Deed with the government, that it was obliged to reforest much of this property anyway.

The University was given Glenthorne Farm by the South Australian Government, which bought it from the Commonwealth Scientific Research Organisation in 1998 through the prescient insistence of McLaren Vale winemaker Greg Trott.

Senator Robert Hill, now Australia's permanent ambassador to the United Nations, then Federal Minister for Environment, helped stitch the deal.

The CSIRO was determined the site should not be developed for housing. Its Division of Health and Human Nutrition was the main user of the property since 1947.

It was used for many trials, including those involving the effects of medical x-ray nuclear radiation and standard hospital isotopes on mammals, many of which are buried on the property in at least three known pits.

But there are also beasts from the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, and possibly Airstrip and Emu Field buried there.

Many of these tests involved the spread of discrete plutonium dispersed by conventional, non-nuclear explosions, and its effect on the general environment and mammals living within that spread.

I am aware of this because I was the government officer in charge of the storage of the tens of thousands of the stream and surface samples which were taken after these tests.

The research findings of such early British tests are still vitally referred to in the case of terrorists spreading plutonium with a non-nuclear explosion, or when a plutonium-armed nuclear weapon fails to properly explode.

“I think that er some of the sheep I think from Maralinga were buried on the property, um, there’s been some surveys done looking for um you know, high spikes in radioactivity er radioactive material coming off the property at present” Paton recently told the ABC, seemingly ignorant of the fact that plutonium cannot be detected by a Geiger counter.

“Nobody’s found where they are. Nobody actually knows where they’re buried so it may just be rumour.”

If the professor had worked in anything to do with the nuclear business, he would know what rumour meant.

And maybe he does.

“But there are concerns, um, let’s say, out there, about these things and the University, if it was going to go ahead with doing anything, um you know, we’d argue that that why is the thing being used as a farm if there’s radioactive material interred.”

So why is his University renting the farm to a farmer? How much recompense might this farmer be due? Why does Paton insist on a one thousand house subdivision?

Once cleansed of such cold war residues, which is a reasonable goal, presuming human honesty about the whereabouts of such shit, Trott wanted the land used for drought-resistant vineyards and wine research, reforesting, and human recreation.

I was Trott’s advisor, who introduced him to Senator Hill. We worked on this for years. We all thought the job was done; the land secured, according to the Deed. Uh-huh.

Now Trott’s dead, but we’re fighting the whole bloody battle all over again.

In 2001, the State Government gave Glenthorne Farm to the University of Adelaide for $1, subject to a solemn deed signed by Mary O’Kane, the University Chancellor, and Di Laidlaw, the Minister for Planning.

The University’s new 1000 houses proposal is arrogance of the highest degree.

Labor politicians sit back, wondering where the votes may eventually fall. But they won’t fall. They won’t be dropped. They’ll be very, very carefully cast, and the way it looks, independents and Greens could likely hold the balance of power.

Where else in the world could you have land purchased by the taxpayer for $7 million, sold to the university for $1 to be kept forever for vineyard research and open space, bushland, and recreational ground for southern residents, only to be subdivided by the lucky recipient for villa rash to raise a quick $100 million, from the same taxpayers, under the promise that the money will be used for reforesting the distant South Mount Lofty Ranges, where other, much wealthier taxpayers live, over the next 100 years?

And then there's two thirds of the property left? For further devilry?

Sanctioned by the smug rote silence of the Labor government?

It IS bullshit!

The Mount Lofty Ranges just happen to include 147 ha of beautiful open bushland bequeathed to the University by Peter Waite in 1914.

This is the site the University should be using for Ranges reforestation and research. It's immediately adjacent to its vast horticultural laboratories, greenhouses, walking trails and tour bus parks at the Waite Research Institute. And it's not on coastal flats. It's in the Ranges. Where Ranges bushes grow.

It is not lowland semi-arid maritime, like Glenthorne.

And, if you must sub-divide a bequeathment, these Ranges blocks are worth ten times the arid bleakness of Glenthorne! Twenty!

“In 2001, the State Government sold Glenthorne to the University of Adelaide subject to a Land Management Agreement with the State of South Australia” Paton told A Current Affair reporter Kelly Clappis, failing to say it cost the University $1.

“Over the years the University has considered a number of options for the property” he sagely advised, in arrogant ignorance of the commitments of the Deed.

“One proposal was to develop a vineyard on the site, however extensive analysis revealed this not to be a viable option”.

Paton, and his pompous offsider, Martyn Evans, consistently fail to table evidence of such consultation.

It has certainly failed to reach the extensive analysis status. The local winemakers, within whose boundary Glenthorne sits, were never consulted.

DRINKSTER believes the University has only just managed to send Evans to a meeting of the McLaren Vale Wine Grape and Tourism Association, which invited him to his first consultation.

Insiders say Evans’ testy manner left quite a bit to be desired, if only on an intellectual level.

This would match his annoyed hubris on his one and only meeting with me.

Fact is, the Paton and Evans want $100 million urgently for their troubled University, and this is the only way they can think of getting it.

“Today, with increasing government and community recognition of the potential impacts of climate change, the University of Adelaide has identified an exciting opportunity to establish the Woodland Recovery Initiative at Glenthorne”, Paton told Channel 9.

But, as I keep saying, had our great University been on top of the issues of climate change and viable viticulture, which is indeed its primary research responsibility, the Murray Valley, its great river, and our lucrative wine export business would be flourishing, not rotting with sulphuric acidulous mud where a healthy estuary once thrived, neither ripe with thousands of farmer bankruptcies and merciless encroaching salinity.

Dr. Paton, indeed, would have no reason to be wailing about the shocking condition of the Coorong and the Murray Mouth, which brings him and his University huge public access in the media.

In fact, if the university wanted say, $5 million a year, it could do no better than offer the wine industry informed, reliable advice on the drought-resistant new varieties it had trialled and proven, as planned, at Glenthorne.

This is where the cynic might suggest the research facilities of our great University have been usurped by the giant transnationals which depend upon constant over-supply of rote varieties, and a continual sickening downward spiral of quality and price, in order to beat third world producers to fill the discount bins of the Old World and the USA.

Paton and Evans both claim it was the Winemakers Federation Of Australia that signed the Deed (which it most patently did NOT - I have a copy of the Deed) and then advised that Glenthorne was unsuitable for viticultural research.

But at the same time, both men claim to have never seen the Deed, as it is “confidential”.

I wonder if they’re worried about the legal ramifications of their determined drive to subdivide?

The Deed quite clearly states “The University covenants with the Minister that it will, subject to obtaining all necessary statutory approvals, do all reasonably necessary things to ensure that the Land is preserved, conserved and used for Agriculture, Horticulture, Oenology, Viticulture, Buffer Zones and as Community Recreation Area, and is available for Project Research Activities, University Research Activities, Education Activities and operating a Wine Making Facility”.

The University has done nothing like this. In eight years.

I suspect the University is in breech of its deed by pursuing the idea of a housing development on Glenthorne. The very notion of widely seeking public approval for housing development without ministerial approval, in writing, was clearly forseen and forbidden in the Deed, which expressly states that “The University, as the person nominated by the State, has agreed to purchase the Land from the CSIRO , to preserve and conserve the Land for other related activities and not use, develop or permit the Land to be used or developed for urban development...

“... the University covenants with the Minister that it will, subject to obtaining all necessary statutory approvals, do all reasonably necessary things to ensure that the Land is

“4.1.1 preserved, conserved and used for Agriculture, Horticulture, Oenology, Viticulture, Buffer Zones and as Community Recreation Area, and

“4.1.2 is available for Project Research Activities, University Research Activities, Education Activities and operating a Wine Making Facility.

“4.2 The University covenants with the Minister that it will not at any time hereafter:

“4.2.1 use or permit the Land to be used other than as provided for in subclause 4.1 unless such other use is approved in writing by a Minister acting as agent of the Crown,

“4.2.2 undertake or permit Development or seek to undertake Development of the Land for uses other than those specified in subclause 4.1 unless such other use or Development (excluding Urban Development which will not be approved) is approved in writing by a Minister acting as agent of the Crown.”

Confronted with this, Paton told the ABC’s 891 morning announcers in December:

“Oh look that er, that’s in a that’s in a Deed document to which I’m not privy to and the details for, um, I think something I mean which is meant to be kept confidential, or at least I thought it was meant to be kept confidential – so I haven’t seen it – look if there are those issues then fine, perhaps the University has stepped over the line here, but I think that the issue here is, the key issue, that, the if the community changes its mind about how it wants to see an area used, then um we need to take that on board, and not be sitting back on something that was decided, under duress, back in 1998 or so when there was er hurried arrangements between the Federal and State governments and the University to, um find a solution for Glenthorne.”

The Glenthorne deal was hardly hurried. The University sat on it for two years before signing the Deed, on 24 May 2001. The authority of the University Council had been given on the 26 July 1999.

The edgy Martyn Evans, before two highly respected University academics and a state politician, told me "We've had QCs crawling all over this and we've not breached anything" at a lunch and tasting at the Wine Research Institute at the Wine Research Institute before Christmas.

Dull sandwiches were left unchewed: nobody poured a wine.

No ministerial signature has dribbled from a Labor biro; nor legal advice provided this curious member of the public about any possible breach of the Deed.

This what a harried Doc Paton told A Current Affair only yesterday:

“The University is very aware that the current Deed says there should be no housing on it, and that a reasonable portion be open space. Our concern is we have no other mechanism by which you can fund this program except by looking at that as an option.

“At present the University is simply exploring those as options.

“Over the years the University has considered a number of options for the property.

“One proposal was to develop a vineyard on the site, however extensive analysis revealed this not to be a viable option.

“Today, with increasing government and community recognition of the potential impacts of climate change, the University of Adelaide has identified an exciting opportunity to establish the Woodland Recovery Initiative at Glenthorne.”

Climate change? Surely this is the sort of thing Trott had in mind when he sought a permanent viticultural research station, and had the land passed to the University for $1.

It was obvious in 2000 that the Hills would need revegetating, but nobody at University mentioned this. Trott, of course, envisaged the compulsory revegetation of the creeklines and headlands and saw this written into the Deed.

Indeed, excuse the pun, Trott was instrumental in seeing the Willunga escarpment revegetated, and did all he could to see such enlightened effort continue, whilst being aware that few who did the work would appreciate the results until they were many years older.

But back at that point, the University could obviously see there was an urgent, desperate need to be researching viticulture techniques that resisted drought and required much less irrigation than commonly applied in those days.

Since then, without the University’s help, McLaren Vale has switched handsomely to recycled housing water, and continues to do so, and uses less. But new varieties? The whole wine business urgently needs help! The broke-arse transnationals aren’t gonna pay for research – they’re retreating from the drought-ridden Australia, quick.

Much easier to grow bottom shelf goonbag plonk in countries with no environmental regulations and workers you hardly have to pay.

In today’s ABC program, The World Today, Winemakers Federation of Australia CEO Stephen Strachan admitted:

“The vintage is very early this year. The fact is that if it's not climate change, it's climatically related because we've had very dry conditions that's advanced the … has advanced the crop.

“I think that it's quite inevitable that we are going to go through some restructure”, he blithely advised.

“I think that business size, economy of scale, all of those sorts of issues will come into play as we go through this next era for the industry. And I think that the rising cost of water will also be a big part of that equation.”

No kidding.

He’d be an expert to suggest that the wine business, and its primary teaching university, did not urgently need a property, near the vast laboratory resources of the University of Adelaide, on which dryland viticulture, new drought-resistant varieties, and low-irrigation biodynamic and organic grapegrowing techniques can be tested and trialled? Surely this was always the University’s research responsibility anyway?


Check the University of Adelaide’s latest churn of spin at hubris.com . Notice it doesn’t once mention the little matter of, um, cough ONE THOUSAND HOUSES.

The neighbourly polling the University did also failed to mention these, whilst its telephone pollsters would speak only to respondents under thirty.

We shall see which Labor politicians understand this, and we shall vote accordingly.

The member whose seat covers Glenthorne, Kris Hanna, is already a popular independent.

Hubris, see. You might be god, but then you’re dead.

28 January 2009



Hell On Earth As Vintners Sweat

Winemakers Hold Their Breath


Australia’s wine lake might well evaporate this afternoon.

Winemakers panicking about having their tanks full of unsold wine from the last two vintages may not need so much space for the 2009 crop: a lot of it’s frying as I write.

The wine in the refinery tanks will be stewing if they’re not properly refrigerated and/or insulated. After the terrible blast furnace conditions of 2008, most of that wine not yet sold should probably be used for fuel oil anyway.

Where I live on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, which is obviously surrounded by water, that ocean usually moderates the temperature. But thirty kilometres from here, down on the eastern flats at Strathalbyn, a householder has just reported a temperature of 54.5 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit) under the well-shaded back verandah of his old stone dwelling.

It’s 50C (122F) at Finniss, further down the peninsula.

This peninsula is covered in vineyards: intensive in some places, just speckled in others.

These had been just coming into veraison, when the grapes begin to colour. If the vines have sufficient leaf surviving in this huge toaster to properly feed and shade the berries, the colour will come just before the jam. Very quickly.

Great vintage for The Parkerilla.

Adelaide has just officially announced 45.7C (114F), which is close to its hottest recorded temperature of 46.1C (115F), on January 12th., 1939.

Railway and tram tracks are buckling; rolling stock is stationary; bitumen roads melting; native birds panting desperately in the shade, and firemen muttering to themselves at their stations, The Look in their eyes.

The ocean is glassy onshore, yet way out at sea it’s violent.

Forecasters are saying these conditions will continue well into the next week.

The drier, more continental vignobles, like Clare, Barossa, and the poor old Murray Darling Basin and Murray Valley, will find it even harder.

Victoria, usually regarded as cooler climate viticulturally, is almost as bad as South Australia.

No viticulturer I’ve called will yet make a forecast of what all this will do to the quality of vintage 2009.

“Not yet”, they say.



You Don’t Need A Weatherman

To Know Which Way The Wind Blows


Nope. It’s obvious. It’s not a wind, it’s a blistering sandblast, and it’s all coming from the vast northern deserts, laden with positive ions, dust, and relentless austral severity.

The Bureau Of Meteorology in Adelaide this morning told Fran Kelly on Radio National that the heat wave which has just begun its blitz of south-eastern Australia can be expected to be hotter overall than last year’s fifteen-day record-breaker.

Daily maxima will be higher, the BoM said, and evening temperatures will not offer the respite Australia had last year: nights will be hotter, too.

The implications for the wine industry are horrendous.

As South Australia commences its second day above 44 degrees Centigrade (111.2 degrees Fahrenheit), vintners are cringing as grapes, which were just beginning veraison, bake in the blistering sun and relentless, scorching northerlies.

The hottest day recorded in South Australia was 46.1C (117F) in the brutal summer of 1939.

After the 2008 vintage, in which industrial accidents soared as the record heatwave settled in, grapes burnt in the vineyards, and wineries completely failed to handle the massive sudden inflow of rotting fruit, this writer attempted to find funding to make an industrial documentary which quizzed key winemakers about what they would do differently if such treacherous weather patterns repeated.

The idea was to distribute this DVD to all wineries, to assist with their Worst Possible Scenario planning.

The word, loud and clear, from the Wolf Blass Foundation, the obvious source of such funding: NO.

To check an Aussie dust storm in the Murray Darling Basin from last year, click here. And that one had some rain in it!


Constellation Repackages Its Green Hero

No Mention Of The Death Of Our River


Constellation, the genius transnational which decided to do away with the Hardy’s brand which was much beloved by Australians for generations, is using Australia Day to relaunch its Banrock Station brand in Britain.

The accent will now go more on Banrock and less on Station, probably indicating there will be less dependence on the tired old Murray Valley sheep station for fruit.

Constellation says the new bottle frocks “will reinforce the eco credentials of this top ten UK wine brand”.

The new design shows a tree growing from a wine bottle to reinforce the slogan ‘Good Earth - Fine Wine'.

The bottle image will also be featured on Banrock’s three litre bladder packs.

Today’s British press reports that the £63million brand “supports over 95 global conservation projects worldwide and has donated £2.3million from sales of Banrock Station over recent years”.

One can only wonder what the eco-conscious purchasers of Banrock would think if they saw the utterly decrepit state of the Murray Valley this summer.

Not a lot of green going on in our biggest valley, which has been gutted and hung out to dry by over-irrigation as growers struggled to supply the likes of Constellation with ever-cheaper grapes for products like Banrock.

While the entire Murray estuary dies, rendering former wetlands to poisonous sulphurous saltpans, Constellation continues its determined withdrawal from Murray Valley viticulture and winemaking, yet masquerades as an environmentalist hero in the Old World.

For up-to-date audio reportage of the state of the Murray's estuary, hit Bush Telegraph, the invaluable Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National country issues program. Scroll to Thursday 29 January 2009, and listen to the first half hour, or download it to your poddie.

It's very scary and very very sad.

27 January 2009


Someone Has A Look At Fosters

The Oz Finance Gurus Follow Drinkster


You gotta be kidding!

Australia Day, not much going down in the business sector – in a manner of speaking – and somebody at The Oz thinks Fosters has bigger failures to admit.

Reporting Goldman Sachs JBWere analyst Ian Abbott’s warning that Fosters still holds a total of $2.2 billion of wine-related intangible assets on its balance sheet, The Australian says Fosters “could be set to announce further write-downs of up to $700million”.

These people obviously took twelve whole months to read DRINKSTER’s piece, first published in The Independent Weekly in February 2008.

To share our sweet "I Told You So", click Fosters: Two Bill Too Big.

26 January 2009


Flagging Our Tangled Past
Jesus Would Be Disgusted

At Easter, the chalk board outside the little Protestant bookshop in Clare sported a sketch of a cross. “Jesus built a bridge”, it said, “with two planks and three nails”.

Overlooking the fact that the bridge was actually built by the Italians, whose consequent, un-Christlike version of Christianity turned the cross into the world’s most powerful trade mark, I began wondering again about the Australian flag.

It was very strange, hearing people decry the savage hoods of Cronulla for draping themselves in their flag during Sydney’s race riots those short years ago. Even stranger were the subsequent demands that mosques should be flying it. The crescent moon and star on the flags of many Islamic states represent life and peace.

That should do at a mosque. The Australian flag - really the British Blue Ensign with some southern stars on its blue fly - carries five primitive representations of the Roman form of the gallows. Perfect poncho for rioting yobbos.

And that’s just the beginnings of the religio-racial horrors involved in our flag. Some of these are explained in an amazing little book that every Australian should have read: Carol A. Foley’s The Australian Flag, (Federation Press; 1996).

It says something for the musical Welsh that they never insisted on having a cross, a leek, or even a harp, included in the current Union Flag of Great Britain: the Blue Ensign that we disrespectfully call the Union Jack. Maybe they realised that their harp would have to go in the middle of all those crosses, on top of the cross of St. George, which the English would never permit.

The Scots scored with the cross of St. Andrew – a white saltire on a blue ground, a saltire being a diagonal, X-shaped cross, like the tail of the early Christian fish graffito. Roman crucifixions were conducted on saltires, not on the standard vertical cross later popularised by revisionist Christians, who made it their logo, and used its shape as the floorplan of their church buildings. There would be many fewer right angles in modern architecture had the saltire correctly been the model.

Nobody knows exactly why the Scots adopted Andrew as their patron in the eighth century. Foley makes clear that he wasn’t a Scot, and his saltire didn’t begin to appear as a national emblem until about 1290. At least he was crucified, a distinction begrudged Saints George and Patrick. St. Andrew died on his saltire in Greece, at Patras, in 69AD. Three hundred years later another Greek, called Regulus, took some of his preserved bones and a tooth – for good luck - on a journey which ended with him shipwrecked on the coast of Scotland, where he eventually started a Roman church called St. Andrew’s.

St. Patrick was the dissolute son of a Scots monk. He eventually took the cloth and worked his way up to Bishop before heading south to Ireland as a missionary. While there were never any snakes in Ireland, his famous purging the Emerald Isle of them had a lot more to do with him ridding its infant church of its dangerous tendencies to accommodate wisps of Druidic, Moorish, and Coptic theology, not to mention its obsessive confusion of the Virgin Mary with a sort of profligate faery queen, the Mother of Life, whom they celebrated with keystones in the arches of their churches. Other bas reliefs of this woman, squatting on her bottom, her arms about her vertical shins, her hands holding open the labia of a vagina that extended to her grin, were installed decoratively about church walls, like stations of the cross. These stones, called sheilagh na geeks, gave Australia its colloquial term for females. While the pious St. Patrick had them removed from the church walls, thousands of them miraculously survived, and still lie in the basements of the museum in Dublin. But Patrick was never crucified. He died of long life in Armagh in 463AD.

The Irish used the golden harp or the shamrock as their emblem, and we don’t know precisely how the red saltire on the white ground ended up representing them on the Union Flag, although it seems to have been convenient to the graphic artists of the time - its red saltire fitted neatly within the white of saltire of St. Andrew. But it also has to do with the fact that this saltire, finally named after St. Patrick, was in fact the flag of the Fitzgeralds, who’d been sent by the leonine Henry II, father of Richard I, to bash the Irish into submission in 1169.

The English cross of St. George, a ‘cross throughout’ in heraldic terms - in this case a vertical red cross on a white ground - came from France. French warriors fought beneath it in their invasion of the Islamic east in the Third Crusade (1189-1192). Their English mates carried a white cross on a red ground. By the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) the English had adopted the French version and sometime thereabouts also adopted St. George as the patron of England.

There’s a serious move afoot to have St. George’s Day (April 23rd.) made a public holiday in England. In its St. George’s Day Special Issue of 19th. April 2008, The Spectator’s Diary was written by that venerable scholar, Beryl Bainridge, who calls St. George a scroundrel. “Why on Earth [he] was made our patron saint is a mystery”, she wrote.

Born in 303AD, George was a soldier in the time of the Emperor Diocletian. He made a great deal of money selling pig meat to his fellow troops before he was ordained Archbishop of Alexandria, a position from which he gorged his coffers by taxing the bejeesus out of the Christians while he gave everyone else, like the Jews, the horrors, by pillaging their places of worship. Eventually he was imprisoned, but a mob broke into the jail and chopped him into bits which were chucked into the ocean. Call that a matyrdom if you must; he was certainly not crucified. His spirit was believed to have miraculously assisted the English by visitation to battles fought centuries later by the terrible warriors Richard I, Lionheart, (who was tough on Jews, Moslems and the Pope), and Edward I, Longshanks, (who was tough on the Scots, the Welsh and the Moslems). The bit about the dragon was invented by an Italian biographer of saints, Jacobus de Voragine. George killed many pigs, but a dragon? Uh-huh.

Bainbridge recounts asking her grandson whether they’d taught him anything about St. George at school. “No”, he said, he hadn’t, “apart from the fact that George had a friend who was a dragon.”

That accounts for three crosses. The fourth is a phantom: it’s not really there. Then, you could say it was always there. When the first Union Flag, named after Queen Anne, was designed in 1606 to symbolise the union of Scotland and England, the creative types down at heraldry found they had to retain some of the white background of England’s flag in the form of that narrow white border around the red cross of St. George. At the same time, had they not retained its blue background, the white saltire of St. Andrew would have disappeared into the white ground of George’s cross. And the English cross, of course, had to lie atop the Sottish one, lest the Scots dream of dominance. So the fourth cross represents nothing more than the English presumption of superiority.

The fifth cross is even more ethereal. To somehow imagine a group of stars was put there by God to remind us of his son’s crucifixion is well, stretching it. Why didn’t he stand it up the right way? Shouldn’t it be a saltire? Why is there the annoying fifth interloper? Is that the original Crux, the middle star, slipping down to the right?

It’s too late now to ask Augustin Royer, the French astronomer who first named it Crux Australis in 1679. In those days austral meant something grave, sober, harsh, stern, austere, dry, windy, threatening, astringent and tannic in the great southern unknown.

On the 1901 version of the Australian flag, the five stars in the group each had a different number of points, indicating its magnitude of brightness in the heavens. Poor old Epsilon, the stray one, rarely visible these days from our cities, scored only five. Which it still has. For ease of manufacture, the rest had officially settled at seven points by 1908.

The seven was convenient in that the large Federation Star, aka the Commonwealth Star, below the Union Jack, has seven points, indicating the six states and Papua New Guinea. Yep. Papua New Guinea.

If the Gaelic states, Ireland and Wales, had united and colonised Australia, we could have a flag bearing a sheila, playing a harp amongst the shamrocks.

Which reminds me of South Australia’s first official state badge, or cartouche, which showed a helmeted Britannia standing coolly on a beach, surrounded by cliffs like those at Rapid Bay. Her blowing, flowing robe looks as loose and casual as hippy cheesecloth. She has casually put her shield on the sand, resting it against her right hip, and extends her left hand to an aboriginal bloke who’s hardly dressed at all, sitting on a rock, holding his spear. Maybe it’s her spear. They’re obviously having a chat. Might just as well chat about spears.

Just what the Australian flag represents to aboriginal people gives me the horrors. There are many aboriginal words for bits of the Crux Australis; of course many tribes had their version of how those stars got into the sky, or who, or what they are, but they never, of course, saw a cross in it, preceding, as they did, the invention of God and crucifixions by tens of thousands of years.

Pretty hard, too, to imagine what a God-fearing Islamist sees in our flag. Unless, of course, it’s wrapped around the shoulders of the white crusaders of Cronulla, where it makes absolutely perfect sense.

The Australian flag was best summarised by Seinfeld during his visit to Adelaide. Having spotted the huge bugger flapping in the square outside the Hilton, he said “I love your flag. It’s like England at night.”


As a soldier who has "served under" that flag I do not share the sentiments of so many of those, who in resisting change to a more appropriate bunting, always use the defence that the flag is somehow sacred because so many have "died under it".

From my experience that is a load of codswallop. Certainly, in Vietnam there was no such flag sentiment that I ever noticed. Unit logos, badges and other less formal signs, usually of black humour, dotted the unit lines at Nui Dat. I don't recall seeing too many Australian flags flying although there may have been at Task Force HQ. Vehicles carried stenciled red kangaroo logos to identify us as Australians and there were no Australian flags on our uniforms (I do note that our modern day diggers in Iraq and Afghanistan have Australian flag badges on their uniforms and fly Australian flags on their vehicles but I presume this is because they operate in multi-national forces and they do it to be recognised as Australians). It is always a good idea to ensure that you cannot be mistaken for an American.

I reckon soldiers, particularly those in war zones, are not very flag conscious at all. Not in my day anyway. Everyone was too busy getting the job done and getting home in one piece to be that patriotic - although scratch a digger not very deeply and patriotism will gush forth.

In 1967 if you had asked an Australian digger in Vietnam what the Australian flag should be he probably would have said it should depict a can of VB with two Melbourne Cup winners rampant.


21 January 2009



Where Are Today's Young Wine Radicals?
This Dude Used Botrytis On His Reds!


In the early 1980s, there was a dramatic change of guard in the Australian wine industry.

Feisty young blue bloods like Brian Croser were suddenly everywhere, in everybody’s face, changing the way everything worked.

Professing that only they knew how to do it.

Adam Wynn was back from duxing Bordeaux university, taking the reins of Mountadam, Australia’s first big high country chardonnay and pinot vineyard.

And in Victoria, the fearless, questioning intellect of Stephen Hickinbotham was kicking all the old inbred Australian shibboleths in the head.

Hickie’s grandfather, Hick, had founded the Roseworthy winemaking college; his father Ian was a formidable wine scientist and wine maker – the first bloke on earth to deliberately, scientifically, induce and manage malo-lactic fermentations when he worked for Adam Wynn’s father David at Coonawarra in 1952 and 53.

Ian once told me he deliberately named his first son Stephen because it was the “only name we could find with pH in the middle”.

Stephen was oenologist at his family’s winery and vineyard on the slopes of a volcano cone at Anakie, near Geelong, Victoria. An inventor, passionate theorist, and rigorous intellectual, he studied at Bordeaux University, where he also made wine for the Rothschilds. He worked for a while in a government wine research laboratory in Alsace, then at Bollinger and Mumm, and did vintages at Rutherglen, Barossa, Mildura, the Hunter Valley and Great Western. He made the first great modern reds from Tasmania, flying grapes from Meadowbank to Anakie, made some of the earliest Adelaide Hills wines at his uncle Allan's vineyard at Clarendon, and was an anchorman par excellence in the many tastings I conducted at Winestate, Wine And Spirit Buying Guide, and The National Times.

Hickie advised the Indian government on viticulture and winemaking, and was probably the first to realise the potential of sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, New Zealand, as it was he who teased David Hohnen into developing Cloudy Bay.

Not a bad innings for a 1955 vintage lad.

Put very simply, he turned my brain on.

When Stephen was killed, with his partner Jenny O’Regan,and five other good friends from Melbourne, in a plane crash at Cairns in 1986, he took an encyclop√¶dic headful of ideas and knowledge with him.

The Australian wine industry would be very different today had he survived.

I narrowly missed catching that plane.

In those early ’eighties, it suddenly became highly fashionable to make botrytis-affected wines after the styles of Sauternes, Barsac and Germany. Many of these early experiments were dreadful.

The Alsatian wizard, Michel Dietrich, arrived in Clare in 1982, brought in by Francois Henri to manage Remy Martin’s new acquisition, Quelltaler, the grand old headquarters of Buring and Sobels almost a century earlier.

He was immediately bemused to discover two of the local hotshot winemakers, Tim Knappstein and Tim Adams, had begun deliberately infesting riesling grapes with laboratory-grown botrytis in specially constructed and humidified cellars where the grapes were laid on racks and sprayed with spores.

Michel had literally caught a plane in a blizzard in Alsace, disembarked in Adelaide in a 42 degree heatwave, hired a car and driven to Clare. He raised the French tricolour over his new charge, as if to purge it of any traces of Germany, took one look at the vineyards along the creekline at Watervale and announced that this was a good place for botrytis.

The locals were incredulous.

Michel let those grapes hang in that humid little microclimate and made a ravishing and revolutionary botrytis-infected semillon.

The locals accused him of cultivating the spores on V8 vegetable juice, as they had done, then stealing into the vineyard at night to spray it on the vines!

Hickie was already making great controversial stickies at Anakie.

Adam Wynn also made exquisite botrytised rieslings from one of highest blocks on Mountadam.

I was there once, after vintage, trying to take photographs in the frigid, swirling, highland mist. I heard a sound that made me think "bear!".

I'll never know why I thought it may have been a bear, because there are no bears in Australia, and the only bears I've seen have been imprisoned in solitary confinement in Guantanamo things they politely call zoos.

Sure enough, through the mist, there was a large dark figure, about the size of a bear, beneath the vines.

Silly enough to approach, I got closer.

It was David Wynn, wearing an oilskin Drizabone duster, on his hands and knees, studying the ground.

I said "Hullo David".

"Oh hullo Philip", he said, staring back at the sodden ground.

"This is awful", he said. "Terrible. Look at this terrible waste!"

The riesling that Adam had left hanging had got botrytis in its stalks, and the bunches were falling to the ground.

Adam picked, and picked up, that rizza into a wheelbarrow, and made a stunning sticky.

The four of us: Hickie, Michel, Adam and me, had many weekend summits where we rewrote the future, blending bottled wines from all over Australia's exciting new vignobles, just to see.

We spent a lot of time making the perfect pink. The base was usually Hickie's amazing dry botrytised rieslings from Anakie, with Michell's wood-aged Clare semillon, with red bits from Hickie's Meadowbank, Tassie cabernet, Adam's pinot, and some 1979 Petaluma Coonawarra shiraz.

We just had to have some Brian in there.

To encourage some public discussion about these heady botrytis developments, I ran a series of interviews in Wine And Spirit Buying Guide in 1984.

While most contributors knew only of botrytis on white grapes, Hickie immediately threw petrol on the discussion by claiming he deliberately used botrytis on his ravishing reds.

In fact, he said, he never made red wine without botrytis.

The wine business was, once again, incredulous.

“I think it was about 1896 when Louis Pasteur published his amazing study Les Maladies du Vin”, Hickie told me in 1984.

“It was a monumental work, but it was flawed. After studying many bad table wines, Pasteur determined that their malaise was due to these tiny single-celled organisms called bacteria. What he did wrong was to extrapolate on this finding, and he declared that all bacteria were bad. He invented pasteurisation as a means of destroying bacteria in wine.

“Now, if Pasteur’s well-intentioned advice was heeded by all the French vignerons, we’d have no great French wines today. Pasteur neglected to study great wines, and he never came to realise that if they were properly controlled, the same bacteria would, or could, have some highly desirable effects, like conducting the malolactic fermentation which is common to so many great French wines.

“The role that noble rot can play in making red wines has been obscured for several reasons. Certain ill effects found in red wines have been attributed to noble rot because the original grapes were noble rot infected. The great, healthy wines have never really been studied, and because researchers often have so little practical winemaking experience, the role botrytis can play in red wine making has been ignored. That’s pretty simple.

“Carefully controlled noble rot can contribute great complexity to red wines. Many of Bordeaux’s greatest red wines were from grapes infected by botrytis – ask Roy Moorfield about the ’61 Montrose we had.

"Anyone who says it can’t be done is wrong. In winemaking, there are a lot of nuances between the black and the white, and too many people aren’t sensitive to them.”

My experience of Hickie’s love affair with botrytis began in 1982, when he was blending the first Cab Mac, a carbonique maceration red he’d made using his revolutionary sealed pallet bags, for which patents were pending.

The cabernet sauvignon he’d selected from the Goulburn Valley, Victoria, was botrytis infected. He said he’d deliberately botrytised the fruit to pass some complexity and body to the wine.

When I reported this, the broadacre response from other winemakers was a guffaw followed by a loud “Bullshit!”

The main reason for this response centered on the widespread belief that in red fruit, botrytis gave rise to laccase, an oxidase enzyme which turns red wine milky when exposed to oxygen.

I asked Dr. Terry Lee, the NSW food scientist who’d just taken over the boss role at the Australian Wine Research Institute, about his experience with botrytis infected reds.

“We got involved with botrytis when some of the reds in Coonawarra became infected last year”, he said of the 1983 vintage, which was all fire then flood.

“If you get a bit of unwanted botrytis in reds they can go brown as soon as they’re exposed to air or oxygen.

“Chris Summers did most of the work.

“It wasn’t exactly noble rot, though, it was a real zoo growing on those grapes. We had to look for ways and means of preventing deterioration in the wines once they were exposed to air. We were mainly concerned with the bad effects of the wrong kinds of botrytis mixed with a lot of other moulds.

“Stephen Hickinbotham’s had a lot of experience in Bordeaux. I’m sure there’s quite a lot of botrytis in Bordeaux reds. The whole Bordeaux area has a significant level of botrytis: the conditions are right for it. He’s most probably right.

“There are a few components produced when botrytis gets in the grape berry. You get increased glycerol levels. You also get the production of an acid called gluconic acid. The presence of this acid is a fairly good indicator of botrytis infection.

“I think you’ve got to appreciate that Stephen’s trying to get a small botrytis infection as a complexing agent on his reds –- he’s certainly not trying to make sweet reds!”

Eventually Hickie made a couple of small batches of cabernet sauvignon that was deliberately infected with botrytis. He imported the test enzyme from Bordeaux to have the Wine Research Institute check these for gluconic acid, using the same techniques the Bordelaise use when testing sauternes for botrytis.

I arranged a tasting of these wines in Adelaide, and invited several fellows who had said quite distinctly and unequivocally that you couldn’t make red wine from botrytised fruit.

If you knew the big cheeses of those days, you'd be able to name the detractors and disbelievers. They're still here.

Once the wines were poured, and the and the wine sat there in the glasses, glowering red and jolly, totally devoid of anything vaguely resembling milkiness or cloudiness, the noses came down and the discussions began, but there was still a genuine air of disbelief.

The only fellow who didn’t detract from the Hickinbotham achievement was the most senior of the winemakers present, Max Schubert, who happened to be the fellow who created Grange Hermitage.

Max said the wines were good and interesting, and said they reminded him of the days when he used flor yeast on red juice to make “nice complex mother wines”, the bases for his famous blends.

“Nobody really believed I did that either”, Max chuckled.

“I had to get used to keeping my mouth shut.”

Back to Dr. Terry Lee.

“There’s not really such a big mystery about handling botrytis in reds”, he said.

“You can handle it with heat treatment”.

Presto! While Hickie never actually admitted he pasteurised his wines, it’s worth remembering that his father, Ian, had left Coonawarra to work in the Barossa, where he converted the foundering old grape-growers’ co-op to the phenomenally successful Kaiser Stuhl.

Part of this success was his adoption of pasteurisation of sparkling wines under pressure, stabilising them to a degree otherwise unknown in those years.

“I read a letter in an American magazine” Ian wrote in Australian Plonky, his autobiography.

“It was an important Professor Marsh, who was pondering why sparkling winemakers didn’t pasteurise in the bottle as did the spumante makers of Italy.

“Pasteurising was, and still is almost a dirty word in our wine industry and was dismissed because of the association with the cheap wines of Europe.

“However, the thrust of the argument was that, because of the gas content in sparkling wines, the temperature needed to achieve pasteurisation was quite low. I decided to trial the technique.”

Using the Kupke-Trinne team of Roseworthy College, Ian built a machine that pasteurised the Kaiser Stuhl Sparkling Rhinegold at only 63 degrees centigrade, “therefore not damaging the quality”, he wrote.

“In fact, in our experiments we had found that the heat treatment helped ‘round’ the taste, meaning the wine was more drinkable immediately.”

(Winemakers can now hire an Agmaster pasteurising machine that fits on a trailer, and processes very slowly, -- 2,000 to 4,000 litres per hour -- so the required temperature can be minimised, avoiding thermal damage to the wine.)

The resultant popularity of that Kaiser Stuhl Sparkling Rhinegold wine made necessary a full-time sparkling expert to manage the manufactory, and develop other products, like the first real kiddylikker alco-pop, Pineapple Pearl, which was packaged in a little pineapple-shaped bottle with a panoply of green plastic which resembled the foliage at the top of the pineapple, and twisted off to open the bottle.

The appointment? An eager young German from Avery’s of Bristol, one Wolfgang Blass.

Kaiser Stuhl sales went from £160,000 in 1955 to £740,000 in 1962.

Wolfie still has a row of Pineapple Pearl bottles along the top of his bar, sitting there like browning hand grenades.

Which is simply to say that Stephen Hickinbotham had a very learned advisor in matters concerning the pasteurisation of wine.

I miss Stephen -- with a pH -- dreadfully. But if you’re lucky enough to try his reds now, given a merciful cork, you’ll find them breathtakingly beautiful.

That’s getting close to eternal life.

And, just for the record, I should say that dear Max heat treated his flor-infected mother wines.

He learned to keep schtum about that, too.