“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)





02 February 2009



Are We Really In Hell Daddy,
Or Is This Simply Limbo?

Its disastrous business and economic implications aside, the unprecedented heatwave currently blasting south-eastern Australia’s vintage to hell is giving rise to two fascinating problems.

The first is a communication and marketing conundrum; the second is an illness.

Put simply, (1) how much honesty can the wine industry afford to use in its descriptions of what’s going down, and (2), how in the hell, because this is hell, with all due deference to (1), how in the hell is the wine business and the wider society going to handle the clinical depression which is sweeping through whole winegrowing communities?

The industry bodies usually left with the job of making public statements have long been in denial.

This is because all of them are burdened with intricate conflicts of interest.

This was best manifest with the seepage of waves of terrible news about the industry’s parlous state over the Christmas break, when no reporters are at work, nobody reads newspapers, and nobody gives a shit about news.

The huge weight of public relations inertia was again evident during December’s Yarra Valley phylloxera outbreak, when Decanter magazine, in London, was the first journal to follow DRINKSTER in reporting the implications of this epidemic.

The responsible bodies, with the tacit involvement of politicians like South Australian Premier, Media Mike Rann, were deeply intent on keeping any sense of bad news well out of the general Australian media, at the risk of the dreaded bug spreading to phylloxera-free regions.

They succeeded!

DRINKSTER teased this issue out as it proceeded otherwise unreported. While tens of thousands of Victorian vehicles came from phylloxera-infected regions to sit in phylloxera-free vignobles in South Australia to picnic in the vines and watch the famous bicyclist, Lance Armstrong, return from retirement and whizz past in the Tour Down Under peloton, industry bodies and policitians failed completely to effectively advise these travellers to clean their cars and boots before they entered South Australia. In their fey anxiety over avoiding any rain on this glamourous PR parade, all bodies and governments missed an unequalled opportunity to advise an ignorant public about the dread realities of the vine-killing insect.

So, has the bug come to South Australia? If it has, we won’t know for years.

Type phylloxera in the search box at the top left, and read about it.

Now we have a heatwave utterly unprecedented.

But was it unpredicted?

“Budburst hit the bellwether vineyard opposite The Salopian Inn on August 1st.”, DRINKSTER reported on 27th August last year.

“Last vintage, I reckon it was the 15th.. And look what happened then. One of the earliest vintages ever, starting out cool in every sense of the word, then suddenly coming over all hellfire and brimstone when the record fortnight of heat hit.”

There is no satisfaction in “I told you so”, but this seems to keep happening.

Now we see the many industry bodies struggling to admit there’s a terrible problem with the heatwave, but they don’t want anybody to imagine there’s anything sick in the vineyards. Their blithering underestimation of the Australian public fails to appreciate that we can actually absorb news of a bad crop without thinking all the wines will poison us.

We understand fruit fly, for Bacchus’s sake!

Perhaps this is an innate component of this very complex business which in essence masquerades as a provider of healthy gastronomic delights made by fresh-faced artisans and crusty environmentalist heroes, when in reality it sells one of the most dangerous addictive recreational intoxicants and depressants known to man, which is manufactured by technicians in hard hats and safety boots in glittering refineries. You might see them admit that half of Australia’s crop still goes into goonbags, but they’ll never give a skerrick of credo to the thought that one can also have alcoholism troubles with premium bottled wine.

And they act as if everything in bottles is premium.

So, presented with the dread reality of this literal hell on Earth which has just blitzed their whole business, they struggle to actually say things are as crook as they most obviously are.

It’d be funny if it wasn’t so frigging tragic.

DRINKSTER has been hard onto the heatwave and its implications since January 28th . Today, five days later, we had press statements ooze out from Executive officer of the Riverland Winegrape Growers' Association, Chris Byrne, and Mark McKenzie, executive director of Wine Grape Growers Australia.

Dudley Brown, the impressive new Chairman of the McLaren Vale Wine Grape and Tourism Association, has shown skill in being honest without sensationalist. He sent a message this afternoon which was pure zen in its simple understatement and monumental implication.

“The Phylloxera meeting scheduled for 13 Feb is cancelled as it was a pre-vintage meeting”, it stated.

(Vintage could well be over by the 13th.)

But from the top, the wine industry seems keen to impart the impression that there will still be great wines made from 2009. This was possible in 2008, when smart cookies picked before the fifteen day heatwave, which seemed terrible then, but looks piffling now.

I’d like to see a list of vineyards which have somehow missed out on this dusie first grade triple-A with a bullet king hell bitch of a heatwave which looks like going for at least another week if not forever.

As DRINKSTER reported yesterday, such fey blatherings will of course backfire when the same people who are insisting that there will be great wines in 2009 later attempt to get financial assistance from government, as grain farmers do with drought relief.

“Mallee wheatboys never pull any punches when they know their season's cactus”, the DRINKSTER said. “Winemakers could learn something from the disarming honesty of the graziers, pastoralists and grain cockies, but I doubt it'll happen this year. Just depends on how bad things really get.”

That aside, we then address the matter of depression, diagnosed, denied or whatever.

The Australian countryside was already littered with broken households where broken farmers struggled with the black dog.

Now the beast has jumped into the wine basket, and great care must be exercised to limit its destruction.

Any business afflicted with the sort of abject rote denial the wine industry tends to display, seems, on the face of it, unlikely to capably handle such a seeping terror.

Once again, McLaren Vale’s Dudley Brown seems best to have his brain around this threat, calling meetings of growers and makers to instil a feeling of togetherness as much as anything else.

Other regions should follow his example.

The councils at the top don’t seem to acknowledge depression.

Maybe it’s something to do with industrial liability.


"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King Jr.

February 3, 2009 1:03 AM


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Martin Luther King Jr.,