“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 March 2009


Soft Spot For Wrattonbully
And The Sentiments Of The Harassed Rat In Specs


Peter Goers, an iconoclastic columnist in Adelaide’s Sunday Mail, and highly amusing evening announcer on the local ABC radio, has big problems with smokes and drinks. Borborygmia and emphysema both come to mind.

His editor once called me late of Friday to ask “Whitey, how do get on with Goers?”

I explained that I had no problem with him, that I had never actually had a row with him, and had, in fact barely met him, and although I frequently found him to be highly entertaining, my attitude to things thespian had probably coloured my opinion, given his overt lust for the likes of Thespis of Dionysos.

“Philip, never trust an actor”, my beloved English master, Billy Brooks, had advised me sagely in about 1970. “How can you measure sincerity in somebody who acts well?”

Having made these confessions to the editor, I asked why he’d enquired.

“Well, he’s written a column about you. You might want to take a look at it before we go to print.”

This was fair, considering I wrote for the Mail’s sister paper. Same building. Same proprietor. Same lawyers.

The article began with doggerel as dilly as “I wish I could be like Philip White, and be carried home drunk every night”, and proceeded to put in the boot for about a thousand extra words.

I advised the editor to publish it immediately. My readers would love it, and with my out-of-court settlement from Rupert, I would never have to work again. Of course it was promptly withdrawn, Goers had to think up another page, and I was obliged to carry on with my work.

As you can see.

Although he didn’t directly name me, he had another go yesterday, this time confessing his doctor had given him the proho word in 1987.

“If I was only allowed one drink a day I was already up to June 30, 2097”, he wrote. “I was a lousy drunk ... I had no appreciation for wine and the cheapest plonk was as good as Grange to me”.

“I’m appalled by the galling pretention of many wine writers who stretch metaphors into the absurd”, he continued. “We remain amused by the a wine writer’s famously witty remark that a wine had the bouquet of ‘a whore’s handbag’, but our most famous SA wine writer once wrote that a wine has ‘a taste of lignite in its swampy bouquet.’ Yuk.”

I seem to recall this descriptor amusing, nay, confounding Goers in that previous column, but thought I had set him right since, and explained how such a metaphor was perfectly apt.

Grapes, as he still fails to appreciate, are full of lignin. Lignin gives plants their stiffness, and makes up the skeleton of grape skins and pips. It also forms oak, as in barrels, and makes matches stiff, and holds tobacco leaves together, although it has been chemically removed from cigarette paper, leaving the cellulose. When it oxidises sufficiently in the right conditions, lignin becomes peat, then lignite, and eventually maybe anthracite. It’s full of volatiles which easily convert to liquid petroleum, or alcohol. Wine is made from grapes which are made from lignin. It contains alcohol. It oxidises as it matures. Big deal.

While his affront this time was much more measured, I was surprised to see such a determined teetotaller launch into your actual wine appraisal. “I have a soft spot for the nascent Wrattonbully wines from Naracoorte”, he says of a district plagued by endless industrial monoculture and vineyards for sale. He then claims the Barossa to be our only traditional wine district, which is patent crap, and launches into a comparison of the value of the almond tree vs. the vine, much preferring the former.

Goers gets stuck into McLaren Vale big time. He calls it ugly, which, of course, the main street certainly is, as is the brutal, dumb ribbon development between it and McLaren Flat, which is being destroyed by mindless villa rash, some of it in a swamp. And he calls the road between Willunga and Port Willunga “the ugliest road in rural SA”, which it could well be. Many of the vineyards in that awful black cracking dirt, in what I call The Wok, would be much better replaced by swamps and native veg.

But McLaren Vale, the district, has as many beautiful corners and vistas as any vignoble in Australia, and is a fore-runner in green awareness, native reveg, water recycling, and putting an end to the old petrochem spray regimes that dominate places like Wrattonbully.

It was the efforts of McLaren Vale that have just halted the University's sub-development of Glenthorne Farm, and McLaren Vale negotiators have convinced the government to halt the impending villa rash on Bowering Hill, giving it one last chance to tastefully fulfil its slogan "Where The Vines Meet The Sea". As far as wine regions go, internationally, McLaren Vale is amongst the best.

Goers then suggests wine should be taxed as heavily as cigarettes and carry similar health warnings with photographs of gizzards and the like, and complains of the “horrible stinky breath” of drinkers, which is a nice thing, considering his peculiar miasma is that of the chain smoker.

Anyway, true to form, Goers has got the whole wine industry, and all who work in her and around her, completely off side: so much so that some who normally hate me have suddenly sided with me today, expecting a retaliatory spray. It’s a huge relief.

But I don’t see much point in losing any temper I may have had. Having examined this column closely, I think it has the form of something which was cobbled together in a rush, as if Goers’ editor had trashed his first attempt at “pompous catering to the worst excesses of the chattering classes”, leaving him to come up with something else rather quickly, off the top.

Which he's very skilled at: he gives really good wireless. I love him with The Girls.

But I think research would show the handbag line referred to my grandmother, and a wine full of florals and powdery whiffs. She was a street preacher’s wife.

Russell Maloney once wrote of James Thurber that he was “a tall, thin, spectacled man with the face of a harassed rat”. But it was Thurber who drew the inspired cartoon with the caption that best summarises the sorts of things that seem to trouble Goers: “It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”

1 comment:

Peter Goers said...

Spot on Whitey. We are a very odd couple and you're VERY funny, the best writer in Adelaide and a champ. Thanks for your good words. With all admiration, Goers