“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



Hahndorf Hill Adds Alpine Style To Germantown
Strassendorf, Fachwek, Trollinger, Limberger, Gr
üner Und Max
by PHILIP WHITE - a shorter version this was published in the ADELAIDE INDEPENDENT on 27 MAR 09

It wasn’t quite like this at the time, but once it had sunk in, it retrospectively seemed like all the Hahndorf kids got off the bus one morning and sang in unison “We’re gonna have tourism”. I was just a kid at Mt Barker High and I didn’t really know the word. Tourism. Anything with ism on the end was very suss, like Calvinism, Catholicism, or Pentecostalism.

Their parents must have had a meeting or something, or got briefed by a developer, because it was quick. I reckon it was before 1970. It was not quite a boast, because everything uttered was filtered through a bale of good old Lutheran stoicism. Yet it was more than an utterance, because it contained a degree of emergent confidence, like a boast. Fair though to register the overt uncertainty of a generation promised an improvement which they could not understand.

My school was populated by the pimply kids of brickmakers, miners, abattoir workers, tanners, butchers, smallgoods makers and the freckled milkwashed bubbies of dairy farmers. The cleanest, most polite ones generally came from Hahndorf. We could tolerate ’em. But anybody professing a sudden belief in tourism was up themselves.

They sure got their tourism, “them Cherman kids”. I doubt that any of those old families with the thick accents are still there. They couldn’t afford it. I reckoned even then that the tourism notion was more likely to have squirted from a Duffield than a Schubert.

Hahndorf was, as far as German villages go, pretty schmick. It followed the Strassendorf town plan: fachwerk cottages eave-to-eave up a street, with only 100 metres of long, skinny back yard. Not enough, in other words, to be self-sufficient farm-wise. You could feed chooks and a pig or two from your scraps, and run a veggie patch already, but the men would have to do other work.

A village like Lobethal, on the other hand, was a Hufendorf in the planner’s manual of the day. These cottages were a little more widely spread along their street, but most significantly, they had front gardens, and a back yard that was a practical farm, as the ribbon-long block would extend several hundred metres, ideally reaching or crossing a creek before it hit the next lane. Mediæval strip-farming. Even then Lobethal had an early planning advantage over Hahndorf: right from the start, it had inbuilt plans for industrial developments.

I always find amusement in the notion of the Barossa Hufendorfers’ kids, like those at Bethanien, politely leaving their mediæval strip farm each morning, and climbing over the Kaiser Stuhl and Mengler’s to go to work on the rolling park-like estates of the Smiths, Angases or Randall’s, all sitting up there smoking cigars and drinking port. The Germans were always too damned nice to the English.


And the English, of course, knew what a good thing they were on. “Germans”, be they Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant, from Prussia, Posen, Silesia, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg or Pommern, were much better than convicts. They wanted to pay for everything and feed themselves. You didn’t have to lock them up. And they worked and worked and worked.

Look at old Hahndorf now. Germanworld. Shizen. But I quite like some of it. Walk into – no, walk’s wrong. Respectfully enter Max Noske’s butcher shop, for example, and inhale. Not a better smell on Earth. I can’t name a better butcher shop. The Noske’s grow nearly all their own beasts in the hills nearby. Name a butcher who does that. Try Max’s kassler. Then, I love the leatherworker whose sign promises “All our leather was grown on vegetarian cattle”. I love the little breezeblock dairy next to Paech’s that we used to call the Golf Club. I drank Bacardi there while I first listened to a new record called Bridge Over Troubled Water.

At that stage my waters were troubled. I had shit on my liver. Dirty water on my chest.

Now, like Jeremy Clarkson, I’ve written myself into a corner before even mentioning my topic, which is the wineries: Starvedog, Shaw & Smith, Romney Park, Nepenthe and Hahndorf Hill. Hahndorf Hill more specifically. The Burgundy-fetishist’s Romney Park’s had a deservedly good trot in DRINKSTER ; the S&S cousins act as if I hate ’em and don’t spikka; and that fierce lady at Starvedog fanged me a few weeks back for suggesting this was a difficult vintage, which it is, on top of her boyfriend making his dislike of my attitude obvious for those many years when his wines left a bit to be desired, so, well, you know, Nepenthe’s part of the decaying McGuigan empire and Hahndorf Hill is real and it’s good and I’ve not been there for years. Out there on the springy ridges where I used to kiss girls in Spriggy’s old man’s Fairlane. Mmmm.

Marc Dobson and Larry Jacobs came from South Africa via Sydney and bought Hahndorf Hill, a young vineyard of freaky Germanic grapes: trollinger, limberger, and now, grüner vertliner. They got posh French varieties too, but in Hahndorf anything German makes more sense.

After a few years making their wine at the troubled Nepenthe, Hahndorf Hill’s now back at Shaw & Smith, and jesus you wouldn’t believe how good the wines are.

They should be good, mind you. Larry’s a biodynamic viti man, who’s recently left his stint as chair of the Adelaide Hills winemakers’ Environment Committee. Under his leadership, the Hills became the first region in South Australia, if not Australia, to have a functioning and government endorsed Environment Management System available to its members, just pipping McLaren Vale, which is close, but not quite there.


While being totally snookered time-wise in such a role, Larry managed nevertheless to improve and enhance the Hahndorf Hill vineyard until it became a benchmark of healthy, responsible management, and a grower of fair dinkum flavour.

You must visit the winery and dine, gaze out the window and taste everything, polish up the plastic and stack your cellar with these lovely drinks that are perfectly suited to late summer/early autumn moods and cuisines.

And call in at Max Noske’s before you leave town. Try that kassler. See if you can get it home without eating it in the car.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Trollinger and Lemberger Rosé 2008
$19; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
As this is the only incidence of either of these varieties in Australia, I’ll admit it’s difficult know what to compare a blend of them to. Compare? Campari’s a good start. All that blood orange, Curaçao orange and bright lemon, with saffron. And then the fatty acids, adding the smell of soap and rolled cold pancetta porkfat. Take a slug, and ooh! That’s viscosity! Somewhere between rosewater and turkish delight, making sense of the illusion of confectioner’s sugar in the bouquet. But then those citric acids swish back in, adding refreshment to the comforting nature of that viscous texture. Dusty ironstone and podsol tannins, reflecting the dirt outside, play neatly off that acid and you’ve another dead serious, bone dry rosé that will improve with a few more years’ bottle, or knock your socks off if you have it chilled, now. Achtung!

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills White Mischief Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc Pinot Gris 2008
$19; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
Not to take my name too lightly, this White Mischief’s my territory: intelligent blending: realistic alcohol and a price to match. So we’re off to another good start. That hard ironstone soil makes its presence felt again, with dust, spice, and hessian tweaks at the cutting edge of a perfume that follows with comfy honeydew melon and clingstone peach, and then the isovaleric acid smells that often delude us into imagining we’re receiving a pheremone that makes men drop their voices and become dangerously protective of women while women want to suckle: it smells as fresh and fleshy as a hot scrubbed bubby. As you’d then expect, the texture is fleshy, too, and carries a refined silky polish which gradually becomes velvet as the tannins of the terroir and that steely acid wind up the finish. Stunning. It’s a most intelligent and creative use of three much-abused varieties, with a total that’s better than the sum of its parts. It’s like a really good Alsace gewurztraminer.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2008
$21; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
Amongst the best ever Hills savvy-Bs, this bouquet transported me to Chateau Rahoul ca 1980 when the finicky Dane, Peter Vinding-Diers, was making exquisitely fine, perfumed dry Bordeaux whites that were beginning to change the whole notion of such a beast. Sure, it’s crunchy and brittle, with hints of oxalis and gooseberry amongst the shattered windscreen, but even the bouquet has enough fleshy filling to make very clear this is not your front lawn doused with battery acid sort of HillsBilly no savvy. The palate’s full. Full-bodied. Check that glycerol! It’s almost as if the fruit had a gentle botrytis strike and StepHen Hickinbotham got at it. This is a perfectly-balanced wine in its extreme infancy, and maybe the best sauvignon I know of emerging from the S&S cousins’ weinhaus. And we’re only half-way through. The finish is a real tease: leanly astringent, with that counterplay of citrus and podsol common to all these lovely wines.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio 2008
$24; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+
If Campari was made from lemons, and not oranges, it’d smell like this. It’s almost limoncello in its precise reflection of lemon pith. Then, this is like garganega, like a really smart, austere Soave without too much trebbiano. Rizzardi. It’s not greasy or slimy, like Kath Quealy’s get-all-over-you slimebombs from Mornington Peninsula. “We deliberately avoided the gris style” said Marketing Marc. No, this is lean, entertaining Alto Adige style grey pinot. Which leads me to ask: “would Australians flock so much to pinot gris and pinot grigio if it was called grey pinot?” Nope. But sauvignon fanatics would like this ravishing palate, that finishes so friggin bone dry it’s like it’s made from smashed up bone china. It’s intensely satisfying, appetising wine.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2004
$26; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points
Crême caramel, clingstone pêche, faintly gingery oak, lovely creamy elegance, this is what chardonnay’s sposed to be like: clean and precise in the palate, with really lovely fine acidity and general finesse. Try it with kassler from Max Noske, cool fresh tomato and basil, sourdough from Bullocks in Mount Barker, and a good swoosh of Blair’s Original Death Feel Alive Chilli Sauce. I await more eagerly the chardonnays that S&S will make from HH fruit.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2005
$29; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 92+ points
I doubt that slick, polished, silky shiraz like this would ever have ripened in the freezing weather I recall of Hahndorf when I was a kid. Not only the main street has changed. But this sure has ripened, and it’s packed with smooth, harmonious mulberries, prunes and plums flavours; even maybe a little black fig. It has no more tannin than the furry skin of a ripe fig would impart. It’s luxurious, opulent, self-satisfied wine. I can’t help suspecting it would be more entertaining if it hadn’t got quite so ripe. S&S will do a better job. In the meantime, have this with one of Max’s incredible fillets, blue, with blue cheese sauce and capers. Practice cooking them on your own for a few months, and once you’ve got it nailed, ask that one around that you’ve never been game to ask. Clean sheets please.

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