“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)





31 May 2009



When Did Vale Become Hill?
Propaganda War Claims Dill


Constellation PR hogwash currently sloshing round the internet shows the developer desperate to convince the world the little vineyard it wants to destroy is not the source of the famous Reynella clone. Young writers have gullibly swallowed the company fluff, like Tyson Stelzer declaring, in The Wine Spectator:

“Some in the industry have suggested that the vineyard was the original source of the Reynella clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, which has since been planted across Australia. It's more likely that the clone originated from the nearby Reynella vineyard, planted by Reynell shortly after Stony Hill. Constellation has declared that it plans to continue to maintain the Reynella vineyard.”

I know the Adelaide newspaper, The Advertiser, has not been highly regarded for the quality of its wine critics (example: I wrote for it for twenty years, a large slice of its life); if there was a good one, it was surely Ebenezer Ward. After he visited Reynell in 1862, he wrote:

“In 1847 and 1848 Mr. Reynell obtained cuttings of the white sorts from the Clarendon Vineyard – viz., Pedro Ximines, Doradilla, Temprana, Palo-mino-blanco, &c.: and since then he has planted a considerable extent with the Rousillons.

“Thus his vineyard on the hilly land is chiefly confined to the Clarendon sorts, the Rousillon, and the Verdielho. The Carbonet -- a variety which, from the quality of its produce, cannot be too highly valued – Mr. Reynell has planted in another vineyard which he formed in 1848 on the flat bordering the creek, and where the soil is a black alluvial deposit on the surface, with a red loam subsoil. In this vineyard there are also Malbec and Shiraz to mix with the Carbonet, the Rousillon sorts, and (planted in 1861) Frontignac, Verdeilho, and Riesling.”

It is this creek block which is to be destroyed. Contrary to Stelzer’s claim, this appears to have been planted after the hill vineyard, but this is immaterial. Ward’s account clearly explains the hill block cabernet, where the soil was “too light” had been changed by grafting to white varieties and “the Rousillon varieties” by 1862, but the better soil of the creek block was where the cabernet grew, with the traditional blending agents of that day, as then used in Bordeaux: malbec and shiraz.

Indeed, it is this blend which impressed Ward most. He concluded his account with the critical line “his Verdielho is also remarkably good, but we thought a wine made from an admixture of Malbec and Carbonet best of all.”

Ward makes no mention of the creek block being called “Stony Hill”. To the contrary, he refers to its black alluvium over red loam. If you examine the aerial photograph below, you will notice the richness of the creek block on your left, circled, in contrast to the stony, sandy hill block around Constellation's huge Colorbond factory conveniently placed on the hill to your right. This old hack would suggest Mr. Stelzer would be safer theorising that this "Stony Hill" appellation is a later sophistication very convenient - like a little A$5 million convenient - to the prospective developer of the lucrative block in the gully.

If Ward's painstaking and scholarly account bears any weight, the feisty Constellation boss propagandist, Sheralee Davies, Group Public Relations Manager, is propagating abject nonsense.

We may never precisely discover where the Reynella clone first emerged, but if it comes down to being of vital importance, like A$5 mill clicksworth, the developer must be expected to display a little more intellectual rigour and reveal the historical sources of its increasingly breathless claims.

30 May 2009



Savvy Council Buys Time At Reynella
In Com
e The Heavy State Ministers
Meanwhile, Up Shit Creek With Karlene ...


“The Stony Hill Vineyard is the jewel in Australia's viticultural crown,” reads the text on the back of the bottle. “Importantly, it is the birthplace of one of Australia's most famous wine houses, the oldest in South Australia, Chateau Reynella. Today Chateau Reynella, the home of John Reynell, the man who planted the first commercial vineyard in South Australia and who is recognised by many as the father of the State's industry, is again producing quality wines from Stony Hill Vineyard. Stony Hill is the first commercial vineyard planted by John Reynell on his Reynella Farm back in 1839, only one year after he founded the farm and three years after the proclamation of South Australia.”

But that was then. Here’s the latest about that same priceless vineyard from the same crass mob.

“Constellation Wines Australia (CWAU) has entered into an agreement to sell a block of land on the north west corner of Reynell and Panalatinga Roads, Reynella, opposite the main winery grounds. This site is part of the original 32 hectare area purchased by John Reynell in 1839, around 16 hectares of which was sold by John Reynell in 1854 to create the township of Reynella (now Old Reynella).

“Known as Stony Hill vineyard, this block comprises 1.24 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in 1990 and 0.89 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1968. These 18 to 40 year old vines are affected by leaf-roll virus and another disease known as ‘Eutypa dieback’. These grapevine diseases have compromised grape quality and reduced yields, to the point where many vines do not have bunches even though they have shoots and leaves. These diseases, combined with the inferior soils of the Stony Hill block, have resulted in poor quality grapes, compared with those grown in the vineyards located on the main winery site.

“The high quality of fruit grown on the main winery site has formed the backbone of our awarded Chateau Reynella McLaren Vale range for many years, and includes the highly valued Reynell clone of Cabernet, named in honour of John Reynell, and now widely used throughout Australia.

“The main winery site is an important part of the Reynella township heritage and highly valued for its historical significance to our company, the region and the South Australian wine industry.

“Sale of the Stony Hill block will enable further investment in the ongoing maintenance of Reynell’s heritage buildings and the surrounding landscaped gardens, which remain open to the public for self guided tours during business hours.

“Details on what is proposed for the Stony Hill block will be a matter for the new owner and the Onkaparinga Council following settlement, which is expected to occur in the next few weeks.”

This statement is from Sheralee Davies, Group Public Relations Manager, 0407 004 959.

The Onkaparinga Council, now beset by complaints about this plan, bought itself some time at Thursday night’s meeting by insisting it needed more advice and information from Pioneer Homes, the developer.

Leon “Biggles” Bignell, the ace Labour Member for Mawson, the adjacent parliamentary seat, told DRINKSTER “Whitey, do you realise this is History Week? You know what these people are doing? Like Constellation, Pioneer and the Onkaparinga Council? They’re making history history!”

Biggles has written to Patch Conlon, a dead serious wine lover, and Minister for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure, explaining:

“Last night Onkaparinga Council deferred a decision on the subdivision application pending approval by DTEI of a full range of access from Reynell Road to the new development; i.e. left and right access in and out.
“I would like you and officers within DTEI to be fully aware of the large community opposition to this proposal and call on DTEI not to grant approval for any access.”

Biggles will meet Planning Minister Paul Holloway on his return from overseas on Tuesday. Holloway promised in November that there would be no more significant housing developments in the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale. Reynella is within the official McLaren Vale Geographical Indicator.

“Because they’re wine regions, also significant tourism regions, it would not make sense to have urban encroachment to a significant extent into those areas,” he said. “So we’ll avoid those areas and the areas that we’ll be looking at for future expansion are those areas where there’ll be less impact on the important tourism and economic areas ... why would you want to encroach on areas that are important to the economy because of the significant contribution that they make to the state’s economy through the wine industry and the tourism industry? Clearly that would be put at threat if we allowed rampant urban development within those areas."
As for Cunstellation’s claim that the vineyard’s sick, well. Deary me. The biggest premium wine company on Earth can’t keep one of Australia’s most significant historical vineyards healthy? How can they be trusted to keep the rest of Reynell’s magnificent estate shipshape? Is Eutypa dieback – aka Dead Arm – the end of the world? Chester Osborne has made a healthy profit and a great deal of public favour from his lovely d'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz. How many of the oldest McLaren Vale vineyards don’t have some dead arm in them? Duh.

As for the insinuation that the vineyard has no historical significance because it has been replanted? The poppies of Flanders Fields are sacred and revered, not because they're the same ones that were there a century ago, but because of what happened there. And what happened at this sacred site of Australian viticulture, this site which has been under vine for 161 years, makes it absolutely essential that it should remain a vineyard.

Which leads me to the little matter of Banrock Station. That's the “Help Us Help The Earth – Supporting Global Conservation” Constellation property up the buggered River Murray. Years ago I warned David Woods, CEO of BRL-Hardy before the Constellation invasion, that Banrock was a deadly PR trap unless the vineyard itself was an environmental triumph, and the vineyard most certainly was not, as it was your basic high-tonnage arid land petro-chem sprayed speculation watered by saline water from a River which was obviously not going to last.

Mysteriously, suddenly, Constellation last week “let go” Tony Sharley, the brilliant research scientist and conservationist who managed the swamps below the vineyard.

The Riverland is abuzz with rumours about Sharley’s relationship with Karlene Maywald, the Minister for the River Murray and Water Security. If these have substance, it should be very good for South Australia and the River, as Sharely will be much more influential advising Ms Maywald than he ever could have been working for the retreating Constellation.

And, believe me, Karlene needs better advice than any she's had so far.

It's just a pity that Constellation hasn't taken better counsel. The four or five million bucks it might get for this act of barefaced vandalism is peanuts compared to the permanent international disgrace this whole thing has brought down.

Help us help the Earth, indeed. Support global conservation? Yes, please! And Banrock Station? Isn't that up shit creek?

Click on George Grainger Aldridge's cartoon for the ancient history:



Gallic Squirts And Gallos
Go Nuts On Nomencalture
Dumb Fizzmongers Squabble

STOP! Before you open another bottle of grape-based ethanol with cavities from the Champagne region of France, spare a thought for just how bloody minded those Gallic squirts have become.

The Brisbane Courier Mail yesterday reported the matter of two committed adherents of the cause of grape-based ethanol with cavities from the Champagne region of France who have been quite simply shafted by residents of said region and wighats acting on their behalf. It’s quite sick.

Kyra and Stuart Holley run a little gift shop with an Australia-wide delivery service. One of the luxury products they sell and deliver, right to your bed, is grape-based ethanol with cavities from the French region of Champagne.

They called their business Champagne Messenger. Straight away those wighats representing the makers of grape-based ethanol with cavities from the French region of Champagne whacked ’em with a stack of threatening paperwork disallowing this, demanding that they should also change their trading name and their internet address.

"The lawyers said we would damage the reputation of the name of champagne in Australia, which in turn would damage the commercial interests of champagne makers. The irony is that in selling champagne, we're increasing their sales," Kyra told The Courier Mail. “So we’ve called ourselves BubblyToGo”.

This frogfizz pip-squeakedness is matched only by our favourite Californian Latinos, the Gallo mob, who sell grape-based ethanol with or without cavities which probably doesn’t come from the Champagne region of France, but, you know. Who knows where they get their ethanol from, or where they procure their cavities.


Meanwhile, Steve Winston’s in food writer Nancy Leson’s Seattle Times column reporting how the Gallo ethanol roosters have sooled their lawyers on him for selling pasta. Steve runs a neat grocery on Western Avenue at Waterfront Park, called The Spanish Table. One of the many lovely Spanish things he sells is pasta made by a fifty-year-old Spanish company called Gallo, which means cock.

So what happens? The Californian ethanol-flogging Gallos whacked Steve with a cease-and-desist letter. “He told me to write him a letter saying I'll never sell this pasta again,” Steve told Nancy. “I was too busy filing my taxes last week, so I didn’t and he went ahead and filed."


Nancy suggests Steve should clear his shelves of the US$13.99 Martin Codax Spanish albarino he’s been selling and send it all back to its distributor, E & J Gallo, because it’s not made by the pasta producer.


DRINKSTER called our favourite Californian vendor of all sorts of lovely drinks, Roberto, at WineExpo – Champagne World Headquarters, in Santa Monica, to ask whether the makers of that grape-based ethanol with cavities from the Champagne region of France have noodled him for his use of the name of their joint.

“Yes, we DO have a big sign out front with that on it and EVERY Champagne producer who sees it loves it,” he reported. “If they think Kyra and Stuart have been bad, what would they think of THIS?

25 May 2009



“A man of the Hebrides, for of the women’s diet I can give no account, as soon as he appears in the morning, swallows a glass of whisky; yet they are not a drunken race, at least I never was present at much intemperance; but no man is so abstemious as to refuse the morning dram, which they call a skalk. The word whisky signifies water, and is applied by way of eminence to strong water, or distilled liquor. The spirit drunk in the North is drawn from barley. I never tasted it, except once for experiment at the inn in Inverary, when I thought it preferable to any English malt brandy. It was strong, but not pungent, and was free from the empyreumatick taste or smell. What was the process I had no opportunity of inquiring, nor do I wish to improve the art of making poison pleasant.” -- From “Coriatachan in Skye” by Samuel Johnson in Journey To The Western Isles Of Scotland 1775


Jim Beam Follows Dead Vicars 
Doors Of Enlightenment Open
New Rays Of Hope On Hebrides

“In recent years, it’s the eagerness of the vicars of England to go to heaven that’s made the biggest change to the flavour of malt whisky”, says Andrew Gray, proprietor and sales director of Bruichladdich distillery, Islay. We’re having a few wee breakfast drams in the back of The Exeter, which is at 246 Rundle Street, Adelaide. Islay, a low 30x40 kilometer swelling in the Atlantic between Scotland and Ireland, is the southernmost and most fertile of Scotland’s western isles.

My friend goes on, in his mischievous Scots way, to explain that since so many of the traditional vicars have gone up to be with Jesus, taking their congregations with them, the amount of sherry consumed has plummeted, butchering the sherry business, making sherry barrels scarce. Traditional Scots parsimony has for centuries seen whisky distillers scrounge the cellars of Europe and the Americas for used oak casks. In recent centuries, old sherry-cured oak was often the cheapest.

Whisky emerges from the pot still like vodka, and over the centuries, that’s exactly how most of it was sold: straight from the still into the jug, jar, bucket or Scotsman. The need for securing larger volumes in longer-term storage made the barrel a natural requirement, but it soon became apparent that it’s the ageing in oaks of various flavours for differing durations that gives whisky its alluring fruit and colour. Over many decades, the sherry soaks into the first few millimetres of the oak staves. When strong malted grain spirit (over sixty per cent alcohol) is then steeped in the barrel it gradually removes those sugars, fruits, esters and lignins.


" ... now we're going back to the great winemakers of France for oak, and we're delighted with the results ... "

“We use different wood types more than any other company”, Andrew proudly announces, nosing his gill. “We’ve attracted criticism from some traditionalists who might accuse us of making malt whisky that tastes like strawberry jam or whatever, but we’re enjoying the possibility to make the changes, try new things. French wine casks were the first used by the fledgling whisky industry, away back in 1500s. They’d buy them from the old English merchant cellars, because all the French wine was imported in oak and finished in Britain. Then with the advent of the slave trade, rum barrels were easy to get. After the Napoleonic Wars, we could get sherry and port casks, and sherry became the popular flavour. Now we’re going back to the great winemakers of France for oak, and we’re delighted with the results”.

Most delightful for the consumer is the co-operation the winemakers show. Bruichladdich won’t take just any old barrel. They’re buying supreme oak from the grandest Bordelaise Chateaux: Lafite, Latour, and even d’Yquem, the most revered of the Sauternes makers. They source barrels in such buzzy new vignobles as Sassicaia in Tuscany and Ribero el Duero in Spain, and the poshest Californian wineries, and have recently re-established contact with a far-sighted sherry maker who enjoys tweaking barrels with sherries of different sorts, to provide Bruichladdich with a broader range of entertaining flavours.

“The more famous the vineyard, the better the oak, generally”, Andrew enthuses. “And the clever winemakers are quite partial to having a wee Bruichladdich flavoured by their wine!”


There’s nothing new in adding flavourants to whisky, and they haven’t always come from oak. In the bad old days of Dr. Johnson, sherry essence was a handy disguiser of the fusel oils, propanol and butanol, which were the unwanted, harsh by-products of indolent or greedy distilling. Fruit cordials, wines and other essences were common sweeteners and masking agents; glycerine, caramel and tea added unction and burnish, even various deadly poisons were employed to increase the general alcoholic effect. So it’s no breech of tradition to adjust the flavour: just jolly welcome is the news that Bruichladdich’s wine-steeped timbers are only to make its pure, clean whisky more of a colourful gastronomic adventure. Dr. Johnson’s sentiment notwithstanding.

The leviathan machinations of the whisky industry and its ownership leave the ever-changing Australian wine industry for dead. The tectonic plates of the old Europe-based transnationals, and the Americas - even the odd foolhardy freelancer - constantly push, grind and shove for control of the distilleries of Scotland and its Hebrides. There are repetitive cycles where maintenance expenditures are cut in waves of “rationalisation”, where new owners pillage the cellars of maturing whisky for a quick buck, then move along, leaving a shell of a business that somebody new might like to tip money into. At any given moment, it seems there are more mothballed distilleries than working ones.

When Bruichladdich was owned by Jim Beam, its beautiful Victorian machinery was let deteriorate without use or maintenance, whilst its cellars took in a lot of used bourbon oak, which is made from the spongy Quercus alba and gives simple lollyshop flavours of caramel and coconut. But Andrew and some friends bought the run-down distillery in 2000, and immediately tracked down all the old stillmen and cellarhands that had been “let go”, and offered them jobs again. Together, they turned the grand old joint back on. Tired of working for the rationalising Japanese that had purchased Bowmore distillery, five kilometres across the green-grey Loch Indaal, master stillman Jim McEwen snubbed his nose at the considerable retirement monies soon due him after 37 years service, and came aboard at Bruichladdich, bringing his wife and daughters with him. They all work there now.


A fanciful connection can be made here: Brian Morrison was instrumental in selling Bowmore to the Japanese Suntory in 1994, which manages it through Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd. The name Morrison means son of the Moor; it is likely Moors, perhaps in the form of Coptic missionaries, first brought distilling to Islay and Ireland even before St Patrick’s arrival, as the alchemic cosmeticians of Araby and Egypt had perfected the alembic, or still, in ages past to manufacture eye-liner – al kohl - from antimony, or kohl, thus alcohol. If all you see of a lass is her eyes, they might just as well look as seductive as possible. Fynes Moryson, the 1590s travel writer, added three more calibrations for such observations when he recorded the three levels of distilling extant in the western isles in his day: usquebaugh, or simplex - twice distilled; trestarig, or composita (three times), and usquebaugh-baul or perfectissima (four times). Personally, I’d prefer to be a four times man in those rough old days of rough old spurruts, but I digress ...

“We have no public listing”, Andrew’s gurgling along across his row of glasses. “We’re independent. Of course we have investors we must look after, but we can make decisions quickly. We love whisky and we love creating different styles. We all feel a need to use our enthusiasm up ... like Jim came in said it’s not the money its the legacy he wanted to leave, and when I go to the distillery he’ll say ‘Sssh!’ and we sneak out into the warehouse and he’ll hand me a glass and say ‘now what do you think of that?’ ... it’s these clandestine visits to the warehouse where it all happens. It’s priceless! We’re having fun!”

While it gets plenty of sunshine, Islay’s incessantly windy and low, so it’s very difficult to grow grain: the crops blow over. “It’s a very, very windy place,” Andrew warns. “The wind’s never zero. The daily average is twenty miles per hour. But we’ve encouraged nine farmers to grow crops on the more sheltered slopes and we’re now the only Islay distillery using local barley. So we take a separate batch from each of those nine farms. It took us a long time to convince them, but it’s working very well. Over the centuries, sea sand gets blown up the slopes, over the underlying gneiss rocks, and we’re finding we get a lovely nutty flavour in the distillate from those sandier fields. We’re up to 60% Islay barley now, and take only 40% from the north of Scotland."


But prime amongst these effects of terroir is the peat, the damp wad of spongy, decaying vegetation that makes a bog. Peat can smell floral and pretty, as when it’s made from decaying heather, rich in blossom; or salty, acrid and iodine-rich, if it’s made from wind-blown seaweed soused in the froth of the ocean, full of dimethylsulphide from the decay of phytoplankton. All sorts of mosses, sedge plants, herbs and grasses can be there, and if the water is kept up, the bog can be many of thousands of years old. Peat taken from near the surface tends to be more elegant and floral in bouquet; the deeper one digs the older the peat, and the more like bitumen and lignite it is.

Peat is not essential in whisky-making,. But it sure adds allure and character. The soil is rife with its aromas, the brooks babble across it, and when cut and dried, it takes the place of firewood. So expert maltsters use peat smoke to dry and stabilise their sprouting barley, entrapping the sugars the grains develop to supply the energy for their first growth. You need sugar to ferment to alcohol, so when the dried grain is cleaned and milled, it goes into more local water, boiling in this case, to extract all the remaining starch from the rough flour in the mash tun, which has a perforated floor. During this process, amylase, a handy enzyme, forms, which converts much of the starch to maltose, a sugar. Once the resulting sweet liquor, called worts, strains through the bottom of the mash tun, it is drained into a big fermenting tank called a washback, where yeast is added.

The most violent organic critter I’ve encountered was a fermenting washback in Highland Park, on Orkney, where a huge oaken tank vibrated and shivered from the violently frothing ferment going on within, great spouts of spume squirting up through its slatted lid. At Bruichladdich, the ferment is a much more laid-back and gradual affair.

Once you have this rough ale, or wash, it’s time for the still, where that alcohol is concentrated. The wash goes into the sealed copper pot, where it’s gradually boiled, so its concentrated vapour rises through the neck of the still and dribbles down through a cooled copper condensing coil. This fairly weak distillate, called “low wine” is distilled again, much more carefully, and its first impure condensate - “heads” or “foreshots” – are diverted carefully until pure whisky beguns to run, when a “cut” is made. As the still empties, the exuding spirit gradually becomes more oily and impure, so another cut is made to divert these “feints”.

“Our stills were state of the art in 1881”, Andrew proudly says, moving to glass # 6. “In the old days, the barns were first built for other farming purposes, and because they were low-roofed, the stills were made low and squat to fit inside. Such low, fat stills tend to produce harsher flavours. Fortunately for us, the distillery was purpose-built, so there was room for much taller stills, and these give a lot more floral and fruity esters to our whisky.”


“So far we’ve been buying our malted barley from the north of Scotland,” Andrew says, “and getting our Islay barley malted there. But we’re planning to re-establish our malting barn as soon as we make a bit more money ... We even tried to bottle Islay water to have with your Bruichladdich but the EU authorities wouldn’t permit it – the peat was too intense for their regulations. God knows what they think the islanders drink!”

Apart from their morning skalk, and a few wee drams here and there through the day, of course the islanders drink lots of their unique, peaty water, the water that washes their brave barley fields, flavouring the grain, and sousing down into the peat that will eventually smoke it from below. It is all these wondrous things in a myriad of combinations that Andrew Gray and his brave bonnie crew are determined to squeeze back into Bruichladdich.

“And so we are”, he says, leaning across his diminishing supply in The Ex. “You should be able to find thirty-one different Bruichladdich malts in Australia now. You can make up your own mind how we’re doing. Come along for the ride. It’s going to be great fun.”

Bruichladdich 23.10.1
$80; 46% alcohol; cork; 93 points
This is the Resurrection Dram: the first distillation made after Bruichladdich changed hands. The distillery had been falling apart for six years, but the new team resurrected all the ancient machinery and made this highly-peated, bourbon cask malt, and dressed it in the colour of the ocean that washes the distillery’s foundations. The unique tall stills of Bruichladdich always give more fruity esters than others, and they’re here in abundance: banana and canteloupe mingle nicely with the caramel vanilla and coconut of the American barrels. It’s slightly oily, with an illusion of sweetness, and just softly phenolic. Perfect breakfast whisky.

Bruichladdich Ochdamh-mòr Octomore
$170; 63.5% alcohol; cork; 94 points
There are many (about 30) other, more conventional whiskies available from Bruichladdich, but I recommend this five year old for its sinister gunmetal punkiness. Jim McEwin ran his Harvey Brothers stills so slow that they didn’t need the condensing coils: this wickedness just trickled out. Those unique long-necked stills don’t produce the iodine medicinals that mark other Islay whisky, yet this is nevertheless the most peaty whisky known: 131 parts per million, as opposed to most of the Bruichladdichs, which sit around 3-5 ppm. The damned thing reeks of coconut and barley shortbreads, and then stacks on the butyric fatty acids: it’s like a 63.5% alcohol Amoak chardonnay with a full malo - stunning!

In Australia, Bruichladdich malts are available at Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice stores. These reviews, and many more Bruichladdich reports, will soon appear in a new whisky section of DRANKSTER.

24 May 2009


Chuckie's In Love With Bottom Ocker Chardie Feeding At the Shallow Edge Of Wine's Gene Pool Two Buck Goes Three Buck Chunder Down Under
by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this appeared in The Independent Weekly 22 MAY 09

"I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder

Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."

- Colin Hay, Men At Work

Unless you feed in the shallowest edges of wine’s gene pool, you’ve probably never heard of Two Buck Chuck. And unless you traffic in the deepest, darkest, cheapest depths of the international wine lake, you’ve probably never tasted any.

This may change. Two Buck Chuck is about to become Three Buck Chunder From The Land Down Under. Give him a Vegemite sandwich!

Two Buck Chuck is a bloke, a.k.a. Fred T. Franzia, or Freddy. He’s the 66 year old nephew of Ernie Gallo, of the Gallo Brothers, the USA equivalent of Foster’s, McGuigan, Constellation and Yellow Tail, all rolled into one big Italo-American purveyor of, shall we say, cheap grape-based drinking ethanol, operating handily behind the visage of a premium wine maker. A quick dredge of the internet will show you that Gallo is one very clever mob, and that nephew Chuck is not a dude to be taken lightly.

One of the really bright things to come from the Bush presidency was George W’s last minute refusal to grant the Presidential pardon which Chuck and his extravagant swarm of lawyers and lobbyists had sought so keenly. Sixteen years previous, he’d pled guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to defraud. He’d been “blessing the loads” of cheap grapes he sold by sprinking zinfandel on top of them and selling the lot at zin prices -- US$800 to $1,200 a ton, instead of $100 to $200.

Chuck paid a US$500,000 fine, did five years on probation, and quit his job as President of Bronco Wines, which was fined another US$2.5 million. Five of his co-riders went to the can, but Chuck retained his role as Bronco’s finance chief, and soon returned to his former position of President.

The gang he assembled to convince Bush of his worthiness included maverick Republican Congressman George Radanovich, and Washington-based attorney Margaret Colgate Love, who had for seven years been the U.S. pardon attorney -- the Justice Department officer who screens all clemency applications. But all these deadshot gunslingers failed, and Chuck got the bad news for his Christmas present last December 23rd.

Freddie became Chuck when he flooded the US stores with wine retailing at $2 per bottle. Bronco is the USA’s fourth biggest wine company, specialising in cheap plonk which is top of the premium bins in chainstore Trader Joe’s. Chuck sells the same wine under various labels. Charles Shaw was an early invention, from whence came the Chuck moniker. Forest Glen is another perfect name, which brings to mind those little blotting paper pine trees that cabbies hang on the mirror to change the smell of the car from a toilet that smells of humans to one smelling of petro-chem.

Mention Two Buck Chuck to any Australian trying to sell wine at a profit in the United States and you’re risking violence. And that’s about to escalate. Chuckie’s in love. With Australian wineries going bankrupt.

Why would lovely Australian wineries be going bankrupt? Because their wine is not cheap enough to sell in the USA. They attempt to flood the Yanks with bottles of Bacchus only knows what splattered on the outside with fake aboriginal dot paintings or names like Lick Me or Slut or Lady Dog or whatever, they hire a bright young graphic artist and a sales dimbo with a lot of product in his hair, and off they go. But they cannot compete with Two Buck Chuck. So they go broke.

Chuck’s just advised the wine world that he’s gonna flood the USA with a wine from Australia, a chardonnay, next month, at three bucks US.

He’s got agents here sourcing this from bankrupt wineries. And the more of it he pumps into America, the more you’ll see Australians going under as they try to match those mendicant prices, providing Chuck’s buyers with more and more and more wine. Until, as London critic Robert Joseph sagely pointed out, there is no wine left in Australia.

And guess what Chuck’s gonna call this gastronomic triumph? Down Under. Down Under. And every bottle he sells will push Australia further and further and further down until it’s well and truly friggin under. We have at least $450m worth of wineries and grapeyards for sale from people who are not yet broke and many who are. Personally, I reckon these “market analysts” are out by a factor of minus many. I’d double it.

So who’s Chuck gunning for? To start with, he’s gonna halve the price of Yellow Tail, which is sold by Griffith Italians with assistance from various highly influential American connections.

"They're overpriced and we're going to pound them for a while now," Franzia said last week in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. "We're taking our fight international."

And he’s doing this on a green ticket, since his ultra-light enviro-friendly bottles are clinking out of his new bottle factory in the Napa by the scrillion.

20 May 2009



World’s Biggest Fine Wine Company Hard Up?
Cash Lust To Kill Historic Reynella Vineyard


The cash-strapped Constellation wine company, owner of the conglomerate South Australian winemakers Berri-Renmano, Stanley, Leasingham, Thomas Hardy & Son, and Chateau Reynella, has announced plans to replace one of South Australia’s most historic vineyards with extremely high-density housing.

This conflicts directly with Labor government promises to put an end to housing in the McLaren Vale vignoble.

The 2 hectare vineyard was the source of the famous pre-phylloxera Reynella clone of Cabernet sauvignon – a clone which has spread all over Australia and is revered for its flavour.

John Reynell first planted grapes on this block in the early 1840s. It is immediately opposite the Australian headquarters of Constellation, which is housed in Reynell's old homestead and the grand winery buildings he established. Rumours suggesting Constellation plans to develop the whole site, as the Kent Town Brewery in Rundle Street Kent Town, Adelaide, was developed, are already rife.

Constellation has sold the vineyard, in the heart of the heritage village of Old Reynella, to the developer Pioneer Homes, as part of a greedy scheme to build 41 ticky-tacky houses. That’s 22 x 22 metres per block. Constellation hardly needs the neighbours as workers: it’s been closing wineries and putting people off for years. Now it’s put off the whole suburb, and wine-lovers everywhere.

Local Mitchell MP Kris Hanna, chairman of the Reynell Business and Tourism Association, told the local paper the development would “wreck the place”.

“The site has been used continuously as vineyards since about 1840 and we’d like to see it preserved as vineyards as a tribute to our early history ... there’s a growing feeling among residents that the senior management at Constellation aren’t concerned with the history of the area or the locals,” he said.

Constellation’s PR flak Sheralee Davies told press that keeping the vineyard was difficult to justify from a financial or historical perspective.

The vineyard is the historic heart of the McLaren Vale wine district and is well within the McLaren Vale GIC – the official government boundary.

The move is, to put it mildy, audacious and hubristic. South Australian Planning Minister, Paul Holloway, has promised there would be no further urban encroachment in the vignobles of Barossa and McLaren Vale.

“Because the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale are important economic areas of the state,” he promised last November, “because they’re wine regions, also significant tourism regions, it would not make sense to have urban encroachment to a significant extent into those areas. So we’ll avoid those areas and the areas that we’ll be looking at for future expansion are those areas where there’ll be less impact on the important tourism and economic areas. So yes we do recognise those areas but look it’s simple common sense: why would you want to encroach on areas that are important to the economy because of the significant contribution that they make to the state’s economy through the wine industry and the tourism industry? Clearly that would be put at threat if we allowed rampant urban development within those areas.”

Holloway was recently persuaded by Cabinet to keep this promise and prevent the University of Adelaide from breaking its deed, which precluded development on nearby Glenthorne Farm, so we shall see whether he can stand up to a shrinking transnational plonkmonger and a housing development company named after the very sorts of pioneers that John Reynell exemplified.

Old Reynella is in the state parliamentary seat of Mitchell, which the governing Labor Party lost to the Independent Chris Hanna at the last election. Hanna, a former Labor man, is firmly opposed to the development.

Labor Member for the traditionally conservative seat of Mawson, which includes McLaren Vale proper, to the south of the Hanna's Mitchell electorate, is the increasingly popular Leon Bignell, a dairy farmer's son and former journalist, whom many voters felt should have been given the Agriculture Ministry in the recent Cabinet reshuffle. Through arcane Labor factional bullshit, the job went a bloke who is obviously new to agriculture, Paul Caica.

Bignell, affectionately known as Biggles, is peeved and alarmed at the thought of another sacred vineyard site tumbling.

"This vital historic vineyard is symbolic of the whole district", he said. "Gutter to gutter housing is something that belongs in the inner city suburbs where people want to live like that, close to the parklands and the city amenities and the high-rise offices where they're happy to work.

"It's like sub-dividing The Grange," he said. "Putting this sort of development on John Reynell's old block is like putting multi-storey flats on the site of the Old Gum Tree at Glenelg, or like crushing the first FJ Holden for scrap. We've already lost too much beautiful grape-growing land to tupperware Tuscany housing. And that's a special piece of soil, Reynell's last block: if you read your history you'll see that ground is perfect for premium vineyard and the unique flavours those soils give, which is why Reynell planted there in the first place. It's a dumb move, and while it's not in my electorate, I'll do whatever I can to stop it."

There will a state election in March.

Reynella Farm
The residence of Mr. John Reynell
by Ebenezer Ward, The Advertiser , 1862


THE township of Reynella is about 13 miles from Adelaide, on the Great South-road. The section on which the Crown hostelrie, the Reynella Mills, store &c., now stand was originally taken up by Mr. Reynell in 1838, and he has resided in the locality ever since. His present residence is barely a quarter of mile south-east of the township, on a slight eminence rising from Peel’s Creek. He has now about 450 acres of land in his possession, and in its management he aims at a combination of vine-growing, grazing and farming. He has 15 acres of vines, 2 of orchard and garden, about 100 under crop, and the remainder of the estate is fenced off for grazing.

Mr. Reynell commenced planting 21 years ago, when a considerable portion of the present orchard was formed. A few vine-cuttings from Tasmania were planted at the same time, and three years afterwards wine was made from them. The vineyard proper dates from 1844, when half an acre was planted with cuttings from Mr. Anstey’s. In the following season four-and-a-half acres were planted with cuttings obtained from the Macarthurs, of New South Wales, and the sorts recommended in “Maro’s” letters – viz., the Verdielho, Carbonet, Malbec, Pineau Gris, and Gouais. The situation, however, was too dry, and the soil too light, for most of these varieties to bear largely there, and a number of them have been already superseded. One acre of Pineau Gris has been grubbed up, the Rousillon varieties have been previously planted alternately with the rows of Pineau, and the Rousillon have also been grafted on the Carbonet. In 1847 and 1848 Mr. Reynell obtained cuttings of the white sorts from the Clarendon Vineyard – viz., Pedro Ximines, Doradilla, Temprana, Palo-mino-blanco, &c.: and since then he has planted a considerable extent with the Rousillons.

Thus his vineyard on the hilly land is chiefly confined to the Clarendon sorts, the Rousillon, and the Verdielho. The Carbonet -- a variety which, from the quality of its produce, cannot be too highly valued – Mr. Reynell has planted in another vineyard which he formed in 1848 on the flat bordering the creek, and where the soil is a black alluvial deposit on the surface, with a red loam subsoil. In this vineyard there are also Malbec and Shiraz to mix with the Carbonet, the Rousillon sorts, and (planted in 1861) Frontignac, Verdeilho, and Riesling. None of Mr. Reynell’s vines are either staked or trellised, and the Rousillon sorts appear very well able to support themselves. The Verdielho have a more straggling growth, but Mr. Reynell thinks the cost of staking is greatly in excess of the advantage to be gained. Throughout the vineyard the rows are 6 feet apart, and the vines at from 4 to 5 feet in the rows. The vineyard has a northern to north-eastern aspect, and is well sheltered on the south and west. The ground between the rows is stirred with horse-hoe or plough two or three times every season, and is flanked with rows of almond trees planted for shelter. On the highest point of the hill the soil is very sandy; but on the lower slopes it is a good red loam on the surface, with a sprinkling of ironstone intermixed, and the subsoil is chiefly composed of friable limestone. Mr. Reynell has about 40 acres of this kind of land at a sufficient elevation above the creek to be secure from frosts, but he unwilling to increase his vineyard very largely until there is a prospect of our wines being admitted to the Melbourne markets without an import duty. We certainly hope the day is not far distant when our friends across the border will be wise and magnanimous enough to reduce very much, or altogether remove, the present impost. The apple- and pear-trees in the orchard are some of the largest we have seen in the colony. We noticed there a tree of the indiarubber variety, which was obtained from Sydney 20 years ago, and has grown to great size. It is an evergreen, and the foliage has an elegant appearance. A few orange-trees have been planted near the creek. Several years ago Mr. Reynell made a pure wine from the Pineau Gris. It is now perfectly matured, and has been highly spoken of by connoisseurs. His Verdielho is also remarkably good, but we thought a wine made from an admixture of Malbec and Carbonet best of all. - transcribed by Philip White from Ebenezer Ward’s Vineyards & Orchards Of South Australia 1862.

By Ernest Whitington, The Register, 1903

The cellars here are the property of Mr. Walter Reynell, who has always taken a keen interest in the wine industry. I believe one of his missions on his present trip to England is to see if he cannot do something to find increased markets for our wine. All vignerons pray that he might be successful. Mr. Reynell’s oldest son was superintending vintage operations when I arrived. The make this year was expected to be between 80,000 and 85,000 gallons. In the winery there are 28 fermenting tanks, each of a capacity of 1,500 gallons. The water for cooling is run down from an underground tank on the top of the hill. After passing through the coils in the fermenting tanks the water is run over eight canvas trays, which have a fan playing on them, and then down into the well, the source whence it first came. The canvas cooling machine cools the water to 60 degrees. There are two gable-roofed storage cellars running parallel to one another, and when the occasion arises the space between will be covered in and converted into a cellar. In the first cellar there are 16 3,000 gallon jarrah vats, and in the second 20 similar receptacles, as well as 300-gallon casks and hogsheads. Altogether there is 170,000 gallons in store. The old cellar, which is 40 years old, is right under the ground. The roof is of logs and earth overgrown with grass, and presents a very picturesque appearance. M. Reynell has 150 acres in bearing at Reynella and 120 acres at Riverton and Magill. The grapes from these vineyards are treated at Reynella, while Mr. Reynell buys from 15 or 16 growers in the district. - transcribed by Philip White from The South Australian Vintage 1903, by Ernest Whitington

So? When Constellation's boss propagandist Sheralee Davies says that keeping the vineyard was difficult to justify from a financial perspective, we might believe her, given the parlous state of the shrinking, retreating Constellation transnational and its past blunders. But difficult to justify from a HISTORICAL perspective? Who the hell are these people? Who the hell do they think WE are? Do they think history will forgive them?

They gotta be kidding. Vote with your wallet. Stop buying their wines. To see the full list, click HERE.

11 May 2009



Cloudy Bay Co-founder Announces New Venture
Greywacker Gets Big Rock Star Relaunch


Kevin Judd, who co-founded Cloudy Bay - and therefore the New Zealand sauvignon blanc explosion - with David Hohnen twenty five years ago, this morning announced the completion of his first vintage at Greywacke, his new winemaking adventure.

Juddy has named the new brand after the layered grey sand and mudstones that form most of the highest mountain ranges of New Zealand, and therefore contribute greatly to its soils. Securing the name is a coup: the equivalent of somebody using Ayers Rock or Terra Rossa as a trade mark in Australia, where Brian Croser is likely to be the only winemaker who uses the name of a geological group for his brand, Tapanappa. While Croser’s major vineyard at Wrattonbully, Naracoorte, has geology as far removed as one could get from the tapanappa group, at least Jud’s new business and fruit sources are in Greywacke up to their chins.

Juddy’s first solo Marlborough harvest began on 3 April when his crew hand-picked pinot noir from the Yarrum Vineyard, on the ridge between Brancott and Ben Morven Valleys in the south of Marlborough. The last fruit was botrytised gewurztraminer from the Brancott Valley floor.

“I am primarily sourcing fruit from Ivan and Margaret Sutherland’s vineyards in and around Marlborough’s Southern Valleys” Judd said this morning. “They are prime viticultural sites with mature vineyards that contain a mixture of the best possible clones grown under yield restricted vineyard management regimes.

“Ripe fruit and relatively hands-off winemaking techniques will be used to create concentrated wines with personalities that express the incredible varietal intensity typically enjoyed in New Zealand’s Marlborough region.”

Judd statement explained that he feels “very privileged” to have been with Cloudy Bay from its inception.

“It has been a unique, rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable journey. Nevertheless, it has been fantastic fun pulling on the gumboots again.


The first Greywacke wine, a sauvignon blanc, will be released through Negociants in September. It will be followed by pinots gris and noir, obviously a botrytic gewurz, and a more feral, barrel-aged Te Koko style savvy-B in due course.

To view Juddy’s phenomenal photographic site, click on any of these photographs. They're all his.


These Hardys Will Not Be Eaten
New Wave Of Smarts Cross Range

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this appeared in The Independent Weekly on 8 MAY 09

In McLaren Vale, they call it “over the range” ... “up on the range”. It’s over the Willunga Fault, the handsomely revegetated escarpment to the east of the Willunga Basin.

In the ’eighties, all the McLaren Vale vineyards were in the basin. Over the Range, Brian Croser was preaching his Piccadilly gospel; Ashton Hills was established, Geoff Weaver, Prue Henschke and Tim Knappstein were opening the Lenswood ridge, Lloyd Light had a vineyard and winery above Clarendon, and unless you went way up north to the serious visionaries like Karl Seppelt and David Wynn, that was about it for Adelaide Hills/South Mount Lofty Ranges viticulture.

Geoff Hardy had wine in his gizzards from the womb. He helped make Australia’s first seriously good – and probably the only – commercial pinot noir in 1978, the famous Hardy’s Keppoch. That neat, nutty, revolutionary red made from a champagne clone grown broadacre near Padthaway was still good a decade beyond its use-by date, by which time Hardy’s had eaten Reynella, only to be eaten by Berri-Renmano, which was eventually dutifully eaten by Constellation.

Geoff has never been eaten. He’d established himself as a canny, clean, swift establisher of vineyards by 1980 when he bought the Willunga piedmont vineyard, Pertaringa, with fellow viticulturer Ian Leask. Since then, he’s planted over 3000 hectares of vines and consulted to over 200 different vineyards in Australia, France and Italy.


He took me for a drive around his gorgeous Kuitpo vineyard the other day, in Greg Trott’s old Audi wagon, which seemed utterly fitting. In the back, where most people keep their kids and dogs, Geoff had a crowd of baby grüner vetliner vines, all swaying to look out the window.

“I’m toughening them up, he grinned. “Trying to encourage them to put a bit of wood on”. The car, with all that glass, is warmer. An incubator.

So why Kuitpo, the place with the unpronounceable name that nobody knows the origins of?

“I’d been looking for the ideal cool climate vineyard site for eight or nine years”, he said. This was the fourth place I’d tried to buy. It wasn’t for sale. I found it through the Lands Titles Office, and contacted the owners. Bought it in 1986; begun planting in 1987.”

The reason I’m writing this story now is that Geoff’s wines, labelled K1 by Geoff Hardy, are suddenly very, very authoritative. Geoff would say that’s been gradual, as the vineyard matures and everybody in the winery gets their head around what sort of flavours it wants to produce, but in my case, it’s been the fruit of the last two years’ releases that caught my attention. The wines have become confidently stylised and enticing.

And that’s just the beginning. Apart from the usual staples, and the baby grüners in back of his car, Geoff has planted arneis, dolcetto, durif, graciano, lagrein, marsanne, montepulciano, picolit, primitivo, roussanne, and savignin blanc B, which was called albarino until the CSIRO admitted it wasn’t actually alborino just a few weeks back.

The vineyard plunges dramatically through the sclerophyllous scrub between the Kuitpo forest and the edge of the Willunga escarpment, on sand and clay and reefs of ironstone so pure that Lang Hancock would squirm.

“Few of these things have stood the test of time yet”, Geoff says. “Like arneis. What will it do? Like the nineties had a cool chunk in the middle, 95-96, and I thought ‘fantastic! Pinot and chardonnay country!’, but with global warming the ripening curve has moved two and a half weeks to the left and we’re growing really good shiraz and cabernet, so who knows?”

One dude who’s learning to know rather abruptly is winemaker Shane Harris, a former chef who’s beginning to really make a mark at the contract winery at the foot of the scarp, McLaren Vintners. Shane’s now got the room to apply his high gastronomic intelligence to his wine science – something that’s pretty thin on the ground amongst the white coat brigade.

The wines are quite different, of course, but K1 by Geoff Hardy and Shane Harris has developed an authoritative, seamless style and stance that reminds me somehow of the way Wolf Blass and John Glaetzer gave Wolf Blass wines a trophy-winning presence that changed the whole wine business in the mid-seventies. There was no stopping them; no way they wouldn’t be recognised. Which is happening now, increasingly, to Geoff’s brand.


Just in time, really. His four kids are all out working in the wine business, but they’re ready to move in on Dad. This is the beginnings of new Hardy dynasty: the momentum is almost urgent in its confidence and detremination.

So. When will he build them a winery?

“Well, Whitey”, he says, wheeling the Trottmobile over a spectacular ironstone knob that’s just been ripped for vineyard, “it was always going to be right here. But the money wasn’t quite right, so this is where I’m gonna plant these grüners. If the kids want their winery, they’ll have to convince me to pull a vineyard out. So it won’t be a snap decision.”

Hand Crafted by Geoff Hardy Adelaide Hills Arneis 2008
$18; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
The savvy Linda Domas made this wine from Kuitpo fruit. That means it’s out there, as far as pioneering goes. Barolo bianco hits kangaroo ground! Pear, marzipan, honeydew melon, chick peas, peanut butter, artichoke: them’s words I don’t use much on wine descripto. But that’s what swam around my glass, with grand mealy tannins and, contrary to Auntie Jancis’ claim that arneis has low acidity, plenty of that too. It makes perfect sense, planting a white from Italy’s piedmont on land like K1, but it still seems freaky. The result is profound: this is a big new flavour indeed! Cool pork cassoulet.

K1 by Geoff Hardy Adelaide Hills Cabernet Tempranillo 2006
$18; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
Yuppie Itie wine perves will know Sassicaia, the hyper-priced super-Tuscan red. Forget it. Here comes the Sassikuitpo, the Spanish version via the ironstone and kangaroo turds of the Hardy vineyard way up past the Base Camp on K1. Neat, clean, seamless, and as tightly-formed as a leg of cured Iberian ham, which it manages to smell like, this is one for the long haul dungeon as much as Norberto’s house of meat right now. And when you’ve drunk it all, which will take a month, we’ll get the 07, which is even better, with all its violets and lavendar atop the Zorro boots. They’re both stunning wines!

I shall be posting notes on all the K1 by Geoff Hardy wines on DRANKSTER later this week.

06 May 2009



One big sexy organoleptic frolic ends:
my mate Max dies peacefully in Sydney

by PHILIP WHITE - This obituary first appeared in The Independent Weekly on 1 MAY 9

Early eighties. I’m the last one into the lift. We got the maximum fourteen in her. Big hotel. Tuxed and polished, but feeling awkwardly sober, I face the door, trying not to seem too presumptuous, too big. I look terribly hitman. We lurch upwards.

“Bergamot.” A deep male voice at the back.

“Lavendar, basil, sandalwood ... ”

He’s listing the components of my perfume.

“ ... amber, vanilla ... very old style ... Guerlain! It’s Jicky!”

That was Max Lake. Max was a great surgeon with a desperate fascination with pheromones, smells, and cabernet sauvignon. In fact, any serious food and wine. And sex. He wrote many essays and books on these topics. Jicky is a perfume created by Aimé Guerlain in 1889. The other day, after a fall, the mighty Max died calmly of long life.

When he got out of the lift he drew up on his toes and sniffed my neck.

“Ooooh”, he said.

I was in awe of the pig-headed determination Max put to proving he could make great cabernet in the Hunter Valley. Which he did. But ’til then I hadn’t been aware of his parfumerie skills. He didn’t give a fig that the punk crewcut hitman in the tux was soused with sheila’s scent. He said it turned him on. Exactly, I suggested, as it turned me on, and the likes of Colette, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde, who’d also worn it.

Max went on to make mention of “one male wine writer’s attractive use of Jicky” in his 1989 book, Scents and Sensuality – The Essence Of Excitement. That was in the day when it was verboten to wear any scent at all to a wine industry event. As if wine was always meant to be drunk in sterilised rooms.

Max knew that a room full of people, or a lift, had a rich cornucopia of smells whether anybody wore perfume or not: his fascination lay in the counterplay of aromas of humans, foods and wines, and the background aromas of wherever this sexy organoleptic frolic took place.

He theorised at great length about pheromones, the hormone-like compounds which control much of our sexual behaviour: generally undetectable chemical transmissions to which we involuntarily respond. He believed that these odour-free transmissions are often accompanied by aromas that in themselves trigger arousal, as the nose detects the aroma and presumptuously warns the brain to expect the accompanying pheromone to rock in at any moment. Anticipatory excitement, see?

Many of these natural scents, Max discovered, were present in good food and wine, and he quite sensibly dedicated his life to these things. Truffles, oysters, caviar, great cheese, aged champagne, burgundy and bordeaux – all the most delectable and expensive foodstuffs – carry many aromas that generally accompany one arousing pheromone or another. This explains our unlimited capacity to spend enormous amounts of money chasing the great gastronomic climax.

Max was fascinated, for example, in the incidence of isovaleric acid in wine. It can form during malolactic fermentation, the secondary ferment in which bacteria convert the harsh, metallic, malic acid of grapes to the softer, fatty lactic acid of milk, the first acid we taste after birth. Max theorised that this aromatic compound makes mothers motherly, babies nuzzly to the IVA-perfumed breast, and fathers protective when they detect it in mild doses. But in high doses, it’s a major contributor to the smells of stale sweat and stinky feet, the aroma of the ordure of the battlefield or the football changing room, where it makes men more aggressive and violent and generally repulsive to women.

Max thought that the presence of small amounts of such a compound in, say, a great white burgundy, played a major part in humans’ attraction to it.

Of his many books, Scents and Sensuality sits comfortably beside other great works on the subject, like Lyall Watson’s Jacobson’s Organ And The Remarkable Nature Of Smell, or the theories proposed in grand fictions like Patrick Susskind’s Perfume and Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume.

Typically, the wine industry’s white coats ridiculed Max’s sexy theorising, and for twenty years we were hard put to find anything resembling sensuality in most of the wines these chill industrial chemists manufactured.

Which was not to be said of the wines Max made at his famous forerunning Hunter winery, Lake’s Folly. While the white coats snubbed the humid Hunter as a source of cabernet sauvignon, Max was amongst the first I knew who was aware of the prominent humidity of Bordeaux at vintage, and appreciated that this moisture produced wines of more supple softness than those grown in very dry places. Compare a Clare cabernet (tight, ungiving, olivine) to a Hunter (sensual, supple, fleshy) and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

If we are to regain the respect of the wine world, we’ll need a lot more Max Lakes. More Pan; more Bacchus. More lust in the thirst and hunger.

01 May 2009



Tinned Wine Guns For Kiddylikker Gang
Goonbag Juice Gets Blonde In Tin

by PHILIP WHITE - A version of this was published in The Advertiser in Oct 2005

Oops. I just popped my first tin of Barokes' "Premium Australian Bubbly Wine Bin 242 chardonnay semillon" (sic) and it squirted all over my computer. Damn. Too much information?

I first thought of Danny De Vito in The Tin Men. I don't wanna be before! I wanna be after! Then Repo Man, where Harry Dean Stanton's sidekicks are hungry and thirsty. They saunter into a supermarket and get cans. Some are labelled "food", and some "drink". All they needed to know.

Or the heroic early eighties attempt of Robert O'Callaghan (Rockford) and Tony Parkinson (Pennys Hill) to save the Angle Vale winery by flogging booze in little cardboard tetra bricks, like those the kids suck fruit juice from. No bullshit. I struck a new shirt new strides new shoes and new haircut O'Callaghan at the Sydney airport that year and was miffed that his leather briefcase looked more important than mine. He flopped it on the bar, slapped it, told me it contained the future of the Australian wine industry, and clicked it open. There, packed tightly to the gunnels in neat stacks, seeming to swell out and up as if they were growing in a movie, weren't bundles of $10,000 bills. Nope. They were Tetra Packs of wine, with a little flexi-straw straw glued on their side.

The sort of wine I was weaned on. Like not.

Not that this new tin goonjuice is aimed at kids. The guff says it's for "the can generation", which you suddenly enter when you're eighteen, and just as suddenly leave when you're 39. Like not. Look at the empties on any serial farmboy's ute floor, and check it. Some old croaks are perishing goannas, and the truck's cluttered with kiddylikker cans. Sweet infidelity.

Such ideas float there, just below the surface. Somebody will always try it again. Like these geniuses at Barokes, who own the trademark RTDWTM, which means "ready to drink wine".


No cork problems with a tin, see, and they won't smash if you drop 'em in the jacuzzi. The wine is dull and broad and fizzy. 65 points.

Now I get it. For safety near electrical stuff, you pop the non-fizzing Barokes Premium Australian Wine Bin 241 chardonnay semillon. Peter Scudamore-Smith, the noted Queensland Master of Wine, has put a thoughtful message on the tin. "The taste delivers rich, nutty chardonnay flavours and semillon fruitiness", he writes. "Nose of honey from classy wines with a distinctive peach aroma" (sic).

Not my kind of nuts, honey, or peach, baby. Not my kind of classy. Maybe I miss the bling. Dull and broad. Sweet. 66 points.

Move into the men's tins. The Premium Australian Bubbly Wine Bin 171 cabernet shiraz merlot. Mr. Scudamore-Smith's notes say this one's got "mouth sweetness". Mouth sweetness. It smells like nose sweetness to me, but there you are. Rich, like fruit mince. Ahhh. There's the mouth sweetness. Just before that bitter little finish. Tannin, you see. I opened this one using the lever keyring/bottle opener thing they sent, so I wouldn't do my nail polish on the ring pull, and it didn't squirt anywhere. 68 points.

Now, the serious one: Barokes Premium Australian Wine Bin 121 cabernet shiraz merlot. "The cabernet provides the finish" advises Mr. Scudamore-Smith. "Good rich shiraz mouthfeel. Lots of merlot red and crimson colours. Ripe aromas on the nose". It's not really on the nose, but it's certainly red. And it does finish. 63 points. Maybe I did it wrong, using a glass. But then I am over 39 years of age. According to the I'm out of the can generation.

This took Barokes nine years to get up. "You can't just walk up to a tank and put wine in a can", says the press release. "Barokes have reverse engineered the wine tasting experience from colour, nose, taste to taste, colour, nose...Barokes wine in a can is a premium quality/healthy/safe/patented product based on a 70 year old European formula...a living product, not cask wine."

So there you go. Reverse engineered wine in a can. Living. With bin numbers, just like Grange. $4.59 for 250 ml.. The Repo Men would love it, but for all that detail.