“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)





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.


Anonymous said...

Outrageous! But do we expect any less of Constipation, really? If they could make a few bucks by crushing the first HJ I'm sure they'd be at the auction. If only I drank their insipid wine, then I could boycott them. Might have to complain instead...but their bloody website is being 'reconstructed' and can't even find an email!

Anonymous said...

I am a CWA employee and I cannot defend this.

I think Constellation management is being pretty evil on this one... Heartless... and I know it is not a popular move in my field.

I am worried about the backlast this will have PR spin not withstanding.

I would leave my name but I am worried about the consquences.

Roger Olsson said...

At least Fosters didn't turn Seppeltsfield into houses...

I got married in the Reynella grounds and have a soft for the place. I would hate to see it go.

Constellation would sell their own mother if is looked good on a balance sheet. Lucky Eileen Hardy isn't still alive. She could have been on the auction block.

I think this news contrast with your drinkster piece on Geoff Hardy - K1 very well. Geoff is protecting and developing the wine industry and creating a whole new Hardys story, while Constellations grins up the ashes of previous generations and pisses on John Reynell for good measure.

Jesse James said...

Yay Whiteman kick more ass!

Winebibber said...

What do think DRC could get for subdividing La Tache? The guillotine?

Sally said...

Just let me know if there's anything I can do. Wish I was there to guard the electric fence or lie down in front of a bulldozer or two.

Dan said...

A looming PR disaster for Constellation Brands (not to mention a catastrophic loss for McLaren Vale

Roger Pike said...

A sad and despicable act of vandalism. The red mist has come down for me, I hope that Constellation suffer in the market for this disgraceful decision.

Mods Modra said...

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wind at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape's joy.

Sally Marden said...

Words fail me. How could anyone be so bloody stupid?

Greed, greed, greed. Everything bad is down to greed. Why can't people stick to lust, sloth and gluttony if they want to sin.

Dan Fredman said...

I don't know where they live, but they obviously got their MBAs from schools that didn't teach case studies concerning the "success" of the mid-1980s vine pull scheme. Potentially massive PR blunder for Constellation in addition to the loss of one of McLaren Vale's most historic vineyard sites.

Nayan said...

Pioneer homes - cutting up the home of a pioneer...

Paul said...

I agree we all should be against the subdivision of this lovely, old historic, vineyard and think it is abhorrent that the developers give absolutely no consideration to properties of this historic nature.

The entire precinct should have been declared an historic site.

Shame on CWA!

Anonymous said...

As a former CWA employee I can't say I'm surprised that they're making this outrageous move. I'm just glad I left the bastards before they really started ruining one of the countries great wine makers.

When Thomas Hardy first came to Australia he did a short stint working for John Reynell before moving on with his own grand plans. Chateau Reynella is a true piece of Australia's wine heritage and Constellation should be ashamed - which of course they're not.

I'm all for a boycott . . . oh, hold on, I already do!

As for an email address - try corporate@cwines.com.au

Nick said...

Someeople are more in need of affordable housing than wine, Whitey.
"Let them drink wine"
Pah! Elitist wine wankery at it's best.

Nick Phillips said...

Trouble with youy Phil is you never knew how to work and became typical wine wanker with no regard to the world at large. If you got out into the mining business and learnd to work you would be maiojg millins like me.. Y9u have no morlas.

Dark Horse said...

Nick- clearly the mines may have taught you a strong work ethic, but I see that spelling was not a prerequisite.

Either that or your current diet consists of too many saturated fats, causing what the doctors call "fattus fingerus", making it nigh on impossible for your fingers to hit the correct keys on the keyboard. Oh well... a few trips down the old shaft should fix that up!!

Chris said...

Chris made a comment about your link:

this is unfortunate, however it is surrounded by suburbia and '80's sub divisions, being absorbed by successive goverment land sprawls, similar to the Marion vineyard on Oaklands Rd. Sub division won't stop until they hit the Willunga escarpment in McLaren Vale, the only geographic barrier apart from the sea to the West - have a drive through the Aldinga rabbit warrens sometime.

Paul Cowdery said...

Nick says - Some people are more in need of affordable housing than wine, Whitey.
"Let them drink wine"
Pah! Elitist wine wankery at it's best.

I reply - There is cheap land; and then there is cheap land.

Nick, SA has plenty of land that we could reuse in a much smarter way than we do now. Consider the Mitsubishi site? Near an existing trainline - check. Near shops/schools - check. Clipsal site redevelopment = smart development.

Ask residents in Old Reneylla how many buses they get a day? Where are the local employment opportunities?

Those houses are destined to be car commuter belt.

If Adelaide sprawls uncontrolably we are destined to have cheap housing but expensive and polluting living costs.

Ian Hickman said...

This is corporate vandalism at its worst, even worse than Foster's strip job of Quelltaler many years ago - I hope they burn in hell for this.

Pete said...

I like a drop but I can't be a wine wanker on my budget - and I find this appaling.
I also was a first home buyer recently and it took hard work to make that step - and I still find this appaling.
My partner can't afford to get into the first home market just yet and she finds this appaling too.
So it's not just wine wank and la di daa reactions here.