“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.


Grant said...

So am I correct in assuming from the article by Ward, that the creek block is, in fact, the area of flat ground immediately to the south of what is now called Panalatinga Creek.

This would place it on the same area that is destined to be bulldozed in the Constellation/Pioneer Homes/Devine plan of destruction.

I happened to go out to the park with the four stone pine trees that mark the location of John Reynell's first house, only today.

Looking south across the creek,the flat ground just south of the creek clearly rises and becomes the area known as Stony Hill.

I have seen reference made to the "home" vineyard as the source of the Reynell clone. Could the flat land adjacent to Reynell's first home be, in reality, the home vineyard and not the area across what is now known as Reynell Road.

I'm sure there will be much discussion from experts all over the world. I look forward to hearing the responses

Tyson Stelzer said...

Hi Philip,

As stated in the article, "The Stony Hill vineyard at Old Reynella in McLaren Vale was first planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1838 by the district's first settler, John Reynell." Not the mid-1840s, as suggested elsewhere.

One reason for the assertion that "It's more likely that the clone originated from the nearby Reynella vineyard, planted by Reynell shortly after Stony Hill" is that the clone was only brought into the country in 1838 and into McLaren Vale in 1844. It is more likely, then, from a vineyard plated after Stony Hill.

This information was not provided to me by Constellation or by Sheralee Davies, although I have made a point of speaking with her about these matters.


Tyson Stelzer.

Geoff Hardy said...

Noel Chapman was the architect of the current Reynell selection (not clone) which he told me was a process of elimination through three generations of plantings and he told me it was most recently from about 7 separate mother vines. We know that at least one of these is quite virus affected but I suspect it is 2, without having done the testing. I understand the ‘current’ Reynell selection is the older Stony Hill planting (1968?) and this is where I have sourced perhaps 400 acres of planting material from, propagated or distributed through my own nursery business and this is the tip of the iceberg in an Australian sense.

As regards naming the Stony Hill block I think Noey told me this was his doing because of the limestone in the higher part but my memory is very vague on this. Apparently there’s no mention of Stony Hill’s existence in Margaret Hopton’s significant writings on the Renell family.

David O’Leary mentioned a year or so ago that Noey is still alive so I may be able to find out a little more.

The block has produced some great wine that I know of but I lost contact with its quality ratings in the late eighties.

It certainly has a lot of history and is in the wrong hands at the moment.


Geoff Hardy

Ian Hickman said...

I have to admit I was also fooled by the Constellation media release, until some winemaker friends pointed out the same holes in it that you did.

I also must say I'm equally worried about what's reported to be happening at Leasingham which is just as disturbing: