“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 August 2009



Phillip (sic) Jones Brings Bass Phillip (sic) To Fill Up Philip The Pinot Sicko ... One L Of A Night In The X

Phillip Jones came to The Exeter for a few slow quiet ones last week. An engineer who fell in love with pinot noir is a scarce beast. An engineer who so frequently masters the mystical and confounding nature of such an ethereal drinking genie is an absolute rarity. For Jones is a passionate and erudite man, and makes his wines with the flesh of his hands and feet rather than employing anything as harsh and brash as a pump.

I first suspected this man had studied and practised engineering purely to eventually focus all his engineering skills upon one critical job: the disconnection of his brains from his heart, as he seems to run most of his life with the latter organ. Which is, as any cardio surgeon will tell you, a lot more visceral and gentle on the life-juice than your average open-throat mono pump made of steel. And which is never to say Jones is not an highly captivating and rewarding conversationalist. After an evening wallowing in his estimable company, one could only wonder what in the hell his engineering was like. You don’t get sensual engineers.

Away back in the ’seventies, when Jones began his errant vineyard dreaming, there was bugger all of this weird Burgundian variety about. Murray Tyrrell had a patch in the Hunter; having tired of the frustrating monoculture and frosts of Coonawarra, David Wynn was planting it at Mountadam on the High Eden Ridge. The most common one was the Hardy’s Keppoch, a vast-volume cheapy made from a huge monoclonal vineyard near Padthaway. And that clone was in fact a sparkling wine model, so the chances of it being a great red pinot were remote. That wasn’t what Jones had in mind.

Although he started out growing Bordeaux varieties, he sought somewhere as cold and damp and humid as Burgundy, south-east of Melbourne. He passed the outbreak of Jaguar XJ12s of the Yarra Valley, and even the Ferrari and Porsche appellation of Mornington Peninsula. This obsession was no hobby. He went to Leongatha, away down near Victoria’s southernmost point, Wilson’s Promontory, at the bottom corner of wet old Gippsland.

Leongatha’s wetter than Burgundy. Mainly dairy and onion country, it gets over 1000 millimetres a year. It rains roughly every second day from April through October. The average daily maximum temperature peaks at 26 in January and February, but through June and August it’s all twelves and thirteens. The critical mean’s 18.2.

So much water is not much of a problem: the extremely deep loose soils south of the mountain ash country of the Strzelecki Ranges just soaks it up. “It’s so absorbent there are hardly any rivers”, Jones tells his glass disbelievingly. “But jeez the rain brings the moulds. I can’t spray 500 in the ripening season.” He refers here to the biodynamic preparation which encourages white fungal tendrils to sprout in the soil, where they perform a healthy enlivening function, and somehow assist the vine roots to better extract every hint of mineral. “Unfortunately, 500 also encourages moulds in the foliage when it’s so wet,” he said. “There’s so much cloud that light management is more critical: I fine tune it with 501. It’s all about canopy and light management.” 501 is the silica-based biodynamic preparation which works as a light diffuser.

Jones now takes his fruit from four sites spread over 24 kilometres of country. “Every site is different,” he said. “Like the ferric soils require a different approach and give different flavours to the ferrous.”

Because he wanted low yields – hard to get in such prosperous country – he planted his vines very, very close: 9000 vines per hectare. Most of Australia’s vineyards sit on about 2000. He thins everything: leaves, tendrils and bunches, to limit his yields to 250-350 grams of grapes per vine. Then his winemaking is more like a lyrical slither than anything industrial. And his wines? Sloppy, stupefying, seductive dances all. Make that dancers.

Constant high humidity, as in Burgundy at vintage, does something to the tannins of grapes, which are highly concentrated around the skin’s pores, which constantly transpire water. A single variety grown to a certain ripeness in a dry place will generally be harder of tannin than the humid model, perhaps due to the background humidity limiting the amount of transpiration. Jones’s Bass Phillip pinots show this to the extreme. “In older vineyards, the humidity really brings out the provocative aromatics,” he said. They also seem softer, plumper, and wetter. Freakishly Burgundian. Yet below each peculiar beauty, there is the tickling piquancy of the soil and the rock from whence it came.

Away down at the bottom of Australia, Bacchus and Pan do the tango, held up by the Norman Lindsay lasses, the Rubens mob having occupied every couch. Soused in Guerlain’s Jicky, of course.

Bass Phillip Estate 21 Gippsland Pinot Noir 2006
$53.75; 12.8% alcohol; cork; 93+++ points
This, the twenty-first vintage, came from a difficult year, in which Phillip Jones says he “blended everything” to make this wondrous confrontation. It smells like maraschino cherries soused in lemon juice, with a whole barrage of other stuff coming in soon after: the potato sack earth, the gingery oak, the plump dancing girls. In fact, my notes are specific about the lass here in question: it’s Vanessa Redgrave’s Isadora: dancing like a giraffe, then too keen to leap into the deadly Bugatti, the silk scarf immediately dragging the neck t’wards the beautifully spoked wheel. Give it six years, breath in, accelerate. (All my other Bass Phillip notes were stolen in the Great Bag Heist of 09)


1 comment:

Sal said...

Interesting hat!