“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)





02 November 2009



Consto King Takes Hardy Queen
One Trophy For Them
One Trophy For Us


I don’t know whether McLaren Vale has its own local Bacchus and Pan pulling the strings of its court, but there was some wired poltergeist at work, on somebody’s behalf, at the Bushing King crowning on Friday.

One minute I’m up there weeping, taking possession of the revered Trott Family Trophy for my efforts protecting McLaren Vale’s dwindling green belt, specifically Glenthorne Farm, and then Paul Carpenter gets up to be crowned king of McLaren Vale’s winemakers for a year. Paul’s the amiable and respected guy who played a great central role at the Grand Cru show at the Victory a few weeks ago, displaying four reds from different bits of McLaren Vale. On that day, he felt awkward, as he said, representing Constellation at a show for tiny shedsters. The irony lies in the fact that no small Vale Cru-sized winemaker could do what his giant mob could do, and bother to make small batch wines from different sub-regions.

When he got up for his crown in front of the five hundred on Friday, Paul was regal and statesmanly in his clear appreciation and expression that he worked for Constellation. I'd give him a job straight away: he could be in charge of my palace guard. Vigilant loyalty to his employer was the trademark he left there on the air, as the applause took it all away.

But this is the company that has just uprooted John Reynell’s famous cabernet and malbec vineyard at Chateau Reynella, where Thomas Hardy got his first vineyard job. So I get a trophy for saving some vineyard land, which still has no vineyard on it, and the bloke who works for the mob who’s just ripped out an irreplaceable historical vineyard gets one too. That priceless little block that's disappearing under a ghetto as we speak made good wine for 161 years.

There’s more irony in here: nearly a decade ago, when Greg Trott was busy saving Glenthorne, and needed a big winery to agree to take its fruit, it was the pre-Constellation Hardy’s that put its huge mitt up in the name of sponsoring essential vineyard research. How times have changed!

Since it has so well and truly trashed so many of its Australian adventures, Constellation has a new morality mantra. Its army of PR flaks have “defined three areas in which all of its Corporate Social Responsibility focus will take place: sustainable business practices, philanthropy and social responsibility. From these three focus areas flow specific categories of emphasis, including our environmental impact, corporate giving, marketing and advertising codes, community involvement and much more. All of Constellation's social responsibility efforts flow directly from its values and culture.”

But there was another delicious layer of irony, as thick as whipped cream. The new King Paul was accompanied by one of the enormous Hardy tribe, a descendant of Thomas Hardy. This was Alix Hardy, whom Paul has chosen to be his queen for a year.

Now this was Friday, remember. My paper, Adelaide’s brave little Independent Weekly, that morning ran my piece examining Constellation’s new corporate mantra and strange panicky behaviour. This (see below) went round the world rather quickly, with links appearing on boozy hives like Dr. Vino. For some reason, on Sunday, Constellation felt obliged to make a statement. This contained little that was new. Basically it’s the collision of two great husks: one, the shell of Constellation Australia, rattling emptily with the remains of all the great companies and properties that leviathan has gutsed up, trying to make some sort of sicko procreative act with the great husk of Australian Vintage Limited. This latter lot, the remnants of Brian McGuigan’s third empire, had even taken his name off its flag to make things look better. To no avail. McGuigan, Simeon, Australian Vintage, Galaxy, Milky Way, Universal – doesn’t matter what it’s called. It has always spent a lot of its time in the shallow edges of wine’s gene pool.


Which is not to say these great corporations can’t make good wine, of course: Australian Vintage’s Nepenthe gets regular gongs, and Constellation, as well as the Bushing Trophy, has absolutely cleaned up at the Royal (yep, they still call them that), at the Royal wine shows of Adelaide and Perth.

So on Sunday, Constellation Brands Inc., the world’s largest winemaker, releases a statement from its CEO, Rob Sands, which says “The Australian wine industry is facing unprecedented negative operating conditions”. And suggested that if a deal could be done with Australian Vintage, where Constellation swapped some of its carcases for a substantial equity stake, but not a controlling one, the new combo “would create synergies between the two companies, better positioning the new entity for success in the current challenging operating environment”.

If a transaction results, the combined companies would operate as a stand alone wine company, which would be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, but typically, Sands also said the talks with Australian Vintage are preliminary and may not lead to a transaction. The company didn’t identify any other potential partners. But there was one pretty obvious one on the stage at the Bushing lunch, being crowned queen of Constellation’s new king.

There has been a quiet, somewhat ungainly attempt at courtship with certain branches of the Hardy family tree, with Constellation exploring the possibility of the lovely Hardys finding the money to take Chateau Reynella back off its hands.

Which would go some way to explaining why key Hardy winemen who were first aghast at the notion of Constellation uprooting the first vineyard their great founder worked in, suddenly withdrew their support from my failed campaign to save Reynell’s priceless little vinegarden.

And why not one squeak of support from the stupidly-named McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association in my battle for the Reynella vineyard? Like why did I lose? Partly because everyone who may have been likely to voice some enragement depend upon Constellation buying their grapes. And partly because, whatever its name at the time, that association has been fed for decades by funds from the Hardy Family, from Hardy’s Reynella, from BRL-Hardy, and then Constellation. Now that money’s drying up, maybe even the McLVGWATA’s sufficiently swift to sniff the disappearing possibility of the odd pound note wafting down from the tables of whichever Hardys would be crazy and/or brave enough to have another go at what has already proved to be beyond them.

Those Hardys meanwhile, whom are serious grape-growers, must feel rather uncomfortable about just who will be buying their grapes should the remnants of their old family show finally die in bed with Australian Vintage.

Not to go on too much about the work of Constellation’s incredible PR hacks, but the last bit of their Sunday statement more or less said it all.

“This news release contains forward-looking statements”, it said. “The words ‘anticipate,’ ‘intend,’ and ‘expect,’ and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements, although not all forward-looking statements contain such identifying words. These statements may relate to Constellation's business strategy, future operations, prospects, plans and objectives of management, as well as information concerning expected actions of third parties. All forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those set forth in or implied by the forward-looking statements.”

1 comment:

Grant said...

It looks like we were behind the eight ball on so many different levels in our attempt to save "John Reynells priceless little vinegarden".