“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)





04 November 2009



Are You Rhonesome Tonight?
Mediterranean Hits McLaren Vale

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this first appeared in THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY

Those prone to guzzling pink, yellow or blue electrolytic health drinks to cure the effect of too many other drinks may have recently noticed their back label texts: the whole sweetwater industry seems suddenly to be marketing itself like wine.

Not a lot of difference in most cases, other than the electrolytes will do much less damage.

But while these products are all drinks, I
bought a mop the other day, from the hardware store in McLaren Vale, branded “Oates Premium Mop Refill” on the front, and “Premium quality blend mop yarn” on the back. Premium blend, see? It included instructions of storage and application, like “to be used in conjunction with good hygiene practices”, and, just in case you felt a perverse urge, “do not use to clean aquariums”. Nothing about using whilst pregnant, mind you, and no photographs of open-heart surgery.

Which leads me to the disgusting rash of signage that has turned the main street of McLaren Vale into Parramatta Road. I’d love to get to it with a chainsaw and an angle grinder. It’s vile. There’s no porn emporia, yet, but the window of what was the lovely little
fishmonger bears a note explaining that it’s about to become a tattoo parlour.

There’s a rare streak of humour at the hardware joint. “Wine barrels”, it says, “full - $49.95 - half $34.95”. Turns out a barrel not yet sawn in half to make flowerpots costs less than twice as much as half a barrel. Both lots are empty.

Which is not what you could say about the cute and comely promise behind a tiny sign beside Blessed Cheese. “Fall From Grace”, it says. “Lifting the Vale”.
This promotes the most exciting new thing to hit the south since Chester Osborne went into the fashion business. Unlike Chester, who presumes we’re all ready to spend $500 on a pair of pre-stressed d’Arenberg jeans in order to look just like him, this tiny shop is there to teach people about wine.

Of course Chester does that, too, but, you know. Fall From Grace is the inspired, crazy work of an ebullient and comforting lass called Gill Gordon-Smith, a McLaren Flatster who escaped into the blue Qantas skies many vintages ago, to become what we affectionately used to call “a hostie”.

“I basically used Qantas as a tasting tour of the world’s best cellars”, she says, explaining that she generally ensured her days off were mainly in France. She was soon adding training to her cabin attendant duties, and gradually built up a formidable list of wine education qualifications, amongst other sage wisdoms. Like the warm speechette she recently delivered about how the seasoned traveller, especially when in Russia, soon learns to carry plenty of high quality toilet paper. “Quilted”, she said, without even hinting that she may have suspected I was a Delsey man. In her role as a sort of den mother for junior hosties, it seems that she spent a lot of time supplying the poor little blossoms with toilet paper behind the Iron Curtain.

Or something to that effect. Her honeyed contralto oozes straight through my filters.

Fall from Grace specialises in beautiful
honest biodynamic and organic wines from the south of France. And some champagnes which my mate Roberto would call, with nothing less than admiration and amazement, Farmer's Fizz. Little guys.

The south of France bit makes perfect sense, given McLaren Vale's propensity to make wines after the Mediterranean style. It has, after all, what one spark called "the best Mediterranean climate on Earth". (I think that was the terroir master, Brian Croser.)

You ring up to arrange a berth on, say, a Friday night flight, make it to the Fall on time to pay your $20 or $30, and cruise through a tutorial on three or four delicious
wines you’ve never ever heard of before, and suddenly want to drink a lot more of.

Fall From Grace is licensed to serve fourteen tasters at a time – this is intimate – and you’ll need to make your travel arrangements succinctly, or you won’t be able to squeeze in on account of the joint being full of dumbstruck winemakers oohing and aahing and searching stupidly for faults like brett, which your hydrangeas will be more likely to get if you buy their second hand barrels from the hardware store.

The cheese is always good.

Sundays Gill does a seriously giggly but educational suds day, serving champagne made by like-minded otherwise unheard-of souls. Book for that, too. Or just go and buy books: she stocks the best little selection of educational wine books, along with luxury Spiegelau wine glassware - made by Riedel but a helluva lot cheaper – of which she is the SA wholesaler. She also sells Leguiole corkscrews, which are deadly efficient works of great beauty that never wear out, and Opinel picnic and field knives from Savoie, which are compulsory kit for all Francophile wine sluts.

Gill also does brill tours of Vales wineries, or visits you for custom tastings, and, well, generally settles you down with a nice drink and a big grin, just like air hostesses used to do. And I almost forgot. Her sign sports the well-formed calves of winemaker Justin McNamee, balanced precariously
on the edge of a tank full of fermenting red. Poised to fall. Which is a back label, really.

Fall From Grace is my kind of school. You’ll graduate bubbling with love and knowledge; you won’t need a blue drink or a premium blend mop to sort out any mess, and just between you and me, the lovely hostie gave me her
phone number. It’s 08 8323 8089.


Longshanks Girth-Keene said...

Having studied her photograph closely, I'll forgive you for getting the name of the winemaker [who owns the legs on the sign] wrong. You are obviously not a leg man, Mr. White.

Longshanks Girth-Keene said...

Having studied her photograph closely, I'll forgive you for getting the name of the winemaker [who owns the legs on the sign] wrong. You are obviously not a leg man, Mr. White.