“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)





01 March 2010



Hillsbillies Polish The Snifters
Thirty Years Of Uphill Toil
Brodericks Catch The Sun

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this was published in THE INDEPENEDENT WEEKLY

“This place was Doug Watson’s orchard,” Phillip Broderick said into the stiff mountain breeze.

“It grew great apples, raspberries and cherries, so thirty years ago we planted some grapes. It was pretty poor country; all cleared by hand in the 1920s … People worked very bloody hard in those days.”

Last weekend, Broderick, and his wife, Mary, staged a “bit of a tasting” for the hard-core fans of their brave Basket Range reds, beginning with the 1989 vintage. As we nudged the glasses there beside the vintage shed in the bonnie sun and the summer gusts, even the most casual glance about the place revealed that the bloody hard work has never ceased.

There were very few vineyards anywhere in the Hills thirty years ago. The current plague of tax-evading industrial grapeyards and hobbyists had yet to hit malignancy. But Brian Croser was busy filling the Piccadilly Valley with vines for his beloved Petaluma; Steve George and Peta van Rood were well underway at Ashton Hills; Tim Knappstein, the Henschkes and Geoff Weaver were nose to the winestone a few ridges away at Lenswood, and at Clarendon Brian Light and Alan Hickinbotham were also beginning to capture the advantages of higher, cooler viticulture in their racy new wines.

“Croser was always very supportive”, Phillip said. “The first time I picked a couple of tonne all those years ago he gave us a corner of his new winery and said ‘Put it there, and if you can’t always get here to plunge your cap, give me a call, and I’ll get somebody else to do it’.”

Some of last week’s throng had visited Basket Range before; the first gathering was in 1986. We met then at the other side of the hill, in the bottom of a gully in a long, dark sandstone house. The first little vineyard snuggled alongside in the scrub, facing north, but often struggled to reach full ripeness at such a lowly, sheltered location. Since then, the Brodericks have planted a bigger, breezier, happier twenty acres on top of the hill, and moved to a brighter house on its shoulder.

“Everyone was pretty much Tuscannned right out by ’98”, the wry Phillip reflected. “It’s a better life up here.”


The notion of soil is a joke at Basket Range. Here and there a few inches of it have somehow evaded being washed or blown away, but mostly it’s pure and simple: massive sandstone with the odd ironstone intrusion. Sandstone holds water; ironstone adds might and intensity to red grape flavour.

Broderick’s intent has always been the elegant intensity of the great red blends of Bordeaux, so the vineyard is set accordingly to grow Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit verdot. The Cabernet is classically leafy, with the methoxypyrazine flavours of the nightshade family: tomato leaf, hop and hemp atop a cherry and blackcurrant juiciness. Merlot is more earthy, with mossy, mushroomy soul, while the Petit verdot – “little green” - adds complex tannins of the vegetal sort. This latter variety, always the last in Bordeaux to ripen, might seem an unwise selection for a place where full ripeness is elusive, but here it performs a clever service of the Tuscan sort. Somehow the tannins of these wines are akin to the structure of the great Nebbiolo wines of northern Italy. Where, say, a fat Barossa shiraz is packed with tannin from the base up, these elegant Italians seem to sport a cloud of savoury tannin that floats above the juice, providing a more ethereal and entertaining effect.

The first wine poured, the 1989, looked Italianate, but in a nutty Dolcetto way (and I mean very fine Dolcetto): its flesh and primary fruit was truly fading, leaving the tiniest lozenge of blackcurrant jelly in the middle of the tongue, whilst the sides were worked by fresh, vigorous tannin. The Dolcetto analogy applied too to the 93, a cooler year wine which had started life quite green, and is only now softening sufficiently to reveal its soul. Like most of the wines, this has an array of confectionary musk and mints decorating its pretty bouquet.

The younger wines boast another adornment: they smell of face butters and creams, and the alluring sniff of R. M. Williams’ leather dressing. While the fruits – cherry, blackcurrant, raspberry and blueberry - are presented like fresh Medlar gels, these fleshy facecream extras are obviously the result of the better ripening now achieved. These are best seen in the current release, the stunning 2006 I raved about here a few weeks back, but looks like being even more elegantly intense and tantalising in the 2007, which time may show to be an even better wine.

If your penchant is refined, beautifully balanced reds of modest alcohol and price, and you have the patience to lock a portion of what you buy in the dungeon for a few years, Basket Range is amongst the very best our Hills have to offer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just managed to find an 06. Stunning. Right bank.