“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)





03 June 2010


Croser Imports Own Thinker
England Spain And Portugal
Tell Us What We Should Learn


Andrew Jefford (left), the noted English wine writer and poet, has returned to the old country after a year in Australia, researching our terroir. His book should be more than interesting: the thought of somebody unravelling the terroir of Australia in one short year is a big rock to lick.

There are two ways of looking at this: the larrikin might suggest the Poms should understand said terroir. They’ve known about it for two hundred years. They wouldn’t have sent us convicts to a place with good terroir, would they?

The other aspect is a lot more serious and a little sad. Australian winemakers have tugged their forelocks into oblivion, kow-towing to great white hopes from foreign shores. While the blogosphere has severely eroded his influence, the overt power exercised by the likes of Robert Parker Jr. is a perfect example. He also came here once or twice.

No wine show is complete without a star guest from afar, a sort of a missionary, really, to justify the enormous budgets allocated, and the countless hours of winemakers’ time squandered arranging and judging the competition. The winemakers’ employers permit this in the hope, of course, that they return from said show with a trunk brimming with bling for wines they have made themselves.

The thought of anybody unused to such competitions ploughing through miles of wines foreign to them, and coming up with opinions that extend beyond rhetoric is bemusing. Their scores are always mangled by the two other judges in their tasting team, anyway. The points awarded any wine are the average of the scores of the three judges in each panel.

Any winemaker judge who doesn’t recognize their own wine should not be judging; any winemaker judge who doesn’t then award high points to their wine or wines like them should withdraw them from the market, or at least cease expecting the consumer to buy them. Inevitably, when faced with a dangerous self-opinionated foreigner, the two locals work together against him, pointing low wines they imagine he will prefer, and pointing impossibly high wines they think either of them may have made.

Winemaking judges therefore severely cramp the arguments and scores of the glamour ring-in from Blighty. But eventually the star is wheeled up to the lecturn to vent their point of view at the awards banquet, everybody claps, the visitor climbs aboard the rocket, and things quickly return to normal.

A local critic might have touted the glories of a certain wine or style until their credibility expires; when the star visitor says the same thing, delighted winemakers copy out their comments and send them as triumphant press releases to the first bloke.

On the other hand, a writer like myself may, say, argue against the use of inferior cork for decades, which I did, promoting instead the vastly superior screw cap, only to find the winemakers of Clare suggesting they changed to screws only in response to a writer from England, whose writing they obviously regarded as heavier. Bigger pictures. More rock star in England.

Bull shit.

This also occurred with my decades of complaining about Australia’s addiction to cheap, overt American oak, which is mercifully dwindling.

Sour grapes? Absolutely.

The word terroir itself is interesting: the EU language stormtroopers seem to have overlooked the possibility of outlawing our use of this unique French term. If we, the guardians of the indigenous Tawny Frogmouth Owl, are no longer permitted to use the word tawny, and claret, port, sherry, champagne and hermitage are out, even methode traditionelle, then the miracle of our continued permission to use terroir is surprising.

In any case, it is a brave human that would take on a task the size of Andrew’s. But he’s done brave things before. Bravely, John Armit, Jancis Robinson, and chairman of judges Stephen Fry over-ruled Auberon Waugh’s dissenting vote to hand him The Bunch award for wine journalism in 1994. It was the youngish Jefford’s first such gong. Bron thought Stephen Spurrier’s writing, and that of Harry Eyres and Charlotte Lessing were better efforts, as he felt Andrew’s piece on his visit to Serge Hochar’s Chateau Musar in Lebanon was not really wine writing.

“Drinking wine is an experience of the senses”, Bron (below left) pondered.

“To describe the taste of wine in terms of other tastes or smells … is bound to be an affectation. Every wine tastes of itself and nothing else. Yet in order to sell the stuff, one has to do one’s best. The wine writer’s job is to help sell the stuff by communicating his own entirely genuine enthusiasm for whichever wines please him.”

Andrew had “visited at the time of some Middle-Eastern war or another”, Bron recalled, “when the grapes were being driven over the mountains from the Bekaa Valley to the winery in Ghazir were regularly strafed by Syrian fighters ... wine writing is not about dodging Syrian fighter planes in the Bekaa Valley.”

Bron’s opinion stands worthy in itself, but may well have been influenced by his concern that in this instance, one wolf had broken bravely from the pack: one winewriter was trafficking dangerously in an ethereal field which was highly unlikely to result in the filling of his cellar. Bron was more of a bottle man than an ideas man when it came to his wine efforts.

A few years later, Serge politely laughed off my query about this wartime vintage when I took him to Adelaide’s famous Exeter for a few quiet ones. Looking rather anxiously at its artistic clientele, this elegantly besuited Lebanese suggested The Ex was a more dangerous place than his winery. He also pointed out that as that grape delivery trip across the Bekaa took so long, the fruit was flyblown and rotten before it arrived, and was distilled into an arak he refused to recommend.

This fact was not exactly advertised loudly when Andrew’s journalistic efforts put Serge on the front cover of Decanter as Wine Man Of The Year. It could have been that sage journal’s first Maronite Pastis Man Of The Year, but never mind.

I think the disgusting thing was the Decanter illustrator, typically, drew Serge as black man. Serge is not black. Australians are lucky the same dumb crew does not draw us as black: they certainly fail to get other basics facts right, and are capable of breath-taking fuck-ups in sub-editing and in naming photographs, and failing to credit the photographers where credit is due.

I wonder how they'll deal with black Australian winemakers, when we finally get blokes who'll fill the gap left by winemakers like David Uniapon, the only aboriginal to get on our money.

Perhaps this reckless background programmed Andrew to make a list of Australia’s ten bravest winemakers in the May Decanter.

Bron felt one of his bravest moments in wine writing was at a party for an edition of The Adelaide Review at Carrick Hill. This was then an independent paper whose every publication was considered such a miracle that it deserved an extravagant launch party, sponsored by generous wineries which were supposed to be sold on the idea by the wine writer. Which had been, for many years, me. As we stood talking on the mansion’s parched lawn, near the parched maze, I imagined Bron’s strange wincing and twitching was an eccentric Englishman’s tic, or perhaps some involuntary neurological result of his war injury, incurred when he accidentally blew his chest to shreds with his own machine gun in Cyprus in 1958.

“Excuse me old chap,” he interrupted, waving his Croser fizz, “do you happen to know that woman?” I turned to spy a waiter hurling champagne flutes at my back, and while these were falling well short on the dead grass, I realized he had been dodging her incoming ordnance. “She was aiming at me,” I explained, “not you. You’re the guest of honour.”

Bron went back to write in The Spectator of what fine and lucky lives the derelict urban aboriginals of Australia lived, lounging on the manicured lawns outside the Adelaide Hilton, enjoying endless masked tastings of Australia’s beautiful fortified wines.

It was Brian Croser who got the funding for Andrew’s Australian sojourn: some from my dear friends at Amorim, the world’s largest rubber and cork company, for whom Croser wisely works; some, I believe, from Xavier Moll, the Spanish media magnate who owns the limp Adelaide Review, as well as some vineyards near Greenock, which have remained unpicked in recent years. And some from the University of Adelaide, of which Brian was deputy chancellor and which awarded him an honorary doctorate for his efforts.

Nick Stock, long-serving wine critic at The Adelaide Review, lost his job when Andrew fronted with orders from above. Lawyers were employed.

This matter of importing Thinkers In Residence is a strange South Australian quirk which extends well beyond the arcane world of wine writing. Whilst blithely ignoring very smart humans who have lived their entire lives here, thinking about which errant behaviours are unsustainable and what should replace them, Premier Mike Rann (right) and his government pays enormous amounts of money to selected foreigners, who come for a few months, write a report on this topic or that, take their bucket of money and go.

The first of these soon discovered the best place for ideal suggestions was The Ex, where the permanent thinkers rested their rubbing strakes against that mighty bar. He passed this knowledge to the next temporary Thinker In Residence, and so on.


That lovely thirst emporium was responsible for some great local thoughts finding their way onto the Premier’s desk, if not to the innards of his haughty brain. He put a quick stop to this by banning the smoking of cigarettes in bars, immediately disbanding what was obviously a dangerous cadre indeed. Now only smokers who want to quit drink in The Ex, but they’re dead boring dissatisfied and dissolute bastards, every damned one of them. The Ex is still the best, especially for lunch and great rare reds, and hot indie bands in the evenings, but the good old days are gone.

Anyway, Brian thought he’d import his own Thinker In Residence to tell us about terroir, and sensibly chose Andrew. But only the passage of time, and the eventual book, will reveal whether or not this admits our English friend to the rare category Brian used in the past to classify an approved acolyte as “a Croser animal”.

In his usual astute avoidance of any conflict of interest, Andrew precludes Brian from his Ten Bravest, so I should immediately nominate the former deputy chancellor as The Bravest Of Them All, especially with respect of terroir.

On the other hand, he will also deserve the award should Andrew remain truly independent, making up his very own mind. He may indeed have precluded Brian from his ten most brave believing he’s not brave at all. In other words, Andrew may not be a Croser animal. Making Brian very brave indeed. That's him looking at a drink, above, left.

Brian had a crash course in the nature of geology during the drawn-out legal tangle over his insistence that his Sharefarmers Vineyard should be included in Coonawarra. I think he was still deputy chancellor of the University and chairman of the Australian Winemakers Federation at the time, positions which provided some push. This interminable wrangle ended (2001) in the boundaries of Coonawarra being drawn so widely to include his patch that any attempt to give it a consistent terroir is, in my opinion, futile. The disparity between Sharefarmers geology and that of the original Coonawarra terra rossa strip was so great that I wonder that he doesn’t now attempt to have the boundary extended another thirty or forty kays to include the Koppamurra Vineyard he bought near Naracoorte. That would make space for much healthy expansion. But perhaps he thinks Coonawarra has lost some of its clarity, so he shall start another.

Now called Whalebone Vineyard after the whale bones in the limestone beneath, Koppamurra provides fruit for Brian’s Tapanappa outfit, which is backed by the Bollinger family and the Cazes of Lynch Bages. I believe his beautiful daughters have married away up into these exotic tribes.


“The erosion of the limestone continued underground” the Tapanappa propaganda enthuses, “and has formed a large cave complex exposing the bones of the 800,000 year old whale in its walls below the vineyard. Such is the stuff that makes a unique ‘terroir’.”

In reality, Tapanappa is a dead boring micaceous schist rock formation about half a billion years older than the Whalebone limestone. It lies hundreds of kilometres to the north-west, along the eastern border of the South Mount Lofty Ranges in the Kanmantoo Group and the Adelaide Wine Zone. It contains no fossils. But Brian’s propaganda says that he has used the name because of his insistence that he should “stick to the path of the best possible wine quality from unique Australia terroirs”.

“In the language of the aboriginal people of the Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia” he writes, “Tapanappa is probably a variation on the aboriginal words that translate as ‘stick to the path’.”

It must be a fluke that the word includes the vaguest insinuation of the Napa Valley, just as Brian’s previous Adelaide Hills company, Petaluma, has little to do with the chicken farming capital of California, prominent there on the road to the Napa. While he was studying at Davis and drinking in the Napa, Brian drove straight past the stripjoints, whorehouses and arm-wrestling bars of this broke town. He stuck to the path. Only the sweet-sounding name stayed with him.

Neither does Tapanappa have anything to do with California’s Whalebone Vineyard “In the heart of Adelaida, west of Paso Robles [which] derives its name from the many whale and marine fossils trapped in the vineyards’ broken shale and limestone (above). Calcareous treasures were left behind after the underwater canyons and basins retreated, and when the earth shifted and folded during the Miocene, some six million years ago.”

That quote comes from the original Whalebone Vineyard website.

Confused? You should be. NEVER forget that “Tapanappa is probably a variation on the aboriginal words that translate as ‘stick to the path’.” The keen reader will recognise the italics are mine; the keen scholar of terroir will realise the easiest path to stick to is the one that probably varies according to what is translated as what and by whom. Especially if it's you.

Brian’s intellectual precision surely displays determination, nay, bravery much more intense, than, say, Andrew’s first Decanter nomination, who turns out to be another Brian. And this is where Brian Croser really loses control of his dead fish. The ocean is still full of lost fish.

As knows Brian Franklin, the former abalone diver who makes audaciously delicious wines at Apsley Gorge (below), at Bicheno, in Tasmania.

Of course ab diving can be regarded as brave; but another ex-diver-cum-vigneron, Graham Ford (below right), of Boston Bay Wines at Port Lincoln, suggests it’s “like picking up $50 notes from the bottom of the ocean and putting them in a string bag”. Which is a joke, considering the white pointers Fordie and his boys have spent their days dodging. They extend this humour with their Sauvignon blanc, which is called Boston Bay Great White.

If you ever get to visit Boston Bay, ask them to tell you about the bloke who stuck his head up out of the seagrass to see a white pointer with the girth of a Volkswagen cruising, mouth agape, towards him.

In bravely jamming his bag of abs in its mouth, he lost the end of his little finger, which leaked blood into the water. Sharks like blood. The only thing he could do was push aside his breathing mask and stick the finger into his own mouthto remove the blood streak from the water, and try to get back to his safety cage, and then away back up to the boat. The shark harassed him every inch of that long journey. He said the worst bit was finally trying to get his legs out of the sharks’ terroir and into his own, when his weight belt caught on the gunwhale.

It’s interesting how this marine theme recurs. The great white that harassed that poor ab diver will no doubt reappear beneath somebody’s vineyard millions of years hence, its fossilised carcase celebrated on dainty brochures and pernickety back labels. They’ll probably give the wine a stage name, too. Little Finger would be nice.

In fact Little Finger will by then have probably varied in translation to become aboriginal for 'somewhere'.

Look at Stefano Lubiana, Andrew’s second brave bloke. When he told his proud Italian father the vineyards - which he’d spent his life developing in the Riverland for Steve to inherit - were in the wrong place, and that he’d be selling out and moving to Tasmania, maybe that was brave. But it was nothing on Brian telling his stern teetotalling beefer dad he wasn’t gonna be a stockie after all, but a plonkie. One can only go so far into animal husbandry.

I could go through the whole ten of ’em, but I’ll bore you shitless, and it’s better that you read Andrew’s crisp prose.

Maybe other than a mention of Roman Bratasiuk, yet another animal husbandry dropout, whose inclusion is perhaps the bravest fissure in Andrew’s seamless organoleptic theorising. Roman is not what I would call brave. He’s Serbian, which is something different. His grail is Astralis, which always brings to mind Australis, a name owned by whoever owns whatever’s left of Remi Martin, and arose from an early ’eighties night on the Krug with Francois Henri and Dennis de Muth.

Australis? Talk about a name that encompasses terroir! It was given to the first Shiraz from Blue Pyrenees Estate, Remy’s Victorian vineyard away back when Roman was just starting at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, enjoying the opportunity to learn about wine over intense lunches in The Ex. He obviously doesn’t drink there any more: there are three bottles of his expensive Grenache there, heavily discounted. They’ve been there for years.

I suppose, on second thought, that like Brian, and Remy Martin, Roman (above) has a determinedly brave attitude to place. It seems to depend on his translation of a varying sort of a path. Like, you’d think his winery is on the hills of Clarendon, but it’s away across the river at Blewett Springs. He’s also kinda vague about his aboriginal linguistic skills: of the vineyard he calls Onkaparinga, he says its “name comes from the indigenous people of the area, and means ‘local region’.” Onkaparinga is in fact a European mis-spelling of the Kaurna ponkepurringa, which means, very specifically “women’s camp on the river”. In place of listening to the women, Roman bravely preaches terroir.

I live in the midst of the vineyards from which Roman buys his fruit. It’s easy to find this stuff out. Prices, owners, nomenclature. I walk over and ask a neighbour or two. The last time I saw him was five years ago, at an Adelaide restaurant. Gary Steel, who sold pallets of Bordeaux and Burgundy to Roman, and happily distributed his wine, back when Robert Parker still had sway in constantly issuing Clarendon Hills high nineties, asked me to attend in order to make peace with his favourite Adelaide son. I was descending a staircase when the giant Steel arrived: he picked me up for a hug, and fell on me. My already cactus spine became a sockful of smashed windscreen glass. I cowered over a walking frame for months, and have never fully recovered.

So you may regard this writing as responsive. Let me assure you it is: on that conciliatory night, Roman told me I did not understand the great wines of France, and therefore could not begin to comprehend his.

Andrew’s second piece in the May Decanter concerns Tim Kirk, the former Roman Catholic priest who makes exquisite wines at Clonakilla, near Canberra. In this, he agrees with my belief that humans are an essential part of terroir, although I wouldn’t stretch quite so far in my God-bothering as Tim. I’m sure it’s another co-incidence that Andrew’s principal sponsor, Brian, was nicknamed God by his workers at Petaluma. As both of us are preacher’s kids, I share a deep understanding of the power of God with Andrew.

Then he quotes Doug Neal, another brave from Geelong. Andrew was probably unaware that Doug’s suggestion that the winemaking taught in Australian institutes which “promotes fear … it tells you that nature is the enemy”, is precisely the sort of dry technical science that Brian introduced and dug into both winemaking universities. Students have been brutally taught for decades that science over-rules terroir. There was one interminable WineResearch Institute experiment that lasted years and absorbed lots of seminal terroir budget: it was designed to prove there was no difference in flavour between Coonwarra Cabernet grown on the precious terra rossa and that grown on the mucky black dirt that surrounded it.

In decrying this philosophy, Doug is very very brave. Maybe Andrew should have put Doug in his Ten Bravest list, and mentioned Brian in his piece on God.

What he failed to add was Doug’s suggestion that a vital part of Australian terroir is its old alkaline terroir, which tends to make acid additions necessary, as opposed to France, where the lack of warm sunshine makes sugar additions necessary.

“Why is he so adamant that we fight against our terroir by adding acid?” Doug asked me yesterday. “Is it any different to the great Frenchmen adding sugar?”

So there. Doug and Andrew, and perhaps even Brian, would agree with my longstanding theory that natural acidity, if it can be achieved, will always trounce shoveled acid as far as beautiful balanced wine goes.

But then we must also admit that in many Australian wines, the most prominent aspect of their aroma and flavour comes from the terroir of an oak forest somewhere in Europe or America - the Old World. Which, after all, is where the vines came from. And Andrew.

Even Brian John Croser is an introduced species.

So let’s be reasonable, eh?

I look forward to Andrew’s book.



On matters of terroir, the same issue of Decanter contains a piece titled “Rhone Flair, Aussie Finesse”, by the erudite and passionate Rhone terroir expert, John Livingstone-Learmonth. He came here to McLaren Vale as the star guest international judge at last year’s wine show. As I had only a brief moment with him to summarise this district’s confoundingly complex geology, it is easy to imagine his prolific notes misquoting me.

This involved a classic example of truly dumb colonial hamfistedness. Because I had been studying the geology of McLaren Vale for years, the winemakers budgeted to cover a twenty-minute helicopter tour of the Vales, so I could introduce their guest to this district unknown to him by pointing out the basic tenets of its geological history from above. Wise! But at the last minute the local PR blomo told me I could not take the ride, as the seat was now going to a writer from a glossy magazine, whose coverage would be rated more highly by the winemakers who paid for the chopper. The fact that he knew nothing of the local geology was neither here nor there.

In the end, of course, John and Decanter got it badly wrong, and credited me with stuff I did not say. Nothing new in this. Andrew Jefford gets McLaren Vale geological history wrong, too, in his accompanying piece The Land Down Under. But not nearly as wrong as David Sly, the bloke who took my guiding chair in the chopper.

“The hills of Willunga, near the fault line”, Livingston-Learmoth writes, “are said by South Australian wine writer and geologist Philip White to have some of the region’s most promising sites. ‘The vineyard area is moving toward the Willunga Hills, which are more than 1,000 billion years old …’.”

This means those old hills were there 986.3 billion years before the universe appeared, which is a claim not even I would be brave enough to make. Their various formations stretch from 520 million years to 1.6 billion years of age.

Furthermore, while I have a background in geology and the mining business, I am not a qualified geologist. I have, however, been delighted to help convene the creation of the official geological map of the McLaren Vale Wine Region, which will be published next week.

In the mid ’seventies, when I worked in the South Australian Geological Survey in the Department of Mines, we would ponder, the great W. A. “Bill” Fairburn and me, about producing geological maps of South Australia’s wine regions. With the passage of time, I went off to pursue a career writing TV news, while Bill quietly got on with his geological work, part of which was his mapping of the McLaren Vale district.

It was a great pleasure some years ago to re-engage Bill, and two other revered geologists who worked on the same floor of the Mines Department all those years ago: Jeff Olliver and Wolfgang Preiss.

The four of us have now completed Bill’s map, certainly the first of its kind in Australia, and perhaps the world: it is much finer in detail, for example, than the Charles Pomerol’s essential book The Wines And Winelands Of France – Geological Journeys. The McLaren Vale map shows the complex geology of the district with exacting precision, indicating the location of each winery, overlaid with the vineyards and roads.

Published by the Department of Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, which now contains the Geological Survey, this publication, Geology Of The McLaren Vale Wine Region, will be available from PIRSA and the wineries of McLaren Vale next week.

If you want to learn about the terroir of South Australia, consult publications like this, not Decanter.


Alontin said...

Andrew has taken on France, therefore Australia will be chicken feed, but I must admit his list of ten looks like it has fallen out of a raffle box.

Brian Croser has always been smarter than his wine.

I look forward to your soil piece on McLaren Vale. Where will I be able to find it?

McLarenMan said...

Yay Blanc Mon, can't wait.

Philip White said...

I'm not writing anything about soil in McLaren Vale. Soil is only inches thick. It is the dandruff of the Earth. I write about geology.


Great blog entry. Controversial, yes, but necessary. Well done. I continue to learn from your writing. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

yer a grumpy bastard whitey


I WANT THAT CRAB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Erin said...

Oooo I'm in the Vale next week! I'm going to get a map! Awesome... I'll put it up next the set of Burgundy ones! Hooray!
PS I'd plant on that crumbly slope off of Willunga Hill road...

Mercury said...

I often get the feeling that Decanter's sub-editors may not be the best in the west. They're really bad mistakes they've made!

beejay said...

got a bone to pick wiv you

Night Owl said...

You might have liked the post I put on Andrew's blog about acid and sugar additions, and his response. Which was essentially that the order of magnitude change where adding 2 g/l of acid to a 5 g/l must was alot different to adding 2% potential alc to a 11% potential alc must. He's got a point, but nonetheless both are still changing what's out in the vineyard, as are other winemaker manipulations like, as you say, new oak barrels, and all the variants that exist when choosing which ones to use.

knakere said...

So where can I get this map? PIRSA says the McLV mob are holding it up.

Anonymous said...

What a cracker of a post.I'm loving your writing, it doesn't leave much room for BS.
One thing I don't agree with however is where you point out that sugar addition is neccessary because of lack of sunshine in France.In Bourgogne, Chardonnay is considered ripe at 11%, period!It's only the strength of the beetroot sugar lobbies 19th century France, dubious merchant pratices of days gone by (although come to think of it...might not have gone totally...) and the overall misconception that more is best when it comes to alcohol (think top german riesling to debunk that myth), that imposed the usage of sunshine in a bag over time.
More Anecdotic, is the fact that once found myself in a tasting surrounded by sommeliers listening to mister B.Croser himself who all recognised a Landonne from Guigal for being true to terroir.Just 3 of us out of a good 30, thinking that maybe, the 45 months in oak might have taken the terroir out of context to put it politely.The aim of the game, was to find out which wines were "winemakers wines" and others a reflection of their terroirs and origin.When I dared asking the man himself if eventually we could consider that the bitterness and strong smoky smell was in fact the terroirs of
Troncais passed through a gas burner,rather than those of Cote rotie, I was , once again politely reminded that everyone in the assistance found it to be a terroir wine.I guess numbers, like $, talk once again...
But for the record, prior to Guigal setting foot in Ampuis, no one in Cote Rotie could afford new oak, 1 kilo of apricot being worth more than a bottle of wine, they bought 5 years old ex Bourgogne, so much for tradition...
Anyway , off to work now.