“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)





24 June 2010


Rick Burge's Bio-D Alchemy
Keeping The Tribe Alive
Semillon To Swoon Over

- a shorter vesion of this story appeared in The Independent Weekly

Rick Burge is Grant Burge’s cousin. They run completely separate businesses, and wide apart they are, in flavour, size, attitude and presentation. Like in those fast post Krondorf/Burge & Wilson years when Grant was passing everything in the only brown V8 Porsche ever seen, Rick was quieter and quicker on his café racer.

Grant was still living in the halo of the Jimmy Watson Trophy he'd won with his partner, Ian Wilson, for a 1979 McLaren Vale red they'd got from that wild old genius of Ryecroft, Jim Ingoldby, who complained about his young clients' reticence with the cheque book. Through the glittery nous of Ian Wilson, B&W were the first winemakers to use FM rock radio to promote themselves: the ad they ran had one of those deep male voices echoing "the youngest winemakers ever to win the Jimmy Watson trophy". It sounded like the intro to a rock concert, and presented them as something like the Simon and Garfunkle of Australian winemaking. It worked. But soon after, Grant and Helen, not Ian, were featured at the top of the list of Mode magazine's annual list of What's In and What's Out, with their matching brocade dinner suits at the Grand Prix ball.

They were not in the list they would have preferred.

In 1986, Rick, and his wife, Bronnie, bought Grant and Helen out of all the old family Wilsford winestocks, winemaking equipment, and the family’s Draycott property. Rick and Bronnie never made it to Mode magazine, but I recall tasting fortifieds with Rick when he was winemaker at St Leonards, and photographing him for The National Times around about then.

He didn't dress like Grant.

Rick had been making wine at Rutherglen, much in the footsteps of his dad, Noel, a fortifieds expert who’d worked twelve years at Berri Estates before taking his place at Wilsford.

Grant’s father, Colin, retired in 1981.

Since those days, Rick and Bronnie have quietly run their Burge Family Winemakers at Lyndoch, managing their small suite of precious vine gardens increasingly along organic and biodynamic principles. They now reserve the Wilsford brand for the stunning ancient fortifieds from the old family cellar, established in 1928.

That, of course, was long before the petrochem opposite of organic and biodynamic farming was even dreamt of. The petrochem business was still regrouping then since nobody'd ordered mustard gas since World War I. Anyway, nobody in the Barossa in those days used petrochem poisons on the precious vine gardens God gave them.

The grandest of these old Burge Family wines, the Three Generations tawny port, is over thirty years of age, and a ridiculous steal at $35. Full bottle. Swoon city. 95 points.

Rick now makes the smartest Semillon in South Australia.

Semillon, the white of Bordeaux since the early 1700s, was one of the first whites grown successfully in Australia, beginning in Sydney and the Hunter Valley. Captain Charles Sturt was sent off to Cape Town soon after to buy more white cuttings when a smoky roomful of affluent South Australians passed the hat around in the new South Australian parliament. As much of the Cape’s whites at that stage were various types of Semillon, we imagine that most of what he brought back was that variety.

His 60,000 cuttings went to Clare and the Barossa.

In the Hunter, it was variously called Shepherd’s Riesling, Hunter Riesling, Chablis, White Burgundy, or just plain Riesling, until the 1980s. In the very early days it seems the Barossa called it Clare Riesling, which, confoundingly, was the Clare winemakers’ name for Crouchen until about the time the Hunter began using the name Semillon.

In those early ’eighties, when I suggested the Clare winemakers should call their Clare Riesling by its proper name, Crouchen, and instead call their “Rhine Riesling” Clare Riesling, to claim it as their own, they were convinced people would think their true Riesling was Crouchen.

At least we got that sorted. Crouchen disappeared. Some lucky buggers even got paid for removing it in the mid-eighties Vine Pull Scheme. Not a great variety, Crouchen. It wasn't helped by the big old oak vats it was generally stored in: much of it tasted like rotting rowboats.

But I digress. There’s even a slightly bronze or pink-skinned type of Semillon in some Barossa vineyards, which is called Red Semi in the local patois. This is a stunning grape. I suspect this may be what the Hunter blokes labeled Verdelhao until things began getting real in those crucial early ’eighties. I don’t know of any of the original Hunter Verdelhao surviving, so I’ve never checked this itch. From dim memory of the amazing ’65 Lindemans Verdelhaos, the flavours are very similar. I’d better ring Karl Stockhausen. He probly made them. If any Hunter blokes can help, please barge in.

Last week Rick presented me a glass of his 2010 Semillon. He has chosen, after many wooded vintages, to make this one without any carpentry. It seems to have freckles, so pale and shy it be. It smells of beurre blanc, the sauce one makes with butter and lemon and pours upon king whiting fillets wrapped about prawn mousseline, with which Cath Kerry broke hearts in the late ’seventies. I’d like to have some now with this wine. But this ’10 also has a layer of cool cucumber, which chills everything just so neat and true you feel just like that. Like thaaat. Fresh cool cucumber sliced onto the eyelids. The original Issye Miyake for lasses. Which I love to wear.

It should last fifteen? Twenty years? Another reason to stay alive.

Then he poured the 2002 model. Oaked. And this was the last year he used cork, so they vary. This was the prettiest, lightly buttery drink. It reminds me of the ’82, ’84 and ’86 Quelltaler Estate Wood-Aged Semillons made by the brilliant Michel Dietrich at what is now called Annie’s Lane in Watervale. It's owned by Fosters, which has it in mothballs, and has gutted it of all its essential machinery. Bugger them. It's the Seppeltsfield of Clare, and has been gradually butchered by various owners since Remy Martin's Francois Henri reluctantly sold it to his nemesis, Wolf Blass.

With Semillon, it’s the telling decade, that first one after bottling: once the fresh lemony primary fruit begins to segue into the butter-and-toast of maturity you can see which wines will simply chug on forever: I recall drinking the ’65 Hunters in the early ’eighties: they were still stunningly fresh, corks willing.

Dietrich’s Semillons are still majestic, totally seductive wines when the corks permit, and I think some of the best wooded whites yet made in this state.

This '02 Burge Family is still pale and polite, and so goddam elegant it seems to belong in an 1870s Adelaide diary of Edith Caroline Tomkinson or a 1905 pamphlet by Thistle Anderson. But whilst salon savvy and gently curved, it has a taut equestrienne within.

It will not get to to the top of the What's Out list in Mode.

It reminds me of that whipsnake of equestriennes, Nora Young, the gay grand dame of Kanmantoo property owners, who was the grandaughter of Lady Charlotte Bacon, who was the bastard daughter of Lord Byron.

She could gallop a throughbred without saddle. Or reins.

As a kid, I mowed her lawn. Her dad, Harry Dove Young, founded the Oakbank steeplechase, and employed Edmund Mazure to make the St. George wines at his great vineyard there in Tappanapa schist, where Mazure perfected his recipe for St. Henri Claret, which was named after his kids, Henri and Henrietta. Kanmantoo St. George's Claret won the gold for best red in the world at the 1889 Paris World's Fair staged to coincide with the opening of the Eiffel Tower.

But I digress. Again.

Rick makes many utterly delicious reds too, in that sort of spirit. He’d decanted them, poured them back into their bottles, so they’d had 24 hours of air when we tasted them. And now, another 24 hours later, they’re still awakening. These are amongst the best we have to offer: honest, open-hearted country wines devoid of bullshit which are direct reflections of their terroir.

The savagely industrialised Barossa, and many who stupidly call themselves artisans, a term introduced there by Dan Phillips, now in receivership in Australia, could learn much from them.

I shall soon post notes on many Burge Family wines on DRANKSTER.

In the meantime, go visit Burge Family at Lyndoch. Take money. Be very thirsty.

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