“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



A Baker's Brave Dozen
Top Hotshots To Watch
Cream Of South Aussie

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this appeared in Decanter's April South Australia Supplement

SOME YOUNG PUNKS - Various regions

Dr. Col McBride has tattoos all over his very large muscles, and he tends to lean back and stretch them cruciformly while you chat. His partner, Dr. Jen Gardner, is generally better covered, if a tad gothic. Both are nerdy biochemists: yeast experts. Their partner is winemaker Nic Bourke, who was covered in grape skins last time I saw him. These are Some Young Punks. Their delicious wines are covered in classic original dimestore pulp fiction covers and drawn-to-order cartoons. They have reached into the past, back into the epoch before critter labels, to start a revolution in wine livery.

Some Young Punks have also returned to the past to rekindle some pre-industrial love in their winemaking, which is performed largely by Bourke at a contracting winery in McLaren Vale. They buy select parcels from other districts, generally use wild yeasts, and leave the wines on skins much longer than the fast-food norm. After all that study, McBride readily admits they can’t work out exactly what wild yeasts do, but they know enough to appreciate their advantages over factory yeasts, and that each vineyard has its own indigenous culture giving unique aromas and flavours.

Like Jeanneret, the Punks are bending the Riesling rules: their Monsters Monsters Attack Clare Riesling 2009 clocks in at 28 grams per litre of residual sugar, much more than seems apparent in its alluring complex form. And the reds? Big. Lush. Soulful. Adventurous. And much more serious than their labels.

NATASHA MOONEY – Adelaide Hills and Barossa

Tash Mooney says the key to her winemaking soul is her preference for wines from Italy and Burgundy. She made wine at Penfolds, Lindemans, and Barossa Valley Estate before establishing Fox Gordon with some mates. She also makes wine for others, like the Amadio family, whose front line vineyard near Mount Crawford in the Adelaide Hills supplies her with some of the newly-introduced varieties she is quickly mastering.

Like the best of her ground-breaking colleagues, Mooney keeps one foot grounded firmly in the past: she loves working with old Barossa grape-growing families whose generations of experience with more traditional varieties – Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cabernet sauvignon - provides the foundations for forays into the likes of Arneis, Aglianico, Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

“It’s a hard sell, so far, with these alternatives”, she says. “It’s difficult to tell how much the market can absorb. It’s a big learning curve for the drinker, as much as the retailer.”

While she’s made “easy-drinking fruit bombs” from the new types thus far, Mooney’s major wines are staunch, yet sensual, reflecting that rare gastronomic intelligence that the industrialised wine world seems to have forgotten. “We’ll make more serious wines from these new varieties as I learn more about them” she says. “In the meantime profit is still Shiraz-driven!”

There are many exquisities to come from this uncommonly bright, tenacious, eternally curious wine lover.


Peter Fraser is the winemaker-manager of Yangarra, a 420 acre Aussie slice of the huge Californian Kendall-Jackson empire. In the decade since its purchase, Fraser has led a charge towards wine more spiritually entwined with the Mediterranean coast of Spain and France than anywhere else. Why? He believes McLaren Vale has the best Mediterranean climate on Earth.

Fraser and his vineyard wizard, Michael Lane, have ripped out modern trellised vineyards of Chardonnay, Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot to plant bush vines of Tempranillo, Graciano, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan. This adds deep blending texture to their trellised plantings of Roussanne, Viognier, Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache. Grenache blanc and Counoise are on the way, Vaccarèse and Bourboulenc are on the cards.

At night, Yangarra is cooled by air spilling from the Adelaide Hills, making a sharp diurnal contrast to its hot, sunny days. Its distinct geologies include rounded riverine pebbles, a great wind-blown sand-dune covered with healthy 65 year old unirrigated bush vine Grenache, and prominent ridges bony with ironstone.

Wild yeasts, older barrels, small batch, minimal intervention, then masterly blending gives unusually fine, gentle wines from across these distinctive terrains. The highlight, High Sands Bush Vine Grenache, has now been joined by Ironheart Shiraz, from the ironstone vineyards.

Using biodynamic principles, Yangarra is in transition to full organic certification. A radical new small-batch winery was finished just in time for vintage 2010.


Years back, when the River Murray still trickled into the sea, Clare winemaker Ben Jeanneret irritated his rivals who’d begun piping its salty water to Clare to irrigate their industrial grapeyards. He put a line on the Jeanneret back labels stating that no River Murray water was used to irrigate his grapes. Environmentalists loved this fact. Now the river’s virtually dead, Jeanneret’s a reluctant hero. And guess which vineyards are for sale?

When the authorities banned the use of the word moscato, as in d’Asti, Jeanneret labelled his delicate, frizzante Muscat blanc à petit grains Mosquito. Sales boomed. Everybody must get stung.

Jeanneret simply gets on down, making wines in the most natural, industrochem-free manner possible, infuriating the wannabees. While his uncommonly clean, svelte reds stand out, his Rieslings were amongst the first to break from the traditional steely, humourless style, with a touch of wild yeast adding fragrance and allure to their sinuous form.

Jeanneret’s partner, Julie Barry, of the Jim Barry Wines tribe, has her own vineyard adjacent to the latter’s famous Armagh. While this is the source of her astonishing James Brazill Shiraz, which is made with similar attention but sells at a skerrick of the cost of the wine from across the lane, her Rieslings are also outstanding, eccentric glories: perhaps bigger and bustier than most, but still perfectly poised. Appropriately, both are under the Good Catholic Girl brand, labelled with the cover of her Catechism book.

’S FARM - Barossa

Big Bob and Wilma McLean went through the roof of the wine business, as he was the first modern PR flak/marketer/backslapper at Orlando in the late ’70s, then marketing boss at Petaluma in the days of its ascendancy, thence to shareholder/GM at St Hallett, where he collected a modest bag of gold when that company was floated and absorbed by somebody promptly absorbed by somebody else. The McLeans spent that loot on a high rocky farm atop Mengler’s Hill, overlooking the Barossa. Since the beginning of the colony, nobody had been mad enough to plant anything there.

So what did they do? They planted 6144 bush vines without trellises in 500+ million years old sandstone. Without water. Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre and Riesling. McLean talks about the importance of the soil, but I’ve been there with a shovel. There ain’t any soil. The porous sandstone holds enough rain to keep the little critters alive. And now, after six years, they’re growing enough fruit to make wine.

While the McLeans buy grapes from their downhill neighbours to give visitors something beautiful to drink, the initial wines from this crazy lunge upwards and further into the past – way past anything the German settlers were game to attempt - are simply stunning. Naive, but stunning. Lock in early to this ride, and get the thrill of weightlessness as McLean’s Farm set a new ceiling for vinous adventure and crazy, wild, inspired playing of the gastronomic cards. This is not only high, but very, very cool.

OLD MILL ESTATE and BEACH ROAD - Langhorne Creek and McLaren Vale

An Aussie parable: Peter and Vicki Widdop became vignerons only when a mighty flood washed their lucerne farm into the Murray River estuary. Unwilling to take the risk itself, a Barossa winery convinced them to plant Touriga nacional, the Portuguese vintage port variety. After several years of good business during which the purchaser quietly convinced Barossa growers to plant Touriga, it brutally dropped the Widdops’ contract, leaving them a vineyard full of ripening grapes that nobody really understood.

Fed by panic and nous, some urgent Aussie smarts took hold. To feed the hungry bank, the Widdops created a brand named after their defunct lucerne mill, and engaged Simon Parker to turn their vintage port grapes into rosé. By the time they discovered the market’s rote sluggishness to accept the new, they had three vintages of a rosey beauty with much more body, mouthfeel, depth and complexity than rosé normally displays. It also became obvious the wine grew admirable condition with age.

Led by the eternally-curious Melbourne restaurant market, and then the Adelaideans, Australians are discovering this suits their blistering clime and seafood cuisine a little more harmoniously than Shiraz at sixteen per cent. And now, with the help of master winesmith John Glaetzer, the ex-Wolf Blass guru, Old Mill is perfecting a full-bodied dry red from the same grape. With uncanny serendipity, the popularity of this wine is leading curious drinkers into the easier wonders of the rosé.

Meanwhile, across the same estuarine flats, the delighted ex-Rosemount winemaker Briony Hoare discovered Dennis and Elliot Zonda had brave, but modest plantings of Arneis and Greco di tufo, a rare Campania variety never before planted in Australia.

Briony slipped her acute sensories into gear and immediately made two of the most fragrant, entertaining white wines this writer has seen lurch unheralded onto the shelves. These radical whites are available, with lovely McLaren Vale reds, under Briony’s new Beach Road brand. Pour them, and the table overflows with a joyous aroma that triggers intense savoury anticipation: a much happier flood than the one which pushed the Widdops into the wine lake.

PIOMBO - McLaren Vale

Paul Petagna is a hard-core shedtser who uses words like ethos. He was a computer tech and graphics wiz until his father-in-law, Modestino Piombo, took him into his shed at MacLaren Vale and showed him how wine occurs. With measured confidence and thirsty curiosity he pours soulful, hearty drinks simmering more with Italian genetics than any Aussie industrial sophistry.

Petagna cooks like a master: he has the sort of gastronomic savvy that the Australian wine industry’s terribly short of. And he’s never been lobotomised by the University of Adelaide or Roseworthy. He makes wines from the belly up.

Similarly, without any rockdoctor training, he isolated a string of gnarly vineyards on the rubbly piedmont of the Willunga Escarpment, on the coast at McLaren Vale. Geologists can draw a line where this terrain ceases and gives way to hopeless black Bay of Biscay cracking clay; Petagna seems to have done it by smell. He buys from these growers to blend with the little vineyard Modestino left upon his death. Finally, he has a graphic skill which puts him beyond the skrillion winemakers who can only pretend knowledge of label art.

Apart from some remarkable yet-to-be released fortifieds, including a bone dry white that tastes like a savoury vermouth base, Petagna’s Piombo triumphs are the zappily-packaged Dio and Diavolo. Dio is a Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre trinity; Diavolo is Shiraz and Cabernet: harmonious delights with ethos and Earth a-plenty.

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