“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)





31 March 2011


Blondie, who was hardly a blonde, gave birth to the boy horse, Fizz, who was

The Ornithologist

Blondie 29/9/87 - 11/3/11

“You won’t get much conversation outa this girl,”

Peter said,
backing the old mare from her float.

“She’s not much of a talker.”

They’d been apart for twenty two years

this stately cutter and her man.
He’d sold her as a filly
and sensibly ran off buccaneering,
only to discover he missed her, half a lifetime later,
after his wife left.

I told him we’d see,
and when he’d gone I walked to her in the gloaming,

talking as I do to humans.

After my hullo we swapped breath,

my tobacco Shiraz for her sweet malt

and quietly she showed me the birds,

tilting the head to that Raven,

nodding to the Hooded Plovers yonder,

lifting the great chin to the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos - 

 awarding them one mighty eye,
then the other,

then both.

Pigeon, Red Rump Parrot and Magpie she taught me that twilight,

following each lesson with a long questioning stare,
just to ensure I was there.

The hoot of the Boobook Owl closed our class,

when she turned content and wandered in silence to the trees.

“Blondie’s an ornithologist,”

I told Peter in the morning,

explaining the evening’s affair.

“That’s funny,” he said,
after a disbelieving pause.

“As a foal she watched ants all day.”

Blondie broke down last night,

the grave sucking life from one exhausted leg,

leading Peter from the midnight to say

“You’re gonna lose your birdwatching mate in the morning.

I’ve just given her a good big feed.”

By the vibe outside I know the deed is done:

earth dug open somewhere I won’t go,

the great slump complete,

the last huge sigh of horse,

the red gape healed with shovel and tractor.

The vet has put his stuff away,

Blondie is back with her ants,

and the first grapes of vintage come through on an eager truck.

Philip White

11 Mar 11


28 March 2011


Paul Petagna and his family, with d'Arry's veranda chef Nigel Rich, tabled the perfect vintage lunch yesterday, to celebrate the end of Paul's near-perfect 2011 squash on Sellick's Hill, McLaren Vale. That's Nigel and pizza maestro Annika Berlingieri of Settlement Wines, beside the calmest, sweetest-smelling ferments DRINKSTER has seen so far this difficult year. Nobody felt any inclination to punch the bag.

While the Petagnas blocked both ends of the table, to ensure no good will could flow away to waste, we ate figs wrapped in prosciutto and baked (this year has been freaky with delicious figs and chillies in The Vales), pork belly with Thai style salad, and the sweetest, happiest, most elegant chicken cassoulet. Our Italian-Australian hosts made us feel like the Mediterranean stretched down here to us. But there was never any doubt that we were in McLaren Vale, Australia. Praise Bacchus for our Italian community!

Paul (conducting, above) laughed as we discussed the mould difficulties the industrialised grapeyards are suffering in this shitty year. He rarely, if ever, sprays the standard petrochem dill-brain whatever you wanta call it regime, and yet there was his crop safe and clean and singing, in the fermenters, while outside, those who spray by habit all year were losing round one to botrytis cinerea, and panicking.

That's one of the Wine Diva Mercs sulking below, in the twilight. This was a truly beautiful and memorable day well had by experts, and a celebration of one great little winery's success in a vintage which is looking impossible for many and very difficult for the rest.

27 March 2011



Rots Rattling Sopping Aussies Worst Vintage Ever For Some Smart Dudes Chill And Endure


Sitting on the veranda at my friend Pike’s beautiful little vineyard on the faultline at Willunga on Tuesday, you could have thought the long slow vintage of 2011 was just jim dandy.

The pickers had made their last snip of the season and were settling back to a classic Marius Wines repast, the grapes were all safe in the winery with very snappy vital statistics, and a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles slouched around on the breeze about thirty metres up, ignoring the frenzied Magpie Stukas.


Sure: the stray berry in Pike’s Shiraz had an initial touch of the botrytis that growers were complaining of, but nowhere near enough for that noble rot to cause ignoble trouble in the winery. The fruit tasted brilliant.

But as the rain settled in across the whole of South-east Australia, growers in Clare, Barossa, the Adelaide Hills, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, the Murray Valley and the Limestone Coast couldn’t do much more than sit back and weep.

In this apocalyptic vintage of drought followed by irrigation restrictions then tropical deluge, cyclones and merciless floods, we had watched vineyards fail for months, down along the Great Divide from Hilltops and Young, through Griffith, and all along the Murray-Darling, from Bourke to Blanchetown and right through Victoria. If it wasn’t too little or too much water, it was moulds and mildews of all sorts, made worse because there simply wasn’t enough standard petrochem fungicide in the country.

In contrast, the lead-in to vintage was just about perfect in the Mount Lofty Ranges, from the tip of the Fleurieu to the top of Clare. The rains were good, the breezes welcome, and the summer eagerly awaited. But it simply never came.

On that moist Monday, we joked about McLaren Vale having a Bordeaux vintage. Tuesday, while Pike picked, growers with less advanced fruit watched the botrytis develop. Peter Barry, of Jim Barry Wines in Clare was first onto the breakfast news, declaring that he’d be using modern spraying techniques to blitz his moulds the good old-fashioned way. Barossa vineyard spokeman Leo Pech, never a tower of unjustified posivitism by any means, reached further down than I’d even heard him reach before when he said this was the worst vintage he’d seen in 61 years. By Wednesday morning, as the rain followed Pech down with a vengeance, many had kissed their year good-bye. By Wednesday afternoon, the Bordeaux jokes had been replaced by lame sniggers about it being a classic Hunter vintage.

The Hunter, of course, is sub-tropical.

This rain swelled berries to bursting point, fed the rapid growth of the nasty moulds and funguses already mentioned, and set loose a wave of botrytis mould unlike anything any of us have ever seen here.


It’s rare in places like Bordeaux and Burgundy for a vintage to pass without some botrytis infection of the red fruit. Fastidious bunch selection, even down to individual grape selection, sorts most of it; the winemakers have their little tricks to manage it, and of course many of the laziest winemakers make a complete botch of it.

Botrytis cinerea – noble rot - is one of the most common moulds. It lives fairly harmlessly in your fridge – it’s the first thing that makes your tomato skins wrinkly and your strawberries mushy. It lives tidily at the pore in the skin of fruits, sending a little spike-like root through the vent into the juice, where it converts some of the fruit’s sugar to glycerol, hastens the evaporation of the water in the juice, and somehow makes the wine smell like dried apricots being reconstituted in water.

When this occurs cleanly, without other moulds, in white grapes in Bordeaux, the Semillon and Sauvignon blanc of the Sauternes and Barsac districts are used to make those revered luscious wines that people happily pay the earth for.

But in red wine, while adding similar viscosity and mouthfeel with that glycerol and shriveling through transpiration, botrytis also gives rise to laccase, an oxidase enzyme which turns red wine milky when exposed to oxygen.


While the Australian technique has been to blitz all vineyards with fungicides so no botrytis survives in the vineyard, winemakers trained in Bordeaux and Burgundy obviously have clever tricks to handle its arrival in the winery.

One such person, the late Stephen Hickinbotham, came home to Australia in the early ’80s to make exquisite dry reds deliberately infected with some botrytis, because he knew this peculiar mould was common in Bordeaux and Burgundy, the wine regions Australia had otherwise copied. He quite adamantly maintained that he never made red wines without some botrytis.

Even when he had the Wine Research Institute import an enzyme from Sauternes to measure botrytis via gluconic acid and certify that his dry reds were infected, disbelieving industrial winemakers and prominent plonky academics ridiculed him to his face.

At a special tasting we organized in 1984, Max Schubert was the only winemaker who said he had no reason to disbelieve Hickinbotham’s claims, and declared the wines to be lovely things indeed.


A rigorous intellectual and sceptic, Hickie was amongst the first Australian winemakers to work, well, nearly everywhere. By ’84, at 30 years of age, he’d studied at Bordeaux University, made wine for the Rothschilds, worked in a government wine research laboratory in Alsace, then at Bollinger and Mumm, and had completed vintages at Rutherglen, Barossa, Mildura, the Hunter Valley and Great Western. He first predicted that Marlborough would become the Sauvignon blanc garden of the planet. His were amongst the first great modern Tasmanian reds, and he’d made some of the earliest Adelaide Hills wines at his uncle Allan's vineyard at Clarendon. Which is not to overlook the ravishing reds he made at his family’s vineyard on a volcano at Anakie, near Geelong.

Like his grandfather, the mighty Hick, founder of the Roseworthy Oenology degree course, and his father Ian, another legendary winemaker and wine scientist, Stephen was great student of pasteurisation. He believed that in his relentless determination to boil ALL organisms out of beverages, Louis Pasteur overlooked the notion that some are good for the winemaker.

“If Pasteur’s well-intentioned advice was heeded by all the French vignerons, we’d have no great French wines today,” Hickie told me. “Pasteur neglected to study great wines, and he never came to realise that if they were properly controlled, the same bacteria would, or could, have some highly desirable effects, like conducting the malolactic fermentation which is common to so many great French wines.

“The role that noble rot can play in making red wines has been obscured for several reasons. Certain ill effects found in red wines have been attributed to noble rot because the original grapes were noble rot infected. The great, healthy wines have never really been studied, and because researchers often have so little practical winemaking experience, the role botrytis can play in red wine making has been ignored. That’s pretty simple.

“Carefully controlled noble rot can contribute great complexity to red wines. Many of Bordeaux’s greatest red wines were from grapes infected by botrytis.”

At that historical 1984 tasting, Max Schubert said the test wines reminded him of the days when he used flor yeast on red juice to make “nice complex mother wines”, the bases for his famous blends. “Nobody really believed I did that either”, Max chuckled. “I had to get used to keeping my mouth shut. I heat-treated those wines.”

Cornered, Dr. Terry Lee, then the head of the WRI, said “There’s not really such a big mystery about handling botrytis in reds. You can handle it with heat treatment”.

While Stephen Hickinbotham (above) took his secrets to his early grave after a plane crash, it’s worth remembering that it was his father Ian who made incredible breakthroughs at Kaiser Stuhl in the ’fifties, working with pressurised pasteurization of white wine for sparkling, stabilizing them to a degree otherwise unknown in those years, but heating the wine to only 63 degrees centigrade, “therefore not damaging the quality”, he wrote in his autobiography, Australian Plonky.

“In fact, in our experiments we had found that the heat treatment helped ‘round’ the taste, meaning the wine was more drinkable immediately.”

So while three of those four Hickinbothams are in their graves, and Ian is in genteel retirement at a great age, we could certainly use their brains in a vintage like this. Perhaps part of the Hickinbotham secret lies in the flavours and textures imparted by certain bacterium and enzymes, and part of it lies in the fastidious management of low-temperature pasteurization to remove some bacterium, while letting others, or their traces, survive.

It’s a great pity that in the midst of the abject panic now rife in the industrial wine business, there’s no Hick raising a helpful hand.

But, after all that derision, even if they were alive, why should they?

It looks like there’ll be some sunshine next week, but meager heat. Some vineyards will survive, just, if the sun shines warmly and drying breezes blow. Others, like Pike’s Marius, and other clever specialists, already have.

But the bullies who manage the brutal business of purchasing fruit for the biggest companies, who walked away from partially-damaged vineyards just days before the big-time botrytis hit, must now be rueing their bloody-mindedness, as the better fruit they imagined would emerge elsewhere vanishes like a wicked spinning genie.



Smokin' With The King
Hottest Shit On Earth
Get A Cool Bhut Up You

by PHILIP WHITE - written for INDAILY on 17 MAR 11

Don’t mention the vintage, don’t mention the vintage.

Okay, we’ll talk about chilli. It’s been a horrid season for chilli in south-east Asia. Weird weather has cut the crop by half in some regions, sending prices soaring, and threatening age-old cuisines for the first time in living memory.

But at McLaren Vale, the chilli season has been just dandy.

The garden of my beloved is heavy with chillies of every hue and heat, right up to the evil Bhut Jolokia, which has thrown a profuse crop.

Also known as the Ghost Chilli or the Cobra, the Bhut comes from north-east India. Not as hot as the Naga Viper or the Dorset Naga, it nevertheless weighs in at 401.5 times the heat of Tabasco, and depending on its source, varies from 330,000 to over a million Scoville points, the widely-accepted heat rating scale. The average Jalapeño measures around 5,000.

Most readers will find my fascination with these nether regions of tolerable heat, where the atmosphere gets very thin indeed, an outright perversity. But in the name of gastronomy, I confess to a premature donation of my bottle-scarred body to science, as I strive to learn which wines best suit chillies so hot they set my endorphins running to the buzz point at which the government must surely consider prohibition.

Put simply, it’s just too much fun to be legal.

The dumbest thing you can drink with extreme chilli is one of the most popular “pairings”: Sauvignon blanc. That awkward cleansing blend of catpiss and battery acid on the lawn seems only to remove any prophylactic lining the mouth may have had, and actually demolishes the pleasure of chilli: it becomes too abrasive and invasive of the complex aural organs.

Capsaicin, 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, (CH3)2CHCH=CH(CH2)4CONHCH2C6H3-4-(OH)-3-(OCH3), is the major compound responsible for the heat of chillies. In high concentrations it’s what the wallopers spray on you when you’re really really naughty.

My organic chemistry is not sufficiently advanced to appreciate the finer points of the chilli plant ingeniously adjoining “a branched-chain fatty acid to vanillylamine” to make capsaicin, but I can grasp the fact that it’s a “hydrophobic (it forms oily globules in water), colorless, odorless, crystalline to waxy compound”.

That vanillylamine also begins to explain why the pungent and delicious flesh of the Bhut reminds me of the unfairly-maligned Durian and Jackfruit plants, whose vanillas seem so heady as to remind some lilylivers of vomit.

Anyway, drinking water to ease chilli’s oily heat is about as silly as drinking Sauvignon blanc.

Oils dilute oils. And fats. Ergo the wonder of the pork curry, which blends the heat of chilli beautifully with the delicious animal fats we seem addicted to. Similarly, the oils of fish or prawns, the fat of chicken. As a relieving drink, the fats in milk and yoghurt are the quick extinguisher trick, but finding wines with similar capacities is not as tricky as you’d think.

Well, not quite. They’re out there. They’re just not made much in Australia, which is dumb, considering our cuisine. I don’t know how much chilli Australia eats, but I’m sure there’s a guide in our consumption of ginger – my mates at Buderim Ginger say we are easily the greatest per capita consumers of ginger on Earth.

In malo-lactic fermentation, bacteria, not yeast, converts the harsh, metallic-tasting malic acid of grapes to lactic acid, the fattier acid of milk. So accepting that you need wines with the most glycerol, the oiliest texture, or the most fat, the first step is to wines which have undergone this secondary, non-alcoholic fermentation.

So, creamy Chardonnay with “full malo” is a start; most reds are another likely candidate. However a complexity emerges here. Most wines that are assisted through malolactic fermentation are oaked, and whether by sawdust, shavings, chips, planks or even barrels, Bacchus forbid, the tannins of the wine are more harsh, ripping the lining of the mouth apart with a viciousness approaching the efficiency of Sauvignon blanc. Wines with added tannins, which are unfortunately prolific, are even worse with chilli.

So if you need red with your heat, you’re probably better off with something terrible from a bladder pack in place of your Grange. The old silver pillow alleyjuice is less likely to suffer the expense of much lumberjacking of any sort.

Otherwise, the red Gamay wines of Beaujolais are tickety-boo, being chubby and wholesome, low in oak tannin, and generally devoid of added tannin. Hardly anyone in this whole Australian wine industry has grasped this, other than enlightened souls like the Barons of Barossa’s Winemaker Of The Year 2010, Wayne Dustchke, who has revived the late Stephen Hickinbotham’s Cab Mac with great panache. This was a wine technique adapted from the Beaujolais carbonic maceration, and designed to compete with the floods of Beaujolais that choked Australia shelves in the early eighties.

Lively, fresh, healthy reds for consumption the year of their vintage would seem to make deep sense in a market jammed full like ours: the winemakers can start making their money just weeks after vintage, instead of waiting for years of barrel and bottle maturation.

Our weather alone makes a powerful argument that we should concentrate on perfecting some low-tannin reds that flourish in an ice bucket and make perfect gastronomic logic with chilli.

I didn’t chill it, but the very low tannin Lake Breeze Old Vine Grenache I recommended here earlier this week would fill the bill, and that’s a mature conventionally-made dry red.

To increase the natural glycerols in his Cab Mac, Hickinbotham even encouraged some botrytris on his red grapes – botrytis converts some of the sugar in the berry straight to glycerol. He solved the problem of laccase, a milky compound botrytis triggers in reds, with a steady low-temperature Pasteurisation.

So. In lieu of these rather obvious red styles evolving outside the cellars of such enlightened souls as Hick and Dutschke, we’ll have to head back to white wines.

Botrytised wines are really good with chilli, but such sweetness as you’ll find in Sauternes or Barsac, or Aussie Semillon, Riesling, or Viognier with botrytis, makes them too thick a drink to be your refresher when addressing a hot Thai soup or blazing curry.

The slightly slimy texture of the best Mornington Peninsula grey Pinots (Pinots gris, or Grigio), play a very happy duet with chilli. Anything made by Sandro Mosel (Port Phillip) or Kath Quealy (Quealy Wine or Balnarring) are fine.

But all this is pointing us into one last corner: fronti. This member of the Muscat family has variously been called Frontignac, Frontignan, Muscat à petits grains, Muscat d’Alsace, Moscato d’Asti, Moscato di Canelli and Moscato Blanco. Barossadeutschers call it Front’n’backs. Orlando made some dazzlers in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies: sweet to quite sweet drinks of good acidity but comforting texture and the complex, slightly spicy, heartening aroma of the Muscat family.

The best of these locally is the Jeanneret Mosquito, an inexpensive, sweetish, very slightly petillant (fizzy) low-alcohol cuteness which loves to swim with chilli, and is light enough to also rehydrate and refresh where water just don’t work.

To mention the V word in conclusion, there are many Hills vineyards, and maritime (McLaren Vale), which could be making money in a month had they grown the old faithful Fronti in place of more expensive extravagances which might not sell, or even ripen, in this horror vintage.

Horrible for for grapes, I mean. As I say, the chilli vintage, in McLaren Vale at least, is just dandy.



Not racist: Senator Amanda Vanstone in her heyday
Where's The Sheriff?
Adelaide's Dry Zones
Red, White And Black

written by PHILIP WHITE - 02 MAR 11 for INDAILY

Whether it’s legal or not, one of the prettiest sights this Earth has to offer begins to occur daily in Paris over the next few weeks. At lunchtime, the girls from the fashion district buy their baguettes at Fouchon, and steer their teetering Manolos and Loubos down the Richepanse from the Madeleine, across Saint-Honoré to the Jardin des Tuleries.

There in that city’s immaculate dappled spring light, they buy beers at a little barrow ice-cream stall, step off those impossible heels, remove their stockings, and throw a few giggly ends of boulles barefoot in the gravel.

If the lasses of Adelaide were the only ones to do anything like this in Victoria Square, there would be no dry zone in the heart of our city. Our dry zones were imposed, without any doubt, to remove aboriginal drinkers from one of their favoured meeting places.

Queen Victoria haunts her bleak dry square
. .
Dry zones began to be discussed after Senator Amanda Vanstone brought Auberon Waugh, the prickly wine columnist of London’s ancient Spectator magazine, to come and appreciate the beauties of South Australian wine.

It was late eighties, and Bron (below) went home smitten with our vino. He was certainly full of it. In a sense, his visit and consequent espousal of our booze was one key factor in our incredible wine export boom. But he also infamously mocked the aboriginal people for what he called their idyllic lives, lolling about in immaculate parks, blind-tasting the wondrous old fortified wines available here at impossibly cheap prices.

Bron never bothered to mention that many of these indigenous folks gathered there because many of them were in town to attend the nearby courts, or that the square had been their meeting place for a very long time. He overlooked the savage treadmill of the meeting of mates and brethren from afar who had to attend court, could not afford to stay in the Hilton, found themselves sinking a few conciliatory ports, got charged with one new offence or another, so had to come back for more court and just happened to get into some more port.

This is in contrast to the lawyers, and white petty criminals, who drink to celebrate their victories and losses in the Crown & Sceptre, the King’s Head, or one of the other pubs, cafés and bars profuse in that precinct for that purpose.

Chateau Reynella

Adelaide has a fairly rickety record when we consider our ethanol business. Our great wine families made their initial fortunes producing sweet powerful rotgut: the great factories where they made this stuff are marketed by government as our major tourist attractions, as if they were our Parthenon or St Peter’s. Most of our export boom wine has been the modern dry equivalent of those old fortifieds: cheap as chips grape-derived ethanol of little character aimed precisely at the bottom of the UK booze sector and the inhabitants of the bed of the Todd River in The Alice.

The business is worth billions.


South Australia achieved some sort of international stardom when the Premier of this Wine State was whacked and wounded by a white man wielding a rolled-up copy of the local wine magazine in the National Wine Centre. The carousing and karaoke of his deputy also attracted more than a little spotlight, and I’m sure none of us can forget his visage, battered from being king-hit after his involvement in rescuing a damsel in the dark on a long midnight ramble through our alleys of white man’s booze.

He’d already announced he’d been suffering from deep depression, poor fellow.

Chateau Tanunda

And now, of course, we have a government-sponsored mélange of festivals in the name of the arts, culture, motorsport and whatnot, so it’s official all-night party time for weeks on end.

The aforementioned Premier is Minister for the Arts, his Deputy is now the Minister for Motor Sport, and after the Minister responsible for Road Safety had to apologise publicly and quit for his 58 traffic offences and over $10,000 in fines, he ended up with the portfolios of Prisons, Gambling and Youth, amongst others.

The notion of state-sanctioned motor racing and the shenanigans surrounding that explosive brew of alcohol, deadly speed, and the official abandonment of the road laws is beaten only by the annual Schutzenfest, where we manage to combine the images of traditional drinking with the traditional shooting of firearms.

Seppelt family mausoleum at Seppeltsfield

So when Monsignor David Cappo, the Premier’s Social Inclusion Commissioner, called this week for an end to the dry zoning on the grounds that it fails to deal with the issues at the heart of public drinking and simply serves to “funnel aboriginal people into the justice system”, we should have forseen the wave of arrogant rage that hit Murdoch comments websites like Adelaide Now.

“We are not racists” goes the gist, “we just don’t like being accosted by black drunks.”

Around ninety per cent of these correspondents railed in support of the dry zone, with half of them requesting its extension. There was little real discussion of Cappo’s call that "council should … seek better ways to connect with and support vulnerable people in the city," or his suggestion that we "must engage with vulnerable people and support them …

“There should be integrated services working for them,” he insisted, “including housing, mental health, and drug and alcohol services."

Cappo (right), chairs a board of hard-core Labor bluestockings with close affiliations to much more famous ALP men.

There was little analysis, anywhere, of councillor David Plumridge’s demand that government get real and fund the alcohol abuse support services it promised ten years ago to soften the racist sound of its initial dry zone enforcement.

“Mike is Green of Clare” looked very lonely in that interminable list of rage. “As a family from the country, in town last weekend for The Fringe,” he wrote “... to suggest aboriginal folk are 'the face of public drinking' is ludicrous. So many drunken whities walking the streets drunk, pouring out of clubs and pubs, aggressive, legless, urinating in public, vomiting and discarding their rubbish.

“Dry zones?? They don't solve anything. They were set up to stop aboriginals gathering in 'our' public places whilst we hide behind closed doors and drink ourselves into oblivion. 'Responsible service of alcohol' - a feel good statement, nothing more. We (us whities) have no shame, yet we preach our virtues daily. How embarrassing!”

If we were the civilized and erudite state envisioned by people like Colonel William Light and Premier Don Dunstan (left) , anybody would surely be able to sashay up to a little barrow ice-cream stall in Victoria Square, buy a glass of cold Riesling, slip off their shoes and throw some friendly petanque beneath the shadow of the dope-smoking Queen Victoria.

The licensee would be responsible for serving those who were sufficiently well behaved to deserve this magnificent luxury, whatever our hue or intention, and life could go on.

Part of the redesign of that Square should include a permanent public fireplace so those who have met there for millenia can continue to do so, with respect and dignity. Make it a safe place where they can help each other, and console each other for the havoc white Australia has wrought on their culture by plying them with rotgut for 175 years.

And, dammit, they should be assisted by the sort of alcohol abuse services the government promised in 2001.

Some of them will need counselling for depression, and medical attention for wounds inflicted by marauding drunks, many of which will be white.


No Fat, Low Fat, Full Cream,
Extra Dollop, Skinny, Skim,
Semi-skim, Added Calcium ...


“There’s No Fat, Low Fat, Full Cream, Extra Dollop, Skinny, Skim, Semi-skim, Added Calcium, Added Omega-3 … ” this was a representative of Choice, the Australian consumer-interest magazine, discussing the many brands of milk on Radio National’s Breakfast this week.

But Choice laboratory tests showed that the 80 or 90 brands of milk on Australian shelves
basically fall into only three categories: full-fat, light, and skimmed … and there’s no appreciable difference between supermarket branded milks and other milks. The milk business has much in common with the wine industry, and it goes well beyond the droll sameness of the wines behind the many thousands of brands available. Neither is it restricted to the current fiasco where the duopolist supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, seem determined to destroy Australia’s independent diary farmers in a brutal discounting war, just as they seem keen to gut the wine business in their determination to get ethanol into Australians at the lowest possible price.

After famous winemaker Wolf Blass infamously demolished his new Rolls Royce and abandoned it beside the stobie he’d knocked out on Portrush Road in 1987, he blew 0.138 when eventually tracked down by the fuzz, and was finally convicted, fined, and suspended from driving. His PR gurus then convinced him to abandon his TV ad campaign for his own Classic Dry White for a time and, with a cheeky grin, advertise that other classic dry white, milk.

Blass (above) could have been a real hero, done more to cut the road toll, AND sold more wine if he’d simply stood in front of his wrecked Roller, flicked a
rueful thumb over his shoulder and admitted to camera “That cost me three hundred thousand dollars ... it could have cost lives … don’t drive when you drink”.

Instead, he promoted the one drink that little kids start on, leaving a very thin veil over the white he hoped they’d graduate to as adults.

In matters of naming, the marketers of milk, like many other commodities, are copying the sophists of the wine industry, and disguise the drab
repetition of their products with a great many nonsensical names and back labels. If you were interested in accuracy and honesty, include the wine business OUT. Until it’s limited by anti-bullshit regulation, the grape ethanol business habitually fibs to its customers. In fact, its anti-bullshit regulations themselves are very dodgy. Wines are rarely 100% what their labels claim, whether it be the varieties, the alcohol, the source, the maker, or whatever the drinker imagines to be important.

I could see
the turning point emerging in the early eighties when I asked famous Hunter winemaker Mark Cashmore a simple question.

“Why,” I enquired “did you change the name of your Richmond Grove blend of Chardonnay and Semillon from Richmond Grove Pinot Riesling to Richmond Grove Semillon Chardonnay?”

His magnificent clarification came thus: “Pinot Riesling doesn’t mean very much at all. Chardonnay’s not Pinot Chardonnay and I don’t think Riesling in the context of Pinot Riesling means very much. I mean Riesling is Semillon and Pinot is Chardonnay, and we have more Semillon in the wine than Chardonnay, so it should be Semillon Chardonnay.”

And so we got tighter rules. But they are
breathtaking in their nature. Take the elastic alcohol reading. A wine claiming to be 15% alcohol can in fact be 16.5% - the legal tolerance permits a 1.5% margin either side of the stated figure. Winemakers can legally include up to 15% of any variety not mentioned on the label, and 15% of a vintage other than the nominated one. The same elasticity is permitted in claims of the wine’s geographical source, its appellation. So a wine labeled as a 15% alcohol Barossa Shiraz 2010 can legally be a 85-15% blend of Barossa and Riverland with 15% Grenache and 16.5% alcohol. In other words, 46.5% of the wine in the bottle can legally be something other than what its label states.

The naming, and the text, usually mislead the drinker to a more disgusting degree. There are no real meanings of low yield, low irrigation, small berries, premium oak, reserve, or whatever.
The vast majority of Australian wine is not made by the famous person the consumer thinks is responsible.

The naming and delineation of our wine regions itself is a mess, and a
telling reflection of the dodgy intellect of the wine business. Years ago, the European Union declared it would make it impossible for Australia to sell its wine there without precise legally-declared delineations of its regional boundaries. This was a great relief to wine critics who’d been calling for such clarification for decades: our winemakers should have seen the EU demand as a helpful excuse for them to do something which they’d been avoiding for 170 years.

The resulting scramble of amateur mappers, all heavy with self-interest instead of measured expertise in topographical and geological exactitude, must have set Europe roaring with laughter.

Most half-good maps of South Australia feature two major ranges where vines are viable. These are all I need to prove my point. They are the Mount Lofty Ranges (Cape Jervis to
Peterborough) and the Flinders Ranges (Crystal Brook to Lake Callabonna). In turn, these two ranges each have a southern and northern half. The South Mount Lofty Ranges spread from Cape Jervis to Eudunda. The North Mount Lofty Ranges spread from Kapunda to Peterborough. The South Flinders Ranges spread from Crystal Brook to Wilpena; the North Flinders Ranges from Angorichina to Lake Callabonna.

Wherever you were on Earth, any good map showed these clearly. So what did the wine industry do? The first thing it did was choose names that are not on most maps.

Starting at the south end, we got Fleurieu Zone, which goes from Kangaroo Island to Harrogate. This Zone includes the Regions Currency Creek, Langhorne Creek, Southern Fleurieu, McLaren Vale, and Kangaroo Island. But there’s a great slice of land down the middle of this called the Adelaide Hills Region, which is part of the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone. They gave us the Barossa Zone, which goes from the South Para River to Truro south-to-north, and, strangely, from Shea-Oak Log in the west to way out east of Springton.

We got the Far North Zone, which so far includes only the Southern Flinders Ranges Region, which is the only one with any real logic.

But the strangest one of all is that Mount Lofty Ranges Zone. This includes the Adelaide Hills Region, which is in the South Mount Lofty Ranges and extends from the South Para River near Mt Crawford, south to Mount Compass, away down on the Southern Fleurieu, a very long distance from anything anybody ever called the Adelaide Hills.

This warped Mount Lofty Ranges Zone also includes the Adelaide Plains Region (which is not in the Ranges at all), and, wait for it, the Clare Valley, which is in the North Mount Lofty Ranges.
The Barossa Zone, which is mostly Mount Lofty Ranges, is not in the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone, while Clare (ninety kilometres to the north), IS in it. Similarly, the Southern Fleurieu - which is all in the Mount Lofty Ranges - is 120 kilometres to the south of the Barossa, and yet not in the Mount Lofty Ranges Zone.


Anybody keen enough to find the boundaries of this mess on the internet will quickly find themselves confounded by a dog’s breakfast of contradictory, overlapping, badly delineated maps published by well-intentioned privateers who obviously can’t get their head around any of the wine industry’s confusion.

Which leads me to the Member for Mawson’s call for the renaming of the McLaren Vale Region, which is part of the Fleurieu Zone, and the Mawson electorate. Said member, Leon Bignell (right), is notable for his striving to stop his colleagues in the Labor government from choking the wine regions of McLaren Vale and Barossa with housing. Many of the winemakers in Mawson are folks who make no bones about tending to the pro-development Liberal Party, but admit they are grateful for Bignell’s efforts, like his draft Agricultural and Tourism Preserve Bill, due for debate later in the year.

Last week Bignell hit the southern press with his suggestion that the McLaren Vale Region should be called the McLaren Valley. Officially, the Region spreads from the Victory Hotel in the south to the northern boundary of Glenthorne Farm on O’Halloran Hill, and, like the Clare Region, and the Barossa, includes many valleys.
How such a change will give more clarity to the above mess beats me.

But then, there are some very strange namings in the McLaren Vale
Region and the Mawson electorate. Most residents might be surprised to learn of the Pridham Detention Basin at Aldinga. If this place, which looks like a swamp to me, is indeed designed for the detention of illegal immigrants, they will be helped a great deal in their escape by the sign at the end of the adjacent road, which points south and carries the image of a boat much better appointed than the ones they arrived on.

It is in fact a proper government road sign directing Aldinga people to the ferries at Cape Jervis, sixty kilometres to the south. As there is no accompanying sign showing the way to the Adelaide International Airport, or Darwin or Broome for that matter, I can only surmise it is intended to quietly funnel the Aldinga boat people safely south.
It went up without any input at all from the wine industry.

As for milk, I’ll be sticking to the creamy wholesome goodness of the organic-biodynamic stuff from the Paris Creek Dairy, which is smack in the middle of the Southern Fleurieu.
Or is it Adelaide Hills?



Chainstores Wielding Chainsaws
"What You People Are Part Of
Is The Beverage Industry ... "


“I think we should dwell on the thought of what happens to this industry when we get chainstores taking over and applying chainsaw marketing techniques which cut down on the number of brands on the shelves.”

his was journalist, tea merchant and liquor store owner, Richard Farmer, addressing the Sydney Wine Press Club in Len Evans’ Bulletin Place restaurant in Sydney in June 1984.

“If you think there’s a bit of a scurry to get your goods on the shelf now, I think you should start worrying about the scurry that’ll happen when Coles and Woolworths control a great portion of the Australian Wine Industry.”

Farmer (left) had started with a terse reminder to the eager gathering, which bristled with boutique winery people. Boutiques were the new thing. 

 “You forget that what you people are part of is the beverage industry,” he preached. “Your product competes in the marketplace with beer, liquor, softdrinks, mineral water, tea and coffee. Too often people in the wine industry take too narrow a view of what their potential market is and who their opponents are in this market.”

I had about three hundred wineries on my books then. At least 2,000 new ones have appeared since. The Farmer Brothers stores in Canberra and Sydney were long ago swallowed by the
very competition Farmer was warning of, and Coles and Woolworths have nearly half the liquor retail business in their stranglehold.

The world is awash with very cheap wine. If you’re not too fussed about its quality, there’s an incredible amount of it sloshing around the Australian grey market, and at ridiculous prices. The giant duopoly faces a very moist smorgasbord.
One of the dozen or so major bulk merchants released a catalogue of 16 million litres a fortnight back. This included 2000 litres of
2008 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir at $0.70 per litre, and stretched to a 900,000 litre batch of 2010 South-east Australia Chardonnay which could be negotiated below $0.88, and 500,000 litres of “white-free” McLaren Vale Classic Dry Red starting at $0.90.

A more recent catalogue from another broker seemed to offer more batches of more expensive wine, but
included deals like 200,000 litres of 2010 Riverland Chardonnay at $0.95 per litre.
Not long ago I overheard a big store buyer screaming into the phone of a bulk wine maker, demanding more Pinot gris whatever it was made from; this catalogue has 25,000 litres of Riverland Pinot Gris at $0.75.

But most alarming are the lower cool climate prices: Frankland River Chardonnay starts at
$0.65 (67,000 litres) or 250,000 litres at $0.85. 2010 Margaret River Riesling starts at $0.64 (64,000 litres). The pearler is 128,000 litres of Strathbogie Ranges Verdelho at $0.55. The high, cool Strathbogies are just over the ridge from the jewel of the Victoria industry, the Yarra Valley. How they got to plant Verdelho in such volumes leaves me breathless. And just how good would the 120,000 litres of 2004 Western Australia Cabernet/Shiraz Merlot be at $1.10? At $1.60 for 154,000 litres of 2009 Merlot, the irrigated Murray-Darling looks like making better profits than the 306,000 litres of McLaren Vale Merlot of the same vintage at $1.10. If you think that’s only because Merlot’s on the nose, and nobody should attempt to grow it in McLaren Vale anyway, there’s the little matter of 610,000 litres of 2010 McLaren Vale Shiraz at $1.20!

While there are such alarming volumes of plonk available at such rates, Australia’s shelves are nevertheless stacking more cheap imports than we’ve seen since the ’eighties, when the Aussie dollar was very strong against the European

Farmer went on to boast that he could import a case of bottled, labled wine more cheaply than Australian wineries could buy empty bottles from the monopolist bottle maker, ACI, and predicted that within months, Farmer Brothers would be buying sixty per cent of all their Australian wine from only three manufacturers – the biggest.

Since then, two of that infamous PLO – Penfolds and Lindemans – have disappeared into Fosters, which is now determined to get out of wine and back into brewing, while the O,
Orlando, is now owned by the French Pernod-Ricard monolith, and is called Jacob’s Creek.

Farmer insisted that he DID stock
wine from the small makers, but said they weren’t competitive. “You cannot con the consumer,” he said, “and the consumer knows the wine from the small vineyards just aren’t as good. I don’t know how many money-making boutique wineries there are in the Hunter Valley, and I don’t think there’d be too many in Victoria, either.”

In the quarter century since then, the number of boutique wineries has another zero on it, and while one could argue that their average quality has improved marginally, it’s also arguable that the sort of prices we read above easily cancels that margin of advantage in the eyes of most consumers.
This is especially
so in the case of virtual wineries, where Mum and Dad can’t sell their fruit, get Jacinta, who’s done good at art, to make a nice label, pay somebody to make some wine and launch a product. It’s even worse when some smartarse with a spoiler on his car buys bulk wine from the grey market pays to have it bottled with an even dumber label and splashes it everywhere.

“We should remember that small vineyards are the hobbies of rich men,” Farmer concluded. “I think it’s the same in France. I don’t think anybody makes money out of small vineyards. I
don’t really think that’s what the wine industry is about. But if you read our wine writers, that’s what you may be tempted to think it’s about.”

In recent years, Coles and Woolies have depended enormously on the three biggest winemakers to fill their shelves. But one of them, the world’s biggest – Constellation – has virtually disappeared, the Fosters beer men are trying to dump another, and increasingly, the medium-quality shelves are filling with imports.
Read Jacob’s Creek. I’ll bet that like Lindemans, this brand will soon appear on wine from anywhere the French seek to source it. They have established their precedent with the Steingarten, Colin
Gramp’s priceless tiny Riesling vineyard planted in the sixties in the German fashion. That name now lives on bottles of Riesling from anywhere else. Pernod-Ricard are planning enormous vineyards in China.

Last time the foreigners got such a grasp, all that time ago, it took a major currency correction and then many years for Australian producers to regain that shelf space. And now, even given the bargains available at the refineries, we hear orders being placed for cheaper imports to fill the bladder packs.

To make it even worse, both the duopolist retailers are moving quickly to remove any middlemen from their Australian supply chains, and manage
their own bottling. The only thing stopping Woolworths proposed purchase of the vast Barossa wine refinery, Cellarmasters, and its enormous Vinpack bottling plants in the Barossa and McLaren Vale, is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which is awaiting further details before it approves the takeover.

The wine industry doesn’t yet to seem the realize the battering is only beginning.
Again. But if the punter is happy to drink the sort of stuff the Australian wine show system continues to award bronze medals, things are looking pretty good for her.

Especially in the exotic import section.