“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)





07 June 2011


Queen Rose Makes A Run For It Rings Rosé Out Of Old Provence And Straight Back Down The Mill

In 2008, Rose Kentish (above) went down the front of the very big tent and had the McLaren Vale Bushing crown placed on her head. Her partner, Sam Harrison, was not there. Instead, she had that unsung veteran of McLaren Vale winemaking, Brian Light, on her arm.

As far as industries go, the wine business is capable of decorating its major moments with a damn big frisson. And this was one of them. But this ripple had little to do with Rose taking the wrong bloke out the front.

She explained quite deftly that Sam was off surfing at Cactus or somewhere. That was understood. He’s a painter who loves to surf, not a winemaker.

She thanked Brian for being such a good winemaking mentor and advisor, and nobody blinked: although he’s hardly famous, he’s been Bushing King more times than anybody else.

The only unusual aspect of Queen Rose having this unexpected King was that winning winemakers too rarely properly acknowledge their true secret consultant, main man, or mentor. So that was cool.

No, on this
occasion the frisson centered on the fact that Rose and Sam had only just sold the Ulithorne Vineyard whose fruit was in the winning wine. The whisper was concerned with whether Rose had done a dumb thing selling, as it were, the family jewels, in exchange for one fleeting crown or two. But she stepped blithely over these matters: her and Sam had spent ten years extending and rejuvenating that vineyard, and now she wanted to concentrate on other things.

One of the last great McLaren Vale vineyards in the very old (650 million plus) Umberatana siltstones north of the Onkaparinga Gorge, Ulithorne has stories of its own. To begin, it was planted by Sam’s father, Dr. Frank Harrison in 1971, to absorb the effluent from a pig farm he’d planned. But
government refused planning permission for the pig farm, leaving the Harrisons with a lucky vineyard they didn’t really want, but in unique geology that made its fruit highly sought after from the start.

The previous owner, Frank Fox, called the land Ulithorne, after a bloke somebody reckoned was the first Roman Catholic priest in Australia. When Rose and Sam
checked this, having eventually bought the vineyard from Sam’s parents in 1997, they discovered it should have been Ulla Thorne, but let the misspelling stick. It seemed cute, and anyway, Wirra Wirra, Rosemount – any number of the larger local winesmiths would happily take its exemplary grapes.

While hardly your egomaniac rock star wine hero, Brian Light was an obvious choice for winemaker. He’d been one of the first true Adelaide Hills winemakers in the late seventies, making wine at his father Lloyd Light’s Coolawin Winery at the top of the ridge above Ulithorne and Clarendon. He knew the flavours these ancient Neoproterozoic rocks had to offer, and had a lon
g history of capturing these precious rarities in bottle. He is an uncommonly sensitive winesmith, and seems to become more so as he gradually accepts the deterioration of his sight.


After a
decade struggling to extend and improve the vineyard while her painting/surfing husband tried also to paint and surf while helping her in the matter of raising their four children, Rose and Sam sold the property to the burgeoning Warren Randall, of Tinlins Wines. He’d bought the old Light Family’s Coolawin from the husk of Norman’s Wines; there was an obvious geo-logic in him also owning the closest major vineyard.

So there we were in the big tent in 2008, cheering Queen Rose and King Brian as they took the region’s biggest gong for making a wine from a vineyard no longer secure in a winery owned by somebody else again.

In another spectacularly crazy move, Rose and Sam spent their Ulithorne money buying one of the biggest bluestone ruins in South Australia: the flour mill on the coast
at Middleton, strategically placed on the Cockle Train railway between the river port of Goolwa, where the wheat was unloaded, and the seaport of Victor Harbor, where the ships collected the flour for transport to Adelaide and elsewhere.

While this infamous party house had been
famously under permanent restoration since the last paddle steamer unloaded its last load of wheatbags, it was hardly a winery. Sure, you could have weddings there, use bits of it as a restaurant, maybe a shop or two; there was ample room for a studio for Sam to paint in, a back veranda to stack the surfboards, and plenty of upstairs rooms in which to hide four toddlers, but as far as wine goes, a cellar sales space was about all it had to offer.

Not to mention the little matter of a lifetime of patient maintenance, keeping the grand old building secure and liveable.

So Sam and Rose and their four little kids went to live in the south of France for nine months.

Now the south of France has had enough of Australian winemakers. They are infamous for cleaning the mould from ancient cellars, chipping the priceless tartrate crystals from the inside of ancient vats, and are ridiculed behind their backs for their habits of was
hing everything in caustic soda and wasting enormous amounts of water. While they introduced this hyper-sanitary school of Adelaide University wine science to a place where the recipes hadn’t changed since the Roman Occupation, they always came as rather arrogant teachers rather than patient students eager to learn the lure and lore of the very Old World. They came, they scrubbed, they left. Every year.

Not Rose Kentish. She placed advertisements in the local papers, seeking winemaking work. The difference was she offered to pay them: she sought a respected winemaker who would teach her the ancient tricks while she made Ulithorne wine to export back to Australia.

Which she has done. She returned to The Mill on the beach at Encounter Bay with a container full of French provincial
furniture to sell at her cellar sales, and two very handsome wines the like of which not even Brian Light could make in McLaren Vale, regardless of how friggin old the mudstone is.

first, the Ulithorne Cursus Vermentinu 2010, she made with Jerome Girard, at Vino Vecchio Estate in the Vin de Pays L’ile de Beauté on the French Mediterranean isle of Corsica. This wine should see Rose remove the words “fruit-driven wine” from the Ulithorne website, as it is nothing at all like the jammy fruitbombs Australians expect when they see or hear “fruit-driven”. Rather than smelling like citrus or peaches or apples or whatever fruits Australian whites are supposed to smell like, this wine’s fruit, its terroir and its yeast sees it smelling more like vegetables. It smells like radish, parsnip and potato peels. Oooh yes, there is indeed the acrid green whiff of the Chinese gooseberry, and the stone below the vineyard has blessed it with a prickly, dusty layer, like burlap, like a potato sack, dammit. This is wine unlike anything McLaren Vale has produced in my time, at least.

Before I lose track now and suggest that if there was one exception it would be the Tintookie fully-worked wild yeast Chenin Blanc Brian Light makes for Dowie Doole, let me move right on to the brilliantly crunchy Ulithorne Epoch Côtes de Provence Rosé 2010 our Queen made with Remy Devictor at Domaine de la Sanglier Estate on the Bormjes les Mimosas in Provence.

This Cinsault/Grenache/Mourvedre blend is as dry as a chip, yet has a lovely unctuous slime about it, so it comforts while it teases. It reeks disarmingly of Turkish delight, nougat and maraschino cherries, and then it jumps straight into your face with that comforting viscosity, turns on all the gustatory lights, and eventually leaves you with an appetizing, chalky tannin and then an overwhelming urge to grab another faceful fast. Which is what Provence Rosé is surely all about, non?

Both these wines had me weeping for those semi-cool white bean and pork belly demi-cassoulets they serve along the western Mediterranean coast, but Rose’s Rosé also deserves a full-bore king-hell bouillabaisse on the wharf at Marseilles, on one of those days when the hot smell of Africa competes with the waft of lavender coming from the perfumed slopes behind you, and the acrid reek of a nearby Gauloise somehow manages to add another beauty to the bright smell of the sea.

Or you could simply drive ten minutes along the coast, and have something equally splendiferous at Caf
é Bombora, on Encounter Bay at Goolwa. It's much cleaner.


FOOTNOTE: To taste and purchase these wines, check the Ulithorne website for visiting hours at the Middleton Mill. Rose continues also to make exemplary Fleurieu and McLaren Vale wines from purchased fruit, including that from the original pig-effluent vineyard which mercifully ended up without any pig effluent at all. While both French wines have a recommended retail of $34, they’re cheaper at the Mill if you buy by the dozen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you guys live in paradise