“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)





22 November 2011


Voodoo Vegans & Bio - D Vino
Bearded Greens At War With
Whitecoats Boffins And Nurds*

Cat Clyne yesterday reviewed Bottlerocket, a NYC liquor and wine store. The publisher was superVegan, “a shockingly ambitious website made by vegans for vegans.”

Cat wrote about Andrea Calek, “something of a punk-rocker of wine-makers. A former Czech soldier, he lives in a trailer amidst his rented grape vines in the Ardeche region of the Rhone,” she writes.

“He produces wines that are ‘blatantly organic, unfiltered and unrefined’. A punk rock vegan wine—what's not to love? Dark and spicy, I highly recommend Calek's Babiole ($24). It fabulously complimented the vegan Tuscan white bean and sausage stew I made and enhanced enjoyment of a dark-chocolate dessert.”

While I chew over the notion of a vegan Tuscan white bean and sausage stew, like yeah all the Medicis were vegan, and blatantly unrefined, I think you’ve been sniggering at the notion of the Czech vegan punk veteran who probably wore a vegan CZ 805 BREN assault rifle when he did the business for Vaclav.

Now he’s camped in a caravan in somebody else’s vineyard in the Ardeche he’s devoted his veganising to securing drinkers like Cat in New York City.

I bet he’s got tattoos.

There is nothing new in this. I recall Tim Knappstein marketing himself as the wildcard biplane pilot with the bomber jacket and the thousand yard stare who happened to make wine in the ’eighties. He was the first winemaker that had been elevated to rock star status by his big winery employer to suddenly quit and go do it all his way: actually have the presumption to up and off, borrow some money from Mum, make a winery, and, wait for it, name it after himself!

All big wine companies – many of them seemed to be owned by tobacco or detergent manufacturers – flinched to think of what their long-haired hose dragger with the degree in wine science would eventually do to them when he copied Knappstein. Jeff Merrill hung out with the Pom cricketers, and grew long hair and a moustache you could see from the opposite side of the MCG to sell his wine. Then he bought Mt Hurtle and quit Reynella.

It wasn’t all overtly rambunctious. Greg Trott affected his more retiring, uniquely avuncular style with the lasses and managed to tip quite a lot of Wirra2 into their number during his life of hiding.


Otherwise, it was indeed very macho. For a while there it seemed that many editors felt it was miraculous that a human with a vagina could actually make wine, but I know Pam Dunsford got sick and tired of the novelty idea that someone with a vagina would make wine that tasted different from wine made by somebody without one and went on anyway to pioneer the entire notion, opening the grape prairie for a whole horde of female winesmiths, all of whom have forgotten Mary Penfold’s early work at The Grange at MacGill. (She was the first winemaker at Penfolds.)

After Walter James, Ian Hickinbotham and Len Evans reintroduced the notion of newspapers having celebrated wine columnists in the droll period following the Second World War, they soon discovered that many of the nation’s winemakers were rather colourful blokes who’d been to that terrible biffo in Europe, discovered wine, and when they got home, used the assisted education government gave (in return for their service) to study winemaking at Roseworthy.


To mention some locals, Doug Collett, Jim Ingoldby, Ken Maxwell, David Wynn, were all air force fliers. Stuck in a transport division, Max Schubert spent time dodging Rommell’s Stukas in north Africa. Having been through that, such fellows were capable of considerably racy behaviour when the moment was right. This often seemed to coincide with the selling of certain amounts of wine, or at least the consumption of too much of it.

While editors got younger, this warrior generation suddenly looked a bit too crusty, so there was a lot of pressure on the new wave of wine critics to promote new young winemakers who had plenty of character, often regardless of the quality of their wine. Photogenic attributes came in handy, especially to those burgeoning number of winemakers who did indeed have vaginas.

Thus came the rock star winemakers of the ’eighties. You could affect the cavalier larrikin bullshit perfected by Merrill, or take the Croser path and grow a little mo that made you look like an air force officer or a headmaster. You could adopt the posher intellectual presumption of say, an Adam Wynn, or the belligerent hillbilly genius of Stephen Hickinbotham … just as long as you had your well-trained wine critic nearby to photograph and report your antics, the wine would sell, and all would be fine.

It did help, just coincidentally, if you’d actually bothered to go to Europe to learn a thing or two about wine. The younger Hickinbotham and Wynn, for example, garnered much respect for having studied in France, a handy winemaking asset not then obvious in, say, the works of Merrill or Croser. But then, hardly anybody in the Australian winemaking business bothered to even visit France until the 1990s, when a few brave souls ventured forth for a baguette and a Burgundy. Apart from the wartime venerables, and the young Hick and Wynn, very few spoke any French.

It was a much easier thing to avoid Vinexpo, the world’s biggest wine show held on alternate years in Bordeaux, and spend your wine export grant on a ticket to the smaller London Wine Trade Fair which conveniently co-incided with the cricket, where everybody spoke English.

The winemaking atmosphere in Australia was very much about the presumption of superior oenological knowledge: there was no need to go to investigate the sources of the grape varieties Australia’s first white settlers chose for their colonies because Australia simply made much better wine than any of those countries. This is the hubris which built the business which we’re now watching topple.

But Old Yurp seems stupidly capable of the same damn idiocy: I knew it was over during a trip through the south of France in 1992, when, for the first time French cellarmasters were claiming to have perfected the Roseworthy winemaking style, and boasted of the Australian cellar rats who had taught them this technology. Mystified and envious of the routing Australian wine industrialists had made of their international markets, the French have blundered on, changing their laws to permit the easier emulation of the refinery wines of Yellow Tail and Wolf Blass, and copying dumb Australian label art that is as fickle as leaves on the breeze.

The only thing to change significantly is the little matter of veganism, and its associates in the saddle: organics, biodynamics, green wines, sustainable wines, bearded wines, heathcliff wines, voodoo wines. Many excellent whitecoats, boffins and nerds may wring their hands, roll their eyes and sigh about how all this desertion of hard viticultural and oenological science must end in tears … but a burgeoning slice of the market thinks the gift of their postwar vino-industrial complex is worse.

Which is why so much of it’s collapsing. Jesus, Hell. Dr Richard Smart and all that perma-pine and petrol and wire and Monsanto and whatnot? Arguing against bio-d in London? Somebody tell him it’s over, for Bacchus’ sake.

Bring on the blatantly unrefined Czech punk rock vegan in the Bottlerocket, I say.

To be very technical, things got too far out of balance.

*FOOTNOTE: Nurd: a little lower than a nerd.


Anonymous said...

One of your best, Whitey

Philip White said...

ta bro ... heartfelt

Sal said...

Like Mike said.

(I also like the fact that the word I am having to verify is 'scrieud'.)