“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)





21 September 2012


Christ dining in Young & Kacksons, John Percival 1948

It Was Here From The Start
Grenache Gets Its Own Day
Good Excuse For Us To Play  

So that was International Grenache Day. 

To get this in perspective, Jancis Robinson’s hot new ampelography, Wine Grapes, lists 1,368 varieties.  I’m sure the marketing graduates of the future will eventually ensure that each of these has its own individual day, when that’s all we drink. In the meantime, in keeping to my theory that they must be reading their ampelography upside-down, and for some reason started on the varieties that end in O, it is significant that Grenache is recognized with its very own day.

The odds were against this.  Given the vast number of pages between varieties that end in E, like Grenache - or Greenache as it was known here a century back - and those of the current obsession with varieties that end in O, like Vermentino, Fiano, Greco, Alborino, Aleatico, Assyrtiko, et cetero - it is significant that this misunderstood and undervalued variety is very lucky to be honoured so.

It’s been here since the beginning of the whitey invasion, Grenache, and it was the finicky Poms, not the Germans to blame.  My ornery forerunner at The Advertiser, Ebenezer Ward MP, of Mackgill (below), reports its significance in his brilliant columns of exactly 150 years ago.  By the time he hit the winehack track in 1862, Ward reported Grenache grown successfully in the south by Edward John Peake at Clarendon, and north-east of Adelaide town by Alexander Hay at Linden, where it was “thriving better than any other kind”.  Further up the hill beyond Beaumont, William Milne’s Grenache grew “luxuriantly”, but was “more susceptible to the baneful influences of hot winds” than the other varieties.

Contrary to Don Dunstan’s theory that the Italians introduced the vinegar fly to Norwood, August Meyer and Edward Cartwright both grew Grenache there.  Further up the hill, at Auldana, Patrick Auld’s Grenache vines were “flourishing in great luxuriance”, but Mr. Auld had “not yet thought it necessary either to trellis or stake them.” Osmond Gilles grew Grenache at Glen Osmond, where J. W. Bull, his vigneron, thought “very highly of the Grenache and would have planted more of the variety if he could have procured the cuttings.

Short supply, see.

“There can be no doubt that the Grenache is particularly well adapted to this locality,” Ward recorded, “for both Mr. Hay and Mr. Milne give an equally favourable account of its growth and yield in their vineyards.”

Over the Torrens and up the hill at Athelstone, J. G. Coulls already had “old vine” Grenache.  R.  B. Andrews grew it well at Montalta; Peter Cumming at Craigburn; W. H. Trimmer at Fairford.  

Although he travelled widely enough to become infamous for hollering for “Krug’s” in place of the £50 worth of “liquors supplied” but for which Yorketown publican Ludwig Frederick Wicklein was never paid, Ward makes very few mentions of the Silesian settlers, except to mention a “large number of small vineyards in and around the township of Tanunda” where “M. Sobels purchases the grapes from most of them and manufactures the wine himself.”

The only real mention of Barossa Grenache is in the piece about Henry Evans, who was planting it at Evandale, but that was away out near Keyneton.

In these early days of the colony, the gentlemen investors used much of this Grenache to make dry table wine.  By the time our next great wine writer, The Register’s Ernest Whitington got round to singing for his supping forty years after Ward, the business was a very different beast indeed. 

Whitington was no Krug aficionado, but a good numbers man.  Most of his work is about volumes and tonnages.  While he rarely mentions varieties or flavours, you can smell the Grenache in there.  Lots of it.  

The Yangarra High Sands Grenache vineyard: planted in 1946 by Bernard Smart and his Dad, never irrigated, and still going strong ... photo Stacey Pothoven.

In 1902, South Australia produced 2,431,565 gallons of wine, over a third of which was exported.  This marked a fivefold increase in production in only twenty years.  In the same time, exports went from 30,000 gallons to 850,000.  By then, they’d mined enough copper to make plenty of stills, it seems, and the wealth created by supplying England and Australia with cheap sweet fortified plonk was giving rise to the great family wine brands whose traces still linger on our shelves. The Grenache their fathers favoured as a gourmand tipple was now extremely handy as a high-bearing supplier of sugary pink juice to fortify and flog.  Grenache became a sugar mine.

These were the shameful days when mighty wine temples were built on the sale of rotgut to the original Australians, who were devastated even more viciously than the broken white heroes who would return from those two world wars.

By Whitington’s day the revered names included Basedow, Cleland, Seppelt, Tolley, Smith, Hardy and Reynell: all masters of the fortified Grenache.

The Patritti family (above) were masters of Adelaide Plains Grenache between the wars, and are still making great wines in their old winery, which is now completely surrounded by houses.  They still make Grenache from the last suburban vineyard in the southern suburbs on Marion Road, which was saved from becoming a Colonel Sadness during my Adelaide Vines project in 1988-9, when Brian Miller and Richard Hamilton agreed to contract the fruit. Grange creator Max Schubert (below) loved Grenache, too. That's Max and Thelma, centre, with suburban Grenache growers Lea and Jack Minnett, wine merchant David Porter, and Angelsey Estate winemaker Lindsay Stanley in 1982. As you can see, that was a bonnie day indeed. But the Angelsey vineyards were eaten by housing in the nineties; most of the vineyards Ward mentioned met the same fate long before ... photo Philip White
By the time I banged into my first Grenache the Second World War was over, and the sickly sweet ports and sherries that kept the wine industry afloat had killed nearly all the old soldiers and their wives, so Grenache was beginning to re-emerge in dry red blends, like that flagon of Hardy’s I commenced as a schoolkid in the bushes at the back of the Crafers Hotel, and finished in the handbasin of a very sexy schoolteacher later that evening in Mt Barker.

To get an idea of how Adelaide was in those days, click here.  To see it a little earlier try this. Both these old movies show suburban vineyards: the second one shows Grenache being picked at Penfolds' Grange.

A temple to dead Grenache kings: the Seppelt family mausoleum at Seppeltsfield in the Barossa.  The Para Grenache vineyard here is Australia's biggest bushvine vineyard.

When I lived in the Barossa in the ’eighties, the pride of Tanunda, its biggest pub, was notably bought by a Greek, Peter Paulos, who cast open the cellar there and let us pillage its remarkable collection of Château Reynella McLaren Vale Burgundies, which were various blends of Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Carignan, maybe even some Cinsault, which was then called Ouillade. These great bottles were already fifteen to twenty years old, and drew the thirsty Whitey in like an empty camel.

All those vineyards were swallowed by houses under Labor governments.  Apart from the doomed Seaford Heights land, the best and last of the old geology is now ghetto.

Learning, learning.  A man is not a camel. A man is a ravaging, more destructive and greedy beast.

By the time of the horrid advent of GSM, which was first formalized at Rosemount in McLaren Vale, you could tell which varieties were in over-supply: #1: Grenache; #2: Shiraz, and #3, Mourvedre.  This abject horror amongst three-letter lab acronyms surreptitiously became the recipe for a whole generation of terrible red drinks which never were the match of those old Reynellas. 

Frank Gagliardi's Grenache Vineyard at Munno Para.  Tim Freeland and Dominic Torzi use this fruit in their exquisite Old Plains Grenache.  See how the streets are designed to eat the vineyard the minute Frank loses his stubborn resolve? The Marion vines survive, too (below) That's Patritti winemaker James Mungell picking the tricky 2011 vintage.  This vineyard should be a walled, sacred site, secured forever.

The Cadenzia project, which started in McLaren Vale with the 2003 vintage, was partly an exercise in encouraging wiser blending, whilst putting McLaren Vale Grenache back on the pedestal it held in Ward’s day.  In 2002, McLaren Vale Grenache was selling for around $500 to $800 a tonne, but much of the old vine stuff was in danger of being uprooted.  Now Vales Grenache is in short supply at $2500+ per tonne, and is increasingly made without blending. 

People are learning to make it again.

Which frees up all the Mourvèdre that had been slopped by rote into the GSM blends, giving newly-interested winemakers a chance to learn better respect for this other stalwart, which has also been with us since those first whiteys hit.  To help make it look contemporary, they’re even changing back to its old name, Mataro, which of course ends in the correct letter for these fickle times.

And this, in turn, frees up all the second and third-rate Shiraz that was losing itself, often with the dreaded Viognier, in the GSM tank.  Which inevitably led to the necessity of inventing a Cadenzia-like project to move Shiraz, so suddenly we got Scarce Earths Shiraz at $100 a pop.

Maybe they should have just gone for Shirazo and Viognio.

But that’s off the track.  I’m having a great International Grenache Day as I tap away here, enjoying blends from Tim Smith, Gilligan and Dowie-Doole, and bouncing beaut straights from Wirra Wirra and Olivers Taranga off the one from the winery outside my window, Yangarra.  That’s the one Robert Parker’s Australian envoy, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, advised the world would “blow your mind” the other day on Twitter.  Unlike the big, overblown alcoholic models, this 2011’s only 13.5% alcohol, and it’s been made like a Pinot.

That’s the next step. Even more respect.  

Grenache photographed by David Burnett.

1 comment:

Greg Willson's Blog said...

I'm glad you mentioned the Old Plains drop Philip. an absolute gem that got me started on the big G. great read BTW.