“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)





25 November 2012


Heath Cullen played two perfect sets at Lazy Ballerina this afternoon, singing mainly about birds. In fact, it was about one hundred and ten per cent perfect. Heath's about to release his second CD, which he's just recorded with Marc Ribot, Jim Keltner, and Larry “The Mole” Taylor.  You can't get much cooler than that ... photos Philip White


We've cut my my last interview with Ray Beckwith from 120 minutes to thirty.  To view it, click here ... photo and video by Milton Wordley.

23 November 2012


The Exeter photographed by Ned Meldrum in Counter Meal - recipes and stories from great Australian pubs, Funtastic 2005

Wowser Prohos Come And Go
Waves Of Dries Ebb And Flow
But The Exeter Still Runs Pure 

So. The proho dries are on a rise.  Don’t panic.  They come and go.  Dry waves wear out through public boredom and the need to keep the wheels of the economy well greased.  In more ways than one, the Exeter is the ideal location for the contemplation of wowserism.  Lean your bows against her rubbing strakes, get the ebullient landlord Kevin Gregg to set one or two up for one, and ponder.

Blue-green biker: the author arrives at the Ex to contemplate abstinence.
Even the name Exeter has form. The ancient Gaelic word for water is uisge. Whisky is a corruption of usque-baugh, the water of life.  The Old Welsh Celtic for current of water is wysg; water is gwy or wy.  The Welsh take a wys, not a piss. And they tend to get, shall we say, on it.  They have a river Wysg, commonly mispronounced by the English as Usk.  As also happened with a river in Devonshire, this name was mispronounced by the Romans, who called both rivers Isca.  The Devonshire stream gradually morphed into the Exe.  It quite naturally flowed through the place which became Exeter. 

Former Exeter publican, Nicholas Binns, with the late Gabriella Bertocchi, photographed by Victoria Straub in 1996

Although his quote came from the lugubrious Peter Ustinov character in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, my esteemed colleague John McGrath glanced nicely through the edge of this history when he called a previous Exeter publican, Nicholas Binns, on the occasion of his retirement, “a river to his people.” 

The Earls of Exeter traditionally lived in Cecil House, opposite the Savoy Hotel on the Strand.  It was on this site that the mighty Exeter Hall was raised and opened in 1831.  This quickly became a meeting-place for non-conformist protestants, the Anti-Slavery Lobby, the opponents of the Corn Laws, the suffragettes, and, well, the YMCA. As its main auditorium  sat 4000, it was also a favourite concert hall for the likes of the revolutionary French composer, Hector Berlioz.

 It was in these rooms that the fathers of this British colony held a meeting at which it was first decided to establish the South Australian Company. Flushed with this proud recent history, our forebears named a suburb and two pubs after it.

As wowser uprisings follow waves of over-indulgence like tides, Exeter Hall also became a favourite hangout for the proho dries of the day.  Enter one George Cruikshank (left), a second-generation political satirist, cartoonist, illustrator and drunk.  The nineteen-year-old Cruikshank had watched his father Isaac perish in a coma after downing a whole bottle of spirits in a drinking competition in 1811, but seemed to take more competitive challenge from this than purposeful consideration of its folly.  He spent the years between this and his 55th swinging in constant exacerbation between merry drunkenness and extreme and audacious creativity. His biographer, Robert Upstone was to call Cruikshank’s 1819 toon of the Prince Regent (later George IV) farting in the parliament’s face “one of the most deliberately offensive and provocative images ever produced.”  Even after the Crown paid him £100 to desist, our man was quick to be back at his feverish assault.

Between public bouts of carousal and long absences from society and sobriety -- “surely no man drank with more fervour and enjoyment, nor carried his liquor so kindly, so merrily” wrote a contemporary -- Cruikshank produced some 10,000 illustrations, etchings, paintings and designs.  He illustrated two books for Charles Dickens -- Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist – and his annual Comic Almanac always sold out.

But at the age of 55, Cruikshank produced The Bottle, a series of eight prints portraying the collapse, through their abuse of alcohol, of a fine lower-middle-class family.  This sold over 100,000 copies in a few weeks. It was reproduced on tea sets and dining plates.  He followed this up with The Drunkard’s Children the next year.  These highly profitable enterprises led to Cruikshank morphing rather quickly, through a new-found moderation in his attitude to the booze, to outright evangelical wowserism.

“An admired, theatrical, highly-effective speaker” writes Upstone, Cruikshank “lectured  tirelessly on temperance … a mass movement … a following of around three million being claimed out of a total population of around 20 million ... The temperance movement, however, were a generally compassionate group, not usually targeting drinkers for anger but instead the distillers and politicians who benefited from the poor’s weakness. ”

William Hogarth, Gin Lane, engraving 35.7 x 30.5cm., London 1751

Cruikshank himself was becoming increasingly perturbed at the links he saw between alcohol and crime.  “There are a number of besettling sins connected with drinking,” he preached, “such as robberies, brutal assaults, garottings, house-breakings, suicide and murder … if we could do away with intoxicating liquors altogether, we might wheel out that dreadful instrument the gibbet … and make a bonfire of it.”

To illustrate his frustration, Cruikshank had a big idea in 1859.  He envisaged The Worship of Bacchus, a a terrifying epic work in oils, encapsulating the decay of Britain in the mood of Hogarth’s Gin Lane with respect to Pieter Breughel the Elder’s surreal The Triumph of Death. Powerpoint and the movies were still a long way off, but Cruikshank dreamed, if you like, of a huge still version of Mickey Rourke doing Charles Bukowski with a cast of thousands in Barfly, delivered, with associated promotional billboards and brochures, live to a hall near you.

The Triumph Of Death - Pieter Bruegel The Elder (c.1525-69), oil on panel

Cruikshank began pencil sketching and watercolouring immediately, but his impatience led to him working harder on the big oil than on the initial watercolour and consequent prints, which would pay his income while he toiled away at the big picture.  This bungling with the schedule caused a delay in the making of the prints, so there were no sales when they were most needed, and anyway, public interest was waning. 

“I have not the vanity to call it a picture,” he told a temperance gathering of the finished work in 1862, “it being merely the mapping out of certain ideas for an especial purpose, and I painted it with a view that a lecturer might use it as so many diagrams … In the centre of this mass is a madman … it may indeed be said that madness prevails over the whole of this mass of worshippers; for excitement from strong drink and drunkenness is in fact temporary insanity.”

When he launched The Worship of Bacchus for public view in August of that year, nobody came.

Exeter Hall, The Strand, 1905. It was demolished in 1907 to make way for the Strand Palace Hotel, which survives to this day.
Mortified, Cruikshank moved the work to Exeter Hall.  As if once again forecasting the movies, it was propped up on the stage.  Even at a monstrous 236 x 406 cm. the work would probably have looked small in that huge empty auditorium:.  However, it turned out that our man’s giant dry vision itself had shrunk not just in the social change from Georgian to Victorian taste, but, as critic Francis Turner Palgrave noted “his high tragic power has been exercised mainly against those abuses by which the poor and the helpless suffer. His sympathies are clearly those of a man of the people for the people; and this excludes drawing room popularity.”

For drawing room, read the private parlours, sitting rooms and counting-houses of the distillers, brewers, lawyers and politicians on the make. There was far too much money at stake, and the public remained very thirsty.

The Worship of Bacchus, etching after the oil painting (236 x 406 cm) by George Cruikshank, London, 1860-2 ... click image for closer look 

After a century hidden away, The Worship of Bacchus was restored and exhibited by the Tate Gallery in 2001, where it resides to this day, and, given the current form of the ascendant wowser wave, initially attracted much more supportive fame than it ever did in the artist’s time.

These waves, however, really do come and go.  Hannah at the Tate tells me that unfortunately, the work is back in the vaults, and Cruikshank’s bio is no longer in the bookshop there, so you’ll just have to trust my account or make the hits I suggest below.

Cruikshank went to his grave leaving a document a lot more pertinent to the nature of the colleagues moored beside you there at the bar.  Buoyed, he professed, by his obsession with fitness and teetotalism, he lived into his 86th year. His will looked well after his widow, Eliza, but provided even more proficiently for a woman called Adelaide Archibald.  This secret mistress lived just around the corner from Cruikshank’s marital home.  Of all the contents of Adelaide’s house, Cruikshank bequeathed to her “all such furniture books wines and household effects belonging to me” adding wry irony to what could have been the perfect acronym for the lass: AA.

For household effects read their ten children, for whom Cruikshank had stacked up capital in trust.

Adelaide’s relationship with her Exeter rarely gets more simple than this.  While the proho dries, the wowsers, and the busybody interferists will always come and go, order a double, and draw it so slowly you can fully digest the fact that there are always more old drunks than old doctors.  And many, indeed, are both.

The Worship of Bacchus is so big and intricate that no normal browser can handle it in any detail.  I have selected the best links to it here:

The Guardian’s Steve Bell takes us to visit The Worship of Bacchus in the vaults of the Tate Gallery.

Fine detail of Bacchus from the British Journal of Psychiatry

Medium and very high resolution images of the etching which was printed for general sale.

One of my all-time favourite prohos is the American evangelist Billy Sunday, whom I was taught to revere without much idea of what he was like. Turns out he was like this (official clip). Although he enjoyed the support of the Almighty, even Billy lost his battle gainst the mighty thirst of America.  You can also see him preaching on prohibition on this scratchy old doco.

The top half of Adelaide's premier thirst emporium, The Exeter Hotel, 246 Rundle Street, East End, drawn by Millie The Kid (Amelia Dickins) at 17 years of age in 1987. And oh yes, just in case you're wondering, that's my grandfather, Pastor Teddy Seymour, below. Having married his daughter, my father, Pastor Jimmy White, followed in Teddy's street-preaching footsteps, being active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Lord's Day Observance Society as well as being close buddies to the likes of Rev. Ian Paisley, Pastor Wally Betts, Dr. Bob Jones Jr., and Dr. Carl McIntyre.  After that dry ebb, I'm a Mercurial wave of the opposite, thanks to Bacchus and Pan.


21 November 2012


Dowie Doole Chenin blanc and exquisite bright acid goatsmilk cheeses from Alison Paxton at Kangarilla Creamery ... anticlockwise from top: Soft Goat, Ash Goat, Funky Goat and what may become Billygoat Milk ... photos by Philip White

Top Night With The Neighbours 
Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc Hits 
High Notes At Kangarilla Dairy  

Sometimes you get lucky.

I just happen to live about halfway between Alison Paxton’s new Kangarilla Creamery cheese dairy and the seventy year old Tintookie Chenin blanc vineyard of Lulu Lunn and Drew Dowie.  Actually, I’m a bit closer to Alison’s – on a still night she says she can hear me laughing. Being over the ridge in the sandy vale of Blewett Springs, Drew and Lulu are spared such sonic intrusion.

Alison was a horse nut until one deposited her rather too abruptly, so she began to make cheese, full-time.  Instead of asking why or how, concentrate instead on the fact that this wasn’t simply a crossover from equine to bovine interests, but this determined lass extended her curiosity as far as things caprine.

So smitten is she with that Pan-like aroma of goat, she goes to the extent of buying her goat’s milk warm from the udder, a little detail beyond the capacity of most cheesers. 

“It’s important that it’s warm and fresh and not cold and sanitized,” she says. “I grew up on a dairy farm at Yundi, at the top of Willunga Hill, and I loved the cow shed.  Mum used to get goat milk from a local farmer for allergy reasons. I reckon I started to think about cheese when I was in kindy. As I grew up I’d make a few cheeses and take them to dinner with friends and then I married into a wine family and the whole wine and cheese thing really took off. I just love the production process, turning that raw product into everything you can turn it into.  I eat it and dream about it and now I make it full-time.”

At the risk of upsetting Lulu (who makes her own goat cheese and works in that Central Market Holy of Holies, Smelly Cheese) and indeed the extra risk of irritating Ben Paxton, Alison’s husband, (who runs the cellar sales business at the Paxton winery), I had long planned a quiet liason of Drew and Lulu’s Chenin blanc with Alison’s goat cheese. 

Kangarilla Creamery proprietor and cheesemaker, Alison Paxton, right, with shotgun rider Annika Berlingieri, wrangler of the wood oven and proprietor at Settlement Wines, where Alison's works sometimes deck the weekend pizzas.

A good excuse for this was a visit by that venerable Bacchus of Australian cheese, Richard Thomas, who has more than a thirsty wine entanglement of his own.  He was working at winemaking at Chateau Reynella in the seventies.  This interest led him to Italy, where in his own personal bucking off moment he ate some gorgonzola and promptly became a cheesemaker.

Most great Australian cheeses are one way or another entwined with this grand wizard.  King Island Cheddar, Gippsland Blue, Milawa, Tarago River, Bruny Island, and Yarra Valley Persian feta are only a few of the cheesey delights which Thomas invented, assisted, inspired or curdled.

He says that in 1984, he made all of the blue cheese in Australia, “and I wasn’t working very hard, either.”

He’s obviously loving what Alison does.

As we settled at a table decorated with Dowie Doole Chenin blanc and several of Alison’s goat cheeses, the sage made a remark which covers most of his obsessions.

“It’s more complicated than love when you mix wine and cheese together,” he said. 

“You can put some of the greatest wines ever made with some of the greatest cheeses ever made and you get shit.  There’s an incredible mob of little molecules running around together; a lot of very complex shit going on in there.”

Which reminded me of the mindlessness with which many Australian wine show judges eat soapy mousetrap cheddar to "freshen" their palates in wine shows, when green olives would be the most appropriate cleanser.  

Or apple.  The canny cellar sales wag will serve you cheese that'll kill your palate with fat and salt til you've bought a case of the dodgy wine being flogged, then give you green apple as you leave, so you're much more critical and demanding about the next wines down the track.

Chenin blanc is a high-acid white grape from France’s Loire Valley, where goat cheese is omnipresent.  The earliest planting I know of in South Australia was at Highercombe, next to the Paracombe vineyard I wrote about a few weeks back. Upon visiting the vineyard there of the Hon. G. M. Waterhouse in November 1861, my fore-runner at The Advertiser, the irascible Ebenezer Ward MP, reported a white blend made there of “the Verdeilo, the Riesling and the Stein”.

It would appear that the Dutch East India Company delivered the first Loire cuttings of Chenin blanc to Jan van Riebeek in South Africa in 1655, where the grape became known as Steen, or Stein.  From there many early Australian white settlers collected cuttings en route to New Holland, and of course South Australia.

Dowie Doole had given me three brilliant Chenins.  The first, the standard steel tank crisp 2012 lovely -- which was insulted by the award of a lowly bronze at the recent McLaren Vale Wine Show -- sells at a snippy $16.  Then came two much more complex Tintookie Chenins (2008 and 2012; $30), made with wild yeast, and plenty of lees contact in old oak.

“Salt and acid and cheese are the friends of this wine – they’re equivalent,” Richard  gurgled as we slurped the first with Alison’s Soft Goat, a one week old curd which was creamy, acidic and dry, with that tantalising illusion of grainyness.  The liason was indeed perfect. 

Practice it up for the summer.

Next came the Ash Goat.  Alison puts vine cuttings in a charcoal burner and then grinds it to coat this bone-dry week-old cheese.

“Ash is alkaline, with potassium and stuff, so it neutralises acidity and you get more rapid growth of microflora -- moulds and yeasts and bugs -- which preserve the cheese,” Richard explained. “Most cheesemakers buy charcoal from the chemist.  No bloody good. Chemically it’s quite different to Alison’s.”

This cheese overwhelmed the unoaked Chenin, but worked just swimmingly with the 2012 Tintookie, which is due to replace the 2008 in 2014.  The wine was sufficiently complex, fresh and viscous to enhance the cheese with both counterpoint and harmony.  The blend of flavours gave the surprising taste of an adults-only dry vanilla ice cream.

“That’s a great cheese, Alison,” Richard murmered through his chew.

Then came the Funky Goat, a matured rinded cheese of four weeks maturation. 

“What I like about this mix is the spectrum of pH and texture,” Richard said. “No question the goatiness is glowing through – it’s accentuated by the wine. A good thing.”

Complex, gamy and fatty, but with sinuous appetising acid, the cheese played a bonnie duet with the unoaked 2012, but with the more complex Tintookie it made a stunning gastronomic adventure.  

“White mould cow’s cheese doesn’t go nearly so well with cold white wines,” Richard suggested, “this is bloody lovely.”

Alison presented a more mature, runnier rinded cheese next.  “We called this the Holy Goat at first, but we discovered there are too many out there called that, so we’re looking for another name.”

I suggested Billygoat Milk.  It is that goaty. This highly complex, almost acrid cheese had the beginnings of ammonia, which seemed to work a little with the softer 2008, and a lot more satisfactorily with the taut 2012 Tintookie, but once again, our sage wrapped it up neatly when he said “it’s quite alkaline, it’s thin.  The ammonia dislikes white wine.  It’d be better with the soft tannins of an aged red and a bit of sugar”, a suggestion which made me yearn for rich fruitcake to spread it on and a vintage port to send it on its way.

At which point I couldn't decide whether to eat the cheese or simply drink Chenin.

To finish, we demolished a Besace du Berger Le Chèvrefeuille from PĂ©rigord in the Dordogne.  Amongst its myriad triggers, this stunning, complex, soft cheese had a feeling, as much as the flavour, of candlewax about it, and while it went perfectly with all three wines, I came over all pervy, as pervy as Pan himself, when I squashed it around my mouth with the 2008. Funny thing: in blind tastings of unoaked Chenin, I often recognise it by its unusual waxiness.  It’s not a fault, or disagreeable, but something like copha.  Another mystery to unravel.

“The French have an advantage here, because they don’t have to kill off all the fantastic range of tiny cheesery bugs," Alison said, almost to herself.  "While we’ve got to chlorinate the walls of our cheese factories every day, we’ll never get the quality the French get.”

Like chlorine? In a place we make beautiful food?

This conundrum is reflected in the current trend amongst the more adventurous of the best Australian winemakers to revert to older oak, wild yeasts, and less obsessive disinfection and sanitation in their winemaking.  The wines are better.  The same philosophical counterpoint lay there in our glasses: test it yourself by cruising by the new Dowie Doole cellar door at 276 California Road in McLaren Vale to collect the unoaked Chenin and its 2008 grand aunt.  You can get Kangarilla Creamery cheeses at Blessed Cheese in the main street of the Vale, at the Paxton cellar door, or at the Willunga Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.

You'll never regret getting in with this bright and delicious business from the start. On the night, Alison may have been respectfully quiet in the presence of a guru like Dicky-T, but you trust me: Alison rocks. 

Sometimes you get lucky.  And if it’s not too windy you might hear me laughing.

Master Cheeser Richard Thomas rides shotgun too. He's more of a sawn-off man, black peppercorns in one barrel, rock salt in the other.

13 November 2012


photograph copyright Milton Wordley

There will be a Memorial Gathering for the late Dr Ray Beckwith OAM at the Barossa Arts and Convention Center in Tanunda on this Friday 16th November at 11AM.  Please come to reflect on the life of this amazing man and share some refreshments in the spirit which he would have showed.

Obituary - Dr Ray Beckwith OAM
23rd February 1912 - 7th November 2012

While the future King of England and his Duchess avoided being seen to be drinking on a state tour of the Penfolds Grange winery at Magill on Thursday, my good friend Ray Beckwith, that company’s great wine scientist, died in an old folks’ home in the Barossa.

Beckwith was a genius.

And he was a hundred years old.

He didn’t even make the news.

Always a stylish fellow, Beckwith wore a perfectly-cut suit, with French cuffs on his shirt, and he ran an impeccable laboratory all his working life at the Penfolds winery in Nuriootpa. 

He was always supportive, always curious, always thinking of better ways to do things.  He loved to sit back and drink good wine and he was master of polite, bright, constructive discourse.

He could nut things out.

Ray Beckwith was born at Cowell in 1912.  His dad made water tanks with a Scandinavian sailor who’d jumped ship from a grain cutter and knew about curving galvo perfectly.  Ray was really pleased with the way they’d make three tanks which fitted neatly within each other to keep the transport costs down.  They worked in silence – the sailor knew no English.

While he was still a primary school kid, the Beckwiths moved to Murray Bridge, where his dad sold hardware to blokes who were clearing the Murray mudflats for dairy farms.

By 1932 he had his Honours Diploma in Agriculture from Roseworthy.  “It was the Depression when I graduated,” he explained at his 100th birthday. “I rode through the gates on a bike.  I had been considering attending university, but Professor A. E. Richardson said ‘Forget university – get a job!’ In 1932?

“So I studied wool classing at the then School Of Mines, and eventually got a letter saying I could get work at Plumbago Station.  That was my first stride into the big world ... We shore 30,000 sheep in six weeks on six stands … When I got back there was a letter from Roseworthy offering me a cadetship at ten shillings a week.  That 1933 year we had a record vintage at Roseworthy: 2,400 gallons.  I was in the lab with Allan Rob Hickinbotham.  He unveiled the mysteries of pH.  I was always curious.  It was in the soils and it was transferred to the wines.  I did trials on the fermentation efficiencies of controlled yeasts.  That was very important in those days of fortified wines.  The higher the alcohol you could achieve before fortification the less spirit you needed and there was less duty payable.”

Beckwith worked on sparkling wine in Hardy’s Currie Street and Mile End cellars, until Leslie Penfold Hyland heard his yeast paper read at a Melbourne conference, and offered him a job. 

“So as a young winemaker at age 23 on January 22 1935 I was at Penfolds with 105 twelve-ton fermenting tanks.   I’ve got to look after those.”

Bacterial spoilage of wine was rife throughout the industry.  It was common for 20-40% of all wine made to end up in the gutter or the stills.  Beckwith isolated a Portuguese yeast which improved things by speeding the ferments, but was still frustrated by this plague.

“In 1936 I was at the University of Adelaide with Professor Macbeth,  who gave me access to his private laboratory,” he would recall. “It had a modern pH meter, an extremely expensive device but deadly accurate, because of its glass Morton electrode. 

“The intention was to see if there was any correlation between total acidity, pH and taste.  I also tried the effect of various acid additions on the pH in wines.  The means of adjusting pH was by Tartaric Acid, a natural constituent of wine.

“The results were graphed.  Two were completed with dotted lines, and the third?  The Professor had drunk my samples.  Out of courtesy, I gave him a copy of my findings.  I could claim no direct correlation of total acid, pH and taste.  But John Fornachon had been engaged by the Wine Board to research Sweet Wine Disease, and I'd read his preliminary paper. I took a foolscap sheet and typed on it a very simple statement: ‘pH control may be a useful tool to control bacteria in wine.’  To me that was prophetic.

“We didn’t solve anything but we got a working knowledge of pH and its effect on the behaviour of wine.  I remember coming out one day onto North Terrace which was decorated with thousands of flowers.  It was the hundredth anniversary of the state.”

On the train home to Murray Bridge, Beckwith had a brainwave which would change winemaking world-wide.  Forever.

“I went down to the end of the carriage so I could sit on my suitcase, outside in the fog.  I was having a smoke, listening to that clickety clack under the dim yellow light, and I remembered I had a copy of John Fornachon’s sheet on the affect of lactobacillus on wine.  I took it out and told myself ‘I can use this!’  That was my eureka moment.  I told Leslie Penfold Hyland ‘I can crank this’ ... I broached the subject of acquiring a pH meter, telling him my vision of control.  I held up three brochures.  ‘Which is the best?’ he asked.  I told him the best was the Cambridge unit with the Morton glass electrode ... ‘Get it,’ he said. I was impressed.  It cost £100.  My salary was £5 a week."

Maynard James Keenan, proprietor/winemaker at Caduceus in Jerome, Arizona, meeting Ray Beckwith's pH meter at Penfolds Grange, Magill ... Maynard dedicated his Puscifer recording Dear Brother to Beckwith ... photo Philip White
“To put the proposition into practice, I had to adopt a suitable pH level.  Here I was in unknown territory.  Using Fornachon’s raw data as a guide, I proposed a pH of 3.8 as a maximum for fortified wine.”

Penfold Hyland maintained an almost paranoid regime of secrecy in his company, and Beckwith was forbidden to speak of his discoveries, a fact which irritated him til his death.  He would laugh with irony about being permitted to attend the horse races, provided he never talked to other winemakers.  But gradually his ideas leaked, and that magic formula has since become the standard for winemakers all over the world.

When Ray started at Penfolds Nuriootpa, the local blacksmith’s son, Max Schubert, was stable boy and errand runner.  It was Beckwith who convinced the Penfold Hylands to promote him to the position of chief winemaker in 1948.  Within a couple of years, Max was scheming notions of his super-red, and in 1952 the first commercial Grange Hermitage was released.

Somehow, amidst all the brilliance and excitement of his 1936 discoveries, Ray had found the time to marry his sweetheart, Coral Lodge. A few months ago he recalled her with relish when he suggested the secrets of a good long life were “a good woman and good red.  In that order.” 

Ray’s astonishing list of discoveries and inventions continued throughout his working life: he tackled, and solved many problems associated with metal contamination, stability, oxidation and so on.   From 1955 to 1976 he gave much time and energy to the Australian Wine Research Institute.  He retired from Penfolds in 1973, when Max Schubert handed him his gold watch.  In 1980 he was inducted into Barons of Barossa.

In 2004 Ray spoke publicly for the first time of his scientific achievements to a gathering of international winemakers at Langmeil winery in the Barossa, and in the same year was awarded his Honoris causa Doctorate at the University of Adelaide and was made an Honorary life member of American Society of Enology and Viticulture.

In 2006 he was presented with the Maurice O'Shea Award, and in 2008 the Medal of the Order of Australia.  The Roseworthy Old Collegians Association gave him an Award of Merit in 2010.

Perhaps the best encapsulation of Ray’s attitude to his achievements came at the end of his famous Langmeil Speech, when he suggested his generation had unraveled the science of winemaking, so younger winemakers could now get on with the art of it.

“Many years ago Franz Liszt was asked to what he ascribed his success as a pianist and composer” he concluded. “Lizst said ‘There are three things. First, technique.  Second, technique.  Third, technique.’ I have paraphrased Liszt’s reply: there are three important things in winemaking.  First, is vigilance. Second is vigilance.  Third, you guessed it, is vigilance. Thankyou for your attention, and bon appetit!” 

Ray is survived by his son, Jim, grandchildren, Samantha, Glen, Ian, Ross and Portia, and great-grandchildren, McKinnon and Ainsley.

Ray Beckwith's Langmeil Speech August 2004
Ray Beckwith's 100th Birthday speech  
Ray Beckwith: who employed Max Schubert? 

Ray Beckwith, his son Jim, and the author ... photos Milton Wordley

07 November 2012


Ray Beckwith, perhaps the greatest wine scientist of all time, died this afternoon in the Barossa Valley. Here he is addressing friends at his 100th birthday party, with Thelma, Max Schubert's widow at his side. Ray appointed Max Schubert to his job as chief winemaker at Penfolds Magill. 
 photo Richard Humphrys

Ray Beckwith's Langmeil Speech August 2004
Ray Beckwith's 100th Birthday speech  
Ray Beckwith: who employed Max Schubert? 


06 November 2012


Jen, Maynard, Pete: winemakers ... Pete's got the next King of England visiting Magill tomorrow morning ... Maynard looks like coming twice next year with A Perfect Circle ... you can hear another of his bands, Puscifer, here ... images below portray the recent Grange masterclass in LA ... photos by Milton Wordley, taken on the road whilst working on our forthcoming book, A Year In The Life Of Grange (to be published 1 May 2013)

02 November 2012


Vignoble Protection Bills Pass
But Labor Pushes McLaren Vale Ghetto Rash Through Anyway

South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill (above), has been celebrating the fact that the Japanese-owned Lion Brewery in Adelaide’s Thebarton has taken the Guinness and Kilkenny license from Fosters and will spend $70 million upgrading its plant to brew these revered suds there.

The owner, Kirin/Mitsubishi, will also close its Swan brewing operations in Perth and now make those products in the Adelaide plant.

In the same week, Premier Weatherill has touted his government’s sensible bills which "protect" the vital agricultural land of the Barossa and McLaren Vale from ghetto creep.
“We will now not have Councils, developers, landowners or even Ministers for Planning subdividing land without full Parliamentary approval in the Barossa or McLaren Vale,” Attorney-general and Minister for Planning, John Rau said at the passage of these two essential  bills.

“This legislation secures the Barossa and McLaren Vale regions for generations to enjoy.”

And yet his government insists on smothering Seaford Heights, the only remaining slice of the best old geology in the Vales, with housing, right on the entry to McLaren Vale. Click the geology map to see this: it's the land immediately west of winery # 33 (Paxton's), which is on the west side, just south of Old Noarlunga. 

These fields were long regarded as the best barley producers in the state.  Their grain was beloved by Guinness when it was previously brewed in Adelaide, and the few vineyards adjacent to them consistently produce grapes which win record prices while their wines win the highest scores from international critics.

Internationally-renown winemaker Sparky Marquis, of Mollydooker, has wisely spent a motza and bought the only adjacent field not destined for housing. With the help of viticulturer Jock Harvey, he is painstakingly removing its old firing range and motocross tracks to rehabilitate the ground for vineyard.  Mollydooker's famous Velvet Glove Shiraz comes from the Paxton Gateway Vineyard next door, and sells out at $180+ per bottle.

Penfolds also has a prized vineyard just over the road, which it has only recently signified with very stylish signage.

This community garden - established with the help of Senator Nick Xenophon and his trusty shovel - and those scarce native trees, were the first things to go under the Seaford Heights developer's bulldozer. No McLaren Vale resident drives past this vast first-class agricultural ground without considering their vote, and there's an election imminent.

Apart from a fragment at the sacred geological site at Hallett Cove, Seaford Heights is the only remnant of the precious 650+ million year old Umberatana Group geology which is not yet covered by villa rash. All these scarce old geological groups north of the Onkaparinga Gorge have gone to housing, in spite of them hosting the majority of the McLaren Vales vignoble only a few decades back.

Very famous winemakers like Max Schubert and Brian Barry revered their fruit, and now we see a government desperate to please its developer mates by continuing with its relentless and brutal destruction of what is probably the best farming land in the remaining vignoble.

The swinging seat of Mawson, held by a sliver by Labor’s admirable Leon Bignell, is at stake.  Bignell is the bloke who diligently crashed the McLaren Vale and Barossa Character Preservation Bills into law, but apparently has no choice but accept his party bosses’ determination to push the cursed Seaford Heights development through.

Tweet your thoughts directly to Premier Weatherill at JayWeatherill@JayWeatherill.  There is no time to lose, and there’s an election imminent.

Never ever give up.

The original Tractor Action demo clogged the streets and roads of the south and brought about the seeds of the Bills to save McLaren Vale and the Barossa from housing. But this was about the horrid Seaford Heights development, which the South Australian Labor Party bosses seem to have conveniently forgotten. These farmers never forget.


Deputy Premier John Rau
Attorney General
Minister for Planning
Minister for Business Services and Consumers

Thursday, 1 November, 2012

Iconic regions saved from urban sprawl

The State’s iconic Barossa and McLaren Vale regions will now both be protected from residential subdivision, with the passing of both the Character Preservation (Barossa Valley) Bill 2012 and the Character Preservation (McLaren Vale) Bill 2012.

The Upper House last night did not insist on further amendments to the Barossa Valley Bill meaning that both Bills are expected to be finalised in the Lower House today.

The Minister for Planning John Rau said that the passing of the legislation is an important moment in history, not just for the regions, but for the entire State.

“A line in the sand has now been drawn on Adelaide’s urban sprawl,” Mr Rau said.

“Thanks to the efforts of the people, these two defining regions of South Australia are under the unique protection of these Bills.”

“We will now not have Councils, developers, landowners or even Ministers for Planning subdividing land without full Parliamentary approval in the Barossa or McLaren Vale,” Mr Rau said.

“This legislation secures the Barossa and McLaren Vale regions for generations to enjoy.”

The Member for Mawson, Leon Bignell said that it was an historic day for the people of [sic] the McLaren Vale.

“We are now able to provide certainty to the great people of McLaren Vale and ensure that the characteristics that make the region unique will be preserved,” Mr Bignell said.

“It gives certainty to locals, to developers and to investors in the McLaren Vale area.”

“I would like to thank all of the locals, business owners and other groups who have helped to make this important legislation a reality for our beloved McLaren Vale.”

Mr Rau said that the unique aspect of the legislation is to require that any changes to the protection zones would need to be agreed to by the Parliament.

“It is too important for South Australia to leave it to a Minister or a Council to make changes to the boundaries set out in the Bills,” Mr Rau said.

More information about the Barossa and McLaren Vale Preservation Bills and the protected zones can be found at www.sa.gov.au

August 2011: The vet on left looked pleased at John Rau's announcement that Seaford Heights would go ahead regardless. Jim Hullick, the good man on the right, simply looked down. Rau began to storm out of this announcement meeting when it became obvious we - the press and local stakeholders - wanted to ask questions, then had a change of mind and stayed for a bit while he stonewalled. Then he walked out.


Beards all round  for the launch of the new Olivers Taranga clip, The Bearded Bottle ... all photos by Philip White