“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)





15 January 2013


Wayne and Bev Thomas, having just been crowned McLaren Vale Bushing King and Queen - for the second time - in 2007 ... photograph courtesy of On the Coast and www.victorharbortimes.com.au

The Gamblin Man's Riz, And The Kingdom's His, But His Wines're
For Me And You: Dear Thommo!

Andrew Thomas, the ace Hunter Valley winesmith, Tweeted me today, advising me to raise a glass in memory of his Dad, Wayne, who was always Thommo to those of us who were close.

Thommo would have been 71.

Thommo was a fair dinkum dag.  He came from an age when winemakers actually drank.  If one was asked to attend his winery for a tasting, this would commence, often before opening time, in the gambling den of the McLaren Vale pub.  It would be Cooper’s Ale and the nags for starters, and half a packet of fags, then up the street to the winery for more beer.  Eventually, almost as if by accident, wine would appear, and then more beer from that vintage Kelvinator.  It was usually an alternating sort of affair, attacked through that omnipresent cloud of smoke. After a late steak and one or two bottles of red it was home for gin and tonic, and beer, with the nags running incessantly on the tv and then a bottle of Muscat.  Or two.  If one was eventually pointed toward the guest bedroom, one would fall asleep knowing that unless some miracle of redemption occurred, the whole crazy pattern would repeat in the morning.

"Dja wanna a beer to take to bed with ya Whitey?" he'd say, hoping desperately it wasn't the last thing.

The thing about this was Thommo was the sort of bloke that one really wanted to drink with.  He was never surly or changeable and was one of those punters who usually seemed to win something, but took a loss with a huge grin.  He’d hold the ticket in both hands and gaze at in child-like wonder, as if it were a guarantee that a huge win must be next.

All that aside, Thommo was one king-hell winemaker.  His first serious gig was at Stoneyfell in 1961 when he assisted Jack Kilgour make the Metala Cabernet Shiraz which won the very first Jimmy Watson Trophy. Then he went to Saltram to work with Peter Lehmann.  More trophies.  And even more when he moved to McLaren Vale, to assist the great Jim Ingoldby.  

Last big win: Bev and Thommo at their second crowning, having won best wine in McLaren Vale with the Wayne Thomas Shiraz 2005, which is only now beginning to show its true promise: a profound, deep, and like Thommo, totally disarming piece of work  ... photo from On The Coast and the  www.victorharbortimes.com.au

He worked with the  Sacardo Bros at Angle Vale before those lovely old Adelaide Plains vineyards were eaten by the houses.  Then it was south again for a stint at Steve Maglieri’s Gully Wines before Jim Ingoldby sold him a spot beside Ingoldby at McLaren Flat where he founded Thomas Fernhill Estate with his spunky wife, Pat in 1975. Something went wrong there so he worked for Murray Tyrrell at Chateau Douglas in the Upper Hunter for a few years, then came back west with a fistful of dollars to found Wayne Thomas Wines.

Pat was another dag again.  A frisky designer in the zappo fashion and the pointy specs, she was pretty much a smokin’ and drinkin’ dude, too.  If offered a glass of white without bubbles, she’d say “White wine?  With me, it’s like foreplay -  not necessary,” while she lit up another one and charged relentlessly into the fizz.  Or the G&T.

Pat died quickly after her cancer was diagnosed and Thommo was bereft until he collided with Bev, whom he loved just as hard. 

Andrew, son of Wayne and Pat, went to work with Tyrrell in the Hunter fairly early in the piece, but in the spirit of his relentless Dad, founded Andrew Thomas Wines in 1997 and went on accumulating a stack of gongs with his own delicious works.  He’s one of the first winemakers to release a suite of reds according to their unique geologies, and with his genetic larrikin streak invented brand names like Kiss Shiraz, which was easily in the league of his Dad’s Card Table red fizz – “have two or three and your legs fold up”.

Thommo was always utterly – sometimes blindly, in more ways than one – faithful to his mentors, and he too was a generous mentor to many.  But while Andrew is his legacy in the Hunter, he left one of similar caliber in McLaren Vale: Tim Geddes.

Through all those crazy days at Wayne Thomas Wines, there Tim was, quietly in the background, emerging, bearing fresh samples from the gloom of the barrel cellar to gaze at his boss with the same sort of awe and amazement that Thommo would show those losing tickets: a quiet look of astonishment at the whole damn miracle.  This duo won two Bushing King Crowns – 2004 and 2007 – and then Thommo followed Pat through a nasty dance with the big Mr. C, and died soon after he took his lovely wife and shotgun rider Bev up to be crowned together for that second Bushing triumph.

A Kiwi, Tim started as a hosedragger at home on Hawke’s Bay in 1992.  He banged through the Adelaide Uni Å“nology degree, worked in the Barossa and Hunter, and eventually went south and dug in at Thommo’s.  Tim knew he was in for life when Thommo one day shouted him a brand new oak barrel and told him to get on with his own winemaking, which he did.  He took the lease of the McLaren Flat winery upon Thommo’s death, and is building a beauty of his own beside the home he shares with his bright cheffy wife Amanda and their two kids in the Blewett Springs gully.

He’s got the touch.  He’s up there with the very best of the Vales winemakers, plugging quietly away with three tiers of crackajack reds, all beautifully moody, soulful reflections of their particular patch, each wine imbued with that mellow softness and intensity that McLaren Vale does better than anywhere else in Australia.  He’s well past a dozen trophies of his own. 

Tim Geddes in Thommo's old winery, now called Geddes Seldom Inn ... photo Philip White

The entry level white label Geddes Seldom Inn wines are about $20.  There’s a cosy, comforting, Grenache Shiraz Mataro blend, a perfectly mellow, classic Vales Shiraz for the cellar, and a brilliant Cabernet from 40 year old vines, so prettily perfumed and bright to drink right away, but a dead set guaranteed winner for a decade of dungeon.  These are all 2010 vintage.  They are remarkable value.

Next up is the trippy trio Geddes Experimental, again from the schmick 2010 vintage, selling for around $32.  These are truly exemplary wines.  There’s an Old Vine Grenache (swoon); a Mataro (purr) and a nutty, appetizing Dolcetto which is the best example of this Piedmont red variety I have seen outside of Italy (pirouette).

Above that you drop your clutch and lurch into 2008, with the crowning glories: a Cabernet sauvignon - Petit Verdot blend and another Shiraz, appropriately called Another Shiraz.  These are bargains, too, at $42.

So in honour of your duty to yourself as a thirsty person, shake your tail down to Geddes Wines and stand there at Thommo’s window.  Bow to the mighty Kelvinator, which is always stacked with fresh cold beer. Tim regards that Kelvinator with the sort of respect a monk shows his altar.  He slammed the door with his knee this afternoon, arms laden with stubbies, and, recalling Thommo, said “There’s nobody around like that anymore.  I mean, when you walked in here, you knew you had a story, didn’t you.” 

It wasn’t a question.  And it still works.  

PS: I should acknowledge the source of my headline quote.  It comes from Willis Alan Ramsey's first album, about 72, produced by Leon Russell for his Shelter label.  The quote's from a song of Willis's called Boy From Oklahoma, and I reckon it's the best song ever written about Woody Guthrie.  I can play it over and over; still got the fresh vinyl import.


Heri said...

The prince and princess cool kissing .........

Anonymous said...

Mr White - a fantastic ode to Thommo - a maker and giver of the first order, and lovely tip of the cap to his legacy in Young Thommo and Geddes, great winemakers and humans both.

Ritzling ‏@archermcrae said...

Enjoyed @whiteswine article on your dad @ThomasWines, reminded me of a trench I found after the kelvinator, hope u r well!

Pat said...

i forgot to talk about the sacardo family! your mention of them brought heaps more memories flooding back! enzo did some work with them at some stage. one of the wives (pat?) was a potter, who made quirky and wonderful 'sacasaurus' creatures. i remember having an amazing meal (including pigeon), prepared and cooked by one or 2 mammas at virginia. the kids and i spent interesting days up there. also, i remember the launch of don dunstan's book (cookbook?), at the sacardo property. not sure why it was held there, but that is my memory! i guess 'the don' must have been there. most probably in pink short shorts. were you there that day? the sacasaurus lady and her husband (and kids?) had a house in the metro area, and we spent some time there also. OMG, all these wonderful memories! and how many have i lost over the years!? thanks, whitey, for bringing all this stuff back with your words!

Chad said...

A thoroughly enjoyable read, Whitey. I have learned more about the real history of McLaren Vale, the people, through your blog than any book could provide.

Philip White said...

Thankyou Chad. I'll try to keep it up. Have to stay alive a bit longer!