“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)





30 April 2013


Brande Roderick

Big push for women in wine
Gender-specific marketing
Woolworths wants winettes

“I don’t look at gender,”  Renée Geyer said on the local ABC radio.  “I think it’s just about singers.”

Geyer was being interviewed by Ian Henschke, who’d congratulated her on coming second in a poll of professional Australian singers who’d been asked to nominate their selections.  While she was voted seventh amongst the list of human singers, regardless of gender, she’d also come second after Tina Arena in the female list.

Henschke seemed to think the gender-specific award held more weight, and was fulsome in his congratulations.

But Geyer was curtly dismissive, making it very clear she’d rather be seventh in the inclusive list than second on the females-only chart, and used her husky growl to push the conversation along.

This just happened to occur in the middle of an ongoing discussion – mainly on Twitter – about the emergence of a group called Women in Wine.  WIW seems to be the work of Woolworths’ own Dan Murphy chain in association with Wine Australia (formerly the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation), and the winemakers themselves. 

“Some of Australia’s finest female winemakers are set to showcase their premium wines,” said the promotional sheet from spindoctor Elyse Dudgeon.  Finest female winemakers?  If they must concentrate so determinedly on flogging wine by the gender of its maker, surely Dudgeon meant to write “Some of Australia’s finest wines are set to be showcased by their winemakers, who happen to be female,” no?  Like what does “finest female winemaker” mean?  The one with the best legs?  The one with the prettiest voice?  The highest IQ? According to whom?

Sophia Loren and Jane Mansfield

While it’s most likely to be an accident of syntax and grammar, this does set one’s  linguistic curiosity humming.  It brings to mind an annual luncheon exclusively for women which takes place in McLaren Vale. Diners associated with the local wine business invite others; the lunch is a fundraiser for the winemakers’ association; the table waiting staff are volunteer males, mainly young winemakers, who are auctioned to later attend dinner with their buyers, thus raising a little more cash.  A few years back when I found myself by far the oldest geezer there attending table, the lasses brought in a team of muscly young firemen who’d just made a cheesy calendar to raise money for their own organization.  While their wives and girlfriends waited nervously outside, these admirable blokes stripped to their firemen’s trousers and conducted a beefcake routine in their red braces, flexing biceps and tensioning six-packs and generally raising a lusty wave of giggles and screams from the boozy diners, who then passed on a big donation to the fireys.

Apart from my revulsion at my own ancient form, all I could think of was the outrage there’d be amongst women if the lunch had been exclusively for winemakers with penises, entertained by a phalanx of busty female strippers, and waited on by the youngest female winemakers in the district, who would then be auctioned.
Some women have explained to me that as responsible marketers, they do feel there’s a large group of Australian females who need specific counseling in wine appreciation, and should be encouraged to cease being humiliated or belittled by male wine buffs or by your basic generic drunks with penises.  Women in Wine provides them the opportunity to come out and “enjoy”, as they say.

This could be why the Dan Murphy’s propagandist is promoting tonight’s big Women in Wine knees-up in Sydney with bait like “Easy Entertaining Workshops, sharing tips on how the professionals make entertaining stylish and easy without breaking the bank - or spending hours preparing!”

Deary me. At the height of the revolutionary feminist years, I was proud to be trained by the most severe and savvy women’s liberationists.  To pluck a rare gastronomic marketing reference from that time, one of the most common big-screen cinema and television commercials promoted the Egg Combo for the Egg Board.  Sponsored partly by Sunbeam’s electric frypan division, these promoted the consumption of eggs by showing how easy it is to chop onions, mushrooms, capsicum and bacon, cover them with a dozen or so busted eggs, and dance there in your hipster flares and saddle-stitched bodyshirt while the sheilas cut up the cooked omelette thing and served it seductively from beneath their Gossamered beehives.  It looked like an antipodean version of The Thunderbirds. You could almost hear the scratchy sound of the pantyhose.

Blaze Starr by Diane Arbus

That campaign had a multifold motive: sell eggs; sell Sunbeam frypans; and help men and women see how easy it is to cook stuff.  The ad did have the odd glass of wine in it, I recall: those tiny thick stem glasses we used in the days when the draft cards and brassieres were burning.

I’ve never seen or heard of an egg combo, saddle-stitched bodyshirt, or can of Gossamer since.  A preponderance of male chefs has taken over the nation’s restaurant kitchens, but I suspect this would have more likely occurred as a cocky reaction against that horrid ad, if indeed that had anything to do with it.  The male raid on the chefwit sector has been so successful that it seems as if the Dan Murphy’s people are entirely reactive,  rounding up a few star restaurateur type females to teach the ordinary lasses how indeed to make something stylish and easy to eat without breaking the bank before getting all tiddly.

Funny thing is women already buy more than fifty per cent of all wine sold in Australia. 

Mizzo Mannik at Crazy Peter's 1973 - photo Philip White

The early ’seventies were dramatic in their polarisation. At university, a huge rufous lesbian called Big Ooma punched me because I opened the door for her in the gentlemanly fashion, and stood back to give her ingress ahead of me.  “Sexist pig,” she grunted as she pushed through. Does Women in Wine cater for the Gertrude Steins, Violette Morrises, or Janet Flanners of our day?  Which is not to deny stern women of taste perfect humour.  In her 1972 preface to Paris Was Yesterday, Janet Flanner wrote of Hemingway “his heroes, like Ernest himself, were of outsized masculinity, even in small matters.”

Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway

But I digress.  In the ’eighties, newspaper editors would push hard to have me interview female winemakers, so the yarn could run beside photographs of them leaning over fermenters (especially if their breasts were large) or standing on tank ladders (especially if their legs were long).  I would suggest that people with vaginas were just as likely to make shit wine as were people with penises, and say there’s nothing new about females making wine, usually citing Mary Penfold (1820-1896 below) as a significant contributor on the finer wine side. There would be no Penfolds without Mary.

I recall interviewing Rosie Ritchie, the young female winemaker at Delatite in about 1983.  I reported her account of the boring parts of winemaking, like doing the sulphurs, and took a photograph of her, fully-dressed, backlit at an outdoor restaurant table, so her blonde hair lit up like a halo. In other words, a compromise.  When the thing appeared in print, some boofhead had written a headline which still makes me cringe. “The sulphur girl,” it blared.

That’s thirty years ago.  I thought we’d got past all this. See-sawing is boring. This brand of reactive is surely long past.

“The expert panel includes some of Australia’s most talented women,” the gumph shouts.  These are Emma Plumridge, Sarah Limacher, Maeve O’Meara, Sharon Foulis and Carolyn Ryan.

The female winemakers Woolworths has involved are Emma Bowen, Penny Jones,  Maxine Harris, Katherine Brown, Janice McDonald, Corrina Wright, Rebecca Willson and Rebekah Richardson.  “Stellar viticulturists” - Prue Henshke, Liz Riley and Rachel Steer - “will be on-hand guiding guests through the science of wine,” says the press release. “While female sommeliers from some of Australia’s most awarded restaurants will discuss wine and food matching.”

Just personally, I’m with Renée Geyer.  Or, to get back to Twitter, journalist and broadcaster Helen Razer, author of the Bad Hostess blog.  Her current offering is “Confidence is a useful tool for all. I would suggest it is lacking equally in all, despite gender.” 


Violette Morris


For your convenience, here’s the recipe for a dish I dubbed The Hamilton: something stylish and easy-to-eat invented by a person with a penis, me, in 2004.  I named it after the street we happened to be in.  It takes 15-20 minutes, and is excellent served cold and crunchy next day if you make too many.  Wash a bunch of silver beet; take a cup of pine nuts, a Spanish onion and a lump of fetta. Slice the silver beet; dice the onion and the fetta. Add salt and fresh-ground pepper as you mix everything in a bowl.  Take a sheet of frozen puff pastry, place it on an oiled bench so the back of the pastry is slimy.  Put the chopped ingredients on the middle of the pastry, pat them down, fold it into a rectangle and crimp the ends with your thumbnail so it looks like a pillow.  Put your Hamilton into  your George Foreman grill, or your Helen Keller grill, or whatever type of sloping grill with a lid you may have.  Push the lid down gently and cook until golden. Present on a trencherboard with a knife and a glass of whatever wine you can afford at the time. 

29 April 2013


Australian viticulturers - not to mention wine drinkers - should take careful notice of this brilliant Airbag Productions advertisement for Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup.  DRINKSTER hopes Airbag wins many awards - this is an extremely rare example of a giant corporate actually telling the dead honest truth! We can't believe it ...

28 April 2013


Song Of Relief


The news came first by nightmare:
a vivid, snaky dream.
I reached to touch you in my sleep
and sat up as you screamed
“I’m just not into that scene anymore!
I’m just not in that scene!”

I woke, and like the songs all say,
you were not with me, anyway.


Stirling, Winter 74 
poem, and photo of salt pan at Emu Bay, Kangaroo Island, by Philip White


27 April 2013


Trigger, Willie Nelson's Martin N-20 classical guitar, bought sight unseen from Shot Jackson in Nashville in 1969 for $750.  Trigger was in better nick in those days, but he sounds better now.   More importantly, Willie's eighty years old today.  DRINKSTER's had many a refreshment, sedative, soother, loving  and trigger of his own while the music of Willie plunks and croons away.  The best of it?  I've yet to discover anything more rewarding than the 2008 recording that  Willie and his harmonica player, Micky Raphael, made live with Wynton Marsalis and his band in New York City in 2008.  Open a good old red, roll up a serious doob, stack this concert up in front of your best comfy chair, and toast one of most remarkable men of our age. There won't be any more of these.

25 April 2013



Wine tasting

the dead-weight of years crushing down, down,
largely destructive,
yet has crushed from these barren lives
a wine we'll call Australian,
since no tariff has been paid.
Taste it. Not bitter
but with the dust of the outback
prominent. Slide it around the palate.
See with what rosy light
the chandelier blazes through this blood you
suckle on. Consider the delicate
bouquet of revolution
it was a good year for martyrs.
Jan Palach lit up half the silent east with his death agonies
taste the ashes you thought were sediment
from long storage it is hard
to forget. Remember too the vintners
whose feet trod flat the grapes,
trod flat the barbed wire at Lone Pine
so the press could sing,
sing of "significant advances", a selflessness.
Taste it at V. C. Corner,
how many heroes then trod flat the fields to grow
the grapes you think you taste.
An amusing little vintage, you call it,
vampires of humanity,
from your penthouse the world is beautiful
the filth of streets is far below
the dead cannot be smelt unless the wind changes
bringing you the sound of death of city solitudes
of labourers returning home exhausted
from factories you control. You
suck their lives away, their spirit,
an amusing little wine.
They toil that you can celebrate your profits,
play aristo with some amusing friends
drawn from the ranks of profiteers, scuttling
from Europe to get near the cash,
jetting from Texas to pick up the pennies
better men would scorn to touch.
It was a good year, you say, the auditors agree
inside a wilderness a hermit
listens/the change he speaks of to the world
will come; dare you face it?

Michael Dransfield
Windhover, 1972

When Michael wrote this poem during some stolen Hunter Shiraz in the Blue Mountains on ANZAC day I realised one could write about wine. And then a year later on Good Friday he was dead, and I was suddenly aware of the brutality of such shit. You can read 398 of his beautiful poems here.

Australia has never had a poet to come within an inch of him.

 If my grainy memory serves me correctly, poetry editor Rodney Hall first published Wine Tasting in The Australian (!) on the ANZAC day following Michael Dransfield's death on Good Friday, 1973.   For a biography of Michael, and to read a grand collection of his published poems, go to Australian Poetry Library.  Apologies for the fuzzy portrait - sharp focus in those drug-hazed days was something more likely found in the young bard's poetry. To discover the meaning of ANZAC Day, click here.


photo Philip White

23 April 2013


Diana Genders with one of the cut-and-paste prototype Potter fermenters in her remarkable pioneering winery at McLaren Vale ... photo Philip White

Genders : retro from the start
The complete opposite of Coles
And nobody knows she's there ...

“Welcome to the least fashionable winery in the district,” Diana Genders says, heaving the big door open. 

Within minutes she’s opened a set of her red wines stretching back to 1998.  Within the passage of a few more (minutes), I’m marveling at the wines’ taut, sinewy, long-term elegance and finesse, disbelieving that I’m only a few minutes from the center of McLaren Vale.  Township, that is.  And I mean a walk: the abhorrent new Coles supermarket is less than a kilometre distant.  It looks like a big new Yatala Labor Prison has forced its way into the main street, especially under its floodlights at night.

Nothing rural or sensitive about that civic monstrosity. 

As we wait for the wines to waken, I find myself thinking that Genders McLaren Park Winery is as far removed from the Coles ethic, if that is the word, as you could possibly get.  Which leads me to wondering how the brand could have slid so far from public cogniscence.  I mean Diana still sells into France and the USA, and her bulk premiums are very highly regarded by other locals who need them to add intensity and finesse to whatever they’ve made themselves, but you could hardly say Genders is the buzzword on the hipsters’ lips.

So what’s wrong?

The tasting room, for example, is comfortably cluttered.  But it’s not the fake, contrived clutter or the steampunk nonsense affected by much hotter and more pretentious rivals.  Genders needs no pinball machine, storebought Caucasian artefacts or funky retro graphics to help flog its grog.  This is the sort of high-quality clutter which takes many decades to develop, endogenously.  As we sit back there in the big leather armchairs, disappearing into the patina, barrels and boxes and books and glassware and artworks seem confidently ready to devour us.  It makes a bloke like me feel real comfy: the temptation to swallow and wallow and replace the tasting scribble with quiet wino banter seems deliciously seductive.

Outside the tasting building, the barrel shed, the vintage shed, the tank farm, the ancient machinery, the six tattered tractors remind me of four wineries that have collided at a crossroad.  It all stacks up to a working winemaking history that makes, say, Rockford, look like Disneyland. Indeed, this is one of the first “boutique” wineries around.

Which is not to say there’s anything new about that.   That’s just part of the recent history.  Diana’s father, Keith, grew tired of the family law business at the great age of twenty years, borrowed some money from the Bank of Adelaide and in 1948  bought himself a small reach of thick, chocolaty alluvium at the foot of Chalk Hill, on the creek behind the McLaren Vale oval, and planted himself a vineyard.

It seems Keith was amongst the first Vales vignerons to apply a tractor to a McLaren Vale vineyard.  He brought the first stainless steel tanks into the district, and there in the vintage shed you’ll find a set of prototypes of the late Ron Potter’s famous fermenter: the combination fermenter/storage vessel which is now common throughout the modern wine world.  You can see by the cut-and-paste welding lines how Genders and Potter gradually moved the door closer to the bottom to facilitate easier dumping of the skins.

Reaching a little further into the past, Diana explains how her great-great-great grandfather, Buxton Forbes Laurie, planted the first vines on the southern Fleurieu in 1853 at Middleton, where he built the Southcote winery and distillery and made wine for export.  Upon his death, his widow, Mary Laurie, continued the business, becoming, with the great Mary Penfold, another of the colony’s first female winemakers.

Diana goes on to talk of her great grandfather, Horace Pridmore, who made wine at his famous Woodley Winery at Glen Osmond, and how, upon his death in 1911, his wife Amy continued winemaking there until her death fifteen years later.  She continues with the story of how Horace’s brother, Cyril, built the The Wattles winery from ironstone in the main street of McLaren Vale.  This later became the Southern Vales Co-op, and grew into Tatachilla before Warren Randall recently chopped it up for subdivision to help pay for his purchase of Seppeltsfield in the Barossa.

He also chopped up Cyril Pridmore’s beautiful copper pot stills and sold the metal as scrap.

Diana reflects upon the recent death of Keith, and how she now runs the place single-handedly.  She’d attained her Wine Science Degree and spent years winemaking at Barossa Valley Estate, Hardy’s, Tolley’s and in France.  In 1997 she answered the ageing Keith’s call and came home from Europe to make those bright, tight 1998s that vibrated daringly in their glasses before me.  

She speaks of the death by accident of her winemaking brother Duncan in 1979, and how this made her “the third female winemaker in the family who entered the business to take over after the death of young men.”

She goes on to talk of her mother, Rosemary, and her drive to promote regional produce through the first local providore, Rosemary’s Kitchen, in the ’60s and ’70s.  She marvels at how the current obsession with geology and soil and tailoring wines to their wiles gets so much press attention and flatly explains that at Genders, they’ve been doing it like that all along, showing me where the alluvium in her 27 acres changes from sandy clay to black Bay of Biscay peppered with chunks of limestone, describing how the wine flavours change accordingly.

She then makes a passing reference to the current marketing of green/organic/biodynamic wines and murmers “We’ve never been big on chemicals … we’d be the last to spray poisons on our vineyard, or play around with the wine.”

All this would seem to add up to a template that should guarantee Genders Wines a foremost spot amongst the current swarm of hotpop littlies, I suggest.  To which she answers “Well I’m a one-woman show here.  Apart from pruning -- I get help with that – I run the vineyard and make the wine and maintain the machinery and sell the wine, which hasn’t left much time for marketing.”  

In respect of the birds at Genders: Wedge-tailed Eagle (the speck on high); Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos slinking around below ... photo Philip White

 In a sense, it’s an indictment of the wine community’s shallow cogniscence, the notion that these wines need any marketing at all.  They are the sorts of wines everyone seems to want to make: intense, sinewy, and lithe, without jam or hot alcohol.  True to their alluvium, they have that swampy Mississippi mudcake soul that the older vineyards of Langhorne Creek produce, but these have little, if any, of the eucalyptols common in Larncrk. With their cheeky little chocolate custard/junket twist, they’re a lot more reminiscent of the south of France than typical Vales.  Diana wonders whether I small fennel in them, as that aromatic and volatile herb grows along the creekline, but no, I can’t even see that, and I’m usually good at picking wines from fennel-ridden creeklines on the blind.

“I rarely sell my wines without seven years’ maturation,” she says, pouring the current release, the lonesome Genders McLaren Park Shiraz 2005.  “And you’ll find they still need a lot of air to begin showing their primary fruit.  Some of these take a week to wake up.  And I don’t want to do anything to bring them on faster.  I won’t micro-oxygenate and add caramel or leave residual sugar like the current fashion.”

So here we are, wondering about the fickle nature of fads, and how some solid folks are naturally, determinedly retro from the start.  Without artifice or sophistry, their style survives the waves of fashion, which all too rarely revive respectful references to such originals.

A word of advice.  Forget steampunk, retro, varieties that end in O, Scarce Earths, natural, orange, trophy winners, et cetera.  Make an appointment to visit the least fashionable winery in the district next time you’re in the Vales, get yourself into one of those big leather armchairs, have a taste, and be ready to surrender to a six-pack or two.

It’s high time Australia began to appreciate these wines as deeply as the sensible folks of France and the USA.

New back tyres, but the old DB she ain't what she used to be: because the viticulture attachments are a bit too big and heavy for Diana to handle, she has a different ancient tractor for each item, so she doesn't have to struggle to change them: "It's cheaper to buy another old tractor than do your back in," she says ... photo: Philip White


Genders McLaren Park McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
$40; 14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 95+++ points
Made from thirteen rows of a 1991 planting of an unknown clone of Shiraz in the tiny -- 1.1 ha.-- North Block below Chalk Hill, this wine comes from the geographical heart of McLaren Vale, and yet bears little, if any, resemblance to its rivals, whether they’re from tiny or vast wineries.  Most 2005 Vales Shiraz is dying now; this baby’s hardly talking.  It’s probably the best 2005 Vales red I’ve seen.  The wine is certainly built for the long haul: it’s as tight and precise as a kettle  drum, showing no fat or jam or gloop whatsoever.  Thirty months of French oak has given it a splinter of walnut forest, but this gradually subsides as the wine ever so begrudgingly takes in air.  It immediately reminds me of the wines August Clape and family makes from the Cornas vineyard on the edge of the Rhone, but it’s tighter than those, as if it were grown in a much cooler climate.  Appropriately, it seems coolly distant at first, but gradually releases alluring insinuations of this or that: licorice, musk, cosmetics, mudcake, confectioner’s sugar, summer dust … primary fruit is the last thing on its mind.  Eventually, like after 24 hours, you’ll see reluctant oozes of baby beetroot -- borscht with sour cream, really -- and gentle, silky mulberry and prune emergent.  The palate is lean and compressed, and yet near-prefect in its formation and shape: it just seems to draw out so long and tapering and slender it’s like a gastronomic sabre being withdrawn from its sheath.  The texture is very faintly grainy: a vinous Teflon.  It has tremendous natural acidity.  It will last for decades -- four? five? -- in the cellar, and needs a good twelve hours in a jug to be best loved in this its infancy.  He was crossing varietal boundaries, of course, but I understand what one USA critic meant when he said Genders was the Petrus of Australia, before he took half a vintage of this home with him, for sale at a vast profit.  (Château Petrus is currently around $2700 per bottle.)      

Settlement Wines Liqueur Palamino
$40 (500ml.); 17% alcohol; cork; 94 points
Jason Berlingieri has just released this new assemblage of the old white grape of Manzanilla.  It fits perfectly in the Settlement suite of six fortified liqueurs: the best set of such wines made outside of the giant Seppeltsfield, as far as South Australia goes.  To get better, you’ll have to drive to Rutherglen and beg.  The wine has that dusty hessian edge of the old sherris-sack beloved by the likes of Sir John Falstaff, but is nevertheless still rich with silky-smooth caramel fruit.  It has sweetly-tempered corners of marzipan and fruit mince, suet and currants, and a quiet smokiness which builds to the acrid dry edge you’ll get sniffing a cordite fuse.  The palate is fluffy, but holds sufficient acidity to give it searing form and length.  True to the grape’s source on the Jerez coast, where they open the bodegas to admit the sea air, it has that crisp, ever-so-slightly salty edge to help with its admirable balance and sweetness.  Get yourself a selection of Alison Paxton’s Kangarilla Creamery cheeses and a bottle of this, and try to work out which one provides the best partnership.  I’ll bet you’ll have to go back and get another bottle.  Perfect for Sunday breakfast.

22 April 2013


Australians are drinking cider by the bucket.  Most of this - too much of it - is made from surplus eating apples, like the Golden Delicious (bottom left) and Grannie Smith (bottom right).  These produce run-of-the-mill ciders that are the equivalent, of, say, the industrial quality Murray-Darling Basin Chardonnays of about a decade ago.  Or, perhaps more accurately, the mindless whites made from Sultana before that. So it's exciting to see Warwick Billings, the ex-Somerset man behind the pioneering Adelaide Hills Lobo Cider company, striving to propagate varieties of real cider apples which had almost vanished from Australia. Here are examples of two of his latest plantings.  The tiny ones are Red Streak, although Warwick thinks they may be a very small strain of Brown's Apple, while the top row are the classic Kingston Black.  They're not much good for eating, but they make cider which is far superior. Keep an eye on DRINKSTER for reviews of the ciders Lobo squeezes from these babies.  Maybe it's time the cider manufacturers began listing the varieties they use on their labels, eh? ... photo by Philip White

21 April 2013


Bugger food trucks; I want one of these!  The Pedal Pub carries up to seventeen people, including a driver and a barman who works from the platform between the bars.  Passengers can choose whichever beer they prefer: the wine barrel holds the keg.  I imagine it could be very easily modified to carry instead a barrel of wine or spirits.  Five pedallers each side can propel the bar at five miles per hour on the flat or grades of up to six per cent. You can lose weight while you drink. The four speaker sound system is fitted into the storage rack beneath the roof; the bar top has holes in it to secure the glasses; there's a suds holder for the driver, too.  This is the best moveable feast the DRINKSTER has encountered  since he fell in love with the Tuk Tuk Vendo, which, like the Pedal Pub, was designed and built in the Netherlands.  I'd be bunging some serious wheels on it, however, to guarantee better roadholding on bad corners - one wouldn't want to fall off the wagon at speed. Available solely from Hammacher Schlemmer at a mere US$40,000.

16 April 2013


Pre-phylloxera Shiraz in Christian Auricht's 1843 vineyard, The Freedom, at Langmeil Wines in Tanunda, Barossa ... photo by the late Doug Coates.

Ancient vine interviewed:
critic gets down on his knees
at the work of the Lindners

The bastard has a chest like a rooster.  I’m close to groveling, down on my knees here in the alluvial loam and the ironstone in an elbow of the North Para River.  Which is, as you know, barely a river at all.  It’s a drought-struck creek at the moment.  But this dude I’m interviewing don’t give a fig.  He’s seen some droughts in his time, and had his extremities washed by the creek when it occasionally becomes a river between dry spells.

"You generally get a drop of rain after a dry spell," he grunts.

I ask first about whether or not he feels bitter about never going anywhere.  Immobility seems a dread curse to us feeted ones.

“Nope”, he croaks in that chestnut smithy’s baritone.  The voice is somewhere between a draft horse and a toad, but it’s never condescending in the way some crusties speak.  This old bloke – and he’s really friggin old – wants to help.

“Them blokes over there,” he says, with a barely discernable lift of his gnarled chin, “them blokes over there travelled, and from how I see it, they couldn’t wait to get here and get stationary.  They don’t talk about it much.  They seem grateful now they’re not moving again.  That’s what we do.  Just sit here.  Lookin’.”

He spoke of the vines adjacent, the Langmeil Orphan Block, which were over a century old when the boss dug them up and moved them, one by one, by tractor, up that long mile of Tanunda street and replanted them here by the creek.  They reckon this bloke I’m talking to hasn’t moved since Christian Auricht planted him in 1843.

Which leads me to ask about seeds.  Like, where I live, grape seeds from the vintage have sprouted in the cracks in the concrete winery apron.

“So when you were born,” I venture, a little coyly, “like did you come from a seed or a seedling?”  Pardon me confusing genders, but it feels like I’m asking my grandmother about her sexual proclivities.

“You mean a cutting already?” he scowls.  “We don’t mention seedlings in this game.”

“Well, you’ve got seeds,” I proffer.  “Don’t you mob grow from seeds anymore, like out here in the wild?”

“This is hardly the wild,” he advises, his green hair fluffing in the breeze.  “This is a good, civilised place to live.  That’s why those blokes next door are happy to be here.  They had to make way for a paddock of you types.  Houses for old humans pushed ’em aside.  They’re lucky they got transported, and we’re glad to have ’em here.

“Nope,” he says, with the authority of a great tractor with its hubs locked, “we used to grow from seeds.  Back, way back.  We grew along watercourses and climbed up through the trees.  We were big.  Very big.  But we were nowhere near as populous as we are now.”

So how, I begin to enquire, does a species cease to grow from seeds and still increase its population?  He seems impatient; he can’t wait to tell me.

“We had a great stroke of luck when you mob began to evolve,” he says with a dry satisfaction.  “We used to depend on our seeds for procreation.  You know, keep the tribe going.  We even developed the skill of marketing.  Like before our seeds were ready to sprout, we’d keep them in our berries, which were bitter and green and acid.  Protection.  We eventually worked out that when they were ready, we’d need to get them transported, so we called in the birds.  They wanted us to change to a nice alluring reddy-blue colour so they’d know we needed them.  I mean we did some land transport, like through the deer and the foxes, but it was mainly by air.  We worked out that if we changed the colour of our packaging, and then turned off the acid production and replaced it with sugar, we’d have our transport and circulation business sorted.

“Birds fly by, notice the new wrapper, fill up with sugar – I think you blokes use petrol, don’t you? – and by the time our seeds were ready, they’d be sprouting in those warm little bellies.  Perfect flying incubators them birds.  Kept us in business for epochs.”

So why does Mr Lindner keep scaring them off with his blunderbuss?

“Ha!” he chuckles, dropping a flake of slate-grey bark. “Ha!  That’s where the luck comes in.  Turned out that birds weren’t the only transport system that went for our new packaging and the sweet trick.  You mob got excited.  You eventually – and it took a bloody million years, mind you – you mob eventually noticed that you could let the levures or yeasts or whatever you call them now, you mob finally noticed that if they got into our sugar with the cyan of our skin and its preserving tannins and the walnutty tannins of our pips, you could make jungle juice.”

Sure, I nodded, we did work that out.  Eventually.  We like it.  “But now we stack all your pips in the mulch heap and let them rot so we can put them back around your roots  for nourishment.  Surely that keeps you alive, but you’ll get no more kids while we stop your seeds from sprouting? I mean, you are fairly … well, you’re getting on in years.  Let’s face it, at 170, you must be closer to one end of your life than the other, and you’re not looking at the pointy end.  Mr Lindner scares the birds away so he can get your seeds and the package and everything for his jungle juice and you end up with no kids, surely?”

More chuckles.    

“That’s the whole point,” he says.  “You lot are so addicted to jungle juice that we hardly need seeds any more.  We keep them mainly to give you flavour and tannin now, to keep you interested.  You eventually started doing a better transport job than the birds when you realized we were more easily and reliably reproduced by taking cuttings from us and growing us up in your little nurseries and kindergartens.”

He takes a big slow breath and puts that chest out a few notches.

“We are now in control. We don’t need to grow up through the trees.  We don’t need the birds.  You mob are so badly addicted to jungle juice you will never let us die.  We are all over the world now.  We don’t need feet – you do our marching for us.  We have never been more prolific.  We are legion.  We have vast armies.  You even build bloody great refineries that go all night all year to use up the stuff that started out as our deterrent against predators. We can’t believe our luck that you lot eventually became a sort of parasite-predator that lives on us and maintains us to feed your addiction.  We think that’s really funny ... Anyway, in answer to your original question, we travelled here too.  Old Auricht planted us as cuttings from somewhere else.  They reckon we're French, originally.  Jungle juice, see?”

I consider mentioning Phylloxera, which killed all the French side of the family a century ago, and asking why in the names of Bacchus and Pan we’re even considering easing our restrictions on moving grapes and vines and cuttings and whatever from Phylloxera-infested regions to South Australia, which has never detected a Phylloxera incursion.  Phylloxera would kill blokes like him and his genteel, ancient neighbours.  But this time, I leave it.  This conversation is far too civilized to mention that evil curse.

That discussion should be left to us feeted addicts of the jungle juice.  We’d better address it, so I can go back and look my venerable buddy in the eye.

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