“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)





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


@beckhopkinswine said...

u could write a gastroenterology report & I would digest it with glee

Anonymous said...

Go Diana - you are an inspiration!

ross said...

had the pleasure of a couple of hours with Diana sitting in those same comfy seats.

Talking wine and experiencing her three wines evolve in the glass will remain of my favourite wine memories. Loved each wine in a different way but have ended up with a couple of cases of the 2008 chardonnay extra over the reds so I guess that is a favourite.

Who would have guessed - McLaren Vale Chardonnay!