“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)





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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James Hook said...

Hi Whitey,

Next time you speak to your esteemed vinous friend can you ask him some personal questions? How would he feel if some sultry Viognier moved in next door? Would he like to Côte-Rôtie and get a co-ferment going, or does that desire fade with age?

I know he may not want to tell, but it is the sort of titillation the people want.