“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)





31 May 2013


Good conditions for Wren activity.  Hen photo (she's not much bigger than a broad bean - check the wheat grains) by Philip White; nest photo by Marie Linke - that nest is not much wider than a 50 cent piece.


detail from The Lore Of Ships (Rigby Limited Adelaide 1963)


food and photo by Philip White


photo Philip White


photo Philip White

30 May 2013


Everything Changes Everything Returns by George Andric : Greg Johns' sculpture farm, Palmer ... photo Philip White ... click on any image to crisp



I had a soul

I had a soul.
I took it through milkshed and byre,
tussock and thistle, ragwort and bog
with a burlap sack on my head for the drizzle.
With me it watched the blackwood hewn
and the underground tank surrender its muck
to bucket and shovel,
till all was strewn on grass so green
it really needed to be seen.

I had a soul.
With me it watched the poddy-calves drop
from the neat plop of the axe-back
and the steam rise from their opened flesh
as their gizzards writhed alive, still digesting.
It flopped with me on soft fresh hides
and the fleas in the hay of the barn,
with brothers swinging on the beams:
everything was what it seemed.

I had a soul.
They flayed it over communion wine
and tortured it with hymns exhaled through trembling wattles;
pious old throats filled with the holy spit
and sanctimonious halitosis.
I fucked that soul off across the gaping graves:
kinfolk and kindred who did no harm,
young whose souls some other bastard claimed.
I carry their husks home in the rain.


Philip White




For Elias Canetti
On re-reading The Secret Heart Of The Clock

I was thinking of growing older.
As I did, the ground grew colder.

Which flipped me back to getting younger.
Then, I couldn’t stand the hunger.

So there I was with my warm night,
already in the past: replete; just right.

Philip White


28 May 2013


Marc Brédif Vouvray 1999
$40; 12.5% alcohol; cork; 93++ points
Chenin blanc. The great white grape of the Loire Valley, presented here at its humble regal best: fourteen years of age, and forty measly dollars.  It’s toasty and rich, without being overtly honeyed or advanced, with rich layers of spice, along the cassia and nutmeg veins, and an intriguing tidy mess of citrus marmalade lost in a subtle cloud of smoke. It’s a dry high acid grape that loves a small touch of botrytis, which adds an immediate peach and apricot tinge to its pickled lemon flavours.  By the end of the bottle, these take a tweak of grilled rind.  It works the mouth like a masseur, setting the juices running and the anticipatories aflame in a confident and cool way.  It never rudely challenges or talks down to the drinker, but entertains and teases, and then calms and soothes, and then sets in the brain a feeling of overwhelming calm as much as the trigger of more curiosities yet to be satisfied.  Like, you want to have it again soon.  But you’re very very happy to have discovered it.  Pour it to a table of friends with Alison Paxton’s Kangarilla Creamery Funky Goat cheese – declared interest: Alison’s creamery’s a few hundred yards across the vineyard from me – and they’ll go quiet and then when it’s gone they’ll begin oozing groans of satisfaction.  It sits in the mouth for a very long satisfying time.  I found this bottle in the clever wine shop behind the Stirling Hotel.  They seemed to have a lot of it.  It’s distributed by Robert Hill Smith’s Yalumba subsidiary, Negociants Australia.  Go get. 

Torzi Matthews Single Old Vineyard Moppa Hill Barossa Grenache Mataro 2012
$35; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap; 92+++ points
This bottle’s been open for two days, and it’s getting better by the hour.  It’s not a matter of it being healed, but being given the opportunity to grow and awake as young ones deserve.  Beautiful smooth raspberry essence, and all those liqueurs they make from non-grape berries in Burgundy, simmer away in this mega-cool, acid and silk syrup.  The grapes are from Domenico Martino’s 110 year-old bushies in the northern Barossa.  It’s not gloopy or gluggy, but as I say, silky.  There’s some chocolate, which adds to the pulchritude. It’s hot in the tail, from all those alcohols, but in this its youth there’s a good chance they’ll serve to make you hungry more than thirsty, and when it’s properly aged, they’ll be enveloped and disguised by the fruit as it mellows and rises like a monarch born to rule.  I gutsed my bottle with a hybrid Bolognese type sauce I made using the pork and veal mince from that butcher among butchers, Max Noske, of Hahndorf.  No butchery I know smells so good and sweet, which is a statement I know I’m gonna get trouble for next time I walk into Tony Marino’s in Gouger Street. I’ll bet neither prime house of meat would complain were I to drop them a bottle of this.  But they’ll probably clash boners over my choice of Bolognese mince.  I’ll run back to Kangarilla (no butcher here), knowing Germany and Italy will eventually work on a truce, if not a cross-blend mince.


The author with geologist Jeff Olliver working on the McLaren Vale geology map,which is largely the work of Bill Fairburn (younger formations) and Wolfgang Preiss (real old rocks) and the amazing scholars in the cartographic section of the South Australian Geological Survey ... that's the uncomformity in Kevin's Cutting in the background, where the Eocene North Maslin Sands (40-50 million years ago) sit directly atop a paler Precambrian limestone formation 600 million years older - where'd the middle go? ... photo Kate Elmes

Bad trap for young players
Get your facts right before
they're misconstrued, eh? 

“550 million years of history in every drop,” says the headline on James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion website, referring to the wines of McLaren Vale, where I live.

The doyen of Australian wine promoters, Halliday, a former corporate lawyer from Clayton Utz and Co, is also this country’s most influential wine writer. Millions follow his recommendations. In what appears to be a clean republication of a McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association (MVGW&TA) press release promoting the McLaren Vale Scarce Earths Shiraz release, it seems Halliday was faithfully assisting in passing the word along.  While his more recent reportage suggests he knows more about the geology of McLaren Vale than whoever wrote that press release, the damn thing's still there on the internet.

And, oh.  Yes. The numbers of the more recent reportage are screwy.  Methinks James has been informed by people who simply don't understand.  Maybe I should lock them in a cage, and feed them Kurrajong until they can identify its thirty or so specific described massive ingredients, which range in age from 520 million years to at least 1.6 billion.  It's really silly to suggest the Kurrajong is 10,000 years old.  It might have come down in a terrible effluvium comparatively recently, but unlike clay, which is composed of tiny particles,  Kurrajong is composed of big chunks of rock stuff, each of which has a flavour.

It is abject nonsense that there are 550 million years of history in every drop of McLaren Vale wine. Most of this region’s vines are planted in alluvial gravels, sands and clays that were deposited in the Willunga Embayment in the last million years or so.

The vines were planted in the last few decades. A great deal of their dirt was washed into position towards the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. That’s only 4000 years before the Caucasians were inventing wine in what we now call Georgia.

As the vast polar icecaps melted, the sea level rose. Before that big thaw, a great deal of water was frozen and locked in at the poles, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. Roughly 22,000 years ago, the surf was 100km away from today’s beach, and the Murray Mouth was at the end of a stupendous canyon system now submerged away off to the south-east of Kangaroo Island. It’s still there, alive with marine species yet to be discovered. Scientists are only just beginning to explore it. It makes the Grand Canyon look silly.

Before the ice melted and that big gulch got submerged, you could walk to Kangaroo Island. You could even walk to Tasmania around 23 million years back, and perhaps a few times since, when sea levels fell for shorter periods. In the big frame of things, that’s not very long ago.

But c'mon, it's long enough to include some spectacular geological yarns if you're seeking bigger, faster and louder for your press releases.

While the very granules, the particles, the specks that make up McLaren Vale’s Willunga Embayment alluviums may be as old as Earth itself, their geology is only as old as the length of time they’ve spent lying where they now lie. It’s like the air of the sky: the atoms and molecules may be as old as time, but when they move, the breeze is new. Wind, pardon the pun, is current.

This callow hack sniffs too much uneasy breeze in this 550-million-year sneeze from Scarce Earths.

Let’s put some zeros in. 10,000 years is four zeros. Obviously not enough. Go seven or eight kays over the range from Willunga, or drill deep enough below it, and you’ll find 1,600,000,000-year-old Palaeoproterozoic basement rocks. That’s nine zeroes, which is a fair few more. Why they chose the number 550 million to promote the age of whatever they think it is their grapes grow in beats me.

If I had been the writer, intent on impressing with big numbers, I woulda gone for 4,540,000,000 years of flavour, indicating an approximation of the age of the Earth. At a pinch, if I were going for real shock-jockery, I woulda said 13,750,000,000 years in every drop, as that’s when the great brains currently think all this universe business started with a bang.

The old rocks outside the Willunga Embayment, erroneously called the Willunga Basin, like those east and south of the Willunga Fault and its escarpment, and those west and north of the Ochre Cove-Clarendon Fault, are all older than 500 million years. This is not hair-brained theory, this is rocks. Within the official McLaren Vale Geographical Indicator, as recognised by international law, there are very few vineyards remaining in these old rocks.

What was the northern half of the region, in these old siltstone/sandstone/quartzite geologies between Happy Valley Reservoir and the Onkaparinga mouth, is all horrible houses. From its beginning, a large proportion of Penfolds Grange came from there. Like the old dry-grown bush vine Shiraz in the mudstone around the Morphett Vale Baptist Church, where my old man would preach revivals in the 'sixties.  Former Grange maker John Duval grew up there on his family's Shiraz blocks.  Max [Schubert] bought their fruit every year.  Loved it.  Along with the real old geology of Seaford Heights, which is now being sub-divided in this Labor government’s single biggest act of determined ecological vandalism, I believe these old rocks were the best grape-growing geology in the region, if not the state. Or the entire bloody country.

James Hook, vine scientist, and the author on the first McLaren Vale geology tour, explaining the significance of the unique Tapley's Hill formation (about 700 million years old) which will soon be buried beneath Labor's new Seaford Heights housing development ... photo Bodhi Edwards

Funny that it was a previous Labor government and planning minister Don Hopgood that permitted the uprooting of the original vineyards at the Grange at Magill to make way for droll dormitoria/twilight farm housing on streets called things like Shiraz and Hermitage. I hope some starving developer’s still got all them pound notes stuffed in a pillow.

Anyway. You can’t blame the current management of the MVGW&TA for letting their region’s best and oldest geology fall to the villa rash and those politicians and developers who are addicted to the voters, Shoppies and lucre that follows it. Those suburbs were growing while those folks grew up. But it’s now three years since the release of the state government’s official PIRSA map of The Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region, so you’d think that whoever’s in charge of writing press releases would by now have begun to get the gist of it.

You'd think that if they really were interested in, or knew anything about truly scarce old earths, they would by now have put a halt to the Seaford Heights development, which will bring poxy city/suburban houses right to the entry of the McLaren Vale township.  Deputy Premier John Rau parades like a carousel pony on the glory he presumes is his due for his housing freezes in both McLaren Vale and the Barossa, but these houses are coming in like a giant wave of bile regardless, and they're washing away the credibility of all these hungry mothers who lay claim to Scarce Earth and the right to charge more for their Shiraz because they think they know what geology it grew in.  

Don't think I'm advocating a Liberal party victory at the next election.  When Shadow Planning Minister David Ridgeway came down here in his blue and white striped shirt with the cuffs turned back like a Saints boy, he sanctimoniously declared the battle for Seaford Heights lost.  You could smell him hoping that development would proceed and get local Member Leon Bignell voted out.  There was no precedent, he said, for rezoning land to agricultural purposes once it was zoned for housing.  Wrong.  It was his party which had already done that reversal, giving Trott and Paxton and their lot the Gateway Vineyard just across the road from Seaford Heights.  

It was Leon "Biggles" Bignell, not his cocky boss Rau, that came up with the Barossa and McLaren Vale housing freeze.  The jaundiced observer could easily think Biggles got what he wanted in exchange for the Labor Party's insistence on pleasing the developer, the Pickard family, with the chequebook and the quarry full of old rock building stone not a few kilometres distant from this sacred and irreplaceable agricultural site they are so keen to smother with the sort of overlapping eaves housing which has already eaten our coast. 

Scarce Earths? One look at the map, with its overlay of vineyards, and you’ll very quickly see that most of McLaren Vale’s Shiraz is planted in the most common, flattest, cheapest earth in the district. It is NOT scarce. A lot of it - even the really old bits - are replicated, or re-occur, in the Barossa and Clare.  The truly scarce bits of McLaren Vale are either covered in houses, will soon be covered in houses, or are regarded as too steep to plant or too far removed from the recycled water pipeline (watch Polanski’s Chinatown) for anybody to bother putting vineyards on them.

But there’s little chance of that. Read the rest of this pant: “In McLaren Vale things happen… but not by chance. The region’s passionate wine producers are amongst the most cohesive in Australia, banding together, getting their hands dirty and achieving some incredible feats in the process, proving that two heads really are better than one.”

Wha? Getting their hands dirty? Counting money, or dreaming of counting money? Two heads on every penny? I remember the MVGW&TA e-mail which triggered what eventually became Scarce Earths. It suggested that every local winemaker should be planning a $100 Shiraz.


“Wednesday 1 May marked the release of 23 new-release 2011 Vintage of McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Shiraz wines,” the article says. “These wines have passed three expert tasting panels to ensure they reflect their sense of place and express their true fruit characters.”

It is far too early to decide whether these wines “reflect their sense of place” or “express their true fruit characters”.

In his tenacious wine business weekly, The Key Report, Tony Keys was quickly onto the sniff of something.

“All good stuff but who is on the panels? The butcher, baker, whore house madam and Lutheran minister?” he asked, and then explained one panel included Scarce Earth vendors/winemakers Michael Fragos (Chapel Hill), Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg) and Charles Whish (Serafino); “keeping them honest [were] Huon Hooke (Sydney Morning Herald) David LeMire MW (Shaw & Smith) and Michael Andrewartha of East End Cellars in Adelaide.”

These honesty police are all respected expert tasters, of course, but how they can possibly know that wines presumably tasted blind truly “reflect their sense of place and express their true fruit characters” beats me. It’ll take years of gradual learning before anybody can make such claim, and forensic testing of flavours relative to geology.

The makers of many of McLaren Vale’s best wines have little to do with the impossible MVGW&TA acronym, and those who sail in it. Methinks the real ones are too busy at home, learning their geology, growing and making better wine in volumes they can manage. They have no budget for bullshit. And they don’t charge $100.

Beware young common dirt being flogged as scarce and ancient.

James Hook, the author and Drew Noon MW explaining the difference between common new dirt and extremely scarce old rocks at Gateway Vineyard.  The author is indicating all the scarce old rocks to the north which are now buried beneath horrid suburbia, while the precious 700 million year old Tapley's Hill Formation siltstone at his feet is about to disappear beneath mindless Labor government ghetto.  This is the last old rock scarce earth left in the Willunga Embayment, which most people call McLaren Vale. All the other vineyards are in much younger geology, most of which is not at all scarce ... photo Brad Cameron

27 May 2013


Chris Parkinson, who with partner Robin Chalklen are The Yearlings, celebrated his fiftieth birthday at the weekend.  It was a fine old night, with some fine old guitars being passed around by some of the cream of the South Australian music business - the music ran like honey.  The Audreys were in attendance, the Ponys played a hyper-rare gig, and master guitar maker Jim Redgate supervised the black platters.  Even the food was full of music - the catering was done by Robin and Mick Wordley of Mixmasters recording studios. Here's Parks contemplating his birthday cake.  Happy happy birthday, dear Brother.  There they are playing at Olivers' Taranga 170th party the night James Halliday made eyes at Nick Ryan (Leeanne Rouvray photo), below, and playing Yangarra, bottom (Milton Wordley photos) ... Mick Wordley and the author enjoyed a private sound-check show in the sunset.

26 May 2013


The tireless Milton Wordley has just sent me this, his final phone snap of Howard Twelftree, taken a fortnight ago.  Howard was on his last official function, judging the Duke of Brunswick pub Quince Off.  The Juke was his local.  It's like the Brit or the Ex was twenty year back.  Howard sacked the other judges because they "knew fuck all about food" and handed the bling to Derek and Lavina for their quince curry. That's Warts - Chris Waterman - on the right hand of God.





After the funeral I took all your shirts
and scrubbed the collars and cuffs
with lemon and eucalyptus, so they shone
brighter than they’d ever done before.

I soaked your work trousers then washed them,
edging the temperature to the boil,
feeding the copper with kindling you’d cut,
while that old wringer surged and sang

like you did as we laughed those years
away, surprised at our hunger and lust.
The starching came next, and the iron.
Handkerchiefs, cravat - even your ties.

Now that they’re hanging on the rack
it’s obvious: you’re never coming back.


Philip White

Howard Twelftree was foremost amongst Australia's great gastronomy writers. He wrote for decades under the pseudonym John McGrath. To read my contribution to his various eulogies, and see photographs of his wake at his local, the Duke of Brunswick, click here. To read his first food review, click here.



Neddy's, Hutt Street, Adelaide, late 'eighties.  White and McGrath hunt tucker at the expense of the Champenoise, who'd never seen anything like it ... photo Milton Wordley

Hot Goat At The Royal Oak
from Adelaide Preview, September 1979

This is the first published work of the revered Adelaide food critic, John McGrath. McGrath was the nom de plume of my lifelong friend, Howard Twelftree, who was found sitting dead at his keyboard yesterday evening. We bashed this out on my old Underwood typewriter on my dining table in Carrington Street. That table bore much greater crimes, but these words, and the works they led to, will remain the longest standing. Howard needed no further urging.  His profound influence on Adelaide and Australian cuisine can only become more apparent the longer we live without him.  

We two broad innocents had heard of a place where the mining industry had somehow linked arms with the gay pinkos to purge the Flinders and Middleback Ranges of those whalers of native flora, the goats.  Those goats go in the curry every Friday lunchtime at the Royal Oak Hotel on O’Connell Street in North Adelaide, and the clientele was rumoured to regularly incorporate both miners and artistic directors.  Little tongues lapping, off we did trot.
But no.  No marriage of obviously separate schools here in this Royal Oak.  Instead, we were instantly consumed by the riptide of a Green Frog Enterprises board meeting.  These infidel truckers were taking a little business goat with a criminal lawyer, a captive nations sort of blonde woman called Chook who bore absolutely no resemblance to any variety of feathered creature, and a South Yarra Screamer sporting some wonderfully assymetric eyebrows and attendant earwear which matched. The eyebrows.

Now there’s no room for shirkers at these meetings of the Green Frog, so keen to look like a part of the bunch, your two food reporters opened fire on the carafes of red and white that deck the tables as you enter.  Each pair of diners gets a carafe of their choosing as part of the $6 per head meal cost, and though there are many who’d rather a lager with their goat, the vino vapourised fairly quickly.  By Jove, there’s always beer to be had, but grape?  Gratis? 

When one first enters the Royal Oak, the immediate realisation is that this is one of those labyrinthic jobs that are the result of a century of relatively haphazard remodeling and sub-dividing, all piled there, two stories high, on top of the mulled colonial publican’s dream.  She’s a graceful chap on the outside, but once in, there are little rooms leading into darker, more comfortable little rooms, with little rooms to left and right, with diners a-wander in each, all bearing that strange smugness peculiar to doyens of the curried goat.  

One of these rooms boasted a particularly smug lot, and there, tucked against a wall like a little brass Buddha: a table, bearing four electric crockpots, one marked “beef vindaloo”, one “chicken”, and “mild goat” and yes, a-bubbling there amidst them, their chief: “HOT GOAT”.  Scattered around the feet of this remarkable evidence that east sometimes does meet west, the appropriate accompaniments: tomato in mint, banana and lemon yoghurt, cucumber yoghurt, two lots of white rice, pappadams and cheppattis, and, lingering in their bowls like limpet mines at low tide, three sauces, anonymous in the dark.  Severe helpings of the lot were collected, we assure you.

Back at our table, the lawyer had begun to mumble about his lack of faith in his current client, and the Frog truckers, sure that they’d secured a large contract distributing some rising newspaper, were locked in a study of how to cover their fleet in case of rain.

The curries are the best in town.  We struggled out a list of four other eating houses that specialise in this brand of tucker, and this outshines ’em all.  Each of these curries is cooked in its own sauce – a rare pleasure in these days of the one or two sauce restaurant – and the side dishes are just as good.  One of the Frog men, although sufficiently toughened by years in the bush to happily manage footy shorts and thongs in the cold heart of winter, is all tender inside, and he praised god for mild goat.

Chook liked the chicken.  And we food reporters loved ’em all until our colourblind member, possessed of a great momentum and pleased with the heat and beer, moved mistakenly in the yellow light from his pungent pile of HOT GOAT through the delightful lemon pickle and straight into a significant stack of the Royal Oak’s chilli sauce.  That momentum ensured that he’d downed a good rapidfire seven spoonsful before his stomach lining, or lack thereof, gave him notice that his eyes had failed him again: “Driver this is no goat curry you’re pumping down on us, this is your pure bushfire blend chilli sauce!”

Too late!  The room was obviously a swirling mess to our chap – the Rules Of The Bar mirror had merged into the gingham tablecloths and tapestry wallpaper, the sweat poured down, the magnificent Victorian Olympian print on the dining wall developed a nasty Cecil B. de Mille animation, and our poor boy grabbed his notebook and twisted it into a gross mistake of pain and intense heat as our company broadcast silent shock and this chap prepared to die in Chilli Hell.

We have found it impossible to accurately gauge the importance of that notebook, but we are certain that it was the trigger that flung words to the lips of our asymmetrical South Yarra Sister.  “Are you Sol Simeon?” she asked.  The dyee had barely gasped an astonished but final “No!” when she followed up with a good old 1,2,3 “I can write!” and sure, she could write anything.  That seemed to please the Frog director in footy shorts who rattled back: “Aaah, good! I gotta friend in Sydney who hasn’t heard from me in six years!” 

Unperturbed, our writing lass offered us scandal, upper crust gossip, and the true story of the horse breeders who burned down the Morphetville grandstand before somebody notified her that the “funny meat” she was gobbling actually came off a goat.  At that, she foundered in a thick bank of silence.  

By that stage the chilli demons had slowed to a simmer in old colourblind’s blood, and the two of us fled to the social security of the front bar.  It was still daytime.  A sturdy barmaid pulled the taps there, the horizontal barroom lightbeams catching the beer and her topaz rings in one cool sweep.  She blushed excellently, and managed perfectly the soft barrages of conversation that drifted over her bar.  “Looks like the winter’s blown in ... ” “... Yeah ... ” “... Cold ...  ” “... Cold ... ” “... Yeah ... ”  “... Very cold ... ” “... Got a coat on ... ” “... Yeah ... ” “... Rolled me sleeves down ... ”
This hotel was on the verge of demolition until a bunch of bothered locals raised hell several years ago.  We know little of its history prior to that, but it’s been a steady supplier of astoundingly inexpensive bottleshop bargains since then, and now, these curries ... look, this wonderfully strange old pubful of these people is enough.  But add, just one lunchtime per week, this HOT GOAT and you’ve got one of the town’s warmest corners, with excellent folk, food and value.  Just be very careful if you’re colourblind, and remember to book a table before you arrive. 

David Wynn, Howard Twelftree, and the author at Mountadam, early nineties

23 May 2013


Vine scientist James Hook, left, of DJ's Growers and Lazy Ballerina Wines, with the author this morning at the beginning of the first of a series of geology tours of McLaren Vale.  In the midst of all that vegetation lies one of the few exposures of the Tapley's Hill Formation, the last of this priceless 700 million year old siltstone - which is perfect grape-growing geology - about to disappear beneath dormitory housing at Seaford Heights ... photos Bodhi Edwards (above), Brad Cameron (below)

21 May 2013


Paracombe Adelaide Hills The Rueben 2010
$21; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points
As the 2009 model of this bargain Bordeaux-style blend won the highest points of any entry in last year’s Royal Melbourne Wine Show, I’ve been keen to see what the follow-up would be like.  Like?  Love. It’s brash now, in this its youth, and it’s more austere than the 09 was when it got all them big numbers in Melbourne.  But it has all the right ingredients to repeat the style, if not that staggering score.  It’s Cabernet sauvignon 46%, Merlot 23%, Cabernet franc 17%, Malbec 11% and Shiraz 3%.  French barrels have given it a nose-tickling edge, but the fruits are pressing against the barriers immediately behind, threatening to topple the fence and come spilling through. It’s all a briary tangle of blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, juniper and mulberry, and given another ten months, it’ll be in such balance and form that it’ll show great swathes of Bordeaux its dust.  Neat, precise, tight and tantalizing now; silk-and-velvet slipperyness coming soon. Slow-roast lamb belly in caramelized red onions, parsnips and mash is the go now while it’s tannic and taut; by Summer, when it’s softened a tad, it’ll be better with juicy cutlets and fresh black pepper with a squeeze of lemon juice.  Like the 09, it’s a stunning bargain at this price. Try to put some away.

Marchand and Burch Porongorup Chardonnay 2011
$73; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
Jeff Burch, owner of Western Australia’s Howard Park and Madfish, formed this duet with Burgundian Pascal Marchand to edge the wild west a few notches closer to Burgundy.  More Mersault than Montrachet, this big bubba would trick many a discerning palate in the blind wine races.  Hazelnuts, cinder toffee (aka honeycomb in Australia) and gingernut biscuits wallow about the bouquet on most  levels, then there’s an angle of it that smells like the fur on a quince.  It also has a prickly top breeze like the granite of the Pongorurup Range (north of Albany) on a summer day.  The flavour’s rich and cuddly, approaching chamomile tea in some ways, and leaning gently against valerian and its powerful pheremonal iso-valeric acid.  Its sweetness, no doubt a result of the mysterious voodoo that occurs with wild yeast barrel ferments, is verging on the discernable, adding unction and body to what was already a formidable Chardonnay. A cassoulet from the beginning of winter, not the end, would do the business with it right now.  By the end of winter, when that pot’s been simmering away for months, absorbing no end of kitchen scraps, you’d have a Pinot.  93+ points 


Wild colonial old boys play on 
More Goonish than namesake
Hardly a pre-Raphaelite mob

You wouldn’t credit it.  The Hogarth Club turned forty.  It was formed by businessman Malcolm Eliott, of the Super Eliott bicycle manufacturers, and a gang of other well-schooled Adelaide dissolutes, many of them journalists, some of whom became editors  before descending to the lofty incomes of the nefarious public relations world, but also the odd lawyer, one of whom became Premier, and a sprinkle of thespians, one of whom became a beloved clown but started out in theoretical physics.  And others, of course. Complex mob.

The Adelaide Hogarth was always a bit more Goon Show than its London namesake, which lasted from 1858 to 1861 and was itself a radical artists’ group which splintered in turn from another radical artists’ splintergroup called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  The PRB mob were opposed to the use of so much bitumen in the tinctures used by painters of the day.  The PRBs were gutses for colour.  The Art Gallery of South Australia has some fine examples of their vivid work: look for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Holman Hunt.  Schmaltz.

Rather than revere and promote vibrant colour in their artfulness, the Adelaide lot always met upstairs in Chesser Cellars, in the clubby privacy of the Hogarth Room, where prints from William Hogarth adorned the somber timber-paneled walls, giving the whole thing the atmosphere of one of those gloomy old paintings whose pigment was full of tar.  


However the general behaviour of the Adelaide lot was a lot more colourful than the room: hanging around that table upon which I believe the last drafts of the Australian Constitution were honed were Hogarth’s grim satires warning against the over-consumption of gin. Hogarth considered beer the better beverage for Englishmen. 

I was introduced to the table at an early age, and immediately noted it was free of women, which was a trouble to me.  I love ’em.  As with blokes: it's especially the smart ones.  Samela Harris sometimes attended, but usually sat up the other end.

Given the original Hogarth Club’s hatred of bitumen in the tincture, I was always fascinated by the Adelaide mob’s fearless attitude to the remorseless schlücking of it in wine, especially if it bore a high price and was brought there by somebody else.  Regardless of their fat stipends, notable gentlemen, one of whom warned me straight off that he was unlikely to ever give me a job, but that I may shape up in time, tended to leave their Hungry Dan’s aside until my bottles were pillaged.  I could never blame them.

One of the loveliest wines I’ve ever had, just for example, was a pre-war Pinot noir from Chile which David Wynn had given me.  I took that to the Hogarth, and while it finished and won its sprint in unseemly haste I have never seen anything like it since. 

There are six longstanding rules of the Hogarth Club, the first being that Philip Satchell must always have the cold soup.  Second barred Wayne Anthony from port; third ruled that the late Tony Short was banned from ever telling the white gorilla joke.  Four: Edmund Cyril Colbek Pegge is quite simply barred from the table for life, a law Pegge  belligerently insists on breaking; five: if a member brings a guest more than twice, that person is then a member and should thenceforth pay for their own lunch.  Regulation six declared that no gentleman should leave the room until requested to do so.

Then there came the rather unusual regulation that dessert should be sung. As landlord  Primo Caon, and others before him, offered a choice of desserts, the mob decided that the best choice was the one whose name could be best sung to the tune of a well-known melody; any melody.  On a good day, especially when the port was already properly broached, the Hogarth could put up a damned respectable male voice choir.  This was often known to swell in especial mellifluence after dessert was had.

Eventually, Papa Caon famously found the financial regulations of the day impossible to abide, and Chesser closed.  The Hogarth now meets at Jolley’s Boathouse, where the fortieth anniversary lunch was bulldozed.  As if to punish their parsimony, Jolley’s charges a damn lot more than Caon ever did. Go get ’em, Jolley’s.

Before I ran to the country and became a much less regular attendee, I strove to take fascinating guests, especially women.  I doubt that anyone will match Tony Brooks arriving with the great New South Wales politician Billy Wentworth, descendant of the fathers of that colony of the same name; he was Mungo McCallum’s uncle.  But I tried.  That magnificently thirsty writer Shiva Naipal (right) was at the front of my attacking cadre, but I preferred to take women when I could find them.  I recall a rather told-you-so reception to my prickly guest, the chef and author Gay Bilson, and precisely the opposite when I arrived with the exotic dancer, Doody, who was far too smart for the ones down our end.

One principal woman I wish I’d had the nous to invite was that absolutely unique bush lady and Mayor of that isolated gateway to the Outback, Port Augusta, Joy Baluch. She woulda shredded ’em.  But there we were, sitting at our fat fortieth anniversary table the morning after her death of cancer at eighty, and I raised a toast to her.

Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch

In the very early ’eighties, when Australia’s wine promotion scene swarmed with counts from Champagne, promoting the fizz from that region – there are counts everywhere in Champagne, many of them hired – I was invited to a special luncheon at Neddy’s, where one of these said counts was to award Joy a special gong from Champagne for her services to tourism in countryside Australia.  To protect the innocent, if any of them ever existed and survive, I’m probably pleased that I can’t seem to find my notes from that day, and have forgotten the name of said count and the famous fizz he represented, but my recollection is otherwise precise.

The count was a slender tailored suit conservative poshness from Reims, somewhat Germanic in attitude. Good English, quaint accent, impeccable manners. I was there, reasonably well-dressed but with punk hair. Kevin Rasheed was there, having won something for his exemplary Wilpena Pound resort in the Flinders, in new moleskines and a blue-and-white striped shirt and navy blazer. There was Theo, Joy’s husband, who spoke very little English and seemed happy to nod off to slumber during a meal that must have looked to him like something served straight from a kitchen in outer space.  Theo was already ill.  He wore a suit that appeared to have been bought when he was several stone larger.  And then there was Joy.

 Joy was a tall lass, even for a bushie.  A statuesque, well-built, outspoken, freckly fanger with a ranga afro beaten only by that mighty New Zealand author, Janet Frame, she arrived at table in a stylish fake fur over a bright red silk negligee consisting of long trousers with lace cuffs touching her strappy stilettos, and a matching chemise, which promoted her handsome freckled chest. 

Between the blunt bush lingo of Joy and hubby and the posh-schooled hybrid of Kevin and wife, and my attempts at being fluent in the language, lure and lore of Champagne, said count seemed rather lost.  While his eyes kept falling upon certain parts of Joy, one wondered what he imagined these resorts to be like, these outback oases he’d been sent to the other end of the earth to acknowledge if never ever actually, er, visit.  And he seemed to get stuck on chef Cheong Liew’s stunning kangaroo sashimi, which may have been illegal, but was quite appropriately raw.

“I was bloody shocked when the lad arrived at my place from the couriers with that bloody giant bottle of Champagne,” Joy told the count of the day she learned of her gong at her Pampas Motel in Port Augusta.  She was always more of a worker than a drinker.  “He said ‘Shit you must be flash, Missus, getting your piss sent in from France’. 

“And you know,” she continued, “it’d be raining bloody brick shithouses before anything like that hit me.”

No it wouldn’t, you dear departed warrior queen of the desert’s edge.  We know few of the wildnesses you encountered in your constant battle to have your wilderness patch recognized.  I apologise for never inviting you to the Hogarth.  It might have been raining bloody brick shithouses, but your fearless discourse and delivery would’ve bounced ’em off the oak-panelled walls.  

Fair bloody dinkum.

And happy fortieth, you old bastards.

Jolley's Boathouse, Adelaide ... Primo Caon addresses the Hogarth Club on the occasion of its fortieth birthday ... photo Philip White


Joyleen Thomas, Chair of the South Australian branch of National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, discussing Joy Baluch with Peter Goers on ABC 891, Monday 20th May 2013:

PG: How did you regard Joy Baluch?

JT: Well, you know, people talk about her as being a very strong woman, which she was, and she led that community for very long ... for a long number of years, even when I was in high school, she was the mayor there even when I was in high school in Port Augusta. But I’m very disappointed in that I don’t think Joy used her powers there and her position to progress things for Aboriginal people in that area.

So I’m a bit disappointed that she didn’t do as much as I think she could have done for Aboriginal children.

PG: What more would you like to have seen her to do?

JT:  Well there’s nothing in Port Augusta for young people to do.  And we chose, Roger and I, we chose to bring our children out of Port Augusta to Adelaide and we moved to Adelaide in 1985.  And that was because we couldn’t see that things were changing for our children, and we wanted to bring them to a place where they had lots of opportunities.

Joyleen Thomas, chair of the  National Aborigines and Islanders' Day Observance Committee, South Australia.  Joyleen's a Kokatha woman "with relationships extending  across  South Australia and the Northern Territory, particularly to the Yunkunjatjara, Arrente and Arabunna people. Joyleen is a sister to 10 siblings and a mother of two adult children."

PG: You could say though that for most rural communities black or white you could say that there was a lack of opportunities for young people.  Joy created the Dry Zones which have then swept the nation. How do you regard them?

JT: To me the Dry Zones are a bit like Ethnic Cleansing in a moderate way - not to the extent that we’ve seen in other countries - but it’s about removing Aboriginal people from the public view.  And I think that’s what it’s done.  I think that’s what it was meant to do, and that’s what it has done.  So really we haven’t fixed the problem.  We’ve moved it and we’ve hidden it.

PG:  I think Dry Zones were first trialed in Port Augusta.  Because Port Augusta is a meeting place isn’t it for lots of Aboriginal people.  The only thing is, and I supported them [Dry Zones] in Victoria Square, mainly because I thought ‘What good does it do to see people, black or white, or whatever, rolling around drunk, and in some cases abusively drunk?  How does that help anybody? What do you think?

JT:  I think we’ve tried very hard to bring Aboriginal people back into the Square and into public places and the State government did have a really strong push around reclaiming some public space and making sure we were having Aboriginal events there, but I think what we’ve done is we’ve pushed it to the edges and we haven’t really provided the services, so it’s really hidden them from us.  Do we really know what’s happening out there? Do we know what’s happening under the bridges?

The night of her death, this portrait of Mayor Baluch appeared beneath the bridge which has since been named after her.  Artists were locals Craig Ellis and Angelique Boots; photo by Larry Martin.

PG:  Quite. Very strongly put.  And in Joy’s defence with the Dry Zones, and I know this criticism of her treatment of Aboriginal people is not new, but she did once, when I was there, and I went for a drive with her, and she very proudly showed us the Aboriginal community housing.  She was very proud of that.  I think it’s a good thing is it not?

JT: I’m not sure – the Aboriginal?  Lake View?

PG:  I don’t know where it was.  It was sort of to the back of the town.

JT:  Yeah.  So it’s out.  Going towards what was Davenport community.  Well it is Davenport community now.  It was a reserve.  And before that it was part of a mission. And there was a children’s home there.

PG:  And what do you think of it?

JT:  Of the Lake View?  Lake View is actually – I think they’ve done some work upgrading the houses.  I used to work on Davenport back in 1973, and the housing was very poor.  They were tin sheds with cement floors and some of them were asbestos. So there are different levels of housing there.  I think they’ve tried to renew the housing.  But a lot of people have moved into towns and into the township itself.  Davenport still doesn’t get the services that other communities get.  It doesn’t get a rubbish collection or bus services or any of those basic services that we expect in townships, in, say, Port Augusta or any one of those townships.  So it doesn’t get those essential services that everybody else takes for granted.

Lake View was put there to try and capture some of the itinerant people.  People coming down in the summer holidays; people coming from northern or remote areas, so that they had places to stay.  Because it’s quite expensive to come and stay in Port Augusta coming with not very much money.  You’ve got medical expenses.  And if you want to go shopping from Davenport or from Lake View you have to catch a cab. And so that adds to your expense. And if you’re unemployed you’re not on a lot of money.

17 May 2013


At my front door ... photo Philip White

14 May 2013


Cradle of Hills McLaren Vale Route du Bonheur GMS 2011
$25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points
Daughter Georgina Smith came up with the brand name, Mum Tracy runs the vineyard and did the artwork (Shiraz lees on paper) and Paul Smith makes the wine in this brave little outfit on the Kurrajong rubble of the piedmont near the Victory Hotel.  These Smiths have quietly, quickly moved to the pointy end of McLaren Vale quality winemaking, leaving many of the established names gulping in their wake.  This cool baby’s lush with cherry juice, blueberry, and black and redcurrant.  True to the pure and clean vineyard regime of horticulturer/environmental scientist Tracy, the wine is disarming in its bright, healthy freshness.  It smells like a Burgundian fruiterer’s display.  The flavours are intense, the texture silky, the length and form of the wine utterly delicious.  About three-quarters of the way through we get a lick of oak which adds spice to the allure.  This wood is nowhere near as sappy as those were, but it brings to mind the ultra-slick Black Label Wolf Blass Jimmy Watson Trophy reds of the ’seventies.  Which raises an interesting thought: responsible organic vine gardening and tiny back shed winemaking can come up with a wine whose style is very damn close to the best wines of Australia in the pre-refinery days.  Come to think of it, Blassie’s winemaker, the mighty John Glaetzer, made those three Jimmy winners in a colorbond shed not much bigger than Smithy’s. Watch this space.    

Yangarra Estate McLaren Vale Roussanne 2012
$25;  13.6% alcohol; screw cap; 94+ points
First disclaimer: I live in a small rented flat near Kangarilla, in the Yangarra vineyard in which I have no financial interest, unfortunately.  Second disclaimer: I love this new wine.  It grew where the Maslin Sands ironstone meets the Kurrajong Formation rubble: rounded riverine rocks washed down over the faultline from the mountains that towered over the Willunga Escarpment until last time the world melted and the ice and snow washed them away in violent effluvia of a scale we simply cannot comprehend.  I’m talking about aroma and flavour here, not fruit.  Forget all that standard white wine language about limes and citrus and stone fruits.  Third disclaimer: I’m white in more ways than one, and carry the scars of many stonings, and I think that if it’s fruity descriptors that you want this smells like avocado and white sapote (Casimiroa edulis – the Mexican sapote, not the Vietnamese).  But it predominately smells like all those rocks bashed to powder and dust in one king-hell mortar and pestle.  Most sommeliers and wine writers call this minerality.  I call it rocks, because not all minerals are rocks and this smells like those rocks it grew in and seems nothing like well-known minerals such as asbestos, mercury, salt, arsenic, ice or gold.  Which brings me to actually drinking the stuff.  Pretty much more of the above, really, with perfectly slimy flesh – avocado and white sapote, funnily enough – and that dusty dry extremely fine-grained tannin that tastes like all those rocks smashed into powder.  As for an accompanying dish?  Richard Olney’s cool Provencale bean and pork belly stew is perfect.  I reckon it’d be one of the very few wines which could handle the bitter tannins of the artichoke, but I haven’t tried that yet.  Otherwise, it goes deliciously with avocado, olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper, or, even more simply, sliced white sapote.  And oh yes.  They don’t make much of a big deal about it, but this wine was grown and made while the vineyard was in transition to full biodynamic and organic certification, so the wine has no herbicides (like the dreaded Roundup), and no pesticides or synthetic chemicals, which makes me very happy. Not only do I love putting the wine in my body, but my body loves living in the vineyard. 

11 May 2013


The hand of cooper Glen Schulz, photographed by Dragan Radocaj 

No fingernail polish in sight
Tailors cutting  timber to fit
80% of Australia's barrels

“Not many of these blokes will be doing fingernail polish advertisements,” I thoughtfully advised myself.  

I couldn't help noticing the lack of representatives of the Women In Wine movement at the table, but that's another issue.

The snappy James Lindner, of Langmeil Wines at Tanunda, was giving another of his remarkable lunches.  A notable precursor was the amazing day when the 94 year old Dr Ray Beckwith stood up and for the first time in his life told the story of his discovery of the importance of pH in winemaking in the ’thirties.  No-one who attended will ever forget that. 

Attendees probably won’t forget this one, either.  It was in honour of the coopers of the Barossa: 24 men from seven barrel factories.  We worked out that between them, this long table of blokes makes about eighty per cent of the wine barrels used in Australia.

How cool is this? Third pair along, Alex (left) and Peter John (opposite) run Australia's biggest cooperage, A. P. John's, on Basedow Road, Tanunda. 

“If we’d had this lunch twenty years back,” one sage remarked, “with the old blokes, there’d be more fingers missing.  Occupational health and safety, eh?”

There’s been a great deal of bullshit spoken about oak.  Most wines that boast of having oak have never seen a new barrel.  At the extreme, usually illegal end, charlatans may resort to essence of oak chips, like the shipment I innocently signed for upon its arrival at Rothbury wines thirty years ago.  While I suggested there was sufficient there to turn Sydney Harbor into Chardonnay, Len Evans’ shotgun rider insisted the turps was for laboratory use only. 

Within the law, sawdust, shavings, chips, planks and innerstaves make up most of the oak which is not your actual barrel.  A bag of shavings, for example, is called a “tea bag”.  In the business, we jokingly call this “small oak”.  The back labels might claim “small oak” occasionally, but these days you’re more likely to spot the word “subtle”.

“Oak alternatives, we call that,” explained Master Cooper Peter John, who runs Australia’s biggest cooperage, A. P. John, in Tanunda.  “That’s the stuff that goes into the wine, rather than stuff the wine goes into.  Between fifteen and twenty per cent of our sales revenue comes from oak alternatives.”

But while the men around that table are very happy to make a buck selling their offcuts to winemakers who won't pay for real barrels, their pride is in their barrel craft, and brazen  barrel-chested pride it is.  Barrels do healing things to wine that no shovel of sawdust or onion bag of shavings can ever do to a big steel tankful of over-irrigated petrochem mentality Ozplonk.  

Yeast, for example, is a single-celled fungi which falls to the bottom of a barrel after fermentation, during which it has turned sugar to ethanol.  As it dies and rots, its remnants release mannoproteins and polysaccharides which soften tannins and acids.  Through a mysterious electrostatic process, these tiny dead bodies will gradually line the entire inside surface of a barrel, so if the wine goes into the wood it passes through a layer of these compounds, and when it comes back out of those millimeters of oak cells it passes through those dead yeasts again, as if they were a flavoured strainer.  This electrostatic exchange does not happen to sawdust in a bloody huge steel tank. 

Peter’s a fourth-generation cooper.  His mighty dad, Master Cooper and fellow Baron of the Barossa, Warren John, died recently, triggering the idea of this lunch; Peter’s son Alex is being groomed to take over in due course.

Coopers are deemed worthy of great respect in the Barossa.  Richard Lindner, James’s dad, said he thought he’d get along to Warren’s funeral early.  “You know Whitey, get to the service twenty minutes before it started, find a quiet seat and remember Warren.  Not a chance.  The crowd was that big you couldn’t get near the church.”

“When I started in 1976 we were an artisan cooperage making a hundred barrels a year for Grange,” Peter said.  “The breach Alex is preparing to step into is gonna be a helluva lot different to the one I walked into.  We make 30,000 barrels a year now.  We generally have around thirty employees.  It’s a different world.  I was very lucky.  I learnt on the go.  Alex has been through every analytical wine course we can find.  He’s studied the science and chemistry of wood, of polyphenols, the chemistry and physics of grain spacing, cool climate oak versus warmer, the whole deal.  Everything we can learn from the cooperages of the USA and France.”

Apart from that book learning, coopering is tough physical work.  Barrels are heavy.  Oak has splinters.  When you toast barrels, to release the wood’s natural vinillins and caramels, you use fire.  Fire burns.  Shaving machines and electric planers, hammers and hoop drivers are hard violent things.  It takes years and fingers to learn to wrangle barrels quickly and efficiently.

“Say when one of these young blokes start, when they grab a barrel, they’re slow,” said Anthony Werner of Cooperages 1912, just up the road from A. P. John’s.  “You gotta learn to be careful.  It’s dangerous.  Takes a long time to learn.  Lots can go wrong.  So like a young feller might take four or five hours to work through thirty barrels.  I can shave thirty barrels in about an hour forty-five, but I’ve been doing it for seventeen years.”

Shaving a barrel is not building a new one from scratch, but removing the the head from an old one and shaving its interior to release a fresh oak surface to the next wine.

He’s talking about puncheons, barriques, hogsheads and the like.  Wood you can roll and stack.  Some jobs are a lot bigger.  Out of his fifty years of coopering, Glen Shulz says the biggest, trickiest job was one he and Peter John worked on at the Riverland Fruit Cannery.  To break citrus peel down for jam manufacture, the factory used a powerful acid brine solution that would eat concrete and stainless steel.  So the lads took their timber and tools up the river and built the biggest set of wooden vats Australia is likely to see.

“They were 100,000 litres each,” Peter recalls, a little ruefully.  “We built nine of ’em.”   That's him in the Peter Frampton haircut below.

“It was bloody dangerous,” Glen said.  “We’d have half the staves in place on the base, just standing there, and if you got a gust of wind the whole lot of ’em would fall on you.  But we got it done.  It was a challenge.  But you know, we were young ’uns.  We enjoyed it.  We were proud of what we did.  And then the ownership of the jam factory changed or there was a takeover or something and the whole joint shut down.”

Coopering has bizarre timeframes.  It commonly takes about 120 years for a French oak to grow big enough to supply enough suitable wood to make a couple of good barrels.  People wince at the notion of beautiful trees being cut, but the consolation is the simple fact that the French are great foresters, an activity they delightfully call sylviculture.  Forest land is farmed for a profit, just like any other farmland.  Professional sylviculturers select the blend of trees required to keep a balanced, multicultural forest with straight marketable trunks.  One quarter of France is under forest, and a third of that is oak.  The French have reforested two million hectares of land since the destruction of World War II.

The French sell trees by auction.  A tranche of forest is mapped and delineated, and the composition of its timber recorded.  Potential buyers inspect the trees, and are permitted to take cores from their trunks to check the suitability of their grain.  Only a certain percentage of the trees in any tranche are marked for removal, and these can be of various species.  The buyer is obliged to remove all the trees marked for harvest, whether he wants only the best oak or not: buyers must have contacts in many industries requiring timber in order to sell all the wood they are obliged to harvest but do not need.  The auction is Dutch: the auctioneer starts at a high price and comes down.  First buyer to break ranks and poke a finger up gets the timber.  The auctions are very tense; much Gauloise smoke fills the air. The buyer is then obliged to remove the designated trees within a certain period of time and make the forest clean for the replanters.  And so the cycle repeats.

So a cooper like Peter buys oak from the forests he prefers through a French agent, and the wood is shipped to the Barossa, cut, or split, and stacked outside for 35 months seasoning before a barrel can be made.  While A. P. John is now backed by a French cooper, they also sell American oak products.  Conversely, Cooperages 1912 has an American backer, but also sells French oak.

These are coopers of formidable reputation: A. P. John exports around 3000 barrels per annum, to the USA and Europe; barrels made from oak grown in the USA and Europe.  But that wood is seasoned in Australia's clean air, which makes a difference to the most sensitive and sensible winemakers.

So what happens, with such extreme timeframes, when the wine business takes a downturn, or the fashion for overtly sappy new oak wanes as it is now mercifully doing?

“All coopers are having a tough time in terms of profitability,” Peter says.  “The sheer scale of our inventory, the exchange rate … things work against you.  This is our leanest year in ten.  Australia has some of the most respected coopers on Earth, but we’re also amongst the most expensive.  But, you know, we’ve had 25 exceptional years, and we can tolerate a cycle like this.  We adapt.  Like with this trend to more subtle oak in the premium wines, and the demand for older used barrels increasing, we now trade heavily in used barrels.  We buy more than any other cooper.

“Then, on the other hand, we must innovate.  Like we’re keeping a very close eye, through our French connection, on this new demand for egg-shaped or amphorae-shaped  oaks.”

And the current fad amongst bearded naturists who insist ceramic amphorae are the go?  Is Peter John looking for a claypit?


Back row, left to right: Graham Heinrich, 34 years coopering at Heinrich's and Yalumba; Richard Lindner, proprietor of Langmeil Wines, our host; Dylan Pratt, one year at Heinrich; Jeremy Miles, twelve years at Heinrich; Glen Schulz, Schulz Barrel Co. fifty years coopering; Kent Norris, YN Oak; Andrew Young, YN Oak, 35 years coopering; Malcolm Heupeuff, YN Oak, 47 years coopering; Nick Bishop, YN Oak, sixteen years coopering; Warren Schutz, A. P. John, 29 years coopering; Peter John, 37 years coopering at A.P. John; Ashley Redden, A. P. John, 37 years coopering; middle row, l-r: Alex Thompson, fifty years coopering; Jacob Pitt, three months coopering at Stillers; Matt Prior, Keg Factory, seven years coopering; Robert Westover, Keg Factory, five years coopering; Andrew Stiller, eighteen years coopering at Stillers; Daniel Wall, Stillers, thirteen years coopering; Alex John, seven years training at A. P. John; front row, l-r: Neil Heinrich, twenty years coopering at Yalumba and Heinrich's; Andrew Broad, Yalumba; Shaun Gibson, fourteen years coopering at Yalumba; Corey Reuhr, fifteen years coopering at Yalumba; and Anthony Werner, seventeen years coopering at Heinrich, which is now called Cooperages 1912.  All the luncheon photographs are by Dragan Radocaj.