“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 June 2013


For a while, this bloke, Heavy Kevvie,  was our Prime Minister, which means most of us voted for him and his Labor [sic] Party.  He was like this.

Then a hard right Catholic bloke called Senator Don Farrell (below) and some of his mates from the union representing the supermarket slaves and the poor dills in the cheap grog outlets and big dumb hardware barns told Kevvie to piss off. This old news clip is about his influence on the parliament of my home state, South Australia.  But this Godfather Don had even more power in our national parliament, in Canberra.

Godfather Don and his shelf-stackers gave the top job to Julia Gillard.  Which, despite the smelly method,  pleased many of us, as we were suss of Heavy Kevvie, who showed signs of a kind of patho control freak streak.    On the other hand, Julia had a strange Miwbin accent and famously red hair, and was shacked up with her boyfriend Tim, a hairdresser from Shepparton.  

Most Australians seemed cool with this.  But famous feminists, redheads and hairdressers were delighted to the point of delerium.  Oxford Street ran out of red hair dye.  Ignoring all that blingorama, Julia did a lot of really good and clever shit running a hung parliament, which depended on the vote of a few independent wildcats, like the great statesman Tony Windsor.  

And she was capable of really cool humour, some of which was strangely prophetic. 

 But Heavy Kevvie, who has prayer meetings where they call upon a god of some sort, destabilised her act with constant shows of bitchiness and determined backroom manoeuvrings.  During this evil period, the Prime Minster of Australia was subjected to constant abject idiocy like this.  

Worse, she hit the shredder patiently accommodating unforgettable geniuses like the dreaded Alan Jones.

Struggling to assert their dodgy authority, the wild dogs of the  Canberra press gallery pushed for a leadership spill, without ever questioning much the leader of the opposition, a hard right catholic bloke called Tony Abbott, or Mr. Rabbit, who you heard Tony Windsor above accuse of doing anything short of selling his arse to get power.

So now Heavy Kevvy once again has  his little hand on the national joystick, and without popular election, is the Prime Minister of Australia. This makes many of us feel nostalgic for the inspiring days of yore. It was telling that it took The New Yorker to first accurately recognise and analyse the importance of this great speech ... that pack of wild dogs in our national capital were the last to appreciate it.  

For now, however, we're stuck with this Krudd, who obviously thinks his prayers have been answered by something we the people fail to grasp.  

In spite of an immediate sympathetic swill in the polls, people will eventually remember why they were relieved by the Gillard/Godfather Don coup, and the bouncing twerp will lose the election with a fat layer of bruised hubris if Mr Rabbit is his opponent.  But if the Liberals (which typically means conservatives, or Tories in Australia) sensibly throw their leader Rabbit out in the next few weeks, their new leader will be Malcolm Turnbull, whose reformed Liberal Party of Australia will chew up this dodgy sexist Catholic Labor supermarket mob - or whoever they are - and banish them to obscurity for at least a decade. 

Here's our former Prime Minister in her early union/lawyer days, having a good night groovin with Joan Kerner, who became Premier of Victoria, back in those times when women were only just beginning to rightfully invade the territory of Labor Party macho men.  


28 June 2013


Nobody had a better friend than PL, who died this morning [28th June, 2013]... Milton Wordley photo ... LATE NEWS: see the comments boxes at the foot of this piece for Philip Lehmann's advice regarding a celebratory get-together at the Peter Lehmann Winery on July 26th., and I shall see you there.
Damon Runyon’s last column 1945

Death came in and sat down beside me, a large and most distinguished-looking figure in beautifully-tailored soft, white flannels.  His expensive face wore a big smile.

“Oh hello,” I said. “Hello, hello, hello.  I was not expecting you.  I have not looked at the red board lately and did not know my number was up.  If you will just hand me my kady and my coat I will be with you in a jiffy.”

“Tut-tut-tut,” Death said.  “Not so fast. I have not come for you.  By no means.”

“You haven’t?” I said.

“No,” Death said.

“Then what the hell are you doing here?” I demanded indignantly.  “What do you mean by barging in here without even knocking and depositing your fat Francis in my easiest chair without so much as by-your-leave?”

“Excuse me,” Death said, taken aback at my vehemence.  “I was in your neighbourhood and all tired out after my day’s work and I thought I would just drop in and sit around with you a while and cut up old scores.  It is merely a social call, but I guess I owe you an apology at that for my entrance.”

“I should say you do,” I said.

“Well, you see I am so accustomed to entering doors without knocking that I never thought,” Death said.  “If you like, I will go outside and knock and not come in until you answer.”

“Look,” I said.  “You can get out of here and stay out of here.  Screw, bum!”

Death burst out crying.

Huge tears rolled down both pudgy cheeks and splashed on his white silk-faced lapels.

“There it is again,” he sobbed.  “That same inhospitable note wherever I go.  No-one wants to chat with me.  I am so terribly lonesome.  I thought surely you would like to punch the bag with me awhile.”

I declined to soften up.

“Another thing,” I said sternly, “what are you doing in that get-up?  You are supposed to be in black.  You are supposed to look somber, not like a Miami Beach Winter tourist.”

“Why,” Death said, “I got tired of wearing my old working clothes all the time.  Besides, I thought these garments would be more cheerful and informal for a social call.”

“Well, beat it,” I said.  “Just Duffy out of here.”

“You need not fear me,” Death said.

“I do not fear you, Deathie, old boy," I said, “but you are a knock to me among my neighbours.  Your visit is sure to get noised about and cause gossip.  You know you are not considered a desirable character by many persons, although, mind you, I am not saying anything against you.”

“Oh, go ahead,” Death said.  “Everybody else puts the zing on me so you might as well, too.  But I did not think your neighbours would recognize me in white, although, come to think of it, I noticed everybody running to their front door and grabbing in their ‘Welcome’ mats as I went past.  Why are you shivering if you do not fear me?”

“I am shivering because of that clammy chill you brought in with you,” I said.  “You lug the atmosphere of a Frigidaire around with you.”

“You don’t tell me?” Death said.  “I must correct that.  I must pack an electric pad with me.  Do you think that is why I seem so unpopular wherever I go?   Do you think I will ever be a social success?”

“I am inclined to doubt it,” I said.  “Your personality repels many persons.  I do not find it as bad as that of some others I know, but have undoubtedly developed considerable sales resistance to yourself in various quarters.”

“Do you think it would do any good if I hired a publicity man?” Death asked.  “I mean, to conduct a campaign to make me popular?”

“It might,” I said.  “The publicity men have worked wonders with even worse causes than yours.  But see here, D., I am not going to waste my time giving you advice and permitting you to linger on in my quarters to get me talked about.  Kindly do a scrammola, will you?”

Death had halted his tears for a moment, but now he turned on all faucets, crying boo-hoo-hoo-hoo.

“I am so lonesome,” he said between lachrymose heaves.

“Git!” I said.

“Everybody is against me,” Death said.

He slowly exited and, as I heard his tears falling plop-plop-plop to the floor as he passed down the hallway, I thought of the remark of Agag, the King of the Amalekites, to Samuel just before Samuel mowed him down: “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”

Peter the Rock : PL so loved the work of Damon Runyon that he named his first winery Masterson after Runyon's Guys and Dolls character, Sky Masterson, "a gambler willing to bet on virtually anything". Both photographs copyright Milton Wordley.

To those urging me to make another obituary, this is a message from the dream.  So until I get my mojo back on the PL case, please accept these photographs taken by that true friend of both us, my colleague Milton Wordley.
First board meeting, Peter Lehmann Wines PL., in the kitchen of PL and Marg.  photo copyright Milton Wordley
Marg, Doug and PL at the weighbridge ... photo copyright Milton Wordley
The wine column ... photo copyright Milton Wordley

27 June 2013


Lino Ramble Ludo McLaren Vale Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2012
$28; 12.6% alcohol; screw cap; 85+ points

Lino Ramble is the after-hours work of two veteran Valers from Kay Brothers, winemaker Andy Coppard and slap bassist bosslady Angela Townsend.  Without going too tawny they’ve jumped on the tailgate of the Orangist Movement, by which I mean the nature of this wine.  

It’s nothing to do with the dreaded Rajneeshees of the ’seventies, although the more I think about it, I reckon really orange orange wines are a faddy thing that will last no longer than that horrid Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh did while he peeled millions from his spaced-out followers and assembled a most unholy fleet of Rolls Royces.  

Anyway, this wine, made from fruit grown on the piedmont at Willunga, is not really orange but simply leaning in that direction in the sense that it was made in the rustic manner with no sulphur until bottling, no CO2 and no fining.  So while it’s not as oxidized as that long-deceased Bhagwan, it IS oxidized in the sense that like Grange and Krug it was deliberately made in the oxidative manner.  So I'm not saying it’s not a good drink at the right time and in the right company with the right tucker - of course it is.  It has the nostalgic autumnal reek of the old fruit grange at the end of the picking season, when the unsold apples, pears and quinces are beginning to soften in their hessian sacks.  It’s a very wholesome and reassuring smell for those of us who can remember such things, and maybe a new adventure for those who can’t.  You know the wholesome and earthy point at which the fruit begins to subside contentedly through the burlap into the wooden bench?  

The flavour is bone dry and quincy, with very firm natural acid and dusty hessian/burlap/hemp tannins.  It’d be great with a rabbit rillettes and a mash of potato and parsnip with spinache almost caramelized on the side.  Nostalgia, see?  

I have changed the above text after readers thought I meant the wine was faulty because of oxidation.  This is not what I meant.  The wine was made in the old-fashioned oxidative manner, a method which shows in the wine's style and colour.  For further discussion of oxidative winemaking, check the following story about Channing Daughters of Long Island. 

King River Estate King Valley Saperavi 2011
$35; 14.4% alcohol; Diam cork; 95+++ points

Saperavi is one of the oldest varieties from the Caucasus, where the Georgians have been making wine in pretty much the same manner for 7000 years. The word saperavi means paint. Which is fitting as this is one of the blackest berries in the business.  It’s a rare thing in the sense that it’s one of the very few red grapes with red juice.  When you prune it, even the sap’s the colour of beetroot juice.  Australia’s first plantings were in the King Valley, where, phylloxera notwithstanding, it thrives in the high humid cool of that northern side of the Australian Alps.  

This model’s a cracker.  It smells like beetroot and gun blue.  Sure, there may be faint hints of blackberry and mulberry and whatever, but they’re meek and mild compared to the tight dense darkness of this aroma.  It’ll suck all the water out of your eyes, suck all the light from the room and then start sucking the volts outa your wires.  The flavour is as intense and absorbing as that black hole colour.  I know of no other wine flavour like it.  Or fruit, for that matter.  Because the juice is black, the sensitive winemaker can get all the flavour and colour required without hard pressing or extended skin contact, so we end up with this impenetrable black drink which is still fluid and slender and juicy, even tender, with hardly any tannin.  It has a little spice in the mace direction, the slightly bitter flavour of juniper without its tannin, and some leaf after the nightshade style, but mainly it’s just clean slippery silky delicious blackness that goes on and on and on.  This is the best one I’ve ever had from anywhere.  Only Satan knows how long it will live.  

In the meantime, what on Earth would I drink it with?  I reckon Mike Tyson and I should get our knees under a table and have it with beetroot, black onions and haunch of woolly mammoth ladled straight from a bubbling iron pot.  Mike’ll be welcome to eat my ears raw for dessert: the wine will have sucked all the sound from the sky by the time we’re through three or four bottles.  And besides, his chew will feel motherly. 

24 June 2013


The Atlantic summer haze over Channing Daughters vineyards and winery, 1927 Scuttle Hole Rd.,  Bridgehampton, out on the eastern end of Long Island, New York
Long Island Ramato Pinot grigio
Stunning natural wine from USA
A mouthful of burnished copper 

A wine from Channing Daughters, eh?  When I read Long Island on the label I dreamed that Channing Daughters was a novel way of saying Channing sisters which got me to thinking about novels and the Gatsby and imagining two ravishing honey blonde twins driving matching Gold Bug Speedsters round to Jay’s joint to get laid or fried or both at West Egg.

Nope. Turns out Channing Daughters is the fruit of founder Walter Channing, a computer-obsessive house-extending wood sculpting venture capitalist working in the health industry in New York City with a studio in nearby Bridgehampton.  Walter tips love and money, sculptures and wood carvings into the business now and then but generally stays out of the way.  The winemaker is Christopher Tracy, a man who obviously keeps his head open, but his eyes on the horizon and his boots on his feet. Unless there's grapes to squash.

But back to the bottle in hand.  When I read RAMATO on the front I thought (a) about it being a lovely understated label and (b) why in the names of Bacchus and Pan somebody from Long Island would be sending me drinks, and (c) why if they did would it be a copper-coloured, or ramato wine like they traditionally make in Friuli, Italy, from Pinot grigio, as I’m not renown for recommending coppery wines which reactionary hippies lovingly call orange and anyway Long Island’s more like Bordeaux in climate and the way it pokes out into the Atlantic and everything but the vineyards there are a flyspeck in comparison.

While I’m still waiting for my first orange Chateau Lafite I finally extracted my corkscrew from the toolbox I rarely consult these days and dug the bark plug out of the Channing Daughters Ramato.   Even my dire colourblindness confirmed that yes, there was something strangely burnished and sunsetty about the colour of this Pinot grigio from Scuttlehole Road, Bridgehampton, Long Island.  Which got me to thinking about Long Island and how Gatsby’s bit was way down west near the Manhattan end of it, like only one good cigar’s drive from the Plaza Hotel, or maybe two if you had the roof of your Gold Bug down and the bastard burnt fast.   

Bridgehampton got me confused with East Hampton which is nearly a hundred miles out to the east from Gatsby’s Eggs, such a distance extending to at least one box of cigarillos with the roof down and a quart of OP rye either way.  Which of course raises the matter of a cranky and trashed Jackson Pollock half a pack of Luckies further east out on the Springs-Fireplace Road showing a coupla young beauties what for in his Olds with the top down and a bottle or two belowdecks when he turned her over, killed one of the lasses and decapitated himself in a mess the size of Blue Poles which winemaker David Wynn and his mates convinced Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to buy for us away back in 1973, at the grand bite of $1.3 million, which the types who would have then voted for Blue Ties said was outrageous for twenty foot of pissed dribble.   

The Blooper, as some wowser idiots of the day called it, was originally called Number 11, 1952 and it still makes me laugh hilariously and weep bitterly at the same time.  Along with Grange Hermitage and yours truly, it’s just one of the miracles that occurred in that bonnie vintage.  I visited it again last year.  It is truly magnificent trippy tortured madness of the highest genius.  Bacchus only knows what it’s worth now.  David Geffen sold the comparitively moody and rather gloomy Number 5, 1948 to a bloke who claims he didn’t buy it for $140 million in 2006 and that’s not half the painting in spite of that price setting another world record at the time.  

Blue Poles [Number 11, 1952] 1952; enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas; 212.1 x 488.9  cm; signed and dated "Jackson Pollock 52" (originally inscribed with a "3", subsequently painted over with a "2"); purchased 1973 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra ... click any image to enlarge; here's a slice of crisper detail:

Number 11, 1952 is drunken chaos on such a mighty scale that if its detractors of the day knew much of the truth of Pollock’s situation with the bottle they could have used it as a grand promo for temperance and considered it money well spent, but they’re never that smart, the proho wowser twerps.  They’re furtive and sly to their own detriment.

This orange Pinot grigio, which is called Pinot gris in France, would fool most wino folks who aren’t fools.  If you gave it to them blindfolded, they’d say it was a red wine.  Which is not as confounding as Blue Poles but involves a little of its out-there terroir.  Gris, and grigio both mean grey.  The grape is a mutation of Pinot noir, a name which in turn arises from a pine-cone-shaped bunch of red grapes which must have been called black by somebody as colourblind as me.  The grey Pinot can be nearly any shade from white – not to use my name too lightly – like Chardonnay, through the lovely range of pale battleship hues to what I am assured is quite dark bluey pink.  Its DNA is so close to that of Pinot noir that grape doctors think the colour in the skin is the only difference.

Bluey-pinky-grey little round juicy things growing on poles near Jackson Pollock's studio on Long Island: Pinot grigio ripening at Channing Daughters
So why would the blind taster imagine this is red wine?  Other than its unction, probably tannin: it has quite a lot of tannin for a wine which is not red or any darker hue. To me, the tannin seems chalky.  It reminds me of some of the flavours of the Kimmeridgean chalks, a great bowl of fossilized microscopic oysters that stretches from Champagne and Chablis across to England, where it is most obvious in the White Cliffs of Dover, and brings to mind the chalky calcrete of Watervale in the Clare Valley. 

But there’s no chalk on Long Island, which is a sandy stretch filling two long lines of moraine where a glacier melted, leaving the old rocks it ground up and pushed aside til the sea absorbed all that meltwater and rose up to sink everything alongside.  Very deep below that is very old schisty bedrock, which makes me think of the more austere flavours imparted by the schists of Eden Valley and the High Barossa but these roots don’t go down as far as that real old basement. They grow in deep clay and sandy loam with riverine pebbles at the bottom and it looks a whole lot like the more recent bits of McLaren Vale which is not cool enough for Pinot of any sort.  

Clay and sandy loam over riverine alluvium at Channing Daughters
Most Australian winemakers make their Pinot gris, or grigio, in a pure white manner, as if it belonged in the sanitised refrigerated territory between Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay without oak.  They argue about gris and grigio as if they’re different varieties, which confuses the drinker no end.  If there’s any concensus it seems grigio is made to be more immediately frivolous and fruity than the more austere gris, as best manifest in Alsace.  This baby blows that nonsense away: nothing frivolous or simply fruity about this Ramato. Or any of the traditional ones from Friuli, for that matter.  

Whatever they’re called, most Aussie models are nondescript, and some, like the Fox Gordon Charlotte’s Web 2012 I’m drinking from the Adelaide Hills, are strangely sweet.  Somebody’ll love it, but just as I’d never grow Pinot grigio anywhere I couldn’t grow good Pinot noir, I’d never make a white, grey, orange or copper one any sweeter than I’d make a black one.

Channing Daughters winemaker Christopher Tracy

Anyway, this Ramato has been picked, squashed, let ferment for thirteen days on its skins and pulp, left oxidizing in old barrels for eight months, settled and finally bottled with a squeak of preserving sulphur dioxide to snap-freeze its burnished orange naturalness. 

So it’s like a Pinot noir made in the traditional Burgundian manner, but without any of the darker beetroot, bitter cherry and strawberry/raspberry flavours which the grape’s natural red/blue anthocyanins impart to the skins of the true bleu noirness.  This leaves us with an orange/copper drink that tastes of everything from poached quince and grainy pears through fruit mince and pickled citrus to chalky cider apples like Kingston Black, which isn’t black either.  In other words, a full-bodied Pinot noir without any noir.  Confusing, but enticing.

When whitened to the point of vacuity, the standard grey Pinot has been quite popular these last five or six years.  It seems refugees from bad Chardonnay and battery acid Savvy-B have fled innocently, and ignorantly, in its direction, poor lemmings.  I shall never forget being in a contract wine refinery office when a buyer from one of our largest chainsaw, er, chainstore darlings phoned and demanded more Pinot grigio.  The boss said they didn’t have any; there simply wasn’t enough planted in his region, as it was inappropriate.  “But everybody wants it,” the phone whined. “Send more.  I don’t care what it’s made from, as long as it’s Pinot grigio when it gets here.  And don’t send
Pinot gris.”
Anyone in Australia who really wants to learn about the true flavour of this misunderstood and abused grape should trot off to the Channing Daughters/Blue Poles end of Long Island if they can’t do Fruili or Alsace, where they make the originals.  Or you can beg a case from the wildcat Sydney outfit called Brooks &  Amos at joel@brooksandamos.com , which specializes in such off-the-wall wonders.

As far as flavour explosions go, to this colourblind synæsthete, the wine’s somewhere between Number 5, 1948 and Number 11, 1952, with many centuries of deep Friulian lore mixed in with some of those icy blue-eyed, honey blonde Gold Bug-shunting lasses with the bottomless thirsts and desires, flapper perfumes and the whiff of their kid gloves in the glove box of one of them Speedsters back at Gatsby’s.  But the truly slurpable Channings are at least one good medical jay further out to the east end of the Island.  Just don’t drive there blind.  You’ll impole yourself, Blue. 

1920 Kissel Gold Bug Speedster with slide-out 'suicide seat'.  Baz Lurhman has been criticised for using more modern cars, like the 1929 J Duesenberg in his movie, while the Gold Bug is true to the year of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book. Pity we can't hire one to drive it out to Channing Daughters ... smokers can sit outside!


21 June 2013


Outside of the wall : one of the few wine-related images in the new KWP! tourism advertisement for the Barossa Valley.  "This isn't an ad about wine," says writer and creative director James Rickard.  "This is about tourism."
Why not mention the reality?
Top adman defends good work
Strange denial in top ad brief

James Rickard, the creative director at KWP! advertising, has raised a few fascinating issues in his zealous defence of his work writing the handsomely gothic Barossa tourism advertisement featuring contentious music by Nick Cave and discussed here recently.

“This isn’t an ad about wine,” Rickard wrote of the taxpayer-funded advertisement with what he calls the “dark and sinister” Nick Cave soundtrack. 

“This is about tourism.”

Rickard correctly points out that “the vast majority of people who do not reside under a rock” already know that the Barossa is a wine region.  He also reminds us that the ad shows wine robustly glugging into a glass “instead of a droplet being delicately poured.”

Somewhere in here lies the essence of our community’s refusal to face various glaring issues.  It is not Rickard’s invention, of course, but something I would expect to have been  an intrinsic part of his brief. Either way, it is most uncharacteristic for the advertising world to send a writer or creative director out into the flak triggered by the professional reverence they show their brief.

“I think KWP! is crazy buying into the criticism,” Merlin wrote on DRINKSTER’s comment box. “At least they should be pointing out to conservative people and insiders that the campaign is not aimed at them. Someone should be defending poor Mr Rickard, who should never have opened his mouth, or been allowed to. They should be looking after him. Someone should release the survey they based the pitch on. Never answer your critics with the meaning of your work. Let your work do its work. If you have the nerve, tell why it is going to work, don’t defend the artistry of the pictures – make fools of us by showing who the market is and then showing us the sales figure later.”

As Bacchus and Pan both surely know, the Barossa is a very important vignoble.  At some stage or another of its manufacture, more of Australia’s wine passes through there than any other region.  It is the home of some of our biggest wine refineries, as well as being “an extraordinary community of passionate artisans,” as Rickard makes clear.


Between these notions of cute ivy-covered bluestone cellars and huge steel ethanol factories; between those who live under or on top of rocks and those who enjoy four walls and a roof but would love to afford to roll in the dirt on their holidays; between the ad’s concern lying more with tourism than wine, showing wine “robustly glugging” but only once, is where South Australia’s philosophical struggle between dry and wet continues to squirm.

While Rickard’s work certainly does a fine job of promoting the Barossa’s capacity to roll in the dirt, shoot rabbits, pluck pheasants and tear Eleni's stunning bread to bits, it coincides with top wine industry heavies belatedly struggling to cope with the revelations that big Barossa factories export wine in enormous plastic bladder packs to be bottled at the other end of the Earth.  

It was hardly news to regular readers of columns like this, but earlier this year, BloombergBusinessweek discovered that Accolade (Hardy’s), Jacob’s Creek and Treasury all engage in bladder-packing on a grand scale.  It's not just the silver pillows and chrome handbags which  contain nearly half the wine consumed annually in Australia, but to slash costs, the Australian wine industry now ships half its export product in huge 24,000 litre plastic bags inside shipping containers rather than in glass bottles.  "Thirsty for the latest buzz on business innovations?” BBW teased beneath the single word headline "Refined."

“After the 10,000-mile journey, the wine is bottled at a plant next to a scrap merchant a two-hour drive from London,” David Fickling wrote.

The wine industry PR boffins seemed to discover this relevation coincident with the release of the Barossa advertisement and went into a cold sweat hoping our foreign rivals won't  turn it into a billboard campaign.  At the same time we had Rickard telling us “the people we are talking to … shun vacuum-sealed packaged food from supermarket shelves and the over-processed falseness that abounds in their everyday lives.”

This see-sawing of contradictions lies deep in the community soul.

On the one hand, we have Deputy Premier John Rau struggling to contain dangerous drunks and limit the damage they cause with more restrictive trading legislation.  On the other, there’s Gail Gago, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, as well as being Minister for Regional Development, and Tourism Minister Leon Bignell, both diligently striving to ensure our great wine regions prosper.

We have Adelaide City Council moving to restrict public drinking with the extension of the contentious and racist Dry Zones clashing with large taxpayer-funded public celebrations of food and wine.  In the same way, we have ever harder and more punitive driving laws, and yet stage violently intrusive taxpayer-sponsored V8 car races through the streets of the city each year, as if to provide our young with an extravagant 300km/hr example of what not to do, the whole shebang involving a great deal of public alcohol consumption by white people.

The template for this strangeness has long been part of South Australian culture.  It’s small in comparison to the speedfest, but we have long managed to combine shooting firearms with beer consumption at the annual German Shützenfest, which was first held in 1865.  The SA German Association claims this is “the largest folk festival in the Southern Hemisphere,” and that is celebrated because “good marksmanship was essential in the defence of medieval towns.”

German Club, Flinders Street, Adelaide, decorated to celebrate Hitler's fiftieth birthday ... Once one starts making vague pictorial reflections to capitalise on the darker side of South Australia's past, one opens the door for reflections more vivid and serious than one may have intended. This extends particularly to white Australia's awkwardness over issues of indigenous people drinking as much as many whites do, and leads many to wonder just what happened to the original inhabitants of places like the Barossa.

Good marksmanship was important to the early white settlers of these parts for very different reasons.

I have no doubt that Rickard’s beautiful, scary little movie does a good job of pleasing the client, the South Australian Tourism Commission, and there is no doubt that it pleases those Barossa folks of Cave’s age who covet a cooler image than the lederhosen and low-neck dirndls that stifled their past.  My ongoing bleat is for a better public discussion on the nature of this wonderful part of the world – I mean South Australia - and its inability to face its own inherent realities and the darker tones of its past.

Rather than taking the opportunity to dive constructively into an important debate about our community, our past, our money, and the sorts of people we should spend it on attracting, to where and why, I would prefer to think Rickard was actually advised to defend his company’s work in response to my piece.  This is indicative of the entire community’s inability to engage generously in open discussion.    

And I mean proper public debate, not the abbreviated SMS gibberish of the digichat fizz he derides, or his accusations of me showing “laughable naïvete”, “schoolboy oversight” and a “complete lack of understanding of social media and its use."

I have no envy for his awkward position.  Trapped between wets and dries?  Hide under a rock.  Trapped between the hard-core Liberal Barossa and a new Labor Tourism Minister?  Uh-huh.  Trapped between the Barossa and the McLaren Vale winemakers after being convinced that the Barossa’s “fertile soil [is] responsible for the best wine in the country,” but before he’s given the chance to bid for the next McLaren Vale advertising campaign?  Dead Man’s Gulch.  And it’s sad that to justify his work, Rickard must claim that it is “a completely new and unique form of tourism advertising. We have moved far beyond the clichéd and predictable form of destination marketing and into the world of experience marketing.”

Experiential tourism was the big thing in the Barossa of the ’80s, when I lived there.  Its invention coincided with sensible Barossadeutscher families swapping their smoky, damp mud and stone cottages from the 1800s for clean, comfortable, cream brick veneers with reverse cycle air conditioning. By the time the experiential and cultural tourists arrived, there were hardly any old stone walls left for them to peer over.  And to keep those hardworking locals employed and prosperous, the giant steel and concrete refineries and factories were then being approved and constructed.

So what’s my solution?  Better public discussion of the issues, for starters.  More mature understanding of who we are, why we are here, and what we actually do.  How many drugs we want to take, including grape-based ethanol.  Why we would spend big luring visitors to the country's biggest winery region whilst talking as if we didn't really expect them to partake of much of the product that region exists to make, promote and sell.  Given that our elected representatives seem unable to ease these contradictions by constructive discourse, it may help if we had an open alternative that is not a brief annual government-run gabfest chaired by a FIFO teetotaller like Phillip [sic] Adams. 

So here’s a small start.  I’m not talking about mob rule in the letting of government advertising contracts, but an inspiring method of easing the stifling overall community feeling of never being heard or believed.

Just one meek suggestion: it’s far too long since the old public Speaker’s Corner in Botanic Park closed down.  The new Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square should include a permanent public fireplace so those who have met there for millennia can once again do so with impunity and dignity. 

George Street Sydney, 1830.  Adelaide's Dry Zones have simply forced many troubled and displaced Original people to drink in more secluded areas where they are out of sight and less likely to attract the sort of social work and health attention government promised in exchange for its imposition of Dry Zones in 2001.

When the Dry Zone goes, a large permanent forum should be built so we can sit back and discuss stuff openly, just as was done on Melbourne’s Yarra Bank or is done in London’s Hyde Park.  Right in the middle of our fair city.

Whether we live under rocks or not. 

But here we could also buy a beer or a Barossa Shiraz from a chestnut smoker’s barrow, pie cart or ice cream stall.  The conditions of the vendor's license would include the usual prohibition on selling alcohol to anyone overly intoxicated.  The people of this colony - originals and newcomers - could meet there whenever we liked to discuss such issues, and be open about how much of the land that we took from the Original Australians is now proudly devoted to the production of wine and beer which they must hide to drink.

We should be sitting together there in equality and fraternity.  As Monsignor David Cappo, the former Premier's Social Inclusion Commissioner reminded us relative to all this in November 2011, we   "must engage with vulnerable people and support them … There should be integrated services working for them, including housing, mental health, and drug and alcohol services."

If I had a lazy $6 million of someone else's money to spend luring tourists to a wine region without really mentioning wine, I couldn't help thinking about spending a similar amount luring into the open those who have to hide to drink it to avoid being thrown in the can.

That’d be an experience to advertise.  The whole dam mob of us sitting there in the Square with a snack and a drink, discussing stuff like people once discussed.  If the brief was honest and true in its goals, I'd suggest we hire KWP! to do the job.  They're obviously very very good at it.  But this time, we'd have to make it very clear that the client was us, and not somebody who'd prefer to keep wine out of the picture.

For a comparison regional food and lifestyle advertisement, check this one from Tassie!

Experiential tourism : the secret Mettwurst Limbo ritual of the High Barossa at McLean's Farm : it's very easy to portray the most enjoyable parts of the Barossa without avoiding mention of the fact that the whole glorious joint exists to grow, make, mature, promote, enjoy and sell delicious wine ... photo Milton Wordley

18 June 2013



WayWood Wines McLaren Vale Nebbiolo 2010

$28; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 85 points
A little raw upon release, this wine has come on nicely after a few more months of bottle.  I’m not sure that Blewett Springs, just over the ridge from where I live, is the best place to grow this grape from the Italian Piedmont, where
it snows, and there’s none of the Blewett gullies’ wind-blown sand or ironstone, but the constant seaside humidity of McLaren Vale plays a vital assisting role, and the wine is pretty and easy to drink in a rounded, smoothing sort of way.  It smells of smoky cherries and forest floor with mushrooms of the oyster and enoki types, and its flavours are soft and comforting, with a cloud, a nebbia, of extremely fine tannin hovering above the fine, gently acidic finish.  I haven’t tried it, but I love the idea of winemaker Andrew Wood: drink it with homemade gorgonzola gnocchi with burnt butter, crispy sage and caramelized walnuts.   

WayWood Wines McLaren Vale Montepulciano 2012
$35; 14.1% alcohol; screw cap; 92+ points
Grown on the piedmont at Willunga, this is the first serious, if not quite full Monte, I’ve tasted from McLaren Vale.  Andrew thinks it's the first.  It has dark 6B pencil carbon and painted shavings in its alluring bouquet, below pleasant teases of summery hedgerow berries, red currants and maraschino cocktail cherries.  It smells really wholesome and healthy, like a yoghurt smoothie made with all those fruits and maybe a few slices of banana.  It’s disarmingly comforting and entertaining to drink, with a lovely round reassuring softness and a hint of preserved figs before an appetising finish where neat acid and tight tannins draw the juices of the mouth until your lips smack and you start looking around for something scrumptious to eat. Soft dried figs and a Sicilian Pecorino Stagionato with a drip or two of Tasmanian Leatherwoood honey will set it off like a real slow aromatic deliciousness best had near a bed.     

Oakridge Over The Shoulder Yarra Valley Pinot Grigio 2012
$23; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
Several Yarra Valley vineyards at various respected sites have contributed to this bonnie belle’s dishevelment.  It smells like buttery Bosc pear, pure and simple. With maybe a whiff of that furry skin of the quince, and a tiny acrid edge of cordite to prickle the nostrils and set the salivaries dribbling with curiosity.  Said belle’s been surfing and dried off in the sea breeze, sand all over her.  The texture’s modestly viscous, but alluring nevertheless, tasting pretty much along the lines of the bouquet.  Then comes a gentle rise of acid, and a very firm but fine line of tannin that intertwines tidily with that slightly syrupy texture.  It’s a really good wine at the price, and will sit very prettily with pumpkin soup or a mild yellow pumpkin and sweet potato curry with plenty of fresh black pepper ground on the top.  I also tried it with poached quince and fresh – not thickened – cream, and felt more or less like the friggin’ King.  Good.


16 June 2013


Quick quiz for rockstars: where is it, what is it, and how old is it?

12 June 2013


It seems like a lifetime ago that Peter Wall convinced the Hill Smiths to introduce Viognier to Australia, if that’s what actually happened.  It was about 27 years back. The north Rhone variety had nearly disappeared from its homeland: in the 1968 agricultural census it had dwindled to only 14 hectares around Condrieu.  

In the early ’eighties we had Len Evans preaching his Chardonnay gospel, encouraging overplantings of that Champagne and Burgundy stalwart in most of the wrong hot places, while Wolf Blass preached just as loudly against it.

“What’s being done with Chardonnay in this country is paralleled only by the stupidity of the red wine manufacturing in the late ’sixties,” he told me in 1982.  “I think the Chardonnay belongs in Champagne.  There’s very few companies that can make good Chardonnay ... at the moment every company in every region and every state is trying to bring a Chardonnay out ... Chardonnay is just a joke.”  

Yalumba was not only uncertain about Chardonnay at that stage – its first plantings turned out to be the very ordinary Melon variety, and were purged - but it also doubted the potential of Sauvignon blanc.  Viognier offered an alternative cushion; one that Yalumba could own.  Many regarded it as windmill-tilting, but they persisted, planting it in the Riverland and Barossa hills, and can now lay claim to a suite of seriously mature vineyards, the best of which are about to get an injection of six new clones which are planted but not yet fruiting. While the public response was sluggish for years, most Ozvionger  seemed to peak in a brief flash of wildness about five years ago. Trouble was many winemakers seemed to think Viognier could still be the next Chardonnay, and blindly repeated the error Wolfie warned against.

Yalumba South Australia Organic Viognier 2012
$19; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80 points
It says something that of the three current Yalumba Viogniers, this organic model is the cheapest.  Viognier has an uncanny ability to exude the aroma of the country it grows in: this prickles and tickles the nose like Murray Valley terra rossa in the summer.  There’s apricot pith, too.  It has just the right amount of the oily, almost slimy texture that marks  the variety when fully ripe, and sort of oozes along until some tidy acid resolves the tail.  I really like Viognier for its artichoke-like tannin, but there’s not a lot of that here.  Why not try it with artichoke anyway, and a cool mild bean stew with pork belly?

Next up the scale is the Eden Valley 2012 version ($25; 14% alcohol; 88 points).  This one’s more complex to sniff: it has a similar prickly/dusty topnote, but with a layer of avocado cream simmering below.  It’s thicker of texture, too, with a little more drying tannin balancing its acidity.  It’s burny in the afterbreath, reflecting all those alcohols.  It brings to mind roast parsnips and a big old chook simmered in fresh herbs and white wine until it’s almost falling apart.

The Virgilius Eden Valley Viognier 2010 ($50; 13.5% alcohol; 94++ points) is another thing altogether.  Cooler as in Chet Baker with fewer alcohols, it’s almost peppery.  Quarry after a blast.  Acrid.  The fruits are a long way down.  I love this smell.  It’s almost brittle in the mouth, but down at the bottom there be fruits that ring my bells in the Cherimoya/Sapodilla/Sapote division. Sorry to appear obscure, but that’s what I think of.  It’s really slurpy Bob Altman adult naughtiness which rolls on so long you begin to hope the credits won’t come up too soon.  Full-bore cassoulet or Alsace choucroute with lashings of black pepper and mustard. 

Heirloom Vineyards Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2012
$40; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 94++ points
This top shelf brand is the precursor of Zar and Elena Brooks's Dandelion Vineyards: although I missed it then, Brooks advises me it existed before they also went into Dandelion with Carl Lindner.  And top shelf it is: at once more sensual and supple as much as meaty and fleshy, it looks like a new benchmark for Adelaide Hills Pinot from this side of the glass.  It smells like a peppery borscht, and then it smells like black Iberian ham, and then like dried fig, and then like dates, and then like chinotto … yet always like Pinot.  It’s smooth and elegant, yet generously flavoured and formed; perhaps a little cheeky now, but soon to be purring like a great big black cat thing.  Rather than unlock the confounding tease of a sensory puzzle that is Pinot at its best, this baby simply makes the whole thing more confusing in a splendidly delicious and stylish way.  If it had come from Burgundy, you could add $100 to that price. Very impressive wine indeed.


Reporting from Sydney for BloombergBusinessweek, David Fickling has caused a very awkward frisson in the ranks of Australia's biggest wine exporters by revealing they really do put bladder pack wine into bottles.  Click here for the terrible news.

There's nothing new, however, about the idea of using giant bladder packs for wine storage, or indeed the notion of using them for ultra-premiums.  For a brief time in the mid-sixties, bladders were considered for use on Penfolds Grange. For a quick history of Australia's fascination with the wine balloon, click here.

08 June 2013


Here's the author offering a white balance (not to take his name too lightly) to camera at Steingarten about 1988.  This is beneath the bare red hills that reminded Colonel William Light of a similar site, Barrosa, in Spain, causing him to name the beautiful South Australian valley Barossa.  We were making the first serious promo film to push Australian wine into the UK, at about the same time as the author interrupted Orlando men removing the vineyard, and had that stopped.  KWP!'s new Barossa ad, with the music of Nick Cave, includes a shot of Steingarten too.   

Nick Cave's rosso hand on bar
New KWP! tv ad draws blood 
So how much red will it sell?


33,000 hits over ten days for a new Nick Cave clip?  Hardly a viral success?  It's just over 69,000 now, which must mean something.


South Australia Tourism’s choice of local advertising agency KWP looked very shiny when they released the Kangaroo Island commercial with its raw sea shanty soundtrack.  Barely a bad word was uttered other some some appropriate hissies when it became clear government had paid certain celebs to Tweet about it.  People even went to Kangaroo Island.

Different story for the new Barossa one. Nick Cave’s gothic chant about a bloke hiding his bloody hand under his coat seemed strangely inappropriate, coinciding as it did with those horrid television images of a barbaric murderer covered in his victim’s blood waving a butcher’s cleaver around the streets of London.    

But that was simply bad luck. It’s the rest of the discussion around this Barossa ad which  could surely have been averted.  I mean you might suspect they’d hoped for some controversy, but methinks they didn’t quite aim to split public opinion so messily as they’ve done.

“With a grade that reduces the vivid vibrancy of SA to the dreariness of a wet week in Windemere, a music track that oozes more misery than the blood of the hand in the song and a storyline that feels like the last supper before Christ's crucifixion, it's a wonder anybody would willingly travel to the land of Snowtown, with this telling affirmation of its dark and deeply disturbing side,” went one comment on the adland website Campaign Brief.

“Seems like a sad place to go,” said another.  “I've never been to the Barossa and now I'm sure I don't want to go.  It looks so damn depressing,” went another. Then “Too dark guys. Doesn't make me want to go there at all. Takes me back to Wolf Creek!  Hanging meat on a hook? really!!!!”

And again:  “It's a really nice little piece of film, but it's not an ad to encourage people to visit SA... maybe only the Snowtown murder scene. People don't go on holidays to feel melancholy, it's supposed to make you feel good ... this evokes nightmares and murderous tendencies.  I'd rather go to the Gold Coast.”

To be a bit more specific: “There will be blood . . . some wine, fowl, baked goods, and gothic looking pioneers from another era, but mostly blood, and that old time religion.  If you're a fan of murder tourism, or you just want to get into the spirit of the long departed and the deeply mystical, this creative group of people has definitely put the Barossa on the map for you, a must visit, a must bleed.  Love to see the look on the faces of the folks at Penfolds and Torbreck, St. Halletts and Turkey Flat when they realise what their tourism board did with the money, not to mention the Bad Seeds tune they'll all be whistling as they tend to the vineyards.”


And these all popped up on a site aimed straight at advertising industry insiders.

Bring Out Yer Dead added: “Wine isn't what it once was as a business enterprise, nor the tourism associated with the wineries, so maybe this murder tourism thing will take off. The ghouls still need a place to stay and a good meal, so the hotels and restaurants should be fine. Maybe that was the brief?”

Sounding suspiciously like one of McLaren Vale’s Scarce Earthers, KWP’s creative director James Rickard observed: "Two things set this region apart from all other wine districts. The people and the dirt. It's a very tight knit community of passionate wine and food artisans and their connection with the unique soil that combines to create such exceptional products. It's that relationship we wanted to capture.”

Tight knit, see?  These tightly knit communities are also the ones that remain tight lipped when the press savages arrive to take photographs of the blood.

My good friend Julian Castagna, winemaker, spent most of his life making extravagant ads for movie theatres.  He was a highly-respected director. 

“After a day seeding a cover crop to help feed the soil, I was confronted, low on the horizon by an enormous full moon,” he said.  “It was breathtaking.  Then I saw the ad.  I didn't find the story told breathtaking and I wondered why because clearly they spent a lot of money. 

“What do I think? I think it's tourist porn, in the same way as Nigella Lawson is food porn. I think there will be those that will like it and even think it amazing, and perhaps it is -- it's certainly a montage of many beautiful images -- but I don't think it has an idea.  Perhaps it did in its inception but the maker (probably the director) wanted to show off and made a pop video.

“Having my advertising hat on I don't believe it will sell wine.  It may bring people to the Barossa but I wonder if it contradicts the very ‘idea’ that is the Barossa?  The idea that has been communicated fantastically well over the last 20 years. Whatever I think of the wines I often use the Barossa as an example of how an area communicates who they are and why it would be enjoyable to go there. I think that film confuses the story.”

“I actually thought it was a Nick Cave sound alike,” another film-making friend admitted. “Pastiche of a pastiche. Sort of realised later I was aware of the song. Whatever it does for tourism, it is a Nick Cave track and it is now on YouTube. That means KWP have effectively delivered an international campaign to the client that will cost effectively nothing. Any Cave fans in Germany, Sweden, France, UK, US, Iceland, with the dough, might think about trying the Barossa. It could well be in July and August, their holidays, our bleakest hour. All that is interesting, but I still think they missed it.

“Most of the non-people images used,” my friend continued, “are exactly the same sort subject matter that has been used forever to promote the Barossa – grapes, wine, landscape, food, and an experience of some sort – all of it bent toward a well art directed Maggie Beer book. Nice pictures. The only thing missing is Germans. Not a single bit of Sutterlin script. Is that a problem?  Not for me because I can work around it. The people-images are where it gets interesting, because this is where the people on the screen need to either mirror the audience or their fantasies. And all this is underpinned by the song. What might it mean to an audience?

“The strange subtext of the song,” the conversation flowed, “which may actually be a good song, colours everything – this is important because a good commercial should hit a target market. It should say ‘we understand you’.  Looks like a new target market to me. And possibly not a big or very mobile one. Anyone who longs to go on a holiday that enlivens the tone of that song has to be pretty disaffected. Who are these people and do they represent an economy?  Do these reflections generate action? Will people go?

“The young adults that I know, as depicted in this thing, are mostly broke. It costs a lot of money to holiday in Australia, especially if you only hang out in paddocks when you get there. One essential problem with the Barossa thing is that the experiences and places are not realistically accessible.  If you lit a huge bonfire anywhere in the Barossa you’d probably get arrested. If you climbed into someone’s paddock, they’d be there in a flash to kick you out.  Anyway the ones with money go to New York or somewhere, and stand outside the Chelsea Hotel. But the death-wish stuff here all feels a bit dated. Dated like Nick Cave. Caravan tourists are dated too, of course, and they have decided they don’t want them. The Nick Cave people probably like hotels. Good for business. Backpackers don’t spend real money. Bad for business. But would you, as an angsty urbanite romantic, travel 400 miles from Melbourne or 900 miles from Sydney and then spend a lot of money to confirm that life is dire? We get that on the news on from our stereo for free. 

“Reflecting on the true nature of past violence gets you to a pretty sticky place in Australia, and it is not romantic. The ghosts are not Europeans longing for freedom in nature. There was other work to be done before that. If you reflect on Australia through the prism of violence you hit a wall that is not being shown here.”

Thanks to all those whose words I’ve used above.  To finish with a few of my own: I asked Maynard James Keenan if he’d do the McLaren Vale ad.  He’s in like Flynn.  It could be more along the lines of Indigo Children.

To read James Rickard's response in InDaily, click here.  James wrote the Barossa ad. To read about McLaren Vale's tourism advertisements, click here.