“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 October 2013


The volunteer Country Fire Service units and supporters from McLaren Flat, Blewett Springs and Kangarilla presented a bushfire brief for friends and neighbours of Yangarra Estate this afternoon, at the winery.  Of course there were sausages on the grill.  These quiet firefighting folks have been far too busy these last summers, and they're very aware of the amount of firefood that's grown this last winter.  It was a real good afternoon, and confronting and educational in a very simple honest way ... photos Philip White

26 October 2013


Anyone with wit and soul's gotta check the great Allen Toussaint's new album, Songbook.

25 October 2013


The home of the Winemakers' Federation of Australia, the National Wine Centre, looks like a little fossilised remnant of the old Adelaide Cricket ground, gradually being overgrown.

When the trouble's real tricky
and it's time to talk the talk
Woofer barks at the best of us

As newspapers follow the dinosaurs into the swamp, it's confounding to watch the wine business trying to deal with the internet.  I know this is a strange way to start, but it's how I ran into this strange tale: watching the see-sawing counterpoint of wine's clubby confidence with its awkward attempts to freshen up its front line personalities.  It must look damn stupid to the young.

In the fifty years in which wine columns were standard fund-raisers for newspaper magnates, it was very easy for wine magnates and their stooges to influence wine writers over the odd lunch and a few bottles of their best with the newspaper magnate or his editor.

Since winemakers realised they couldn't get away with selling sweet fortified rotgut forever, and eventually followed the likes of Max Schubert into the new world of dry table wine after World War II, they relied heavily on wine writers.  These were employed by the newspaper publishers, who paid most of them peanuts in exchange for guaranteeing them access to a life of free wine so long as they toed the line, promoting the new products and teaching people how to drink them.  The newspaper magnates were encouraged by the pages of retail advertising which same winemakers convinced the biggest booze chains to place in exchange for lower wholesale prices and a contribution to the ad acreage.

Not quite rivers of gold, but quite certainly rivers of red and white, which took a nice gilded  lustre when blended with the associated advertising the winebiz  provided.

Now the old model is in ruin: wine columns are disappearing with the newspapers.  Even the glossy gastroporn mags are dissolving into the digital chaos.  And the whole wine business, most of which has never planned or paid for a proper educational advertising campaign, ever, has little idea how to replace those compliant writers and the thirsty magnates of yore. 

Those days are gone.  To paraphrase Yeats, things have indeed fallen apart, the centre has lost its hold, and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

So while this mess endures, perhaps it's not so strange that the Winemakers' Federation of Australia (WFA - "The Woofer"), the organisation there to give "leadership, strategy, advocacy and support" for the winemakers of Australia, should fluff up, and in what looks to me like paranoid panic, deliver a solid dressing-down to a surviving, indeed leading magazine, which is utterly dedicated to supporting the industry that it services.

I refer to the excellent Wine Business Magazine, WBM edited and co-published by Anthony Madigan (below).

The wave of rage that consequently went round the 'net was something the Woofer didn't appear to anticipate. 

The Woofer has never been too polished in matters of communication.  This writer will never forget the scorn former Woofer boss Ian Sutton showed when asked for basic information.  I once asked him how much consulting he'd done with the wine industry to find whether it really did support his drive to build the National Wine Centre, which was built at taxpayers' expense in Adelaide's hallowed Botanic Gardens and almost immediately went what looked to me like broke.

"I'm not here to consult the wine industry," he said.  "My job is to represent the wine industry."

This atmosphere seems to persist.

But some background: the WFA, commonly called The Woofer by its few hundred constituents (there are thousands of wineries not in it), is in trouble with many of them as it struggles to tighten up or remove the Wine Equalisation Tax commonly called the WET and/or the associated rebate.

Many - but certainly not all - would prefer to see wine taxed by volumetric tax, or excise, which is a tax on the amount of ethanol in the drink. Spirits and beer, for example, are taxed this way. Stronger the drink, more tax you pay.

Because it's a tax on value, many feel the WET system unfairly adds more tax to good, higher-priced wines, and lets the bladder pack and cleanskin industries, which are huge, off at a lower rate.

This writer has disliked the WET since its invention - there must be better ways of assisting the little ivy-hung stone cellars upon which so much tourism depends.  Woofer heavies Brian Croser and Ian Sutton negotiated the rebate system with the Fed to protect small operators from the then unknown wiles of the Goods and Services Tax.  Its tasty bit is its rebate.  To me, any tax which must be paid straight back is an inefficient mess.  But worse, the WET rebate always looked like a real easy thing to scam.

And as it has never been "product-oriented" the WET's always been tricky for food and wine editors to explain. So they haven't.

 As the Australian Tax Office website explains, "WET is a value-based tax on wine consumed in Australia. WET applies at 29% of the value of the wine at the last wholesale sale (before adding GST)." Very basically, a rebate of up to $500,000 a year is then paid in certain circumstances to wine producers.


I'm no businessman, but I can promise you it's not very hard to avoid making a lot of money in the wine business.  Anybody can set up a winery, or several, in the trust that they'll fail to make so much money that they miss out on that half million rebate.

They don't even have to own a vineyard or winery.  Any mob can promise to pay a broke grower for grapes eventually, once they've formed a business partnership, rent a tank on somebody else's refinery slab, get some other mob to bottle it and somebody else to print the labels or maybe just pay Woolworths to bottle your stuff and stick 'em on.  Virtual wineries are rife, thanks to the WET.

In fact, that WET rebate is now the only profit many, perhaps most, small wineries get.  This is most perverse when you consider the varying efficacy of, say, a rebate being paid over and over to a Flash Harry with many almost-failing companies, each with its own brand but no serious vines of his own and no winery, versus the real need of a small family vineyard/winery/cellars that was set up in a century when wine and its taxes were very different.

Having invited a respected professional like Anthony Madigan, co-publisher and editor of WBM Wine Business Magazine, to an "open forum" to discuss the WET with wine folks, it does seem a shade nuts that the Woofer would then bark at him and whip him a savage letter reminding him of section 4 of the Listening and Surveillance Devices Act 1972 (SA) which prescribes a  $10,000 fine or two years’ imprisonment.

This happened after the Woofer's "open forum" in McLaren Vale.

It seems to me that (1) As a journalist Madigan was invited by the Woofer to attend an important open forum in his industry; (2) he was a few minutes late; (3) he sat down and turned his recorder on; (4) he decided not to write about some of the opinions he was hearing, and (5) he went back to his office.  Then (6) he gets this blazing arrow from the boss of the Woofer, Paul Evans, who claims that between (1) and (3) the President of the Woofer, Tony D'Aloisio, asked all media to leave the room.

Evans returned my call and denied threatening Madigan.  It all seems typically silly to me.  As the only wine writer in McLaren Vale I insinuated that perhaps the reason I was not invited to the local meeting was that somebody realised that as a journalist and wine critic, I would not take lightly being told the discussions of a gathering were strictly off the record after I had bothered to arrange the time and transport to attend what the invitation called an "Open Forum."

Which is what happened to the ABC TV crew who bothered to make the journey south from the city - they were a few kays short of target when they got a phone call warning that they'd not be allowed to film what they had been expecting to film.

Not good enough, Woofer.

What I like is the Woofer attempting to unite the mob to stop the WET rebate ever going to virtual wineries or folks with no real vineyard or plant.  They want to chop shady dudes who claim it over and over on many brands.  And they want to put an end to the $30 million or so which goes to New Zealand mobs who sell their Savvy-B here but manage to earn the Australian rebate.

Sure, this will make life very difficult for the many littlies who make better things from unsold fruit using other mates' facilities, even if that be Woolworths giant Cellarmasters/Dorrien/Nuriootpa wineries in the Barossa. Whoever owns them, we sure do see a lot of small brands coming through those big doors.  It's very complex, and it needs big brains.

Companies like Treasury and Pernod-Ricard's Jacob's Creek want the WET trashed.  They also happen to be sick and tired of the destruction the Woolies/Coles duopoly wreaks to their brands when they discount the hell outa them.  To a degree, this is why the local gossip following the Woofer's series of Open Fora around the country seems determinedly to repeat the mantra that its proposed changes to the WET is a secret scheme to help the biggest wineries.

Which to me would seem to be a very good reason to let expert journalists write about it.  Like, especially after you've invited them, and all.  To an open forum. At a time when an extremely complex problem needs intelligent addressing through a public discussion the like of which we've not seen before.

Just by the way, Woofer: you're reading this on the internet.  

The Woofer's end of the National Wine Centre : this is the bit Adelaide cabbies call Noah's Ark.  It does have a certain post-tsunami touch.


Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Swallowfield Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2012
$38; 12.8% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points 
Oakridge is the property of corporate lawyer Tony D’Aloisio, chairman of the Winemakers Federation of Australia. He is a former chairman of ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission).  He must love his Burgundy; his winemaker, David Bicknell, just sent me eight new releases from this series of Ozgundies – four Pinots and four Chardonnays. Over the last five days, I’ve drunk them to bits. I like this one for its rich Pinot fleshiness.  It’s silky and polished, and smells like a compote of ripe raspberries and strawberries has been heated to the point of conserve, but well short of jam. There’s a touch of steamed cashew nuttiness. The palate has both comforting flesh and steely natural acidity, and will swell to a more Rubensian form with three or four years’ dungeon.  Swallowfield is a great name for a vineyard, by the way.

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Guerin Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2012
 $38; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points 
This wine has all the components of the Swallowfield, and then some. Its oak seems a little more sooty, and its flesh is perhaps slightly more muscle and sinew than plump, with a slice or two of poached quince in the pot with the berries.  It also has that slightly sicko junkety turn that often accompanies the presence of isovaleric acid, the pheromone that adds the sweaty adult workout whiff to clean scrubbed flesh.  I suspect this will be the more sensual wine in time.  I started out intending to enthuse at greater length about these eight wines, with a few more layers of colour and poesy, but given the Winemakers Federation’s attitude to public forums and the press and its recent tendency to ask invited journalists to leave the room when the discussion begins, I’ll do precisely that at this point and draw the door quietly closed as I depart.

24 October 2013


There were many veteran photographers, some happy phone snappers, and about 100 important South Australian wine anchors at the launch of A year in the life of Grange in the old No. 2 Grange Cellar at Penfolds Magill. The image of me forgetting what I intended to say just before I began gently weeping with joy is by a friend of Peter Gago's (will discover and credit) and this one below by Neil Duncan.

The first Grange was fermented about 30 metres to the speaker's right; fermenting barrels are still lined up in this sacred chamber each vintage.   

The other photographs are by Darren Clements, and not, as I earlier reported, by my beloved colleague, photographer/publisher Milton Wordley, the other dude with his back to the big red wall. 

Milton is a master of a very rare order.  It has been an honour to work with him.  

Darren's photograph below is of Brittany Coff, left, daughter of Garry Coff and Sandy, who's signing the book.  Sandy is daughter of Max and Thelma Schubert. As she officially launched our book, Sandy made a beautiful speech and read some bits from Max's collection of speeches, which nobody else has ever seen.  She reflected on her youth, living around the corner, and hanging out around these famous cellars as a kid with a very famous Dad.  Who would buy pasties for the vineyard workers, and deliver them in the vineyards.  So Anne Olliver served us tiny pasties to munch with our 2004 Grange from magnums. 

But launched?  Opened is probably a better word for a book.  It was no big PR bullshit, but a fair dinkum South Australian wine family show that felt like a respectful and joyous country wedding. It was a wholesome kind of a day.

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago, designer John Nowland, photographer/publisher Milton Wordley, and the writer ... photos by Darren Clements 


Peter Gago praises the Penfolds Grange Crew. That's the Mighty Milton (middle),Whitey, and Sandy Coff onlooking this photo by GiGi Tak Sum Chan ... photo below by Darren Clements
Click for James Halliday review



Some picnics end more peacefully than others ... the author slumbers amidst the mangroves, sharks, saltwater crocodiles, giant tropical lice and snakes on Dum In Mirri Island in the Beagle Gulf estuary on the Timor Sea, south-west of Darwin, Northern Territory, about 1990. You can actually smell Charles Darwin on the breeze in hopeful moments. When I asked host Max Baumber how he managed to grow palms there - they are not native - he said he had a special fertiliser.  "There's a dead croc under each one," he said. We found a shovel, chose a tree at random, dug around it, and sure enough, there was your croc. That's The Spectator in my pocket.  I wouldn't be carrying it now. 

 Time to hit the sylvan glades
Liberate the kids and the dog
And dodge them black snakes

We had a picnic yesterday.  Or least some of us intended to have a picnic.  Being the country uncle, I  provided the target location. The city folk had packed, you know, the stuff of a modern picnic: felafel, smoked salmon, crusty bread, prosciutto ... food from about six countries, and beer from two.  As country host, the writer offered bread after the Turkish style, olives from Coriole, which is a few hills over there, and wines from right here: one Roussanne; one Grenache.

The visitors had brought their dog.  Everything looked pretty good.  But their suggestion that we find a sylvan glade by a babbling brook triggered something surprising from me.  I found my throat issuing a disclaimer.  The air is so full of abrasive dusts and pollens, I suggested, that I should be rather more comfortable staying close to the home, the huffer and the medicine chest.  

The creeks and vineyards are crawling with Red-bellied black snakes, I explained, which is, as far as a snake goes, a reasonably well-tempered bastard with a venom less lethal than some, but they're everywhere, and there are lambs in several creekline paddocks, which will be as tempting to the power-freak city dog as that horde of vipers.  And besides, if we sit here beneath the patio we shall have access to the coffee pot, the water closet and real plates and cutlery, and look: there's a lawn with a few shady spots right there.

So we went outside, sat at a table beneath a roof, and had lunch in a rather civilised way.
Nobody overindulged, and there were no incidents worth mention other than the city dog's strenuous efforts to keep visitors from leaving the tasting and sales cellar of the winery next door. (Bloody dogs all want to be in the next Cellar Door Dog Porn edition.)

Which reminded me of the picnics of my youth.  Without alcohol, they were, invariably, more danger-fraught than anything I had to offer yesterday.  

Our 'fifties or 'sixties repast was rarely more complex than a tartan Willow cooler jammed with fritz, vienna slice bread, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, Coon cheese, a Thermos of hot white tea and a one-gallon Hibitane udder wash bottle full of raspberry cordial.  They came in handy, those udder wash bottles.  Quite reasonably, they were what the White family milk came in. 

Edouard Manet : Le dejeuner sur l'herbe

When I recall those teetotal affairs, I am grimly reminded of the casualty rate of our good Christian picnics.  We always took some collateral.  Whether it was Unca Don poking his head up out of the river, to get clocked by a skimming rock somebody'd thrown, or Reggie Davis coming up out of the murky water just as somebody leapt in from the high board, breaking Reggie's neck, we were effective at wreaking havoc at water picnics.  I shall never forget the sound of that neck impact.  Sort of makes you balk on your fritz and sauce sanger.  If it involved a beach, a White family picnic always included sunburn of a deadly degree; if we went inland, it seemed even more fraught.

We once went right out to Rockleigh for a five-family picnic by a creek which was dry when we got there, an unforseen condition which assisted the parents in their failure to realise that they'd left son number four of the six at home, where the poor paranoid panicking four year old exorcised his rage demolishing every single one of my Mother's potplants before we got back to rescue the poor little bugger.  

The wrecked Hoya seemed to bring Mum the most grief. Short, that was, of the destruction of her dying Father's collection of Maiden hair ferns, which she'd brought all the way over from Melbourne in the Peugeot 403 station wagon with six kids and two adults; pram wheels tied to the roof.  To much shrieking on the occasion of sharp turns or sudden braking the terra cotta pots slid well on the corrugated steel floor in the back of that wagon and being summer the hair ferns drank all the cool water in the Hibitane udder wash bottle leaving us kids to settle for the raggy contents of  the canvas waterbag hanging off the front bumper.  We hated those Maiden hair ferns.

Lowell George by Neon Park
Which leads to the sort of impromptu picnics of the seventies, which were more along the lines of a log of mettwurst, a bottle of Jack or Jim and another of Seaview Shiraz, and maybe even an example of that new bread thing, the French stick.  Most of the physical damage came via falling off the motorbikes on the way home or from eating the wrong mushrooms in the sylvan glade or both.

Then came the more pretentious age of the wicker picnic hamper, the Opinel knife, and the sorts of prosciutto and whatnot we spread across the safe table yesterday.  By the late seventies/early eighties the G&T, even the Campari and Ricard seemed to have become standard hamper items, and there were many fewer casualties.  I knew the age of the deadly picnic had gone when I attended one at which wine was served from a decanter.

A rather more genteel affair: picnic neath the red gums at Anglesey Estate , Adelaide Plains, mid 'eighties.  Proprietors Lea and Jack Minnett, Thelma and Max Schubert, David Porter and Lindsay Stanley ... photo Philip White

I'm sure there are brains greater than these ready to write a PhD on the negative influence of the higher-alcohol reds of the nineties on the picnics of those days, which would leave mine content to ponder the marvels of a crunchy modern bone-dry rosé, or a sensual marvel like yesterday's Roussanne.  A baguette, plenty of Paris Creek butter, some watercress and a bottle of something more fun than fortitude.

Before the summer blitzes in - it's beginning to feel like it may be a blitz - and while there's still some green about the hills and vales, why not reclaim some past and some pleasantry by packing that hamper, counting the kids (before and after) bunging some dry rosé in the icebag with some beers and dammit, even take the damn dog somewhere crazy and, well, picnic.

I have one stern suggestion.  Even if you live in the country, don't do it at home.  As my guests seemed to show yesterday, by taking a thorough cross-country walk after our safely-safely luncheon at a table under the patio, other people's Red-bellied black snakes are much more thrilling than your own.

Author as great White hunter : our family picnics were rarely complete without a visit from the odd Brown Joe Blake ... White brothers at Kanmantoo, ca '65


Trentham Estate Verdejo 2013 
$16; 12% alcohol; screw cap; 90+ points 
The Murphy Family came from Ireland in 1909 and eventually grew grapes at Merbein, near Mildura.  Their proud Trentham Estate, across the Murray from the King's Billabong Wildlife Reserve, was a more recent venture, having its first vintage in 1984.  Trentham has always been one of the leaders in making a better line of wine from the River, while maintaining prices that should scare few and surprise many. With viticulturer Patrick Murphy, MD/winemaker Tony Murphy is always testing the limitations of warm area winemaking.  Like this: Australia's first Verdejo.  This white grape is from north-west Spain, and if this debut's any indication, the grape seems perfectly suited to that sunbaked limestone and terra rossa Murray country.  First, I was allured by its nice low number of alcohols. Given that, the aroma is nevertheless rich and complex in a smoky/spicy way, somewhere along the lines of a hearty Alsace Gewürztraminer.  But in its texture and weight, the wine brings serious Chenin blanc to mind, in that it has a candle-waxy feel, but around a really steely acid spine.  You want me to name a fruit?  Go Bartlett pear and honeydew melon without their sweetness.  Which all adds up to a drink that makes me hungry for that Provence-style bean and pork belly stew which is served warm, not hot, sometimes with artichoke hearts.  The tannins peculiar to artichoke are very tricky to match with wine, but this one would rock'n'roll.  This is an exciting step for the Murray-Darling wine business: as far as smart moves go, it's on a par with Hahndorf Hill's introduction of Grüner veltliner to the Adelaide Hills.

Schlüter Wines Schadenfreude Shiraz 2011 
$25; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points 
This fruit grew at the northern end of the Barossa, on the Moppa/Belvidere flats.  As we are gradually learning to admit, 2011 was very, very wet.  Mick Schlüter says some locals reported 180ml by early March.  Unlike the many who sprayed stuff everywhere to avoid mould and ended up picking oversprayed mush, Mick sprayed nothing at all and ended up picking lovely clean fruit in rubber boots and ankle-deep water.  On April Fool's Day.  His wine is rudely in-your-face in a very smooth way.  Reminds me of George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou as much as a ripe year Hermitage.  Tea-tin, blackberries, bitter chocolate, the prickle of summer stubble ... it certainly doesn't smell wet.  Musk and lavendar.  Mint. It's one of those Barossa rarities in which everything clicks and wallows and sings in a sort of ragged rural harmony that's separate from the rest.  The wine's all silk until its brusque satin tannins move on through. Its fruit is as dense as to be almost jellied, but along with that tannin its sublime acid spins it out in the most tantalising and appetising manner.  It's a wicked and cheeky delight now, with lots of corners and high notes.  The soprano bits will be contralto in four years, ultra-smooth bass in eight.  How can I tell this?  I have beside it a 2008 which has that same summery dust prickle, and its edgy herbs are still there, but its fruits have hunkered down into the sort of panforte complexity you'll smell in some Greenock Creek wines.  There's even some dried fig there now.  In the savour and swallow section that fruit is jello heading to melted jello, and then there's this slow deliberate rise of acid and satin tannin.  Open three days now, and it's even more alluring.  I doubt that this wine had anything like the belligerent structure of the 2011, but it's under cork, so the odds are it's much more advanced than the screw-capped 2011 will be at five years of age.  There are a few cases of this lovely 2008 left ($39; 14.5% alcohol; cork; 92+), but plenty of 2011. Call Mick on 0437 570 107 for supplies.

Norty Schlüter, left, with Miller Laucke and Mick Schlüter, in the Greenock Creek Tavern, pondering an old Peter Lehmann red after his wake. The Schlüters have had this classic pub in the north-western Barossa since 1870 ... photo David Murdock

And on a happier note, Micha Illic, Adelaide Club food and wine boss stands back while Tim Gregg, Old Lion Hotel boss, manhandles the belligerent author, and Mick Schlüter just sits back laughing like a Schlüter, having a merrie schlück at Greenock Creek Winery ... photo Leo Davis