“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)





08 October 2013


We win another Americas Cup
Wild Oats chequebook twitching
Oz, Kiwis and Yanks over again

So "we" won the Americas Cup.  Again.  The brilliant Jimmy Spithill, the boy who learned his ropes slopping round Sydney's  Pittwater, skippered the US team, which included six other rockin' Aussies.

It must have looked so easy to skrillionaire winemakers, Bob and Sandy Oatley, that they promptly announced they'd have a crack at the next one.  You could feel the Wild Oats chequebook quivering from here.

Flashback to 26 September 1983.  Winemakers Michel Dietrich and Adam Wynn joined me on the back lawn at Prospect to watch Bondy's tilt at the Auld Mug.  Somebody'd brought a portable telly; Adam had raided his Dad's cellar. Cath Kerry cooked a blinding dinner, with which we guzzled the delicious Wynn's 1953 Coonawarra Claret (more about that later), an old Wynn's Oven's Valley Burgundy and, for dessert, a Wynn's Modbury Semillon Sauternes from, I think, 1968.  I was too trashed to take notes by dessert.  But we pillaged the case of 1947 Wyatt Earp Clare Vintage Port Michel had brought from Quelltaler; which led in turn to a bottle of Cognac Robin, a pre-phylloxera wonder that provided spiritous counterpoint to those other glories and gave the gizzards grunt for the yacht race of the century.

Michel and Isobel Dietrich, Watervale, Clare, mid-eighties photo Philip White
As the rest of Adelaide watched the show in their living rooms, they missed the Aurora Australis that quivered outside in the wide southern sky.  I've never seen another so far north.  For a while I blamed it on the university tobacco and the cognac, but my colleagues saw it too. Heap big omen.

Of course Australia would knuckle down to help our American mates thrash the Kiwis.  Like in last week's race, when the USA became "we" or "us" at the moment of victory, the notorious finance larrikin Alan Bond became "we" and "us" as his skipper John Bertrand edged Australia II from a forty second second to a brilliant hair-raising first.  I can't remember what we drank for breakfast, but clearly recall the nuts shit at the Adelaide airport, where I was to meet a mob of wine critics from interstate, to catch a bus to Seaview Winery at McLaren Vale.

When he got tired of trying to squeeze Bordeaux-style reds from Coonawarra, Adam's Dad, David, floated his big wine company on the stock exchange. Two years later in 1970 he sold his majority shareholding to the brewer Castlemaine Tooheys and pointed the money at Burgundy-style Pinot and Chardonnay at Mountadam.  By the time of Bondy's victory, his old Wynn's/Allied Vintners also owned the Glenloth and Seaview wineries in McLaren Vale.  (In wine, as in politics, everything is connected to everything else.)  We had been summoned to Seaview for the launch of a new Sauvignon blanc, the hot variety tipped to be the next Chardonnay.

Bondy's boat had yet to get back to the wharf on Rhode Island when I found myself in the VIP lounge at Adelaide, with two big Texan oilmen, all hats, boots'n'suits, sprawled on a couch, gazing in disbelief at the TV.  I was still working on my smartarse consolation when one looked up and drawled "You Aussies sure damn whupped them Yankees."

"Yup. Time them damn Yankees took a switchin'," said the other, thoughtfully picking Santos dirt from his boot.  "Best damn country in the worl', thass what you got."

The author at sea 1983 photo Basil Hadley
It seemed every wine writer in the country was at that airport.  Considering the insane pitch of celebration, I thought the Seaview bosses had pulled a pretty good turnup.  But being a skipper who'd lost three Americas Cups, Sir James Hardy and his tribe had been on the radio, inviting everyone in Australia to their Tintara Winery for a big wet knees-up.  Which put a few more empty seats in the bus to Seaview. 

Seaview's got Rosemount painted on it flaky side now. It's a sales joint. Bob Oatley invented Rosemount - he got a lot of his yachting dosh when he sold to Southcorp for $1.5 billion in 2001, and rounded that up to $2.1b when Fosters bought Southcorp and the rest of his shares in 2005.  Back in 1983 it was on the collapse, but still a working winery.  Our hosts were Mark Babidge and Ian Crichton.  After a fairly presbyterian lunch of cold chook and iceberg lettuce we were invited to play croquet on the lawn.  We wondered aloud about how much fun was being had over the hill at Tintara.

The Sauvignon blanc, strangely, came in a screw-capped Riesling bottle, and wore a very dull label that looked a tad last-minute.  It didn't taste like Sauvignon blanc.  My notes include a red ink insertion which says "This wine, according to an impeccable source, contains NO Sauvignon blanc."

Ian Hickinbotham, the great winemaker, was there in his role as columnist for Epicurean magazine.  He was nonplussed too.  When he worked for Wynn at Coonawarra, Ian had conducted the world's first deliberately-engineered and monitored malolactic fermentation in that historic '53 Coonawarra I'd relished fourteen hours earlier with Adam.  We talked about Ian's genius son, Stephen (below, 1982), who was part of the Wynn/Dietrich/White bratpack when he wasn't nose to the winestone at the family's radical winery on the volcano at Anakie, near Geelong. We'd had some of that, too, at dinner.

"Did Stephen tell you about his New Zealand thing?" he asked in a conspiratorial whisper. Always conspiring, them Hickies.  "No," I said.

"Next time you catch up, ask him about it," he said.

I'd just become managing editor of Wine and Spirit Buying Guide, Australia's pre-eminent wino monthly.  I'd opened with a big tasting of the latest Aussie fizz in which Holmes & Landrigan's Yellowglen won the non vintage class, and Hungerford Hill 1978 Pinot blanc de noir cleaned up the vintage section and indeed the entire show.  Dominique Portet, rival Frenchman to Yellowglen's Landrigan, blistered the rosé class with his crunchy Taltarni Brut Taché, which was my favourite.  We were very excited about the profound influence these newcomer Frenchmen were exerting.  Time for a cheeky front cover.

Austen Tayshus was top of the charts with his ocker Australiana, this country's first rap in its rather crusty doggerel frame.  I stood him on a pallet and hoiked him up by forklift beneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  Sue Curtis, my advertising manager (now Henderson, board member of Wine Australia), happened to be the daughter of Major General Jack Kelly, who was head of the Australian armed forces, so we borrowed the biggest Australian flag we could get from Jack at Paddington Barracks (another story; more drinks) and wrapped Austen in it, so he could stand there holding a bottle of fizz, Statue of Liberty style.  "Lookout Champagne, here comes Aussie bubble!" was my cover splash.

I took Austen to Berowra Waters Inn for lunch.  He came in character, which was a bother - he was teetotal, but scratched his nose and sniffed a lot and made more noise than the hallowed Berowra was used to.  Gay Bilson turned puce when he hollered to his girlfriend "See!  See!  I told you everything would be covered in bloody bone marrow!" and sent his perfect steak back to be "properly cooked."

Stephen Hickinbotham was with us, and David Hohnen, owner of Cape Mentelle. At one lull in the proceedings, I asked about "the New Zealand thing."

"Oh that," Stephen said. "There's this place there called Marlborough.  I reckon it's just perfect for Sauvignon blanc. I'm gonna try and get them to plant the whole joint with it."

Hohnen, who absorbs such details, phoned our mate Kevin Judd, the ex-Reynella winemaker who had just moved to New Zealand.  Which led to the establishment of Cloudy Bay, and triggered the tsunami of Kiwi Savvy-B which now washes the whole ball round. 

It was terrible that Hickie never lived to see that astonishing world-changing boom.  He died in a plane crash three years later, along with his lover Jenny, and five other dear mates from Melbourne.  The whole wine business would be much different had he survived.  We would be the winners.  And the Savvy-B would be better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeez Whitey,, I reckon you have lived about 4 mans lives so far, keep it up old buddy, this is a great collection of encounters and memories