“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)





14 April 2014


Duncan Weldgemoed's selfie of the first Howard Twelftree Award, charged with Grenache made by Maynard James Keenan and Taras Ochata at Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills. Inaugural winner Duncan, the brilliant chef at Bistro Dom, is toasting a painting by Stephen Langdon ... Bistro Dom is decked with artworks, all of which are for sale.

A pair of contrasting events
Murky delights in candlelight
And a bonnie day in the country

The inaugural Howard Twelftree Award was presented to the radical Adelaide chef, Duncan Welgemoed at the weekend. The handover took place at a surreal shedster Food and Wine Festival dinner at Fall From Grace in Willunga.

Duncan and his crew made the food. They'd been hired well before the award recipient was decided, and were completely unaware of what would unfold.

Duncan@GastroPunKoz (above) is best known for his remarkable Bistro Dom in Waymouth Street in Adelaide. It was this kitchen some cobweb fools blamed for Maynard James Keenan losing his voice during last year's Tool tour, forcing the 24-hour postponement of the gig. I can personally assure you it was neither Duncan nor his kitchen that damaged the bullet-proof Tool voicebox. The repast the Bistro Dom crew delivered that night was memorable for its restorative wonder; the damage was committed by quite separate bacterial goings-on in the royal froat and Maynard was in exquisite  scream after a day locked safely away with an appropriate spray.

As a mark of respect for the world's most famous premium winemaker, which Maynard is - at his Caduceus winery on Mount Mingus at Jerome, Arizona - I wore my Barons of Barossa robes to the concert. Tool fans said stuff like "Way cool, man, you're sooo ooold, and you're at Tool? Who you the mayor of?"

But back to the business.

The author and Howard Twelftree dining in Neddy's in the mid-eighties ... note the common interest in red ties and braces with white polka dots ... for more about Howard, and his first ever food column, click here... photo Milton Wordley

For thirty-three years in The Adelaide Preview, and then The Adelaide Review, Howard wrote exquisitely of gastronomy under the pseudonym John McGrath.  He was found dead at his desk in June last year, new phone in one hand, instruction manual in the other. The award is made by a disparate mob of his friends, editors and dining allies, some almost lifelong. It will be presented to any individual who makes an exceptional contribution to the gastronomic life of South Australia. It may go to writers, chefs, waiters, architects, designers - some years we may not even make an award. Which would be a pity, but, you know, we don't want this thing becoming too thick on the ground.

The Fall From Grace dinner was a sell-out. Gill Gordon Smith has closed her tiny wine bar in the main street of McLaren Vale and re-opened in a bigger, older, more cosy premises at 29a High Street, Willunga. The long 'tasting garden' at the back has a splendid galvo shed which was bespangled with fairy lights and candlesticks and jam-packed with tables. Guests walked through the perfumed smoke of Duncan's fiery 'kitchen' as they were led to their chairs.

A small portion of the diners at the Fall From Grace dinner ... cloudy 'natural' wines were the order of the night ... Duncan's food was naturally brilliant ... photo Philip White

As well as being spectacular on the eye and nose, the affair was also decidedly evangelical.  Wine critic Max Allen was imported to preach his passion, so-called 'natural wines', which he did with much fervour, if indeed a bit short of a hard-core hot-gospeller like Billy Sunday.

One got the feeling that Max preached to the converted. There was more than a whiff of sanctimony in the night air.

Various vintners and committed naturists were there, tip-toeing through the fairy lights with unlabelled bottles of their cloudy wares, affording guests and friends wee trickles of mystery. 

As I addressed my naturally orange hangover with things more unnaturally spiritous the next day, I Corinthians 2:14 descended as a sort of Heavenly salve. I quote the original 1611 edition of The King James Bible: "But the naturall man receiueth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishnesse vnto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

So there. I too can show God-blessed sanctimony when it's called for. Selah.

The unwitting Duncan was caterer for the evening: his repast was delicious in the most crazy and sensitive of ways. When he was dragged from his fires to the fore, he thought we were about to applaud him for his wizardry before he'd even served dessert. You know: one of those awkward march-the-kitchen-and-floor-staff-out-for-applause-and-silly-speeches sort of rituals. So he was genuinely taken aback when I thrust a mighty decanter upon him and announced it was indeed the first Howard Twelftree Award, suggesting he should only ever use it by tipping three or four different wines in there together.

In the end, Duncan gave it the Sense of Compression Adelaide Hills Grenache made jointly by Maynard and Taras Ochata of Ochota Barrels at Basket Range. A goodly schlück.

Next day, Howard Vineyard of Nairne mounted a similarly outstanding Fresh! event which was more Woodstock than hot gospel and was devoid of any wisp of Exclusive Brethren sanctimony.

Folks enjoying the day at Howard Vineyard ... photo Philip White

I have always thought that somebody smart may someday combine something along the lines of the thriving Hahndorf Fruitaveg Market with your actual dining and some properly good wines and appropriate music. Outside, in the country. I mean it's been done, but not quite the way I envisage.

Howard Vineyard marketing man Nick Whiteway and winemaker Tom Northcote got close to  realising my dream on Sunday.

Around four hundred happy people - all ages - sat under the Autumn sky and the oaks and dined, and played, and danced and drank.  And stayed all day. You could taste and purchase wines from Howard, By Jingo, Jericho, Sam Scott, and Top Note, and craft beers from Gulf Brewery and Prancing Pony. The fine food vendors included Melba's Chocolates, Woodside Cheesewrights, Newbury and Watson Artisan Smallgoods and Bald Hills Olives. I even scored a jar of stunning Tarkine Rainforest Leatherwood Honey from those committed Dawesley apiarists, buzzHONEY.

Thinking about wine at Howard Vineyard's weekend mini-festival ... photo Philip White

All these honest-to-goodness participants were local, and I got the feeling a good proportion of the polite crowd were, too.

The very smart coffee was by Myrtle and Mae and the splendid music was by the tireless trio, Ragged But Right. They sang and played an encyclopædic canon of old-time/good-time/Americana mountain music. It was just perfect for the day. There's nothing like the bright tinkle of a well-played mandolin to lift the knees and the spirits; add to that expert three-part hillbilly harmonies and you got me.

Taras and Amber Ochota and their bonnie wee laddie, right foreground, enjoying the masterly hillbilly music of Ragged But Right ... photo Philip White

Dogs, dads and kids chased footies, grandmas toted chocolate-smeared infants, ancient journalists sat soaking it all in - one boasting to me about never ever looking at the internet: it was indeed a bonnie and wholesome thing.

photo Philip White

While I sat there supping, gazing and marvelling, I couldn't cease churning over the contrast between the two events. Of course they had different purposes, and very obviously poked their barrels - or amphoræ - at quite different markets.

But, c'mon, these natural people and their murky brews ... what's the point? Sure, rebel against the gross industrialisation of the worst mass-produced wines with their mindless petro-chem. They deserve an uprising, pointed straight at 'em. But claiming that a filtered, or strained wine cannot be called natural?

What's natural about a pair of pruning snips? A basket press? A grape crusher? A bottle?

photo Philip White

Whatter they do with their coffee? Their tea? Their potatoes, for chrissake? According to this dodgy dogma, potatoes get two levels of sin: first, they're boiled. Second, they're strained. Are those poor spuds not natural?

I sit with my glass of biodynamic/organic (certified) red, marvelling at its honest beauty, wondering why it's barred from this natural word/world simply because it's been strained. But then I'm smugly satisfied that a mob of zealots of the size and fervour of these sanctimonious murkists and orange hangover-mongers have one thing going for them. We know where they are, just as we know where the petrochem wine industrialists are. It's a bit like the tribal mob mentality of the football. When there's a big match on, a normal non-gang human knows where they are, in their mob-whipped fervour and regimental regalia. They are at the footy.

For those few short hours, a bloke like me can walk down the street with impunity.

Ragged But Right, named after their theme song, the great Riley Puckett's biggest hit ... Michael McGregor (left), Ian Davis and Paul Reynolds ... heartily recommended by the DRINKSTER for good-time feelings at whatever function you plan ... and that brilliant retro microphone, for you audiophiles, is The Louise,  from Ear Trumpet Labs, in Portland, Oregon ...  just perfect for this type of two-foot-back music ...photo Philip White

FOOTNOTE: Just by the way, Howard Twelftree and the Howard Twelftree Award have nothing at all to do with the Two Hands winery proprietor Michael Twelftree - other than sharing an unusual Irish name -  or the Howard Vineyard at Nairne. It's just been a big fortnight for Howards and Twelftrees.


gill gordon-smith said...

Thanks Phillip- feeling a little sullied by your take on what was supposed to be a celebration of life, wine and the Adelaide review and there was no-one i wanted to be there more than you, who i admire and look up to.
Just to clarify things the event was not aimed at the "naturalists" - and to my knowledge most people there loved the food and the wines. There were many locals, there was no agenda on my part and I was aiming for good, old fashioned hospitality which the team and my pocket delivered in droves.

peace and love- woodstock style

Anonymous said...

can't help yourself can you

biting the hand that feeds you just for a headline

you never complained about Coopers ever

from cloudy but fine


I can vouch that at home Whitey stands his Sparkling Ale up in the fridge to settle it and drinks only the clear beer off the top. Hew rote about that in a Coopers story must be thrity years back. I've drunk it like that with him in the Botanic when he lived there It seems from the "natural" wines I've had that these makers actually prefer it cloudy. It's pretty easy to clarify wine by cold settling and racking!

Gushy Bistro Dom Fan said...

Is Duncan's food natural after it's cooked? Does he clarify stocks?


Dear Gill, don't be sullied. You have your job; I have mine. I am a wine critic. In this case, you were a vendor of food and wine. Having invented the Adelaide Review Top 100 twenty five years ago (or thereabouts) and enjoying the astute company and palate of Howard Twelftree as a trusted steward in those days, I am alarmed at the direction this wine buyers' guide has taken in recent years, recommending primitive wines with a shelf life reminiscent of that of milk, often unpasteurised. Howard and I knew and respected brilliant people who sorted all this cloudy unstable wine shit out well before the Second World War. At the meeting I attended to discuss the Howard Twelftree Award, I asked whether this dinner would be a celebration of such wines, and was assured it wouldn't be. I did say that Howard loved and understood fine wine and we should consider this if we planned to use his name in the promotion of wines he would never seriously buy or recommend. I could go on. I attended in his spirit to present his award and wrote with his acute analytical reportage skills in mind. I have no doubt that your customers enjoyed the food and wine. I have praised the food and the atmosphere, recommended your business, advertised your change of address and can only hope that the pleasure you derived as host justified the droving of your pocket. I am sorry if this is not the case, because I am very aware that I may have been the only person there with such heretical reactions. But as I said, I am a wine critic.



With Woodstock in mind, permit me to quote the emcee, {like the great late Owsley, a log-time resident of Australia} Chip Monck, who sagely advised ‘The warning that I’ve received, you may take it with however many grains of salt you wish, is that the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It’s suggested that you do stay away from that. Of course, it’s your own trip, so be my guest, but please be advised that there is a warning on that one, OK?’

Peace in the Valley

By Jingo Wines said...

Glad you could be part of Fresh! Wouldn't it be great if the quiet Adelaide Hills could put on a Woodstock (perhaps a Wistock even).

I'll keep you updated with a Noble email.

Anonymous said...

Lets face it GGS whitey praised everything but the orange people


Wistock! I attended both the Myponga(71)and Meadows(72)affairs ... should dig my old cuttings out for inspo ... Meadows is about to become the new Elizabeth Downs, so there'll not be much peace and love left there.

jigger rigger (JR) said...

Fess up WhiteMan! I had it on full 240 that on the night it was orange woine which buggered the Tool box

Unknown said...

On the whole I find your article regarding the two dinners very interesting, informative but at times a little narrow minded.
I would consider Howard a friend of mine and having served him many glasses of the cloudy, primitive, unstable pre world war 2 types of wine, i have come to the conclusion that his palate was, and could forever be, far more progressive and open than most. He was always accepting of new flavours without prejudice or preconceived ideas, something i always and will always look up to.

The term 'natural wine' is no more than a sign post on a road directing you to the flavours & textures you may want or may want to steer away from. The term does not imply that other wines are not natural or in any way the poorer for it. Some writers from an era where the only wines available were clear and precise seem to overlook the need for diversity in wine - isn't diversity a good thing? The open minded drinker has more choice and i think that that can only be a positive.

When considering the Hot100 by the Adelaide review i would suggest that regardless of the direction taken by James Erskine, the wines that are the most exciting in South Australia are the ones that have identity and individuality - the wines that have had this with balance and sense of vitality have won - some have been natural and some haven't. But what James and the rest of the team involved have done is accept all flavours and acknowledge that all wines have place in the modern drinking landscape.