“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)





18 May 2014


Museum of Economic Botany's
beautiful and important book
wins Oz museum design prize

Imitation of Life - a visual catalogue, has won The Museums Australia Multimedia and Publication Design Award at the Museums Australia conference in Launceston, Tasmania.

This splendid book concerns an 1800s collection of papr mâché apples which resides in the Santos Museum of Economic Botany in the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide.

It was authored by Tony Kanellos, Cultural Collections Manager and Curator at the Gardens. 

The book explains the history of the amazing collection. These fruits are accurate scientific models of 225 types of apple, 161 pears, and some stone fruits and sundries.

Principally a sombre set of beautiful full-page photographic portraits by Paul Atkins, and handsomely designed by Kate Burns, the book is quietly becoming an essential part of the collection of hard-core fruit-lovers, gardeners, orchardists and cider-lovers.
Author Tony Kanellos at the book's November launch at Marble Hill ... photo Ben Searcy

Tony spoke to DRINKSTER from James Boag's Brewery, where he'd been "having a few celebratory drinks." Boag's is a very handy place to celebrate if you've just won a gong at a big conference in Launceston.

"Our book won first prize," he said. "Not bad for someone who was thrown out of year 11 English class ... but that's just old-school western suburbs experience for a kid of migrant parents who didn't quite fit the mold."

He said he would continue his celebration with a visit to the Willie Smith and Sons Stone House Cidery in the Huon Valley. The Smiths have been growing apples there since 1888; in 1999 Andrew Smith, sick and tired of the old chemo-industrial orchard management regime, converted the entire plantation to certified organic management (ACO 11522). 

It is now Australia's biggest organic apple producer, and its cider is exemplary. As at Warwick Billings' Lobo cidery near Mount Torrens in the Adelaide Hills, Smiths uses a much wider range of cider-appropriate apples than the current tsunami of cheap sweet mindless lemonade level cider that fills your local kiddylikker fridge. Granny smith and golden delicious were never developed to make cider, as they now are, being in surplus.

For the moment. A bad year seems to have sent yields tumbling.

Andrew shares Tony's intense interest in the hundreds of old strains of apples which modern economic rationalism has destroyed. 

Imitation of Life  was launched at Marble Hill in November by Professor David Mabberley. A formidable plant scientist, Mabberly is former Keeper of the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. He currently sits at Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands and the University of Oxford, but he's best known for his own astonishing dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, Mabberly's Plant Book, now in its third edition. Every plant freak should have this book.

Professor David Mabberly with Stephen Forbes, executive director, Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and State Herbarium... photo Ben Searcy

" ... among all the reinettes, pippins and court-pendus, most are unfamiliar today," Mabberly  said of the collection in his speech. "This makes them fascinating and an important lesson for a general public now mercifully [endowed] with an increasingly healthy interest in heritage fruits and vegetables, the collection helps us to understand what is already lost and what further we are in danger of losing at the hand of supermarket mores – in terms of apples, for instance, all that seems to be needed now in most parts of the world is one yellow, one red and one green." 

Since the recent cider invasion of the drive-in kiddylikker fridges, Kanellos' great work has gained an unlikely significance. Most ciders are made from neutral-flavoured "filler" juice or frozen concentrate made from excess eating apples, and simply supply the sugar-addicted juvenile palate with a mouthful of fast, easy ethanol.

My interest in cider began in the early 'seventies, when sulphidic Tasmanian brands were the go.

But we also had Cobbley's Cider in the Adelaide Hills. We'd regularly make the pilgrimage to that little shed in the bush near Norton Summit and buy flagons of still, cloudy scrumpy. 

Cobbley's also made a freakish cult drink, an early kiddylikker called Blue Moose, which was an aerated cider stained sky blue with some unearthly chemical, delivered in a champagne bottle with a plastic stopper and a bright blue moose on the label.

Before it went the way of all those ancient apples, the late Adelaide Review food critic, Howard Twelftree, infamously drank this by the pint, mixed with Cointreau on ice.
In about 1980, I discovered Darren Kelly's orchard and cider factory, Kellybrook, in the Yarra Valley, along with the mysterious nature of true cider apples, like the quirky Kingston Black. No chop as an eating fruit, this soft little apple was easily pressed, and delivered a beautiful flavour, but oxidised and browned too quickly for a table fruit. 

Kelly's pristine methode champanoise cider was a favourite trick drink for confusing alleged fine champagne experts: even that great wine industry doyen, judge and all-round rascal, Len Evans OBE, was tricked into declaring it to be a fine example of real champagne at a blind tasting.

After being lost in wine for a decade, I hit apples again when I lived out in the badlands at Dutton in the late 'eighties, and drank in the top pub at Truro, where wine tanker drivers would call in for a beer as they trucked mindless Murraylands fruit to the Barossa refineries. 

I learned more about the bare facts of the Australian wine industry in that bar than one could in any other, and eventually found myself in trouble with the law when I learned from drivers' delivery books that apple juice was being delivered to many very famous Australian wineries, none of which produced a cider. 

The apple growers had had a nasty season with hail damage, and had cleverly pulped and juiced an entire crop for sale on the bulk market. By watering the apple juice and fermenting it, some seemed convinced they could make a fair Sauvignon blanc from it, as that grape was seen to be the 'new Chardonnay', but was scarce in Australia, which was largely too hot for it. Even Marlborough, New Zealand, was then a 

I advised George Mackey, chairman of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation - now Wine Australia - that I was investigating this scam, so he sent his wine police in to test various wines they quietly bought in commercial liquor stores.

As apple juice naturally contains sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, and grapes don't, the test they used to find apple juice in the wines simply involved testing for sorbitol. This powdery white compound is used as a moistening agent in everything from tobacco to biro ink, and is a laxative if taken in concentrated form.

It gives beverages 'mouthfeel', that comforting, sightly oily mid-palate character that feels somehow luxurious. It's like glycerol. Think Sauternes or Barsac. Used carefully with some flavourants, it can turn water into a half-reasonable emulation of white wine. 

Eventually the New South Wales Health Department busted famous Hunter winemaker Murray Tyrrell for selling wines containing sorbitol.

The irony was that Tyrrell denied buying apple juice concentrate, but admitted that he simply added sorbitol to his wines, which backfired because sorbitol is an illegal additive to wine in Australia, a fact which Tyrrell should have known, as he'd been on the New South Wales committee which regulated such things.

Tyrrell sued me, as author, David Dale, as editor, and Kerry Packer, as publisher, for defamation when I wrote of these findings in The Bulletin.  The case dragged on for years; eventually I discovered, by accident, in The Exeter front bar (of course) that the winemaker had withdrawn, and paid all legal expenses and costs.

Whew. After nearly a decade of avoiding the incoming money which the lawyers would get, I could maybe earn some coin of my own. Again.

The Tyrrell's marketing wallah walked into the bar and offered me a set of their current products for review. I explained that my meagre legal counsel - I had no money - had advised me to never to mention Tyrrell's wine again.

"Oh no Whitey, that's all settled," he said. "Get into these!"

Tyrrell's costs must have been significant, given the silks engaged. But Packer was bigger.

The other wineries that had taken tankers of apple juice were never prosecuted. Perhaps when they heard the authorities were sniffing, they found other uses for it. 'Wine' coolers, the RTD kiddylikkers of the day, were booming.

That was a long time ago, and the apple orchards have since shrunk to a tragic degree, especially to those who love a true, complex, hearty cider, or simply a better range of flavours in their fruit bowl.

In Tasmania alone, the old Apple Isle, the number of apple orchards has shrunk, since 1986, from about 1000 to only thirty. Foremost amongst these is Australia's biggest organic apple planting, Willie Smith and Sons orchard and Stone House cidery. Along with Adelaide Hills maker, Lobo, this family produces what I consider to be our best, most complex and delightful cider in any volume. 

Before you go guzzling some simple sorbitol-riddled 'cider' from the local kiddylikker fridge, go visit our magical Museum of Economic Botany in the Botanical Gardens, take a long hard gaze at those beautiful model apples on display, and wonder what marvels of flavour we've lost.

The collection also includes an amazing forest of life-size papiér mâché funghi, a tiny part of which is shown above. These are displayed in a glass-fronted case, right at a five or six-year-old's eye level. It's great fun to watch little kids approach the display, and become lost in it, and tantalised.

Imitation of life - a visual catalogue is available from the Diggers books and seeds shop behind the Museum of Economic Botany in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens on North Terrace. Go visit.


Anonymous said...

If only Aussie cidermakers took a winemaker's view of apples rather than a beer brewer's view that apples are just an ingredient. There is some good cider made but a lot of boring crap from coldstore fruit.

mushroom season said...

How long before Max Allen http://www.theaustralian.com.au/executive-living/food-drink/a-luscious-taste-of-hardcore-heaven/story-fn845mx8-1226920268937 makes a magic mushroom wine whtey?