“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)





15 July 2014


Here's a challenge: 2001 A Space Odyssey ... Stanley Kubrick

Orange rhymes with nothing
but we'll go there anyway:
Will the big guys get punk funk? 

To the relief of the fine wine makers of Orange, the vast majority of 'orange' wines are not from Orange. Nor are they made from orange juice. Nor, at least to this partially colourblind writer, are they particularly orange in colour. They are, however, generally murky fermented grape products, much in the manner of good old-fashioned scrumpy cider. Like cider, they vary widely in quality.

It appears that they're not going away. They've always been there, of course, because they're the sorts of wines that were made all over the world for thousands of years before great South Australian wine scientists like Ian Hickinbotham and Dr Ray Beckwith worked out ways of stabilising wine and clarifying it, so it transports better, lives longer, and generally makes for a happier, longer-living customer.

The author interviews the brilliant Penfolds wine scientist Dr Ray Beckwith for the last time. Ray was 100 years of age. You can watch part of this interview here ... photo Milton Wordley
Such industrialisation certainly made possible the vast lakes of boring, clear, repetitious plonk that floods the shelves today. It also provided honest winemakers of uncommon gastronomic intelligence a better chance at making the sorts of beautiful, sometimes ravishing wines recommended each week in these pages.

To re-awaken my long-standing theory that the making and marketing of popular wine shares many similarities with popular music, I'm convinced that this current wave of interest in orange wines is the wine world's punk movement.

Sex Pistols enjoying some OJ

Punk, like that created by The Ramones in the USA and totally disassembled by The Sex Pistols in the UK, was a predictable reaction to the industrialisation of popular music. It was made by poor artists who rejected the bland repetitious sanitation of rock'n'roll by the transnational music corporations.

These faceless corporate mobs, and indeed outright mobsters, needed everything orderly and, to them at least, utterly predictable, so they could better plan their rip-off contracts and marketing campaigns, which often involved sickening slathers of the old payola to the deejays. These celebrity microphone hacks were the music biz equivalents of wine writers of the day.

Tellingly, these obedient scribes are never called 'critics'.

Those radio announcers are/were the convenient voluntary promoters of the status quo, all carefully trained and stroked to love and support the next big thing, which was always engineered to look exciting and new when in fact it was usually a jaundiced tweak of a style already established but in danger of waning.

The Ramones 1975 ... they're the ones on the right ... photo Bob Gruen

The cornerstone of the punk movement was its denial of traditional musicianship. Where complex jazz chord structures were beginning to sneak in to your standard old twelve bar rock'n'roll, any snotnose gutter rat could pick up a trashed Gibson, Fender bass or Rickenbacker, wind the Marshall stack up to eleven  and bash away at one or two chords. Sometimes the only bars evident were ones in which the stars drank themselves to death.  Attitude replaced scholarly musicianship and the untrained, largely bored marketplace soon enjoyed the brash cheek and audacious disrespect the new practitioners displayed in short aggro bursts between extreme drinking sessions and terminal drug consumption.

The author as punk (1977) ... looking for the idiots who defiled our back fence ... guitarist in Paul Kelly and the Debutantes ... photo John Peachey

Broken equipment that sounded that way replaced the stifling rote standardisation of the studios with their impossible expense and clever, well-behaved producers.

What the punks failed to predict was that in removing the need for scholarly musicianship in their pursuit of their new trademark racket, they made everything much easier for the music companies, who could suddenly get by without engaging all those expensive session players, extravagant studios and millionaire producers.

It seemed just minutes before the revolution was replicated and mass-produced by the very enemy punk was so desperate to take out. The din was quickly sanitised, homogenised and smoothed out, leaving the punks to learn a few more chords, get better studios, and in the sickest piss-take of it all, hire an orchestra and learn Frank Sinatra's I did it my way, as Sid Vicious found himself doing as a twisted kind of post script to seal the whole damned episode.

 Sid has a bit of a lie down

The post-punk movement added modest slivers of production sophistry and even some more accomplished musicianship to the coarse foundations the punks laid down, and we saw brilliant bands like Magazine, Television, Devo, Tin Huey, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, Siouxsie and the Banshees and in Australia, the Boys Next Door and Mental as Anything. 

Out of this, perversely, came the movement actually called industrial music, led by the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. Mockingly: a kind of full circle. Metal machine music.

What we have seen so far from our determined orange people is pretty much lost somewhere between an ape banging a bone on a rock and the very first shards of punk. Some of it shows the cheeky edge of the punks, some of it the sort of patchouli-riddled shoegazing doodles of hippydom. But as most of it has a shelf life somewhere along the lines of unpasteurised milk, this current wave is still far from showing the longevity of the Pistols or the Ramones, the last of whom died last week.

What will put a seal of something approaching permanence to the orangistes will be a Treasury or a Gallo or some other giant wine industrialist releasing its own orange wine. It must be very tempting: it'll be a lot cheaper for them to make, and they'll probably convince the market to drink them up pretty much upon release, which will incur faster profits.

The bit I love is the gradual emergence of the vinous equivalent of the post punk movement, where clever folks are combining the natural influence of wild yeast in additive-free wines, some of which are made in amphorae or concrete egg-shaped fermenters in place of, or as well as oak containers, and even sometimes filtering them to remove as much active biomass as possible in the pursuit of stable flavour and longevity.

Even stalwart biodynamic evangelicals who've so far made very fine wines without additives are dabbling with the use of the word orange as a descriptor of their newest stuff: I see in his latest newsletter, for example, the great Julian Castagna releasing wines he calls orange, regardless of their colour. I look forward to tasting them.

So while we see the odd decrepit orange person screeching briefly away at their version of My way, this critic tends to scuffle past with eyes averted, to then look forward to something more along the lines of Howard Devoto and his brilliant Magazine peeling off The light pours out of me.  

Full Moon over Castagna ... photo Philip White

Punk (Oxford): A worthless person (often used as a general term of abuse): you think any of these punks they got fighting today could stand up to Joe Louis? A criminal or thug: there’s never been a better time to take our streets back from the punks

Funk (Oxford): perhaps from French dialect funkier 'blow smoke on', based on Latin fumus 'smoke'. A strong musty smell of sweat or tobacco: our sweat mingles, but the funk makes my stomach dizzy: he prowled his office trailing the telltale odour of funk


Orange wine (Stuart Knox, Fix St James, says it's not to be confused with natural wine):  "Orange wines? What the .... are they? Well, they’re not made from oranges and not from Orange (though they could be). What they actually are a white wines made with extended skin contact in a similar way to the way we make red wines. This extended time on skins can run for a few weeks up to almost a year depending on the producer. This gives the wines their orange hue and thus the name." Please join the conversation below.


Prim Punkette said...

XTC's Generals and Majors should be in there somewhere Whiteman

@stuartknox. Proprietor and Bottle-Stroker of Fix St James said...

Oh dear, it appears whiteswine has gone all Wine Australia on us and confused natural wine with orange wine. Being that I'm a sommelier though I'm well aware that whiteswine has complete disdain for me and generally any sommeliers opinions. There again, as far as I can actually see, whiteswine is a blog that is built around disdain for most if not all of the wine trade. If we were to actually get our musical references correct then I think @whiteswine and @RankRainbowToad natural wine is like the punk movement. However, if perhaps we are talking orange/amber wine then perhaps it's spiritual home is Georgia. I prefer to listen to punk than polyphonic folk music however I'll drink polyphonic when I can. I'm sick of the mistaking of orange and natural.

Philip White said...

Perhaps Stuart you need the assistance of a body like Wine Australia to assist you define these new appellations.

Thankyou for your thoughtful input.

Personally, I was not aware of you before this conversation. Please forgive me, and rest assured that I will pay very close attention to you and your wine bar next time I visit your town.

That will be nice.

The Great Speckled Bird said...

Mr White last time I got skin contac with you I went orange which anybody cd tells not natural. Since then all my wines have got spots. Are they piebald or dalmatian I got to know ,maybe the knoxer cd help

Toby Bekkers said...

Does history record the reaction of revived drowning victims upon resuscitation?


You're a very naughty boy Philip. No, worse than that. You're a very dirty White. I hope all this leads somewhere.

Philip White said...

trust unca phil