“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)





29 January 2015


Get the rocks right get the climate right get the vineyard right get your winery rockin

Laissez-faire is a term that applies pretty well to the manner in which many Australians select new varieties which they hope will suddenly be the next big thing.

The most vivid example of this was the manner in which many planted what they thought was the promising Iberian Peninsula Albariño in the late noughties. When it turned out that the Spanish had in 1989 instead shipped Traminer cuttings to the Australian government for propagation, which these unsuspecting growers then purchased and planted, most producers barged on as if it made no difference at all.

It was fucking nuts. Nobody knew really what they were doing, but through vineyard to bottle to market many winemakers pushed their big mistake through the dumb wine press hacks and straight on into the bank.

Buoyed by the great news that Traminer was also known as Savignin, most adopted that name, although they'd never heard of it before or bothered to discover it was used mainly to make a dull sherry-like wine in friggin' Jura. Jura. That's like the Tristin da Cunha of great vignobles. Eventually they enjoyed the fact that many unsuspecting addicts of New Zealand Sauvignon blanc might understandably confuse the two, regardless of the fact that the oily Traminer is even less like the crunchy, grassy Sauvignon blanc than it resembles Albariño. Like, you know, nothing like either of 'em.

This fudge reminded me of the 'seventies and 'eighties, when Traminer Riesling, the most popular bottled white in New South Wales, was commonly a blend of one or more of the various types of muscat or Frontignac with Semillon, and contained neither Traminer nor Riesling. It wasn't entirely surprising that some winemakers felt no cringe at repeating a new version of the substitution twenty years after we thought we'd got all that deception sorted.

Winemakers hear of varieties somebody's drunk some of somewhere in the Old World, and the goss spreads very quickly. A bottle may be brought home and shared and talked about; somebody imports some; a few flash restaurants might stock it, and off goes the goss. Without much real investigation, or, Bacchus forbid, scientific research of geologies, altitudes, climate and whatever the individual imagines the variety's most suitable source terroir to be, there's a mad scramble for cuttings and within four or five years the marketers are trying to convince us that whatever came out the end of the winery is a brilliant new beauty which we should be accepting with open mouths.

They're certainly not all terrible, but this is happening now with varieties that end in O. The clown's mouf.

Before they purchase cuttings and plant, many growers at least have the good sense to consult an ampelography or the internet to discover what one person or another thinks the typical chacters of that variety may be.

But a general scouring of the popular sources leaves this critic bewildered at how vague such references can be.

Take Roussanne, the white variety of the south of France. References to this are perhaps a little more precise than many of the lesser-known types.

Wikipedia says "The aroma of Roussanne is often reminiscent of a flowery herbal tea. In warm climates, it produces wines of richness, with flavors of honey and pear, and full body. In cooler climates it is more floral and more delicate, with higher acidity ...

"Wines made from Roussanne are characterized by their intense aromatics which can include notes of herbal tea. In its youth it shows more floral, herbal and fruit notes, such as pear, which become more nutty as the wine ages. Roussanne from the Savoy region is marked by pepper and herbal notes. Wine expert Oz Clarke notes that Roussanne wine and Roussanne dominated blends can drink very well in the first 3 to 4 years of their youth before entering a 'dumb phase' where the wine is closed aromatically until it reaches 7 or 8 years when it develops more complexity and depth."

'Herbal tea' surely leaves a bit to be desired. Take a look at the array of tisanes - perhaps a better name, as these contain no tea - on offer at your local supermarket and you'll find dozens of contrasting and complementary herbs in the dangle bags. Licorice, peppermint, sage, camomile, lavendar, citrus, ginger, aniseed ... who knows which of that vast array of flavours and aromatics the Wiki writer imagined are represented in Roussanne?

All these notions crashed through my mind when my landlord, the Yangarra Estate boss Peter Fraser (below), recently offered me a tasting of the eight vintages of Roussanne he's made from the vineyard just 300 metres from this desk. He'd been thinking about this before Wikipedia was a zygote.

Part of this vineyard is in the ironstone prolific in this neck of the northern McLaren Vale woods; part is in the Kurrajong geological formation, a rubble of many types of rounded riverine rocks from many sources, which have washed down from the great mountain range which once towered above the Willunga Fault and its escarpment to the east. This Kurrajong - a true geological plum pudding - resembles parts of the Rhône Gorge geology, where similar rocks were washed from the French Alps at about the same time as our local stuff. In both countries, Roussanne seems to love it.

Kurrajong on Peter's Creek

"Check these," he said after he'd tasted these bottles all his day long. "Interesting." 

Kurrajong Formation: this is a very youthful version of it being laid down now in Nore Guzar, Afghanistan ... great place to grow grapes in 50,000 years

So I tasted these wines over several days late last year. I looked again at the same bottles  a whole fortnight later. 

I make clear that I rent a cottage on Yangarra. I love watching the development of Peter's plan to devote the entire vineyard to the varieties I call 'North-west Mediterranean,' But I have no commercial connection with, or investment in the Jackson Family, the Estate's Napa Valley-based owners. 

Call me a crofter who drinks more than he shears.

It is a local joke that McLaren Vale enjoys the best Mediterranean climate on Earth. Combine that with the freak geological connection, and let's take a look at what the combination does to Roussanne. 

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2007 (13% alcohol) As we expect of first crops from baby vines, at eight years this wine is frail and decaying in a genteel manner. It smells of old quinces and their preserving syrup, with a nostril-tickling prickle of burlap. Maybe a whiff of unscented candle wax. While it's gradually falling to bits, it's still pleasant and soft, with gentle tannins that remind me of a weak old clove. It has a watery, nostalgic air as its fruit falls away (three days open), but it leaves a steely baby vine acidity, solid and stalwart, which would well accompany roast pork. 75 points 

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2008 (13.5% alcohol) That slightly soapy/altar candle waxiness is here again, but with an enticing array of spices and exotics, from dry laurel/bay leaf to fresh mace and cassia bark through fruit mince and citrus rind to fresh coconut flesh and preserved or even candied pineapple. Some fatty acids soften the whole adventure; think crême caramel. All that aside, it seems disarmingly soothing, akin to a cool chamomile infusion. Its tannins are extremely fine; its acid less obvious than the '07. 85 points 

Surface ironstone taken from the Roussanne vineyard before planting

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2009 (13.5% alcohol) Here's where Wikipedia's pears hit the fore. Buttery ripe Rocha pears, to be precise. Some fresh, some lightly poached. The wine's viscous and cosy. Its slightly acrid top notes bring the skins of pineapple and canteloupe to mind, but below there's that smooth pear syrup and faint butterscotch padding an array of extremely fine-grained tannins. It's elegant, highly appetising wine with a reassuring, langorous finish. It made me yearn for Richard Olney's cool Provence salad of pork belly and beans, or maybe a boullabaise on the Marseilles wharf. Yum. 93 points 

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2010 (13.5% alcohol) Rocha pears again, this time with a little of their ever so slightly bitter skin in the topnote, along with that tickly, prickly burlap and the peels of pineapple and canteloupe. Otherwise, it's all creamy and waxy, and really enticing and comforting - it smells real safe. Once again there's a hint of a gentle camomile infusion: more flowers than leaves. The wine has that camomile texture. If you get itchy hay fever eyes, try washing their lids with a cool camomile tisane and you'll understand what I mean by safe and reassuring. No more itch! This Roussanne tapers off to a long smooth finish of lovely texture and feeling, which hides its considerable but elegant acidity. This is a very special drink; quite unlike any other wine I can recall. It really set my salivaries gushing while counterbalancing that anticipatory response with satisfaction: a clever, gentle see-saw. 94++ points 

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2011 (13.5% alcohol) In the humid wet of 2011, you didn't need to see botrytis on your grape skins to know it was at work beneath them, softening them, and converting some of their acid to glycerol. Those fatty acids are obvious here: whey and speck came to mind as the wine sat there, unchanging, day after day. It has the built form of a creamy Burgundian Chardonnay from a damp year, the botrytis having that strange, gently bittering influence it can exert on tannins long before it makes the wine luscious. It reminds me of handing Len Evans a glass of delicious Yeringberg Roussanne back in the heyday of Adelaide's Universal Wine Bar. He took it, rolled his eyes, then, eventually realising it was not the Chardonnay variety he was exclusively promoting, he chided me as only he could: "Coarse, broad, no finesse ... " That was a waste of a taste, I assure you. Len tended to hate things he didn't think of first. Personally, I really enjoy this style of wine: it's appetising, slick, sinuous, and full of heart. No herbs or chamomile here! 92++ points 

Where Kurrajong blends with ironstone on Peter's Creek, at the foot of the Roussanne

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2012 (13.5% alcohol) Here we hit the fresh fruits, and they're mainly aromatic types from the jungle. Plantains, for example, and other banana types, with all sorts of references to rambutan, lychee, paw paw and mango, even a touch of starfruit. Honeydew melon. There are flowers, too: from camomile and lantana to the edge of jasmine and magnolia petals. There lies the flesh. The prickly edge is hemp and old white pepper, setting those fat fruits a neat and tickly counterpoint. All those things are whipped to smooth cream in the flavour department, with some soft fresh coconut meat. The fluffy vanilla slice fatty acids are the first to tease the tongue, then the more metallic steel and ironstone ones - like you find in Clare Riesling - move in to bring the whole delicious exercise to a long but increasingly austere finish. This is a wine that will glow after some proper cellar. 92+++ points 

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2013 (13.5% alcohol) Pouring this is as organoleptically dazzling as sticking your smell sax (mine's tenor in this music) right into a freshly-opened ripe gorgonzola. We have pears again, this time aromatic Bartlett before it yellows as much as the buttery Rocha. No apologies for getting specific. I smell dry laurel leaf on the cutting edge, but then it goes into all that cream. At one point it took me to home-made peanut butter. The Queensland blue pumpkin. Take a big one, and very carefully cut the crown out, with the stem intact (handle) and scoop out the seeds so you don't make a hole in the shell. Dice onions, heaps of garlic and a fistful of speck or Max Noske's Hahndorf Butcher's perfect kassler. Put all that in the pumpkin's cavity with enough fresh cream to fill her up. Oh orright then maybe half of it should be Sauvignon blanc. That grassy acid is handy. Put the lid back on and bake it slowly. Serve whole damn thing intact on a big plate in the middle of the table with a ladle. As you apportion the soup you scrape layers of pumpkin from the inside of the shell. 

Not only does this wine remind me of that smell that slays you when you take the top off your pumpkin, but it made me want that whole business mmediately. All that soft-boiled peanut and cream and white onion, caramel, umami, aminos, and then the sullen steely acidity slumbering away, the great preservative, at the bottom of the dazzle. 93+ points 

Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2014 (13.5% alcohol) Through this queue of fascinating bottles, three heartening curves move upwards to the right without too many wobbles. One line is the age of the vines: you can feel the complexity and authority of the fruit rising as the vine roots get down into that rocky ground and the plants learn their neighbourhood. 

Next is the leaf canopy, and the way the vine doctors manipulate it to achieve that ideal dappled balance of shade and sunlight: the russett skin of the Roussanne seems particularly fussy about this matter of fluttery on-off light as the breeze shuffles the leaves about. 

And the third, of course, is the winemaking, as Peter and his crew gradually screw closer to the ideal recipe. Which, of course, does not exist.

Given all that, it might be no surprise that I reckon this one's the triumph. It's creamy, like that stuffed pumpkin. It has the most delicious spread of peanut butter. It has whey and Paris Creek unsalted butter. It has jungle plantains, fresh ginger, taro, yam and a slice of bitter melon. It's balanced, clean, unctuous and appetising. It has extremely fine-grained tannins and acidity that sits there like a golden Buddha, between smug of body and sinuous of intellectual intention. It is indeed a lovely drink, and one which makes me marvel at what a silly thing it is to attempt to grow Chardonnay in McLaren Vale. Or Chardanno. 94++ points

SO THERE. Expecting you to take my praise by the pinch - living in the midst of it, I must be influenced; you should cut my points in half - I think Roussanne is an ideal variety for a place like McLaren Vale, and in particular a slightly elevated place like this, with its unusual blend of geologies and gentle maritime breezes of constant humidity.

Go visit the Rhône Gorge and have a think.

After days of sniffing and sipping, the overall flavours that linger in my brain are various pears, quince, loquat, fresh ginger, melons both bitter and sweet, camomile infusion, umami-rich chicken, fish and pork stock, fatty amino acids, and in the older wines, caramel, butterscotch and honey. Without ever being sweet. And whizzed to a tincture in a king-hell forensic laboratory blender.

The younger wines have the potential for great longevity - they seem never to change. I had a suspicious sniff of the bottles a fortnight after opening and was dumbstruck by how solidly they'd retained their form and fruit.

A week later, some had yet to budge. They had faded, of course, but their very stern south-of-France form had barely moved. Only very expensive Barsac and Sauternes, but heavily botrytised and not bone dry like these, share this capacity.

Unlike many other buzzy varieties being thrown in here, there and everywhere, I know Roussanne is a hot property if it's in the right place and done with the appropriate curiosity and enlightenment by the right people.

And the right stone.

All the bottles and rocks and the landlord photographed by Philip White


You know that the vintage wedding's impending when the men put the bridal veils on the vineyard: this morning they wrapped up the Yangarra Ironheart Shiraz, right outside my office window. Bad luck you greedy birdies. It's on!

Ironheart gets its name from the solid slab ironstone which lies beneath a thin layer of highly ferruginous wind-blown, or aeolian sand. This tough ground regularly grows the most prized Shiraz on this big biodynamic wine farm, which is the property of the Jackson Family of Napa Valley, California.

After the heat spikes, bushfires on that horizon, and then rain, with the moulds and whatnot that brings, this neck of the woods has for weeks enjoyed perfectly mild ripening weather, with constant drying sea breezes to sort the mildews, just the right amount of sun, and evenings that had me unpack the duvet a week back. Fingers crossed. 


Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna ® South Australia Shiraz 2012 
$40 Vintage Cellars, $37 Dan Murphy's; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80++ points 

Kalimna is a priceless old vineyard property at the north end of the Barossa. There's a very very special 1880s Cabernet Block 42 there, whose wine sells at around Grange prices. If you wanted to, you could have paid $168,000 for 750 mls of the 2004 in the ravishing Ampoule, which quickly sold out in 2012.

On the other hand, Kalimna's Shiraz vines start in 1948. Somehow, instead of revering that special place, some marketing genius decided to make Kalimna a registered brand name in a more generic sense, so the grapes in this wine come, as the label vaguely admits, from South Australia, which is a fair bit bigger than little ol' Kalimna. Not to mention quite a lot cheaper, as far as buying grapes goes.

Pushing it even further, the back label says "It is Penfolds [sic] oldest Bin wine." So we have the "oldest Bin wine" which is actually 2012 and it may or may not include fruit from Kalimna.

It sure as hell includes quite a lot of fruit from somewhere else.

Not to mention the notion that the 1951 Bin 1 Grange and 1952 Bin 4 may indeed be somewhat older.

Maybe the buyer of Penfolds red at these prices is expected to be so breathlessy aspirant that they won't notice such polish from the propaganda division which somehow lives on in the ruins of Foster's old Melbourne ramparts. I seriously doubt whether these people actually drink wine.

It was quite raw and brash on first opening. Now, four hours later, it seems to fit the modern Penfolds 'claret' style: tight and velvety; not exactly jumping with juicy or openly alluring fruit. There are gradual insinuations of dried fig and juniper berries and nuts like you get in panforte. And there's a nice summer prickle about it, like red dust. It's the sort of wine that might gradually suck the patient drinker, as we say, in. In the sense that it reluctantly releases glimmers of this and that. And it's leathery, like old dry harness. It's very dry to schlück, and, as I say, velvety and dusty. It's on the verge of sucking all the water out of your eyes. It's right wing wine. Its American oak is not too intrusive, but it's certainly there. I reckon it'll start to show the beginnings of a sense of humour in another two days. If in doubt, double-decant. Or wait ten years. Or have it now with tart cheddar. Or buy something else.

Like Jacob's Creek, Kalimna was once a small vineyard. 

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Barossa Shiraz 2012 
$75 at Dan Murphy's; $63 at Langton's (both Woolworths); 14.5% alcohol; cork; 94++ points 

The old rocks that underlie Marananga are about as old as rocks get inside your actual Barossa Valley, which is otherwise mostly very young geology. This is not to guarantee that these old rocks  produce better wines, but they tend to. Wines like Greenock Creek's Roennfeldt Road grow in 'em. When he discovered that Michael Waugh had bought that tiny block, Peter Lehmann complained that too many of his trophies came from that particular vineyard. So while the location of its actual vineyard remains annoyingly vague, and both sides of the label are laden with ordinary Penfolds fluff, this newish Bin number should be good.

It is indeed a simmering, glowering, provocative brute. With unusual finesse for such machismo. It stares you down. It is overtly masculine. It is the blacksmith pushing the wife aside and making the bloody blackberry tart his way. He puts mint leaves on the top, and then great gloops of cream, and way beneath, his awkward pastry is not particularly fine as far as its sieving and rolling went. Then, like old Burgundians eat their tiny forest strawberries, he's ground white pepper over it.

Drink it. Oooyez. I know we're getting into the heady nether regions of pricing, but let me guarantee you this is three times the wine of the Bin 28. It's intense, and yes, velvety, but up the middle of its stony lane there's an open gutter full of the oozing gooey juice of many luscious fruits, most of them black and not yet growing on Earth. I mean they're obviously extant in the wine, but the things they remind me of are too black and mysterious and jungly to have yet evolved.

I'll leave you with blackberry, pepper and aniseed. And that wicked black syrup.

A shoulder of venison stewed ever so slowly with juniper, blackcurrants, whole beetroots and all the business in a mixture of vintage port and champagne should set you off nicely, served with a spinach jam and mashed potato, parsnip and carrot, with chopped raw Spanish onion whisked in at the end with some Paris Creek butter and the Italian parsley. Grurgle sounds from me.  Yep, grurgle.

Bloody good job, Gago and gang. Knockout. 

Grange men past and present: Penfolds winemakers Rod Chapman, John Bird, Ray Beckwith and Peter Gago at Ray's 100th birthday lunch at the old Kalimna homestead north of Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley ... photo Philip White

27 January 2015


Unaipon: right on the money -
our first indigenous winemaker
deserves a little more kudos!

David 'Unaipon' Ngunaitponi was thirteen when the benevolent politicians, graziers and winemakers, Charles Burney Young and his son, Harry Dove Young, employed him as a servant in 1885. Later they built him lodgings at their Kanmantoo Pastoral Company homestead, Holmesdale. 

The Ngarrindjeri lad had always fascinated the young Harry Dove, pestering him with ingenious toys and musical instruments he'd made on his traditional country on the Murray Estuary at Raukkan (later renamed Point McLeay). Harry Dove had a bit of a word to the elders, and the young Unaipon, as he became known, agreed to go off and learn the white man secrets.

Which he did. With a withering hunger and genius.

The Youngs were a racy lot. Charles Burney had married Nora Creina, daughter of Lady Charlotte Bacon (above), the Ianthe in Lord Byron's Child Harold's Pilgrimage. It was commonly rumoured Byron was Charles Burney's illegitimate father-in-law. Harry Dove bore a striking resemblance to Byron. 

Having studied the mathematics of surveying, Charles Burney cut himself out a lovely slice of land that extended from the dairy cattle country on the eastern slopes of Mount Barker to the lower beef and sheep grazing rain shadow country on the Bremer River, five miles further east. A rakish dance hall man, Charles Burney spent much of his time at business and pleasure in the city, [read Adelaide Club] leaving Harry Dove to run the farm and winery and the thoroughbred stud at Kanmantoo.

A mad horseman, Harry Dove was a founder of the Oakbank Steeplechase. They still run a hurdles race there each Easter in his name. Which is proudly cut into the redgum lintel of the stables at Johnston's big homestead overlooking the Oakbank Racecourse. I imagine Harry Dove standing in his stirrups as he carved that graffito out with his pocket knife, wagering old man Johnston - vigneron, brewer and hotelier -  that his idea was a winner. All he needed was Johnno's paddock, some well-horsed rivals, somebody to make a book, and a few hundred punters with money.

The original Kanmantoo vineyard was 25 hectares of Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, Grenache, Malbec and Mataro - more or less the ingredients of the better Bordeaux reds of the day. Through his mate Sir Samuel Davenport, CharlesBurney had engaged the services of the genius French winemaker, Edmund Mazure, who there perfected his recipe for the wine style he would later call St Henri Claret at Auldana and Romalo.

The original St George Claret Kanmantoo Vineyard label ... photo Philip White
Mazure's Kanmantoo Vineyard St George Claret was fermented cool using a water-driven heat exchanger they invented, then blended and stored in seasoned 500 gallon oval oaks for six years before bottling.

Those oaks are full of wheat these days.

At the Exposition Universelle, the Paris World's Fair of May to October 1889, held to coincide with the official opening and illumination of the Eiffel Tower, St George Claret, Kanmantoo Vineyard won the top gold medal. I've held the damn thing in my hands. It's as broad as a saucer, and very heavy. These days they give you a piece of paper that comes out of some Troy or Jacinta's desktop printer in Kent Town or somewhere. 

That world championship, just by the way, was far from unique in the Holmsedale trophy cabinet. The Youngs were persistent and confident internationalist exhibitors, entering their reds in wine shows and agricultural expos all over Europe and the USA. There is a serious trove of awards and certificates in the archive.

The wine critic from The Register, Ernest Whitington, gave a priceless account of drinking these world-leading wines when he visited Holmesdale with another newspaper bloke in 1903. Harry Dove had met them in a city pub at 4PM. The rain "came down in torrents" as they drove through the Mount Lofty Tiers  - "where cattle duffing was rife in the early days" -  took fresh horses at Crafers, and were at table at Kanmantoo by 8PM.

"We sat around the open fireplace, with its great blazing logs," Whitington reported, "And talked about the wine industry ...

"By the way, at dinner there were two clarets on the table, white seal French, and St George 1897 vintage. The visitors picked out the Kanmantoo article as the French wine. But that is not to be wondered at, because a claret from these cellars took the gold medal at the Paris Exposition against the whole world. As Mr Young put it, he awoke one morning to read in The Register that his wine had taken the coveted prize, and was, indeed, famous."

From his single-room studio at the back of Holmesdale, Unaipon would ride to the Callington Railway Station to catch a train to the city, where under Charles Burney's encouragement at the big house in Walkerville, he studied anthropology, science, literature and music. 

Publicly a teetotaller, Unaipon nevertheless worked many vintages in the Kanmantoo cellars - his signature is in the cellarhands' paybooks; it appears by the names listed there that the harvest was picked (into kerosine tins) by other Ngarrindjeri people under his supervision. The bookwork shows he was certainly hands-on in the cellar.

For a man of his genius, winemaking would have been a cinch to Unaipon.

I have a romantic notion of the polite and eager thirteen-year-old lad there in the cellars with a candle, assisting Mazure (left), Charles Burney and Harry Dove  prepare and bottle the St George's Claret samples to be sent off to the big Paris show.

They must have been heady days: Unaipon was a tireless inventor, draughtsman, writer and historian; an Antipodean Da Vinci. In the Holmesdale shearing shed where I worked as a kid he devised a method of converting rotating flywheel and belt type motion to sideways lineal, and so invented the shearing handpiece, which put Australia on the sheep's back and got him on the fifty-dollar bill, although I don't think he ever made a cent from it.

Unaipon constantly experimented with boomerang shapes and flight, and in the late 1800s decided that if two boomerangs could be attached at right angles to a driven spigot, cargo could be lifted and transported. In other words, the helicopter. His direction converter in the shearing handpiece could make the prop blades adjustable for lift.

It wasn't until 1936 that Focke-Wulf built the first working chopper, by which time the old vines at Kanmantoo had been uprooted and Harry Dove Young, MLA, was no longer well. Combined with the harsh local Tappanappa schist, eutypa - 'die-back,' or 'dead-arm' - had gradually chewed away at the dry-grown vines until the yields were down to half a ton to the acre. The vines were, after all, nearly a century old.

Good quality, sure, but there's no money in that.

Harry Dove married Anna Theresa Moore; they had one child, Nora. Harry Dove died in 1944. A wiry, jockey-sized tomboy, Nora was famous for tearing about on her dad's Ferrari-class thoroughbreds, not just bareback, but with no kit whatsoever. All she needed was a strand of mane to steer one of those big shiny bastards at full gallop.

Very early in her rebellious life, Nora went off to Paris to study law at the Sorbonne and hang out with the impressionists at the Louvre. There's a wonderful letter to her dad in the files. Nora's dozing off at a boring lecture in Paris, gazing out the window at the Seine, and she sees a barge laden with her Dad's St George Kanmantoo Claret being hauled upstream into town. Her Dad's brother, Burney, just happened to run the Australian wine office in London - he was the forerunner of today's Australian Grape and Wine Authority.

Handy bloke to know if you were exporting Antipodean wine to the Old World a century back.

By the time I was old enough to mow her lawns in the 'sixties, Nora'd moved in to manage what was then Kanmantoo Station with her Beretta-machine-pistol-packing girlfriend, Ida Tate Smith. The eccentric kleptomaniac, Alison Woosterman Howgate lived in a stylish modern cottage on their large lawns.

In spite of being an expert driver of her big V8 Valiant Regal, Alison always pretended to be blind. She effected the awkward shaded spectacles worn by post war blind folks and even kept a dribbling golden labrador in harness as a prop.

On Saturdays, the expert painter Nora would run watercolour classes on the veranda while I mowed the lawn. I couldn't imagine then why you'd have a kid mow the bloody lawn with a noisy, smelly old Victa four-stroke while you were sitting there hitting the Chestnut Teal sherry and learning how to paint, but I imagine it had something to do with proving one was sufficiently well orf to run staff: the internals of the big house were managed by Miss Margaret Dadow, who similarly lived alone nearby on the farm.

They were mainly khaki jodhpur short back-and-sides lasses at those genteel soirées. Not a sherry head, Nora would stir heaps of brown sugar into dark rum in a huge grandpa's tea cup and lap it noisily with a teaspoon. She chain-smoked Alpine filters and spoke with a toasted Tom Waits timbre. It was a cool but crazy place to live, Kanmantoo in the 'fifties and 'sixties: there weren't many farming villages anywhere else whose aristocracy was an openly gay matriarchy.

Nora and Tate would climb into their best tweeds now and then, wash the Borgward Isabella, and drive to Tailem Bend or Murray Bridge to visit Unaipon in the old folks' home. They revered him. He died in 1967, when I was fifteen and still playing cowboys and indians around the old winery. He was obsessed with unlocking the secret of perpetual motion, right til the end. He was buried in the old missionary cemetery at Raukkan, beside the little Point McLeay church he preached in as a senior man. That's on the money, too.

A courteous, conservative character, Unaipon wasn't impressed when more activist blackfullas instigated the Day of Mourning to celebrate the 150th arrival of the First Fleet, so he'll probably be pissed off  by my nomination of him to my Winemaker of the Year on 'Australia Day' 2015.

If only I had that champion St George Claret I'd chink some proper crystal in his honour.   

In the meantime, there: I've outed you, David 'Unaipon' Ngunaitponi. You were a winemaker.

Milton Wordley's photograph of the White family at our father's funeral at Callington in August 2013. He was James "Pastor Jimmy" White, non-conformist Protestant street preacher. He raised us in the old Black Dog Inn in Kanmantoo. Here's his mob: left to right it's Stephen, Paul, Helen, Sylvia May, our Mum, me and Mark. Mum died the following December. Missing is brother Andrew, who was killed in a car crash with my cousin, Jennifer, en route to the funeral of Sylvia's mother. That was a very bad week. All us blokes worked for Nora on the Young's big farm as we grew up. We learnt a lot there: the basics. How to sharpen knives, clean a shearing floor, shoot vermin, herd stock, pull weeds, dress sheep. We were allowed to take redgum firewood from the property to keep our cooking stove and fireplaces fed. In the baking Bremer Valley on the edge of the Murray Estuary, Kanmantoo and Callington are blessed in summer by the relieving breezes that came off that big lakes system - Ngarrindjeri country - each evening.

FOOTNOTE: I have removed a line in this which could have been interpreted as racist. It was never meant to be. Apologies.

PS: Publish something like that story, and look what soon inevitably happens: a miracle: even the sea suddenly appears; the humble old single-storey stone Holmesdale vintage cellars grow magically into a grand chateau with belltower!