“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)





21 January 2015


Looking north towards the Fleurieu, across Backstairs Passage from the Bay of Shoals on Kangaroo Island ... photo Philip White

Coolest bit of South Australia:
the Fleurieu Peninsula rocks
take a drink around her soon

Realising that this week you'll all be busy watching Cadel win the Tour Down Under, let me suggest an alternative for those who prefer four wheeled travel. Yesterday, I dawdled across the Fleurieu Peninsula from the Murray Estuary home to Kangarilla, and I have to say the Peninsula's looking spiffing.

Adelaide people often miss the reality of this bonnie Peninsula. They'll drive from the city to Goolwa, the city to Port Eliot, or the city to Victor or to catch the Kangaroo Island ferry, but then they drive back again. That's all boring north-south stuff, and is pretty much just a trip to the beach. Any beach. They rarely get to cross it east-west or west-east, from the Gulf St Vincent to the estuary. This way, the traveller gets a proper sense of the highly-contrasting nature of the water bodies on each side, and the feeling of having crossed a watershed; a great divide.

Crowded beach at Port Noarlunga ... photo Philip White

It's fascinating to me to watch the flora change with the altitude and the geologies evident in fields and road cuttings. If you have time to stop at all the cellars, you'll notice the flavours changing accordingly. And it's astonishing to discover how much the weather on one side is determined by conditions on the other. I'll never forget listening to salty old coves in the Victory pub on Sellick's Hill, overlooking the sparkling Gulf on the Fleurieu's west, talking about how they could tell by the winds there how much water there was in the Lake Alexandrina, forty minutes drive across the South Mount Lofty Range to the east.

Sunrise at Second Valley ... photo Philip White

The Lake's a lot more moody and soulful than the fizzy Gulf. Even the freshwater raptors - like the Whistling Kites - fly in a lazier, more laid-back way than the panicky Peregrines chasing pigeons and seagulls along the marine cliffs on the Gulf.

This cooler weather has been a mercy for the vignerons. Here and there some growers have some fried fruit from the earlier heat spikes, with raisined berries amongst the bunch; there's also been a touch of mildew and botrytis here and there in earlier-ripening vineyards. There are some vineyards notable for being in a post-bulldozed state, with stacks of sad vine roots waiting a flame in winter - bad luck, those troops - but overall, the vignoble's feeling calm, enjoying the odd drying breeze, and easing towards harvest 2015.

The Duke of Edinburgh hauls the Cockle Train into the Murray River Port of Goolwa. This track, which runs back and forth along the coast to Victor Harbor, is Australia's first steel railway line. The great British engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was consultant in its design; it was built to haul inland produce from the riverboats in the freshwater Murray Estuary to the sea harbours of Port Eliot and Victor Harbor in 1887. Although inferior timber, the fast-growing Norfolk Island pines were planted to supply emergency masts in the days of the clipper ships  ... photo Philip White 

I'd been in Goolwa to enjoy the pleasure of opening a most exciting and wondrous exhibition, Embody, in the Alexandrina Council's airy, perfectly-naturally-lit Signal Point gallery, where you can taste and buy wines from the Currency Creek vignerons or work on a good coffee while you watch the pelicans do their lazy B52 circuits.  Clayton Bay artist Annabelle Collett curated this great show, seducing phenomenal artists like Ann Newmarch, Ian de Gruchy, Karen Genoff, Jeff Trahair and Dora Dallwitz to show their work - there are 22 exhibitors in all, including Annabelle herself. It'll stay on til 8th March. Don't miss it!

Embodied exhibition curator and co-exhibitor Annabelle Collett, second from left, at the opening ... 21 other top artists are in this big show ... the event was a pack-out, with lots of sales ... photo Leo Davis

My gubernator - tillerman - was the noted Marie Linke, formerly of Karra Yerta Wines at the top of Flaxman's in the high Barossa. As we threaded gradually out of the Clayton reeds with their waterbirds, past the Currency Creek vineyards and across the southern edge of the current Langhorne Creek spread, we chatted about Marie's misadventure with her noble little wine outfit, how it went awry, despite the wine's estimable quality, great reviews and modest pricing, and how she admirably went working in the mines for a couple of years to pay off her debts and close the business.
High Barossa Riesling meisters at Bob and Wilma McLean's McLean's Farm: Colin Forbes, of the rare but wondrous Forbes and Forbes, with Marie Linke, of the defunct Karra Yerta ... photo Milton Wordley

As we rambled through Belvidere, I thought of the government's 1857 vine census, which listed vineyards at Alexandrine, Belvidere, Bremer, Echunga, Encounter Bay, Goolwa, Macclesfield, Port Elliot, and Strathalbyn - many pioneering vignobles which came and went on that estuarine side of the Fleurieu, only to be re-established on a grander scale with the wine 'boom'. Few, other than Marie and myself, understand how the mining and wine industries both do booms and busts with such spectacular and tragic vigor.

Longview Vineyard, thriving at Macclesfield, is smack dab in the middle of the Fleurieu, just east of the divide ... photo Philip White

We stopped for supplies, Bacchus forgive us, in the Strathalbyn Woolworths. There at the front was precisely the kind of thing that people like Marie could not compete with: an array of Christian Moueix Bordeaux Merlot 2010, selling at $17.

The negociant and châteaux-owning Moueix tribe happens to own, amongst others, the ravishing Pomerol estate called Pétrus, whose mind-numbing Merlot wines sell for around $4,000 per bottle on release. I notice the 1961 vintage hitting $20,000 now, frigging cork notwithstanding. Woolies lists the current release, the 2008 at 100 points and $3,800 per bottle if you buy a six-pack.

Strange artworks appear on the estuary side of the Fleurieu Peninsula: weird big critter in the freshwater of Lake Alexandrina at Milang ... photo Philip White
I couldn't wait to see what the vendor's website said about the Moueix 10, in comparison. I quote verbatim:

"Known as 'Baby Pétrus'," Woolies explains, "Christian Moueix Merlot is a brilliant wine from a stellar vintage and one of the regions [sic] most eminent producers. Classic Bordeaux characters of cedar and ripe tannins accompany soft supple red fruit flavours. Gorgeous fleshiness and balance on the finish, this is a very serious wine for the money. 93"

Being a tree I've never seen in Bordeaux, I don't quite understand why cedar has become a 'classic Bordeaux character,' or indeed 'ripe' tannins, but I do marvel at the Woolies tasting team awarding this 93, when the grown-up Pétrus will cost you an extra $3,783 a pop, just to get you another seven whole points closer to glory.

"It's got a cork in and everything," the enthusiastic fellow at Strath assured us, ernestly expecting a sale of his exotica. I may ring him today to let him know other stores in the Woolies chains are selling the same product at $14.25. Maybe the good Merlot growers of the eastern Fleurieu are more likely to buy the import against their own if it appears to be worth more.

Even $17 made Mars and me shiver.

"You can't compete with that," she said. "And none of these poor devils have an exit plan. They can't get out of the business. They just have to keep slaving away to pour more and more money in and end up slaves to Woolies."

She then self-effacingly said something about how fine it feels to pay off all the debts she incurred in her decade-long wine adventure, bought a can of bourbon and cola and walked out.

Close to the end of everything ... photo Satanika

I resisted buying a bottle of that bottom-feeder Bordeaux. Forgive me. My heart, and meagre wallet, is pointed much closer to home. Perhaps I could be convinced if they'd had $14.25 on the bottle in Strath; I dunno. There comes a time, particularly when within a stubby-and-a-smoke of those stacks of uprooted vineyards, that the stomach simply won't permit the hand to stray to the money pocket.

This bile-soused parsimony is even more likely to take over when I consider the estuarine nature of that side of the Fleurieu, and how similar it feels to parts of the Bordeaux estuary, with those marine and freshwater whiffs, the layers of alluvial gravels, and the varieties the regions share.

Local artist and photographer Sandy Mulchay on the red chairs on the Lake near Clayton ... click snaps to enlarge ... photo Philip White
Just a pity there's nobody there yet with the balls and the gall, the nous and the numbers, to sell a bottle of Merlot for $3,800. It'll happen, as Manuel would re-assure folks in Fawlty Towers, "eeeveeent tuaaarrrrlee."

The single region of Bordeaux, just by the way, has 120,000 hectares of vines, and plenty of rain amongst its increasing heatwaves. Australia in total, boasts 160,000 hectares. And hardly any rain.

But still we struggle to compete.

You can read the whole story of Marie's brave exercise on her typically frank Karra Yerta Wines blog. Do so, especially if you're considering a little vineyard adventure of your own.

Looking straight through the downstairs section of the Signal Point gallery and Currency Creek tasting rooms at Goolwa. That's Narinyeri - Hindmarsh Island - in the background ... Annabelle Collett making a speech inside ... photo Philip White

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