“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)





09 April 2015


photo: Bob, last Wednesday, Milton Wordley 


A message from Big Bob McLean:

The time seems right to release a statement to confirm that these rumours of my death are true.

That dyin' business was fuckin' killin' me anyway.

Wilma, Adam and Sarah were with me through the last slide, which in the end was a bigger deal for them than it was for me, the wonders of modern medicine being what they are.

Thanks to all the crew at the Angaston Hopital. You were great.

The vet told me this was happening months ago when my liver wore out, so we've all had plenty of time to get used to it.

It was a good 67 years. A long ride from Clare, through Peterborough and Hamley Bridge. School at Marist Brothers. Became an electrician. A bouncer at the Old Lion. The Redlegs Club.

It was pure arse that I met Syd Gramp and Tom Morrison who liked the cut of my cloth, and gave me a job at Orlando. Started at the bottom of the pile. I was the assistant to the assistant to the assistant. And on it went.

Bob with the New South Wales 'guvnr', Sir Arthur Roden Cutler VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE (24 May 1916 – 22 February 2002) ... Hard to tell whether Sir Roden was taller than Bob, even on his wooden leg, or whether Bob made himself a wee bit shorter ... good lunch following ... Bob was all over Sydney, pouring Pol for Orlando ... he called it 'doing PR.'

All those years at Orlando. Petaluma. St Hallett. Banksia. Building brand Barossa. And now the top of the story at the top of the hill.

People always said I was a PR person. I’m more of a communicator than anything. When I was running hot in the '70s people wanted to know why I didn’t open my own PR thing or go into marketing. They said I'd kill it. But I'm not a marketer. I make things work but that's not marketing, it's problem solving, it’s communicating. I get everybody talking. I can get enemies to talk. I can set things up: I’m not a bad adjudicator.  I'm a good chair because I listen. My version of chair is that you shut up and listen and make sure everyone gets a say, everyone gets a fair go.

I’ve been lucky. I've always set the rules even within corporations. Ive always been able to back my decisions. One of my sayings is don't rip anyone off. I’ve never done a deal yet that fucks anyone over, ever. It's equal equal, win win.

Bob at the Juker ... photo Milton Wordley
I was never really a star at anything, but I participated in everything. That's the secret. You don’t have to be a star. Just participate. My advice to everyone that will listen is to participate, learn teamwork and your natural leadership qualities will come out of that. You know the ones that you’re good at, and the ones you're not good at.

With Wilma and the kids I've spent the last years of my life building our Barr Eden vineyard into an absolutely unique winemakers' vineyard. Wilma selected the territory, Wilma bought this, I simply paid for it. Wilma is the total influence.

Stephen Henschke with Bob and Wilma in the McLean's Farm/Barr Eden tasting room ... photo Philip White
I want this vineyard on the mountain viewed forever as a winemaker’s vineyard. I planted it as bush vines so you can’t get a mechanical harvester into it. You can’t mechanically prune it. There's no water. It's all dry grown, got its own roots, all in the old original style. It's all rocks. We get the best grapes up here in the cross flow winds. Barr Eden’s designed for the winemakers to come here - to look for quality - to perve on the quality and then fight for it.

Now I've cast off in Bessy the boat with a Barr Eden Shiraz Mataro Grenache to marvel about how quick it all was.

Tongue in cheek I even stopped being a winemaker, because I never was. I mean, I'm a dreamer, a story teller. I think about things, create and get it done.

There I go again, lapsing into the present tense. I sorta like that. I'll leave the future with you.

Cheers, Bob.

ENDS ...  

This was adapted from Bob's last interview, which Milton Wordley recorded last week. Here's the full text.

One last slow lunch ... or another one of 'em, anyway ... Bobby trying to hide the Soave he was enjoying ... it wasn't Barossa, but there we were in his beloved Barossa, at Roaring Forties ... he said that at the top of the season, their tomato pizza was as good as it gets ... it was perfect ... shit I'm gonna miss him ... photo Philip White


rob g said...

He really was a loveable larrikin who mixed fun with fury...in a very admirable way.

Chippo said...

RIP Bob, loved the "sheer-arse"!

Tony Bilson said...

Aaaah, fuck!!! I can hear that voice and laugh!!!

mudpluggers said...

Dear Bob. Those eyes are still working! Thanks for all the good times! love to Wilma Adam and Sarah

Jacko said...

Sorry to hear this news, Whitey. Bob was a fine man.x

Adrian Read said...

A big space to fill...

Tim Retallack said...

I am responding to Bob McLean's wonderful epitaph.

I met Bob twice, and each occasion is among my fondest of memories.

The first visit to Mengler's Hill was arranged by a cricket mate who knew Bob via his son in-law.

Nick had visited Bob before, and promised our touring team a "special" experience.

We arrived in our team bus, WAGS and all, sometime around 9.30 on a Sunday morning in late March 2010.

Bob was mid vintage, sporting a purple sleeve, and busy, but not too busy to engage with almost every member of our group.

For the hard core wine "enthusiasts" among us, Bob pulled up chairs in the library end of the shed, and started with breakfast riesling - his 2007 sailed out the door (and is still going beautifully!).

As we moved through the reds Bob held court, and we came to understand why our cricketing colleague referred to him as "King Bob".

Without doubt, this visit with Bob was the highlight of our Barossa Tour.

Three years later, and visiting the Barossa with friends at AnZAc day last year, I adopted the claim that a visit to Bob would be a special experience.

We drove past the gate three times before we realised that the sign wasn't out, but took a punt and went in.

Bob was just sending off a solo visitor, who he introduced as an old sailing mate from Sydney.

He explained that the sign was always falling over, and he had given up on putting it out, but that he was definitely open!

Over the next 2 hours, Bob shared a number of bottles, a big part of a block of Gruyere cheese, and years of insight and experience in wine, and the world.

Offering a sample of some bottles that he had "not had time to label" Bob reported that a young Barossa hotshot winemaker had recently tasted, and then asked him "How does an old fart like you make a wine that is so slutty?"

This prompted a story of our 6 year old son coming home (having read playground grafitti), to ask "Mum, what's a slute" - at which King Bob picked up a white marker pen, and labelled the bottle as "The Slut" (with umlattes to correct the pronunciation).

The next sample (also unlabelled) was considered more graceful, and was deemed by Bob to be "The Lady".

The fortified riesling was "The Little Sweetie".

Bob was having a lot of fun, and so were we.

For us, the enjoyment continued when our orders arrived at home some weeks later, for us to find that before packing our wine, Bob had hand labelled and autographed each bottle (all 48) in his white pen as either "The Slut" or "The Lady"!

Though Bob had dropped the umlattes, "The Slut" remains my current favourite - but "The Lady" is (as Bob suggested she would) becoming a very graceful older woman!

I have treasured those two visits to Bob's shed, and the moments, and thoughts, that he generously shared with us during each.

Deeply saddened to learn of his passing, I will now treasure the generous and connective gesture of King Bob's hand labelled bottles even more!

Thanks again Bob.