“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)





08 March 2016


Corrina Wright makes her Women In Wine speech ... photo©Philip White

The politics of difference and wine provenance: tricky moves  toward the donk-free plonk?

"The numbers of women in the wine industry are dropping," Oliver's Taranga winemaker Corrina Wright said, "and in the twenty years that I've been in the industry they've almost halved. And I just don't feel really good about that. Sitting back and wishing for it to change has simply not been working."

Corrina made this speech at the first Australian Women In Wine Awards  at Oliver's in November.

My relationship with this recent movement never started too well. A pity. A philogynist from infancy, I was always drawn to powerful women. Both sides of my family depended on very strong presumptuous women with too many children and I grew up in a tough country village run by tough lesbian graziers.

That was all normal to me.

photo©Philip White
Having first read of the activist feminists of the 'sixties in the waiting room at the dentist's where I encountered my first stack of TIME magazines, I couldn't wait to hit the city and get amongst them. The first three partners I lived with were uncompromising feminists: activists, aggressive professional women who'd cut their own way through the jungle. They were all years older than me: I knew I needed training. They could practice on me.

That's my first serious trainer, Maire 'Mizzo' Mannik, above, in 1973. She was an ace computer programmer in the days when computers were bigger than houses ... we worked together in the Department of Mines and Energy. She went on to write witheringly witty television criticism in The Adelaide Review. Mizzo's ex, the blues musician Wild King Roy, was the first bloke I knew who went off to Roseworthy College to study winemaking.

My high school geography note book from 1964-5 (below; image and photo©Philip White) commences with my first precise notes on viticulture in South Australia. These make no hint whatsoever that the growing of vines was a male bastion. I naively felt the vine business was one which could be pursued by men and women alike.
Within a decade of taking those first wine notes, I'd watched and welcomed women begin the unending battle for equal pay for equal work; by 1980 I was mixing with female winemakers like Pam Dunsford, Alison Hodder and Ursula Pridham. I loved the way they stood up to the blokes and got on with it.

I hated male editors sending me out to chase snaps of female winemakers showing leg on ladders and gantries, or a glimpse of side tit leaning over barrels in the old blue singlet. Those newspapermen depended entirely on their wives to run their kitchens and feed them, so I was bemused that they found it novel to see women working in wineries which were basically bloody great big usually filthy kitchens. 

Them blokes just didn't get it. I wonder what they hoped their wives would wear while they made them their tomato and Coon sandwiches for work.

Brande Roderick: Hugh Hefner's ideal woman in wine, photo Playboy 2000 ... perhaps quite sensibly, Brande went on to make a lot more money than your actual wine or brandy

Thirty or so years later, I generally dismissed internet whispers about the Australian women's wine movement doing something about matching shoes and wine. I wrote sourly of the lot who went for instant misogynist headlines by conforming to Woolworths' primitive marketing ploy to flash some limelight on them as if the absence of a penis made a difference to what ends up in the bottle or on the table. I feared retrograde giggly girly business: the modern vinous equivalent of the amateur feminists who'd sit on the floor at parties screeching along to Melanie's song about roller skates in the days when blokes were expected to show up for the Vietnam war.

Corrina's speech was confronting and reassuring.

Milton Wordley, my photographer mate, first invited me to that inaugural  awards event at Oliver's, and did the driving. I confess to expecting more Melanie Safka than Patti Smith, but I took along my brace of champagnes for the ice bins and my pizza money entry fee for the caterers, knowing that I'd probably miss out on imbibing both as I'd be working. We weren't going for fun. Sho' nuff I left empty, wondering how many self-employed Canberra reporters you'd get to a presser of all-female politicians if you asked the hacks to bring their own drinks and pay an entry fee, but that's another matter.

"This year I was judging at the Royal Perth Wine Show," Corrina continued.

"The judges' dinner was held at a male-only club and I had special permission to attend on the night. You know what? That's just so shit. It just didn't sit right with me. And I was able to lean on others in my network, like the other girls who created these awards with me, and I was able to be brave enough to say that's actually not right and I boycotted the dinner.

 "But it's actually really hard for women. It's really hard for the other women judging to do the same, because they're really afraid that they'd never be asked to judge again if they cause a fuss. And you know it was a real emotional experience. It's stupid. And I just want women to know there are networks out there."

Dr Irina Santiago-Brown, vineyard ecologist and partner/co-winemaker at Inkwell Estate, McLaren Vale, won the inaugural Australian Women In Wine Awards Viticulturer OfThe Year, and Rose Kentish of Ulithorne was named Winemaker Of The Year.

Everybody was really happy. It was mainly women, mind you.

Last weekend I felt the firm touch of Corrina's network.

Rose Kentish at the awards with daughter Lili; Milton at work in the background
photo©Philip White
Rose Kentish rang. She'd had a call from Corrina, whom I'd just visited. Once again Milton had taken me to Oliver's Taranga - my first visit since the awards. While we chatted I suggested to Corrina that I'd like to talk at some stage to her and Rose about my thinking that their new movement might have better given its first national winemaking award to somebody who actually makes wine in their own winery from grapes they've grown in their own vineyards with a name to match the one on the bottle.

Bacchus only knows how many very famous winemakers use consultants and hire access to other people's wineries and buy fruit they don't grow themselves. I remember Wolf Blass showing surprise that he'd got his first crusher and vineyards when he bought Quelltaler Estate in the early' eighties, and I promise you he was already a very famous and rich winemaker with more trophies in his trunk than anybody else in the game. Wolfie himself got famous as a 'consultant' after a stint perfecting the Pineapple Pearl kiddylikker for Ian Hickinbotham at Kaiser Stuhl.

There's nothing new or scandalous about any of this. It's just what happens in the ethanol-peddling racket. But I've been writing more lately about the importance of provenance in selling wine - especially expensive wine - and I can feel a vibe from the lasses' camp that I'm mansplaining, so best get this clarification sorted. At the risk of this being a bit of she-said-he-said-she-said, here she goes:

I knew that Rose lived in the biggest house in the south, but had never heard of her going to the expense of owning her own winery. 

Part of Rose's wee home at Middleton ... photo©Philip White

I also knew that she pays wineries in the north-west Mediterranean to make her wines from those parts and that the Ulithorne Vineyard that gave its name to her brand and won her the McLaren Vale Bushing Trophy in 2008 had been sold by her in-laws to Warren Randall before the Bushing Crown even hit her brow.

I admired the honesty she showed at that bonnie coronation: Rose was quick to have the male half of the royal spoils go on the head of her Australian winemaker and mentor, Brian Light. As opposed to her husband Sam Harrison who was surfin' at Cactus on the day. A painter, he'd designed the Ulithorne label.  From her speech I left with little doubt that Brian had a fair bit to do with making the wine.

Perhaps it's more than coincidence that it was Pam Dunsford, the first female residential winemaking student at Roseworthy, who introduced me to Brian in about 1980. Pam loved the wines he made at Clarendon from his family vineyards on the flats of Baker's Gully. Thirty-five years later, I can see those flats across the track from my front verandah.

Brian Light and Rose Kentish, McLaren Vale Bushing King and Queen, 2008
photo©John Kruger

I mean, at the Bushing Lunch, there he was standing with the crown on his head. I've always revered his winemaking, a sentiment made the more intense when I appreciate his serious eyesight handicap.

Anyway, Corrina called Rose, Rose called me, I wrote some questions for her to clear things up and she immediately responded in writing, making clear that whatever she heard I'd said had 'hurt' her.

Rose makes the Australian Ulithorne wine at Longwood, DiFabio and Haselgrove wineries from purchased grapes as well as from her new vineyard near Kay's Amery, where she hopes to build a winery. If things go according to plan, she'll move her cellar sales and tasting room from her home in Middleton Mill to this new facility.

"Brian Light's a mentor and a good friend," she explained. "I see him like a musician might see an executive producer, or an actor sees their voice coach ...  I started making wine with him in an apprentice-type role 18 years ago. Now he assists me with technically difficult situations where I have exhausted all the usual solutions ... I find that as I work on my own as a winemaker, I really appreciate having such an experienced person to taste and give feedback. He pushes me to improve my skills. I see many winemakers do this, and it is a benefit many winemakers have who work in teams in the larger companies. If you work alone, you can become very insular in your ideas and it can limit your personal and professional growth."

Much like Wolf Blass the 'master-blender' depended on his lifelong shotgun rider, the genius winemaker John 'The Ferret' Glaetzer.

Forget about small change, Provence and Corsica: you want the sniff of wealth stand here: the author with Wolf Blass and John Glaetzer at Doug Lehmann's wake ... blokes mainly photo©Johnny 'Guitar' Preece

Rose's Mediterranean wines, meanwhile, are collaborative works with businesses in Corsica and Provence.

"I can’t be there all year round," she said, "so they check the juice for me and ensure that SO2 is maintained, and is racked occasionally etc., but other than that the decisions on picking times, processing and techniques in the cellar, making the final blends, are mine. I also return six months after vintage to do the blends and assist with the bottlings which, in both estates, is done on site.

"I have four teenagers and was feeling very pressured with all that 2015 had to bring." Rose continued. "So there will be no 2015 French wines made by me. Sadly, this also meant that I had to turn down an offer to make my first Pinot noir at a domaine in Burgundy, a project I have been working towards for the last 24 months."

As for me feeling a little uncomfortable at the women's awards?

"The more that men celebrate women, and women celebrate men," Rose concluded, "the better McLaren Vale, and the industry as a whole, will be."

This bloke can't agree more. I certainly need more training, and there's lots of serious inequalities left to sort. Like that unforgiveable equal pay business.

Let's get on with it. 

Corrina Wright with Briony and Don Oliver bringing Taranga grapes to put through the superlative Yangarra machinery before the Yangarra vintage starts ... below you see two very sensitive and careful people gently squashing Yangarra Roussane before it goes into the eggs ... different roles for women of different sensibilities? ... photos©Philip White


Michael Twelftree said...

Well done Rose……….we all need to keep Whitey on his toes!
I could not agree with you more, that winemaking can be a lonely pursuit and having a buddy/friend to run thoughts past is a must.
I revel in it with my winemaker Ben Perkins, the daily challenge of tasting day after day, barrel after barrel, is sometime more about the conversation we have, the laughs we have, the deep discussions we have than the wines we make.
You are so lucky to work with somebody as talented as Brian Light, to this day his 94,95 and 96 Brian Light Reserve Shiraz are a few of the best McLaren Vale wines to have hit my lips
Best of luck with the harvest
Michael Twelftree

Irish Rose said...

Rich girls. Poor things.