“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)





20 September 2016


Patritti winemakers James Mongell and Ben Heide in the 100+ years old Grenache vines in the Marion Vineyard, the last one in Adelaide's southern suburbs ... these blokes and their crew have worked wonders rejuvenating these old soldiers ...   photo Philip White

Fighting still for vineyards and green in the burbs: 'round and around we go til we all fall down

There's a wine dancing around my memory like a sylph. I drank it three days back, on the other side of a hundred others, yet still it flickers on the edge of my flavour vision, and leaps out from behind things to surprise and remind me.

Unlike the popular melee of tinctures straining to be bigger and blacker than their genetics permit, it's a cheeky, almost naive sort of a drink. It has the most disarmingly honest demeanour. But beneath its slightly awkward adolescent front, it has the dark, determined glint of the long-term survivor.

Given our fashionable misconception that ancient vines always give blacker, more sinister flavours than others, it shows no immediate sign that it's from vines over a century old: vines which haven't had a drop of irrigation in over a decade.

It's the new release from the last vineyard remaining amongst the suburbia on Adelaide's southern plain: the Patritti Marion Vineyard Grenache 2015.

It has few of the steam-train tannins of much Barossa and Clare Grenache, but is not as slick and dense in its form as many of the silky cherry-and-prune beauties we're now seeing from further south in McLaren Vale.

While freshly-bottled and thus a tad deceptive, it has enough tannin to carry it for an easy decade. That'll gradually subside, and what is now a cheery prune/maraschino/marello/pomegranate and redcurrant delight will harmonise and swell. It's gorgeous. With its current layer of bitter cooking chocolate, it's an adults-only Cherry Ripe you can drink.

Ideally, it'll be better unwrapped and bitten in a year.

Apart from a few Shiraz, the single hectare has 1,600 ungrafted pre-phylloxera Grenache vines, all on their original roots. Selectively hand-picked, it produced 900 six-packs. The wine will be available for sale at the Patritti tasting and sales rooms from Saturday October 1.

Expect it to be on allocation; it's a measly $28! Get in, or get out.

Bacchus only knows how many folks drive past those Oaklands Road vines each day, unaware that while they're worrying about kids/mortgage/shopping/rooting/traffic/flood insurance or whatever, they're a stone's throw from the oldest productive vineyard known in any city on Earth.

Of course the famous Clos Montmartre below the Sacré Cœur in Paris has several million more passers-by, and still produces small amounts of Pinot noir and Gamay wine made by locals and visitors during the annual Fête des Vendanges, but those vines weren't planted until 1933.

There'd been vineyards there since the Romans called Paris 'Lutece', but any that remained had been killed by phylloxera by the 1920s and the ground left lie fallow, the daintiest morsel for developers. Typically, it was a bunchof artists that lobbied to save the block and re-establish the vineyard. A constant replanting program on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks ensures any vines still vulnerable to the infected ground are replaced as they fade.

Most of the profits, or the wines - always labelled by local artists - go to charity.

Just between you and me, they're not a patch on this Marion Grenache.

Since that tiny Montmartre bastion was saved, the Parisian interest has intensified. A group of militant winemakers, Les Vignerons Franciliens, has established and helps maintain 150 vineyards in and around Paris for  experimental, educational and community purposes. They won't be letting those go. Parisians know how to riot.

The Marion vines are the last remnant of the vast swathe of vineyards that spread from Skye through Penfolds Grange to the coast at Brighton and Glenelg by the time the dreaded phylloxera was chewing the roots at Montmartre.

Unlike the French thing, it wasn't a pestilent bug that ate the Adelaide vignoble, but the dreaded villa rash that replaced what Patritti winemaker James Mongell wistfully calls 'The Garden of Adelaide'.

Since they were left high and dry, isolated amongst that suburbia, the Marion vines have had two very close shaves with developers. The owner, the local Council, intended to replace them with a concrete precint of Colonel Sadness and Golden Arches fat-and-sugar emporiums in the late 'eighties. With the help of Brian Miller, who then worked for Richard Hamilton, we saved them during the Adelaide Vines charity project I engineeered with The Advertiser; Hamilton's then tended the vines and made small amounts of wine from them.

Some bright spark had another brainwave in 2004, and suggested concreting the whole joint to provide parking for 600 cars in case that many folks wanted to frolic simultaeneously in the smallish outdoor swimming pool next door. The Hamilton's arrangement had, should we say 'withered' on the vine by then, and this time it seemed more logical for those pesky heritage-aware interferists among us to ask the local winery, Patritti, to take the role.

So another nasty battle ensued, and the block was once more redeemed.

Patritti winemakers James - whose Mum, Ines, is a Patritti - and Ben Heide, have supervised a rigorous viticultural rejuvenation which now has the vines looking fitter than they have in my memory; perhaps ever.

The Patritti family has made wine in nearby Dover Gardens since the patriarch Giovanni settled there around 1926. They still run a thriving business there in their modest winery and fruit-juicing complex, but have no more vineyards on that once-lush plain.

"After a few years 
they knocked the school down, 
sent the kids further away,
sub-divided the land 
and built more houses."

Patrittis earned their own knowledge of the fickle nature of governments and their attitude to vineyards however old or significant. Their last vineyards, adjacent to the winery, were compulsorily acquired by a Labor government when the wave of housing was threatening to stifle every growing thing in the early 'seventies. Being good honest citizens very grateful to have been welcomed to Australia, they accepted the government line that a school was a good thing. They co-operated, happy to take fruit then from beautiful old vineyards just over the escarpment at Morphett Vale and further south in McLaren Vale.

When Max Schubert was dreaming of his recipe for Grange, flying back from his epiphanous post-war trip to the great wineries of Spain and Bordeaux, he decided that half his Grange grapes would come from those Morphett Vale vineyards in the water-retentive 650+ million-year-old siltstone which simply pumped flavour.

Max loved that fruit. His first Grange, the 1951, is $45,000. But that siltstone is all under concrete and tar now; the only plantable bit left of the entire geological group is disappearing beneath intense Tupperware Tuscany at Seaford Heights as I write. That travesty seemed to be the deposit the concerned winegrowers of McLaren Vale had to pay Labor to have the rest of the region saved by the McLaren Vale Protection Legislation.

Of the school that replaced those last Dover Gardens vineyards, James Mongell says with unusual bitterness "After a few years they knocked the school down, sent the kids further away, sub-divided the land, and built more houses."

There's still one spread of farmland left alive amongst those suburbs in the south: the 200 hectare Glenthorne Farm, which Wirra Wirra proprietor Greg Trott (below, by me) and I spent years with others engineering to have transferred from the CSIRO to the University of Adelaide for continuing research. Eventually, we done good.

The CSIRO agreed to keep its asking price to only $7 million, a tiny fraction of the land's true worth. The Liberal state government paid that, then passed the entire property to the University. For one whole dollar.

The deed, signed and sealed by University Vice-chancellor Mary O'Kane in 2001 says "The CSIRO has only agreed to sell the Land on the proviso that the Land will be preserved and conserved for agriculture and other related activities and will not be used for urban development."

Glenthorne Farm under another cloud ... photo Leo Davis ... to read my many articles on this Glenthorne Farm battle, use the search box at top left

The University solemnly agreed that it would ensure the land was "preserved, conserved and used for Agriculture, Horticulture, Oenology, Viticulture, Buffer Zones and as Community Recreation Area, and is available for Project Research Activities, University Research Activities, Education Activities and operating a Wine Making Facility."

The deed continues:

"The University covenants with the Minister that it will not at any time hereafter ... undertake or permit Development or seek to undertake Development of the Land for uses other than those specified." 

Here it comes! From Trott's View (Trott, White, Brooks, Campbell; Wakefield Press 2007; photographed by Milton Wordley, Christo Reid, Don Brice and Eric Algra)
This would seem to preclude the University from even seeking to develop this precious stretch of ground. Which was our intention, when drafting the initial notes for the deed. It repeats ad infinitum: no urban development.

The University attempted a major subdivision before the ink had been on that deed for one single decade. I spent most of the late 2000s in daily warfare, stopping the University's plan to flog off enough blocks for 1,200 houses. That was its opening effort. Only after tireless public and private struggle was that august institution forced to honour the deed it seemed to have lost or forgotten.

Tractor action: including blocking all the main roads south with many, many tractors, the good citizens of McLaren Vale went to great lengths to save Seaford Heights, but ended up stymied by Deputy Premier John Rau, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, 
Minister for Planning, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Child Protection Reform, Minister for the Public Sector, Minister for Consumer and Business Services and Minister for the City of Adelaide. When he came south to announce his fait accompli, supported somehow by The Friends of The Willunga Basin, he had this sign hung on the door. He looked quite surprised when we walked in. Then he told us what he was doing, whether anybody liked it or not. NOT.

I've been waiting for the University to try on another one, with Labor's  determination to fill the southern electorates with grateful mortgage-bound voters and Shoppies happy to get a house. The best hint was when government excluded Glenthorne Farm from its much-lauded McLaren Vale 'Protection' legislation those few short years ago.

It ignored the region's official Geographical Indication boundary, which, after years of expensive negotiation, is recognised in international trade law. Instead, Mr Rau drew the boundary for the new 'Protection' law south of Glenthorne Farm. Which means that outside the strict limits of the deed, the Farm's not protected.  

Only Labor, through Rau, can release the university from the solemn vow it signed and sealed when it agreed to accept the whole goddam farm for a dollar in exchange for using it creatively and sensibly, with the highest regard for the community. As far as I understand English, the University cannot seek to undertake development until minister Rau agrees to change the deed. Even then that beautifully written document insists "unless such other use or Development (excluding Urban Development which will not be approved) is approved in writing by a Minister acting as agent of the Crown."

I believe the University's new 'detailed concept plan' has hit the Cabinet table.

Which means, in the spirit of good sense and my own community's well-being, for the ghosts of dear Trott and now his departed daughter Emily, for the bonnie children yet to be born, it's time for folks like me to re-arm. I'm not dead yet.

Apart from Montmartre, the B&Ws above are from the Patritti archive. Marion Vineyards and Rau shot by me, like this one of James Mongell, his Mum Ines [nee Patritti] and Ben Heide ... the Tractor Action's by James Hook ... one below by somebody very brave ... just never forget: we bought this land for the University.WE ARE THE STAKEHOLDERS! 


Anonymous said...

apparently some wineries have had a look at that uni test doc whitey ... how do you get on the distibution list


Kate Reynolds said...

Count me in if a fight is needed.

grerb said...

somebud says 1800 houses mon

Massive Ferguson Like Yooj said...

Just thinking. Former Labor veteran Minister John Hill is the "independent" chair of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism board, isn't he? When they vote on this? What will he recommend? Has he been briefed? Who would of? Read the deed so what are the legalities? Dying to hear!!!

Tractor's hot and ready, Whitey.