“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)





26 January 2017


Wine businessmen of category: not many of them running  publicly-listed wine companies
On 23rd August 2003, Prime Minister John Howard officially opened the O'Leary Walker winery at Watervale in Clare. In a typically yin-yang move, David O'Leary and Nick Walker had asked whether I would formally introduce him to the big assembly of VIPs, friends and neighbours. Realising it wasn't too often you saw a Prime Minister open a winery, and in awe of Nick and David's achievement and endeavour, I agreed.

The PM had been encouraging Australians to stop gambling. Not long before the opening, he'd repeated this mantra one day and on the next announced that he wanted us as a nation to invest in stocks and shares, which seemed to me a pretty big gamble in itself.

"I want Australians to be the biggest owners of stocks and shares in the world," he'd said.

Determined to make an introduction more conservative than the speech he was likely to deliver, I spoke of how the most significant Australian wine companies were often the long-term works of great families, who over generations worked determinedly to build businesses of substance.

Families being what they are, many of these falter after two or three generations, and one heir or another eventually decides to grab the money - often through a public float on the stock exchange - and run.  

I thence suggested the short-term boom-and-bust nature of the stock market was inappropriate in the wine business, which needed people of great patience and vision to weather the very long-term cycles of finding and buying land, planting vines, waiting for them to produce a proper crop, building wineries, making wine, and then waiting for it to mature for market and the chance at some income.

By their nature, modern publicly-listed companies could never plan and endure such patient, visionary ten and twenty-year cycles of planning, major investment and gradual brand establishment before profits could be expected.

I quoted the Melbourne wine critic Walter James, who'd written in the Wynn Winegrowers Diary, 1970:

"When you choose to direct your life to the task of making money you may be sure that your success will arouse the admiration, and the envy, of a vast army of men who have had similar aims. Should you set out not to make money but to make something really worthwhile in itself, your success will with equal certainty be rewarded with the admiration, and the goodwill, of men who really matter - men of category ...

"In some fields of productive endeavour, of course, you cannot achieve much without substantial means; it is only a little sad that so many men of ability as they reach for success and meet it are beguiled into allowing the means to submerge the aim and in the end are content to do, adequately enough, no more than a hundred others around them are doing equally well. Their obituaries describe these people as successful businessmen and they pass promptly into oblivion."

To bounce off this, I cited the Walker family. Nick's grandfather Hurtle had learned his winemaking from the Frenchman Edmund Mazure at Romalo Cellars, where Hurtle's son and Nick's father, Norm, spent his life making wine for many other Australian companies. Samuel Wynn had bought Romalo, which his son David took over.
David Wynn tasting at Romalo, Magill, with Hurtle and Norm Walker

To fund his determined pioneering push into high country cool-climate winemaking at Mountadam in the South Mount Lofty Ranges, David floated Wynn Winegrowers, which eventually became part of the giant publicly-listed Fosters/Treasury empire, various rape-and-pillage managers of which butchered and stripped grand companies they purchased, forcing revered winemaker/employees like Nick and David to flee and make their own business.

1960s Wynn's wine box. Check that list of major wine businesses ... one of the Yellowtail Casella boys turned the Yenda winery into an ammo factory ... photos©Philip White
They were, I argued, men of category, building something long-term, something really worthwhile in itself which would also eventually make good profits. These men would not pass promptly into oblivion.

This took me a few minutes to say. I invited the PM to the lecturn. On his way, he folded the speech he'd prepared and put it back in his pocket. He then delivered an off-the-cuff talk about how his government's excellent tax regime had made things like O'Leary Walker possible.

Ha! Whitey aced Honest John!

It was a good day. And after those thirteen years O'Leary Walker still goes from strength to strength, making proper money processing fruit for the same brutal companies that forced them out: a cash flow which helps them steadily continue growing, buying and establishing fine vineyards, and making their own delicious products.

The Prime Ministry, meanwhile, has resembled the dog-eat-dog nature of the Stock Exchange in those same thirteen years. The players in the subsequent Howard-Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Abbott-Turnbull fiasco may be remembered, but only because most of what they think they achieved has already passed into the grey muck of oblivion.

To read of Mazure and David Unaipon, the first aboriginal winemaker (below), my Australian of the Year for 2015, click here

David O'Leary (below) addresses the dinner gathering to celebrate the 2011 opening of the new O'Leary Walker tasting rooms ... Matt Walker took these two photographs ... to see more of that grand Tony Bilson dinner, click here.


Stavros said...

Good thing Whitey! Walter James wrote a bit like you. Keep it up! Stavros

Anonymous said...

Nice Whistle Whitey X Pedro