“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)





31 March 2017


Sellicks Hill winemaker Paul Petagna has pulled some proper musos together for this: only 150 tickets, so it'll be a tiny mob that'll fill quick and close  ... one of them untidy private little close big unforgettable nights you remember when you're dyin ... here's a co-incidental Petagna vintage shed lunch, just so's you know something along the lines of what to expect. Within unreason. You'll enjoy the Italianate take on all Paul's wines, too: passion and pulchritude. I love 'em.

30 March 2017



Time to take a ride in some Tim Smith red? Jeez he's good at it. 

After working for decades around the Barossa for various large outfits, he knows the Big Valley's viticultural nooks and crannies like the skins on his drum kit, or the tank on his Trumpy Bonneville: you can learn a lot about a person by measuring the fetishes they hold closest. 

Tim sniffs out the fruit he knows suits his style, and makes the wine in his own corner of the old Penfolds/Tarac complex at Nuriootpa, now named after my departed friend and mentor, the great wine scientist Ray Beckwith. Fitting. Ray always said "There you have the science. Now show me your art." 

Ray Beckwith's last interview ... photo©Milton Wordley

For a warm-up riff, slap the Bugalugs by Tim Smith Barossa Shiraz 2016 ($25; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). This, ahem, is his drink-quick line: a perverse tilt at Barossa Nouveau. Made from inky Shiraz? You bet. 

Think of the scary powerhouse Mingus/Miles drummer Elvin Jones suddenly switching to a lazy bossa nova with Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto. But this girl is from Nuriootpa, not Ipanema. And she may have started out cool and steady, but now she's driving the Triumph flat strap up Menglers in her leathers, not slinking along a beach in a bikini. The music gets faster.

Coffee. The oak reminds me of good coffee. Which is a change from the old chocolate-prominent oak that once was an easy hint that you had Barossa in your glass. Before the obsessive barista phenomenon hit town, Don Hannaford used to tell me that if they could make coffee taste as good as it smells, he'd drink it. I'll bet he'd have no trouble schlücking a jug of this. Not just because of that sultry aroma's introductory promise of caffeine, but via the ridiculously juicy black fruit that wraps around it. It's fleshy, curvy and healthy on the one hand; on the other, sinister in its frank and immediate seduction.

Whack her back a cog for the big sweeper round the Sculpture Park, and head for the hilltop by tipping some in: smooth as, with just a tickle of neat acid tidying the ultra-fine tannin. I was about to say "drinking, not thinking" but it's more than that if you get off the pillion, sit on the roadside, and watch her go. Once that risky thrill of hanging on lifts, you'll feel a lot more involved in the drift. Yum-O. Things could be a lot wurst.

Having absorbed all that, imagine what this bloke would make of a full-bore Barossa. Answer: Tim Smith Wines Barossa Shiraz  2015 ($38; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap). This is Elvin driving the Trumpy. Hill? What hill? Eight vineyards were raided for this ride: different sites, heights and geologies. Soot, stoves, sump oil in the pan. Dammit, this dude's riding the damn thing straight down into the ground, dragging the sunshine behind him. It seems leaner, meaner, more determined and shiny with sweat from that last big solo. Miles playing through his mute before he opens the trumpet right out and Mingus slaps that bass clean through to voodoo heaven. It's a friggin gorgeous thing: a spell-binder. Serious avant-guarde jazzrock on a motorbike built for those of us who enjoy confused senses. Just watch out for the finish. It never seems to come.

But it's not Elvin leaning across the tank, it's that girl from Nuriootpa, and as she passes each one she passes goes "Aaaaah."

I trust that makes everything clear.

Stormy photographed by Lana MacNaughton


McLaren Vale: Early this morning, on the hill outside my back door, I found pickers taking a selected parcel of Grenache from the Yangarra High Sands Vineyard. Typical of this vintage, the weather was chilly and damp, but the fruit looked and tasted very fine indeed. Tentatively, local winemakers are suggesting this will be a great Grenache year, in spite of all the wild weather woes of the growing season.

North towards Mount Bold and the Adelaide Hills ... all photos©Philip White 

Below: looking west (roughly) toward the Gulf St Vincent, 15 short kays distant ... Vince is the patron of viticulturers and makers of wine. And vinegar ... this proximity to the ocean gives McLaren Vale what Wirra Wirra founder Greg Trott called "The best Mediterranean climate on Earth." The resultant maritime influence gives a more constant and higher background humidity than most other Australian vignobles, a factor I suspect keeps the tannins softer. More of that in later installations ... plenty of Grenache stuff to come!

My neighbour, Bernard Smart, planted the High Sands Grenache in 1946. Here he is with his wife, Mary, and Peter Fraser, manager and chief winemaker of Yangarra

Even the best hand-picked fruiterer's window grapes like these benefit greatly from a pass through the grape-sorting machine: here they come like caviar, cleaned of stalks, leaf and bugs, ready for the ceramic egg fermenters:

Michael Lane (left) and his assistant Dan Mullins. Michael, chief viticulturer and farm manager of both Yangarra and Hickinbotham Estates,  studied horticulture and then pest management before committing full-time to viticulture. Dan came via The Terraces and Mountadam, before which he spent many years as a master chef for Gay Bilson at Barrenjoey in the Sydney Opera House before a big-time stint in Hong Kong and then London. Together with Peter Fraser these two have converted Yangarra from old-style industrial petrochem management to fully certified biodynamic and organic status.

29 March 2017


Many kind folk have been inquiring after my health, which has not been good, but is improving quickly. I am one very lucky unit.

After forty-plus years of criticising bladder packs and their contents, I grew one of my own: Due to a complicated series of spontaneous warps in the dark gizzard, culminating in edema of the bowel blocking my bladder valve, the latter organ nearly burst, leading to a great deal of complication, some rather ornate extraneous rubber plumbing, which is all gone now, and vicious pain, which hasn't quite, which in turn led George Grainger Aldridge to make this deadly accurate joke about me clutching at tubes all night for a full week after they'd been removed, much like amputees complain of pain in the phantom limb.

I can always count on George for acute  observation. It woulda been a lot funnier had I not been filling my own  bag with this particular vintage of Nouveau:

What I do for my work, eh? All back in working order now, like Sauvignon blanc, thankyou, if ginger. I must say the tap on this peculiar appendage was a vast technological improvement on any I've encountered on a wine bag. Just so's you know.

I owe my life to one very fast cabbie, the amazing people at the Flinders Intensive Care Unit, and the remarkable home attendance of the Royal District Nursing Service. Lifelong respect and thanks to you all!

And special gratitude to the local angels of mercy who kept my stove covered in beautiful broths and comfort food. I am in awe. Merci!

When I can, I'll get out and about and have a proper look at vintage. Word in the better camps says it's progressing very smoothly and well. Good luck you vendageurs! 

Now, back to the royal cot.


Unlocking Grenache in its heartland

"I understand why our region is dominated by Shiraz," says Wine Research Institute scientist and McLaren Vale/Dodgy Bros. winemaker Wes Pearson. "Grows great in this region; reliable, robust resistance to disease pressure; an easy market to sell your grapes. No brainer. But Grenache is for those growers/winemakers who like to be challenged. Along with risk comes reward, and in my opinion the rewards in McLaren Vale can be profound." 
The Dodgy Brothers: l-r Wes Pearson, Peter Somerville and Peter Bolte
A few months ago I embarked on a bigger task than the usual column: frustrated at the ever-increasing number of Australian winemakers and indeed entire wine regions laying claim to the reinvention of Grenache, I thought I'd attempt to nail the yarn once and for all, starting in McLaren Vale, the region in which I choose to live, and perhaps the region that makes the most of its unique forms of Grenache.

Part of my procedure was asking a few McLaren Vale Grenache producers to explain it from their own point of view.

"Whenever I’m talking about Grenache with the uninitiated I always explain McLaren Vale's fascination with the variety by pointing out its sensitivity to any and all inputs," Pearson says. "That starts in the vineyard: where it’s planted, row orientation, soil composition, geology, rainfall, pruning regime, et cetera."

Simple, see?

"The variety has some challenges," agrees Hardy's Tintara winemaker Paul Carpenter. "It is generally a variety that needs its youth thrashed out of it, to give it some vine age to kill off its propensity to throw big berries and crops. It can however be managed in the right hands to make very good wines from young vineyards but requires huge amounts of attention to detail. So in general it's old vine and it is a South Australian thing." 

Paul Carpenter at the annual McLaren Vale geologies tasting photo©Philip White

Carps also agrees with Pearson about the variety's capacity to reflect its particular site: "Viticulturally its a vine that truly reflects its environment," he says. "On the heavier soils it's more vigorous and requires a fair degree of input to get to the desired quality where as on some of the tougher sites it really does it itself and self regulates crop level and berry size due to the challenges of site."

Bring in Mike Farmilo, veteran whom I first met making damn fine fino sherry for Tom Angove up the River. That was a whole lifetime ago; Mike has long esconced himself in McLaren Vale where he now works as a consultant, making wines like Sue Trott's formidable Five Geese at the top of Blewett Springs. Mike knows and loves the fruit of the Fleurieu; all its nooks and crannies. His theories about the way Grenache reflects location both informs and encapsulate the thoughts of many locals.

Put very generally McLaren Vale Grenache grows mainly in the region's younger geologies: layers deposited in the embayment within the last sixty million years. Even more generally, these are of two major types: tight, dense clays, washed down in the last few million years across the looser riverine Maslin Sands put down 34-56 million years ago.

Profile behind Tim Geddes' Seldom Inn winery at the bottom (southern) end of Blewett Springs: organic stuff on top with calcrete, then wind-blown æolian sand, then a layer of alluvial ironstone pellets, and dense ferruginous clay at the bottom. If you went further down, you'd hit solid slabs of ironstone on top of the looser Maslin Sand, which covers the whole of the Embayment floor ... photo ©Philip White

When it's not covered in clay or other sand, like the very recent windblown æolian stuff, which is much finer,  this coarse Maslin sand has converted with oxidation to ironstone, which you can see here:

The rocks surrounding and underlying this recent Embayment are between 500 million and 1.6 billion years of age. 

To complicate matters further, these riverine Maslin sands, washed down as the Mount Lofty/Flinders Ranges wore away, are often capped by loose, wind-blown, or æolian sands, put there in the last few thousand years.  This is particularly so in the unique terroir of the gullies of Blewett Springs and the more rolling uplands toward Kangarilla at the vignoble's north-eastern extreme, where 'The Vales' becomes 'The Hills.' 

Southerly vista from near Sue Trott's Five Geese Vineyards, looking across the Blewett Springs gullies toward the Willunga Escarpment ... note the æolian sand in the foreground, blown in during the last few thousand years ... go down a few metres and you hit the coarser, ferruginous Maslin Sands, 34-56 million years older ... photo ©Philip White
Bring in Mike Farmilo, veteran whom I first met making damn fine fino sherry for Tom Angove up the River. That was a whole lifetime ago; Mike has long esconced himself in McLaren Vale where he now works as a consultant, making wines like Sue Trott's formidable Five Geese at the top of Blewett Springs. Mike knows and loves the fruit of the Fleurieu; all its nooks and crannies. His theories about the way Grenache reflects location both informs and encapsulate the thoughts of many locals.

"In contrast to the more masculine central McLaren Vale Grenache," Mike Farmilo explains "which is more suited to Grenache Shiraz Mataro in my opinion, Blewitt Springs Grenache has a floral prettiness: rose petals, with dried herb complexity, spice, and even cinnamon and wormwood. In some years, it does have some of the ripe, rich raspberry character of central McLaren Vale but generally it shows an elegance and restrained ripeness. In cooler years you can see spice and white pepper."

Emmanuelle and Toby Bekkers with Tourism and Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell  at the new Bekkers winery and tasting room ... photo ©Philip White

Enter the Bekkers, Toby and Emmanuelle, both winemakers. Toby is also a viticulture consultant.

"A valley floor parcel from the gravels and clays of the Christies Beach Formation contributes density, structure and framework to our Grenache, while Blewitt Springs and Kangarilla - both Maslin Sands - fruit allows us some latitude to fine-tune the style," Toby says. 

"The lighter weight and pretty aromatics of these later ripening parcels compliment our more robust valley floor parcel." 

While perhaps reluctant to link Grenache flavour directly to geology - he suspects altitude is more significant - Bekkers is happy to use the old geological mappers' trick of adopting native flora as an above-ground indicator of geology and thence flavour. 

"One of my interests is looking at remnant native vegetation and its relationship to site - particularly elevation and soil type," he says. "Take Blewett Springs: vegetation: Pinkgum, Yakka, Banksia. Indicators of deep bleached sand over orange clay. Combined with some elevation, this results in really perfumed, slightly lighter bodied Grenache and Shiraz ... 

"Compared to Seaview? Vegetation: Mallee Box eucalypt, Casuarina, Wattle. Indicators of shallow red or grey loam over rock, calcrete and clay. Restricts access to moisture. Lower elevation and closer to coast means warmer and earlier ripening. Results in darker-fruited Grenache/Shiraz and enhanced concentration. Tannin profile is more intense/robust. 

"In our case we use some of the denser material as the core of the wine and then compliment it with some aromatic punch from Blewitt Springs or Clarendon." 

So that's a broad-brush summary of the sources in one district alone. Within McLaren Vale, Grenache, we seem to agree, is particularly deft at refecting the flavours of its source. Yet we've barely mentioned winemaking techniques; the recipes. 

Start with the crusty Farmilo: "It has been inspiring to see some of the young winemakers championing Grenache and introducing techniques such as whole bunch fermentation and carbonic maceration. Blewitt Springs Grenache, because of the more elegant and distinctive fruit character, responds so well to these techniques, adding more weight and complexity to fruit which is already interesting and producing intriguing wines that you love to sniff, finding more characters all the time as they open up." 

Paul Carpenter thinks that Grenache, "in the winery, is a variety that takes all the tricks you can throw at it. Or you can be incredibly simple in the techniques used. I am employed at Hardys but before this I always admired the pretty, somewhat elegant styles that came out of Tintara but also really respect the styles of Yalumba. There's a wave of new producers making these more feminine styles that I personally like." 

If there's a chance of rounding up this very brief introduction to what is already a long and confounding tale, I reckon we'll go back to the scientist for his winemaking secret. "Once it gets to the winery?" Wes Pearson marvels, likening the possibilities of this bit to the complexities of terroir, "Same thing: crushed or whole bunches;  stems or destemmed; chosen harvest ripeness; pre- and post-ferment maceration techniques; topping regime; oxygen ingress, et cetera. What all this sensitivity leads to is the holy grail for a lot of winemakers: a wine that can very effectively express the place that it came from." 

There is much of this yarn yet to spin. Watch this space.
The author tasting McLaren Vale Grenache in the Eileen Hardy room at Tintara ... thanks to Keith Todd and his estimable crew for permitting me the use of this beautiful tasting room ... of course the wines were first tasted blind in this two-day exercise ... I shall be adding much to this story over the next weeks, including tasting notes of the wines which caught my favour ... keep an eye out for updates by subscribing at the bottom of this scroll.

26 March 2017


Exeter publican Nick Binns with helper Gabriella Bertocci in 1995 ... photo Victoria Straub - East End Diary '96 (Wakefield Press) ... Gabs was chill gothmother cool to a wave of hungry losties ... she wasn't too big on, shall we say, unwarranted optimism ... below is the Parliamentary record of the Grievance Debate speech of the Hon Patrick Conlon MP, Minister for Police, to complain of Nick's retirement. 

The Ex has since been in the very calm hands of Kevin Greg Esq. 
Having spotted me scrivening: a  pleasant stranger reading my poems on Annabelle Collett's mosaic Xtables at the front of the Ex ... during Nick's time the Licensing Court judge agreed in extending the trading hours that discourse as commonly found and encouraged in the front bar, was in itself an important tourism attraction.  

That was not at all an accidental breakthrough, as Nick had assembled a gang of witnesses so formidable, just from the corner of the bar closest the door, that the most recalcitrant brain could not fail to pick up a quick morning of light down the courthouse.

Like this wee snug: that wall: if you're not there you're nowhere:  

25 March 2017


Licorice and peat and stove black make this smell acrid and you'd think sharpish but there's a well of raspberry and redcurrant below with a sort of marshmallow flesh. The flavours do a similarly dainty dance of counterpoint, the allurin carnal bit being a little behind the double-barrel sawnoff she's pointing atcha. 

Them's deadly matching blue-black poles. 

Those velvety peaty tannins are like a good year of Petit verdot: they're about vegetal lignin decay but come served here in a neat crema liqueur restritto, smooth and luxurious. 

Then, as steely as a snaky bottleneck guitar, the acid comes up from the deep. Like fine coffee acid. Forget about it being a blend of the best Bordeaux red varieties. To my things, it's more Italian and high Tuscan in structure. Tomato leaf. Osso bucco with some black olives in the sauce sort of thing. Man, it has that fine cut. 

I was sposed to drink one with Pike but dammit I opened it a couple weeks back before I fell in the Styx and all I got now is a slender memory of it all running down inside me, challenging, sure, crackin the whip, wavin the twellie, but with a wink of softer punishment to come. Which I now enjoy from a second bottle thankyou Mark. Still steely whiprod and hungry but you don't get anything soft from Pike either.

PS: I'm obviously talkin about the Blue Poles Margaret River Allouran 2014 which is a tidy 13.9% alcohol, $30, and perhaps even sold out.

24 March 2017


Recalling two unlikely teetotallers

The death of Chuck Berry took me down another tricky backroad. On one side of the track towered that startling music and its profound capacity to change brains. The other offered a flickery anthropological history of a certain epoch in recreational ethanol consumption. 

When Kym Bonython brought Chuck to play the Apollo Stadium in the early '70s, I think '73, my favoured reds were from Kaiser Stuhl and Seaview. But to attend an affair of state of the order of a  Chuck Berry show my tincture was always Jack, or maybe Jim. 

I was unabashedly influenced by Keith Richards, whose limo preference then was Rebel Yell, which we couldn't get. 

I'd moved on from Mildara Chestnut Teal oloroso and the trippy Seppelts Sedna Tonic Wine for official occasions. That latter tincture was a handy 22% alcohol Para Port infused with all sorts of exotic herbal stimulants from the Andes, whose name was Sedna backwards. It made one go forwards very quickly. You could buy it off the shelf at the pharmacist. 

I'd got well past my Stones Green Ginger phase. 

They were indeed backward, backwoods sort of ways. Young Aussie blokes trying to work life out on the edge of the bush. Cityfolk mistook me for a hippy, when I was in fact a throughbred hillybilly preacher's kid still pinching the Old Man's car, which was full of my brothers' shotguns and Bibles in case of Sundays, with liquor under the driver's seat when he was away preaching in Dixie or Belfast or somewhere.

Brers Blanc: Stephen, Paul and Andrew with the Old Man's car 1973 my photo

My mate Stephen "Stuart" Sprigg was the Littlehampton publican's son who'd saved me from drowning in the baptising pond in the Bremer when he was the Callington publican's son. He was drummer in our thrash band out the back of the bottom pub in Mount Barker. The publican's son there was our other guitarist Chris Mitchell. I reckon Chris drank cider. He was a surf nut. Stuart drank Coke with one spirit or another. Hand-crafted Ready-To-Drink, see? Like poured from one bottle to another in the car. There were no glasses. 

Stuart and Chris spent all day behind their bars pouring another RTD precursor, the Hock, Lime and Lemon. This was whatever was in the riesling with Johnston's Oakbank Lime Cordial and lemonade in a 15 fl. oz. "pint" glass with ice. With soda you had the choice of less sugar, which you don't get in a tin. Still a great drink in summer. 

Another member of the consortium was also a drummer: Thredgold the traindriver. I met him in the back row of my Old Man's church hall. He drank big bottles of Southwark Bitter and gave me a copy of Oscar Peterson's Night Train. He was a real precise clickety-clack drummer.

Drummers (ret.) Stuart and Threddie visiting the author, August 2016 ... photo Raylene Thredgold

Girlfriends, who were mainly alpha-females and often nurses, were into Saturday-night exotica. Like Tia Maria or Cointreau, or if you wanted to identify with Janis, Southern Comfort. Sweet tawny port tipped in a bottle of lemonade. Sam Wynn's Marsala and Coke. Sweet as. 

Because those were the chilliest Cold War days, vodka, considered a communist drink in my neck of the woods, was usually out. The chic white spirit was Bacardi Rum. Originally a Havana outfit, Bacardi was already establishing a new head office in the Bahamas before Fidel Castro nationalised everything Cuban in 1960. But if you hated them Communissss you got your girlfriend Bacardi. 

She was already old-fashioned, but jeez, Bridget Bardot drank Bacardi. Every daughter of a Bible-basher I knew had a haircut like Bridget Bardot. 

Fortunately, husky-voiced malt whisky enthusiasts were beginning to emerge with feminism. And wine-drinkers.

Mizzo at Crazy Peter's '73 my photo

So what's changed? The gender-based preference list has certainly smudged. A helluva lot of hairy fully-growed men in blue singlets drink the sweet muck now. 

But if Chuck was to stand up again and play in a basketball stadium with those acoustics Frank Zappa called "not too swift" a year later, I reckon he'd do pretty much the same thing he did that night. 

First, he met the band. There was never a rehearsal. A few locals would be introduced to him and he'd give them brief instructions. My night the poor souls walked on and began an impromptu  twelve-bar instrumental that went pretty well for about seven minutes when Chuck was introduced by the Big Voice man but after twelve and fifteen minutes the blues were slurring, Chuck was still belowdecks and the full house was off its head with screaming anxiety. Things were getting brittle. 

Twenty years later, when I got to know Kym Bonython during our time deliberating over the Bouquets and Brickbats Awards on the Civic Trust Jury, he told the story of what went down backstage that night. 

A bit of a whiff of it came on Monday when Spence Denny filled in for Ali Clarke, the estimable Adelaide ABC Radio 891 Mornings announcer. Spence talked about Chuck. 

John Carlini called. He was Chuck's hired bassist for one Adelaide show in 1976. "We met him five minutes before we went on stage. " John said. "He came up to me and he said 'Who plays the bass?' and I said 'Well, me' and he said 'Well I want you to do da-dum, da-dum, da-dum' and I said 'What? Every song, sort of thing?' and he goes 'Yep. That's all I want you to do'." 

By the time Chuck made the stage on that show I saw, the da-dum, da-dum was falling to bits but up he came eventually to suddenly bedazzle the whole goddam hall. I dunno, thirty or forty minutes of his hits. It was astonishing. Then he left but as the mob lost its top he avoided a repeat of the earlier mess, came back on, did fifteen minutes of totally mindless My Ding-a-ling and vanished. 

My Ding-a-ling? C'mon. He didn't even have to play the guitar. 

There was no secret about how Chuck demanded a last minute stack of raw cash before he'd strap on that Gibson and go upstairs to work. I can't recollect the grim details of Kym's account but it had to do with the talent deciding at the last minute that there wasn't enough folding in the suitcase so he focused his attentions on a young woman against the wall while Kym scoured the wallets of his mates in the front row to round up a little more consideration. 

The photos show that later that night, our cross-eyed entourage ended up drinking beer from large bottles. Obviously having done my whiskey, I was back to the oloroso. 

Most of this photographic record has since been sensibly destroyed. 

Kym was probably back at his joint (above, '92) paying his mates back and serving them stiff drinks. But like Chuck, he was never a drinker and stayed straight all his life. I suppose they both had enough risk without it.

I could go on ten times that long writing of Chuck Berry's influence. His music and the perfectly-crafted American naïve poetry of his lyrics. His audacious showmanship. His guitar. His misogyny, which many still see as mere villainy. But I'll leave the last line to the bloke who led me by example to American whiskey, who on waking to the bad news simply tweeted "One of my big lights has gone out - Keith, 3/18/17"
I love this priceless Johnny B. Goode, part of Chuck's amazing set in a French TV studio complete with wooden white audience in 1958

16 March 2017


The DRINKSTER is mainly confined to the royal cot for awhile, after a nasty malfunction in the dark gizzard. Saved by Flinders Medical Center's remarkable Intensive Care Unit. Recuperating well, but no writing for awhile here or on InDaily. Be back soon with a real long report on McLaren Vale Grenache, its history, its nature and its current state. 

After the smooth professional assistance of the Jennifer Lynch at the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association and the cool crew at Hardy's Tintara, I tasted over 100 of them, including Grenache-dominant blends, a few weeks back in the luxurious Eileen Hardy Room at Tintara. I'll let you know when it's about to lob; hoping for an initial summary on Tuesday's InDaily. We'll see.

09 March 2017


Three into two does go: Stephen George, Wirra Wirra MD Andrew Kay and winemaker Paul Smith at Ashton Hills, celebratng their new union last year ... photo©Philip White

Hills music of harmony and flesh 

Sitting here with Double J's Joni Mitchell tribute hanging in the air like wondrous translucent curtains, recalling her music draped over the years through which I watched Stephen George and Peta Van Rood build their brave Ashton Hills wine business on a chill piny ridge across the valley from Mount Lofty ... damn they were lean, sweet and desperate years. How we argued and laughed across those tables! 

Peta died eight quick years ago. Steve has a new partner and a new life and is content now to work there as a vineyard manager for Wirra Wirra since selling them the outfit in 2015.

He was tired of being a businessman.

All these things well up as I take deep draughts of the new Ashton Hills Estate Riesling 2016 ($30; 13% alcohol; screw cap), delighted to see the label credits Steve as co-winemaker with Wirra's Paul Smith. They are similarly sensitive and determined souls.

Steve says it's rare that the vineyard doesn't get a little botrytis, which is part of the explanation for his Riesling being much more Germanic than those austere ones from the Eden, Clare and Polish Valleys. You'd be one tough bastard to take deep draughts of those. 

They're too crunchy for big gulps

I mean, sure, this is a dry wine with a fine acid chassis, but it's plusher, lusher and more creamy than those and dammit it feels like the lavish swathes of harmony and unison Joni would overlay on her tracks, using her own voice, often just to guide the guitar or horn players. 

Because she can't read music or write charts, she'd sing all the parts she wanted the other musicians to play and have somebody transcribe them. Then, at the last minute, she'd often leave some of those guide tracks of her voices in there with the ensemble work the musos played from the charts.

If this wine is any guide to what we can expect from Messrs George and Smith, it seems we'll be singing Ashton Rieslings as smartly-formed and performed as those layers of Ms Mitchell's voice.

I could drink a case of you.

And I could drink a case or two, too, of the similarly plush and harmonious Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 ($70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap), which is all Stephen's work. Not to push Joni's Blue album too hard - that's impossible - blue is the colour here. Deep, deep blue.

Put very simply, this is the best Pinot I've seen from South Australia. Maybe from the whole big ol' country. I don't think Tassie has produced one this provocative and comforting, yet that's where all the other Pinophiles seem to be headed. You need more than cold weather to make wines like this. You need passion and persistence and decades and money.

Since breaking ground there in 1982, Stephen has tried at least 25 clones of Pinot, gradually discarding and replacing the duds. Now he's down to his five favourites.

From the first breath, this is a deep and mellow dream, perfectly seamless and fleshy beneath its gently piquant oak. I could go on about all manner of fruits but that would only deflect the mind from the gloriously sensual wallow of a thing it is.

I've long thought that Pinot is like Riesling, with its acid at the wheel and whatever layers of cuddle the back seat, or the vineyard affords. With these two wines, I rest my case. They make the sublime pair.

Peta would love it. I love it. You'll love it. Promise. Joni'd love it.

By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong: Marching to stop the Vietnam war. Sometimes we did it twice a week. It got real violent when the cops went nuts. But it worked. That's the fierce Peta, smack dab in the middle ... photo©Leo Davis