“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 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

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