“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)





30 June 2017



Weird weather, including the second-hottest summer on record, has brought the Yeppoon spring pineapple crop on early in northern Queensland. 

Farmers are picking record crops from smaller fruit from smaller plants which are a couple of  months short of normal maturity: they're not usually fully-sized nor ripe until well into September. 

The fruit is brilliant - there's just too much of it: after the strange weather, farmers are taking twice the normal crop. 

So DRINKSTER recommends a method of helping these poor farmers dispose of a record tonnage of pineapples. It goes like this: 

1 select pineapple 
2 remove crown neatly 
3 scoop out flesh without breaching husk 
4 put pulp in bowl mixed with one bottle of tequila 
5 freeze until mushy/crunchy 
6 fill husk with this - you have enough for two+ fills 
7 replace crown for garnish; pass around
8 consume with spoon and/or straw 
9 when empty, repeat 
10 watch kids: they love this shit 
Keep a close watch on your pulse!


Mike Farmilo with Sue Trott in her Grenache at the top of the Blewett Springs ridge 

Taking the pick of the top country

My interest and enthusiasm in Grenache has been reawakened in the last five  years, since I started consulting to Willunga 100, the label owned by David Gleave (Liberty Wines) and John Ratcliffe (Accolade Wines).

I have been helping Sue Trott with her Five Geese label for many years and part of that was the Ganders Blend, a Grenache/Shiraz. The Grenache was so good as an individual wine that I was often only blending in 10% Shiraz, just for the label purposes.

While Sue’s eighty-year-old dry-grown bush vines are consistently very good, I explored a bit more around Blewett Springs and there is a lot of old, dry grown, bush vine Grenache on those deep sandy soils. 

In fact, Russell Mobsby told me that the Southern Vales Winery took over 8,000 tonnes of McLaren Vale Grenache in the early 'eighties, much of it from Blewett Springs.

Later on, a lot of this would have been used by Steve Maglieri in the golden days of his Lambrusco. However, a lot of it has been pulled out now and there is nowhere near as much as there used to be.

In contrast to the more masculine central McLaren Vale Grenache - more suited in a GSM in my opinion - Blewett Springs Grenache has a floral prettiness with rose petals, 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.

It has been inspiring to see some of the young winemakers championing Grenache and introducing techniques such as whole bunch fermentation and carbonic maceration. Blewett 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.

It’s never going to be Burgundy, but it’s the closest McLaren Vale is going to get to the ethereal complexity that you can find in a great Pinot Noir - James Irvine might have been on the right track in the late 70’s when he coined "McLaren Vale Grenache: Pinot d’Fleurieu!" I'll bet there was a lot of Grenache in those Tatachilla 'Burgundies' shipped to the UK in the 1960’s.

Grenache men who understood the value of some whole bunches and berries in the ferment: James Irvine (then at Saltram), Andrew Wigan (Peter Lehmann Wines), Greg Trott (Wirra Wirra) and Stephen John who was just starting his own operation in Clare ... at The Barn, McLaren Vale, 1983 ... all photos by Philip White

The 2014 Five Geese Indian File Grenache was my first attempt at introducing a bit of whole bunch complexity to Blewett Springs Grenache. 

I’ve never thought that Grenache needed much oak but now I am often not even putting it in barrel. Much better to leave it on yeast lees in stainless steel tank to protect that pretty fruit lift and bottle it before the next harvest.

Blewett Springs Grenache does not have high acid, but it does have a low pH.

Another recent benefit to Grenache production has been sorting, whether by machine or by hand, and this has helped with Grenache’s two problems: First, it is prone to raisining in the really hot years and if these get through to the ferment, you get the high alcohol which we don’t want.

Second, with big bunches, quite often tight, there is always a bit of mould inside the Grenache bunch, sometimes active, sometimes dried up. All Grenache ferments start off a bit musty but generally this will blow off as the fermentation continues.

The Vaucher Beguet sorting machine will take good-looking hand-picked fruit like this, and find grooblies and greeblies like these within the bunches:

This stuff would normally go into the fermenter ... but a sorting machine removes it, giving the winemaker the vinous equivalent of caviar:

The 2015 Clandestine Vineyards #1 McLaren Vale Grenache has been sorted on the expensive Yangarra machine, given a pre-fermentation soak and 10% whole berry fermentation, and is the most complex and intriguing Grenache I have made to date. 

I also take Grenache from Bernard Smart’s Clarendon vineyard: again old dry-grown bush vines, some older than Bernard himself!

Wayne and Bernard Smart in Bernard's 1921 Grenache
This is different again to Blewett Springs and central McLaren Vale. Bernard's vineyard gives much more refined fruit with blueberry characters. It's even austere on the palate.

Willunga 100 has chosen to release two single-vineyard Grenaches from 2015: a Blewett Springs from Sue Trott and another from Bernard at Clarendon. While both are pretty wines they are very different in character and style and make an interesting comparison. 

di Fabio Grenache at the top of Blewett Springs ... below that deep, but recent wind-blown (æolian) sand you'll hit a layer of clay and ironstone, below which lies another hundred metres or so of loose riverine Maslin Sand. 

I often wonder whether that ancient weathered escarpment along the Willunga Fault line on the horizon looked anything like this young scarp in Banff ... 

for previous articles in DRINKSTER's Grenache series click these

1 Intro: McLaren Vale Grenache: A Study 
2 Out my back door: picking the High Sands 
3 Grenache: Drew Noon's love story 
4 Grenache: the Italian Connection 
5 Out my back door: finishing High Sands
6 Grenache and upland geology: top of the bottom 
7  Thistledown for the Spanish: Grenache from Tres Hombres

Sue and Mike with another of her upland vineyards behind them ... Bernard's vineyard is a couple of ridges further north, beyond that horizon


Frost this morning ... Mount Lofty lost in the fog ... after the driest June on record we need a damn lot more than frost ... Ironheart Vineyard has been mechanically barrel-pruned and is ready for the hand-pruners to go in and do the fine-tuning ... the sheep have done a good job with the weeds and the lambing's done; lots of twins ... photos Philip White 

29 June 2017


Two Masters of wine from the British Isles came to sit on my veranda yesterday to talk Grenache.   

Giles Cooke and Fergal Tynan are among the Grenache winemakers who've emerged from the woodwork to make contact since I commenced my irregular series on this renascent variety. They comb this country for old vineyards to make their Thistledown Wines with former Nepenthe winemaker Peter Leske at his Lenswood winery. 

Fermented slowly, naturally, in ceramic eggs with plenty of whole bunches and berries, these wines are made for both the Australian and UK markets. In the latter, they're aimed fair-and-square at the shelves usually filled with Spaniards. Give 'em hell, lads!  

Thistledown The Vagabond Blewett Springs McLaren Vale Grenache 2014 ($40; 15% alcohol; screw cap) is from the sandy-and-ironstone sub-region where these  Thistledowners believe "Grenache is at its fragrant, textural best." This baby's right up that alley: oozing intense bergamot and stewed quince and clove aromas, amongst other tempting lovelies. All those alcohols don't seem to bother it, instead helping smooth and harmonise the bouquet, perhaps at the risk of losing some of the variety's cherries-and-roses typicity. They do similar work on the palate, without making it seem too hot or strong, but rendering more of a dining table wine than a casual patio tipple: just about anything with aromatic mushrooms: morels, portobellos or shiitake - truffles, too - would set it up just schmick.  

Thistledown The Vagabond Old Vine Blewett Springs Grenache 2015 ($50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) smells a little more intense and inky, with the sooty leanness I often associate more with Barossa Grenache. Once again, the bouquet offers a different range of pleasures to what I expect of standard Blewett Springs Grenache, if there is such a thing. The roses, cherries and blueberries here are perfectly alluring, but the wine proffers darker, deeper mysteries than those. Like soft fresh licorice and, again, cloves. There's also some of leathery old harness characters I would normally associate with old Barossa vines, or indeed Spanish, Grenache. The flavours are tight and still supressed by the confusion of youth, but they're dead serious: they look you in the eye. They're already harmonising beautifully, but building a surly, stroppy wine of certain attitude and direction rather than anything frivolous or effete. It's fine as a young punk with black leather and ripple soles, but if you wait a few years, it'll don a very cool suit and do better business. Which would tend to point me more at steak or duck right now. Save the truffles til it settles down.  

Thistledown Gorgeous Thorny Devil Old Vine Barossa Grenache 2016 ($28; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is from the northern flats of the Barossa near Kalimna. Very much after the same house style, this wine initially seems made for earlier drinking: as if to disprove my generalising about regional differences, it's cheeky and fresh. Which is not to say it won't grow and mellow: even with just a little time in the glass, the bouquet builds intensity and strength, and yep: there they are: those leathery, bone-dry lignin-deep whiffs of Barossa tradition. But then the palate's silky-slick, and stacked with the sort of rosey florals I usually associate more with Blewett Springs! So here's your patio/veranda schlück: try it with Woodside Cheese Wrights Lemon Myrtle Chevre and those tiny koroneiki olives from Coriole. Yum.

28 June 2017


The mouth of the Murray-Darling, back when it flowed into the sea with more regularity than it now does. This outlet is the only exit for an arid land river system which drains 1,061,469 square kilometres of Australia's hinterland and grows 80% of its grapes.
Scientists trash Murray-Darling plan

Denial. People who deny the climate is changing because we made a mess. People who deny the Great Barrier Reef's in deep shit. People who deny that coal is dirty black rotten dead stuff. And people who deny the Murray Darling Basin's still a dirty great big catastrophe in equally dire straights. We're gonna die of dire denial. 

While the fleapit's pumped with totemic polemic, our prescience is dying of nescience. 

I could rap this. 

Only a month or so back science professor Richard Kingsford of the NSW Centre for Ecosystem released a report in which his team had trawled three decades of scientific bird-counting research to show that Murray-Darling Basin waterbird populations have plunged seventy per cent in that time: a direct result of reduced water flow. Nobody said much. 

Maybe there was a baa from the Deputy Prime Minister, the coal fiend chook-lovin' Barnaby Joyce. And now we have Five actions necessary to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan 'in full and ontime',  another devastating report, this time from the Wentworth Group Of Concerned Scientists. 

Former National Wine Centre boss, Bananaby's off-sider, the right-wing Riverland rose irrigator Senator Ruston made an early break toward the microphones. 

Senator Ann Ruston with her son Tom and deposed Prime Minister Tony Abbott

I couldn't work out how she'd managed to digest this sombre document in such a brief timeframe but she sure shot one or two of its sentences down.

Feathers everywhere. 

Apart from that summary execution there's not been much from anybody in the wine business, or indeed the beverages business, which would do well to cross this vast inland reality barrier with some honest intelligence. 

The Basin is, after all, responsible for producing eighty percent of Australia's grapes. Most of this wildly unprofitable

The report is a calm, crisp, elegant document, as you'd expect of these great brains. Without actually naming the operatives, it addresses issues this writer has reported constantly over the last forty years of watching people - men, mainly - working out ways of turning water into ethanol and selling it as a lucrative beverage without going to gaol. 

"The National Water Inititative in 2004 was one of the most significant agreements in our nation's history," the document starts, "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore the health of Australia's river systems in a way that promotes economic prosperity while using less water ... 

"Thirteen years after ... and five years since the Basin Plan came into force, there has been progress ... Two thirds of the 3,200 GL has been recovered, and just over half of the $13 billion spent. 

"Whilst individual irrigators have benefited from the buyback of water, less than one per cent of the $13 billion has been made available to assist communities adapt to a future with less water. 

"Without susbstantial changes, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will fail. Thirteen billion dollars of taxpayers money will be spent, communities will be hurt, industries will face ongoing uncertainty, and the river systems will continue to degrade."
Rather than blast away after the manner of Senator Ruston, those who use the Murray-Darling to make drinks from its water might get themselves organised with some impressive science of their own. Like research: your actual visionary pre-emptive planning. Get all this summarised. Then they could more admirably respond to the Wentworth eminences' call for better intelligence.   

Then we can talk. 

But we're going to have to tolerate a sort of naive but determined honesty in this pursuit. An atypical honesty. 

Divide beverages made in the Basin into fat ones and sugar ones. 

The fat drinks are white mainly and come from irrigated cows. 

The sugar ones involve irrigated fruit. They're coloured and fall into two categories: sustenance and intoxication. 

White fat drinks: Somebody's gotta work out how many tonnes of fat Australia actually requires. There are already figures available relating the fat we carry to the public health and fitness bill it incurs. Work all this out realistically. If we really need this fat, then what's the most efficient and enjoyable way of getting it into us? Maybe we don't need to irrigate cattle just so we can stay obese drinking the stuff that comes out of their teats. Why haven't we weaned? 

What's the way of growing the best fat that uses the least amount of water? I'd like to know. 

Coloured sugar drinks without intoxicants? Juices and whatnot? Just like that stack of fat we measured, somebody should get an idea of how much sugar we realistically require and what sort it should be. Maybe we should grow it in cane or something in the tropics where your actual rain is not such a precious scarcity and you don't need pipes? 

Of course there's the matter of sustenance here: the goodness in the bevvy: minerals, vitamins, terpenes, fibre: what exactly are they, and what sized stack of them do we have to make? What's the most conservative manner of procuring this stuff? Who's gonna monitor the public health bill to make sure this all works? 

Coloured sugar drinks with intoxicants? Here we go. What somebody, maybe Senator Ruston, could do, is investigate exactly how much intoxicant Australia needs to keep everybody working without the human repair costs going too ballistic or society hitting the shellgrit like it did when London discovered gin in William Hogarth's day. 

Like, you gotta keep 'em working, and you gotta be able to raise an army, but you want also to keep them all humming and buying roses without coming up the street after you with pitchforks. 

So exactly how much alcohol do we tip into each man. woman and child? 

How far can the community bladder stretch? 

Stand back. How much water did we take out of our Basin, our breadbasket, to manufacture this ethanol? Are there more efficient ways of producing it? Like turn to the tropics again? Give the Basin a break? Would cannabinoids be safer, cheaper, and use less water? 

Oh yes, before I go we should probably address the community's rehydration requirements. Like water: how much should we drink? Can't we get that from the desal plant? How much longer will we tolerate such an unsatisfactory rarity being a critical  gastronomic essential? 

Can't we powder it? Like milk? Like just add, well, what?

PS: While this report is of course a scientific document, it does admit praise for the foresight of Prime Minister John Howard, in pithy contrast to the very short shrift if affords Prime Minister Tony Abbott's promise of carp herpes


Long before I met Mark Thomson (above), I knew his lovely Dad, who ran the mapping division in the South Australian Geological Survey when I worked there in the early 'seventies.

Mark, author, artist, inventor and very deep thinker, is the founder of the Institute of Backyard studies and a key operative in the National Trouble Makers' Union.. He is currently pursuing a campaign to put more honesty into road signs.

Mark's current exhibition, Advice to Travellers (and the contemplations of Wayne Sartre, grader driver and philosopher), is on display at the West Gallery at 32 West Thebarton Road, Thebarton SA until 15 July.

Mark will deliver a lecture "attempting to explain it all" at the gallery on 2pm on Saturday 1 July. You'll be lost if you miss it!

25 June 2017


Heirloom? This word brings polite images of chintz and old lace and the safety of powdered aunts but I warn you: With slow, careful calculated accuracy, Elena Brooks properly bruises your pixels with reds like these. You can tell from the start that good things are going to be what happened. Like this damn Heirloom Vineyards McLaren Vale Touriga 2014 ($40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) just seemed to disappear. Left me all smudged. Smoky, sultry, moody, silky stuff. It's a slinker. Coffee and cigarillos on the breath. Probly a bit more McLaren Vale than Touriga. Head up over the Willunga Fault to Kuitpo for the Adelaide Hills Tempranillo  2015 ($40; 14%; screw cap) and we pick up a whiff of shellack and maybe a tiny sliver of wintergreen and a little more focus in the surgeon's eye. It won't hurt, either. It just goes in like red obsidian. Barossa Shiraz 2015 ($40; 14.5%; screw cap) gets you a little pepper on your tart but then again it's just all slick and steeped in perdition and dark dry chocolate and yes please oh the bottle's done and you too: jeez what was that sort of stuff no going back praised be her precious and healing name so might just as well slide over the Stockwell Fault to their hills to Valpurgis or somewhere with some Independent Baptists taking the starchy edge off the old Lutherans for the A'Lambra Eden Valley Shiraz 2014 ($80; 14.5%; screw cap) and finally you hit the lace you'd totally forgotten. A bowl of licorice allsorts on the walnut. Oh, that was an extra forty, was it? Really. Phhooof! Wake up Mr President, it's time to blow up the world. She'll be right Pizzapants, you can do it. What was the time? You gotta be joking! See. We never went wrong. Did we? Did I? Did we do it?

Devil made me do it the first time, second time I done it on my own.

Billy Joe Shaver sung that.

These are real good wines. Trust Unca Fillets. I said that. Philip, sorry. 

Bruised pixels, see? Purrfect. I'll make some coffee. You stay there.

Joseph leads Mary up the street ... photos by Philip White ... lyric by Billy Joe Shaver


When George Grainger Aldridge goes to the beach, he looks for more than waves. Which is just as well, really, because he seems to think the nearest beach is in the Northern Territory ... This postcard indicates fairly risky behaviour, however: In this instance, he's obviously got his back to the water ... I spose it pays to keep an eye out in every direction in that sort of country ... If the lizards don't getcha the humans will ...  
... much better to set back rehydratin, keeping an eye out for the Japanese ... or the English 

... and I told him to take his little guide book ... 

Stevie Goldsmith in a Vernon Ah Kee tee