“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)





25 October 2017


Boho Adelaide winers will remember Cynthea and David Feldheim: Cyn for her clever winemaking at Hardy's; David for his role in the Sugar team at the East End club of that name; then his winemaking with Stephen Pannell. 

For years now they've lived and worked making their Beautiful Isle wines at Cyn's home place at Legana on the Tamar. This premium Peacock Series offers wines with more plush shimmer than many of the angular and acidic sharpies of the bonnie southern island: 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Vintage Sparkling 2015 
($60; 12.2% alcohol; cork; 960 bottles)  

These clever folks know how to let some luxury grow in their suds. 

On the face of it, this is a sublime presentation of spicy honey syrup on a diced salad of everything from gooseberry to jackfruit in kirsch and lemon juice. Then I begin to catch chips of cindery honeycomb toffee and the rinds of various bitterish citrus. Some of it's toasted. Like that mandarin peel Mum would leave on the stove to make the house smell good. 

Then I discover its lively acidic depths. And its long slim cleeeaaaannnn flavour form. Folks, neath all that 'polstry and patina these wheels have a tight racing spaceframe lit to roll. 

When it's swallowed, it leaves a dry summer air thirst and then more of the fruit takes control with its saps and syrups and soon one feels all clean and oiled and fit for a looser toga. 

All the way through the story this saucy fantasy counterpoints the strawberry heart of Pinot with the steely form of Chardonnay.  I love a fizz that's like a little surrealist movie. 

The back label says "made with persuasion and encouragement to parade like a peacock." 
That worked! 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Chardonnay 2016  
($40; 12.3% alcohol; screw cap; 1392 bottles) 

 Again it's lazy nostalgia, that hazy recollection of the autumnal edges of Chardonnay in the afternoon, winding this honeycomb/cinder toffee with grilled hazelnut and dry nutmeg-spiced mead affair beneath the oaks. After the same peacock mood as the fizz, this plushness weaves through those delicious grainy mid-tones Ken Russell and Billy Williams got onto the screen in Women In Love

As the sparkles did, this first presents those comforting promises. Then you find the fleshy white clingstone peach gushing forth, freshly-picked and peeled, and wander off up the rambutan/lychee/starfruit end of the market lane. Praised be! 

It's lovely, fresh, clean, peachy-cheeked wine. Sometimes I imagine a dollop of good yoghurt or sour cream on it; sometimes it's more along the lines of a peachy lemon sabayon with a flake of meringue on its spume. 

Dappled veranda in the afternoon: white anchovies; garfish; King George whiting grilled in a flash with lemon and pepper; crusty white bread with butter ... 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Pinot Noir 2015  
($40; 13.2% alcohol; screw cap; 1416 bottles)  

This a beautifully rich, mellow wine. It is profound in its complexity and the deep retreats of its extremes. It is fresh and clean and yet somehow learned with the confidence of a few decades up the mountain in a robe like Leonard. 

I would prefer, mind you, to risk it in a spill across a table from Nina Persson: it works a-slurp with fresh herrings properly pickled with juniper and fennel. 

Not often you get a lovely fleshy Pinot that makes me go fish. 

It is an utterly easy slurp with the finest velvet finish. 

A day after first snapping that cap, it begins to remind me of the grand old Daimler David's Dad Sid lost to Max Harris in a card game. Or something lower and quicker: Back out here in the dickie seat I get the tannins of that great engine wafting on the breeze: perfect wine for medium-to-fast top-down touring after soft poached breakfast eggs with a scarf that won't strangle you if it gets caught in the wheel spinners. 

Today I'd prefer it with smoked snapper and shiitake or maybe enoki in a rice wine sauce ... 

Beautiful Isle Tasmania Syrah 2016  
($40; 13.6% alcohol; screw cap; 3465 bottles)  

Cyn made half this crop using full-bunch small batch techniques; David made the other half in what he calls the "big old McLaren Vale Shiraz manner" in a large open fermenter. 

While the original intention was to release the parcels as separate wines, one thing led to another and adventurous blending being the move of the times, here they are swimming together. 

I say swim because they'll get aboard and this flying boat will take off eventually: Cyn agrees that the two wings haven't quite stuck on the fuselage yet: the tighter cherries of the full bunch side have yet to admit the broader fruit cake of the trad batch into the co-operation game, but they'll get there: it'll fly right in a year or two when it looks more like a wine with an extra zero. 

In the meantime, it'll probably forgive you for bashing it round a bistro with a crusty wood-oven pizza or pasta. 

For once, I'd rather wait. It'll be well worth it.

Solomon, Aristotle, Cynthea and David Feldheim at home on the Tamar


20 October 2017


Quiet launch at the source: Peter Gago pours the first bottle of Penfolds G3 superwine in the old still house at Penfolds Grange at Magill ... Max Schubert's little blending office is just behind that pillar to the right ...  photos Milton Wordley

Gago does a Max: great G3 comes out of the shadows of the Grange

It's the wine that didn't exist. As the whispers spread around the highest echelons of this big wine village, it seemed to get further away from reality: what was it? Where is it? Is it real? How much would it cost? 

Eventually, Penfolds chief winemaker, Peter Gago AC, had to release his latest ace card in the astonishing Penfolds deck. 

One couldn't help getting the feeling he'd done a Max: working quietly away for years on a dream wine that eventually had to turn into money. He had to fess up. 

When he finally presented it to a disbelieving handful of wine critics under strict embargo a few weeks back, Gago was excited like an impish schoolboy. 

There are 1,200 bottles of the new beauty. It's called Penfolds G3, and it's $3,000 a pop. It's a blend of three Granges: 2008; 2012 and 2014, that were selected, assembled, and aged in barrels as a blend before bottling. 

The wine will be available from the Penfolds cellar door at Magill. 

Gago is coy about other details. He won't reveal the percentages of each vintage in the assemblage. When asked about how he'd chosen the components, he said "08 had such character as an anchor. '14  was chosen deliberately so no-one can do this at home. Of course that wine's not yet released. Even if they did, we're not revealing the percentages but they're all significant. Even if a person does have a measuring cylinder and the vintages to emulate it, it hasn't matured as a blend in Grange oak." 

The 2008 wine was decanted from 750ml. bottles. Some of the 2012 and 2014 Granges was set aside in barrel after the rest was bottled. These three components were then blended and matured for over a year in "current Grange-use barrels." 

He repeatedly stressed the importance of the selected wines maturing in oak as a finished blend, as happens with the selected components of each vintage of Grange before bottling. 

"It's not chemistry," he said. And after a perfectly theatrical pause, " ... it may be alchemy."

So how was it priced? "I've spoken to some customers who expected an extra zero." 

He was coy about the next release. Is it blended? Can't say. Will this be an annual event? No. 

Seeing the possibility of a parallel version after the formidable "White Grange", the Yattarna Chardonnay, I asked what varieties would be in the first Y3. Polite change of subject. 

So what's it like? I was too dumfounded to take notes. It's not at all like any of its components. It's finer than any of them. It's tight, majestic essence. The soul of Penfolds. The spirit of that grand old stone pile of Penfolds Magill, with its long underground drives stacked with a century of dusty secrets. 

Even the presence of a "significant" proportion of the 2008 hasn't given the wine any sense of that age. I thought maybe he'd matured that in magnums, but no. That would have explained its youthful countenance. So were those bottles under screw cap to guarantee the freshness of the assemblage? Maybe we'll never know. 

I was suspicious that the wine had been 'freshened' with another addition between barrel maturation and bottling, but no. It's so svelte and crisply architectural that I thought perhaps it had more Cabernet than Grange usually contains, but another no. 

"It's around two-per-cent Cabernet," he said. 

After all that, and the mystifying fact that it projects no sense of age or years other than bright, tight, ravishing complexity and finesse, the wine is perfectly approachable now. It's easier to drink, for example, than that mighty 2012 Grange which one presumes must be, what? Like a third of the finished assemblage? 

While it sets a new, very high bar for Penfolds, that's very obviously what it is: Penfolds has a bold new peak on its towering red pyramid. 

But the damn thing doesn't even seem like any Shiraz I've had from anywhere. Having spent twenty minutes marvelling at its mystifying, captivating bouquet, I emptied my glass in three glorious disbelieving gulps. 

That was weeks back, but I can still taste it, and suspect I'd recognise it in a flash if I ever get near another glass. 

The experience reminded my only of one thing: the way the late Henri Krug would cover his blending bench with dozens of wines to assemble the Krug Grand Cuvée non-vintage Champagne. Many of these aged bases would be oxidised and awkward, almost like young sherry. And yet once he'd assembled his selections in the beaker, the wine would be fresher, younger, more spritely and deliciously bright than those components. 

Gago's right. Alchemy is the word.

STOP PRESS: Hong Kong Sat 21 Oct 17: 


"G3 has been overwhelmingly positively received globally. I received an e-mail from our Fine Wine man on the ground in London - their allocation sold out in one minute! Elsewhere, all but gone already."

Photos by Milton Wordley ... to read his interview with Peter, and get in the draw for a free copy of our internationally-awarded book, A Year in the life of Grange, click here

PS: contrary to common rumour that we made a stack of dosh from Penfolds/Treasury for this book, nope. Wrong. Milton spent a year taking the beautiful pictures and then paid for the publishing, I wrote it like I'd promised Max I would for teaching me so much, we did it off our own bat, it was printed and hand-stitched and bound by great Adelaide craftspeople and we won top gongs for it, just about everywhere but Australia. Dearie me.

Adelaide even has a beach called The Grange, but it's a dry zone.

18 October 2017


Lickin all the right toes with the appropriate confidence and clarity

My bemusement at the resurgence from antiquity of unmade wines, with their suss protein murk, macular degeneration and unstable yeast zoology, all mercilessly flogged as 'natural', has focussed the annoyance of a few of the popular winemakers vaguely at moi. 

This is a good thing, because most of them are gentle folk who don't shoot and some send ambassadors with fastidiously unmade wines for me to try. One as hirsuit as me takes readily to an hair shirt. Although I took my old grey beard off the other day, lest I be mistaken for a millennial. To be beard-specific, millennials look to me like Neo-Mennonites, or The Band on the cover of their second album in 1969. I stopped trying to look like than in 1978. 

While I take a strand of comfort from the trend amongst some millennial women to die their young hair grey, much of the pricing of the hairy or woolly wines committed by this lost and undone generation makes me prickle. 

These people are scary with presumption on pricing. 

Sure, I understand that customers will pay for what they want - think Grange - but I also know price is what I pay; value is what I get.

Reminds me of a Tom Rush song from my kid days:  

Kids these days  
they don't value a dollar 
Don't like chewin
but they sure can swaller  

That'll be the winemakers. Some of whom seem to think they're young winemakers at 40. But the punters? Whatter bout the poor punters? Try this quatrain I found in a Doris Lessing book when I was 22:

Not everyone has known these depths, 
The black uncalculated wells of sea 
Where any gleam of day lies far above, 
And stagnant water slow and thick and foul  

Unmade, like unfinished, just for the Shorter Oxford Dictionary record, is one step short of unoaked, unfiltered and/or unfined. Or any of those bottled when rotting. I invented these essential appellations for application to unmade and unfinished wines. 

One lively gourmand who gets off his mountainbike for a drink now and then is Charles Lawrence (above), who works at Karatta Wines at Robe when he's not doing pop-up wine things in the wilder snowboarding bits of Japan. He's originally from NW Florida. He brought me one of the best Shiraz wines I've had this year. It was from Canada. La Vieux Pin 2010, from British Columbia. Sheeessh. Ravishing. So he knows where he's at. But while he might frequent millennial waterholes with murky mates he likes to test my vision for clarity. He brought me two wines to prove that with consultant winemaker Richard Bate he knows how to make them. 

And finish them, not in murky unmade and incomplete death wallows, but, mon vieux, with a view to a full, healthy and bright LIFE! 

Karatta Wines K Chinaman's Trek Tenison Vineyard Robe Pinot Noir 2107  
($18; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Hmm. A Robe Pinot? Some of the reds from along that coast betray their source with whiffs of the beach and dunal vegetation. (DMS for nerds.) While it fits some Sauvignon blanc, I never liked that brisk coast smell in some St Henri Shiraz vintages, where it didn't seem to fit that traditionally mellow style when Robe fruit was included in the blend. Recent vintages are much the better without it. 

But this one?  Let's see. Uh-huh. This is bright, pure and clean. Fruity. Pretty grapes!  Racy. Envigorating. A dark chocolate Cherry Ripe. Maraschinos in melted Val Rhôna cooking chocolate. 

This'll go in a flash! 

At first whiff, this seemed a modern, more real, perfumed and lively reflection of the old Hardy's Keppoch Pinot Noir of the early 'eighties. Hardly genteel that winemaking. Named after the big overhead-irrigated vineyard at Padthaway, that was Australia's first large-scale commercial red Pinot. While it too was made from an early fizz clone, that old Keppoch grew much further inland on the same Limestone Coast. 

Times have changed. This is a made wine. This is a Pinot that tastes a bit like a tidy young Blewett Springs Grenache, but to give the latter their due, this is less complex and intriguing. It is a waft of red, a mindless, most pleasurable custom-built crepe drape for these bonnie spring afternoons, should they ever need staining. Lovely natural acidity and cushioning velvet tannins ... it's happy wine! Nuts-and-berries. Goat cheese. Sparkling anecdote, laughter and mandolin tinkling on the veranda. Check that tiny spend. Get on it. 

Karatta Wines K Lost Ram 12 Mile Vineyard Robe Syrah 2017 
($18; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

It was fingers crossed after that Pinot, hoping the K crew could do a similarly racy trick with Shiraz. 

The French name flared these suspicious nostrils. A lot of what gets called Syrah in Oz is a bit more along the lines of Syrah-de-dah. But faith, mon: this could be straight off the Rhône, like a cheeky young wine made by a new rogue generation in Vacqueyras or Gigondas. 

I'm not saying our wines should be like theirs, but dammit, they're the wines our white ancestors hoped to copy when they sailed here with their cuttings and invaded the joint. 

Which is not that long ago. I am one third the age of the colony of South Australia. Sobering. 

So what do I do? Just go on talking about Shiraz? 

This sure is Shiraz, but unlike most lazy Australian takes on that mindless slumbering staple, it's been given the chance to better express its bright young flesh when grown cool and picked early. Once again it's dark Val Rhôna chocolate, but coating live blueberries and lovely clean grapes. As the most expensive gustatory smells often trigger anticipation of exciting pheromones to follow unsmelled, it gives the anticipatory section of the organoleptics a cheese thrill before there's any cheese! 

This is savoury in the sense of making one dribble with joy and hunger. It's friggin boom-boom. 

Speaking definitions, a brasserie is a noisy place; bistro means 'serve me quick!' Few wines fit this fickle scenario whilst showing respect for the drinker, but this naughty puppy licks all the right toes. 

And yep, you don't need kerfuffle. It also works a treat on a lazy veranda. 

Blue Poles Margaret River Shiraz 2016  
($25; 13.6% alcohol; screw cap) 

If the rebel kids have pushed the Old Man aside to make that Lost Ram, somebody's sage elder had a bit of dogged input here: similarly perfumed and heady, but showing a bit more good old-fashioned torque, this lovely brash baby reminds me more of something from upstream of Gigondas: it's a dash more like a young Cornas from alluvial gravels. One that's been listening to a lot of the original Rocky Burnette Trio. 

And of course a lot of it has to do with this Blue Pole growing on the edge of a different ocean (Indian) to the K (Great Southern) and the Big C  (Mediterranean) with different everything in a place hardly known for its Shiraz. 

Stretching the geographical pallet, Whitey? Trust Unca Philip. And trust Mark Gifford and Tim Markwell, the thirsty and eternally patient and determined geologists who chose their Margaret River site for Blue Poles for - wait for it - its ... geology! Alluvial gravels under the Shiraz! 

Other than a fleeting sense of anise and long pepper, one of the wafts that catches me here is a sinister dark green thing, which is tricky for a self-censoring colourblind synæsthete to project. I recall a similar character in an early Marius Shiraz: it's a mood more than a flavour. Something to do with a hot British Racing Green 3.8 litre E-type Jaguar drophead ticking itself cool beneath the pines after a fang around the Old Willy Hill and Kuitpo. Walnut dash; black leather; the patina of years of unearthly speed and risk oozing with expensive oil from a piece of exquisitely sculptured engineering ... that earlier record from the highly earthly gravels of the Kurrajong geology beneath Marius ... rock dreaming, see? 

Whew. Take the rock stuff as you will. I've barely mentioned music. This is a rockin Shiraz, but it's not stony. Apart from the granular, sandy tannins, which simply stoke more hunger after that unblemished pure Shiraz fruit.  It's lovely springtime wine, and once again, cheaper than Grange. And a damn sight faster. 

Saltimbocca, please, pink and juicy, Capers; mash. Don't spare the lemon.


There are two Sauvignons in this fold, both very cool. The K Frog Island Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is like a warm year in cool steel on the Loire: complex, creamy and stalwart-firm in its earth and acidity. It's a good league beyond anything Sauvignon I've yet seen from the Adelaide Hills 'seventeens, for example.

Then right on the edge is the wine that I never thought I'd encounter, The K Geologist Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. This is close as I've since seen to the low-alcohol Cabernet blends Geoff Merrill made for Reynella from Coonawarra grapes in the late 'seventies. It's neat, all jumping with tea leaf and juniper and whatnot, and yelping for Greek grilled meats with lemon. Friggin go K!

16 October 2017



Forget the skinny lil birdie on the front. Surrender instead to four delicious fleshy new 'uns from Thorne-Clarke's fresh winemaker Pete Kelly. These wines didn't fly in from Siberia:

Thorne-Clarke Sandpiper Eden Valley Pinot Gris 2017  
($20; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Long of the belief that you can't grow good Pinot gris anywhere that won't grow good Pinot noir, I hit the dogma wall at this wine. Like you wouldn't expect to grow the world's best Pinot noir in the Eden Valley, but then unless we knew the lesson of colonial history, you'd never think the Riesling grape of cold Germany would grow well there, either. Which of course it does. 

It's as unlikely as Riesling working brilliantly in the Clare valleys, until you appreciate that parts of Clare, like the Polish Valley side of the range, is very similar geologically and sunshine-wise to parts of Alsace, where Riesling and Gris make serious mojo magic. 

This lovely slurpable has a topnote that smells like Craneford when they're baling hay. Below that fascinator there's all sorts of fruit from lollypop-simple dessert salads with meringue, banana and pineapple, to honeydew and strawberry. There's also lots of lollyshop bubblegum and frivolous whatnots that make it somehow childish simple, which it's not. 

Not at all. 

Rather, it's just downright disarming in its bare-faced charm. That bit grabs me so convincingly I don't even bother delving into the refined complexities lying beneath the rosy freckles. In keeping with simple impulses, I wanna run off with this bottle now. To the Stanley's fish café of a decade back for battered flathead and chips with fresh-sliced chilli and lotsa salt. You comin' with? 

Of this new quartet blanc, this was the first I opened. I proceeded, half-imagining it was a fluke. Nope. This fab four is is the best white release yet from Thorne-Clarke. By a long shot. 

Thorne-Clarke  Sandpiper Eden Valley Chardonnay 2017 
($20;  12% alcohol; screw cap) 

$20 Chardonnay is something I normally approach like bat goozie, so I was even more delighted to find this clean, clear spring-and-summer waft of a thing knocking that prejudice out of the ring. 

It's obviously been made to a price, but with a great deal more intelligence and sensitivity than most Chardonnaise show. 

It has a grainy, almost chalky aromatic edge in the same hayfield as the gris. Firm white peach, sapodilla and comice pear are the first fruits to come to mind, with none overwhelming. It's a smooth, clean, honest perfume with just a fleeting insinuation of French oak and fetta, and, dammit, enoki. 

But we're here to drink, not talk, surely? 

Same deal: down-the-line fresh-faced honesty with a stack of immediate appeal, but plenty hidden in there for the fancy gang and nerds to discuss. Just get on with it, I say. 

With pont-l'Évêque and/or port salut and some fresh-sliced pear. Like comice. Get on with it. 

Thorne-Clarke Sandpiper Eden Valley Riesling 2017 
($20; 11% alcohol; screw cap) 

I was about to go on about Dr Loosen's Riesling in Mosel vs. Pfalz vs. Alsace et cetera, et al, but get over it, Whitey. And forget all that stuff about lemon and lime and citrus blossom. In keeping with the form of the pair above, this is like the powdered cheeks of infant vegan winged archers who've just falled off the Sistine Chapel ceiling. 

Cherub's cheeks grilled lightly in butter with lemon and pepper. I can think of no better introduction to Riesling. Swoon. It has the flesh to handle the sort of brutal chill too many restaurant fridges deliver, but it's best just slightly on the chill side of cool. Which is precisely what it is. Also: Deadly. 

Eden Trail Eden Valley Riesling 2017 
($24; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Tell me another premium white wine producer whose elite superwine is one whole $4 more expensive than its standard version? And we're still an entire buck short of $25? Get down. Only slightly less chubby than those rosy cheeks, this is that previous wine cranked in the finest, most tasteful and intelligent direction. It has less flesh, more bone. Its spine, for example, is not quite brittle, but approaches ground-up bone china in its dry, fine-grained authority. The sinews and pink muscles around that bit will hide it if you're not in the mood to think too hard. Grilled squid with lemon, please. And would you mind if I left my clothes here on the chair? I need to go out and lie in the sun.

13 October 2017


Spare a thought for poor Cardinal Pell now that Barolo's suddenly so far away ... what must the poor man endure simply performing pastoral duties ... thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers ... and a solution, by George

12 October 2017


"Koalas armed in eucalypt highrise" was the message accompanying this notebook 
sketch George Grainger Aldridge e-mailed from his phone this morning.

11 October 2017


Should the Murray estuary wine folk have a bit of a think about Bordeaux?

Two of the things I learned living in the Bremer Valley as a kid in the 'sixties have stuck with me all my life. Both came in the summer's dusty blast: that rain shadow country where the hills meet the Mallee around Kanmantoo can be brutally hot. Which led me appreciate the value of an estuarine influence: escaping from the sweaty little school bus was even more worthwhile when cool late afternoon sou-easterlies came all the way from the Southern Ocean across the Coorong and Lake Alexandrina to the alluvial plains round Woodchester, Salem and Callington, eventually to relieve Kanmantoo. 

That was Lesson # 1: estuaries are precious.

The second big learn concerned land clearance. 

As the miners of the 1800s had cleared all the trees and scrub around Callington and Kanmantoo to fire the copper smelters the land was bare and troubled. 

The largest local landowners, Charles Burney Young and his son Harry Dove Young ... like imagine that shit ... "oh no this is our land now" ... grew unirrigated bush vines in the local alluviums, eventually to have original owners sending their kids to pick grapes. 

Just by chance the lives of two very heavy dudes overlapped there in the Kanmantoo St George Winery. The Ngarrindjeri genius, David Unaipon, worked there, as did the Burgundian Edmund Mazure, who was developing his recipe for what became Auldana St Henri Claret and eventually Penfolds St. Henri. Mazure named it after his son, Henri. In that barren dust-or-mud backwater, he also made a world champion red there: Kanmantoo St George Claret won top gold at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.Because they were old vines perishing of die-back, Nora Young pulled them out between the Wars.

Summer thunderstorms in the hills to the north of Kanmantoo would dump an inch of rain in just an hour or so. As there was no vegetation to hold it, that water would simply skim off the hillsides to flash-flood our house and wash cars off the main street into the Big Erosion that joined the Bremer four miles downstream at Callington. 

People died. 

(Matthew Abraham, David Bevan and Nick Xenophon may care to learn that while these storms always caused lengthy power blackouts, nobody blamed the local windmills.) 

I don't recall any of the car wrecks being found beyond Callington but the water would rip through there and off to Langhorne Creek. There the vignerons would catch it with levees and deliberately flood their vineyards, grabbing some last-minute deep soil moisture before the flood was eventually let escape into the Lake and down over the barrages through the Murray Mouth into the Southern Ocean. 

Opening a floodgate at Bleasedale ... note windmill to pump aquifer water

There is no creek called Langhorne. The locals don't even call the joint that: their patois usually pronounces it Larncrk. If you wrote it out there was a bridge called Langhorne after a bloke of that name, but it crossed the Bremer. Unless there was a flood, when the bridge became an island near the other one with the pub on it. 

The Old Man would stack us six kids in the car when the vineyards were flooded and we'd drive down there and rubberneck at the water that had filled our house with sheepshit and mud a few days earlier. As the Kanmantoo Vineyards had long gone, these were the first vineyards I can recall. We were taught they made the Devil's Brew and this was his country. 

The Devil was a fairly impressive character to the young White: Potts' Bleasedale winery was probably the biggest building in the district. I quickly figured that's where that sheep-shitty water got turned into wine: Jesus had nothing on it. 

When I went to work for him full-time in the early 'seventies, Mr. D taught me the flavours of the Larncrk wines through those muddy, soulful Bleasedale wonders. I eventually discovered these were made, by default, by time, procrastination and family disagreement more than intent or your actual œnological recipe.

(NOTE: Since a shorter version of this was published on InDaily several people have told me I have been unfair to Bleasedale. This is not my intention. I have had delicious dry white Verdelho from that establishment, soulful rustic reds of various breeds, and of course the very old fortified Verdelho is one of the rarest, most exquisite treasures of Australian fortified wine history) 

A young German reffo bloke with a Volksy beetle was also discovering these old vineyards. His name was Wolf Blass. He had a recipe. Soon I was drinking his take on the district: much more polished, impressive and memorable than the traditional Potts' family styles. While I didn't realise then, they were absolutely corseted with the sap of new Quercus alba - American oak - barrels from the Barossa cooper, A. P. John. Sophisticated.

As the mantra of Wolfie's shotgun riding/blending/winemaking offsider, John "The Ferret" Glaetzer went, "No wood, no good; no medals, no jobs." He knew that brash oak seduced wine judges. Those two had watched what Penfolds did with Grange and new American oak. But they needed that special Larncrk fruit.  Soft intensity, with a little more airborne mudflat eucalyptol in the Cabernet.

Although irrigation from the aquifer was handy for commercial success when there was no flood, the vignoble's area was still limited by the flood boundary. 

As the aquifers were more or less buggered with salt from too much greedy extraction through uncontrolled irrigation bores, the government had eventually restricted this practice. This management regime had commenced under the premiership of the brilliant Don Dunstan and his similarly enlightened Minister for Mines and Energy, Hugh Hudson. I know. I worked for them, and took a display caravan around to regional agricultural shows to explain the importance of saving the aquifers.

Winemakers and grape farmers, in their gold button blazers and moleskines, thought I was a representative of the new homosexual communist regime. I remember them all too well. The same lot, and their offspring, now jealously protect their aquifers and sensibly whinge about fracking.

Along came Liberal Premier Dean Brown. When together we officially opened the Willson family's new tasting room at Bremerton, he promised to replace this underground water by permitting the installation of big new pipes to pump fresh water from the Lake. 

I use 'fresh' loosely: often the salinity of the Lake was too high for irrigating plants. 

In 1991, there were 471 hectares of vineyards there on the Lake. In 1997 that hit 2,500 hectares. While the plan was to carefully double that again by 2002, opportunists used the Brown water to stretch the vignoble to 4,317ha by 1999, making a tenfold expansion in eight short years. It's since slowed down; some vineyards perished. I reckon there's around 6,000ha now. 

The author with Wolf Blass and John Glaetzer ... photo John 'Guitar' Preece

Jealous of Wolfie's incredible wood-bound pillage of the national wine show circuit, newcomers had crowded in, planting industrial vineyards on the slightly higher sand-over-limestone country as well as the salty samphire flats. Whatever. Wherever. Nobody seemed to care about the ground. The fascist irrigated petrochem viticulture regime taught then to big squirters at the University of Adelaide was guaranteed to overcome the erratic, threatening nature of your actual terroir.  

Out towards Strathalbyn, at Belvedere, there'd been vineyards in the 1860s, but those pioneers had withered without fresh water. Now there are vineyards there, too, and all over the joint, well beyond the Langhorne Creek boundary, south through the Currency Creek flats (below), almost to Goolwa. 

Water, see? 

Somewhere I have the triumphant press release from Orlando, boasting that under its new French owner, Pernod Ricard, its new Langhorne Creek vineyard cost $30 million, used 200,000 trellis posts, 1,000 kilometres of drip line, and 50,000 kilometres of wire. That was their measure of gastronomic accomplishment. Thankyou France, thankyou Premier Brown. 

Within a few years, the vineyard was on the market. It never sold. Good work, those men. Take a bow. 

Which leads me to a slow-motion spat between the chairman of judges of the local wine show, Murdoch wine critic Nick Ryan, and his friendly Fairfax rival in Sydney, Huon Hooke. Huon had written of his amazement that in the Langhorne Creek Wine Show  Nick and his team had awarded the top golds to a couple of $12 'Classic' Jacob's Creek reds; one also took a trophy.

Nick responded last week with a surly piece on Wine Business Monthly's WBM Online

"I don’t question the awards on the grounds that they are cheap wines," Huon originally wrote on his Real Review blog. "I question the awards because of the way they taste. They’re no more than bronze-medal wines, in my opinion. 

"They are simple, fruit-driven wines with sappy tannins – the latter pointing to less than perfectly ripened grapes. I don’t know what vineyards the grapes came from, but my experience leads me to suspect they came from heavily cropped (high yielding) vines. Such vines often give rise to red wines with underripe tannins, especially in the Cabernet family of grape varieties. And that is how they both taste to me." 

I was honoured to chair the first Currency Creek Wine Show at the Signal Point Gallery at Goolwa in 2012. Here are fellow judges Nick Ryan (left) with Patricia Piccinini's Big Mama, her suckling, and Zar Brooks ... in my speech at the awards lunch I repeated a lot of what I've written here. There was never another Currency Creek show. That was my last wine show. Sounds like a movie ... The Last Wine Show ... photo Philip White ... below: of course it was all very professional and respectful when Ryan and Hooke sat diagonally opposite each other at the Grange tasting ... might be a millennial beard thing

Langhorne Creek, Currency Creek - all those lakeside estuarine flats where the Murray River system meets the sea, are to me the closest South Australia gets to Bordeaux. Sure, it's a little warmer and there's more sunshine, but the feeling of that special  place there on Lake Alexandrina, its alluvial geology, its marine smell, with those cool winds coming off the Southern Ocean, remind me of Bordeaux on its estuary where the Garonne River hits the Atlantic.

I wonder whether Pernod Ricard, having changed Orlando's name to another river-sized creek, this time called Jacob, has ever thought of this? Has the chairman of judges? Do any of the Larncrk locals? Have they considered less water, lower yields, and proper French oak? 

Langhorne Creek, of course, has no nuclear reactor proud on its low embankment like the Garonne. But on the southside of the Garonne I've seen riverine alluviums mirroring bits of the big slow deltas on that east side of the South Mount Lofty Ranges, from Harrogate right down through our house to the Lake.  

Last figures I saw, from the Winemakers Federation of Australia paper, 2015 Production profitability analysis, 77% of the fruit grown in Langhorne Creek sold at a loss. 

The wine show is the least of the region's troubles. But it reflects them well. Ask a kid from Kanmantoo.

Me and Mum with three others of her six, on Mount Barker summit, overlooking the rainshadow country of the Bremer Valley and the Mallee ... if the Old Man had turned the Voigtlander a few degrees to the right, to the sou-east, we'd see Lake Alexandrina ... by the time he'd done a gentle pan back round to west, I was gone mining