“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)





28 February 2018


Tight punks show promising butter without one mention of "mineral"

It's got a solid, convincing sort of aroma, this wine. 

Solid? There are two generations of wine operatives out there now who'd call it "mineral," without ever considering which mineral they mean. Like sulphur, salt, arsenic and even frozen dihydrogen monoxide are minerals. Strangely, melted H2O - same thing - is not a mineral. But mercury, which has no solid state, is. Like a mineral, I mean. Quicksilver. Just sayin. 

Take it or leave it, asbestos is a good strong mineral, even when it's contaminated by another one, like this here gold ...

If all those back label writers and semi-industrial wine reviewers with blogs and somms checked they'd pretty quickly find "mineral" ranges from "a solid inorganic substance of natural occurrence, such as copper and silicon," through "an inorganic substance needed by the human body for good health, such as calcium and iron" or "a substance obtained by mining," by which time you'd reckon they'd drop it.  From wine description, I mean. 

Like none of 'em consider the most obvious meaning; the one winos forget: "fizzy soft drinks".  

Before I write any more, just a sec ... ah nope, the Dean brothers haven't called this Semillon "minerally" on their website, either. Whew. But I reckon they could have. And got away with it. 

In the instance of their 2016 Esto Adelaide Hills Semillon, from their parent's vineyard on Greenhill Road near Oakbank, "mineral" probably would have covered it. It's "minerally" like expensive bone china tea sets somebody ground to powder. Like extremely dense, pure, heavy chalk. Which leads me toward barite, which is another mineral again. 

There is another aroma in the glass, mind you, a secondary, less obvious one,  which seems all the world like petiols, the stems that attach vine leaves to their trunk. Machine harvesters pick them. Maybe it's bunch stalks. A greengrocer smell. Peas and beans. 

Together, these aromas present very firmly. 

Before I get round to Semillon as I learned it, let's check their 2017 model. Yum-O. Wind the chalk and china back, hold the stalks and stems, and let that little Semi put its shoulders back and sing and I have the waft I was looking for: the gentlest insinuation of butter. In this instance, real damn good butter, like the Elle & Vere Beurre Gastronomique unsalted churned butter I get from Normandie when I'm being unfaithful to Paris Creek. 

It's also in the 2016 jobbie, mind you, hidden until you let that punk breathe for an hour or two and edge up a couple of Celciuses. But as it does, those greens rise too. Gooseberry. Bitter melon. Bacchus only knows whether they'll fade in the cellar. 

It doesn't have to be rich, like the syrupy golden butter dumplings you might find with the remnants of lemon marmalade in a legendary Lindemans Hunter Semillon from 1965 or 1972. Back when they were sold as, well, just about any name you like. Hunter Riesling, Hunter River Riesling, Shepherd's Riesling, Shepherd's White, Hock, Champagne, Porphyry, Burgundy, Chablis and Sauternes all ended up on Semillon bottles and the great thing that held all those best Hunters together was that lovely lemon butter that got more intense as the best ones aged. 

Because the Hunter's really sub-tropical and humid at vintage, they pick early when they can, so the wines are lower in sugar, thus lower in eventual alcohol, and higher in steely natural acidity, which gives the finest of them incredible longevity. Whether they want it or not. 

This year, it seems, the Hunter grape farmers are having a triffic vintage because all the other farmers there are having a drought. 

Semillon was type #60 in the seminal collection James Busby had planted near Sydney in 1831. When those first white invaders came to Australia they'd pick up all sorts of cuttings from Cape Town. These better survived the voyage than any they'd haul across the Equator from France and Spain; even Madiera and the Canaries. 

Both Captain Arthur Philip and Captain Charles Sturt bought vine cuttings from the Cape at a time when the majority of the white wine vines there were Semillon. After somebody's hat was passed around a roomful of landed gentlemen in Adelaide in 1840 Sturt was sent back to South Africa to buy more white varieties: most of the 60,000 cuttings he returned with were various types of Groendruif (greengrape) and Windruif (winegrape) which were common Cape colloquialisms for Semillon.  

Some found its way into the Barossa, where for awhile it was called Clare Riesling. Various stalwarts make wood-matured and sometimes barrel-fermented versions there to this day. They call it Semillon now. Infuriatingly, in Clare, they called Crouchen Clare Riesling. 

Edmund Barton Gleeson took some Semillon to Clare, where it became grand dry whites like Quelltaler Hock. While Semillon spread all over Clare, I believe the best South Australia ever did with it was the Quelltaler Wood-aged Semillons Michel Dietrich made there for Remy-Martin in the '80s. Those stunning wines - '82, '84 and '86 - were still hitting their straps a decade later when Fosters bought the joint and had Vic Patrick and his men bulldoze the ancient dry-grown bush vines there in the chalk and instead plant industrial Merlot. 

Isobel and Michel Dietrich at Watervale - Quelltaler - in the mid-eighties

Various Clare producers still make Semillons, with varying amounts of oak. While Michel Dietrich makes beauties to this day in Bordeaux, right across the river from Sauternes and Barsac, I never saw a sparkling Semillon made in South Australia.  It probably happened: I should ask Norm Walker. The crafty Sydney blokes had it rockin really early on. Napoleon III's sompter served him James King's methode champenoise Hunter Semillon at the big banquet at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. This went down so well as to scandalise the Champenoise. To them, Semillon was the thin-skinned white that went rotten in Sauternes and Barsac and became sinfully sweet and sticky if you were lucky. 

Inspired by this, some Bordelaise tried hiring winemakers from Champagne to make fizz from Semillon picked so early as to avoid the noble rot, and its regular cadre of not so noble moulds and funguses. By 1878, for example, Normandium and Lermat-Robert were both selling dry sparkling wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Like many of the wines I've mentioned above, these probably also contained some Sauvignon blanc. 

While it's an elegant, stroppy, tight-witted and yep, punkish, this 2017 Esto Semillon is glorious for the burnished gilt glimmer that lights up its bouquet and gives its bony dry tannin and brittle citric acidity a reason to live. It's not so much a colour as an enlightenment. It's the golden hint of butter giving it that gleam. Like when the onion starts to gold up in the pan. Things change. 

I'd been meaning to track this vineyard down since I first tasted it last year in some zippy Charlotte Hardy wine that got me wondering why so much great Semillon has been pulled and and torched. Now I look down the back of this Esto, down past all that nonsense about a tortoise shell and some old dead bloke, down  below the 11.9% alcohol (yum), and notice Charlotte gets a credit for making it, too. 

Only then do I realise it doesn't say "Minerally". The temptation must have been mighty. 

Should be more of it. South Australian Semillon like this, I mean. 

Maybe we should send Cap'n Sturt for more cuttings.

24 February 2018


I know, I know, that's the wrong preacher. That spout shit's all Oral Roberts propaganda. 

My old man, Pastor Jimmy White, an independent non-conformist protestant street preacher was intensely jealous of the ecumenical popularity of Dr Billy Graham when he swept through the football stadia of Australia with baritone George Beverly Shea in 1959. 

The campaigning US faith colonist Dr Billy had media tug unlike even Rome had then understood. Television was just beginning to flicker. Hillbillies like us called the TV the Devils' Box.

But Billy understood. He worked it.

He knew that once the tens of thousands of indolent modernist backsliding Methos, Pressies, Salvos, Cooneyites, Brethos and whatever he could pull had hit his sawdust trail to redemption the identities of many of those independent protestant cabals had forever blurred. Therein lies the eternal power of Satan.

Anyway, Pastor Jimmy went all the way down to Melbourne and helped a mob of em burn Oral Roberts' tent down when he come through.

Enough's enough. 

And now Billy's found out whether eternal life is fair dinkum. Like my old man, who's in the cold hard on the easier-to-dig slope at the bottom of Callington Boot Hill.

Mick Wordley photograph

23 February 2018


from my 1972 poetry diary, Old Soup


Contentious ministerial manager of the Murray-Darling Basin, Barnaby Joyce, centre, has this afternoon announced his resignation from his leadership of the National Party and thus his deputy Prime Ministry of Australia. He will move to the back bench.

Here he is last year at Penfolds Grange winery at Magill Estate in suburban Adelaide, with conservative South Australian poliliticans from the irrigated arid Murray Mallee, Tim Whetstone, left, and Senator Anne Ruston, right. The senator was Barnaby's ministerial assistant and staunch lieutenant.

The former deputy Prime Minister's resignation comes after years of gossip and fact dared to grow like canker about his relationship with a staffer who he claims expects his baby while issues surrounding oceans of water lost from our arid inlands under his watch will haunt the Anthropocene. 

[UPDATE: Sydney Morning Herald 4th March 2018: "Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has slammed the initial reporting of his relationship with Vikki Campion, saying he was never asked if he was the father of his former staffer's unborn child and that the issue of paternity is not certain."]

Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown.

In the meantime, getting back to proper export income and thus thinking Grange, I reckon my cobber Milton Wordley's still got some copies of the second edition - black label - of our multi-international-gong-winning-whew book A year in the life of Grange available for sale. 

Before he resurrects, this may be the last chance I get in years to pull some clicks outa Barnaby's search magnet.

The big peanut owes me.

Like, forget irrigation, if you're interested in the Grange recipe or anything; not much water in there ... never has been ... Grange depends, to a great degree, on a certain lack of water. 

Contrary to common rumour that this big book was a Penfolds/Treasury enterprise, forget it. Milton, (below, my snap)  published our paean to Grange, photographed it, paid for it and asked me to write it. Barnaby didn't buy one, but he might well do now he has a bit more time.

Thankyou Milton from the Maxes and Rays and blacksmiths to the lab rats and all those who've been seriously and respectfully through that doorway in the line of good productive work of creative manufacture and employment, unlike these Australians Just Flown In from the irrigated white side of the bush specially for it. 

Whatever it was.

With our medals from the Independent Publishers' New York Book Fair ... biggest in the States ... we also won the Cointreau Best In The World award at the International Book Fair in Beijing ... Ta anyway, Barney ... 1952 Grange photographed in New York City by Milton Wordley


The gloaming sky was trippy last night at Casa Blanca. Three weather patterns collide over Yangarra. This photo faces due south: the Blewett Springs gullies are over that ridge. In the sky you see the sou-westerly bring in rows of clouds from the Great Australian Bight from the lower right; underlying that come similar waves from across the Fleurieu Peninsula in the lower left.

Both these prevailers come from the Great Southern Ocean. On the right days, I can smell whale's breath: I'm 15 kays from the Gulf St Vincent on the RHS of this shot, further to the Great Southern Ocean; five times that distance to the LHS you're in the Murray Estuary and then that same vast Ocean.

When the other pattern comes in, from NE to NW, it pumps angry high-ion dusty desert breath toward the photographer's shoulders from behind. All I smell then is the acrid tang of waste and rage.

Twenty minutes after that shot, I swung 45 degrees to my right and snapped this.


... from my tasting notes ...


Mesh Eden Valley Riesling 2017 ($30; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is the latest joint venture in which the Clare Riesling maker Jeffrey Grosset is purported to pick grapes he likes while Yalumba's Rob Hill Smith selects his own personal favourites, both from the same vineyard in the high Barossa. The wine is then made at Yalumba and sold at a premium. 

I recall a vintage where the press release claimed the gentlemen picked into differently-coloured buckets before your actual meshing, which is an enduring organoleptic image. 

I wonder what they wore? 

This wine has been released alongside the Mesh Classic Release Eden Valley Riesling  2012 ($38; 12% alcohol; screw cap), which could be another variety, given the gap the five years puts between them. The 2017 wine is crisply citric, with those sharply-edged lemon blossom aromatic angles that seem pristine and fresh and mountain brookish. Below that sharp cleansing intro lies a bowl of healthy fresh juice that reminds me of biting into a nashi pear. 

Bright, clean and fresh to sniff, and similarly refreshing to drink, the wine seems perfect for today's humidity: it triggers dreams of spicy Thai tucker at a hawker's stall somewhere in the jungle. It's cool. And cooling. 

As you can see, the Classic Release wine gives you five more years and comes half-an-alcohol short. Providing a much greater contrast than those statistical details, the aroma of this Rizza is all soused in the waft I've heard British masters of wine call "that lovely Aussie petrol" which is a character many of them seem to expect of good Australian Riesling. It is indeed a petroleum-like aroma that pretty well covers the citrus characters that must have been in there once. 

Stylistically, it's a bit like the difference between a new Lamborghini and a cosy old Wolseley with dribbles and leaks. 

In my experience, this unusual petrol station aroma is related to sunburnt grape skins: if the bunches are on, say, the north-western sunshine side of the vine, they can take on a bronzy beachcomber hue and develop, from the start, this style of bouquet. 

As I say, many Brits seem to love it. 

Take it or leave it, this gives the contemporary tippler a glimpse into the styles of Riesling that were common a lifetime ago, before we got a proper grasp of  plant physiology and the ways leaf canopy manipulation and vine row orientation - relative to the sun - can change fruit and wine flavours dramatically. The flavour is shorter and less brightly refreshing. It's a more solemn, contemplative sort of a drink, offering you the chance to appreciate the difference a bit of sunshine can make, and that those five extra years cost you $1.60 each.

22 February 2018


I woke to happy chatter on the dim dawn air to find this view from my kitchen window: they're picking the baby Grenache bush vines on the ironstone slope beside Ironheart ... tasted, wrote, took photographs, filed copy. raised the Ground Crew from Last Night, drank two pots of cawfy, waved 'em orf with the PA and went to a stinkingly dignified lunch with Kelly Vincent, the Dignity Party’s representative in our Legislative Assembly. 

Kelly's the youngest woman ever elected to an Australian parliament, and the first person elected on the platform of the rights of disabled people. 

Here I hope she's going to win her first re-election after some long years in the Upper House. She's exemplary in her crisp, determined curiosity and can blaze an honesty around that's hot enough to peel paint. 

You know Bitcoin? How people trade and mine Bitcoin? Steal it? Like grease their own greed?

Contrast: Kelly deals in dignity. She works really hard to get dignity for people. Gets on the news. Fights for it. Talks over and over and long and persistent on the radio. Gets dignifying legislation through. Then she gives it away for free. Dignity. 

Not a bad sort of a currency, dignity.

The wine business should be supporting Kelly and using her sage advice about how we must think on new angles to accommodate people with tricky bits like her cerebral palsy. She's a grammar/syntax nut too, more cognoscent than the rest of the importance of logical language patterns.

Vote 1 Dignity Party. Vote for Kelly.


It's forever been cool to put gentle crusher tootsies in wine, but in Australia, it's always been illegal to add water ... photo Maynard James Keenan

New heat sees Down Under wine cops permit black snake dilution to 13.5% 

It says a lot about human love of intoxication, the arcane layers of law, lure and lore that we wrap around very basic drugs like alcohol. 

Like in winemaking, we've long made it illegal to add water. This law was regularly, perhaps habitually, broken by cheats attempting to increase the volume of their product cheaply and by those more responsible makers who wanted their wine to be a more elegant, less gloopy, more drinkable affair

In Australia, the sunshine's often a touch too loud: it's generally very easy to get grapes ripe. Very ripe: until this recent Global Warming, our grapes easily guaranteed wines much stronger than the cold Old World vignobles. Now, they're having the same problems. 

Wines have become so strong, in fact, that they're often so loaded with obvious, overwhelming alcohol - in the form of ethanol - they're of little gastronomic advantage. Which is dumb when you consider the great sales line of the vendors has always revolved around their powerful intoxicant being a compulsory magnifier of the delights of the gourmand table. 

While the vendors avoided acknowledging that their product was indeed dangerous, the dry wowser interferists insisted it was, while governments pretended to agree with both sides so they could gluttonise themselves to a kind of intoxication on the taxes they could raise from our love of the glug. 

The alcohol levels of most of the bottled wine I drank in the 'seventies and well into the 'eighties were, in today's standards, modest: 13.5 per cent was commonplace; 12.5 never to be snorted at. These were the types of alcohol levels Australian wines shared with the grand, impossibly expensive wonders of Bordeaux and Burgundy, where sunshine was often a bit thin on the ground. 

How did we achieve such levels? Either you picked early or you added water. The old "Black Snake" - the water hose - was an essential winemaking tool for more than wash-down. As modern, mindless over-irrigation became the norm, some alcohols stayed down because the little berries were so prolific and tight with water they could never properly ripen. There grew a certain downward spiral as we learned to move great amounts of water out of its natural channels and into vines: the location of most of those arid inland vineyards meant the wine would not be of the  quality required to charge a proper price of the cognoscenti. 

The next route to viability lay in tipping more water on the vineyard in pursuit of higher yields, and more wine, whatever the quality, which further lowered the product's value. 

Many things influence alcoholic strength. Like rain: the Hunter Valley, for example, often can't pick at ideal ripeness because sub-tropical rains turn the ground to mud, limiting human pickers' access to the crop and ensuring big harvesting machines sink to their axles. If it rains too much the sugars - and alcohols - plunge; if it rains more modestly, ripening continues, often too quickly, but nobody can get in the vineyards. 

In regions where the vineyards are more garden-like, and less industrial, the dependence on human pickers is greater, so the timing of harvest is often determined by the availability of labour. Get a heatwave without a corresponding influx of workers and you have to wait til they arrive, by which time your wine could have gone from 13.5 alcohols to 17 or more. 

Same with harvesting machines: these are very, very expensive and in limited numbers. If things go through the roof, you have to put your vintage in the harvester queue. Stuff gets too ripe. If you have water, you can add it to your harvest via the vine roots, but it's illegal to add in the winery. 

All this went nuts with the advent of a single US critic, Robert Parker Jr. His personal taste favoured huge alcoholic jam bombs. His astonishingly influential newsletter made such gloop popular, first amongst the emergent sommelier class, then aspirant north American foodies, and then even further afield: it was almost as if the USA, a country more known for Coke and fat than cuisine nouvelle, knew more about wine than Paris. 

Australia follows Amurkha: up went our alcohols with the perfect Parker points and our fast food, fat, sugar and starch intake. Up went the national obesity. We trained an entire generation of winemakers to regard wines of 15 or more per cent as the norm. 

Internationally, Parker's influence, fortunately for the modest epicure, has waned dramatically. But in Australia, the habit lingers, partly because many people love intoxication and have become accustomed to high alcohol wine. This, however, is assisted by the simple fact: it's a lot easier to grow and make highly alcoholic gloop than wines of balance and finesse.    

One of the smartest ways toward reversing this trend is to first acknowledge its existence. This has taken twenty years. Next, we should work together to change it, which will be tricky in this new heat. How do we do that? In an unusually bright move, the authorities have changed the Food Standards Code to permit the addition of water: 

"Water may only be added to wine, sparkling wine and fortified wine to facilitate fermentation if the water is added to dilute the high sugar grape must prior to fermentation and does not dilute the must below 13.5 degrees Baumé."  

University of Adelaide PhD candidate Olaf Schelezki reports that in his search to discover whether such addition might detrimentally effect the colour, tannins, volatiles or sensory aspects of wine, he had an immediate stroke of good luck: the trial vineyard he'd selected to test, in McLaren Vale, was hit by the heatwave of 2015. This blast of concentrated summer "saw the potential alcohol in the Cabernet sauvignon vineyard increase by nearly three per cent in barely three days," Olaf said, producing "a control wine coming it at 18 per cent alcohol and badly needing some attention.

"It was a classic example of the compressed vintages that winemakers are facing around the world: Unwanted heat at a sensitive time of the year," he explained upon the publication of his paper.

Olaf (above) tried two common treatments. He tried adding up to 30 per cent water to the over-sweet juice, and then another batch with 40 per cent of early-harvest green wine of less than 5 per cent alcohol. In both cases, he was surprised at how minor, if any, were the resultant detriments to the finished wine's character and flavour. 

Not that it started out with much glamour: "It was a very overripe crop," he said, "very shrivelled fruit with almost port wine aromas and dried fruit, and these characters prevailed despite lowering the alcohol content ... It was not a great wine and the process did not change that. In this case it would have been better to avoid the problem and harvest earlier." 

In the more comfortable 2016 vintage his crop came in at a potential 15.5 per cent alcohol: "one that might be open to stylistic tweaking but didn’t need drastic attention." 

The wine with the added water was better. His preliminary 2017 results show that adding sufficient water to the ferment to drop one per cent alcohol had little detrimental influence, leading to the conclusion that "adding water is really not the big deal that some people have been perceiving it as, and is particularly benign in comparison to some other approaches to lowering wine alcohol content." 


19 February 2018


In June, 2011, concerned residents of McLaren Vale set up a community garden on the site of the government's contentious Seaford Heights suburban development. This was to involve kids in learning the value of prime agriculture ground and to bring broader attention to the battle between housing and agriculture. Even Nick Xenophon brought his wellies and had a bit of a dig ... never saw his again, mind you ...

As the development proceeded, the first things to go beneath the dozer were the garden and the remnant strands of native vegetation.

I wandered in to the same site yesterday to check the progress. That bountiful hill now looks like this:

The housing is modestly coloured, with nice little features reflecting the siltstones that made the site famous for its outstanding barley production. I even spotted one little retaining wall made from the local Blanche Point limestone!

Guinness sought this premium brewing grain for many years:

The developers have made plenty of room for big box shops, but there's hardly space among the houses to plant a single blade of grass. The prices seem very low, but some of the hyper-intensive rental apartments look even smaller and closer than many in the city.

To read the discussion paper for the government's proposed review of the McLaren Vale Character Preservation Act 2012, click here. You have only one more week to contribute. To read William Skinner's remarkable thesis, Fermenting Place - Wine Production and and Terroir in McLaren Vale, South Australia, click here

In the meantime, if you're in the region, make sure you get along to our public meeting this Wednesday night, where the three major party election candidates and the Mayor will discuss these issues and others in a public forum at the Bocce Club. Click here to download flyer

This is an essential gathering for all concerned citizens. If you're stuck in vintage, send a proxy!

Like: is the Seaford Heights development indicative of the sorts of housing we can expect to see being cramped into the surveyed township spaces of McLaren Vale, McLaren Flat and Willunga? Ribbon development between villages?

18 February 2018


text Oliver Moriarty from issue A journal of Comment edited Derek Whitelock October 1975 photos Philip White except aerial by Stacey Vice and cliffs by Kate Elmes