“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)





03 March 2018


First thing I spotted through my window upon waking in the Riverland, Australia's biggest wine region ... This monolith loomed and glowered just across the road, and while I faced the bitter disappointment of discovering the gates wouldn't open as promised, I was pleased to note the seriously weathered army tank and train there are both available for sale to the discerning connoisseur ... Fortunately, much juicier prospects lay upriver!

A brief visit to the Riverland: homage to disparate lifetimes in nature

You'd be hard-pressed to find more disparate sets of brains. I don't mean those in my addled scone vs. those sharp beauties of my good friend botanist/horticulturer/writer Stephen Forbes, but the folks we went to visit up the River. 

Stephen had long insisted he take me to meet the internationally-renown citrus research scientists and writers Ian and Noelle Tolley. 

It wasn't designed as a deliberate counterpoint, but I thought it would also be a good chance to introduce Stephen to my friend Michael O'Donohoe (above), who grows and makes the essential  Tom's Drop from which was/is, as far as I know, the first vineyard certified organic in the region. 

Michael lets the fractal chaos of nature rule his vineyard. He breaks into a wicked wet-lipped grin at the mention of weeds.

Michael, grandson of Tom, believes his fruit tastes best when grown in the sheltered "polyculture" within its canopy. He runs his driplines along the top wire to maintain a humidity within the glorious disobedient mess below. Fibonaci would be impressed. 

In a region where 92% of grapes are grown at a loss this determined individual has something to prove as he keeps his crop below two tonnes per acre in pursuit of flavour. The Riverland average is four times that yield.

Michael does mow between the rows, but has been known to hire backpackers to go through the vineyard to remove all the Sleepy Lizards and critters before he takes the tractor in.

This impish leprechaun of a man also grows pears, which he partially dries, coats in dark chocolate, and plumps a lovely local almond on top. These deadly delights are sometimes available in the most exclusive fine wine outlets.

Fifteen minutes along the serpentine Murray we found Ian and Noelle Tolley, both "retired", living and working together at 88 years of age in a nursery and garden as tidy and methodical as science itself.

Part of the Tolleys' incredible collection of citrus.

My sensories are still reeling from the astonishing array of citrus fragrances and flavours Ian showed us in his nursery and then at lunch in a gracious book-lined dining room. It was a parfumier's delight.

He has exotica from all over the world. I smelled fruit that ranged from vegetable musk - not animal - through Chardonnay-like peach to eucalypt. And much else too bright and unlikely to comprehend.

I can feel myself becoming as pernickity about our abuse of the word "citrus", or even "lemon" or "lime", as I have become about "mineral" as an aromatic and flavour descriptor. 

Far too vague, old chum. Looking, looking ...

I dared to mention the "M" word, which released from the tireless Ian a frustrated speech about being bothered persistently for exotic cuttings of marmalade varieties. Marmalade freaks are like hornets. 

This bloke knows all the secrets, but he makes no secret that his time's running out. Commerce is retiring for a moment to science.

Barossa coopers A. P. John building marmalade tanks in the Riverland in the 'seventies

Ian shows open annoyance at not having the years left to complete the complex web of trials and lines of discovery that keep his mind as bright as his lethal grafting blade. Like, ask the man about the best kumquats for marmalade, and he'll give you a tour of their collection. Here he stands with Stephen Forbes in a mere corner of it. 

Rather than spend his limited years responding to repetitious queries about every aspect of citrus, Ian prefers to get on with his research, while Noelle tends to stay indoors these days with her library.

These truly remarkable people have combined their lives of  international knowledge in a beautiful book, Commonsense Citrus - A hands-on guide to propagation and planting

Don't pester; buy.

This vital work answers a lot more questions than I can conjure. All shelves are empty without it.
And while it'll lead you there,  some of this delicious wildness wouldn't go astray:

photographs by Philip White except marmalade tanks image courtesy of Barossa Master Coopers A. P. John ... for a reflection on tropical limes, try this

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