“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)





20 April 2018


Martin Mull coined the term "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture".  Nigel Dobson-Keeffe and Steve Davis, The Adelaide Show podcasters, came by for a long slow chat and a glass or two of Mitchell's. I dunno whether we've proven that talking about writing about drinking wine is like dancing about architecture, but we do cover the building blocks of wine in a deconstructionist sort of way ... pull a bung and have a listen!

15 April 2018


The stuff that comes outa George Grainger Aldridge's phone usually indicates immediately when he's Darwin dreaming again, like this big fucker hopped off the skywaves yesterday,  miraculously coincident with our first sniff of anything like a southern winter. 

Like the first wet night of the year down here and he's having Cane Toad nightmares.

Nevertheless, there's never much doubt that George takes deeper pleasure in the risk of Territory wetness.

When he goes, he sends good photographs, too, like this pipe organ of tuned exhausts on a working boat on Stokes Wharf [trojanpencil@gmail.com]


Don't know exactly how much we've had yet, but it looks like they've just had 26ml of rain over the scarp at Kuitpo. Need a lot more, but nobody's complaining. I love it when you can't see the Range.

13 April 2018


The view from Basket Range winery ... photos Philip White

À la recherche du ham sandwich perdu - a thoughtful day on the Range

It was the size of the Pears Cyclopædia, or maybe Gray's Anatomy. Two perfectly square-built storeys of white vienna bread stacked up there with cold ham, tomato, heaps of black pepper and butter. 

I had no idea they made white vienna loaves so big: The mass of the thing in all its whiteness made the thin crusts even less noticeable. With a strong flat white to double the effect, jeez it was good. 

The writer was sitting on the site of what was Tree and Leaf, the first fair dinkum hippy cafe in the Hills. Macka and Margie ran it in the early '70s. I reckon the first sourdough rye to rise outside of Hahndorf grew there. 

Breaksband would bust loud thrashy gigs in the hall next door in the days when Gulpilil was known to sit in on didj. We'd be lost in some interminable Neil Young-ish-Allmans-Dead distortion when Gulps would peal in with Hey Jude and all the dingo howls and Kakadu bird calls he could squeeze out of that hollow tree. Shivers. Shoulda been more of it. 

Sitting there at the Crafers Gourmet Deli last Saturday, gazing across at Ed Peters' Crafers Hotel, lots of this stuff came swirling back. That was the pub where I dined with Richie Haywood, the Little Feat drummer, after their last gig in a three month world tour in '79. End of the band. Sick of greasy road food he asked the incredulous patron, Spencer Binns, for a carrot, indicating with his gnarly drummer's fingers something about the size of a shoe box. From that high temple of the mixed grill, one fresh foot-long carrot quickly came on a posh oval serving-plate. Condiment set. Knife and fork. Napkin. 

I'm sure you could get a good carrot there now, but it'd probably come decked with gorgeous bone marrow glaze and a Burgundy worth more than the roadie van we bought from The Keystone Angels that blew up on the first bit of freeway completed right there outside the back door. 

I was en route this time to The Festival at Basket Range, a guest of pioneer Basket Range vigneron, Phillip Broderick

Home on the Ranges: Phillip and Mary Broderick

A few other hostelries have morphed: I noticed that the Aristologist had re-emerged in a different shop on a different Summertown corner only about 35 years after Michael Symonds and Jennifer Hillier staged the first Adelaide Hills Wine Show in their original Uraidla Aristologist down past what is now the freshly re-Petered pub. I adjudged Broderick's Basket Range blend to be after the St Emilion Bordeaux style on the day. 

The First World Crisis was wondering which of the squeamish hosts would scone the live trout with the Sabatier handle before giving the poor beast the heat. Lots of wincing in the service of fresh. 

Just as this bonnie sunful Saturday brought winces mindful of those '70s: corners not quite taken; helmets full of gravel; biffo not avoided; too much everything; funeral after bloody funeral; interminable visits to Intensive Care and the Coma Ward. Which is not to even mention Ash Wednesday. Faaaaaarrrrrk. In place of the sly deceptive acronym with the post and disorder buzzwords hiding in it, I'd just as rather call it shell shock and get on with trying to outlive it.

One who didn't outlive it ... Breaksband singer and dear brother Micky Eckert

The Basket Range Oval is on the top of a hill, on donated levelled land. You could feel like flying free there if there is no fire. That basket of ranges is well-stocked with shiny raptors on the wing. But if there was hot fire, imagine sitting on a 400 metre chimney. 

Saturday was just perfect. Sunny, still, balmy. No giant bats or manta rays. No smoke. But my paranoia would preclude me from living there. 

The euphoric Basket tribes gathered much as we did at the Myponga and Meadows Pop Festivals a lifetime before, without the overt illicit hooch, liquid, smoked, shot or dropped. This was polite. Cool.  All the people were real healthy and happy. Eager. Curious. Spending good money on local wine.

And the sound system was much better. 

There were no Hills vineyards in the 'seventies, but there'd be kegs of beer, bottled cider, and smuggled spirits at the big outdoor drink-ups of the day. Like the Schutzenfest on the Hahndorf Oval, a faux Austrian vinylhosen love-in which happily combined the consumption of lakes of beer in the sun with oom-pah brass and the incessant firing of high-powered rifles. 

I recall a show somewhere in the blazing sun where the Seppelts people were selling dixie cups of Great Western Brut Champagne sorbet right beside the Cooper's Stout tent, where they poured their black stuff into plastic schooners. Thus was invented the Black Velvet Spider. One scoop of sorbet per stout. Bitter mocha. By Bacchus, that worked. 

We also bought fortified cherry moonshine in Corkscrew Gully when we were lucky. It was a clean, filtered product, or at least properly cold-settled cherry wine stopped dead on its lively feet by a good dose of ethanol distillate and sold in the half-gallon flagon. 

And there was always Cobbley's Blue Moose to consider. A sideline to their mad lumpy scrumpy, this was a filtered ærated cider containing a skyful of blue dye in a fizz bottle with a plastic fizz stopper wired well down with a blue moose on the front. I presumed the blue was there to hide the brown polka dots or whatever the fake mousse naturally had in it at the time. 

Howard Twelftree photographed by Milton Wordley

That great gastronome and critic, JohnMcGrath/Howard Twelftree, central Hills dweller, taught us to have Blue Moose in big Burgundy balloons on ice with a good shot of Cointreau and a smacked mint leaf, but you wouldna wanted to get caught drinking that in the open, for fear of sexual deviancy or communniss allegations. 

At least Howard was officially nuts. And he seemed somehow, impossibly, genetically endowed to handle fluently that spaghetti mess of crazy roads and goat tracks pissed in a Mini with no brakes. 

Anyway there we went, sober as judges, Broderick and White, to the top of the hill, where it seemed one's entire intelligence and sensibility was suddenly being squashed through a dodgy neurovalve switchwork into a serious full-bore Code White. Phillip was cool but I had a screw loose. Phillip looked really worried. I felt scared and confused. Without one wine, I'd managed too much disco. Spinout. 

While Phillip found a kind doctor and a chair in the shade and I stood swaying on a guy rope certain that everyone thought I was overdosing or something I noticed a venerable bloke standing some metres back, leaning on a fine shooting stick, looking at me with what I first saw as impertinence. Chairs came. He sat down. It was Richard Farmer

Just trust me when I say we have met in some very strange places since he was a big Farmer Brothers wine merchant, Canberra guru, and press advisor to Prime Minister Bob Hawke while I lived in the convicts' quarters out the back of Peter Doyle's old Harbourmaster's House at Watson's Bay. 

Richard understood how I felt. I tried to explain my white drug-free breakfast but gave up when I realised I had a glass of Charlotte Hardy's Semillon in my hand because it smelled so good. It wasn't a prop or a drink. It was my organoleptic jumper leads. 

This Basket Rangers movement has become a buzzy "natural" wine triumph. Market forces. 

While I was too ill for ethanol, grrrrr, I noticed that the numerous vendors offered many unmade wines, but there amongst all the Old Order Amish and Neo-Mennonites remain the likes of Henschke. 

And there was ginger beer, great coffee and many tasty morsels. Rick Burge, taking the piss, but helping me. A coupla stray scientists sniffing about. Mates from the US, Japan and McLaren Vale. Damn! Fine mobs. 

Which demands a word about mobs. In those Vietnam demo days, there were many hippies. Often, but never always, these gentle folks had wealthier parents and lived at the ends of ivy-hung lanes. 

My lot were hillbillies, which were different. We came in Fords full of Bibles and shotguns. We graduated outa that. 

So what'll be next in cult wine fashion? Punk? Disco? Hi-tech? 

Before Rick and Phillip cryovacked me off that happy, peaceful ridgetop I couldn't help muttering to somebody that there were no obese people at the Basket Rangers festival. This is not Yellowtail. 

Hallelujah! Peace in the valley.

Broderick: pioneering vigneron at home on another day ... I apologise to all the other Basket Rangers for not taking photographs on the oval but I was stonkered.

11 April 2018


Tom Belford and Casama have a new splinter group Rising from the Sticks

Rising Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2017 
($30; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 500 cases made) 

Rising Wines is a new Yarra Valley outfit Sticks winemaker Tom Bedford seems to have split off as a sort of premium small batch showcase of wilder beauties. 

How new? The website's not up yet, or I'd tell you more. So much for planning ahead for marketing in the day of direct internet sales ... How wild? The first Rising quartet makes up for the lack of digital advice, starting with a beautiful creamy Chardonnay. 

I've just escaped the supermarket which is a scarce enough misadventure for a hermit and attempted salving some of this freak heat with a couple Asahi 3.5s, whose hoppy tannin burrs the tongue and sets it looking for fats so maybe I'm over-reacting to this calming Chardonnay unction action. 

Umami. Mother's milk. Fatty: the first acids to hit the newborn tongue. Those fatty acids you find around isolvaleric aromas, which are often presignallers for calming human pheromones which then don't come. You need a real human mother to get real pheromones. 

But the very anticipation of them often leaves a frisson if not your actual fru-fru - you get these subliminal precursor signals sometimes as sidelines of secondary, or malo-lactic ferment, when bacteria, not yeast, convert the metallic natural grape acid, malic, to lactic, the softer acid of milk. 

All that - with oak-smoked bacon or cashews or something in the pan - wraps the aroma around me, by which time the acid of the end of the lovely thing starts to build. Which it does smooth and slow, drawing real fine chalky tannin with it. 

This is one fine reassuring wine. 

Rising Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2017 
($30; 12.5% alcohol; scew cap; 500 cases made) 

This baby's real deep and dry after a good airing: I prefer it with these ravens in its dark piny boughs. 

That'll be some of the colour of its smell. It gets a wee bit sooty, which is also cool. Because below those prickly crarky topnotes come dark juniper and blackcurrant, even that whiff of tiny grape currants. Real deep framboise and crème de cassis pressings. Yum. 

The palate's sinuous and juicy. The velvety tannins here are more active than the acids, until way back in the very end when they rise like a rapier. 

This is no royalty among Burgundies: it's more of a country type with birds in its hair. At least it's had a look around the court to see what all the princes are wearing. 

Rising Yarra Valley Gamay 2017 
($30; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 250 cases made) 

Here's a rare Australian go at the juicy indigo Gamay of Beaujolais. The Mornington Peninsula's Eldridge has had some success with the same tricky, but rewarding, if frivolous beast. 

Ripe heady raspberry and dark strawberry well away, cheeky and unabashed. It's a swoony, swirling experience seasoned with dark gunbarrel anthocyanins from the skins: it's like juniper with its scented hint at tannins to follow. 

This is dead honest wine of no obvious sophistry: a comforting drink with no pretention but a really lush and luxurious bed of squishy flavour. 

Eventually those neat little tannins creep in, tidying up your baby dribbles with its corrective pucker. 

I want an aged crumbly Blue Wensleydale - with all its natural acid - on an oatcake, please.  

Rising Yarra Valley Shiraz 2017 
($30; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap; 250 cases made)  

Here's a rare thing loose in South Australia: a soupy rich Shiraz syrup without gloop. Goodness me. 

Somehow, it's not all berries, but somewhere near a bortsch made with ripe sweet beets with a swirl of good fresh yoghurt or sour cream. The best one I had was on a Russian ferry that got loose in these austral waters: somebody in Vladivostok had welded her bow doors shut and filled the cargo hold with stifling cabins. The officers' beets had been downstairs even further in some great fridge, ripening slowly since the revolution. Because we had no blazers, we could not not sit at the Captain's table, but we were afforded his top vittles. I wish I had a bottle of this to send across in return. 

Got off the track ... coming back to it, I reckon I can smell pomegranate ... that soft long velvety tannin ... yep, bortsch, a smoked strout on the side with a worried cornucopia of sprouts and capers; sourdough rye ... 


It felt strangely reminiscent of the 2013 launch of some Hungry Dan's specials  when I realised these entertaining, if slightly mysterious wines came from the same Abbottsford office and address as a couple of finer wines from Catalina Sounds in New Zealand. Posted together, same sort of covering letter, same handwriting in the signatures, one purporting to come from "tom", or Tom Belford, the other from "Pete". That'll be Peter Jackson of Catalina Sounds. Turns out these Yarra and Kiwi offerings are from the Casama Group.

09 April 2018


Beloved local singer-songwriter duo The Yearlings, Rob Chalken and Chris Parkinson were married in a little reserve at Maslins' Beach on Saturday. They sang to each other. 

DRINKSTER wishes you all the best and deepest things, you sweethearts. 

Thanks to you both for your generous ongoing contribution to the McLaren Vale community. Happy days!  

Milton Wordley photograph

07 April 2018


it was not empty 
    it was open and dark 
    there were no kangaroos 
    on the road you thought 
    there were too many 
    there are too many 
    but it was not empty 

it was open and dark

philip white

06 April 2018


Gurgling with glee over three new beauties made by Jason Barrette
Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Barossa Valley Grenache Rosé 2017
($25; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Jason Barrette, who makes wine all over the world since leaving Penfolds' Grange at Magill, made this wine at Hemera Estate (formerly Ross Estate) in the Barossa. Century-old Grenache vines were picked earlier than normal to make an austere, adult rosé. Most of the fruit was crushed, left on skins for a meagre two hours to get the right hue and phenolics and then fermented cool in steel. 

The balance went through a wild yeast ferment in old oak and was left there on yeast lees for four months before assemblage. 

The result is summer-dusty-dry, a nose-tickling tantaliser with just the right amount of gentle, fleshy  rosebud Grenache welling below. It's as lean as a good pink Champagne to sniff. Complex with dry summer meadow, it's appetising and devoid of the dumbarse raspberry that has marked too many of the inferior lollypop rosés that got Grenache demoted from its rightful place as a source of sublime dry pinks like this. 

Given that introduction, the wine is more fleshy than you'd expect. Its authority and form is nevertheless firm and staunch and its capacity to linger longer than the glass lasts is very impressive, and as I say, adult. 

Straight to the top of the rosé tree, this baby. It looks neither to left or right, stalks with a certain arrogance through the sensories, and leaves you hanging out for pink salmon or barely-seared tuna and salad. 

Rock and roll. 

Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Barossa Valley Old Vine Grenache 2017 
($35; 13.8% alcohol; screw cap) 

More from the same 1912 planting near Lyndoch, this triumph also benefits from having been picked earlier than most are game to try. It's rich and smooth and deep and immediately seductive, and needs no more alcohols or simple gloopy sweetness. 

Jason "bled" off some of the free run juice to leave this essence. The pale free run went into that remarkable rosé. 

As the mighty Peter Lehmann would say, "Wilful waste makes makes woeful want and I may live to say 'Oh how I wish I had that crust which once I threw away'." 

That early master of whole-berry ferments, Peter Lehmann has a schluck from his latest trophy. I think it was the Stoddard, mid '70s ... photo Milton Wordley

This bit was made with destemmed whole berries in the ferment. 

I love the oak here: it's sultry and spicy and utterly supportive of that wondrous fruit. It reminds me somewhat of the wood that helped make such a delight of the Bouchard Grand Vin de Beaune Grèves Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus 2009 Burgundy I could once afford in magnum. Yum. 

Grenache is not really like Pinot, but if you make it with the respect a great Burgundy house shows its fruit, you can achieve lovely gastronomic pinnacles like this: elegant yet complex and totally disarming. And, well, yes, closer to ripe Burgundy than Shiraz can ever get. No need to go on, eh? 

But go, buy, and enjoy saving the couple of prayer mats or grey nurses  - or whatever those that have them now call the hundred dollar bill - involved in that major Baby Jesus spend. 

The wine's really complex and alluring: perhaps the best Barossa Grenache of recent times.  In my book.

Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Barossa GSM 2017 
($35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Similar in form, but bolstered by post-maturation admixtures of 32% Shiraz and 18% Mataro, this is bigger and more typically Barossa, getting there without venturing into the gloop one can't avoid above 15% alcohol. 

It's a gorgeous blend, sultry and moody in the fruit division. Then, once again, Jason has the oak just right: it's older and seasoned, its spice sitting in there like it too grew on those priceless old vines: properly married and assimilated, it's ready to enhance the fruit for a decade or more. 

The G bit's still cool and approaching Burgundy, while the S&M addition lives up to its wicked insinuation, offering a little more dark adventure. It stops just short of sinister, leaving the drinker wondering about the "what ifs" but never quite stretching to the "if only". 

While it has the hint of well-dressed leather, this wine is utterly satisfying without getting any whips out. 

Dribbling pink steak or a great steaming stack of field mushrooms would settle it down all tidy and neat, thankyou very much. It's good to see some Penfolds Magill/Grange know-how and sensitivity escaping from the mysterious Treasury.

Jason introducing Maynard to Dr Ray Beckwith's ph meter at Magill

05 April 2018


Fit and proper people: big Oz wine corps to preselect aspirant exporters

April Fool's Day was a strange date for Riverland Senator Anne Ruston to announce that "New regulations for grape products coming into effect today will provide greater protection for Australian wine brands and the reputation of Australian wine exports." 

In her role as Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, (read Murray-Darling/Riverland) the surviving former portfolio offsider of the disgraced former Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce spoke on behalf of the Australian Grape and Wine Authority, which trades as Wine Australia. 

LNP Riverland politicians Tim Whetstone and Anne Ruston with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (centre) announcing $50 million in government grants to seelect wineries last year ... after a string of scandals Joyce has since been forced to resign in disgrace; since the recent state election, Whetstone is South Australia's new Minister for Agriculture

"Minister Ruston said Wine Australia now had the capacity to assess whether an exporter was a 'fit and proper person'," the statement explains. 

For some reason the declaration reminds me of a "Stop The Boats!" rant from the extreme right-wing Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton ...

"There will always be unscrupulous people seeking to make easy money from reputations carefully established and built by legitimate Australian wine producers and exporters ... Wine Australia can now ensure the bona fides of potential and existing exporters before issuing export approvals."  

This peak industry council is a Commonwealth statutory authority governed according to the Australian Grape and Wine Authority Act 2013. It is funded by winemakers but annually subsidised to the tune of about $13 million by the taxpayer. Its board members are nominated by the wine industry but must be approved by the Minister. It is responsible for doshing out the $50 million of further taxpayer-funded direct cash grants to wineries announced last year at Penfolds Grange by Ruston and Joyce

Tom and Anne Ruston on the campaign trail with dumped LNP Prime Minister Tony Abbott

While the senator’s promise is encouraging for drinkers outside of Australia, the authority’s past form is worth examining.  

In May 2000 I became aware that Californians Haydn Wildon and Nicole Haller, work-experience students from the winemaking faculty at the University of Davis, had warned their classmates at home that the big Riverland exporting winery, Kingston Estate, added silver nitrate to wine to eliminate the smell of hydrogen sulphide, had used liquid red tannin to add colour to red wines, and fermented sultana juice on red skins from Cabernet sauvignon to make red wine. They also mentioned sulphuric acid and pure ethanol additions. 

I first rang Bill Moularadellis, the chief winemaker and managing director of Kingston Estate. He said he had not heard of the accusations and seemed highly concerned. Next was Sam Tolley, then general manager of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, the body since renamed Wine Australia, who gave a similar response. 

I advised both gentlemen that I would be writing of this in The Advertiser; Tolley sent the inspectors in and withdrew Kingston Estate's export license. 

Moularadellis was fully co-operative, saying he was keen to protect his winery’s international reputation and that of the Australian wine industry. 

In his first announcement, Tolley stated there was no risk to public health and although the issue was of a "technical nature", he said, "nevertheless, we take any allegations very seriously. We need to act quickly in circumstances such as this to ensure that any products which are exported are of the highest quality."

The author addressing the Wine Press Club at the National Wine Centre in 2010. Bill Moularadelis, left, Treasury Wine Estates chief purchasing officer Stuart McNab over my shoulder and Empire Liquor wholesaler Brenton Quirini ... photo Leo Davis

While that news shlooshed around the world and huge British supermarket chains like Tesco and Waitrose immediately removed Kingston Estate from their shelves, back in Australia the investigation seemed mainly to focus on the silver nitrate issue. 

Hughes Public Relations advised Moularadelis. In their own words, their goals were:  

1 Minimise negative impacts on domestic and export sales 
2 Protect the integrity of Kingston Estate Wines’ brand and products 
3 Minimise competitor criticism 
4 Manage media liaison and minimise media criticism and speculation 
5 Limit the geographical spread of media coverage 
6 Protect the integrity of the Australian wine industry in world markets 

"Within a week of the story breaking," the Hughes summary reported, "Kingston Estate's export licence was re-instated, but the prosecution went ahead and in January 2001 the company was fined $4,000 in the Adelaide Magistrate’s Court for using illegal additives in an export product."  

The maximum fine for such crime was $10,000. 

In an interview for the State Library's Oral History Collection, Moularedellis told Rob Linn this had been the most challenging period of his life. 

"We used silver nitrate in our wine and we shouldn't have," he admitted. 

"Had we not used that, there would not have been a problem. 

"We had a huge media frenzy to deal with because we were seen as a major exporter that had potentially compromised this whole Australian wine industry success story, and so all the checks and balances the industry had put into place to protect the industry for things like that came into being. We had our export licences suspended temporarily. You know, at the end of the day we were in crisis, and people had a crisis with our wines, because we were seen to have done something wrong." 

There was a mad scramble around the wine refineries and ivy-hung nuts-and-berries joints alike: a sweaty clean-up of those sacks and drums of reagents that tend to stack up in corners. 

"The most regrettable cost for me," Moularadellis said, "is that I gave some of the critics of the Riverland, by that action, the credibility to be able to say that we told you so. One of the lasting issues has been the fact that it gave credibility to those people that were critical of the Riverland, and it was a Riverland thing."  

Murray Tyrrell at the Last Bottle Club with former LNP Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in the early 1980s

The investigation and conviction rigmarole pretty much followed the late ’80s bust of Hunter legend Murray Tyrrell for adding another chemical, sorbitol, to Tyrrell’s wines, including those he'd bought from the riverlands. 

Before running that story, I rang the Wine and Brandy Corporation to report the allegations and asked what it’d do about it. In essence, they proceeded to test the wines, made the charge, punished the lawbreaker and used their actions to prove to their export markets that their policing of illegal activities was efficient, effective and protective of the rest of the industry.  

But the corporation didn’t start it, I did. 

In detail, the story was much more rococo. After discussions with truckies in the Truro top pub, where I lived north of the Barossa, I became aware of a great deal of apple juice being delivered to some very famous wineries, none of which made cider. 

The rumours suggested that like the Kiwi fruit, one could make a presentable Sauvignon blanc from it with a bit of sophistry and water. Having taken the advice of industry leader Len Evans and spent all their money covering Australia with too much Chardonnay, winemakers were in a flat panic that this fad would quickly be replaced by Sauvignon blanc, which they didn’t have. 

One honest fellow showed me his log book, listing what he’d delivered and to whom. I called George Mackie, then boss of the Wine and Brandy Corporation, to ask what he would do about it. The wine police went on a buying spree around the liquor stores and tested a great deal of wine for sorbitol, a chemical that occurs in tiny amounts in apples but not grapes. 

A non-intoxicating alcohol, this wetting agent is used in tobacco, ink and enemas, but is not a permitted wine additive. When they discovered it in Tyrrell’s wines, the authorities proceeded against the company. Tyrrell, who was on the government committee that managed the list of permitted additives, pleaded guilty, was fined and ordered to withdraw from the international marketplace all the offending wine and destroy it. 

He then sued me for defamation for my reportage in The Bulletin, along with Kerry Packer as publisher. Because I was not on staff, Packer left me to mount my own legal defence. After years of sooling his silks and whatnot at me, Tyrrell lost. His reputation, particularly in New South Wales, stayed pretty much intact: rogue maybe, but a popular one, and a patriarch. 

I always felt Tyrrell, a friend of Mackie's, was a convenient scapegoat for the entire industry. No winery was charged for apple juice substitution. 

Stressed beyond belief, poor Mackie died of a heart attack.

Fit and proper people. 

So while we welcome Senator Ruston’s April Fool’s Day statement, I’m keen to see whether the old boys at Wine Australia are simply scaring new Chinese investors out of exporting dodgy Ozplonk. 

It’d be too sicko bogan to discover it’s just a convenient appeasement for the uncaught when the Senator promises that “the new regulations will also cut red tape for exporters by halving export certificate notification periods and reducing timeframes from order to export”.

04 April 2018


Twas a lovely sunny morning at the Fleurieu Peninsula town of Myponga when Peter Verkerk, the Electoral Commission's returning officer for the South Australian parliamentary seat of Mawson, finally declared the poll in the Bowls Club.

We could smell the sausage rolls from the car park.

Former Premier Jay Weatherill was there, looking remarkably refreshed and relaxed since his Labor Party lost (he held his seat), along with former Minister Kyam Maher, who will now lead the party in the Legislative Council, and new Labor leader, Peter Malinauskas. 

That's Verkerk making the announcement, right, with former minister Leon Bignell, with failed SA Best candidate Hazel Wainwright and Weatherill to his right.

As you can see in the deadly simplicity of the form, the long vintage-time campaign resulted in a very narrow victory for "Biggles", who is a stalwart supporter of the wine industry. Much of the traditionally conservative Fleurieu Peninsula vignoble, all of Kangaroo Island and McLaren Vale now lie within the newly-drawn Mawson boundary.

"When the new boundaries came through Jay looked at me in Cabinet and said 'This looks pretty shit for you Biggles'," Bignell said in his acceptance speech.

"But I had a look at the new redistributed Mawson boundaries," he continued, "and I said 'Hang on, it looks like I've got eight new pubs, about 21 bakeries, a distillery, three breweries, and an island', so with a whole bunch of friends and family I set out to retain the seat of Mawson."

Which, against all the odds, he has done.

Reflecting on the public forum we'd had in the McLaren Vale Bocce Club, he said "McLaren Vale's got a lot of different groups and they don't necessarily come together under the one roof all that often ... and what happened that night united people who came together and it was terrific to have those discussions and hear from people as to what they thought."

Biggles promises to listen even harder as he sets out to represent his new electorate from the opposition benches. Time for more unity and public discussion methinks. Democracy doesn't come cheap.

And more of those knockout Myponga sausage rolls, please!

01 April 2018


Yesterday I went with some friends to taste the Yangarra wines, which are made biodynamically by my landlord, Peter Fraser. They all seemed strangely narrow and tannic. Suspicious, and somewhat rattled,  I consulted the Biodynamic Calendar, which showed it was a "root day". Reality or bullshit? 

I quite deliberately avoid keeping a copy of the calendar close handy, but over the years I occasionally find myself doubting my organoleptic capacities - a scary feeling - so I consult the calendar. They're almost invariably root days. Russell Jackson caught this image of the moment of enlightenment and relief - yours truly with Cynthia Ganesharajah.