“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





30 May 2018


When George Grainger Aldridge sent me his armour rhino it immediately reminded me of this life-size brass secretaire made by the husband-and-wife design team Francois-Xavier and Claude LaLanne in Paris in 1967. I've always wanted it for a cocktail bar and sink. 

Might help save the species.

contact George trojanpencil@gmail.com for signed originals and commissions. 


High cool quality, hot mudflat prices from the Drogemullers at Paracombe

 Paracombe Adelaide Hills Tempranillo 2014 
($22; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

The Horner family grew this at Cudlee Creek, across the river and up the gully from the Paracombe sandstone plateau. 

Cudlee Creek is not very much like the bits of Spain where Tempranillo comes from. But I'll bet if you waved this beauty beneath a knowing Spanish nose you'd get a raise of prickly curiosity about its source. Tell them the Drogemullers made it at Paracombe, Torrens Gorge, Adelaide Hills, South Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia. 

It has a lash of the Parade Gloss shoe polish that I love in fine Tempranillo, with all those slick snaky black berries and hedgerow business. Always reminds me of the perfume Zorro left when he'd escape through the casement, leaving the drapes swinging and the lass there weeping into his hanky with the Z. Makes me wish there was a leg of black Iberian ham hanging on the back of the kitchen door. Warm black olives, neat or in pasta; real crunchy bread.

Here, draw up a pew. It's on me. Bargain at this spend. We can afford another. Forget bloody Zorro. Oh? You're Lady Zorro? Even better.

Paracombe Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2013 
($23; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Five year old Shiraz of this quality could easily claim another $20 on its sticker. In fact you can pay twice this much for unfinished/unmade hippy wines just across the Torrens Gorge. 

The Droggies have always offered amazing value in healthy, bright, intense Shiraz like this, made with deep respect of both grape and gulper. 

Of course one can savour it with soulful scrutiny, gazing into one's glass like a lovelorn connoisseur with a thesaurus jammed in it somewhere, and all sorts of high-level gastronomic fallutin' can be fully justified with tea-smoked duck or roast beef or mushrooms. 

But me? I can simply slurp this wine. It's intense, lithe and alive. Not many places on Earth offer higher-country, cooler-style reds of such distinction and honesty. Lucky us. 

Paracombe Adelaide Hills The Rueben 2013
($23; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Having blithely covered Rioja and Rhône, Paracombe now presents its take on the Bordeaux blend. A horde of Côtes-de-Bordeaux AOC and Entre-Deux-Mers makers would love to put wines of this quality on the table at this sort of a spend. I can hear their sacred blues bleats. Twelve baahs! 

Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet franc, Petit verdot and Malbec swim together here, just as intense, but more lithe than the pair of wines above. Finally, there are flowers in the hedgerow, adding violets, lavendar and musky confectioner's sugar to the topnote. And the oak's had a touch of flame at the bottom end: charcoal. It's not presumptuous: it's just disarmingly matter-of-fact. This wine doesn't want to know how you feel. Chicken; saltimbocca; lamb cutlets; crumbly chèvre with fresh tarragon ... into it! 

Paracombe Adelaide Hills Cabernet Franc 2013 
($27; 14% alcohol; screw cap) 

Cabernet franc is a favourite red variety which is rarely nailed well in Oz: its pastoral springtime florals, which can vary from frail and effete to boisterous and brashly flat-out-in-your-face, can offer the prettiest points of Aquitaine/Atlantic France, but seem maybe a bit floozie-feminine for coarser Ocker boyos. 

Who regardless of gender, generally pick it too ripe. when it seems the sudden absence of such fragrant gaieties reassures them. They prefer their tea boiled black in a campfire pannier. 

This one's on what I reckon is the higher end of the alcohols that still permit the entrapment and preservation of these pretty, more fleeting water-soluble fragrances. Any stronger, and you lose them. This also has some of the leathery harness aromas which are usually soluble only in higher alcohol. 

So whatter we got? A velvety, softer, comforting red which seems to me to walk a compromise line between the macho and mysterious, but which I hope teases enough of us to spend a little more curiosity cash pursuing the more elegant, finer things of life. Like Cabernet franc. One can still flog a lot of fifties chasing French Cab francs that don't reach this one, to be perfectly francis with you.

2 January, 2015: from my veranda 35 kms south, it seemed Paracombe was a goner, bringing horrid recollections of 1983's Ash Wednesday. Although the fire scorched their community for days, the Drogemullers, their neighbours and vineyards survived.

25 May 2018


Upon discovering the two giant pandas they'd been secretly guarding for decades in the Adelaide Zoo had cost taxpayers over $30 million, an elite underground wombat squadron living entirely on roots has surfaced. The crack squadron has withdrawn its services. 

After Puckapunyal training these warrior wombats first saw active service underground in Japan, then burrowed up through the Korean peninsula into China in preparation for their panda preservation role. 

Their CO refuses to be named, but says the deadly team will be happy to spend some time assisting their Adelaide brethren harass the immigrant human culture through the ongoing secret wombat headbutting destruction of the city's underground sewers and water mains until the original wombat tenure of this country is acknowledged. 

"This country you stole doesn't even grow this bamboo stuff these bumbling fatso pandas eat," the rebel digger chief grunted. 

"Send 'em home, save the rivers you've rooted and we'll talk.

"Also, we have the underground 3-D plan of that hill Kim blew up yesterday for the snappers and we can promise that's nothing compared to other bits of his big cheese. Your 'east' is weird as your 'west'."

George Grainger Aldridge is trojanpencil@gmail.com ... originals and commissions 


"Mal Fizzants came round with Sector 
Breeches. Y'know, they call her Sexta. 
Hunts in a pack with Mousebrains and 
Vintage Spreckle. Kane Todes and Mal 
Ammonia. Crump Trowels. That mob. 
They vape them new Pet Mats."


Silver service and sensual starch precedes outright carnal abandon

Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2017 
($35; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 100 doz. made) 

2017 was the second vintage after founder Steve George's amicable sale of Ashton Hills to Wirra Wirra. Steve kept his house there in the pines, and continues to tend the vines he began planting with Peter van Rood, his father-in-law, and Peta, his wife, in 1982. 

Peter, Sophie and Peta van Rood are since deceased. 

We would sit there in the shade, eating mountains of oysters with Riesling, hurling the shells into the vineyard in the hope the calcium would help the terroir. 

Made by Wirra Wirra man Paul Smith from the Chapel Valley vineyard, this is a mellow and pacifying Chardonnay to sniff, all musky melons, buttery, creamy pears and and mace. It lived in new and old Burgundy barrels for eight months before assemblage: a judicious, unobtrusive oak interaction which has added subtle, perfectly appropriate spices. 

Paul let the ferment commence with yeasts from the skins and the air before adding a few personal favourites to finish things tidily. 

The texture and flavours are precisely what the smooth tropical fruits in that bouquet signaled: the modest viscosity and clean, fresh, jungle juice all add up to a very sensible, uttery comforting glass of everything's gonna be all right now, especially with a rare snapper steak and capers or a gentle yellow carp curry with silver service on a good starched linen tablecloth. 

I can guarantee I'm quite capable of pouring it myself, but I can't help thinking it's the sort of wine one would prefer to be served by unobtrusive staff. 

Stephen George with Wirra Wirra MD Andrew Kay and winemaker Paul Smith at Ashton Hills in 2016 ... Stephen loved everything but running a business ... photos Philip White
Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Pinot Noir 2017 
($35; 14% alcohol; screw cap)

Principally from that vineyard with the Anthropocene Epoch oyster shells, this delight. There, over the years Stephen has tried 25 different clones of Pinot in search of the ideal match of type to site. 

That's like select, propagate, graft or plant, wait, harvest, vinify (three or four cycles), bottle, mature ... nah try something else. 

I think he's down to five favourites now. So it's good to see his name on the bottle, too, as winemaker. Must feel good. 

From the first waft, this is almost disgusting in its visceral sensuality. This is the sensation most of the most obsessed Pinot perves dream of, but rarely get to feel. There's just a cheeky tickle of the spice of old French oak, but mainly this bouquet is silk-smooth, musky, fresh-washed flesh. It is not what mortal humans expect of grapes. It reminds me of that bit below the ear lobe, with freckles. You don't want any staff around watching you tango with your nose in there. To drink, it's so bare-faced matter-of-fact that you might just as well undress before you start. You won't want food. You'll want another bottle. 

Don't fall over in the glass. 

23 May 2018


China is now working H-6K long-range bombers on its new islands in the South China Sea

Global power chaos sudden threat to booming Australian wine exporters

"When it comes to wine and beef, China can easily import those items from the US, replacing Australia." Global Times (China - 23 May 2018)*

"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." Matthew 24:6 The Bible - King James Version  

"China? Win a trade war? Against the USA? You gotta be jokin!" 

It's pretty easy to get a rise like that if you ring around a few Australians who export wine to China. They seem cocky. 

If only things were so simple. 

We sold $848 million worth of wine to China in 2017, a 63 per cent hike. This was a significant slice of the Australia's total international export figure of $2.56 billion for the year, a 15 per cent increase. 

Australian exporters remain transfixed on the notion of China's burgeoning middle class learning to drink. There are 1.4 billion Chinese drinking, on average, 2.1 litres of wine per capita per year. Australians drink 26.8 litres. 

France still sells twice as much wine in China as we do; China's total vineyard is roughly the size of Australia's. 

As this week began, there was a sigh of relief around exporters who read international affairs when Donald Trump suddenly announced the new trade war with China was off while he concentrated his hatred on whatever's left of Iran. 

Those exporters are still enjoying the increase triggered by China's relaxing of tariffs from up to 20 per cent to 3 per cent with the Free Trade Agreement of December 2015, with the promise of further tariff elimination down the track. 

The tricky bit's not so much that China may make trade harder for our wine exporters simply because of our affinity with the USA. Well not on the face of it, anyway. That's thinking like the rest of my countrymen: arrogant, presumptuous, racist. The real threats are the uncontrolled messy bits that fall out of the sides of a trade war whether it's on or off. 

With a chap like Trump driving the free world like a stolen car anything can happen.

China is unlikely to copy Trump's edict on Iran - you trade with them you don't trade with us - but things change quick now and Australia is, well, good mates with USA, who also buys our wine and sells some of its wine into China. 

Trouble is, of course, that the only predictable thing about Trump is his unpredictability. Somebody hasn't yet perfected his algorithm.

Or maybe China has.  

It certainly knows ours far better than we know it: This morning's editorial in China's Global Times suggests China could rightfully assist Trump by replacing some of its Australian wine imports with US product.*

The Oz business cosmos shivered when Trump's choice for US ambassador to Australia, Penfold's enthusiast Admiral Harry Harris, was instead sent to South Korea. The notion that Harris was head of US Pacific Command added a martial sheen to the insult. 

Now we have the Koreas off holding hands without any help from Trump, while China launches its new aircraft carrier, lands the first long-range bombers on its new islands in the South China Sea and continues to tease the likes of those conducting war games with us in Darwin, and the Indians, who have just sent warships around the Vietnam corner to be part of the fun. 

Sixty per cent of Australia's trade ships through the South China Sea.

Pine Gap must be very busy.

Before Trump announced the trade war was off, China had hiked its tariff on US wine by 15 per cent to 67.7% and left the threat of further increases open. The US bourbon and whiskey industries which had seen China as a hopeful export market were suddenly whacked with a hike, while shippers discovered their wares were being given the surly treatment, like the 100,000 bottles of bourbon that found their entry through the port of Zhuhai suddenly, inexplicably blocked. 

Which reminds me of a visit to Shanghai when I asked my host why there were so many new Mercedes cars driving around without registration plates. 

"Customs," he said. Nothing more. At that point, when customs needed cars, they took the best ones off the ships that kept delivering them. 

It was a good week for phone calls. Trump's call on the trade war seemed strangely coincidental with that other widely-reported phone job when Treasury Wine Estates boss Michael Clarke responded to the Australian Financial Review's report of stacks of cheap TWE wine building up on China's wharves. That piece had sent the company's stocks plummeting. 

Clarke heroically shadowed the Trump-Iran-rest of the world threat, telling China they would trade at all levels or none at all: no more cherry-picking: if they want Grange, like everybody else on Earth, they've gotta first sell quite a lot of Wolf Blass and Rawson's Retreat. 

TWE shares were back up at the end of the day, returning around $731 million to the kitty.

Not a bad day's work

"They’re hoping to put pressure on Treasury Wine Estates to be able to give them something or give relief where we're not prepared to give relief because we are absolutely focused on running a disciplined business globally, not just in China," Clarke said.

"We’re not forcing anybody to be part of our business model." 

Since Australian winemakers discovered China, there has not been a mention of China's business model in the realms of human rights, freedom of speech, Tibet or political prisoners. Not from our wine exporters or their councils. Compared say, to the embargoes placed on South Africa to stop apartheid in the 'seventies, China's had a fairly easy run as far as access to our ethanol goes. 

Don't mention the Opium Wars. 

Behind all this month's shenanigans I found myself referring to the statements Hong Kong's Civic Party chair Alan Leong made during last weeks meetings with US lawmakers.  

"The world cannot understand China without first understanding Hong Kong, and what has been happening here," Leong said.  

Warning against China's replacement of liberal democratic values with its exported "China model", he said "Hong Kong is the only place in China that has been inhabited predominantly by ethnic Chinese and yet practises separation of powers and rule of law with self-disciplined legal professions and an independent judiciary. We use our laws to protect rights and freedoms." 

But he also warned against a trade war, saying it would "drive China further away from universal values such as democracy, freedom, and rule of law ... As a staunch supporter for free trade, I am convinced that only peaceful and open engagement with China can lead to democracy. 

"It takes time to convert China.

"We must be confident that our values and institutions can withstand the severest of challenges." 

Diplomatic, sure, but stern. In all their reams of triumphant press statements I've heard nobody in the Australian wine business say anything like that. 

In the meantime, it's very difficult to find anybody in our government who can succinctly explain just how much of Australia's wine industry is now in Chinese hands. Whatever happens with these trade wars and rumours of trade wars and the threat of real fighting wars, they'll never put tariffs or embargoes on their own products, will they?

The tricky bit really is that in its long-term requirement that we feel closer to it than we do to Trump, China may begin to drive an easy wedge between Australia and its jolly old western  buddy by making trade harder for our wine exporters while handing free tickets to the USA.

This morning's Global Times editorial is just a warning. Watch those TWE shares.

* In keeping with the beat of this unfolding business, and the way China works, the Global Times has this morning rewritten and softened its editorial text, removing the quote specifying US wine which is at the top of this piece. So? Little Black Book 1 - Little Red Book 0; Ho hum, on we go.

18 May 2018



Yangarra's four new front-liners: a higher bar in the sands and old iron

I love it when my landlord sneaks his new wine in amongst my tasting samples: I'm always curious at first about who sent the packages with no sender. Then when it reveals this cargo, man I'm singin!  These four wines are a new authoritative statement about just where Peter Fraser always dreamed Yangarra Estate would be. Peter's putting his foot down. Get back.

Yangarra Estate Roux Beauté Roussanne 2016 
($72; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 3060 bottles filled)

"I have come to the conclusion after many years of sometimes sad experience that you cannot come to any conclusion at all. But one simple thing I have discovered in gardening ... is the fact that many plants do better if they can get their roots under stones." 

So wrote that great garden designer, poet and author, Vita Sackville-West [@thegardenvs]. The inspiration for her shimmering Orlando, Vita was Virginia Woolf's lover. 

This is Maslin Sands ironstone cleared from the Roussanne block; below is Kurrajong formation rubble, which also includes lots of alluvial ironstone ... all photos Philip White

Grown where the slab ironstone kisses the creekline Kurrajong rubble, these vines have had thirteen years to get their roots into that adult business. 

Like the old eyelid cinema, it sort of flickers up faint memories of other tinctures, but it's really unlike any other wine I know ... maybe apart from an early 'nineties one Guille de Pury made at Yeringberg in the Yarra after Gerard Jaboulet encouraged him to plant Roussanne. I don't recall that bottle including Marsanne, a grape I reckon is over-rated by Oz, but it may have.

Thankyou  Duncan Miller for the recommendation!

I handed a glass of that precious Yeringberg to the Chardonnay evangelist, Len Evans, in The Universal Wine Bar way back when. He snorted in it and handed it back, which I read as a promising sign. Evans was a vanilla man. This is not vanilla essence. 

Evans on set, preaching Chardonnay

As a Rhône-born gastronome, Gerard was bemused by Victoria's obsession with Marsanne, but I'd love to hand him a big glass of this. A prim, complex, grown-up thing for the committed, or at least aspirant  boulevardier, boater and all, in a philosophical way it teeters on the edge of Campari territory. 

It's very particular, with lots of exotic citrus rind like the bitter Seville orange or even further out, the Curaçao Laraha orange which mutated from the Seville in the 500 years since the Spanish left it in the humid Caribbean. Think of all that in a tart marmalade with gooseberry and ginger: it's a concentrate that just sits there in your tongue puddle like a dainty little lozenge, its ultra-fine tannin drawing the lips tight and pulling one's soothing blood close to the surface. 

That's all very sensual and personal stuff, just by the way. 

Food? Bacalhau. Laksa with great chunks of pink snapper. Gratin d'Aubergines. Provençal sautéed mushrooms. Cool pork belly and white bean stew. Lentils with truffles and sliced carrot in pork stock. Anything with Vita and Virginia in it, or at it, and its roots in the rocks. 

That'll do it. Can we talk? 

Yangarra Estate High Sands Grenache 2015 
($140; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 3120 bottles filled) 

The hungry thick skins and big greedy acid of High Sands pulled fresh white pepper and oily nutmeg from their old French barrels in 2015. The wine lay there on lees for nearly a year, putting on form. And my goodness it has form: it's like raven oil. Lacquer. Shellac. 

Eventually the curious nose begins to find berries: tight, tannic little black buggers like juniper and deadly nightshade. This is no simple morello cherry lollypop, this baby. It's not even like the lovely bright fruit of Blewett Springs, just over the ridge. This is a twenty year wine, at least. It's tight and taut, somewhere on the border where springy meets brittle. It is an athlete with twangy sinews. It is not what anybody I know expects of Grenache. This is not dumb fun. This is a brand new sign on the Grenache church door.

"No instant gratification today." 

Which is becoming the sort of thing I expect from this particular section of the old bush vines on the top of the dune, where that wind-blown sand is deepest. This sets a new strapping standard. 

Play Whipping Post and pass the port salut. 

Yangarra Estate Ovitelli Grenache 2016 
($72; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 3276 bottles filled) 

Holy shit. This one's all ceramic eggs; not a splinter of tree. From the High Sands bush vine Grenache, beside the patch selected to carry that valuable name. It's hand-picked, then destemmed. The sorting machine then selects the most perfect berries, which are slightly squashed in the crusher and tipped  straight into the eggs for a long wild ferment then 191 days on skins. Just left there to get on with it. 

I'm not ignorantly using his name post the cursed grave, but I knew him well enough to know that dear Jaboulet would be fascinated by this: he was the first winemaker I met with an amphoræ collection. Having a brother in the French submarine corps, he got his from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, and never dreamed of fermenting anything in them. He'd put all this in magnums, peel a new packet of Gitanes, and be straight on the phone to Bocuse ... 

So what's it like? It's a more frivolous, ruddy-cheeked companion than anything at the Virginia-Vita table. This is not Beaujolais, but it reminds me a little of the brightest and cleanest from the sand of  Moulin-à-Vent. It's audacious, but never rude. It'll go a slippery decade: I'd better stay alive a bit longer, just so I can test the slide. 

While it shows all those berries at their best, it also casts a shadow nearly dark enough to be sinister. Foie gras. Or the vegan equivalent. 

Yangarra Estate Ironheart Shiraz 2015 
($105; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 5088 bottles filled) 

Some people might see this wine as a slightly scary. Why? It's snaky slender? It doesn't smell like jam? I dunno. It's right up my alley. Ironstone alley. I live in this vineyard. There's only a scratch of sandy stuff atop great tennis-court slabs of ironstone as dense as terrazzo. 

Below that hard oxidised cap, which spreads like tennis courts under thin sand and clayey loam, there's more ferruginous sand, probably right down to the molten irony magma somewhere beneath. 

I'm stretching that, but you get my drift ... How all that, like total impenetrability, like thick natural iron sheeting with hardly any obvious goodness in sight, can produce wines as lithe and lively, like snake-like writhing lively, just beats me. But that's how it is, and how the next stretch looks for this remarkable vineyard. 

Peter Fraser's got it locked in now, and after all those years the style has nailed itself. After a good breathe in the decanter, the flesh of those berries begins to swell. Opulent, slick, classic Shiraz. Formidable! You can sit on a glass of this for an hour. 

If you listen, it'll tell you about the future.



Hahndorf Hill White Mischief Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner 2017 
($24; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

It's funny to think a variety like this, from alpine Austria, can hand you a bowl of these aromas, which apart from some mildly fragrant almond honeys are pretty much tropical. 

Extraordinary tropicals, forgive me, but marketed merely as mischievous white. 

Not to use my name too lightly. 

I remember these things at a roadside barrow in the tiger jungle way up somewhere on the northern Malaysia border one faceplant from a filthy Harley. The best of luck to you good people all up that steaming green peninsula and congratulations on your cuisine and your fearless election decision! Long may your tigers roar at night! 

While they're extraordinary because they're tropical, these are mild tropicals, mind you. Like there's no durian. It stops way short of that. It's short of even mild pineapple. Mild star fruit is more like it. It's more along the line of the dependency of Issye Miyake [perfume] and Hendricks [gin] on the soft refreshment of cucumber [never available fresh at duty-free]. 

Add mild jungle melons. Mild ginger root. Pale mango. Then there's long plain clingstone peach chalk and yep, cucumber. Maybe a faint strand of something like elderflower on a vine way overhead, but mainly this long appetising dryness which is deadly anti-Harley cool and sets off all sorts of naughty traps. Yellow carp curry would swim with it. Saffron. Coconut milk. Verbena. Tiger tucker. Watch the crocs. 

Hahndorf Hill Gru Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner 2017 
($29; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

Corral all the best juicy bits from the White Mischief. Without any warning get them to run around the block. Pick the first lot to return and put them in here, ok? 

Then get all the sweetest-smelling of the fleshier ones, however they run. That ly-chee stuff. Think of the petals of water-lily, jasmine and magnolia; that babycheek flesh. Squish them in, too. 

Make a little bitters sauce from wormwood and ku-ding holly with the juice of prickly pear and aloe vera and apply six droplets about the size of gnat tears. 

If you asked me for my recipe for this elegant majesty, I'd start back in all that somewhere. Stirred not shaken. Lots of subliminal sweetness insinuators without any sweetness. Advise your flavour lawyers re the naming rights and proceed. 

Hahndorf Hill Gru 2 Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltlner 2015 
($45; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

This variety could be the first serious challenge all those skrillions of tonnes of Adelaide Hills Chardonnay have encountered since they began their malignancy. It's been like this for years really. 

Gastronomically, this wine also slaughters a great deal of that catbattery lawnclippings Savvy-b them hillsbillies like to grow as much some folks like to drink. It is a complex, sultry, dusty white wine that moves coldly toward its own clarity and distinction. Just quietly. Without challenge. It looks neither to left nor right. 

This wine has eyes the colour of the north Atlantic. It is rowed so well and determined I can taste its blue in my own aquamarine teeth. 

It's jumping territories, I know, but Austria may have grewn a deeper sense of humour had it learned, centuries back, the recipe to Caldeirada de Lulas, the Portugese squid stew. This goes with that. I know. I just did it. With toast. And butter ... dribbling still ... at Hahdorf, this tourism Mecca founded by a Viking people smuggler and his boatful of Poles. Thinking.

How would our immigration ubermeister Peter Dutton regard a human trafficker like Dirk Meinerts Hahn, a Dane, who brought all those Polish people here on his Zebra in 1838? He was a-Vikin, and they weren't technically Germans. Hahndorf. 

Just sayin ... None of 'em coulda made anything like this gorgeous Gru2 then, eh? No, Grasshopper, and too few can make it now.

16 May 2018


Party capital of Australia? She's fairly quiet down this way: my neighbour Bernard Smart and his son Wayne in their Grenache, with the Willunga Escarpment in the background ... photo Philip White

Planning issues in Australia's party capital channel those of the Napa


Listening to ABC Adelaide Breakfast, it often seems on a Monday morning that the southern suburbs I live near are the new party capital of Australia. The excitement those announcers show infamous south coast parties they missed is feverish. It's like listening to a Hudson full of Exclusive Brethren panting about the sin they heard about and dream of ... loud music, strippers and cars on fire? Good Lord! Near a beach in a wine region? Devil worship! 

I live down south. In a straight line, I'm a touch over ten kays from the actual beach (above).  I'm out in the vineyards. I get to visit various bits of that coast regularly but the closest I got to a party was watching some poor Torres Straights folks' house burn down with all the presents when the Christmas tree shorted. 

That mob came from all over Australia to meet the rellies there at the beach. Sank a few beers and a red round the barby and hit the hay. They awoke just in time. All got out empty handed to stand on the road and watch the flames eat their kinfolks' house and a Commodore then jump the fence and open up the roof next door, revealing a flourishing dope crop. 

The cops showed that joint all the attention, believe me. The neighbourhood looked after the homeless: gave them beds, clothes and gifts. Drinks. Poor people. Good people. It was their Christmas. 

McLaren Vale's newest suburb: Seaford Heights ... photo Philip White

When public architecture is a systematic aggravated assault on the landscape, as it is along most of this lovely battered coast, and the civic planning means everybody builds an extra house on their back lawn so there's two or three times too many of you and not a blade of grass, you got trouble. 

Plenty of ratepayers, sure, and folks to work in Woolies/Coles/Bunnings/BWS/IGL and the Colonel Sadness fat joints and whatever and join the Shoppies Union. But that's not enough to have a proper healthy community. Of course you'll get kids throwing rocks at cars on the freeway. There's nothing else to do. There are no other jobs, and all authority and government treats you with disdain and suspicion anyway. 

While some of those coastal residents seem to think they live in Joni Mitchell's Malibu it's usually a lot more like Steinbeck's Tortilla Flats. 

Move east through vineyard country, and over my agricultural side, where the Willunga Embayment crosses the fault line and hits the Willunga Escarpment, I see a new wave of Malibu pretenders putting their chrome and glass monstrosities there on the hills' face. 

The Willunga Escarpment photographed by Milton Wordley in 2000 ... since then, much of that hills' face has been reforested by landowners and volunteers

From that perch, far from the beach, they can look over the vignoble and the troubled housing along its coast, right out across the Gulf St Vincent, the patron saint of vignerons and vinegar makers. 

Doug Govan's Rudderless Vineyard at The Victory on Sellicks Hill ... photo Milton Wordley

I visited friends in the village the other afternoon and was astonished as the sun sank to see the reflections in all that mirror glass which has been carefully mounted along the range so everybody can see what you've achieved. How much money you can spend on bedazzlement. 

Land there rarely hits the market and it's tricky getting planning approval to build your pile where everyone can see it but man they're growing along there as sure as gold teeth. 

Once the Sun's fizzed out in the Bight its reflections in their windows are replaced by electric light pollution.

All that big glass needs lots of lights or people can't see it. And then there's the bloody Cube glowering all night over the town, lit up like a deconstructing prison on the northern horizon. The nightscape of poor old McLaren Vale is quickly following the mentality of the Malibuans and the Tortillans, in spite of all those years we spent trying to save the region's distinctive and unique agricultural nature. We never imagined this country night skyline filling with lights. 

Wintry nightfall over the village from up d'Arenberg way ... photo Philip White

When Leon Bignell MP, the re-elected Member for Mawson was working on the Barossa and McLaren Vale Character Preservation Acts (whew!), he visited California's Napa Valley to learn about their clever and far-sighted Agricultural Preserve law of 1968. 

The folks there were really helpful; their law was duly noted. It heavily influenced ours. But I wonder how different our acts would be if the Minister went there to research them now? The Napa's at war with itself over its version of our hills face; our Escarpment. As the Napa Valley floor has no room left for vineyard expansion, many conservationist residents want to put a stop to agricultural incursion into those oak woodlands and the headlands of the watercourses. 

Indirectly, McLaren Vale's wine-driven economy has helped to pay for the reforestation of that range by local environmentalists; in the Napa, some environmentalists see their wine industry as a threat to their hillside  forests ... photo Philip White

They say it's time to stop agricultural sprawl up their  hillsides, especially after last year's fires ate so much of the savannah forest that previously covered a third of the county. They don't want more vineyard creep. They support Measure C, an item to be voted on in California's June 5th poll.  

The Editorial Board of the local paper, the Napa Valley Register, includes the publisher, the editor, and five members of the public. They've called Measure C "A legitimate cry of frustration by many county residents who fear that their leaders are not acting to protect their way of life and their environment.

"Just as we did not wait for the start of urban sprawl before enacting the Ag Preserve in 1968, so too we should not wait until there is a tree-clearing gold rush in our back country, or until our aquifers begin to fail, before protecting the national treasure that is Napa County," they wrote. But they then recommend citizens reject the measure as it was "premature to take such a draconian and risky step ... drafted without any of the usual steps that a major piece of legislation undergoes: hearings, public input, and expert vetting, from both outside specialists and staff that would be responsible for interpreting and enforcing the law."

Preserving local character(s) Lisa and Mark McCarthy of McCarthy's Orchard, Sand Road, McLaren Vale ... note revegetation of escarpment behind them ... photo Philip White 

Reflecting our Character Preservation Acts, even a minor tweak to Measure C "would require a whole new ballot initiative in some future election," they concluded, and like pro-development critics of our legislations call it "the right idea in the wrong vehicle." 

One major complaint suggests the wording of the measure would see more housing and extravagant "lifestyle" tourism attractions installed in the hills face forest for all below to see. They say the obsession with stopping vineyard creep will open the door for villa rash. 

Willunga Escarpment from the Currant Shed on McLaren Flat ... photo Philip White

The polarised rivalry is much the same as anywhere else that tries to get itself sorted for a better future: a collection of significant residents took a formidable full page ad supporting Measure C; David Pearson, chairman of the 550 strong Napa Valley Vintners, released a calm statement defending woodlands and water but insisting "we must do this in a way that promotes sustainable growth ... Measure C will lead to sustained regulatory battles and result in unintended consequences that will not serve the goal of protecting our water and trees ... [it] is not the right vehicle for this." 

So there. Other end of the earth and whatter we got in common? Same old same old. This Napa entanglement has ancillary issues: comtowers, roadways, bridges, streams, aquifers, forest, tankfarms, helicopter noise, town hall meetings ... they might approach it differently, but it's all the same as ours. 

You can hardly notice it, they done it all so nice and heritagey: this phone pole recently popped up in the Mount Bold part of my horizon ... Onkaparinga Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg says that chrome hue is the state planning authority's official compulsory finish for phone towers ... chrome used to be my favourite colour ... photo Philip White

I'd suggest the new Minister for Planning should visit the Napa to learn this stuff all at once, but I'm scared he'd come back with a plan to plant lovely shiny new houses in the forests all those amazing volunteers planted on Willunga Escarpment over the last 25 years. Those hills had been cleared. 

In the evenings, when the sunset lights up their windows, the new heroes of the hills' face could all head down the cool Malibu/Zema/Tortilla Flats coast to maintain the region's image as the party capital of Australia. You know: drink Shiraz. Never pay the stripper. Burn something. ABC Adelaide Breakfast will promote it.

Help photo by Ross McMurtrie, next door neighbour to the giant Hut Block resort planned by Dr Richard Hamilton in his adjoining vineyard on McMurtrie Road.  

One vegetation issue still to face: if global warming continues, and forces vignerons to seek cooler slopes at higher altitudes, will the community tolerate the removal of some trees, whether they're original wild bush, or the results of the last decades of reforestation? 

Will McLaren Vale end up swapping some shitty vineyard country on the flat for the best geologies of the Escarpment face? Like remove some upland trees to plant vines and return the Wok below the Aldinga airport to swamp and scrub? ... We should be thinking about these possibilities now ... photo Philip White