“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 August 2018


Two Tims Up End Vineyard Sections 
5 & 6 McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016  
($100/doz at the farm gate; $150 delivered; 14.6 % alcohol; screw cap) 

For some years Leith Hunt had been wisely using the winemaking expertise of Tim Geddes of Seldom Inn Winery to make a dead serious Shiraz from Tim Hunt's vineyard on the piedmont near Sellicks Hill. 

This was always sold through a direct order mob in Melbourne or somewhere like that. 

This year some genius with a haircut let the deal go whoof.

Bad for the Two Tims, but lucky for those who've found Leith selling the wines from his ute at his farm on Aldinga Road, between Aldinga and Willunga. He's there most weekends. He sells it for a smacking $100 a dozen. Now he promises to put up a website which should be functioning later, after some technical hiccup or another. These folks need to be paid for what they've done. You'll be able to order it there on the cobweb and have it delivered for $150, which is still less than half its true worth in my personal crosshairs. 

Which are pretty sharp.

Bargains like this are scarce I fucking promise you with my blood.

Like other beauties grown in the Kurrajong rubble along that faultline, it's McLaren Vale Shiraz at its brooding, sultry best: right down the line of previous Up Enders. It has dark hewn oak tickling up a fragrance like panforte, the spicey honeyed nut cake of Siena. Smokey stove. This Nonna's put some diced dried figs in the mix. And the odd juniper berry. And it's dusted with musky confectioner's sugar. That bouquet's a delightful gastronomic adventure in itself. 

Drink. Land sakes! Satin and velvet and svelte syrup with real neat and tidy acidity drawing the tail out in a taper ... lipsmacking and savoury with never a hint of the gloopy over-ripe style of too much modern Shiraz ... a chip of bitter cooking chocolate in the finish ... this baby's the business! The flavours are neatly spicy and tight after the dry-ish nature of the panforte; the afterbreath pretty well purrs. What more could you want? The same wine in ten years? 

Grand idea, but I'll bet you can't stretch your case out that long. 

Catch a bird, take a drive at the weekend, find Leith, and spend your spare fifty at The Victory. Or at Geddes, back in Blewett Springs.

This is the winemaking Tim. Tim Geddes. Unlike winemakers who frock up in hard hats, hi-vis weskits and steelcap kickers to order visitors around their tasting benches, this Tim haunts his winery. He knows how to pick his place in cellar and geology and loves the calm slow shadows of real big oak ... some of these agements take decades ... photos Philip White


Seven Acre Shiraz in winter ... photo Philip White

More than a winery: fifty acres, four varieties, five geologies, nine lines ... 

It was a touch over thirty years ago that I met Michael Waugh, stonemason. He was building the Rockford winery, carefully ensuring it looked at least a hundred years old. He joked that one day a Mercedes hire car drew up, the rear window went down and an elderly woman told him to stop pulling that fine old wall down. 

"Lady, I'm building it," he said. 

It wasn't long before I learned Michael grew grapes near Greenock, on the Creek. He'd made a couple of amazing, intense wines in a brick fermenter he'd built against his kitchen wall. It wasn't long after that we got fried drinking Southwark in Norty Schluter's Greenock Creek Tavern where we fantasised and frothed on about building up a suite of little vineyards around his cottage, putting a separate block on each of the various geologies there. 

One perfect day at the annual launch of Michael's new reds: local blacksmith Harry Hennig and Margaret Hennig,  Greenock Creek Vineyards and Cellars proprietor, viticulturer and winemaker, Michael Waugh, Greenock Creek Tavern publican (ret.), Norty Schluter, Riesling genius (ret.) and neighbour John Vickery, the author, and Mary Vickery ... photo Leo Davis

I scribbled numbers on the back of an envelope and decided that would work. Off he went and did it. I think it worked.

 Eventually, he built a fine little winery. And then with wife Annabelle, bought the old Marananga restaurant/gallery/B&B complex to make a sales and tasting room. Greenock Creek now has roughly fifty acres of vineyard on five quite distinct geologies and aspects. The Seven Acre's in schisty siltstone and quartzite, the Creek blocks are in alluvial clays, Alice's is in Yudnamutana siltstone, Apricot's in deep ferruginous loam and Roennfeldt's and the Grenache is in a mess of ancient rubble and quartzite that Michael calls Hopeless Hill. 

All these years later, it's easy to shrug a "so what?" shrug and comment that all this stuff about geology and terroir is probably bullshit and that everyone's just doing it regardless. 

Well Trevor, now we know terroir is not bullshit. Anyone lucky or smart enough to nudge their  rubbing strakes at that tasting room bar, to work through the five vineyard specific Shiraz wines, the Mataro, two Cabernets and a Grenache, can only leave leering and confounded at the obvious differences they offer: that incredible range of flavours the winemaker achieved with fanatical vineyard husbandry, pruning and trellising each block to best suit its place, then fermenting, maturing and  bottling each batch individually. 

It wasn't a totally alien notion to Australia but I couldn't then think of anybody else who'd attempted something like that so deliberately. 

That was a very rare and wild thought we had that night in the pub. It wasn't really new on the international scale: the Burgundians had long been the masters of small estate grapegrowing and small batch winemaking, true to each block. But compared to Burgundy, the geologies available to Michael, all within a couple of kilometres of his house, made Burgundy look as mono as Coonawarra.

Picking Roennfeldt's on Hopeless Hill: there's only a few inches of soil there, then it's all stone ... photo Leo Davis

In the 'eighties, arrogant viticulturists were still convinced that with their new science and theories of canopy management, chemicals, poisons and whatnot, their technology could always overcome the wiles of nature to deliver a homogenised, dead reliable industrial consistency of flavour with no hiccups. 

That was the decade, after all, in which very big wineries quietly conspired with a naive state government to mount the notorious Vine Pull Scheme. On the face of it this was a noble plan to rationalise inefficient grapegrowers with cash incentives to pull up their vines and get out of the business. One didn't have to look very hard to realise it was really an attempt to clean out the Barossa's peasant-scale patchwork of old vineyards, limit the number of growers, and remodel the Valley's viticulture to make it more consistently, industrially  samey, like Coonawarra. Starved of proper payment for their grapes, they uprooted and burnt their grandfathers' vine gardens, their Tate, Louvre, Parthenon, Guggenheim and Kew Gardens of wine heritage treasures and cried in the pubs for two years.

It was a battle, but we stopped that. 

From the start, I helped Michael with his annual newsletter, enjoying that moment every year or two when another vineyard, fresh-planted or purchased, would come on line. The wines were immediately well regarded for their intense soul and individuality, and yep, quite often their brazen alcoholic power. Michael always seemed to pick with a different approach to others: sugar was never singularly the signal. Rather, he'd call the pickers when the grapes' natural acidity began to fall. It didn't always work perfectly, of course, but generally his wines displayed a better balance than many of his rivals and emulators. 

It was the biggest, boldest and most overwhelming wines that began to lure the attention of the US critic, Robert Parker Jr., who was soon handing perfect 100/100 scores to those strongest, perhaps more imbalanced of them. That started a sales boom in the US. Everyone got in on the action: it seemed all that was needed was buckets of colour and alcohol and everyone could buy a Ferarri. 

In his last twenty years, my dear friend and mentor, Dr Ray Beckwith, the great Penfolds wine scientist, kept a graph of the steadily-increasing alcohol levels in Barossa reds. While he loved the odd Greenock Creek, he thought overall the fashionable Barossa wines were getting far too strong ... photo Milton Wordley

Inexorably, over a decade, the average alcohol in Barossa Shiraz increased, rising to the point of stupidity. That phase, fortunately, has waned with Parker's influence, and now we even have winemakers appreciating the beauty of the occasional Greenock Creek reds that hit the market at 12.5%.  Upward is not always onward. 

There was a sob in Michael's voice a few months back, when he called to tell me that he was too far into his seventies to keep running such a hands-on, complex, if thriving business. He'd had a long hard think with his beloved Annabelle and decided to sell their lives' physical accomplishments and retire, hopefully with their satisfaction intact. Go sit somewhere and have a coffee. Or a steak and a great old red. 

Annabelle and Michael photographed by Leo Davis

I've stayed out of the way whilst the procedure of advertising, negotiation and sale takes its complex course - that's none of my business - but I believe this phase is nearing its conclusion. Michael reports some very keen interest, and leaves it at that. No details; I don't ask. 

When it's all settled, I wish my dear friends the happiest days of pleasure through the rest of their lives, and the very best of luck to Michael when his pruning hand gets twitchy. 

He's just got to learn to put that energy to use polishing the spokes of his Jag, before pointing that wicked puss at a winding white line. I hope it leads this way. Not many of us will leave such a beautiful and justly admired agricultural/gastronomic monument when we clock off for a spell. These Waughs haven't wasted any time. I'm sure that won't change.


Dewayne Johnson with his sons ... photo Baum Hedland Law Firm

Breakthrough in Roundup damages trials: court win for dying gardener

There's a silence hanging like a thundercloud over the Australian wine industry since last week's California ruling against Monsanto. Having found the biochemical giant's top-selling weedicide, Roundup, contributed to Dewayne Johnson's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a San Francisco jury awarded $US39 million in compensatory damages to the dying school gardener. 

The jury also awarded $US250 million in punitive damages against Monsanto. 

Robert F Kennedy Jr, prominent in Johnson's legal team, had argued for $US373 million. "This jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with reckless disregard for human life," Kennedy said. 

The jury found that in its labelling of Roundup, Monsanto should have advised the user of its true health threats. 

While Monsanto is appealing the ruling, Roundup opponents in the USA say the case has opened the gate for the hearing of thousands more cases already filed in federal and state US courts. 

Monsanto, manufacturer of Agent Orange and DDT, is now part of Bayer AG, which just paid $US66 billion for it and plans to rename it pronto. That'd be a fairly reliable indicator of the value of customer goodwill at Monsanto. 

The USA Environmental Protection Agency had ruled in September that glyphosate, the key active ingredient in Roundup, was "probably unlikely" to cause cancer in humans. This followed a World Health Organisation ruling that it was "probably carcinogenic to humans." The California legislature has ruled it to be a carcinogen. The Australian government's Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority [APVMA] insists that "the use of glyphosate in Australia does not pose a cancer risk to humans."

While the wine industry, whose growers have liberally applied Roundup to vineyards since its launch in the late 'seventies, remains silent on the issue, many farmers maintain they will continue to use Roundup according to the instructions on the back label. 

Leading Queensland cotton grower Peter Foxwell told ABC Rural "most farmers would use any chemical within label or chemical registrations, and that's for their own safety and the safety of the environment and surrounding crops and animals ... we continue and most farmers who use Roundup I'm guessing would probably continue to use it in a safe manner." 

There's a different mood emergent in Australian local governments, many of which were limiting their use of the poison well before the US ruling. Some alternatives seem obvious - try actually mowing roadsides, as we see happening in the Hills - while more sophisticated technologies like steam-spraying applications are under trial and development, as they are in forward-thinking vineyards. 

It seems, however, this battle is just beginning, with the influential US non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) yesterday reporting its independent laboratories found a "hefty dose of the weed-killing poison" in a range of the most popular US oat-based breakfastfoods and snack bars.  

  "Glyphosate ... was found in all but two of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats," it reports. "Almost three-fourths of those samples had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children's health with an adequate margin of safety. About one-third of 16 samples made with organically grown oats also had glyphosate, all at levels well below EWG's health benchmark." 

As it did constantly through the Johnson case, Monsanto maintains there is "absolutely no connection between glyphosate and cancer," citing over 800 studies it claims to scientifically support its argument. Which leaves us to spat over just how much of this stuff is safe to eat. Or drink. After a contentious 2016 finding of glyphosate in Californiawines tested for Moms Across America, the McGill University Office for Science and Society, whose buzzline is "Separating sense from nonsense", retorted "Even if it were off by a factor of a thousand, which is most unlikely, it would still mean that one could consume 1.9 litres of that single sample of wine with the 18 ppb residue every day without a worry. And let's keep in mind that alcohol is a known carcinogen, so it is actually of greater concern than the trace residues of glyphosate in wine." 

Similar disdain was shown another 2016 report, in which the Munich Environmental Institute (MEI) found glyphosate in 14 of Germany's best-selling beers. Giant brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev questioned the small number of samples tested and said the MEI's suggestion that brewers were not keeping a close watch on their raw materials was "absurd and completely unfounded." 

Germany has long sat proud of its old Das Reinheitsgebot food purity law which limits the permitted ingredients in beer to water, barley, hops and yeast. It's easy to find similar sentiment amongst Australian scientists. 

University of Adelaide pharmacologist Dr Ian Musgrave told ABC Rural last November the health risk glyphosate presents to humans is "ridiculously low ... You'd have to be eating 1,000 fold more than exists on current foods," he said, "or up to 100 kg of corn with residue every day to reach levels that are a hazard. 

"The biggest risk is that [if you ban it] you're losing a very versatile and very effective weed control agent." 

Nevertheless, an increasing number of Australian wineries are turning away from glyphosate, instead using sheep, steam or other alternatives like pelargonic acid. Along with a great array of folk medicines, this is a natural fatty acid derived from the pelargonium plant. It's very expensive so far, but it works. 

Amongst the myriad glyphosate/Roundup arguments rampant you soon hit contention about just how long the stuff, or its influences, can stay active in the ground. As the drought intensifies, and Murray-Darling grape and citrus growers encounter increasing pressure to instead make stock feed hay with overhead irrigation, it will be worth watching how much glyphosate a couple of crops of that, per year, will entail. 

There's a good opportunity there for a precise scientific test that leaves the wine biz right out of it, for a time, at least. Like how much glyphosate is already there in the ground? How much will be required to crop 'clean' hay? How long will traces remain? Where does it all go?

Sheep photographed by Philip White  on Yangarra vineyards, which are 100%  certified organic and biodynamic.


Raiding the stout winter shelf at Goodiesons' McLaren Vale Brewery

Before the winter becomes less of a thing and we're all back slurping frosty lagers take the time to visit Jeff and Mary Goodieson and their boys just out of the McLaren Vale village on Sand Road. They've spent a decade building their dream business there since Jeff left his former life brewing for Lion Nathan. Jeff's expertise has always been stout, so it was a delight to call by recently and pick up a mix of his current darker winter releases. They'll do you a mixed slab of 24x330ml. stubbies for $95, although smaller purchases are welcome.  

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Coffee Stout (7.5% alcohol) 

It's a big risk, shuffling about the kitchen to make coffee first thing in the morning and you find this in the fridge. Sure beats grinding it and all. Very easy to surrender instead to this sweet deliciousness. Jeff uses a powerfully aromatic but gently cold brewed coffee with dark malted barley. Which is a very secure marriage from the start. All melded and frothy like coffee crema, it has a surly glower of drying counterpoint tannin in its dark bits, just to add to the grown-up feeling, then that fades in a slippery dangerous way so that's the first course of breakfast done ... one is tempted to drop a scoop of champagne sorbet in it for a dessert spider and then it'll be lunch time.  

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Chocolate Stout (7.6% alcohol) 

Much quieter than the coffee, the cocoa here is purely the result of finely selected barley, malted and brewed in a chocolate direction ... It takes me to the ValRhona chocolate factory in the south of France, where I would buy their stunning bitter cooking chocolate by the giant tile-sized brick wrapped in heavy brown paper and tied with hempen twine ... but this is beer: it's all the best swarzbrot and blackbreads rising through the whiff of ripening grainfields after a quick sunshower, followed then by a lithe and snakey line of flavours and textures that are quite vinous, almost like a lightly fortified barrel-aged muscadelle. This will be my preferred aperitif beer through the winter, methinks.  

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Imperial Stout (9.4% alcohol) 

Here's malt for you: full-bore deep christmas fruitcake full of rinds and currants and dark spices; as healthy and rich as Saunders Malt Extract which we had off a spoon as kids which sure led me to beer quicker than Jesus did. It has a perfect balance, teasing that dainty step back and forth between piquant cheek and deep buttery/suet/caul fat/stewing vegetal comfort like the marsh where Pan plays John Barleycorn Must Die and there on the gingham picnic cloth there's Bull Creek garlic, cheddar, blistering chillies, an Andy Clappis baguette and Kangaroo Island olive oil ... thanks! Raw on the trencher: fingers'll do; some pickled hard-boiled quail or bantam eggs would set it up trimmingly too ... half past one and I'm gonna go snooze ... is this the best stout in Australia? 

Goodieson Brewery McLaren Vale Barrel-aged Stout 2018 (7.9% alcohol) 

Nah this is the best ... it's even more autumnal in its genteel decay ... it seems to come from a bit further down the swamp. It's been in an old Shiraz barrel. So it's a gentler, aged, refined stout. But while that's the comforting side, it's sort of threatening in its faux placitude, and a bit late you notice the hound sitting at the bottom of the gastronomic marsh like a lignifying limpet mine. It has little tiny eyes like the worst bull terrier but there's still that calming mood and demeanour of a grandfather in a favourite cardigan, snoozing by the fire ... it's gentle, avuncular, elegant; supreme in its confidence and knowledge ... never abusing its quiet slumbering power ... it's more of a twilight wine beautifully made from grain. And then it abuses that quiet slumbering after all, and the dog has a bit of a taste of you and you're a goner ... this is a dramatic beer. Never thought I'd say anything like that about a beer ... glorious!

Some of Australia's most prized and profitable malting barley was grown in this field on the edge of the McLaren Vale township. This barley was always sought after by Guinness. After a years-long battle to save it, the development-hungry Onkaparinga Council and a Labor state government worked together to turn it into this new low of decrepit urban planning, which in true style, they dared to call Seaford Heights. No sea, no ford, no height. McLaren Vale now has several small breweries which import their barley.



Tasting G. D. Vajra Barolo Nebbiolo in Stephen Pannell's temple of blends

One of the lovely things in this long wine saga is watching Steve, or more formally Stephen, S. C. Pannell, pour out his winemaking evolution. 

In many ways he's a pod, a human loose in an uncontrolled capsule that swirls away into the dark unknown, the gravity of his curiosity powering its escape and drawing our eternal attention. In others, he's a highly focused, entirely deliberate wine mason determined to show us buildings he's made of wine stones other than the usual Shiraz and Cabernet everyone gets down the local quarry. 

Stephen Pannell in one of his newest sheds ... photos Philip White

Some of his most recent wine buildings are made from a range of grapes as wildly varied and unlikely as the ironstone conglomerate in the walls of the old Tintara Winery, where he was boss red winemaker for what was then BRL-Hardy, one of our biggest ever wine companies. 

Those rocks are all sand and iron, like all his new wines are grapes, but both vary more widely in composition than the cakes up at Muratti's Gateaux. 

My fave recent Steve for example is a blend of Malbec, Shiraz, Touriga and Tinto Cao. You never saw one of those before. It's called the Tanino 2016 and it's only 13.8% naughty bits. Get a magnum and revel. Take a basket of antipasto. Mezes. Charcuterie. Crunchy Bosc pears. 

Also, he makes what are amongst Australia's best Nebbiolo reds. From his addiction to pursing those flavours of the old world, where he goes to make wine every chance he gets, Steve had his mate Giuseppe Vajra present some of his wines yesterday. In the S. C. Pannell barrel hall in McLaren Vale. Steve had first made Barolo with Aldo; now here's Aldo's son Giuseppe presenting a few smack-in-the-head reds from the business named G. D. Vajra after Aldo's dad. Vajra - the j is soft, as in Vaira - is a bold business in Italy's Piedmonte. 

Giuseppe's grandfather fought the fascists; his father fought the wowsers and determined to make better wines when Barolo wasn't particularly fashionable and people were getting out; Giuseppe fights mediocrity. And among other staunch dainties makes Nebbiolo. He's right back in. 

As he and Steve bounced off each other's cheery yarn-spinning, I found myself suspecting that Giuseppe couldn't believe his luck, standing there in South Australia, presenting to the local millionaires, winemakers and sommeliers. 

I had to remind myself that silversleeves, silverspoons, silvertails and shinyarse bankers are the only types you'll hear using words like Nebbiolo and Barolo loudly. Only fools use them loud and loose. The nascent, the prescient and the aspirant winer whisper them, in hope. In my experience, those who understand them best rarely utter the words at all, understanding in their tastefully polite way how much friggin money good ones cost. 

Also, how close to the beginning of its evolution is its source, the Barolo region, where new cash-rich attention from outsiders is flushing out the most worn bits of history to replace them with new ideas in the vineyards and wineries. After two or three thousands years of winemaking, the joint is finding new feet. It's discovering, for example, its calcareous geology; its irony sandstone. In his winemaking visits there over a couple of short decades, Steve has actually played a part in its new attitude and direction. It's give and take. And put simply, it's chaotic. In many ways, this new Barolo appellation makes McLaren Vale look organised. 

So if you're driving east through from the Riviera and Nice toward Genoa, don't turn left up the hill toward Turin unless the Ferrari is full of cash. 

Classic Barolo tasting notes use words like "amplification" and "steel". This is because it's still cold there on the south side of the Alps and Nebbiolo has low colour, high acid, and a peculiar type of tannin that flies in to land on the wine as you swallow it. Or hovers above it like a cloud. As the opposite of most Shiraz, where the tannin forms a basement and sets there like ballast under the tongue. 

Good Barolo is lean and mean like the Pinot just over the mountains there in Burgundy. But without so much instantly-gratifying flesh. Barolo takes longer. Only a jerk or one of the Sopranos would trouble it young. In fact Tony & Co. can take the blame for a lot of its resurgence. 

In this retro age of science-defying, so-called "natural" winemaking, there are few classic by-products of uncontrolled fermentation more readily achieved than volatile acidity. VA. Some people love it - it's acetic acid, the prime acid of vinegar ... the stuff spread across open fermenters like jam by the Vinegar Fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Some winemakers encourage a little of it, in a controlled way. Balsamic-like VA was one of the vital aspects of the old-style Grange Shiraz, particularly those made by Don Ditter (1975-86) and John Duval (86-02). 

Most of the eight wines Giuseppe poured for us had some of this volatility. I find this a tricky thing to overlook in wines as uncompromising and sabre-slim - even brittle - in such braw infancy. My favourite was the wine which seemed to show the least amount of it: the Barolo Ravera 2014 (about $140). This was a vibrant, tantalising, lively drink. At first, it smelled like lemon juice on fresh-cracked cherry kernels. Then some maraschino flesh grew on that sabre blade; then grilled cashew on redcurrant pressings, through cranberry toward salmonberry. Damn thing grows from childhood to juvenile. The first sip was austere and not nearly as rewarding as that bouquet teased. Let it sit, glowering at you, daring you, for another half hour and it begins to mumble. I wonder whether I can live long enough to enjoy this uncompromising beauty at its maturation? Give it a good hour or maybe two in a broad decanter. 

As Giuseppe delivered his folksy familial tales of life in a region just emergent with a new meaning, I wondered about human nature as applied to wine: what is it that leads us so keenly to discover new things before anybody else discovers them? Even to make something almost forgotten famous again? Perhaps before it's ready? Is it ever ready? Surely there's more than chaos in change? 

While S. C. Pannell is a source of those leading Australian Nebbies, I think it's significant that he's also playing with a great mixture of other varieties and blends. We seemed to agree that global warming could make VA even more of a regional character if Barolo winemakers stick to their rustic traditions as their ferments grow warmer and shorter. I reassured myself that Pannell's intelligent attack on the full palette of unheard-of varieties at least brings the protection sometimes offered by considered chaos. A cup of sieved fractals; a pound of Fibonaci; stir in some Mandelbrot.

It seems to me the age of the great new thing, the single sanctified top of the pops variety, the grail promoted by the noisiest evangelist might be taking a rest until we sort this new heat. Nebbiolo sure gives me reason to live long, and it's not about to go away, but the excitement the judicious or foolhardy blender can conjure looks sure to keep us busy while we wait. 

 [S. C. Pannell has commenced importing selections from the G. D. Vajra portfolio.]


Wirra Wirra Hiding Champion Adelaide Hills Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2018 
($24; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap)

The name refers to Greg Trott, Wirra Wirra founder, who without ever admitting to being lost, tended to be vacant from everywhere he was supposed to be at the time. Now we presume that he lies where we buried him in the Strout Road graveyard, but I also doubt that he stayed put there: he doesn't answer most days. His curious spirit certainly revisits the winery. I sat there at lunch recently with a striking woman who swore she felt his guiding hand on the small of her back. 

This is the sort of drink Trott would have with his scallops or salt'n'pepper flounder in T-Chow. It's clean and lean, like Savvy-b can be, grassy like gooseberry or oxalis. Fresh as a meadow in spring. The form of the wine, its texture, is not your ordinary water-and-acid version - like so many examples of the blonde sauvignon - but offers more generosity of form without losing its sense of purpose. Which is to refresh and cleanse. Then it goes away. Nothing more complex than that. 

Wirra Wirra The Lost Watch Hand-picked Adelaide Hills Riesling 2018 
($25; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Nothing lost or even vaguely fleeting about this baby: it's solid, staunch Riesling, with a whiff of lightly smoked ham hanging above its dense citrus rind. In its clear, pure intensity, it is as complex as many red wines, with firm healthy flesh and very fine, powdery tannin drawing its lemons-and-limes to a long, calm finish. This one sticks around. 

I had a friend, a businessman, who tended to buy out rivals he didn't particularly like, so he could drive around in their cars. He seemed to think he could work out what made them tick if he drove their cars. He was a Sauvignon blanc drinker: about one bottle per hour per head; faster if the business excited him. One day, as we broached bottle #2, he fixed me with his acquisitive eye and uttered a statement that was as close as I saw him get to an apology. He referred to his attraction to Sauvignon blanc. "I know what you serious wine blokes think about Sauvignon blanc," he said. And then, without an upwards inflection: "You'd say that Riesling was the greater drink. Wouldn't you." 

Well yes, I would. But he was of French Swiss extraction, and nursed a life-long suspicion of the German Swiss. I reckon he thought Riesling was part of their plot to get his car. Bottle of this; Wah Hing; salt'n'pepper egg plant would be the main goal of my plot. 

The Wirra Wirra crew: viticulturer Anton Groffen, chief winemaker Paul Smith, and managing director Andrew Kay (photo Philip White) 

Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley McLaren Vale Rosé 2018 
($20; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

There were times, not that far back, in which nearly all the Grenache went into raspberry-simple, lolly-sweet pink drinks. Now winemakers have learned to make proper red wine from that lovely grape, Grenache rosés are not so common. This one's a few steps above most of that tired thoughtless stuff of yore. It's been made with gastronomic intention: it's no afterthought. It smells like raspberries, cranberries and redcurrants, even when chilled, which is how to best approach it. Maybe confectionary gels made from those fruits. That jelly texture is important here: it holds its comforting form in the ice bucket. 

But chilling, while being pretty much the main idea in spring, also makes the wine's residual sugar stand out. It's not overtly sweet, but maybe along the lines of a modest spatlese, and seems more so, as I say, served real cold. Which makes it rock and roll with stacks of Thai ginger and chilli. Or, if you happen to forget church on the next sunny Sunday, try it with that eleven o'clock bell and a crumbly chèvre. If Trott's there too, avoiding church, can you please remind him to call the winery? 

The author pouring a glass for Trott the day we spread Stephen Tracey's ashes in the Shiraz, above (photo Leo Davis). Below: Jim Irvine, Andrew Wigan, Trott and Stephen John at The Barn, about 1983 (photo Philip White)
PS You you know what I really like? I really like a blend of these three wines. The Sauvignon gives edge, the rosé a whiff of rose petals and Turkish delight with its cheery sweetish berries, and the Riesling gives force and body. This blend is big and satisfying to the extent that it needs no food. This is more of your drinking wine. Start with 60% Sauvignon, 30% rosé and 10% Riesling. Notice how readily the Riesling dominates.

photo Philip White

19 August 2018


It was very chill on the shoulder of Ironheart today, but there was no rain and the light was good for a few snaps of bits around the wee croft that I never see twice the same way.

In the exposed bits, where there is no clay or sand, this is pretty well 100% Maslin Sands ironstone. Get through the few centimetres of grapeshsot and peashot granular stuff and you're in the stone that built the old Smart place.

That little window on the right is where I made this photograph of the lost bananas:

two photographs not taken today: vineyard prepared but yet unplanted to the south towards High Sands, above: Ibis under a storm a month ago; below is Ironheart Shiraz over my front fence just beginning to colour up for the shivery delicious 2018 harvest

all photos by Philip White

09 August 2018


This scary mutha groaned across yesterday when we tasted G. D. Vajra Barolo reds in the barrel hall at S. C. Pannell in McLaren Vale ...  kept thinking of bends

 those photos are mine ... Milton got the Mighty Chook Gate 

... and I got S. C. ...

 ... thankyou S. C. and G. D. for the sort of day when the bottom becomes the top: