“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)


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31 October 2018

CLARE'S BEST RIESLING?


Doctors cut my heart out: O'Leary Walker saves with Riesling transplant
by PHILIP WHITE

It must have been a very complex sociological mess in the North Mount Lofty Ranges through the early years of white colonisation. 

Think of the Clare hills. While the Ngadjeri people were ravaged by the disease the newcomers brought, you had Austrian Jesuits building their church retreat, school, and pub at Sevenhill, Mexican muleteers carting Burra copper south, from one wine shanty to another, Irish farmworkers clearing country for forage and stock, posh British landowners building themselves grand homestead estates, and then an influx of Polish settlers who made their home at the head of the Hill River. 

John Ruciak - the last Pole to live in the Polish Valley: John kept fastidious copperplate diaries, recording the weather and the constant daily changes in vineyards and gardens. I photographed him in the early 'eighties, here at his cottage without electricity or reticulated water. He was born in this house, and kept his diaries in the sea trunks his parents used to bring their possessions to Australia.





The British government's Letters Patent attachment to its Act establishing its new privateers' colony officially rendered the original owners to suddenly be British subjects. 

It stated, however, that this country was the property of these ancient civilisations and ruled in their protection, declaring that the whites should do nothing to "affect the rights of any Aboriginal natives of the said province to the actual occupation and enjoyment in their own persons or in the persons of their descendants of any land therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such natives"

The occupiers ignored this; the Ngadjeri who somehow survived the booze and disease and relentless clearances ended up virtually derelict around Riverton and Willochra. 

The first official cartouche of the colony of South Australia: Britannia discussing her spear with a Kaurna man at Rapid Bay

Once Jeffrey Grosset set up his brave new winery at Auburn, he began purchasing fruit from a 1970 planting of Riesling near the little Roman Catholic chapel the Polish settlers had built on a hillock at the source of the Hill River. This place was colloquially known as Polish Valley. Grosset called his wine Polish Hill Riesling. It was an instant hit. 

In reality, this "river" is more an occasional stream flowing after good rain from the hills near Mintaro, to disperse on what must have been rich peppermint gum forest on the flats to the north and east. This flat alluvial ground has gradually gone saline since clearance, but at the stream's source on the ancient geologies of the hills very fine wine grapes can be grown. 

For some years, the fruit of this old vineyard, managed organically on sandstone and slate, and owned by a couple of visionary heart surgeons, has gone instead to O'Leary Walker Winemakers at Watervale. It's the heart of their outstanding Polish Hill River Riesling. In exceptional years (like two of them - 2013 and now 2017) its best selection makes Drs' Cut, made vaguely after the Alsace style with wild yeast, slow ferment and 6 months on yeast lees. 

O'Leary Walker Winemakers Drs' Cut Polish Hill River Riesling 2017 ($40; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) is possibly the best Clare Riesling I've encountered. It replaces the '13, which was perhaps the previous best, but that's finally sold out, dammit. 

The wine is immediately smooth, harmonised, rich and highly complex. All manner of florals and fruits, tropical and citrus ooze around the glass with wisps of honey and lime marmalade. It is a bigger, more luxurious bouquet than most Chablisienne Chardonnay, but never seems awkward or corpulent. I don't mean to corral it unfairly - it'll saunter off wherever and whenever it likes, anyway - but that bouquet alone has me suggesting it's a Riesling for hardcore Burgundy fetishists. Think of a rocking firm acid Mersault without overt oak. 

The form of the palate, its weight and texture, is more refined, tight and poised than that bouquet teases you to expect. It's rich and rewarding without being cloying or syrupy. It's utterly calm, polished and silky, with the tiniest dusting of tannin embracing the acids in its langorous taper. 

Its flavours have barely stirred yet - while they're complex, full and polished, they've hardly started. 

While I enjoy the edgy steel and acrid cordite and slate of the 2013, this has all that, but it's more fleshy, more heady, more idyllic wine. It will accompany the oilier bottom-feeding fish - scallops, crustaceans, flathead - brilliantly, offering more harmony than the crunchy contrast of the '13. 

I can't wait til I find the right lightly-smoked wurst to make a proper choucroute, the Alsace version of sauerkraut. Spicy roast spuds, a stack of wine-cooked pickled cabbage, those snags, a touch of crunchy smoked bacon  and a big whack of creamy mustard stirred with cognac ... a bottle of Drs' Cut swelling in the decanter ... cut my mustard, baby ... grrrrr! 

So, typically, we have a truly great and rare wine whose complexity and grandeur can't help but invoke in me contemplations of all those collisions of human history and the lands where they were committed. 

It makes the whole marvel more profound, unlikely and cruel.

30 October 2018

FIVE CHEAPER WHITES FROM YALUMBA



Yalumba The Y Series Barossa Riesling 2018 
($15; 11.5% alcohol, screw cap)

Meadow-fresh and limy at the top; honeydew flesh in the middle; deep leafy greens and petiols in the basement: if this is any measure of Australia's $15 Riesling we have little to worry about. It has better unction than most of the water-and-acid cheapies available further down the discount shelf: it's really pleasantly viscous, a texture that brings comfort and reassurance, and dare I say, makes the glass more of drink than a think. Which is never to say it can't be pondered. Good wine for $15. 

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Sauvignon Blanc 2018 
($15; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

As far as aromas go, this is pretty much like the Riesling but devoid of everything but the grass. They've worked hard at this wine's texture, too: they've had the pillow-fluffers in. 

Which seems a bit out-of-context: if there was a variety one reached for where one didn't expect a fluffy middle, surely it would be the blonde Savvy? 

Forget think; this is more of a wink than a drink. Savvy-b does not work up the River. This is barely-dressed ethanol. 

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Pinot Grigio 2018 
($15; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

There's a great deal of grey Pinot: grigio, gris around the traps, most of which serves simply to prove to me that anywhere one wouldn't attempt to grow Pinot noir will be no good for its paler sports. 

Pinot noir, same bunch, with Pinot blanc and one berry that can't decide, but strangely, no intermediate gris/grigio/grey ... Rathfinny Estate, Sussex, UK

Pinot grows best in Burgundy, where winter snow is not unusual. I've not seen much snow in the Mallee lately, but I'm sure Pastor Morrison will do something about that with his direct link to the king of heaven at today's big drought summit. They'll probably heal the River. 

In the meantime, this is a melony, fleshy thing to smell: a bit like warm-area Chardonnay. Like the Savvy, it's all about unction. It's thin on the flavour, but thick in the flesh. 

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Chardonnay 2018 
($15; 13% alcohol; screw cap) 

While Chardonnay is a Burgundian child, like Pinot, this baby's more of a Chardonnay than the Grigio is, which would seem to make some sense. Warm area Chardonnay: insinuations of canned/poached peach and pear with their satisfying syrup, but little of the racy, bracing natural acidity the grape makes when grown properly cool. 

Not a noticeable splinter of focussing oak, either. 

This is one for the ham and pineapple pizza, or maybe some Colonel Sadness chook. 

You don't get snow in the vast Mallee/desert section of the Murray Darling River Basin, but patchy summer hail is not rare ... photo Steve Nitschke
 
Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Viognier 2018
($15; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Viognier? This smells a bit like Chardonnay, with that Chinese bean custard/curdy flesh that sometimes comes through secondary fermentation and lots of stirring in of the dead yeast lees. 

The flavour is better balanced than the Savvy-B or the Pinot-G, and seems to have a little more of the acid I wanted in the Chardonnay. It has none of the disctinctive grainy tannin I expect in good cool region Viognier, but then we wouldn't go surprising the punters with a tad of natural tannin in the tail of their palest tincture, would we? Admittedly, the label does say "silky". 

So, whatter we got with these Y's? First and foremost, $15. And maybe less in the Hungry Dans of this world. 

The Murray at Yalumba's Oxford Landing vineyard ... photo Yalumba

Second, lots of River. These European varieties from cool continental sources simply don't adapt well to the Australian desert, regardless of how much water we afford them. 

Third, not a lot of challenge, which is not what the sub $15 market segment is expected to expect. 

It is no surprise that the one wine that claims a region slightly more focused than "South Australia", that Riesling from the Barossa, is by far the best drink of the suite and the one which most closely resembles the more spendy Old World snow country examples our pioneers dutifully attempted to copy.

photo Milton Wordley

IRONHEART WINS McLAREN ICON TROPHY

The day after the shoot-thinners had been through, adjusting the coiffure of Yangarra's Ironheart Shiraz on my front doorstep, the roos were in, sniffing around for titbits, while south in the Vales Ironheart was being awarded the Wineworks Australia Trophy for McLaren Vale Icon Red Wine at the wine Bushing Lunch. 

Vintages 2010, '13 and '16 were adjudged ... photo Philip White

Stephen Pannell won his fourth Bushing Crown for best wine in the show with a blend usually more associated with Clare: his S. C. Pannell McLaren Vale Cabernet Malbec 2016. Here he is with wife Fiona Lindquist ... this photo Milton Wordley

Always at the front in supporting the local wine industry, Member for Mawson Leon Bignell, centre left, joins the toast to celebrate Pannell's win ... photo Milton Wordley

Having crossed their Rubicon with their imposing and contentious taxpayer-sponsored  "Cube" honeytrap for tourists at d'Arenberg, D'Arry and Chester Osborn are always ready to take a bit more attention ... this time collecting a gold medal (no trophy awarded) for their Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2016.

Elena Brooks, ace winemaker of both Heirloom and Dandelion Wines, makes her entrance ... photo Milton Wordley

To see the full list of judges, stewards, entries and results, click here.

Here's Yangarra manager and winemaker Peter Fraser with viticulturer and farm manager Michael Lane, collecting their second top gong for the day, this time the Memstar Trophy for the best white wine of the show, the Yangarra Estate Vineyard Blanc 2018, Australia's first full-bore blend of newly introduced Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties ... photo Milton Wordley



26 October 2018

SHOOT-THINNING ON BUSHING DAY

Out my front door: Thinning new shoots in the chill dawn in Yangarra's Ironheart Shiraz: these deft experts are setting the new canopy up to suit the season: removing excess growth and clearing air-flow space below the cordon so the wind can more readily dry the foliage and minimise mould and the need for fungicide ... at the same time, somewhere down the other end of the district, a big team of chefs and volunteers are preparing a great tent for a four-course meal for several hundred diners. It's time to celebrate the presentation of this year's McLaren Vale wine show results and the Bushing Crown ... photo Philip White

24 October 2018

CANNABIS ADDS FRACTALS TO WINE POT


Judging pot wine: just another psychoactivatin' fractal in the chaos
by PHILIP WHITE 

For a Scandinavian wine blog, David Morrison's The Wine Gourd spends quite a lot of its time examining Australian wine and the way Oz critics score wine. Yesterday The Gourd reminded us of two recent articles which examine the erratic nature of wine scores, not just across different tasters but also the variations within a single critic's scores of the same wine tasted on different occasions. 

These are analysed from a number-cruncher's point of view: the cold hard statistics, on the record, surely deserve some examination. 

Of course the human reaction to something as fleeting and moody as wine varies. It alters from room-to-room, lab-to-lab, day-to-day and season-to-season, and,  given the vagaries of cork, from bottle-to-bottle. Ambient aromas, colour and noise - like music or conversation - can radically alter the way we interpret wines to ourselves, even before we attempt the risky trick of trying to explain our reaction to others - in a language poorly equipped with words specific to aroma and flavour. 

Of course this is partly why we resort to point or star scores: since we learned to count with some proficiency, many humans seem more likely to respect a simple numerical evaluation than they tend to believe or attempt to understand a written or recited review. 

For which they can't be blamed, given the literary capacities of many wine "experts". 

This writer's mantra has generally spun around the suspicion that wine scores are used by critics with little faith in their own writing and descriptive skills when they attempt to influence the buying patterns of people whose reading capacities and comprehension they similarly mistrust. 

Such inadequate simplistic rankings, of course, are used with withering efficiency by discounting retailers, especially if they can influence the results of grand mega-tastings with their advertising dollar and corner the market of the winning wines. Which they do. 






















Similarly wine show results are always influenced by the judges selected for the job. Tell me the style of wine you want rewarded with major bling at your next regional wine races and I'll pick you a team of judges to deliver precisely that result. 

At least we seem now to have a choice: do we take our wine-buying advice from the math teacher, the English teacher, or the gastronome? The faceless white coat or the vagabond who's off their face? The poet or the statistician? A bit of a dab of each seems a surefire system. 

Typically, in the same inbox as The Gourd's missive came another, more challenging yarn from the cannabis connoisseur's website, Leafly. It's a classic toe in the water of a new genre of epicurean literature: How to Pair Food and Drinks With CannabisTerpenes

Oh lordy. If The Gourd finds irritating the lack of consistency humans show when ranking grape-based ethanol drinks, without even beginning to scratch their increasing vagary with the introduction of accompanying foods, Bacchus knows we're going to see some funny stuff emerge with the introduction of another powerful psychoactive ingredient. 

As one country or province after another lifts the century-old prohibitions on the myriad forms of cannabis available, and the stock exchangers and Coke plunge in with their billions, the amount of money being spent on publications, scientific research, sophisticated processing tools for the kitchen and whatnot is phenomenal. 

It's a bit like all the paraphernalia and accoutrements required for the refined preparation and consumption of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, chocolate, half of gastronomy and the entire pharmacopoeia is suddenly required, for the first time, all at once. 

Consider: The American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine alone lists over 25,000 articles on cannabis, cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system published in peer-reviewed medical journals since 1995. It's on. 

The drinks fascinate this drinks critic: huge trans and multi-national liquor and beverage manufacturers, from wineries through brewers to lolly-water/kiddylikker suppliers, are into cannabis drinks big time. 

The first had little or no alcohol and not much of your actual stone, but quickly we see these ingredients playing a larger role, sometimes in the same vessel. 

Remember when pot was always verboten? Then, as it gradually became more acceptable, if still illicit, the one rule never to be broken: "Never mix pot and liquor"? 

Like the shibboleth about combining caffeine and ethanol, those days are very quickly receding into the past. They will soon be over. People have learned to have a cognac and a coffee without carking it. Sharing an after-dinner spliff. Folks are learning very quickly to manage their own dosage. With better, more fact-based education, this will increase. 

Just like we were taught for years to avoid taking Paracetamol with Ibuprofen, we are now discovering a little of each is more beneficial in many cases, sometimes even giving the opiates a run for their money in the effication stakes. 

So, in an unholy melding of the inevitabilities, let's wonder how The Wine Gourd and its like will handle the biggest new variable: how will the presence of pot influence the way in which the Jeremy Olivers, Jeni Ports and James Hallidays review, rank and describe cannabis-infused wine? Not only does cannabis influence aroma and flavour, immediately calling for a whole new vocabulary, but its incredible range of psychoactive effects will also deserve explanation. Our critics are going to have to learn to describe relative intoxications. 

The earliest Australian wine reporters, like Ebenezer Ward (1837-1917, left) and Ernest Whitington (1873 - 1934) reported mainly variety and yield details: gastronomic evaluation was rarely, if ever, attempted. 

After World War II writers like Walter James and Osmar White began edging toward awarding scored ranks, but never quite got there. Walter, for example liked referring to how well his wines "went with chops". 

It was the Len Evanses, the Ian Hickinbothams (above, by Milton Wordley) and James Hallidays, the likes of Di Holuigue (below) and Geraldine Pascale that tipped in the indulgence, in the 'seventies recognising the synergies that arise when ethanol is included in epicurean literature. 

And I mean included, not just in its material combinations like the actual food and wine, but in its interpretation, and the manner of its printed presentation, the mood of the writing as much as vocabulary, syntax and grammar. 

Gone are the days when the business would wince and flinch when the likes of Evans (below) wrote  something like "Port makes you fart". 

The next James Halliday will need to be an erudite stoner.

Buongiorno - Marcelo Monreal

19 October 2018

THORNE-CLARKE'S BAROSSA TOPS


Happy marriage in Barossa Ranges: geology and serious heritage wins
by PHILIP WHITE

Thorn-Clarke came about when respected geologist David Clarke married Barossa Ranges lass Cheryl Thorn. Her family had been upland grapeprowers there since the 1850s - those ancient inherited vineyards were gradually extended with David's input. He planted various old rock geologies along those rangetops from Mount Crawford to St Kitts, along with a large slab of the recent clays north of Rockford on the Barossa floor. 

Under son Sam Clarke, this family business is now one of the region's biggest grape-growers. They have always been major sellers, but have gradually built up their own winery brand to gather its own provenance and reach new heights of respect. Here are their two top examples: 

Thorn-Clarke William Randell Barossa Shiraz 2016 
($60; 15% alcohol; cork) 

Classic old style silk-and-velvet Barossa Shiraz of such high order has been a bit of a rarity on this desk: it's great to be reminded of just how solidly accomplished and matter-of-factly seductive they can be when fed a proper range of fruits from such a range of sites. Single site wine growing is one thing, and it's become very popular indeed. But the capacity to blend across various sites almost always offers a more consistent, reliable and impressive drink, especially when the vineyards are in such geographical proximity. 

All the regular business went into this wine: small open fermenters, pump-overs by hand, best parcels into American oak barrels (40% new) and then only the most exemplary barrels are chosen for the assemblage. 

So? All those lovely silky prunes and plums, the mulberries and blackberries, the gentle fleshy mushroom you'd expect of the best of the big valley are in this wondrous thing. With that edge of Quercus alba sap that I called right wing when it stuck its head out of a Penfolds extravagance with an extra zero on it a few weeks back. In fact, if you smarted at those new Penfolds prices, this is a brand you could quite honorably retreat to and emerge with dignity and the satisfaction of saving a great deal of money. 

This would make hearty celebratory drinking with beef or cheddar at Christmas, or be a very safe bet left mellowing for a decade in the dungeon. 

Thorn-Clarke William Randell Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 
($60; 14.5% alcohol; cork) 

It's perfumed perfection, this level of high country Cabernet. All those demure but alluring whiffs of violets, a lavendar dash and fresh meadow blooms with hedgerow berries and their blossoms ... bergamot mint ... add the marshmallow flesh and inky silk of an elegant crème de cassis and you're getting close. 

It's a gorgeous bouquet, made all the better with French rather than American oak, but again, about 40% of it new. It's altogether a more lissom and sinuous drink: an elegance that calls for a finer level of cuisine than that great haunch of brontosaurus you dribbled through with the Shiraz. This would be grand with goose, maybe turkey, but if you can get your hands on some Guinea Fowl, with that contrasting pale and dark flesh, there'd be a great Christmas, right there. 

It'll cellar, too. If that cork works, expect shimmering brilliance. 

Thorn-Clarke has several ranges of less expensive premium red wine making up a full product pyramid beneath this pinnacle. The Riesling, Chardonnay and cult Pinot gris are also rock solid high country modestly=priced drinks.

18 October 2018

NOON'S NEXT QUARTET PREVIEWED


From pink to Eclipse: new Noontide dreaming in tricky Creek and Vale 
by PHILIP WHITE


High Noon Rosé 2018 
($17; 14.2% alcohol; screw cap) 

Bleached meadows and the dust of ancient piedmont rocks prickled my nostrils with delight when I opened this. It's from the old Grenache on Drew and Rae Noon's vineyard beside their McLaren Vale winery near the foot of the Willunga Scarp. Rifle Range Road. 

I put the bottle aside, then came back to it to find the damn thing nearly empty. It didn't stand a chance. Now I'm squeezing the last couple of glasses through real slow. Maraschino cherries. A light-cooked marmalade of blood orange and ginger with rosebuds. Redcurrant. 

By Bacchus it's good. 

Drink. That beautiful gentle viscosity Drew gets stirring these ferments in his big oak vat. Long, drawing acidity and ultra-fine tannin to reflect that alluring bouquet. There's nothing forced or dim about it: it just goes straight down the line of what rosé should be. Savoury; hunger-making. Stunning. Grenache. 

Noon Twelve Bells 2017
($12; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

This grainy old emulsional film noir has the same summer meadow topnote as the rosé in a way: that slightly acrid summer reek. It prickles. 

Add the plums and the Morello cherries. Jam it in real deep and you hit sweet old dressed harness leather. And there's a waft of something old from the shops around the Madelaine ... Guerlain's 1912 masterpiece, L'Heure Bleue. You can still buy this transporting fragrance. A waft of the end of La Belle Époque, defiant but melancholic before all hell broke out and my grandfather had to "go and fight the King's cousin the mud". 

Oops! This is neither melancholic nor violent, but it's terribly evocative. 

Licoricey tannins and heaps of slick, blackbean and berries and briar ... it's dense, but jumping and lively and lithe. It strings one out. Then it wipes you down with velvet tannin. 

Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet and Graciano. 

And it's twelve little tiny dollars. Ring-a-ding. There are whole towers of fancy bell-ringing winemakers who might pause to take note of this. 

Drew says it's barbecue wine. Serve it cool.  

Noon Eclipse 2017 
($29; 15.5% alcohol; screw cap) 

Grenache 90%, Shiraz 6% and Graciano 4% make up this whispering silky monolith. 

It seems so big and secure to sniff you might think you'd have to poke it with a stick but it's still gracious. It gives. 

Obviously a strong plummy year for the Noon Grenache block: its bouquet is all slick satsuma, prune and blueberry along with the trademark Morello cherry. Maybe a slice of dried fig. Smoky, coffee oak with a drip of nutmeg oil ... then the palate is surprisingly lithe and poised: it's not at all gloopy, and doesn't feel as strong as the numbers say, but just long and elegant and velvety. 

It's another very convincing step in the grand march of contemporary McLaren Vale Grenache: masterly. 

It'll be delicious now with aromatic mushrooms, but you'd be silly not to hide a few bottles away for a decade or so. 

Noon Reserve Shiraz 2017 
($29; 15.9% alcohol; screw cap) 

The estuarine location of Langhorne Creek - where Noons also take fruit - leads it to flood occasionally. This happened in 2017: so convincingly the Cabernet began to deteriorate before the water went down. So no Reserve Cab to catch from '17 - not even a port. Ouch! 

This gorgeous Shiraz, from BJ Borrett's Main Road Block survived, and admirably. As Drew says, it's a wine he considers "uniquely Australian." 

It's thick with the earthy Larncrk soulfulness that led to the young Wolf Blass hauling three Jimmy Watson Trophies out of the region in consecutive years; and Peter Lehmann oozing great Metalas in those same 'seventies. Somehow Langhorne Creek seemed to get lost for awhile after that: maybe the oak fashion choked its distinction. 

There's nothing lost about this. But you can get lost in it: Mississippi mudcake and then all that treacly toffee and what Drew calls molasses ... dusty black tannins in that silk-and-velvet syrup ... and yet once again, it's a lot more alluring and svelte than threatening. 

Another one for the cellar. 

As Noons quite justly sell out very quickly each year, get yourself in line for a cellar visit. They open for tasting and sales this year on Saturday 10th of November, to trade through three weekends, 10am-5pm. And that'll be it til next year ... photos Philip White

12 October 2018

McLAREN VALE HACKLES RISE

Looking east from Johnston's Pirramimma gate along Johnston's Road, McLaren Vale. Developers want to extend the town boundary to this road, and replace those vineyards and the barley field with housing, all the way down to the Salopian Inn.

Pitchforks sharpened as developers move on McLaren Vale vineyards
by PHILIP WHITE

It was a sea of dignified silver hair at Leon Bignell's meeting last night. 

The local MP had called the citizens together to explain the situation where developers plan to have the McLaren Vale township boundaries extended so they can spread some nice lucrative villa rash into the vineyards on its south side. 

Like right from Johnston's Pirramimma along to the Salopian Inn. 

Next time there's a big rock show at Richard Hamilton's, there'll be houses next door, not vineyards. And a giant Karidis Corporation old folks' home. Maybe Leonard Cohen coulda made a joke about that when he played there, chortling straight into his setting sun.

Day on the green.

Further along, just past the Salopian Inn, Richard Hamilton plans a huge luxury resort on his famous Hut Block Cabernet Vineyard, which is also zoned agricultural

In the question section, a schoolteacher politely suggested that as most of us present would obviously be dead soon, it would be good to be involving the young in these important discussions of their region's future, as they'd be the recipients of whatever such gatherings could decide and achieve. 

There was a heavy sense of moment. Uniform sage nods. 

Those seniors began arriving an hour before starting time. To a public meeting. Younger folks listened politely from outside, where they mingled with about as many as the elders crammed within. 

Don't trust me, but I reckon what, about 450 souls? 

As far as veterans go McLaren Vale is ahead of most of Australian vignobles in its ability to get angry, organised and fight to save its own blessed beauty. 

Its true worth. 

In practical conservation, McLaren Vale has form. 

Alex and Mary Johnston, Joe Petrucci, d'Arry Osborn and Colin Kay were prominent earlybirds from the local noblesse to settle at the front. Then came many growers and great grizzled vineyard experts among other townsfolk. There was a noticeable scarcity of the more narcissistic rockstarry winemakers, and those who simply wish they could flog some vineyards for houses and build themselves glittering glass and steel palaces on the escarpment, which I believe would be better put to investigating the best potential vineyard land in the district. 

As the climate warms, those cooler uplands will provide invaluable farming, but principally premium vineyard land, while the black cracking clay lowlands will become increasingly difficult. If it wants to retain its fine winemaking image, McLaren Vale will have to start thinking on that higher level

Bignell - everyone calls him Biggles - ran the show. He took us through the history of the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley Preservation Acts 2012 and how long and hard and persistent had been the  battle to get those legislations pushed through. He talked about the intensive community discussions that went into it - lots of butcher's paper planning in one town after another - and how proud and protective of it the citizens should be. 

This lot didn't need to be told. The rage and determination of the gathering was immediately palpable. There was a concentration of very smart people in that room, and strong. You wouldn't want that mob coming over your ramparts with their pikes. And books. Their great gathered knowledge. Their tractors. Everybody's got tractors.

To ensure fledgeling errors in the Preservation Acts could be fixed should they emerge, the laws from the start included a safeguard review after five years, after public input, suggestion and complaint. This first review is now complete and was tabled by the new Liberal government some weeks back. 

Against all odds and pundit calls, Bignell, a heavy-hitting cabinet minister in the previous Labor government, held his seat.

"During this review there were a couple of proponents who asked whether the town boundary here could be changed to accomodate their projects," he explained, "and knowing as well as I do the local community, the first thing I did was to go and see the new planning minister, Stephan Knoll, who comes from the Barossa, which is good, because he knows what wine country's all about and I explained these things then wrote to him and said 'We don't want any more reviews, ever'." 

Bignell said that if Colonel Light had planned the parklands of Adelaide with reviews every five years that precious green belt would have been "gone a hundred years ago." 

He reminded us that these legislations are brave achievements, "the best in Australia; legislations that can only be changed with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament. So we came up with those safeguards. We thought we'd locked it in. But we left a key there. And now we must convince this [new] government to throw that key away." 

The floor erupted in applause and cheers. Fierce suggestions of more overt public protest. An energetic whoosh of anger and outrage that repeated in waves as the evening went quickly by. 

It wasn't all anti-development. There was a whiff of "well I have a vineyard and I grow food but you can't stop growth and all these people have gotta have somewhere to live" sort-of thing, regarded with derisive sighs and groans. 

And then the local conservative Family First bloke, Robert Brokenshire (above), who lost his parliamentary seat at the last election, made a bit of a sermon about his, well, I dunno really, which Bignell skilfully amputated after a few rambling minutes. 

A session of bright two-and-fro of question and answer, suggestion and theorising followed, during which Bignell committed to a series of town-to-town meetings like those that went into the Preservation Acts, to give citizens a chance to begin a serious constructive discussion about how they now want their townships to evolve within their legislated boundaries. Their look, style and feel. Their amenity.

Black Poles ... this is the current gubmt notion of the most appropriate entry to the main street of McLaren Vale. The wreck theme intensifies as you go up the hill.

There's a lot of pressure on. Bignell suggested the Karidis Corporation should buy some of the land currently on sale within the township boundary. 

As the planning laws are an arcane web that traverses various layers of government and more of bureaucracy, the idea is to wait til the new Onkaparinga Council and mayor is elected and installed in November, then proceed with some dead serious interface. Local, state, Liberal, Labor, Green and obviously lots of sage silver hair. 

"Doesn't matter" was the word, "it's time to work together." More honest talk, big work, and nail it. Democracy is never easy or cheap. Get on with running the joint with some intelligence, a new sensitivity, and some seriously measured urgency. 

Not to mention some hard work on getting the kids involved. Or the Kaurna people, whose land it is. That'd be a change. 

It's eight years since hundreds of locals washed and polished their tractors, got on their Sunday best farmer kit and blocked the main southern roads for a few midday hours in protest at the housing development proposed on the best malting barley block in the south: a rise of precious rare siltstone like that Morphett Vale outcrop whose bush vine Shiraz Max Schubert chose to blend 50-50 with Magill fruit when planning his radical Penfolds Granges. 

All of that geology is now under torrid eave-to-eave dormitoria; including that special siltstone hill on the gateway to McLaren Vale. 

That was the last bit. 

As it angrily lost that battle, McLaren Vale seemed to be expected by John Rau, then Attorney General and Planning Minister, to regard it as some kind of downpayment for the Protection Act, which we would have to trust to stop any more of it.

Every time one of those tractor folks gets in their car or ute to drive out of the Vale toward Adelaide or the coast, they have a good five minutes to grit and grind their teeth while they pass that hill, with its ill-planned, intensely sub-urbane malignancy now called Seaford Heights. 

In letting that suburb invade the open country on McLaren Vale's gateway, both political parties worked with the Onkaparinga Council to erect a vivid and permanent example of the craft of contemporary developers and planners. You can't miss it.


Seaford Heights, which state and local governments promised would be an exemplary development, is built on a precious rise of siltstone. With due respect of its residents, they all got nice heritagy siltstone-coloured roofs, see, just to meld in to the environment. 

Guinness prized the malting barley which grew here. It was considered the best in the state.

When architecture and civic planning is an assault on the landscape, you've lost. I wouldn't want to be the first to try another one of those on. Not down this way.

The Tractor Action photographs are by Leo Davis and James Hook. All others by Philip White. Except the Clydesdales.