“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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25 June 2017

SILKY HEIRLOOM RACE TO THE LACE

Heirloom? This word brings polite images of chintz and old lace and the safety of powdered aunts but I warn you: With slow, careful calculated accuracy, Elena Brooks properly bruises your pixels with reds like these. You can tell from the start that good things are going to be what happened. Like this damn Heirloom Vineyards McLaren Vale Touriga 2014 ($40; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) just seemed to disappear. Left me all smudged. Smoky, sultry, moody, silky stuff. It's a slinker. Coffee and cigarillos on the breath. Probly a bit more McLaren Vale than Touriga. Head up over the Willunga Fault to Kuitpo for the Adelaide Hills Tempranillo  2015 ($40; 14%; screw cap) and we pick up a whiff of shellack and maybe a tiny sliver of wintergreen and a little more focus in the surgeon's eye. It won't hurt, either. It just goes in like red obsidian. Barossa Shiraz 2015 ($40; 14.5%; screw cap) gets you a little pepper on your tart but then again it's just all slick and steeped in perdition and dark dry chocolate and yes please oh the bottle's done and you too: jeez what was that sort of stuff no going back praised be her precious and healing name so might just as well slide over the Stockwell Fault to their hills to Valpurgis or somewhere with some Independent Baptists taking the starchy edge off the old Lutherans for the A'Lambra Eden Valley Shiraz 2014 ($80; 14.5%; screw cap) and finally you hit the lace you'd totally forgotten. A bowl of licorice allsorts on the walnut. Oh, that was an extra forty, was it? Really. Phhooof! Wake up Mr President, it's time to blow up the world. She'll be right Pizzapants, you can do it. What was the time? You gotta be joking! See. We never went wrong. Did we? Did I? Did we do it?

Devil made me do it the first time, second time I done it on my own.

Billy Joe Shaver sung that.

These are real good wines. Trust Unca Fillets. I said that. Philip, sorry. 

Bruised pixels, see? Purrfect. I'll make some coffee. You stay there.


Joseph leads Mary up the street ... photos by Philip White ... lyric by Billy Joe Shaver

GEORGE GOES DOWN THE BEACH


































When George Grainger Aldridge goes to the beach, he looks for more than waves. Which is just as well, really, because he seems to think the nearest beach is in the Northern Territory ... This postcard indicates fairly risky behaviour, however: In this instance, he's obviously got his back to the water ... I spose it pays to keep an eye out in every direction in that sort of country ... If the lizards don't getcha the humans will ...  
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... much better to set back rehydratin, keeping an eye out for the Japanese ... or the English 

... and I told him to take his little guide book ... 

Stevie Goldsmith in a Vernon Ah Kee tee

24 June 2017

BIO-D HUT OPENS AT GEMTREE

My camera is full of Big Wine Men this week ... this is Mike Brown, introducing Leon Bignell, the Minister for Agriculture and Tourism and other tricky things at the opening of the Gemtree Biodynamic Hut at the Gemtree tasting room in McLaren Vale last night. 

'Biggles' helped secure a modest government 1:1 grant to assist Gemtree build this neat little garden and display room to make simple practical sense of the biodynamic vineyard cycle. 

Kids seem to love it, which is a good start.

They can learn biodynamics while Mum and Dad taste some.

Of course the Gemtree mob made the Minister stack a cow horn with cow shit.

"This shit's not fresh," he said with a grin, massaging it in. 

"This shit's cold. It's not warm enough to be fresh."

Bignell grew up on a dairy farm. He can handle shit.

Gemtree was amongst the first of McLaren Vale vignerons to begin converting bits of its vineyard holdings to biodynamic management. Their adjacent reforested wetland on the piedmont is an exemplary commitment to the local ecology. FROGS!!!

From little things, big things grow.These folks were in at the start.

photos Philip White

23 June 2017

GRENACHE GEOLOGY TOP OF THE BOTTOM

It's not exactly a mountain this mountain of a man is standing on, but at 250 metres above the Gulf, he's about as high as old vine McLaren Vale Grenache officially gets. 

That's stonemason Carl Mills (right) with Hickinbotham/Yangarra Estates vineyard manager Michael Lane. 

They're on the top of the Clarendon Hills ridge, between the two grand old Grenache vineyards, Bernard Smart's 1921 model facing south on one side, the Hickinbotham 1961 lot facing north on the other.

Beneath Carl is about 150 metres of Maslin Sand - just about that formation's northernmost extreme. But the hole he's digging there in top of at all has hit a neat layer of riverbed gravels. Some would argue this is Kurrajong Formation. Way up there!

Which just goes to show, that in this geology, it never matters how far up you go, you never have to dig very deep to discover that not long back that spot was on the bottom.

Hickinbotham 1961, above, ready to prune; Wayne and Bernard Smart in their 1921 block across the track, just after they'd picked 2017 ... photos by Philip White
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This stuff, while not fresh dug and not nearly so drought-dry and dusty, seems alarmingly close in composition to what Carl's digging. But this is the Kurrajong Formation rubble at Roger Pike's Marius Vineyard, 15 kilometres to the south down the Willunga Fault, and a full 100 metres lower in altitude. Nuts. I thought Pike had the only bit of this. 

While the Kurrajong is all rubble, its composition varies from one end of the Willunga Fault to the other, depending on the strata above which have contributed to it.

More slices of rock doctor fruit cake to worry over.

Here's another example of Kurrajong, geographically between the other two, at Yangarra, with three lineal stromatolites found at the same location in the snap below. I have also discovered bits of fossilised wood here. 

But that's just baby stuff, recent wood: stromatolites are the surviving signals to us from the beginning of life on Earth, a billion (or three)  years before.
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Stromatolites. Fair dinkum. Tread soft. They'll getchaventchuly. I fondle 'em. Stroke 'em. They purr.

Never in my wildest did I think I'd find stuff like this within a kilometre of my snug hut.

Looking, looking ... 

While we're here, surfin on rocks, let's ride a Kurrajong. This is a dramatic example of a young one on the rise,  found through war correspondent Frederike Geerdink's tweets about Kurdistan. Whatever the composition of the original sandwich of the crust, it's got a big crack and one bit's going up relative to the other so big bits of it crumble and tumble and little tiny beautiful humans crawl on it making war like ants.
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I have no idea whether the Willunga Faultline and its escarpment was ever this dramatic, although I believe the range beyond has been of Himalayan altitudes, twice. Whatever the movie - let's make it! - our cliffs have all gone. Weathered. That side of the range, the eastern uplands, are still lifting, but they're eroding faster than they grow, leaving a long strip of Kurrajong along their piedmont. Not much left to go: no more Kurrajong coming down ... precious stuff, that.

Here's a Milton Wordley photograph of the escarpment from afar, taken nearly twenty years ago and published in our rockin picture book McLaren Vale - Trott's View (Wakefield Press 2007). Great swathes of that range have since been replanted to native vegetation by volunteers.


Which raises two issues worth chewing over. 

First, as the climate goes awry, have we put native veg on the uplands we'll need for viable viticulture at cooler altitudes in more appropriate, older, more stable geologies?

Will we soon be swapping those new western-facing plantings of native veg on the scarp for wetland variants on the streams slugging westwards across the black clay flats, where grapes are not much good, and often go unpicked? Vines on the human folds of the old slopes in exchange for native wetland forest with well-planned tiny-scale three-storey villages spread through them on the flats? 

Talk to me! 

Second, due to some sort of respectful oversight between mapping geologists Wolf Preiss (old rocks) and Bill Fairburn (everything else), we omitted the delineation of the Kurrajong formation south of Willunga to the Gulf on our beautiful geology map

Some of the McLaren Vale region's best grapes grow in this stuff. I call these disparate stalwarts the Faultliners. They live unmapped. But I know they're there. They know they're there.

The map has the Kurrajong pretty well right north of Willunga to Kangarilla, but south of the Willunga township it miraculously disappears. In reality,the Kurrajong runs right down the piedmont to the The Victory Hotel and beyond to surrender to St Vincent in Cactus Canyon.

Gotta fix that, comrades. Embarrassing!

My bad.

This needs urgent remapping before we reprint, eh folks?  

Properly approached, Leon Bignell and Tom Koutsantonis, the relevant cabinet Ministers, could knuckle down and get a budget to ensure the world-revered South Australian Geological Survey includes a permanent energetic mapping geologist to specialise in our wine regions and sort these little issues, no?

I suspect, after many attempts at organising this, that the authorities are sick of trying to deal with whingeing wine region councils, all of which are composed of local winemaking business people with vested interests: nobody wants to pay more money for better grapes. 

Science is embarrassing.

And geology is like a dime-store detective novel, yeah?  


The pervioust murks of it lie in my dream brainbyre diaries ... always another page to turn. Gimme!  

In the meantime, I wish we had more old vine Grenache in the Kurrajong. 

And just to confuse ancient issues, here's a piece of spruce I found a kilometre to the west of my joint where the Kurrajong meets the Maslin and aeloean sands and recent ironstone: a piece of tree, washed down there, long after it was stone, from mountains long gone. 

This tree grew on or near the Equator. Since then Australia has been to the South Pole to make Gondwanaland, and is now well on its big bounce back north, pushing toward India at the rate your fingernails grow. Talk about torque - we're pushing the whole of the Indonesian archipelago to leaky bits, and forcing the Himalaya up, so bits of the peak of Mount Everest are falling off.  

But this is just a baby from the Carboniferous - like 300 million years back. Stromatolites go back billions. Add one whole comma.

We're just lucky that when this tree grew, bacteria had not yet evolved to eat it and rot it away to petroleum gel. We got bacteria everywhere now. Things rot. Earth is not making fossilised timber anymore. But we have Grenache. Open. Pour. Consider. Is it too woody? Is that oak or stone cold spruce?

Is that monkey really wearing 3D spectacles?


22 June 2017

TOP GRENACHE FROM THE SUNNY GULF

Rudderless Vineyard on the Gulf St Vincent, patron of vintners, viticulturers and vinegar-makers. This is the southernmost vineyard in the McLaren Vale region ... photo copyright Milton Wordley ... and here's the Rudderless skipper, Victory Hotel publican Doug Govan, rubbing the pot of gold




But is it really the Pinot of the south?
by PHILIP WHITE 

It is popular now to call Grenache "the Pinot noir" of McLaren Vale, and other parts of the South Mount Lofty Ranges where it's too warm for good Pinot. 

Which is pretty well all of them apart from Ashton Hills. 

In the 'eighties, when Stephen Hickinbotham, of the aptly-named Anakie winery on a volcano near Geelong, was developing his Cab Mac fermentation technique, he spoke of how the variety was misunderstood and should be made with some whole berries, and perhaps even bunches in the ferment, after the methods developed over the centuries in Burgundy and Beaujolais.

Stephen Hickinbotham at Anakie in 1983 ... from a portrait by Paul Lloyd


James Irvine, the Barossa veteran, was the next preacher of that same gospel later in the decade when he launched Chais Clarendon brand. 

Mike Farmilo, one of the old hand Grenache Masters of McLaren Vale recalls Jim saying that Grenache was "the Pinot of the Fleurieu."

This writer is guilty, too, suggesting over a decade back that Grenache would be better wine if it were made with some of the respect and technique the Burgundians show their Pinot. 

So. Is Grenache actually like Pinot? 

No. 

Can it take the place of Pinot on the table? 

Yes. 

Grenache is very site-reflective. It's a sook. In McLaren Vale alone, the style changes several times in the general sense, from Doug Govan's determined Rudderless vineyard at The Victory Hotel on Sellicks Hill on the Gulf down south, to the upland vineyards at the region's northeastern extreme near Clarendon. 


Bernard Smart with his son Wayne in the Smart family's 1921 model Grenache on the range above Clarendon ... this is near the McLaren Vale region's north-easternmost extreme, and probably, with the Hickinbotham vineyard over the road, the highest Grenache vineyard in the vignoble ... and here's horticulturer/vineyard/farm manager Michael Lane fending off a savage 1961 model Medusa Grenache at Hickinbotham ... bastard nearly bit him ... Michael prunes key vines at the ends of rows to provide the following pruning gangs with precise exemplars of the style of haircut he expects them to give all the other old soldiers ... photos Philip White

The clays of the flats between the Victory and the McLaren Vale township produce workable Grenache, dark and dry and ideal for the diehard GSM blender, with admixtures of Shiraz and Mataro. 

Stuff grown on the dunes traversing those flats is often more floral and rosy, with less black tea. There are belts of limestone and various sandstones. 

The fruit of the deep windblown sands and ironstone of Blewett Springs grows more fragrant, floral-perfumed fruit with lots of redcurrant and cherry. 

Further upland, the fruit seems a bit like all the above turned up to eleven. While retaining a certain dignity and elan. 

That's very vague, but it's the gist. 

All over the region, there are vineyards adjacent to each other whose characters are chalk and cheese. 

Very generally, older vines give more complexity.
 
photos by Philip White

Then there's the winemaking. 

The more care and attention, the more gastronomic intelligence shown, the percentage of whole bunches or berries - even stalks - the amount of time on skins, the more subtle the oak - all these variables can make very big differences. 

Starting with a kind of science so open-minded and curious it verges on mysticism; deep respect in the garden; rat cunning in the kitchen; all overseen by a person with unusually deep organoleptic sensitivity. 

Grenache gives no room for superimposed ego. 

Grenache is very sensitive to sophistry. 

It loses its distinctive loveliness when pushed or blended with inappropriate varieties. 

It hates new oak. Especially if picked too gloopy, ripe and jammy.

It should be picked earlier than nearly everybody picks it.

Back at the beginning of vintage, I tasted 51 Grenache wines from around the district. While some were blends of various vineyards and others didn't claim any particular source at all, I decided that attempting to sort sort them into sub-regions was less fair than futile, so I simply spent a day cruising through them, blind, in the perfect sanctum of the Eileen Hardy Room at Tintara. 

Next day I did the same with the GSM blends, which is another story. Then I took a second sweep through all the Grenache from the day before. Jeez it was fun.



In the random order of the row, these offered particular distinction and pleasure: 

Patritti Selection 181 McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $35: After a bouquet that's bouncing with life, like a red cherry superball, with a whiff of dry oak, this soon turns on a dark raven sulk. It's a serious red for the cellar, with all that shiny tight whipsnake structure and tannin. Bloody gorgeous wine. Moody. Sultry.  

The Old Faithful Northern Exposure McLaren Vale Grenache 2010 $60: Like the Patritti, this loveliness changes gears between the vibrant and provocative fragrance and that almost sinister palate. Here, the cherries are black and bitter and pickled, and so more savoury. A lash of good oak adds to this effect. Again, the wine's racy and tight, but needs years or lots of decanter. Or both. A seven-year-old baaaybaaay. 

Pruner's Hut Dry Grown McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $25: In some ways, this cuteness reminds me of some of the early, cheaper vineyard Burgundies from Domaine Dujac. This one's paler, like much petit Pinot, and its cherries are more maraschino than marello. Raspberries, too. Then it has a shot of the grilled cashew whiff some of those wines derived from their oak. A crunch of walnut. And bits of flavour that reminded me of almond biscotti; even fresh nougat. Dainty and delightful.

There's a local geology lesson in every old wall at the beautifully restored and kept Tintara. Here, in each stone, you can see Maslin Sand proceeding through its transformation from loose riverine silica, sometimes mixed with quartzite alluvium, to ironstone through exposure to oxygen at the surface and long washing by furruginous water


Five Geese Indian File Old Vine McLaren Vale Grenache 2014 $28: This is such an understated and delicate wine, made with obvious sensitivity, it could be overlooked amongst some of these mighty tinctures. Gentle, silky, romantic  essence like this is a rarity in any vignoble anywhere any colour any type ...  

Aphelion Berry McLaren Vale Grenache 2016 $29: The first of a set of Aphelion wines, all Grenache, but made in different ways, this cheeky dude was made with lots of whole berries in the ferment. Once again, it's alive with lovely cherries, fresh ones in this instance. It has pretty estery hints, too, like musky bubblegum and  banana lollies. The flavours are dead cute and alluring, and taper out to a lovely natural lemony acid.  

Albright Longline McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $26: This is the sort of Grenache that gives meaning to the notion of a polished silky sheen. It's intense and beautiful and manages to mix many playful aromas and flavours - bubblegum; raspberry; maraschino; musk - with a shy, almost sly chassis that will carry all this wonder for years. Dribble. Rock AND roll.  

Shottesbrooke Single Vineyard Bush Vine McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $33: More of that heady, musky confection opens the hooter with cherry and raspberry fruit gels; the palate sneaks its power and force in beneath: creamy of texture, but with really lovely appetising tannins to guarantee a good decade of dungeon. 



Towering over the Tintara complex is this exemplar Ficus macrophylla, which is on Australia's National Register of Big Trees, measured by Dean Nicolle

Twelftree California Road McLaren Vale Grenache 2014 $55: Bright and edgy, like a seaside pastorale, this one has aromas that remind me of fields of drying everlasting flowers, and lemongrass. It's a clean and refreshing zephyr. The cherries (maraschino) and raspberries seem to creep in and rise later in the business.  

Wirra Wirra The Absconder McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $72: Another of the silky sheen school, this is right royal Grenache, creamy with chocolate and coffee and Cherry Ripe. It has lovely luxurious flesh in a frame of exquisite poise and form. Exceptional.  

Geddes Seldom Inn McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $25: Don't forget the fruit gums, Mum. I like these blackcurrant ones! With its gentle persistent acidity, a pleasant edge of clean oak adds some neat cut to this racy, clean summertime wine.  

The Old Faithful Northern Exposure McLaren Vale Grenache 2013 $60: A wine of quite some eccentric allure, this is the king of the old school, with its black tea - Earl Grey, with bergamot oil - charcoal and cooking chocolate. Lots of lignin in these old vines. I reckon this is a bit like some Barossa Grenache. It's sombre and smug and still sinuous and stylish. It'll live for decades. 

Aphelion McLaren Vale Grenache 2016 $29: There be black cherries here but with the unlikely addition of fresh white charcuterie fats. You know what that means? That means porky comfort. But this is no couch slouch: it's dancy and bright and delightful.  

Kay Bros. Griffon's Key McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $45: Conservative, old-school wine of obvious reserve, this venerable-in-the-waiting nevertheless has plenty of the pretty confection and lollyshop wafting about, but then it reminds me somehow of Burgundy: perhaps the more deep and dark, tannic wines of Domaine de l'Arlot. It has that sort of long-distance tannin.  

Maxwell Whole Bunch McLaren Vale Grenache 2016 $55: This story unfolds like a little arthouse movie. Starts aloof; a bit begrudging. Sooty walnutty lignin sticks its head out. And then the cherries and red juices rise up to drown everybody, like the arterial blood flooding out of the lift in The Shining.

Deep waters don't always run still ... Old Thomas Hardy, Tintara founder, by John Dowie

Tintara Reserve McLaren Vale Grenache 2016 $70: Another dark royal waiting for a crown, this is serious king-hell Grenache. It can fru-fru and frivvle with the most frivolous, with its cherries in lemon, but then comes the coffee and chicory and those deep dark fruits and the power of tannin glowering way below. By Bacchus it'll be beautiful.  

Yangarra High Sands McLaren Vale Grenache 2013 $130: DISCLAIMER: This wine, and its vineyard, is one of the main reasons I live in McLaren Vale. I live at the foot of the High Sands. The wine is made by my landlord. It has all that stuff: cherries, cherries, raspberries, lemon. That bright young Hickinbotham mentioned at the top would love its fish stock/Worcestershire umami had he lived. It has uncanny freshness and appetising life in all its venerable old vine reserve. Shut up Whitey. Okay. I won't even mention the other ones he makes. 

Serafino Reserve McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $40: All dark chocolate and briary berries; carob; lemony oak ... at first I thought this was a tad presumptuous and brash, a  bright young thing of the modern school, yet to hit the deportment classes, and then I thought it was even more so. Good fun! 

The Hundred Clarendon Single Vineyard McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $30:  There's beautiful depth and glower in this, lying like a limpet mine below all the pretty confection, with those fruit lozenges, gels and gums gradually dissolving into the black rosehip jelly. Which leads me to the wood, which is just on the edge of intrusion. Give it a few years if you can.  

Penny's Hill The Experiment McLaren Vale Grenache 2015 $35: More of the neat and racy refreshing school, this one has all the juicyfruit lollyshop pretties in the sniffer, and a real easy slurp of a palate with a tannin rise that will be all smoothly settled by spring. Drinking not thinking.  

Heirloom Vineyards Alcala McLaren Vale Grenache 2016 $80: Chubby. Like puppyfat chub. No dimples, creases nor cellulite, but bouncy baby flesh. All the gels and lozenges: blackcurrant, raspberry, red currant.  Then it gets really inky and thoughtful and it's certainly not Pinot but it's probably nothing much like what most folks thought they should expect of Grenache, either. It's a cracker.

Small-format water-sleeved stainless steel open fermenters at Tintara ... perfect for small batch Grenache ... photos by Philip Whit
 
PS: I talk a lot about cherries in Grenache. In the vineyards around me, say from Geddes at the south end of Blewett Springs to the Clarendon vineyards over 100 metres up tward the Adelaide Hills, cherries are dominant in most of the best wines. Some are fresh, like the red cherries you can pick between Echunga and Hahndorf. Some are the semi-crystallised maraschino type, like you find somewhere beteen your cocktail umbrella and the floor. And many are more like the bitter, pickled black marello style. 

In my usual rounds of buying items to check my tasting similies and metaphors, I recently bought a jar of marellos at the local Romeos. They were bleached and bland and buggered. The serious Grenache makers of McLaren vale should find advantage in working with the cherry farmers and local picklers and jamsters to develop a fair dinkim pickled black cherry product that the tasting rooms can offer with their Grenache. Better than importing proper ones from Italy. And it might save my conscience from terminal guilt, having written for decades that great Grenache often tastes like marello cherries. We can do better than that.

That there wall is local Blanche Point limestone
 

PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS GRENACHE SERIES:

1 Intro: McLaren Vale Grenache: A Study 
2 Out my back door: picking the High Sands 
3 Grenache: Drew Noon's love story 
4 Grenache: the Italian Connection 
5 Out my back door: finishing High Sands