Friday, October 21, 2011

Sideways (Redux)

Weaving wind waves wheat
Wind waves wheat weaving
Waves wheat weaving wind
Wheat weaving wind waves
, etc... you get the point.

Lovely images of the wind playing over the wide fields of grass on the ancient low hills of the Barossa Valley. E@L is staring out the window of the Honda van, entranced by the patterns of dark and light as the leaves dip, turn and rise again. The waves flash like flocks of birds turning, like a shoal of small fish, like the blinking wavelets on the water when he was young and sitting on his surfboard looking out for the subtle inflections that signaled the next big set.

There are a surprising number of fields like this, some of grass for hay, some of young canola. E@L wonders why these areas are not planted with grape vines. But of course there are many acres that are ranked and filed with armies of vines, limbs outstretched as if they were lining up on parade.

For some reason E@L thinks more about clouds, both sides of them. The flurries of wind across the grass are not cloud shadows, though they could be. The arrangements of vines are not the remarkable chess-board of cotton puffs that clouds can appear from above, which the high winds have harmonized into wavelengths, regular in both directions. The first time he saw this uniformity, this pattern, at 35,000ft, he freaked. God did this?

- These are old vines, says Tom, E@L's driver, interrupting E@L's reverie. Gnarled and twisted, thick, solid, ancient, grumpy and temperamental, but with the best, the richest yield. E@L did not need to be told this, he can just look in the mirror.

E@L has the van to himself (not counting Tom, the driver) as he booked late. 6:05 on Friday night Tom reminds him. Even though he had been considering a wine day-trip since he had been asked to return to Adelaide for a few days (checking the welfare and happiness of the brain-surgery crew he met last time) he had booked nothing beforehand. This is typical for E@L as we are sure vigilant and recidivist readers would had detected inter-lineally, if not explicitly, a long time ago. Several Bruces buddies had taken a similar tour six months ago and they came up with the list of recommended wineries with which E@L had impressed Tom earlier. When he put the call through, the lady (Anne?) was a rather hesitant.

John Duval, Henschke, Standish, Rockford, Torbreck… at least...

- The van is full for tomorrow, she said, then paused. But we have another van which is completely unbooked. If you are happy to pay $30 extra, you can have your own tour. You'll get where you want to go, rather than the general tour.

- No, yes, said E@L, that's great. I'll pay the extra.

It was exactly what he wanted.


And here they were, Tom and E@L pulling up at Henschke first up as this famous vineyard (Hill Of Grace, up there with Grange) only opens its Cellar in the morning. And even though it was only a whisper after 10am, they were not quite the first ones to start to sample the fare. An older couple (not much older E@L thinks back on it now) have moved already to the reds.

There are eight wines to examine, some quite inexpensive, but that is not why E@L is here. The links do not very far up the chain, and there no Mt Edelstone and no H.O.G. tastings today. But the nips are generous and everyone is pleasant. This is where E@L first proffers his soon to be recycled apology for the deficit in his wine-tasting vocabulary.

- I don't have the right, you know, um, words for this. I don't think I can't put a word to a particular flavour or aroma, at least not one that anyone else would understand. E@L is not Paul Giacometti in Sideways, apart from the grumpy bitter part, more Thomas Haden Church without the bad-boy charm.

- Well, you either like the wine or you don't, the lady said, smiling, inwardly rolling her eyes at yet another ignorant buffoon with too much money.

E@L started drawing diagrams on the tasting notes by the end of the day. Two arrows going out. Parallel lines up and down. Wide on the palette, maybe? Strong backbone, perhaps?

[NTS: E@L needs to go to a wine appreciation course to get some impressive terms to throw in there. Chocolate, cherry, blackcurrant - sounds more like dessert! Seep in Cointreau, serve with vanilla ice-cream and a nice sticky…]

He takes some hearty swigs at the samples, trying not to confirm his lack of couth as the $5 tasting fee is waived because he's on a private tour with Tom. So E@L goes as high as he can with the quality of wines on the bench, and knowing if he wanted, he could source this stuff easily in Singapore, he nods, takes a brochure and buys nothing.

- Hey Tom, just need the loo?

- It's around the back there, into that path, yes, that one.

He circles around the tall hedge, into a slightly mossy paved path to the rear of the cellar door, towards the toilet, and sees a locked pale-blue-painted wooden door a few steps down off the path, leading into the cellar under the Cellar. There is a stag's head over the mantel and a plaque commemorating the centenary of the Bacchus society. 1868-1968. [To quote my good friends in Holland, Danijel and Isabella; That's must be more than a hundred years old!]

- One of the ladies serving you, Christina, she has her own vineyard, Tom tells E@L when they are in the van. Dan Standish makes a wine from her grapes, he continued.


They drive up towards Eden valley, into the upper Barossa and then turn right and head back south. There, E@L sees some more of those fields of long (not that long) grasses passing up the slopes of low rising hills. These paddocks are demarcated with lines of evergreen trees, is it oak (E@L is not a treeologist, not a character in Murray Bail's Eucalyptus), used along the fence lines as wind breaks. The lines of these trees going up the hill and over the other side have from this angle, a curve, like a side-resting woman's thigh, up over her hip; it really is entrancing, particularly if you are already feeling horny and drowsy.

The view of hills and trees here bring on a slight bout of tumescence nostalgia. The road from Geelong to Colac, where E@L was born and where his uncles and many of his cousins still live seemingly trapped in their rural time warp, is the Princes Hwy (Hwy1, that is supposed to circle Australia). It has the same type of gentle hills, lined with oaks (they must pines) near Mt Duneed. And yes, of course, Ireland. And yes of course a lady's thigh. There was Plan A in Phuket that time, OMG what a body? E@L drifts...

But some sharper turns rouse him again like a slap. Tom is now driving right into the hills at the entrance to Eden, a higher valley than the Barossa (different climate, different soil terroir) where the native trees thicken, almost a forest. White-barked eucalypts shedding darker skin. Then we are back into vineyards.


They are the first this time. It is only 4 minutes after the doors are unlocked, as E@L strides into Artisans Of Barossa. Henry, looks at his watch, shrugs, looks after him. Tom stands behind; he can't drink of course He stands at attention, with his hands deferentially crossed in front of his groin. He is E@L's chauffeur in jeans and a cardigan and work boots.

There are seven different independent vineyards that don't (can't afford to) have cellars doors themselves who use the Artisan shop to put up two different wines each month for tasting. Seven cellars door for the price of, well, this place is new and clean and nicely designed, the price of probably six. Tom had told E@L that this is the only way to sample John Duval's wines.

E@L says he likes the GSM style, easy drinking enough. Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre. He finds it smoother, warming, an easy to drink blend. It would take quite a few year for a Cab Sav or Shiraz to get to this level of maturity, he says to Henry, who nods, inwardly rolls his eyes. Mourvèdre is the same grape as Mataro, he learns. And what else is? Never heard of it - Monastrell.

- Try this, says Henry and pours another, from some place called Massena. It's nice, very nice.

- I'm not good at describing wines, not so good.

Henry pours a Riesling.

- This has some after tones of kerosene.

- Kerosene? Is that a good thing? E@L is dubious.

Henry flicks eyebrows, as if to say, hey.

E@L sips it and it's fine, it's nice, but a second or two after swallowing there a suggestion, a mere whiff, sure enough, of airplane fuel, and like he hasn't had a whiff of that every now and again, stuck on runways forever. If it was always so simple to get a word for these aromas and tastes. Kero is the big easy one. Horse-saddles, not so obvious...

He tries all fourteen of those on offer, just a sip each, or two. The Grenache is different from the straight Mourvèdre, hell he can discern that much. Different from the GSM. From the Shiraz, the Cabernet. The words to describe this? Doesn't have any. After six wines and breakfast a long time ago, he is already getting a bit warm in the cheeks. He tries to spit some out into the funny looking thing that he hopes is a spittoon, on the bar.

He spurts rather than spits, and a few drips splatter onto his shirt, onto the bench. Very little into the spittoon. Next few he tastes a bit, a bit more, sucks in air with each sip, doesn't finish the glass. He pours the last mouthful directly into the bucket. Henry observes the wastage of a not insignificant portion of some $100 wine. Tom stands there, hands folded. Everyone is inwardly rolling their eyes.

E@L says to himself, what the fuck, he isn't driving and skips this pretense. He finishes the entire tasting sample of the last few, including the Eligo shiraz, he doesn't know about wine but he knows what he likes, then the last one, a sticky white. Gulp.

He agrees that the John Duval Eligo is the standout drop here, for the price if not the flavour. E@L parts with $200 and departs with two bottles.


Some sort of parroty bird with subdued, hushed colors, a parrot, long tailed, flaps a burst of speed and tucks wings in again and roll and curves in front of the van, under the power lines, over a bit of wire fencing, into the bush. Another follows. Riding the wind gusts, gusts you could see on the grass, can see, wow, really see, pushing the tops of the trees around. Must be a male, thinks E@L of the bird, but then why in pairs, why one chasing the other? Love or is it jealousy? Such subtle hues for a parrot, rosella, parakeet, whatever you call them (E@L is not an ornithologist either) they're usually brightly feathered. Not this lot. Must be British. None of that color stuff! Maybe they were pigeons.

He thinks back to Hong Kong, to the screeching sulphur-crested cockatoos outside his bedroom. How did he sleep? He remembers some nights in Wanchai, some in Lan Kwai Fong. He was not really into the, you know, the scene at that time, only had a few friends, social life was usually with his flatmates and people from the Australian Association, some of the latter were fairly wild, but none of the girls he moderately, shyly propositioned would sleep with him, would hear the cockies crowing in the morning. He laughs at this.


- Oh, there's an open sign [just on the road around the corner from Artisan], great, says Tom. Rusden, you'll like them even though they're not on your list. And they're not always open."

Denis (the 'den' in the vineyard's name) is very nice bloke. He pops a few wines for E@L. Again they move from whites across. The Semillion is delicious, not overly fruity, but with plenty of, what, body? E@L is not even sure if what he calls fruity other people call sweet.

The sandy terroir, means less moisture (or was it more?) says Denis. Once again the GMS/GMS (depends upon the ratio of Shiraz to Mourvèdre) is nice. E@L is starting ot have trouble with the differentiation of the Shirazs from each other. And the reds form the whites.

Tom admits to being a cork tester (I'll test your cork till the cork tester comes) years ago and he and Denis talk about the handling of cork in Portugal, how slack it can be, spraying chlorine to protect against rot, then laying the stripped cork bark onto chlorine damp ground. It is fascinating, E@L almost sways, concentrating a bit hard. Denis says the human nose can detect 3 parts per billion of something. Something that indicates a corked wine. They says TCA - trichloroanisole a lot. Tom says 2 parts, meaning the olfactory buds in his ruddy slightly pickled nose are better than anyone else. E@L starts to worry about Tom.

E@L asks Tom about compound corks.

- We used to put a coin of solid cork at each end so that the glue or resin they used would not leach into the wine. He was almost sneering at the concept. Compound corks, ppffft. This guy is an expert.

E@L, dude, don't ask about screw-tops.


Driving off to lunch… See a Beware Skippy the Kangaroo sign, a leaping black QANTAS logo on a yellow diamond, no bullet holes. Smile.

Lunch, ha, kangaroo pie is available at Lou Montana Estates. Very nice menu. Experimental, no chicken parmagiana here. But the special - apple and gorgonzola soup! Have to try that. Wow. Would be nice as a sauce over a pork chop thinks E@L. Must try that, too! E@L takes a stuffed chicken breast, terrific sauce, with a lightly-wooded chardy. Mmm. Something anti-establishment about drinking chardonnay in these days of Pinot this and Pinot that and this Blanc and that Blanc…

Flavour, says E@L inwardly off on a mental flight to the past, give me some fucking flavour here.

- Yes, one more glass, please.


Tom has managed to get in contact with Dan Standish. Elusive dude. There is a Cellar Door here, a small hut with a bench, all ready to go, quite nice, prepared pot of the terroir. No-one to staff it, the whole operation is only three people. Dan is young, a chemical engineer, we are talking smart. He hits me with the Relic first, pops the cork, pours us both a generous slug and talks about long-chain polymers. Time for E@L's eyes to roll. And the short chains in the white wine.

He recalls the Bruces, when they visited.

- Quite a personality, that Bruce-man, says Dan. A really funny laugh.

- That's him, say E@L. A Woolongong lad, what can you do. And there was a Welsh guy too. Bruce.

- Yes, the two, I remember them of course. Such funny guys.

Ah, sigh, right, moving on...

He has a Georgian wine. The grapes juice is red, he says, veryunusual. Saperavi. Hang on, it's Massena, the bottles at Artisans. This falls away for a moment as E@L is distracted...

- Hey, someone gave me some Georgian wine. They were in Georgia, explains E@L. Must try it. On the right occasion.

- Some people don't even know that red wine is only red because they put the skins back in later. I give talks, Dan says, and I really have to go back to basics.

There's a bottle with a black label. Completely unreadable. Even Dan is turning it around trying to change the reflection, moving it slowly in the light. At the right angle you can make out some words. Mozart, no not Mozart, some musician's name, Schubert. Schubert's Theorem. Theorem?

Which is? Something to with knot theory, with shapes. (The word topology does not come into E@L's head, though it should, he's searching for it, he in fact sees a torus with lines on it. Nothing can get in to his brain now, or out. He blows his nose to make space, nothing happens.)

E@L jumps in again here. Otherwise it's just gonna be Dan and Tom.

- There's this theorem, one from my work, listen. This is funny. I work for a Jap company. Man, the stuff in our manuals, such Japglish, shit, you know? There is this measurement you, you know, like, for the heart, it's called the continuity something, the Continuity Equation, but the manual says, like, "many point of measurement to equal together", or something. I mean, what is that? Continuity Equation. Something to do with Bournoulli's equation, theorem, something. Flow in flow out, sorta thing.

- Bernoulli! says Dan excitedly. He spits (man, he can do it brilliantly!) into the spittoon. Come outside, you'll love this. Bernoulli!

- Are you going to shows us a plane wing? laughs E@L and stumbles over the step, gets hit with a blast of chilling wind, it's a windy, chilly day.

There two large concrete eggs, maybe seven feet high, at the side of the allegedly non-existent cellar door hut. What the…

- The temperature of the concrete, in its wall, inside to out, he explains and rubs his hands over the surface, is cool and warm, it's the Bernoulli theorem (- there are two Bernouliis, E@L interjects, father and son, they hated each other, legend says) that make the wine circulate...

- Convection currents, says E@L. Hey, it's like a tangine.

- Yes, brilliant, says Dan. (Maybe he didn't say the word brilliant as such...) Yes, convection. The wine comes up from all around equally, falls back again, and you get, the wine gets a completely equal exposure to the lees. In a barrel, it horizontal and the ends of the barrel don't get exposure to the lees. And the concrete is slightly porous, like the barrel oak, so a slow micro-oxygenation…

E@L's eyes are now glazing. It's fascinating, but how is he going to remember all this? The wind is burning cold. Bitter, cold, like an ex-girlfriend. They move into the single shed, quite a few barrels, lots he supposes, but at least, hey out of the wind. There is a dead bird at the doorstep. Gift from a cat?

Inside, where else, there are different sized casks, it takes some close inspection for E@L to absorb this fact, new oak, old oak. Some are Voignier. White wine. Those are short chain polymers (E@L is pushing his memory beyond its usual boundaries here for this technical stuff). A little is added for brightness (and more polymers). Or was that back in the cellar door. E@L has to go for a piss. Through the office, bit of a mess, but hey, it's a man's world as the seat is up.

E@L is drinking again. Dan has been too generous. Everyone has been generous.

Ah that label, same as at Artisans, knew there was something he had to say. Massena, yes, what is this? A different brand, his own, not with the family, the wine is cheaper, but fuck. Fuck. E@L can't tell them apart any more. Not one single bit.

- This the wine from Christina's vines, Tom points out. (Was it the Mataro?, the Shiraz?)

- You've been to Henschke?

Have we been to Henschke? Been there? Can almost spell it!

E@L signs off on a 1/2 dozen of the Relic, 1/2 dozen of the the Standish. 1/2 dozen Bernoullis, no he means Schubert's Theorem. Finish up with one other, something with a nice label, Borne Bollene, it was nice, yeah whatever, they're all $95. Send it to mum's place.

(Three days later Amex call - $2,200 on wine? they ask.)

- He's a nice man, says Tom.

E@L concurs, leans against the van door. Struggles with sunglasses, feet. Vision and verticality in general.

- He certainly a happy man now.

- Yes, that made his opening the cellar worthwhile. I am sure his wife will be happy.


We are on a gravel road, a turn-off near a highway overpass. Bumpity bump. Going up hill.

- Remember the name of this road, says Tom.

E@L can't remember. Can't remember squat. Can't even focus. Why would he remember the name of this road, he's never heard of it before, never been on it before..


- If you want to impress people, tell them you were on *insert name of famous road in the Barossa*.

It all sounds a bit hipsterish to E@L, but everything is a-buzz, a-rattle. Gravel roads, done a few of those in his day. Surfing. Sand and gravel. The road through the Otways in those days, from Apollo Bay to Johanna,. Shit 20km of lock to lock on gravel 60km/h speed limit, lucky to get to 20km/h. (It was miles in those days.) And at night? And pissed/stoned? Bloody cold it was too. Windy, fuck yeah, like here.

- We heading back to Adelaide? asks E@L, a little confused. Where are we? When are we?

- You said you wanted to go to Torbreck, right? It's just here, a little further up Roennfeldt Rd...


A slicker affair here, neat, somehow suddenly popular, is it, mmm? E@L had never heard, fuck, of Torbreck until the, what, The Standishing, no The Steading. Funny name. They had it in Phuket at Rockfish, awesome. Everything that night there was awesome, food, wine, watching Bruce fall asleep at the table. Need more Steading? Actually, no, shit thas' right, bought six bottles back from Melbourne last week.

He we are finally. Cellar taster guys are young, but smart. They know this, hey, they think they know this. Want E@L to know it too.

The vines have been there for 130 years. Same for Standish. All this, fuck, wine fucking heritage has slipped under the old radar there E@L. His young days with wine? Try this Chatteau d'Cardboard. You've probably never heard of it. [He checks later, Torbreck has only just been going a few years when E@L moved to Hong Kong.]

But E@L tells them about Josie Bones instead, beer place in Collingwood, you know the guy from Masterchef, with the hat? Beer and great food. All the wine bars in Singapore, you take them like that That's what they need, E@L, is ranting now, is Good. Fucking. Food. The wine, get some great stuff, but a real chef, you know. There's the guy from Iggy's. Iggy.

These kids all know him, Iggy. E@L takes a breath, steps back. F&B, everyone knows everybody else. They are all in black, short hair. Uniform. E@L hears that Iggy used to work with Torbrecks, or something, maybe selling it for them. No hang on, was this the conversation he had with Dan Steadish, Standish, about Iggy's. Does everyone know the guy from Iggy's? It's a fucking conspiracy. Well man, he the most famous wine taster, summerly-er, right?

Torbreck, youth and knowledge, confidence, fucking bee's dick from arrogance, thinks (thinks? at this point in time?) E@L. E@L is one fat drunk dude, again. Discussion ensues about best pizza in the world. Brac, says E@L the four cheese in the Trattoria there.

By the waterfront where Odette had that threesome. Odette, oh shit, love and jealousy, wine and nausea, two sides of the same coin. He tries, grabs at a breath again. They recommend the best pizza in Adelaide, somewhere. E@L is knocking back another wine, but it's not sitting well. Try that one too, a muscat. Spit, no way? Fuck that, here drink it again, this is love, that was lust, she's only 20, jeez.

Spit? Split? He sees Odette in a bikini, in his mind, on the beach at Brac, or was it Hvar, the topless beach, has no tits to speak of, only to dream of? Shit. Thought this had ended. His gut clenches. Fuck this, he thinks, I think about her and feel, sick. Still… This is bullshit.

- Need a piss, um the toilet, says E@L, sorta, you know, urgent.

Oh, oh, Odette, he cries, as he upturns the best part of the day's trip into the cistern. All he can taste now, deep down, is apple and the long lingering dirty crotch smell of young blue cheese.



Shit, this eight-hour trip took me five days to write up!


Threw, as it were, the last bit in as a private joke, because it never actually happened at all (E@L doesn't get drunk->vomit type sick anymore) but because he was reading, not wishing to sound pretentious, but managing it somehow, Giordano Bruno - complete everyone in philosophy, it was like $0.99 on the Kindle - and Bruno was brutal on the double edged sword that is falling love/lust with someone who hasn't a clue that you exist. I mean I keep calling that episode a Lust Attack, but by pretty much anyone's no-nonsense thinking, it should be called by its true name. Love -

Ah Love, the standard-bearer
My hopes are ice, my desire a flame...

Swear to Darwin, it has passed, as Love does, as ice melts, as flames die down.


If I were serious about this as a story, I guess I should have introduced the Odette theme earlier. Or did I?


p.s. the names, as far as E@L can remember have not been changed, just the things they said and did and what they wore and how they acted, and what they thought of the wines, and of E@L and of the rugby match that afternoon...


Michael McClung said...


Jude said...

I am impressed if you were drunk while writing this. Taking notes of the sober->drunk stage on your swipe screen.

expat@large said...

I really like this post - sometimes I impress even myself.

marke said...

Brilliant bit of writing. Loved it. It built and built up and rolled.

Captures perfectly that feeling (from the wonderful times of my youth*) of the surroundings gradually becoming a series of illogical, barely sequential freeze frame stills ...

(*an event which still occasionally occurs, but which is now followed by a feeling of vague regret rather than wonderment).

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