Conference 2016

Recently I received an email notification that the great Australian novelist Charlotte Wood had posted on her blog How to Shuck an Oyster after quite a long interval. She reflected that her blog had become “moribund”. Perhaps because her latest novel, the awarding winning The Natural Way of Things, is far removed from the original subject matter of her previous novel and the blog. This spurred reflection on the status, purpose and fate of The World in a Wine Glass, and how it needed rejuvenation.

The result is a new name: Worlds in a Wine Glass. This aligns with a conference I’m convening in London next month that has the same title. Details of this event as follows.

On 9 and 10 May this year more than twenty researchers across disciplines within the humanities and social sciences, business and marketing, and agricultural science, will meet at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King’s College London, for the inaugural Worlds in a Wine Glass Conference.WorldsWineGlass_cover_v6_14042016FINALFINAL_Page_1

The call for papers stated:

As of the 1990s wine grapes are cultivated in a greater diversity of places – and grape wine consumed by a greater number of people – than any other time in history.  This second wave of wine globalisation arose from a confluence of economic, social and cultural factors in the latter part of twentieth century. Whereas the first wave of globalisation in the late nineteenth century resulted from the devastation of European Old World vineyards after biological transmissions of pests and diseases from the New World of the Americas, the second wave has its origins in social revolution and economic change, first in the western world, and more recently in China and other Asian nations. The social and cultural causes and effects of these changes say a great deal about human ambition, desire and identity.

During the recent wave of globalisation, researchers in the humanities and social sciences began to pay more attention to how the production, distribution and consumption of wine as a research lens reveals new understanding of national and local/global identities, changing performances of class and gender, and expressions and sacralisations of micro-environments and place. This symposium explores how current inquiries on wine in the humanities and social sciences intersect with and diverge from food studies, studies of drinks and other forms of alcohol, agricultural/environmental studies and related disciplines such as Business, Geography and Tourism. How can wine studies contribute to related subjects such as food; what are the methodological frames for wine studies? Is it possible to identify critical wine studies as separate from industry development studies of wine, or are convergences inevitable?

Papers are invited – but not limited – to the theme of the worlds in a wine glass: historical worlds, social and cultural worlds; identity-focused worlds; the local, national and global, and; narrative or discursive worlds.

This two-day event will be structured according to disciplinary panels with an interactive plenary devoted to identifying transdisciplinary commonalties. A keynote presentation by eminent food and beer historian Professor Jeffrey Pilcher, University of Toronto Canada, will provide context for the state of the field of humanities and social scientific wine research.  Presenters will be invited to make submissions for a special issue of Global Food History on Wine to be co-edited by Jeffrey Pilcher and Julie McIntyre.

The two-day program encompasses a very exciting range of papers by some of the world’s leading researchers on wine. I’ll post a link to the program when it’s live.

The plenary topic is “If we have food studies do we need wine studies?” What do you think?

Conference registration here.


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Finding Irrawang: James King, scientific transnationalism and colonial wine heritage

A significant colonial vineyard and winery among the original Lower Hunter properties in Australia’s Hunter Valley wine region was actually located about fifty kilometres east of the present-day hub of cellar doors at Pokolbin.

In the mid-19th century a key figure in this original siting – James King  – conducted a robust correspondence with European scientist Justus von Liebig.  From his Irrawang property near Raymond Terrace, King directed questions and samples of his wine to Liebig at the University of Giessen (now named for Liebig), in Germany.

I have written about this in recent years in First Vintage: Wine in Colonial New South Wales (NewSouth/UNSW Press, 2012) – as have Ian D. Rae and William H. Brock in Historical Records of Australian Science 2013: v24 – pp. 189-206.

One of Liebig’s pupils visited King at Irrawang, and King is credited with encouraging the recruitment of German vinedressers to work in the burgeoning colonial New South Wales wine industry, particularly in the Hunter – which resulted in forty-three vineyard workers, coopers (barrel makers) and their families locating to the colony in 1848.

King and Liebig exchanged letters on the problems and progress of other colonial industries. But of greatest interest here is the correspondence on wine, including that Liebig provided King with predictions of the likely relative wine styles from the Old World that could be developed in the Hunter – judging from existing samples sent to him; and he particularly mentioned Hungarian Tokaji (see earlier post).

Even so, King’s story runs far deeper than this and is in fact quite gripping in its embodiment of colonial ambition and the processes of transplanting a highly desirable European cash crop in colonial Australia. Yet this has been forgotten as there are no living descendants of King involved in wine making in Australia. Indeed, he and his wife Eliza’s three daughters died in childhood. Surviving son Edward became a surveyor in Sydney. Memory of King  does exist in a University of Sydney scholarship named for him, and his property is memorialised in street names and a school at Raymond Terrace.

Until September this year however, I did not know the location of Irrawang’s vines and winery as my research on King had been limited to his very lively archival record. This shows him to have been a tenacious advocate for his region in colonial development. (As yet I have to understand his relationship with the Wonnarua – though an increasing concentration of research at the University of Newcastle on Hunter Aboriginal-setter relations will soon enough reveal this.)

With all of that explained, it was with much anticipation that I undertook a field trip to the former Irrawang property. This resulted from contact between University of Newcastle colleague Prof Lyndall Ryan and Anne Bickford, one of the original student archaeologists on a University of Sydney dig at the Irrawang pottery site – under the supervision of Judy Birmingham in the 1970s. Anne Bickford also later completed a heritage study on Irrawang for Hunter Water during the process of deciding how to manage the site when it acquired it as part of catchment management in the Lower Hunter.

At the time of the Birmingham-led dig at Irrawang the Hunter wine industry had only just begun to experience a revival after the near dormancy of the lean years in Australian wine production, trade and consumption between World War I and the 1950s.  As such, little record keeping and analysis of King’s enterprise occurred as part of the dig project.

Anne Bickford organised the September field trip to Irrawang with the support of Sydney Water and Hunter Water employees Yvonne Kaiserglass and John Simpson, respectively.  And my grateful thanks to each of them – they are pictured, l to r: Yvonne Kaiserglass, Anne Bickford, John Simpson and Lyndall Ryan (standing).


As a result of this research, I now know that Irrawang was located on Hunter Water land between the old spillway on the Pacific Highway just north of Raymond Terrace and Grahamstown Dam. The Google Image of the former pottery site (below; provided by John Simpson) is a decade old and does not indicate the extent of vegetation present when we visited in September.

Irrawang site

To visit the pottery site requires permission for access through a locked gate, and there is very little evidence of the pottery site or the subsequent dig due to a riot of volunteer conifers and ground cover. Nonetheless, our field team traversed the site to locate the remnants of the dig and then undertook to determine whether the slight rise of land just to the west of the dig might have hosted King’s colonial vineyard.

An 1830s sketch by a contemporary of King  (below – being consulted from Anne Bickford’s report, on the field trip) suggests the vineyard may have been planted to the north of the pottery not the west. The pottery is the round building in the sketch – just above the highest point of the shadow of John Simpson’s hat.  The vineyard is portrayed in the top right hand corner of the sketch.  Moreover, after close attention to the lay of the land, we concluded it was unlikely that the area to the west had been planted as a vineyard as the rise is much less than shown in the sketch – though the sketch may very well not have been to scale, nor indeed accurate – and there are no signs of the distinctive corrugations on the landscape caused by vineyard plantings. Vineyard corrugations may remain many decades after grape vines have been removed from a paddock and the land re-purposed for crops or grazing. It is not possible to access the more likely vineyard site.


As for the homestead and winery – shown in the sketch as behind and to the left of the pottery’s round building, Anne Bickford recalled that during the 1970s the remains of King’s winery were sufficiently intact to be used as camping accommodation for the Birmingham dig, though the land had long been turned to dairying.

The team hoped to sight the homestead and winery site.

There is a considerable obstacle to achieving this however as the main features of Irrawang’s former built environment are now bisected by the Pacific Highway, and due to the siting of the former dam slipway – with the pottery dig site on the southern side of the highway; the former house and winery site to the north – it is not possible to safely access nor even see where the homestead and winery once stood.

It is our understanding that there are no longer any remains of the winery on the site. This is indicative that King’s wine enterprise has no current heritage value; its built heritage has not been preserved and little attention is paid in Australia to colonial agricultural heritages landscapes. If, hypothetically, tourists could access the site to view the landscape and imagine its historic colonial uses this would require interpretative signage with text and images to evoke activities that occurred at Irrawang, and encounters that took place between colonial figures such as Jane Franklin – peripatetic wife of a colonial governor, and Ludwig Leichhardt, colonial expeditioner and scientist; among others.  As public access would not be possible without new infrastructure, visitation is not likely to be possible.

The problem with this is that connections could be valuably made using Irrawang as a site of transnational exchange to realise colonial ambition through the transformation of nature. But in the absence of buildings or other material culture visitors ideally need to at least see the landscape. Currently it is not possible for motorists to even determine with much certainty where Irrawang was as the area can only be passed at 100 kilometres an hour; hurtling along with other highway traffic.

The solution?

The location of Irrawang relative to other colonial properties producing wine and other products can be represented using the digital historical tools of online mapping. This is one of the aims of my current project: Vines, Wine & Identity. More on this next year.

But the question remains: what is kept (and therefore valued) as heritage and becomes the extant material culture of a region’s industries – and what is permitted to disappear?





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I Go to Rio: how wine studies research revealed Australia’s forgotten history with Brazil

Nearly a decade ago I began to explore the early importation of wine, and grape vine plant stock, to Australia from ports of call in the North and South Atlantic.

This week, to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Brazil, I wrote this story on the forgotten links between colonial Australia and Brazil’s tourist capital, Rio de Janeiro.

Negro fandango scene, Campo St. Anna, Rio de Janeiro by Augustus Earle c1822 – Source: National Library of Australia

The contemporary context of Australia’s wine history is captured in this story published in The Conversation in 2013.

Wine on table, woman eating in the background, selective focus, canon 1Ds mark III

Source: Isante magazine

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“Wine” – an invention undergoing rapid historical change

Where have ideas about wine evolved from? Read the public access version of my review of Paul Lukacs’ Inventing Wine here.

At the end of the review of Lukacs’ book I ask how we might expect the massively rapid rise in wine drinking – and indeed wine growing – in China to bring new ideas to the cultural construction of ‘wine’.

As China now has the world’s second largest vineyard plantings, after Spain, we can expect the traditions of attaching meaning to wine production, distribution and consumption to take a new and intriguing directions.

And the blogger’s challenge? Postponed for more pressing matters for the Vines, Wine & Identity project.  Details in project newsletters.

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Blogger challenge: shelves full of wine books to read, a new year ahead – what could possibly go wrong?

I’ve just hit ‘submit’ on the manuscript for a book review I was invited to write for the International Journal of Wine Research on Paul Luzacs’ Inventing Wine (2012). Excellent book. I’ll post the review once it’s published.

With that task completed; with this New Year coinciding with the beginning of a new three-year postdoctoral project attached to the Australian Research Council Linkage Grant “Vines, Wine & Identity: the Hunter Valley NSW and changing Australian taste” (a partnership with the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association and Newcastle Museum); and with plans for a cultural consideration of wine in Australia… it’s time to set my first blogger challenge.

My mission will be to read and re-read my way through my bookshelf of wine books within a year.

Here are the books. The image is distorted because I had to use the Pano setting on my smartphone to capture it. My office is very pleasant but petite and there is no vantage point to capture the whole without contorting myself into a top corner of the room. Anyhow, I like the distortion as a metaphor. The shelf looks like it’s expanding sideways, and about to burst.  It’s a fitting description of how a blogger challenge can result in explosions of enlightenment, or frustration.


To quantify the challenge: just what I am getting myself into here? How many books are there to read?

Allowing for repeat copies and books that are not about wine (such as the collection of Braudel, some on womens’ studies, food studies, agriculture and so on) a quick count says there are 119 volumes that I will need to make my way through.  At least two per week? A cakewalk. What could possibly go wrong?

With the optimism of January I hereby state that it is my intention to post my impressions of the books as I go, as proof of meeting the challenge, and for your delight. Where possible I will recommend matching drinks, or reveal what I had in the glass at my elbow (currently Riesling, and no plans to change that soon). I’m hoping not to at any stage be moved to suggest hemlock.

The collection you can see in the photograph extends from reference books to pamphlets. The oldest – in terms of first publication date – is a photocopy of a facsimile of a treatise by the philosopher John Locke when he conducted a fact-finding tour of France on behalf of an ambitious English colonist attached to the Carolina colonial project.  Most of the books are by wine writers and critics, and are essentially wine tourist guides; some are academic publications.  Some I will read as what historians call primary sources, or works created by participants in the time period being studied. Others are secondary sources: historical scholarship on the time period being studied. In this case there is no set time period, though my main focus will be Australia and the Hunter Valley. How can Locke be of relevance to this? Very little, though I have co-published on his work (see the contents of Vol. 16 of this journal link) and books such as Luzacs’, and others I will dust off this year, show the rewards of taking a very broad temporal and (western) spatial view of the story of wine.

How to read wine books

How to read wine books? Well there’s a question wine enthusiasts would consider rhetorical. In my case however, in reading (and re-reading) my collection of wine books I’m seeking to understand the social and cultural meaning of wine; to detect and remark on nuances of continuity and change, power imbalances, and gaps in the story that add to our intellectual understanding of the role of wine in human society and culture. One particularly glaring gap is the exclusion of women from anything more than a slight role in wine production for most of the commodity’s history, though this is changing now at an accelerated pace. Jeni Port’s book Crushed by Women (2000) is an important first word on this in the Australian context – and it is on my shelf.  But that’s not where I want to begin. I have some other work to do on oral history interviews with women who produce wine, and women who drink wine, before I revisit Crushed by Women.

(It’s all very serious but, let’s be frank, my research is also enhancing my appreciation for wine!)

The process of selection

So what to take down from my shelves today? The process of selecting the order in which the books will be read needs to be relevant to #vineswineidentity, which is a place-based project, so Hunter Valley publications will be up first.

Which one in particular? I’ve chosen James Halliday and Ray Jarratt (1979), The Wines & History of the Hunter Valley (Melbourne: Meed & Beckett). This is relevant as I’m also reading the transcripts of the first oral history interviews conducted for #vineswineidentity, recorded during driving tours of the Hunter Valley wine region late last year.

Enough setting the scene. My time starts now…

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Five wine documentaries you must see

My valued colleague Catherine Oddie has a fondness for listicles so in the spirit of her appreciation for pithy instructive roll calls of things people absolutely must know – I offer my top five favourite wine documentaries.

Each of these are on DVD and some have been cinema releases (McMan and I saw the #1 doco twice within a week at the movies so it clearly bears re-watching).

And for your leisure planning pleasure I have matched a wine recommendation with each of the following.

  1. RED OBSESSION (2013) This film documents China’s early 21st century westernisation through the frenzy over Bordeaux premier cru as the ultimate luxury item for the nouveau riche. It shows how profoundly wine can signify as well as celebrate historical change.  To be consumed with 2008 Chateau Latour, which will make sense when you see the film. Failing that (and don’t we all!) your favourite Cabernet Sauvignon will be ideal. And it is essential to adopt an air of excess.Red Obsession
  2. CHATEAU CHUNDER (2012) This is a must-view for its distillation of the recent Australian wine story from pariah to ‘sunshine in a bottle’, mainly in the UK market. Watch for appearances by my fellow Australian wine historian Dr David Dunstan. And, if you can’t pay homage to the rise of the Australian wine industry with a Penfold’s Grange (and – again, let’s face it – who can, unless you were prescient many years ago or are in NSW state politics …?), I recommend you first open a cask of cheap wine (red or white) for historical veracity, and then move onto the best Australian white you can find in your cellar or at the bottlo.  This way you will have approximately drunk your way through the trajectory from Chateau Chunder to fine Chardonnays and Semillons and Rieslings (Viva la Australia’s quality whites). Or Shiraz, if you want to capture the excitement of the late 1990s boom in Australian reds. chateau chunder
  3. MONDOVINO (2004) Jonathon Nossiter’s teasing out of the tensions between New World and Old World wine producers – and ideas of authentic wine production – has become the benchmark for wine documentaries. You’ll want to drink French wine while you’re watching this. Anything will do, but get it in ahead of time because otherwise you’ll regret not being able to raise a glass of something non-American at certain points in this film.  But if you tend to the relativist rather than taking sides in the Old World-New World enmity between France and the Mondavis of America (who have a French business partner for Pete’s sake – nothing is ever completely black & white) then you’ll also need a Napa Valley wine to truly drink your way through this exploration of a contemporary historical dialetic of the wine world.Mondovino
  4. BLOOD INTO WINE (2010) Although ostensibly a defence of American hard rock star Maynard Keenan’s decision to seed the Arizona wine industry, this is a fascinating reflection on what motivates, irks and rewards those who plant vines and make wine. Start out with whatever you have on hand.  This film is about moving from what you know into the completely unknown.  Ideally, as the story arc reaches its climax you’ll be cracking open a bottle of Maynard’s own Arizona wine. (Note: do not google the current status of the featured vineyard and winery in BIW until you’ve watched the whole doco and the special features).Blood into Wine
  5. MONDOVINO: THE SERIES (2004) For the true wine and culture devotee. If the cinema release MONDOVINO (2004) leaves you wanting more, at 576 minutes of viewing time this box set is the filmic equivalent of the perfect ‘long finish’.  Get in a case of whatever you love, this is binge watching of the highest quality and should be savoured with wine you know you enjoy.Mondovino the series…and now – I’m off to order an online basketful of wine docos to update my collection. Will keep you posted!
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Water into wine: a controversial Riverina miracle, in pictures

Too much wine and not enough water – this is one of the environmental tensions of our times, and it’s in the news again in Australia this week.

As I wrote in First Vintage (2012), the use of irrigation to produce wine grapes in the Riverina is a site of contestation between the people who make their livelihoods from the feats of early twentieth century engineering that changed river courses, and the twenty-first century efforts of governments and regulatory bodies to mitigate against unforeseen environmental damage from the irrigation system.

While there are no easy answers to these tensions it does help to meet the locals, to see this ‘water into wine’ story from inside, rather than outside, as it were.  I did this a few years ago while researching First Vintage.  At Griffith and Leeton – the largely Italian-influenced, century-old settlements of the Riverina wine region – I met several key wine families to talk about their family and business histories.

The photos from this trip have been gathering cyber-dust in my project files for three years now, so it’s high time they saw the light of day!

As it happens, how to meaningfully present these images occurred to me recently as my relatively quiet world of history research collided with the vibrant hipster meliorism of research into film, screenwriting and narrative when mon frere came to stay for a few days to attend a conference of Australian screen production educators and researchers.  I drank wine; he drank coffee. And as we swapped stories from our different worlds, the contagious buzz of his talk of non-conventional story-telling inspired me to share my snaps of Griffith and Leeton in a way that combines wine, history and my brother’s milieu – if not his precise research and practice.

Voila! A PechaKucha that explores the ‘water into wine’ narrative of the Riverina wine region, where fermented juice of the grape runs deep in local history. But since the early 2000s the successful flow of wine from the Riverina turned into a flood of biblical proportions once Casellas’ Yellow Tail spearheaded Australia’s relentless advance on the US wine market and – meanwhile – producers battle against the tides of change in policies on water management in the Murray Darling catchment.

But wait, I hear you say, PechaKucha is an aural presentation of the visual.  (For the uninitiated, PechaKucha entails a 20 images x 20 seconds presentation that suits our time-poor, image-driven, short attention spans.)

In which case – I acknowledge – this is an unorthodox PechaKucha.*

By my calculation, in the 20 seconds I’m permitted per image I could read, say, 40 words, 60 if I speak quickly. Below, then, is a photo gallery of my shots (augmented with a few sourced from elsewhere) with short explanations that together introduce you to the Riverina wine region.

For greater PechaKucha verisimilitude read this aloud…

ONE:  The Riverina in central western New South Wales is a flourishing corner of the wine world.  It’s the state’s largest wine region, in acreage and output. And the absence of hills between Griffith and Leeton gives the impression of a broad carpeting of vineyards under a vast sky.

A Leeton vineyard. Source: Ray White Real Estate

A Leeton vineyard. Photo: Ray White Real Estate

TWO: European Australians began farming at Griffith in the early 20th century when the Murumbidgee Irrigation Scheme redirected water from the Murray-Darling River system.  Even before the water began flowing, J J McWilliam planted thousands of vines in the confidence that the district’s future looked bright. This is a picture of one of those vines.

Griffith's oldest grape vines, planted in 1910 at Hanwood, home of McWilliam's Wines

Griffith’s oldest grape vines, McWilliam’s Wines, Hanwood. Photo: Julie McIntyre

THREE: Before second generation winegrower JJ McWilliam, JJ’s father Samuel planted vines at Corowa NSW in 1877 – spurred by the first wave of wine globalisation and domestic factors, such as land reforms.  In JJ’s wake at Griffith there have been a further three generations, including company chairman, Doug McWilliam.

Doug McWilliam

Doug McWilliam – Hanwood 2011. Photo: Julie McIntyre

FOUR: The cellar at McWilliams’ Hanwood Estate is a library of vintages extending from the company’s beginnings to the contemporary era – when the sixth generation is stepping up.

Doug McWilliam in the Hanwood cellar. Source: Julie McIntyre

Doug McWilliam in the Hanwood cellar. Photo: Julie McIntyre

FIVE:  McWilliam’s Hanwood, a short drive from the town of Griffith, has a welcoming, rustic cellar door crowded with memorabilia but I love the simplicity of this sign on the giant sliding door into the barrel room that houses the oak hogsheads in which thousands of gallons of reds are being transformed into distinctive fine wines.

McWilliam's, Hanwood

McWilliam’s, Hanwood Photo: Julie McIntyre

SIX: … such as this Touriga, which had been in wood for four years when I visited, and has a further eighteen months to mellow before it’s bottled. Touriga is blended with Shiraz to make McWilliam’s 10 year-old Tawny Port.

Touriga from the 2006 vintage - in wood since 2007

Touriga from the 2006 vintage – in wood since 2007 Photo: Julie McIntyre

SEVEN: Back in Griffith township, Bill Calabria and his son Andrew are just one of the families that give the region its Italian flavour in wine and food.  Calabria Family Wines (formerly Westend Estate) produces a range of styles that demonstrate a willingness to experiment with old and new grape varieties.  Since I met these convivial gentlemen, Bill has been awarded an AM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, 2013.

Bill and Andrew Calabria, Westend Estate Griifth

Andrew Calabria and his father Bill, Calabria Family Wines, Griffith Photo: Julie McIntyre

EIGHT: And a tour through the Calabria’s winery offers an insight into wine making of the recent era that ties current practices with the traditional, artisanal past of production. This  concrete vat is still in use.

Calabria Estate

Concrete fermenters, Calabrian Family Wines Photo: Julie McIntyre

NINE: Speaking of insights into the past: the remains of Penfold’s winery at Griffith are a potent reminder that multi-regional wine companies have a long but chequered history in Australia.  This ‘ghost winery’ would make a perfect museum…

Former Penfold's site Photo: Julie McIntyre

Former Penfold’s site

TEN: Indeed, the old Penfold’s site still contains heritage from earlier wine generations, including this wine vat, labelled in imperial gallons, pre-dating the metric age and the subsequent democratisation and globalisation of wine in which Penfold’s Grange Hermitage has come to represent the penultimate in Australian fine wine.

Historic vats at the old Penfold's site Photo: Julie McIntyre

Historic vats at the old Penfold’s site

ELEVEN:  In the same era as the Penfold’s site at Griffith still hummed with the voices of workers and machines, harvest workers gathered for lunch at Vittorio De Bortoli’s vineyard at Bilbul, another short drive from Griffith.  A generation on, in the 1980s, Vittorio’s son Deen, and Deen’s son Darren created Noble One Botrytis Semillon, the quintessential ‘sticky’ wine, a potent realisation of the region’s glorious sunshine, dry heat and low rainfall.

Vintage workers' lunch, De Bortoli Wines, Bilbul Photo: De Bortoli Family

Vintage workers’ lunch, De Bortoli Wines, Bilbul Photo: De Bortoli Family

TEN: Family dinner at the De Bortoli home in December 2011. (From left) Margot and Darren De Bortoli – the next generation of De Bortolis – and Darren’s mum, Emeri, a first generation Italian-Australian with deep involvement in the business.

Three generations of the De Bortoli family Photo: Julie McIntyre

Three generations of the De Bortoli family Photo: Julie McIntyre

ELEVEN: About an hour’s drive from Griffith is Leeton and another Italian-Australian family that has made its mark in this district. First and second generation Leeton wine growers, Vince Bruno and his nephew Robert are at the heart of Toorak Winery which began with a 50 acre land purchase by Vince’s father, Frank Senior. Vince and his brother, Frank, made their first vintage in 1965.

Bruno and Andrew ... at ... Photo: Julie McIntyre

Vince and Robert Bruno at Toorak Winery Photo: Julie McIntyre

TWELVE: Palm trees and palettes at Toorak Winery.  Palms are a common sight in the region, along with vines and orchard trees – a contrast with the treescape in wine regions dominated by eucalypt forest.

Palms and bottle palettes. Photo: Julie McIntyre

Palms and bottle palettes. Photo: Julie McIntyre

THIRTEEN: … and panning left from the palettes and palms: Vince and Robert at the Toorak cellar door. Like Darren De Bortoli, Robert is a university-trained winemaker, in contrast to previous generations – and his dedication to building on the family legacy with quality wines is obvious in his plans for the winery’s future. A future that depends on water.

Bruno and XXXX

Vince and Robert Bruno Photo: Julie McIntyre

FOURTEEN: This is a water channel near Toorak.   Many dozens of these channels have been dug across the valley to bring water to the region’s farms. (Just last week the vet who looks after my family dog told me a story from his Griffith childhood about a family who would pull water skiers behind cars driven along a channel bank such as this … ).

Irrigation channel Photo: Julie McIntyre

Irrigation channel Photo: Julie McIntyre

FIFTEEN: Vine growing most often uses drip irrigation so that grape production is more controlled than in ‘dry land’ farming. New technologies have been adopted over time to ensure that water delivery from channel to farm occurs as reliably as possible.  Water licences must be purchased, which is why it is possible for farmers to also sell their allocations back to the irrigation system regulatory body in non-drought seasons.

Weir near Leeton Photo: Julie McIntyre

Water delivery control point near Leeton Photo: Julie McIntyre

SIXTEEN: When I visited in early summer 2011, tensions were at boiling point about new restrictions on the quantities of water that farmers were able to purchase for their properties, Drought dramatically increases these tensions as they create more pressure on vulnerable river systems that feed irrigation schemes as well as pressure on farmers to water their crops.

On the main road into Griffith from Leeton Photo: Julie McIntyre

On the main road into Griffith from Leeton Photo: Julie McIntyre

SEVENTEEN: Back in 2011, community anger towards Craig Knowles, chairman of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, spilled over into invective, as this sign shows. Speaking this year about the centenary of the Murray Darling management agreement between the Australian states – Mr Knowles acknowledged the ongoing complexity of his job at the helm of the authority.

An impassioned protest sign Photo: Julie McIntyre

An impassioned protest sign Photo: Julie McIntyre

EIGHTEEN: Much of the affordable wine in the world today is the result of reliable grape yields enabled by drip irrigation systems, from a range of water supplies. This affordable wine is also the result of production on an industrial scale made possible by the invention and manufacture of gigantic stainless steel vats by Griffith company A & R Engineering. Members of the Griffith community are proud of the contribution A & R has made to wine technology. And I’m going to go a little over time here to ask: what do you think when you see these vats?  Most wine companies know you probably don’t find them attractive so they are hidden from tourists’ view. But few wineries today in any region or any country, for that matter, are without such vats in some quantity. The sight of enough of them to resemble an oil refinery is certainly challenging if you’re devoted to the romance of wine – the idea of horse-drawn ploughs carrying baskets of fresh hand-picked grapes to a low ceilinged stone shed to be foot-crushed …

Tanks manufactured by A & G Engineering, Griffith Photo: A & G Engineering

Tanks manufactured by A & G Engineering, Griffith  Photo: A & G Engineering

NINETEEN:  Which brings me to another Italian-Australian family – the Casellas, whose enterprise at Yenda, near Griffith, is Goliath to the Davids of Calabria Family Wines and Toorak.  They are Australia’s largest family owned winery and produce so much wine that at least up until two years ago they had the world’s fastest wine bottling line.  Since it represents the epitome of industrially-produced wine, Casella Wines is very controversial within the industry, especially as Australian companies seek to remind the world that this country produces very fine, as well as cheap and cheerful wine.  Casellas are seen by turns as heroes of massive export volume and economic success and agents of wine quality destruction.

You decide.

As a historian I consider it fascinating that this company co-exists at Griffith with not just one but two of Australia’s First Families of Wine, the McWilliams and the De Bortolis, who together with other multi-generational family companies promote Australia’s achievements in longevity and quality of production…and in raising this I’m well over 20 seconds again!

John Casella Photo: BRW

John Casella Photo: BRW

TWENTY: …this is probably against the PechaKucha rules, but to make up for going over time on the two previous images – this one is accompanied by a meaningful silence – to reflect on the enormity of the Casella enterprise… … … …

Casella Wines Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

Casella Wines Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

So. Bringing water to the sun-parched expanses of the Riverina has created remarkable facets of the Australian wine story.

And much to debate.

But – as they say – don’t take my word for it. Taste the wine, if you haven’t already. Even better, see for yourself. You won’t find draught horses pulling ploughs or tourist carts in these parts, but you will eat and drink in a way that blends some of the essential elements of European Australia: battles to create viable farmland, Anglos and non-Anglos migrating to Wiradjuri country, wide open spaces along wide open roads. It is very complex and very beautiful.


(* Unorthodox too in that, as my friend Kelly Campion pointed out – there are some doubled up numbers in entries.  So much to say!!)






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Winter is coming!

I mean this literally and metaphorically.

First, the metaphorical, which – as anyone who is a fan of Game of Thrones has already guessed – entails Starkish tidings of potential doom.

Sounds serious? It is. (And those who have not read or seen GoT, be warned, there is a minor spoiler at the end of this post.)

Image courtesy of

Ned Stark – King of the North – who predicts “Winter is coming”

How so?

In the past fortnight I have been asked to engage publicly on how the cycle of wine corporatisation in Australia continues to turn in a direction that may yet see prized wine brands scooped up by private equity companies.  Private equity companies are those beholden only to their shareholders who prey on vulnerable corporations, divide them up and re-sell for maximum profit.

The problem as I see it is that such companies may not see themselves as custodians of wine stories, land and material culture.  This matters a great deal at the moment because many brands that contain much of Australia’s most valuable wine history and heritage presently belong to large corporations – the most vulnerable to private equity takeover is Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Penfold’s Grange. For a further explanation about this from my colleague Paul Docherty and I in The Conversation – click here.

While I don’t take issue with foreign ownership per se, wine history – along with the land on which this history has played out and the material culture relating to such histories – have relevance beyond the wine world, as I discussed with Jeremy Oliver and Cameron Wilson on ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph as a follow-up to The Conversation article.  As Australia becomes a wine nation, wine history is emerging as a vital part of the nation’s complex agricultural, rural and regional past.  Indeed, wine history connects country and city in ways that many other historical threads do not.  While digital history can preserve elements of the past and make them accessible online through digitised images and oral histories – an element of my present research – without preservation of sites, documents and artefacts, much will become obscured to us that promises to complicate and enrich understanding of Australia’s social, cultural and economic past.

What specifically could be lost through corporate takeovers?

A good way to explain this is in terms of what is already being lost due to corporate decisions about the future of the oldest vineyard site in Australia’s oldest continually producing wine region. It is, I think, an ill omen for the fate of Australia’s wine heritage that – come October this year – neither you nor I will be able to as readily visit Wyndham Estate (owned by Pernod Ricard Australia) in the Hunter Valley as we may now.  Wyndham Estate – formerly known as Dalwood – is a site of extraordinary historical complexity dating to early colonial Australia.  Not only is this Australia’s oldest accessible wine heritage site but many themes in colonial history played out there – beginning with invasion and Indigenous dispossession to make way for early European-style farming. Convicts assigned to work with the Wyndham family were among Dalwood’s first labourers in the vineyard as well as elsewhere on the property. Settler women and children from the Wyndham family and the wider community helped with the grape harvest for what became a successful colonial business.  Also, I have it on good authority (thank you Jill Barnes) that

 Dark-in-jung man, William Bird and his father’s family helped create the Dalwood winery and once convict transportation ceased and cheap labour was less accessible, it is highly probable that Aboriginal people worked more widely in the fledgling wine industry: clearing, hoeing, ploughing, staking and pruning the vines.

Further still, Wyndham Estate is home to the oldest extant neo-classical building in Australia: Dalwood House.

dalwood-houseImage courtesy of

Just look at those doric columns! As many people I have taken to visit Wyndham Estate attest, it’s one of the most surprising sights you’ll see in a vineyard: stone monoliths at the entrance to the room designed in the late 1820s to be the bed chamber of George and Margaret Wyndham. Fortunately, Dalwood has the protection of the National Trust.

Besides Dalwood however, there are other places, stories and artefacts all over the country – some barely known, as I have discussed in my book First Vintage, that are not protected against neglect.

What is to be done?

Character preservation legislation for sites beyond those already protected in South Australia and Western Australia would be a good start.  BUT, to achieve this there must be barriers broken down about perceptions of the value of history and heritage connected to alcohol. This is one of the thorniest issues in Australian history – deep fears of drunkenness and its tragic effects versus celebration of a strong (still chiefly beer) drinking culture.  Yet, heavy drinking is not the only story of drinking in Australia and research shows that rural and regional Australia has been boosted economically by wine production and tourism – as have many others parts of the world.  These economic benefits are connected to perceptions of wine value and quality, which in turn depend on history and heritage

Something to ponder during the long cold nights ahead.

On a lighter note (if a reference to Game of Thrones can be called light): the GoT books by George R. R. Martin and related HBO series, have gifted popular culture the phrase Winter is Coming! – along with a fantasy world brimming with wine. And, as Season 4 draws to a close – with the final episode to air in the US in a few days’ time – I will go on the record to say my favourite characters are Arya Stark and a character called The Hound, who is doing his part to restore the Starks to power in the North. Among The Hound’s most quotable lines is: all a man needs is a flagon of sour red, as dark as blood.

Reds. Yes. And – after a late autumn heatwave – there are signs this week of the onset of actual, non-metaphorical cold weather in Australia.

This means it is time to reach into my modest collection of wine for the oldest Mudgee Cabernet Sauvignon I can find, and to plan a meal that does it justice.  Though – having said that – as a colleague recently donated a posh Californian Zinfandel to McCellar, it is a toss up which New World treasure I should summon up to fortify myself against the forces of potential (private equity driven) destruction in the world of wine heritage.

Were I to tackle this dilemma in the spirit of Game of Thrones there would be a trial by combat between the Cab Sav and its American rival!!

But – as a peace loving soul – I envisage instead a civilised comparative tasting and patient reflections on the origins of each wine – a ritual accompanied perhaps by a nourishing Boeuf Bourguignon or soothing cassoulet.

The red-wine winter that I look forward to each year, is finally here.







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The world in a glass of Hunter Valley wine

A date for your diary…

I have the honour of being invited to give the John Turner Memorial Lecture in Newcastle on Thursday May 15. This is a major event on the University of Newcastle’s community program and I’ve titled the presentation The World in a Glass of Hunter Valley wine.

Thursday May 15 6.30-8.00pm, David Madison Theatre, Newcastle

Thursday May 15 6.30-8.00pm, David Madison Theatre, Newcastle

In this lecture I’ll explore the complex of global historical notes that swirl in a glass of Hunter wine. By this I mean that amid the aroma and bouquet in your glass of wine (wherever it’s from!) – just like the vapours emerging from an uncorked genie’s lamp – there are wisps of memory, fragments of stories, the souls of wine communities past…

To preview next week’s event, I’d like to share a short presentation about some of these wisps and fragments that I gave in March this year.  The presentation marked  the launch of the newest cairn in the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association’s Heritage Trail at Hall’s Cottage (RobertsCirca1876), Pokolbin.

My talk was introduced by the indomitable Brian McGuigan (photograph courtesy of the Cessnock Advertiser)

Your blogger and Brian McGuigan – Hunter wine legend – at Hall’s Cottage, Pokolbin. Photograph: Cessnock Advertiser

Here goes…

I find it fascinating  that vineyard districts drew admirers well before tourism became the ‘experience economy’. Certainly much of what we understand about the landscape of historic vineyards comes from the observations of travellers. It is through two travellers’ accounts, published in Maitland newspapers in the final years of the nineteenth century, that we may glimpse the family, the farm and wine making associated with Hall’s Cottage at Pokolbin.

The accounts I will share with you today were published in 1898 and 1900 respectively, and both took place during the vintage of each of those years. One of the travellers – Martin Hogg in 1898 – was wise enough to note that as a visitor during this pivotal part of the wine growing year, it is a bad time in one way and a good one in another to visit the vineyards. A person must not expect too much attention on the one hand, but if he can dispense with a guide he sees matters in the full swing. Hogg also acknowledged that he must not necessarily share news of everything he saw―which I take to mean that ‘what happened in the winery, stayed in the winery’, unless the participants themselves publicly discuss their methods and practices.

When Hogg visited the district he found that, vineyards surround you on all sides. Some are of small area, but all show the quality of the soil. Hogg has much to say but I will speak here only about his observations of the Halls whom he noted had 370 acres of land, well watered, with 21 acres under vines on a portion of chocolate loam on limestone. The vines had to be close pruned on account of a grub, but are making a fresh start. The crop was naturally light … the cellars are nice and cool, and have plenty of room for the quantity of wine made. This is the extent of Hogg’s account of the Halls but, two years later, George Craig was more forthcoming.

By the time Craig travelled to the district for the 1900 vintage, the Halls had dealt with the invading pest that forced heavy pruning two seasons earlier, and their vineyard seems to have doubled in size as Craig estimated the Hall’s vines covered 40 acres. Craig’s first impression of the district was that many farmers selected [land] up upon the Pokolbin ranges and you can see the green patches and clearings in the sunlit and fertile uplands. It looked [to be] a hard road to and from market, but when the big wine central factories are established the grapes will find their way to the lower selection and freeholds.

Craig’s guide in the Parish of Rothbury―the country of the Tyrrells, Holmes, Campbells, Kings and Loves―and the Parish of Pokolbin, was Mr Hutcheson: a public works contractor who owned a little vineyard. Mr Hutcheson sold his grapes to the McDonalds at Ben Ean. Craig tells us that Mr Hutcheson’s property, like many in Pokolbin, grew prized apples and ran dairy cows as well as growing grapes. Craig commented too that Mr Tulloch was steadily cultivating large areas of vines and had a local creamery.

On his tour through the district, Craig passed by vineyards of grapes still bearing the names of their places of origin: Hambro, Shiraz, Hermitage, Reisling [sic], Black Prince, Malbec, Muscat, Madeira and Tokay.

The local school had emptied out as usual during vintage and children were scattered through local vineyards picking for pocket money.

Craig refers too in his account to the influence of the colonial New South Wales viticultural expert, Professor Michele Blunno who consulted with wine growers in the Hunter.

Prof Michele Blunno Source: State Library of NSW

Prof Michele Blunno
Source: State Library of NSW

According to Craig, the vine is seen everywhere, and so clear and healthy are the fields that the cultural touch of Professor Blunno seemed to be inspiring the whole. Farmers and vignerons seldom like to be told anything from official experts, wrote Craig, but the growers of vine are glad to take hints, although every vigneron knows his own vines and plants best. He continued to reflect that, what with fine vines, thriving maize and oat acres, together with find herds of dairy cows and stock in general, a Rothbury drive is excellent and the visitor is filled with admiration at the success of wine, and comparative satisfaction that all the habitués are making money and are happy in life.

Craig was struck by the tranquillity of the scenes he encountered over the gentle rises in the landscape that led him to several properties, including here―to that of the Hall family> Though he and Hutcheson arrived in a state anything but tranquil! To explain this I must mention that the horse who drew Hutcheson’s buggy, which he and Craig travelled in this day, was called Star.  (Craig notes that, Star was out of Fair Shiraz – just as you would expect a mare to be named in a wine region.)  As Craig and Hutchinson headed to the Hall property it began to grow dark and despite―or perhaps because of―his reputation as a reckless driver, Craig took the reins and put some latent life into Star… [We] drove as fast as the Blue Mountains or Toowoomba train to sliprails of Uderrathe property of George and Elizabeth Hall and their two sons, who to the best of my knowledge were Sydney – known as Sid – Hall and Truman Hall. Also to the best of my knowledge, George and Elizabeth migrated separately from Scotland and met and married at Pitt Town in Sydney, though at this stage I do not have details of their migration, or of their lives between arriving in Sydney and taking up their acreage here.

Craig said of the Halls that they were all natives of the soil and denizens of the vineyard. He found them at work in the cellar at the presses. The cellar was large and roomy, and the talk was of the grape and local wine production―and of the wild ride Craig and Hutcheson had taken through Hall’s paddock.

Craig described the Hall vineyard soil as good friable, chocolate and limestone. All of the family worked in the vineyard, which Craig judged to have resulted in a good home, and a prosperous industry, with the voice of comfort, plenty, fruit and young Halls around. Mr and Mrs Hall are kind, homely and hospitable people, he wrote, who have seen many Australian summers … When I see how the old folks thrive, and still health in old age, the climate of Pokolbin and Allandale must be very preserving … People seem not to die in the parish of Pokolbin at all. They can neither be killed by “canister” nor “grape”―by which he means they cannot be killed by canister shot nor grape shot (both used as ammunition in heavy artillery a century earlier).

Mr Hall, continued Craig, grows the recognised best wine grapes, [he] cultivates his vines in a practical manner, with the result that his vintages are generally good. He makes his own wine. It tastes nice, has a good body and flavour, rich, clear, and sparkling. It is a fine thing to sit in front of a vat―Hall’s own―waiting until the moon gets up.

Once the moon had risen, Craig and Hutcheson returned to Ben Ean, arriving there at midnight.

And there we will leave them for now, except to say that none of you will be surprised that during vintage, at that hour, Mr Macdonald of Ben Ean and his cellar hands  were still crushing grapes that had been brought to the winery after dark.


The research for this could not have been done without Trove, the national project to digitize historic newspapers.  And as it happens, I’m also speaking – though, not about wine! – at a Newcastle Hunter Studies event to celebrate the digitization of Newcastle’s 19th century newspapers at Newcastle Art Gallery on Tuesday 27 May. Cheers!!

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Och aye, the noo: wine and the Scots; who knew?

When we think of alcohol and the Scots we usually think of whiskey. But Scots were active in the British wine trade. Rich traders and Scottish Enlightenment intellectuals alike favoured grape over grain. And Scots exerted a largely forgotten influence on wine growing in colonial Australia.

So, as Scotland squares its shoulders for a September referendum on independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain, let’s reflect on Scots and wine.

I propose that we begin with the Francophilia of philosopher David Hume in the 1750s and thoughts on wine by his dear friend Adam Smith, the ‘father of economics’. Then we’ll catch the currents of late eighteenth century British-American trade networks before pausing to explore the politics of consumption in Georgian Britain. From there we’ll accelerate around the world to colonial New South Wales, travelling part of the way on board ship with colonial Australian Scot John Dunmore Lang to land in the Hunter Valley vineyards of Lang’s brother Andrew and his fellow Scottish neighbour, James King in the 1850s…

Leading thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume and Adam Smith

Leading thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume and Adam Smith

Ideas of wine and economics feature strongly in the work of both Hume and Smith.  (As they wrote before the rise of the temperance movements of the nineteenth century, drinking wine did not have the same stigma attached to alcohol and social harm such as violence, as it does today.) Hume, for one, decried the British trade treaty with the Portuguese that made it port wines cheaper than French claret. There are few Englishmen, he wrote (see page 28), who would not think their country absolutely ruined, were French wines sold in England so cheap and in such abundance as to supplant in some measure all ale and home brewed liquors…[and yet] we transferred the commerce of wine to Spain and Portugal,where we buy worse liquor at a higher price.  Smith, for his part, hinged his argument for free trade partly on the benefits of removing high tariffs from French wines entering Britain, despite long rivalries between the nations.

I remember being intrigued when I first encountered Adam Smith’s assertion about wine and sobriety in An Inquiry into the Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)If we consult experience, he said,  the cheapness of wine seems to be a cause, not of drunkenness, but of sobriety. The inhabitants of the wine countries are in general the soberest people in Europe: witness the Spaniards, the Italians, and the inhabitants of the southern provinces of France. People are seldom guilty of excess in what is their [cheap] daily fare. Not only did wine countries have less habitual drunkenness but if drunken types moved into wine countries, where light alcohol common wines were cheap, they were transformed into more sober folk. What an argument! From this side of the temperance centuries that began in the early 1800s, this seems preposterous. But there is more. Smith continued: When a French regiment comes from some of the northern provinces of France where wine is somewhat dear, to be quartered in the southern, where it is very cheap, the soldiers, I have frequently heard it observed, are at first debauched by the cheapness and novelty of good wine; but after a few months residence, the greater part of them become as sober as the rest of the inhabitants.  Smith claimed drunkenness resulted not from being able to afford liquor, otherwise the rich would be the most inebrious; it was that light alcohol should be what working people could more readily purchase so they were not so inclined to be intoxicated. For commoners, the cheaper the wine, the more sober the people.  Ergo, remove tariffs on French wine!


A petite dram glass from the mid eighteenth century

A petite dram glass from the mid eighteenth century

As I’ve written elsewhere, Smith’s wine and sobriety argument came to be invoked volubly by wine growers in colonial New South Wales to gain legislative support for their industry. But, in the decades before the British colonised New South Wales, Hume and Smith’s interest in wine was part of a much larger Georgian culture.  Historians David Hancock and Charles Ludington have given attention to the deep influence of wine trade and wine drinking at the centre of Georgian British politics. Ludington in particular discusses how wine became a complex symbol of power for Scottish as well as English MPs.  Knowledge of French wine translated into a cultural capital that could be traded for greater influence in the halls of power.

So it comes as little surprise that colonial Australian Scots saw the value in producing wine and invested in the future of wine growing. A high profile colonist, John Dunmore Lang, acted as an immigration agent for a range of enterprises, including colonial vineyards.  Indeed, he claimed that he tried to import qualified German vineyard workers (vinedressers) for his brother Andrew Lang’s Hunter Valley property in 1835.  According to J. D. Lang, his brother asked him to recruit vinedressers while he was signing up missionaries Andrew specified German or French labourers for his vineyard and promised to provide them with their own gardens and livestock. Unfortunately, despite J.D. Lang’s initial success in identifying willing migrants the Dutch Government halted the project. The Germans could not pass through Holland without a guarantee from the British Government that they would not be turned back to Holland, poverty stricken and stranded…  The alternative plan was to recruit Germans who were based temporarily in France until they could emigrate to America but who had run out of money and were living as refugees. Lang finally succeeded in persuading two hundred and fifty Germans – vinedressers and their families – to follow him to New South Wales and he hired a French ship to transport them. But, when the shipload of workers arrived at Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian Government – keen to keep them – bribed the ship’s captain to release them to that country, and they went on to form a settlement in the south of Brazil (See pp. 139-140 for the extended version of this story). J. D. Lang reported this story, saying he was outraged but powerless. He may have even sought the release of the Germans in Rio himself since the British Government did not formally approve of non-British workers migrating to New South Wales until 1836. Andrew Lang, meanwhile, later employed German vinedressers through an assisted migration scheme and became a member of the first generation of Hunter Valley wine producers.

Which brings us to the last of the Scots in our tour of wine and Scots: James King. Most certainly one of my favourite characters from the colonial Hunter Valley.  Lang may have tussled with a ship’s captain over a team of poached vinedressers but King had the gall to buy back a case of his best wine from a customer. And in a fit of fury – over the actions of another member of the colonial elite – he sent this wine to Buckingham Palace. From where (as I explain in my book First Vintage) – despite the bad blood with which it was dispatched – it received a fairly encouraging response. Quite a feat for colonial wine!

As a coda to the recent royal visit to Australia; and in anticipation of the upcoming Scottish Referendum – settle back with your favourite cabernet sauvignon blend (in a petite dram if you have one) and read King’s short treatise Australia May be An Extensive Wine Growing Country (1857)*.

If this fiery Scot were with us now, how do you think he might have voted come this September?

(* If the hyperlink pops up with an error message go to: and search for the document by title)






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