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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