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Classification of Australian Wines  - Dan Murphy
Macmillan 1974
Review by David Farmer

I’m a bit of a collector of wine books and recently purchased a first edition signed by Dan Murphy and by the great Hunter vigneron Max Lake. It cost $20.00 from the Berkelouw bookstore on Oxford Street, Sydney, where I buy a lot of second-hand wine books. I first read this book in 1975. Back then it was seen as a bold attempt to classify Australian vineyards and wines in a hierarchical system similar to the French appellation classification. It was a very useful book. Thirty years on it acts as a timepiece and is worth reviewing to see how the wine industry has evolved.

The book is written by a wine merchant steeped in the lore of classic European wines, with the French wines seen as the model to follow. There are numerous mentions of French wines, particularly Bordeaux of which Murphy must have had a great love. He and his wine drinking Melbourne friends saw Australian wines through a prism that reflects this classical training. This was quite normal for the time as he and others struggled to understand how Australian wines would fit into this Eurocentric view.

It is astonishing that thirty years on this view has been swept into the dust bin. For example it is now France even with its great wine lore which is struggling to convince the consumer. Murphy knew that something was happening as there are many references to Penfolds Grange and the wines of Penfolds but as visionary as the book is it does not make that great leap forward. Few of us realised that giants like Max Schubert were in the process of turning the world wine industry on its head.

It was normal at the time to ask for more elegance and finesse in our wines particularly the reds and the way to achieve this was to search for new vineyard areas that would reflect a European ripening cycle which meant vineyards in cooler climatic regions. The book is quite advanced in the treatment of heat summation days, the influence of climate on the ripening of grapes and in discussing the French ideas of the influence of the site, terroir, although this term is not mentioned.

What was being made in Australia had to be improved thus; “The occasional ravings you see about the early Great Western reds and whites, the Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon blends from different areas which we saw in the fifties and sixties and the Reynella heavy Cabernets of the fifties are best forgotten. These are wines that are not made anymore and are not likely to be made. The wine world calls for something lighter and with more finesse. They deserved the praise they received in the context of the wines of those days, but we make wines today which fit in better with the great wines of the rest of the world..” And “..wine quality is closely related to a fairly cool summer temperature and a long ripening period for the grapes”, and “but when the dividends are handed out it will be found that it is easier and more profitable to make quality wines from grapes grown in naturally cool conditions than in warmer regions.” And later; “Although no wine authority has ever written off the Barossa Valley as a top quality area, I cannot remember any one of them giving it a special accolade as a constant producer of world class table wines”. Then to round out the view of the time; “Mr. Henschke has the reputation of a white wine maker,” followed with approval, “The Henschke reds are lighter and less astringent than many of the reds seen on the Australian market today.”

We had to shoehorn our wine industry into a European model. This meant a movement of vineyards to cooler areas and a lighter red wine style. New southern vineyard areas opened up and we are all immensely richer in our drinking because of this. The lighter reds made in the established hot areas of course led to the appalling wines of the seventies and early eighties.

Our technical people by the 1970’s had solved the problems of making wine in a hot climate and at least for reds it turned out a decade or so later that the customers preferred the taste. And you do have to dicky around with fluky, cool climate weather conditions. A few winemakers continued to make a richer, fuller style, thus Penfolds soldiered on but not to wild applause. The Australian consumer slowly returned to the fuller flavoured styles but our opinion makers were not sure. It took English wine writers and not those of the establishment, who are Europhiles and Francophiles and still are incidentally, but new wave writers like Oz Clark and the late Auberon Waugh to say the obvious which was these wines taste good. And from the other side of the Atlantic the Wine Spectator and the influential critic Robert Parker made strong declarations that they loved the big bold hot climate reds. Then the tide turned.

This is a great book and very stimulating to read thirty years on. The comments that follow are not a criticism but a record of how the industry has changed. Would you believe that the word chardonnay is not mentioned in the book at all? Sorry a correction, there is a reference to the blend semillon chardonnay. Make no mistake; the author knew his white burgundies and his Chablis. Now it is by a long way the most popular variety Australia wide, so popular that people can become part of the ABC movement, anything but chardonnay. Recognition indeed.

As for the grading system, how has it stood up? Not to well. But that is OK because in 1974 we had no Margaret River. Andrew Pirie was still clearing the ground and planting the first cutting at Pipers Brook in Tasmania. I looked his brother up in 1971 at his vine cutting nursery on the banks of the Tamar which was to supply the bold new venture. I also visited the local Agricultural Department in Launceston who told me the brothers were stark raving mad. The Yarra Valley was a dream, Mornington Penninsula did not exist, and the list goes on and on. The grading system proposed also tried to identify the vineyard sites and multi district blends which Murphy frowned upon made this difficult. Blending is more entrenched today than ever. The best classification now is that produced by the auction house Langtons as that is based on what people pay.

What we got after 1974 were vine pull schemes to clear away the old unproductive vines in the Barossa and Clare Valley’s. Then the marauding business hordes arrived with fancy takeovers and proceeded to root the industry. The same as is happening now although the folk today wear a different coloured coat and talk about reverse engineering and FMCG’s. Yes they will root it again and we will have to pick up the pieces and start all over again.

Thus you cry as you scan the list of nominated wines as it is a roll call of departed brands and non performers most destroyed by poor marketing; Leasingham Bin 49 and Bin 43, Kaiser Stuhl, Seaview, Craigmoor, Stonyfell, Elliots, Lindemans Hunter wines, Tollana, Basedows, Leo Buring, Glenview, Kies, Penfolds Wybong Park, Bernkastel, Normans, Ryecroft, Belbourie, Booths, Valle d’Oro, Chatterton, Rovalley, Karlsberg, Trennert, Hordern, and Glenloth. The list will be longer this time.

In 1974 the Hunter Valley was given much more prominence that today. There are many references to this region. The great company Lindemans staked its reputation on its Hunter wine portfolio. All largely gone and the famous winery is now a museum piece. Hunter wines have never been easy to sell and while McWilliams and others soldier on the property developers have them surrounded and it is only a matter of time.

One other comment asks for reflection; “on the whole, however, vintage variation is not great.” Certainly Australian vintages do not show the great variations of more marginal growing conditions. Though as we have mastered the art of making wine in a hot climate, vintage variations are highlighted much more than thirty years ago.

This is a book for the wine enthusiast and you will be able to pick up the paperback for a dollar or so. It is worth it for the comments on wine judging and tasting.


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...


Bouquet  - G. B. Stern
Alfred A Knoff, New York, Second printing, 1928 (First published June, 1927)
Review by David Farmer

I cannot recall how I got to know about Bouquet. I purchased a copy from a dealer on Amazon for $30.00. I read books like this to gain a better idea of how wine was thought about prior to say 1950-1960, before it exploded in popularity in the English speaking countries and turned perhaps a simpler pleasure into the scientifically studied beverage of today. more...


The House of Mondavi  - Julia Flynn Siler
Gotham Books, June 2007
Review by David Farmer

To build two large businesses in a lifetime is quite a feat but to do it in the wine business where it can take generations to become established requires outstanding talent. more...


What Can You Learn from Seven Centuries of Trade.
Sherry
 - Julian Jeffs
Faber and Faber Limited, London. First Edition, 1961. A revised second edition was published in 1970.
Review by David Farmer

Why would you want to read a book on an unfashionable drink like sherry? What would I find coming back to a book I first read in the mid 1970's? At the time of release it was much praised and subsequent editions came out in 1970 and 1978. more...


Notes on a Cellar Book  - George Saintsbury
Published in 1920 with numerous reprints. Reissued 1978 (Macmillan)
Review by David Farmer

This short book had an enormous impact on wine writing after publication in 1920 and was quoted extensively for the next two decades and was still referred to by wine writers in the 1960's. It may be seen as a forerunner of later books that taught you how to enjoy wine by personal reminiscing about wines and in this way guided readers through the maze of wine types and wine lore. more...


The Heartbreak Grape, A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir  - Marq de Villiers
Harper Collins, 1993, Toronto, Canada
Review by David Farmer

Pinotphiles is the name given to consumers who are dedicated to the mysteries and flavour of pinot noir. No other grape variety has such a band of promoters and to satisfy their needs a dozen or so ‘pinot celebrations’ are held every few years in the old and newly emerging pinot regions. more...


The Romance of Wine  - H. Warner Allen
Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1931
Review by David Farmer

'When the Portuguese are really enjoying themselves, they sing and dance to a noise resembling that of a heavy bombardment, and in a festival in the mountains at Amarante I was completely deafened by the unceasing roar of about sixty sheepskin drums beaten furiously, broken by violent dynamite explosions.'

This is Warner Allen’s picture of the locals in the Douro region who enjoy letting off rockets with sticks of dynamite attached when celebrating. Any book that discovered a tradition like that has something interesting to say. more...


In Search of Wine, A tour of the Vineyards of France  - Charles Walter Berry
Constable and Company, 1935. Republished in 1987 by Sidgwick and Jackson
Review by David Farmer

In late 1934 Charles Walter Berry undertook an eight week tour through the vineyards of France and In Search of Wine is the record of what is considered a ‘famous’ journey. In the introduction to the 1987 reprint by Jancis Robinson, she notes that, ‘Walter made wine trade history by venturing into the cellars of those who supplied him,…in order to understand better the product he was selling and to survey, in unparalleled depth for the time, the French vignoble.’ more...


Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origins of Viniculture  - Patrick E. McGovern
Princeton University Press, 2003
Review by David Farmer

We do not know when humans first began to enjoy fermented wine beverages. Ancient Wine traces the origin of the deliberate making of alcohol back to the early Neolithic, about 7000 years ago. A seasonal or occasional drinking of alcoholic beverages probably goes back much further as many fruits collected in a container would ferment naturally. The current warm cycle of the ice age commenced about 10,000 years ago and this also marked a change, in a region of the Middle East, when humans turned from nomadic hunter gatherers to the first permanent settlements based around the cultivation of cereal crops. It is suggested that the earliest permanent settlements began in Eastern Turkey in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. more...


In Praise of Wine  - Alec Waugh
1959, (Cassel)
Review by David Farmer

In Praise of Wine is a book of personal reminiscences about wine and follows the style of the educated amateurs who wrote before and immediately after the Second World War. This book though was published in 1959 and has crossed into an era in which wine books were beginning to contain detailed descriptions of wine regions and technical aspects of wine making, the forerunners of today’s large wine publishing industry. This in turn heralded the end of the amateur commentator. more...


Stay Me with Flagons  - Maurice Healy
Michael Joseph, 1949
Review by David Farmer

The English wine trade has given us many things, such as wine and food societies, a great depth of literature covering the descriptive and technical aspects of wine and wine regions, notably on French wine, a sophisticated wine auction system and more recently teaching schools such as the Masters of Wine. more...


The New France
A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine
 - Andrew Jefford
Mitchell Beazley 2002
Review by David Farmer

How strange to divide wine writers into a wine left or right. It will help you to enjoy the early chapters of this book if you have a soft left interpretation of the world wine industry, and enjoy railing against the globalisation of wine, the sameness of taste, the industrialisation of wine and a future driven by world wide brands. This book takes the proposition that the true way to make wine comes from those who bond with the ground, who work the vineyard night and day, break their backs, and by so doing achieve in almost a religious sense a bonding with the earth, the place and the wine produced. more...


You Heard It Through The Grapevine - Shattering the myths about the wine business  - Stuart Walton
Aurum Press, London, 2001
Review by David Farmer

There are a great many wine books written each year. The problem is that it is hard to come up with a new perspective to make a book stand out. The wine industry evolves slowly which means most books are derivative. In this case it would seem that the publishers asked for a book that reveals the hidden secrets of a business that some may see as being full of mystery, hence the sub title of this book. more...


The Classic Book on Cocktails
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks
 - David Embury
the first edition was in America in 1948 and Faber and Faber published the first British edition in 1953
Review by David Farmer

Some books give you such pleasure that you always want them nearby. And in my adventures into drinks no book has impressed me as much or given me more pleasure than this masterpiece on the art of making cocktails.

There are dozens of books about making cocktails, rather like there are about food, but few are worth the cover price. None approach the quality of this classic book. more...


Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines  - James Wilson
Mitchell Beazley 1998
Review by David Farmer

Any vineyard owner will tell you that certain areas of their vineyard make better tasting grapes than other areas. Why some areas of vineyards and vineyard districts deliver better grapes and hence better wine is the subject of terroir studies. The Europeans and particularly the French are very interested in this topic. They extend the meaning of the word which we can roughly say is the flavour effects that come from the vineyard location to include cultural ideas which unite man with the soil. more...


Penfolds-The Rewards of Patience  - Andrew Caillard M.W.
(Fifth Edition)
Review by David Farmer

In the simplest term this is a consumers guide to all the Penfolds red and white wines. The tasting notes cover wines made by Penfolds in the 1950's right through to the current releases. There are tasting notes for every wine, apart from the Rawsons Retreat wines, the Koonunga Hill whites and one or two others which I detect the winemakers wish they did not have to make under the Penfolds banner. Others wines such as the Penfolds Old Vine Semillon which were part of edition 4 have been dropped off. more...


Classification of Australian Wines  - Dan Murphy
Macmillan 1974
Review by David Farmer

I’m a bit of a collector of wine books and recently purchased a first edition signed by Dan Murphy and by the great Hunter vigneron Max Lake. It cost $20.00 from the Berkelouw bookstore on Oxford Street, Sydney, where I buy a lot of second-hand wine books. I first read this book in 1975. Back then it was seen as a bold attempt to classify Australian vineyards and wines in a hierarchical system similar to the French appellation classification. It was a very useful book. Thirty years on it acts as a timepiece and is worth reviewing to see how the wine industry has evolved. more...


Real Wine - The Rediscovery of Natural Winemaking  - Patrick Matthews
Mitchell Beazley 2000
Review by David Farmer

This is one of a number of wine books published over the last few years, mostly by English authors, which take the view that there is a correct way to make wine and this is only known and followed by a small number of dedicated winemakers. The core of the argument is that big company winemaking produces ‘industrial’ wines and these lack character, while true wine is made by the artisanal wine maker using tools and methods, often ancient, which reflect the unique character of the site. more...


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...



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