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Funding the views shared by few


Whitey finds the Weatherill Government’s Regional Development Grants are unpopular among all those who haven’t applied for one.

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Two famous wine companies have set neighbours and rivals seething after successfully securing $2 million each from the South Australian Government’s Regional Development Fund.

It should surprise nobody that one of the key presumptions of free enterprise is that governments should always strive to provide better entry to the prize money by making its prisement easier.

Now government seems surprised at the scepticism those bits of the wine industry that haven’t applied for money are showing the success of two that have – Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) and d’Arenberg.

The $15 million per annum fund sees the department of Primary Industry and Regions SA (PIRSA) distribute grants through Regions SA and the Minister for Regional Development, Geoff Brock.

The Barossa and McLaren Vale recipients are the focus of extreme winebiz bitchery.

The TWE money will be spent making the Wolf Blass Wines Bilyara factory at Nuriootpa bigger: the warehouse gets bigger; the bottling line improved and the machinery for making cheap sparkling wine enlarged as TWE closes its Great Western winery and fizz factory in Victoria.

TWE had only just managed to incorporate all its Rosemount manufacture into the giant Nuriootpa refinery after closing the Rosemount winery in McLaren Vale, one of that region’s biggest, last year. It is also determinedly moving more of its Wynns Coonawarra winemaking to the same central Barossa location.

People were openly, derisively disbelieving when I forecast this here last year. It wasn’t my idea.

Today’s whingeing, of course, comes mainly from McLaren Vale, Great Western and Coonawarra.

Regional critics say it’s hypocritical for government to justify the funding by saying the entire $23 million extension will create 30 new jobs, as this is only a fraction of the total jobs lost in those regions due to the rationalisation.

They say that TWE would have built the thing without any government assistance, and that the size of the slice – $2 million out of $15 million – is too big for those who missed out on the money and too small for TWE to notice.

The company is based in Melbourne; it generates revenues in the realm of $2 billion.

Peter Taylor, TWE’s director wine production – Australia & New Zealand, came out to shake Minister Brock’s hand and put some of this into perspective.

“The Wolf Blass Packaging Centre was purpose-built and cost over $100 million when it was commissioned in October 2005,” he said. “This $2 million grant is the best tenth birthday gift we could wish for. It sets the Centre up for the next decade, and I want to sincerely thank the South Australian Government and Minister Brock for supporting this important facility.”

McLaren Vale, meanwhile, seems genuinely rattled at the audacity of Chester Osborne scoring his $2 million. This is to assist paying for his much-discussed $11 million “Rubik’s Cube” visitors’ centre: a six-storey cube for offices, tasting, dining and entertainment on a tower beside the winery. This will dominate the McLaren Vale skyline and give visitors a good look at the district, not to mention the vast rambling mess of d’Arenberg winery buildings that already cover that hilltop.

This huge assemblage of add-ons is ugliest viewed from Seaview Road: it makes Tinlins look tidy.

Geoff Brock says the Cube will employ “up to 150” during construction, and “58 new ongoing jobs within 18 months of the opening”.

It seems Government is annoyed that more folks haven’t applied for such funding, rather than sit back bitching about those who have.

One thing is dead certain: the seething unpopularity of these two large bags of taxpayers’ gold going where they have seems certain to ensure they are so much discussed that they’ll become a kind of viral YouTube, Vine or meme to promote the fact that more bush folk should be putting up their hands for taxpayer cash to make jobs for their fellow countrymen.

So call it a $4 million ad campaign for free money that just happens to create 88 new long-term jobs.

If you believe those numbers.

This process certainly doesn’t appear to be too demanding as far as good taste goes.

Prisement could just be the new go.

Which brings Greg Trott to mind. The beloved founder of Wirra Wirra died with a promotional dream undelivered.

At the Gateway Vineyard, the first one you encounter on your left as you drive from Old Noarlunga, up the hill to enter the Vales on Victor Harbor Road, Trott wanted something a bit more musical than a giant Rubik’s Cube on a stalk.

He planned the biggest bell on Earth. He’d even tracked down a bell foundry in Britain which promised it could cast and deliver it. Trott wanted this erected on a great belltower at the top of the hill in the Gateway vines, where visitors could watch it swing and ring every morning for elevenses, when glasses all over that bonny embayment would clink in celebration of the district’s main purpose.

His winery and tasting room were 12 kilometres distant. Didn’t matter to Trott. He was thinking of his fellow countrymen and what would be best for all of them. Hardly a selfish or greedy man, Trott.

If his bell had got up it would now no doubt be raising the ire of the residents of Labor’s new Tupperware Tuscany across the road: the new homebuyers of the Seaford Heights development were one thing Trott thought he’d stopped.

I’d love to know what he’d think if he came back for a bit of a peal and spotted Chester’s giant Rubik’s Cube sprouting up a couple of hilltops away and that horrid villa rash he thought he’d stopped spreading malignantly.

Here’s to hoping I’m not showing too many shades of scept for these turbulent times. I can’t afford to upset the tunnels to the money. I’m planning to hit the Minister for a few mill to employ regional poets to stand on plinths and read in the town squares.

I don’t care much whether the plinths come from the McLaren Vale quarry or the Barossa one.

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