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International Day of what once was a port


On International Talk Like A Pirate Day Philip White reflects on last Friday’s International Grenache thing.

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It was already a tricky business, coming down off International Idiopathic Hypersomnia Awareness Week in this, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, without the confusion delivered on Friday, which was both International Day of the World’s Engineers and International Democracy Day.

Friday is named after a woman, Frigg, an old Pommie and Norse god who helped give us the word friggin. She’s mixed up with Freyja, Venus, and Aphrodite, and was the main squeeze of the boss god, Odin. Frigg was worshipped as the goddess of married love, a notion currently more contentious than whether friggin is a sanitised stand-in for sexual intercourse or reference to the less penetrative frotting, which means rubbing: sometimes, but not necessarily, oneself.

Then some ethanol peddler somewhere decided it was also International Grenache Day. Considering there are over 10,000 wine grape varieties it’s probably lucky for Grenache that it got a share of the day of engineers and democracy without a mention of the other 26 wine grape varieties that also deserve recognition if you divided the year up fairly amongst those 10,000.

It’s going to get twisty when each of them eventually has its day.

Since Frjá-dagr we’ve got through the International Day of the Preservation of the Ozone Layer on Saturn’s Day and World Water Monitoring Day on Moon Day, both observances of matters a touch more important than Grenache, although some do claim it to be the world’s most widely-planted red wine grape.

Speaking of the lumpen vernacular and abbreviated patois synonyms on this World Talk Like A Pirate Day, I consulted the website of a direct-order ethanol retailer called Vinomofo.

“Happy Grenache Day!” Michael Ellis had written there. “I bet you didn’t know that was a thing … apparently there’s a day for everything. There’s even a movement to get Fairy Bread Day up and running here in Australia. That’s a stretch, but we’re all for celebrating wine so Grenache Day is fine by us,” he wrote, before outlining a brief history of the grape’s life in Australia, where it has mainly been used for making sweet fortified rotgut called tawny port.

“It’s a very easy-drinking style of wine and for many a mofo it’s been a gateway wine to other reds as its approachability makes it a safe choice when dipping your toes into the world of wine,” Michael continued, repeatedly calling the new wave Grenache a “medium-bodied” wine.

“So if you will,” he concluded, “raise a glass as we propose a toast, to Grenache! And we’ll skip the sculling, we’re going to take it easy and sip this one.”

As a writer who has loved and promoted carefully grown and made dry red Grenache for nearly forty years, one is irked by this International Grenache Day. Sure, it may lift the general human awareness of the variety’s existence a bee’s dick closer to our appreciation of democracy, engineers, and in today’s instance, frigging in the rigging, but in so doing it is more an opportunity for those whose wine is hardly loved to hoik a grappling hook onto the stern of the makers of really good successful ones without having to, er, well, actually grow it properly and learn to make and market it honestly themselves.

Both Bacchus and sweet Frigg know how few and far between are beautiful Grenache wines. Like, in the scheme of things, they’re hardly here at all, especially in Australia. It’s only a nascent thing, a development in its infancy. Those eager to swarm like pirates from the wake of the successful and honest, to clamber over their gunnels and pillage their hard-earned glory are limited by the amount of truly good Grenache vineyard remaining.

International Grenache day serves mainly to assist sales of those manufacturers who lack real understanding of the variety’s facetious beauty, and have little chance of access to any of the few truly great Grenache vineyards to survive.

Take McLaren Vale, where I live. Since the winemakers here spurned Grenache to chase Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay sales, most of its precious Grenache vineyard has been bulldozed and burnt, as also occurred in the Barossa and Clare after the post World War II port addicts had all died of it.

Fortunately, the subsequent Chardonnay fetish is also over and gone here, while Cabernet is currently sidelined in the pop stakes, leaving the district with a ridiculous amount of Shiraz. Some of this is gorgeous. But most is forgettable; some is torrid, and fortunately, a lot of it is rarely picked.

So we saw the winemakers align to seduce consumers with an ornate sales engine called Scarce Earths, where they invited wine celebrities from afar to come and taste the Shiraz wines to guarantee they were honest representations of their specific geology and terroir. How anybody not intimately versed in the variety and each vineyard’s terroir could do this reliably, much less scientifically, was a stupid notion.

On they went, however, using Chester Osborn’s pet name for the project, and in the spirit of former winemakers’ association chairman Jock Harvey’s suggestion that every cellar should have a $100 Shiraz for sale, they pushed this fool notion for years.

While it’s all gone a bit quiet on the Scarce Earths front, at the expense of those few who grow and make beautiful examples of it, the current feverish infection is Grenache.

So we see those who aren’t as popular or pricey or famous as they want to be confecting sudden allegiance to International Grenache Day. Rather than admit and address the reality that they should first grow or procure better fruit and then learn to make better wine, they construct fantastic marketing and image scams, sophisticated devices which leave the curious consumer confused about which wines the region really thinks are good.

Like most wine shows, the marketing sophistry works as a leveller, pushing a status quo, a state-of-the art designed to help everybody sell more Grenache of any quality to the gullible and confused.

It might as well be port.

Just to be clear, ‘state-of-the-art’ is a patent attorney’s term for what exists, not the wondrous glories, new inventions and developments yet to come.

So, McLaren Vale Grape Wine And Tourism Association, please back off the feverish promotion awhile as you help your vignerons, viniculturers and oenologists train up to produce more exemplary wines.

Encourage them first to recognise good ones: the wines they never had the nous to make before. Work out which of your geologies grow the stuff best and plant more there.

If you have a wine show, keep it to yourselves. Study those wines and argue, visit their sites, pore over their science: learn! Get your product sorted before you suddenly expect us all to believe every cellar in the joint can suddenly lay claim to a Grenache that’s worth $100. Or even a meagre $40.

Of course you should make the new wave local wines available for prospective drinkers to appraise and consider, but importing famous hired guns, who have little idea of the local terroir, geology, or state-of-the-art, is cynical and patronising. It may make you look smart in the eyes of your members who pay your way, but you want to be careful to avoid veering into friggin piracy.

The punter is not a mug.








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