Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There ..........

After the very strange weather of the past months, this week has been a delight in the Barossa, Adelaide Hills and many other parts of South Australia. Perfect weather for a bit of exploration of all things magical, before the Karra Yerta Wines 2011 Vintage starts (only a few weeks away, now).

I had a morning trip to Adelaide yesterday, and as is my usual manner, drove to the city via the Adelaide Hills. This truly is the most beautiful way to get to Adelaide from the Barossa, and there are no shortage of photo opportunities on the way. Once my business appointments were finished, I had a spare hour or so until my meeting on the way home to peruse a fabulously charming old building, so utilised the opportunity to have a quick peek and take some photos of the setting of
The Garden Of Unearthly Delights (part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival) which is held in February in the parklands on the eastern side of the CBD.

Though there were no acts playing during my visit, it was still a lovely place to walk through and get a feel of just how magical it must be when the stages are full, and the entertainers are in full bloom under the beautiful lighting that is most noticeable, even in the day time. The Garden of Unearthly Delights is in action at Rundle Park from February 10 until March 13, so there's still time for you, and me, to catch some of the national and international acts that are appearing.

Now, if that wasn't enough enchantment for one day, my next stop literally took my breath away. It was in the lovely little hills village of Gumeracha (approximately forty kilometres east of Adelaide, and about twenty kilometres south of the Barossa), which like most of the towns in the Adelaide Hills and Barossa, is steeped in history. Like Tanunda, which now has historical marker posts scattered throughout the village, Gumeracha has its own historical walk.

One of the many places of interest on the Gumeracha historical walk is the incredibly beautiful Randell's Mill, which was built in 1849
under the managment of pioneer William B. Randell (1799 - 1876), who at the time was employed by the South Australian Company. William Randell had a strong interest in milling, and archived letters indicate his strong desire to form a partnership with George Fife Angas (whom Angaston in the Barossa is named after) to establish flour mills in South Australia. The partnership never eventuated, to his dismay, but Randell forged ahead and sited a location near the banks of Kenton Creek, and the incredible building still stands to this day, in what we know as the township of Gumeracha.

With two-foot thick solid bluestone walls, and at its completion, excess of thirty foot ceilings, the mill began its checkered history. Milling ceased in 1874, after the death of William Randell, and the property became a butter and cheese factory for a short time, under a co-operative of local investors but it was not successful and came under private management. On the 19th February, 1912, the mill was partially destroyed by fire, and with severe structural damage, and most of the machinery being lost, it was left in a state of disrepair for a period of time, during which local children used it as a playground.

In 1923 it was sold to the then AMSCOL Company as a depot for milk collection until daily city deliveries made the property redundant. The first two storeys of the building were re-roofed at the second storey (the fire of 1912 had destroyed the third storey) and some form of cold store was put in place, but despite this, the building was left deserted again until 1947 when it was purchased and used as a slaughter house until 1977. Changes in the meat processing industry and the introduction of hygiene standards also made this endeavour redundant.

In 1978, a fellow named Peter Brokenshire came across the mill and commissioned architects to reconstruct and restore the building. This was a massive undertaking as the questionable structure of the building, and the lingering mess and smell of the slaughterhouse did not make things easy. However, Mr. Brokenshire persisted and in 1979 restoration of the mill was successfully completed and the result of that can be seen today. The Brokenshire family used the building as an art gallery and at the end of 1979, Randell's Mill was formally opened by the then Lieutenant Governor Sir Walter Crocker.

So now you know the history of this magnificent and very precious building. What you are not aware of yet, is what it has become today. This is where the magic steps in.

In 2006 the mill was opened as a bed and breakfast. Part of the mill was restored using red gum, recycled timber, wrought iron and cathedral glass to enhance and compliment the old stone walls. This has resulted in an incredibly beautiful historic, yet modern, stunningly decorated self-contained bed and breakfast. Only a section of the original mill is used for the bed and breakfast, while the remainder continues to be the private residence of the owners.

Bronnie and David Nash purchased the mill in late 2008 and with their love of local history and their surroundings, have tastefully continued restorations of the mill, and I have to say, on arriving at the mill to have a look at not only the mill but the bed and breakfast facility (so that I can recommend it to my visitors to the Collective Barossa cellar door outlet), I was almost speechless from the 'wow factor'. I have seen and stayed in a lot of accommodation, and in my previous years, cleaned a lot of them, also (one of my favourite places to work as a cleaner of such was at the magnificent Collingrove Homestead in Angaston).

I felt like I had fallen down the rabbit-hole, like Alice,
and ended up somewhere in countryside France or Tuscany, and that was before I had ventured inside the actual accommodation facility. The building, the garden, the courtyard; the incredibly special feeling of being in this totally peaceful and visually enticing environment, is hard to put into words. Scattered throughout the gardens (the guest one and the owner's) are magical objects that create such an ambience that it is hard to do anything but walk around in awe. It gives you the feeling of never wanting to leave, and some of the comments in Bronnie's guest book are testament to that. It really is such a special place, and once you know the history of the actual mill, it only makes it moreso. This building could so easily have been demolished after the fire of 1912. Thank goodness it wasn't.

The inside of the B & B accommodation is simply amazing. Upstairs there is a loft bedroom, so tastefully decorated that it beckons you to lay on the comfortable bed and not wake up for a day or so. Downstairs is a tidy, spacious living area with all the modern amenities, including a stunning kitchen with all provisions provided (this includes fresh eggs from the chickens on the property - see the photo below of Bronnie with the resident pet pig, Mr. Windsor, the chickens and one of her friendly dogs) and a gorgeous bathroom, including a spa.

Bronnie's decorating skills leave nothing to be desired and she is known for her extra special touches to make guests feel very spoilt. Many of the Randell's Mill customers make return trips and it's so easy to see why. I can write another hundred words, or take another fifty photos but in the end, much like a perfect sunset on a Kangaroo Island beach, there is nothing - no way at all - that I can bring to you, what it is that I felt or saw, as I visited the mill yesterday afternoon. You simply have to experience it yourself. You too, will start looking for the
White Rabbit, as soon as you pull into the driveway.

For more information on Randell's Mill go to their website for email and phone contact details: or check out their Facebook page or Twitter account and become a fan/follower. It is an indulgent self-contained, more than reasonably priced accommodation option which caters for couples - perfect for wedding nights and of course, short breaks. One night stays are possible, but a small surcharge applies. Two night stays are recommended to really soak in the relaxing atmosphere. Give Bronnie a call or email to check out prices and promotions.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Somewhere over the rainbow......... there's hope.

I find it ironic that I am following on from my previous post with this one; timing is everything in life. Sometimes when you become cynical, something lands in front of you which brings back your feeling of hope. Always remember, that you have to get the rain Before You Get The Rainbow.

I have received some fabulous emails in regards to my last post, and I thank the writers for all of them, the comments received, twitter messages and retweets. Your feedback and honesty was much appreciated:)

So, a few days after airing my frustration and disappointment at certain happenings within the wine industry (and not by any means, tied totally to the Barossa, if that was misinterpreted), I had the fabulous experience of what it is that I was trying to make you understand - the importance of working together in tough times.

Yesterday, on my day off from the Collective Barossa cellar door, I decided to go to the shop anyway, and take care of our guests who were coming for lunch, so that Mark from Gumpara Wines could focus on serving behind the counter. I enjoy working with Mark, and Steven of Kurtz Family Vineyards as we all share the same philosophies and always have lots of laughs, in between discussions on ideas for the future of our own wineries, and Collective Barossa.

Now, getting customers in for lunch and a wine-tasting may not sound like much of great interest but it was the steps that happened for them to get there that was relevant.

The customers were from Sydney, they were brought to us by a tour operator from the McLaren Vale region, the operator of which had collaborated with a bed and breakfast operator at Gumeracha, to bring the customers to visit not only our cellar door in Tanunda, but two other local wineries, a new beer shop and one of the local pubs on the other side of the Barossa (plus a few other retail stops in between). To top it off, said customers also had the pleasure of meeting a local tour operator who runs a horse and carriage business.

All in all, the most incredible example of people from many different regions, working together to provide visitors to our state with a personal and most memorable experience. By all accounts, the customers have already stated that they had an absolute ball during the entire trip, from start to finish. They personally told me that having Mark (from Gumpara) sit and chat to them (whilst I was preparing their lunch) was a highlight of their day, and they truly enjoyed his company. Everyone was happy; the customers felt that they had been spoilt, and numerous businesses had sales on the one day from these happy customers.

So how hard is it, really? That's right - it's not. I rest my case. I'm still cynical but know that there are many more opportunities like this, so will welcome any future ventures, and do my best to work with these like-minded business owners to enjoy what ultimately is about us all working to live, not living to work, and showing each other respect. Selah.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fear & Loathing: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the Wine Industry.

I've been in the wine industry for just over five years, now, and have met some of the most incredible people that one could ever wish to meet. Life-long friends, with whom I will continue to share many fine moments, over incredible views, foods and wines. Lots of deep belly laughs, and moments that make life special. But for every good part of life, there are always disturbing ones. Moments that make you step back, and wonder.

When Karra Yerta entered the wine-world, it was a tough time. Very tough, actually. I mistakenly saw it through rose-coloured glasses and can remember telling my husband of my plans to create a brand (he had been making wine for our own personal use for many years, but we had never sold any, nor applied for liquor licensing to do so to the public) and the words that came back to haunt me were "How hard can it be to sell three hundred cases of wine, a year?" That phrase bit me faster than a pile of bull-ants, my bare feet standing directly on top of their nest. I knew we had very, very good wines from an incredibly special old-vine vineyard but that was of no help. None.

I also had the support and advice from the very lovely James Lindner, of Langmeil Wines, and being a Barossa girl, whose parents had worked at Penfolds for almost thirty years each, an insight into the industry and many friends who were already involved either with the viticulture side, or the wine side. I had worked at Yalumba and Penfolds, myself, even. None of this helped much. Simply, despite the fact that I had not lived a sheltered life in any way (think hitch-hiking across the country at sixteen and partying like there was no tomorrow) I was in no way prepared for the savageness of the wine industry.

What I have realised in the past months, is that if I thought it was savage then, what has it become now? Savage doesn't even begin to describe it. Ask the vignerons who are still waiting for payment for their grapes from two years ago. Or the businesses that label or bottle wines, who are still chasing up payments from the wineries from last year, or ask the wineries who are owed tens of thousands of dollars from their distributors (the ones who refuse to answer phone calls or emails.) Or the wineries who make stupid and unprofessional errors in the process leaving people with wines who, maybe years after the wine-making, have a product that they have to recall. Or the wineries that process other honest people's grapes, make wine from it, charge top price and then when it is corked/exploding/damaged in some other way, take no responsibility whatsoever. Savage, I tell you. SAVAGE. And it's hurting families who are struggling to survive in this often, depraved and decadent industry.

If there's one thing that knocks one's confidence, it's being continually deceived and misled. Liars believe their own lies, and justify telling them by their own belief in their lies. Eventually, it makes you question your own integrity, and possibly, your sanity. The fact that grape-growers were handed Beyond Blue pamphlets (Beyond Blue is an Australian depression initiative) last year shows me that it's not only our farmers who are becoming suicidal, but now, we can add vignerons and dairy farmers to that equation. People who have worked their land for decades, being caught up in the abyss of deception.

But back to 2006. I recall the very embryonic stage of trying to sell our wines. The pressure was on - we had lots of stock, another vintage upon us, and my husband was wondering why I was not having any luck with getting our wines stocked anywhere. And I mean, anywhere. Thus, I set up a few appointments, one of which was the turning point of my entire life. The rudeness and arrogance of the people with whom I had said appointment devastated me.

The good thing about that experience was that it led me to a fellow called Philip White. In my wine-ignorant state, I had no idea who he was, as during his times of writing for 'The Advertiser', I was busy raising my children and doing volunteer work on School Councils and the like. Wine was not part of my life, in a business sense, until I hit the road trying to sell it. Via James Lindner, I managed to get hold of a list of people in the media who he suggested I contact in view to get our wines reviewed, in the hope of getting something in writing to back up their quality. The list intimidated me to no end, even though I only recognised a few names (James Halliday was one, I forget who the others were). I chose Philip White randomly. I sent him an email. When it bounced back, I turned into a nervous wreck as I simply couldn't handle HEARING any more rejection - I preferred to READ it.

To cut an already very long story short, I ended up having to call Philip (no way did I want to tell my husband when he got home from work that I had still not made any progress!) and before I knew it, I was in the car, wine in hand, and heading to Philip's residence to take him samples of our first ever Karra Yerta riesling and shiraz.

I was so anxious that I was almost beside myself, but I kept driving and hoping that by some act of God, all would go well. It did. Philip was most hospitable and invited me into his home so that he could taste the wines, there and then. As he did so, I told him of my last experience with the rude and arrogant people in Adelaide, and he quite rightly compared the entire experience to me being in a Reservoir Dogs situation. He was spot on. They were vicious -but in a silent, smiling, assassin kinda way - and almost made me give up. Philip actually wrote an article in the January 27-February 2, 2007 edition of 'The Independent Weekly' on our meeting and in it, mentioned the Reservoir Dogs. I wonder if they ever knew it was them that he was referring to. I have that same article laminated and hanging in my office. For many years, it was my inspiration to keep trying to get our wines 'out there'. It worked. In 2011, Karra Yerta is still in the game.

So, now we have the crux of this blog post. It was my own 'doggie situation' that has inspired this post, and this is why: I recently met a lovely young woman who lobbed quite unexpectedly on my own doorstep. She was flustered and dejected for she too, has been chewed up and spat out by retailers, distributors and no doubt, others on the winery side of the industry. I saw so much of myself (of five years ago) in her that I was still thinking about her last night when I went to bed, and again on waking this morning. On top of all the other things I have heard, witnessed or experienced recently, it was the final cherry on the top of the ugly - the Fear and Loathing - side of being in the wine industry.

Of course, I tried to help her, if only to explain that it was nothing that she was doing wrong, that it was just a savage market. I told her of my own experiences and gave her the addresses of certain wine-writers that I found to be most supportive of smaller wineries, and particularly of ones who really are passionate about their products (madly so, in fact, as the hope of profit surely gives us sleepless nights - what is profit? I am yet to find out!).

I think she was most surprised that I was sympathetic to her and her quest, but how could I not be? I could already see what she was facing before she told me. The stress showed on her face. Her pretty face and kind heart would only make it easier for those who enjoyed boosting their own egos at her expense. I have tried, and will continue to, try to help her. It's the least I can do.

I believe that the wine industry needs to have a good hard look at itself. I have worked hard for the past year, particularly, to not only promote the Barossa Valley as a region, but also to promote South Australian wines (I am not ashamed to admit that my favourite red wines are mostly from McLaren Vale, and why should I be? I also adore Clare and Eden Valley rieslings, if you really need to know). South Australia has so much to offer wine buffs - magnificent wines from the Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Barossa, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, Langhorne Creek, Flinders Ranges, Clare, even Kangaroo Island - is it not better for us to work together than against each other? I do not understand how many people put up brick walls and just make life harder for themselves, and my 'good' wine friends, and me, in the long run. I don't drive a fancy car. I don't live in a fancy house. I like to think that I do not have a huge ego, and that I am helpful to people, not detrimental and deceptive. What I do have is a great circle of wine friends - other winery people, wine writers, customers etc and I feel truly blessed to have them in my life. It's a bloody hard industry to be in, and the sooner that people show some foresight and humility, the better. Then, many of us will be able to stop
Running Through The Jungle.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s Door – Part 2

This blog post was originally written for, and published on "Barossa Dirt - True tales and twisted vines" in February 2011.

From left: James Linke, Andrew Graham, Bob McLean, Colin Sheppard, Chris Ringland.

During the past few months, we have had the pleasure of the company of some wonderful visitors to our home. It’s so much fun to sit at the kitchen table in our old cottage, sharing fine wines and food, and getting to know each other face to face as opposed to electronic or phone conversations.

Each of these people has their own special reason for arriving on our doorstep, or indeed, in our neighbourhood, and it’s their own diverse reasons that will create my next few Barossa Dirt posts. The four subjects are all very interesting people – two are in the wine business in the USA, the other two are from Sydney – one involved with the wine business and the other with journalism.

My second interview is with Andrew Graham, who is a Sydney-based wine-writer ( and an enthusiastic and passionate wine-lover.

ML – What was the initial reason for your first ever trip, or contact, with the Barossa, and what year was it?

AG – Interestingly enough my first ever ‘serious’ wine was a Barossa Shiraz – it was the year 2000, and up until then I’d really just been a beer and spirit drinker. Wine had always been around my house, and cask wine had been a friend on more than one occasion, but I’d never really taken wine seriously. This wine was different though. It had the most luscious silky texture that I really loved. That wine was a 1998 St Hallett Faith Shiraz, and looking back I can understand exactly why I would have liked it – lots of flavour, lots of simple Barossan goodness.

ML – Which Barossan personalities have made a lasting impression on you?

AG – Charlie Melton is one person who first made an impression on me, with his sometimes laconic but always honest personality – and excellent moustache – epitomising of what I imagined great Australian winemakers to be. I like his wines, too. Bob McLean is another ‘larger than life’ character whom I very much respect due to his almost unrivalled knowledge of the area.

ML – What are some other interesting places you have been to in your travels, and/or which interesting people have you met elsewhere in the world?

AG – That’s an interesting question! Perhaps the best way to answer this would be to talk about the more interesting winemakers I have met, such as some Indian vignerons whom are working on one of the larger Indian vineyards. Their enthusiasm was unbridled, happily admitting that whilst their wines were still not quite there yet, that India would eventually become renown for it’s wines.

ML – Compared to some of these places, what makes the Barossa an appealing place to visit?

AG – One of the appealing things about the Barossa is simply how unlike most other Australian wine regions it seems to be. I’m sure it’s a cultural thing, driven by the old German heritage, but grape-growing and winemaking seems to carry even more significance in the Barossa, more respect even.

ML – What are your favourite Barossan places to visit and why?

AG – That’s an easy one. Flaxmans Valley is the most attractive part of the Barossa. It’s the extra lushness and greenery, that comes courtesy of Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park in part, that makes it feel that much more natural and peaceful. It’s colder though, which I’m no fan of as I’m a warm blooded Sydney man who doesn’t deal well with cold!

ML – Do you have any favourite Barossa foods or wines?

AG – Did someone say Linke’s bacon? Barossan smallgoods are the picks in the food department. Eden Valley Riesling is not the ideal smoked meats match, but it does refresh…

It was a pleasure having Andrew visit, and we look forward to his next trip to the Barossa. My next post will feature a very interesting couple from the United States. Stay tuned.

Cheers for now,

Marie Linke

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