I’d been working in the Sydney trade, and Had written copy for A COUPLE of RETAILERS’ newsletters and catalogues, when Roger Johnstone, editor of The Australian Financial Review’s new lifestyle section, commissioned me to write a serious piece about wine. This was at the suggestion of consummate chef and scholar, Stefano Manfredi who’d just commenced writing a food column for ‘The Fin’.

There was no real brief for the article other than it had to be something which particularly interested me; and that it was not to be the usual take on the subject at the time. So, I addressed the matter of single vineyard wines under the working title ‘Terroirism’. This might sound trite now, but back then it was a topic not much expounded upon in the Australian wine media. My yarn made it to print on 14th May 1993. Chuffed I was: totally and utterly stoked.

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Roger then requested another piece, only the deadline — the section ran on a Friday — was for the next edition. I explained that the ‘Terroirism’ story had taken some weeks to complete, but he proffered assistance and reassurance, and that was it. Same brief: something I felt strongly about.

Subsequent Stories

The topic I elected to expound upon was the state of Chardonnay in Australia. Or rather: the prevailing wine show take on what was meant to represent the best of it. (Anyone out there recollect the wine show glory days of Renmano Chairman’s Selection? Yikes!).

The vinous protagonist of my second piece was the winner of the Chardonnay trophy at the Sydney Show of ’93, which was, as I recall it…Actually I won’t reveal the producer’s name as I haven’t tasted any of this winegrower’s produce for decades, and this wine is well and truly — thankfully — long gone. As is the style of Chardonnay encouraged by most wine shows at the time. It was an oaky, alcoholic, barley sugar and canned mango tasting number, and I couldn’t imagine any of the Chablis and Puligny fancying Sydney presiding judges deigning to drink it at table.

In my copy I nominated producers crafting aspirational Australian Chardonnay at the time, most of whom — if not all — didn't submit their wines for appraisal at shows. The list would have included the likes of Bannockburn, Giaconda, Cullen, et al. But I can’t find a copy of the original piece to verify this. As always: happy to stand corrected. Or to correct myself.

I most certainly do recall that the writing was pretty crap in this second — rushed — piece, although I clearly managed to convey the strength of my views, as I pissed off a few people in the Australian wine establishment. While this article was stylistically questionable it did set a style which my became my standard: which is to always refrain from communicating on the matter of wine between the lines. However, I have also always preferred to describe in detail the things that excite me, rather than the stuff which irritates — except when the provocation absolutely necessitates a response.

Further commissions from Roger came my way and after a little while my words on wine became regularly weekly and — incredibly, unbelievably — my AFR column ran for nigh-on a quarter of a century. I officially learned I’d been given the boot on the day Donald Trump was elected President of United States, but my last words in The Australian Financial Review ran on 28th December 2016.

Sadly, someone decided to interfere with the opening par of this piece and you can read my response to this witless sub-editing here and peruse the original copy here too. I’d have loved to have lasted ’til May ’18 and marked a quarter of a century as a columnist, but that’s the way it goes. To have written (almost weekly) for this respected title — for Fairfax! — across three decades was an extreme privilege. Thank you, Steve. And thank you, Roger (especially).

Words Elsewhere

In addition to my twenty-three year commitment to the AFR I’ve had work published in several international wine journals including Decanter Magazine (UK), WINE (UK), Wine & Spirit International (UK), Harpers [UK], the Wine Enthusiast (US), and AGT Wine Magazine (Australia).

However — with the odd exception — these were one-offs. But I was a regular contributor to (Australian) Vogue Entertaining & Travel for a number of years (thanks for tolerating my sometimes — oft-times — reluctance to file Sue Fairlie Cuninghame). Subsequent to this I assumed the role of wine and drinks editor at Marie Claire Lifestyle, a gig which I occupied from mid-99 to early 2001 (same gratitude and apologies to creative geniuses Karen McCartney and Neale Whitaker).

It was in MCL that I first undertook a little travel writing, although stories about wine are — of course — significantly influenced by the landscape it grows in and the journeys taken through it. I was particularly pleased with the travel pieces I filed on Andalucìa and Vienna. They were also both beautifully illustrated by photographers, Lisa Linder and Olaf Tamm respectively. (Am I allowed to upload pdfs of these stories as the magazine no longer exists? I will until I receive a cease and desist.)

I possess copies of all the Marie Claire Lifestyle issues for which I filed as they were so scrupulously produced. One day — perhaps — my young daughter, who is rapidly developing her reading skills, might be interested and pick one up and enjoy some of the words written in my past. Because these days I’m rarely found in print (although — who knows? — in ’22 I may pull something out of somewhere on my person).

Sadly, the publisher of MCL decided to curtail production ahead of the launch of the short-lived title and companion TV show, Live This, which was anagrammatically referred to by some wags in the trade as Evil Shit.

From October 2004 until December 2010 I also contributed a monthly column and wine reviews for The Age (Melbourne) Magazine. Apologies — again — here to Angus Holland for my edge of the precipice filing. It — again — was an incredibly beautifully produced and meticulously edited publication.

Beginning in July ’08 and concluding four years later I also wrote a column titled ’Lateral Drinking’ on the matter of wine, beer, spirits, and other complex liquids, for the bimonthly lifestyle mag, Inside Out. This was a column concept that I really enjoyed playing around with as I’d conceived of it as a means to link seemingly disparate beverages together via pathways of aromatics, textures and tastes, or some other connective theme. In a fun and gently educative way hopefully.

It was also a bit of an odd coupling in that for the duration of my tenure I was the only columnist in the publication per se. While there were many other regular contributors they were providing longer format feature articles (generally). I was also privileged to have my portrait accompanying each column: several different versions shot by Mark Roper at my then local, Gerald’s Bar.

So I’ve been quite fortunate really to have worked with so many incredibly talented individuals across a number of exceptional publications. I may expand on my general slackness at meeting deadlines in Off Piste a little later, because it is not a reputation I bear proudly. Interestingly, looking back on it, I reckon I may be one of the only wine writers to have contributed for both Fairfax (AFR/The Age) and News (InsideOut) concurrently. 

Beyond Words

In addition to my twenty-three year commitment to the AFR I’ve had work published in several international wine journals including Decanter Magazine (UK), WINE (UK), Wine & Spirit International (UK), Harpers [UK], the Wine Enthusiast (US), and AGT Wine Magazine (Australia).

However — with the odd exception — these were one-offs. But I was a regular contributor to (Australian) Vogue Entertaining & Travel for a number of years (thanks for tolerating my sometimes — oft-times — reluctance to file Sue Fairlie Cuninghame). Subsequent to this I assumed the role of wine and drinks editor at Marie Claire Lifestyle, a gig which I occupied from mid-99 to early 2001 (same gratitude and apologies to creative geniuses Karen McCartney and Neale Whitaker).

It was in MCL that I first undertook a little travel writing, although stories about wine are — of course — significantly influenced by the landscape it grows in and the journeys taken through it. I was particularly pleased with the travel pieces I filed on Andalucìa and Vienna. They were also both beautifully illustrated by photographers, Lisa Linder and Olaf Tamm respectively. (Am I allowed to upload pdfs of these stories as the magazine no longer exists? I will until I receive a cease and desist.)

I possess copies of all the Marie Claire Lifestyle issues for which I filed as they were so scrupulously produced. One day — perhaps — my young daughter, who is rapidly developing her reading skills, might be interested and pick one up and enjoy some of the words written in my past. Because these days I’m rarely found in print (although — who knows? — in ’22 I may pull something out of somewhere on my person).

Sadly, the publisher of MCL decided to curtail production ahead of the launch of the short-lived title and companion TV show, Live This, which was anagrammatically referred to by some wags in the trade as Evil Shit.

From October 2004 until December 2010 I also contributed a monthly column and wine reviews for The Age (Melbourne) Magazine. Apologies — again — here to Angus Holland for my edge of the precipice filing. It — again — was an incredibly beautifully produced and meticulously edited publication.

Beginning in July ’08 and concluding four years later I also wrote a column titled ’Lateral Drinking’ on the matter of wine, beer, spirits, and other complex liquids, for the bimonthly lifestyle mag, Inside Out. This was a column concept that I really enjoyed playing around with as I’d conceived of it as a means to link seemingly disparate beverages together via pathways of aromatics, textures and tastes, or some other connective theme. In a fun and gently educative way hopefully.

It was also a bit of an odd coupling in that for the duration of my tenure I was the only columnist in the publication per se. While there were many other regular contributors they were providing longer format feature articles (generally). I was also privileged to have my portrait accompanying each column: several different versions shot by Mark Roper at my then local, Gerald’s Bar.

So I’ve been quite fortunate really to have worked with so many incredibly talented individuals across a number of exceptional publications. I may expand on my general slackness at meeting deadlines in Off Piste a little later, because it is not a reputation I bear proudly. Interestingly, looking back on it, I reckon I may be one of the only wine writers to have contributed for both Fairfax (AFR/The Age) and News (InsideOut) concurrently. 

Off-Piste