I’d been working in the Sydney trade, and written copy for a couple of retailers’ newsletters and mail-outs, 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 story made it to print on 14th May 1993. Chuffed I was: totally, utterly stoked.
Roger then requested another piece, only the deadline — the section ran on a Friday — was for the next edition. I explained that my ‘Terroirism’ piece had taken some weeks to complete, but he proffered assistance and reassurance, and that was it. Same brief: something I felt strongly about.
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 Royal Wine Show of ’93, which, as I recall it, was…🥁
Actually I won’t reveal the producer’s name as I’ve not 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. But I can tell you it was an oaky, alcoholic, barley sugar, and canned mango tasting number, which I couldn’t imagine any of the Chablis and Puligny-fancying Sydney Show presiding judges deigning to drink it at table. For pleasure anyway.
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).
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). With the odd exception, however, these were one-offs.
But I did regularly contribute to (Australian) Vogue Entertaining & Travel for a number of years. Subsequent to VET I assumed the role of wine and drinks editor at Marie Claire Lifestyle, a gig which I occupied from mid-99 to early 2001, and extreme gratitude here goes to the creative geniuses Karen McCartney and Neale Whitaker for putting up with me.
It was for Marie Claire Lifestyle that I first undertook a little travel writing, although stories about wine are — of course — significantly influenced by the landscape in which it grows and the journeys taken through it. I was pleased with the travel pieces I filed on Andalucìa, Vienna and Lisbon. They were also beautifully illustrated by photographers Lisa Linder, Olaf Tamm, and Jason Lowe respectively. I’ve uploaded them here for the curious (assuming it’s okay — and as the publication no longer exists — that I’m not infringing on any matters of copyright and this is considered ‘fair use’?) Some of the typesetting has, unfortunately, gone a bit skew-whiff.
From October 2004 until December 2010 I also contributed a monthly column and wine reviews for The Age (Melbourne) Magazine which was also an incredibly beautifully produced and meticulously edited publication (sincere thanks for your tolerance, Angus Holland — especially). 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 bi-monthly periodical, Inside Out.
I really enjoyed playing around with this column 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). I was something of a weird fit in the mag, but I loved it while it lasted. I was also privileged to have the portrait accompanying each column shot by Mark Roper, one of Australia’s finest photographers, and at my then local, Gerald’s Bar in Carlton North, Melbourne. Another ‘most chuffed’ moment!
So I’ve been really quite fortunate to have worked with so many incredibly talented individuals across a number of exceptional publications. Looking back on it, I reckon I may be one of the only wine writers to have contributed concurrently for both Fairfax (AFR/The Age) and News (InsideOut).