No whistle wetting for old time’s sake

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 “In 2016 the Preece brand returned and it would have been good to wet the whistle to see how memory and current reality compared about this part of the Mitchelton offering,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER

I’VE been thinking a lot about absence. The whole world now seems like a giant hand of control, squeezing us as a means of protection. 

Richard Calver.

The pandemic forces us to see life in a different way, and we are required to live it in a different way. Travel is limited and seems fraught. Research from Roy Morgan shows that more than 4.3 million people (32 per cent of working Australians) have been “working from home” during the last few months since the pandemic shut down large parts of the Australian economy. 

Yet despite the constant admonitions to stay home, last month I went to visit friends in Euroa, Victoria (pre-Victorian hotspot status) and we planned to go to the Mitchelton winery in nearby Nagambie. 

We checked the website and there was no indication of a need to book for wine tasting. But that was an error. We got there and space and time considerations meant that we were unable to taste the wine. 

The young woman handling the cellar door was very polite and gentle about declining our entry but we retreated feeling foolish. My friends looked at me askance as I started humming “I Who Have Nothing” by Shirley Bassey. I explained the remembered lyric from this 1963 epic:

A preece 2016 cabernet sauvignon… but a memory.

You can take her any place she wants

To fancy clubs and restaurants

But I can only watch you with

My nose pressed up against the window pane.

The climb to the top of the observation tower where we saw the majestic yet muddy Goulburn River and a horizon of bush one way and the 148 hectares of grape cultivation on the other side helped lift our spirits. 

The same went for the quality of the art in the basement Aboriginal gallery. But we didn’t get to taste any of the wine at the winery. 

I hadn’t been there since a work dinner in the 1990s when I worked for the Victorian Farmers Federation and the Preece red flowed, although we didn’t get served the Mitchelton shiraz 1990, which won the Jimmy Watson trophy in 1991. 

That was in the days the winery was owned by Petaluma. But in late 2012 the Ryan family, owners of Jayco caravans, acquired the winery. In 2016 the Preece brand returned and it would have been good to wet the whistle to see how memory and current reality compared about this part of the Mitchelton offering. 

And a further blow: when I returned to Canberra, I went to Vintage Cellars in Manuka to see if they had any Mitchelton wines and none were stocked. Denied at every turn.

It made me think further about what other omissions I might regret or where I might have the parental hand of COVID-19 controls hold me back. 

And a standout was when I was in China last year, I declined to purchase a bottle of Great Wall red that was on the list at a fine duck restaurant where the food was exquisite because it was the equivalent of $130 a bottle. I still haven’t tasted any Chinese wine and the prospects of a return to drink again in that country, which is riddled with suspicion against Australia and Australians, is unlikely.

I contemplated that where these thoughts were taking me was towards Dry July so that the absence of wine during this month would become a conscious choice. But then while I sat in front of my computer pondering whether to sign up for 31, 21 or 14 days and how much money I might raise for this exemplary charity, I decided that yet another absence was to be rejected and that I shouldn’t deliberately set aside something I love. 

“Always obey your parents – when they are present” –Mark Twain.

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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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