Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tragedy in the Hunter Valley

A large explosion at Drayton Family Wines has killed two people and severely injured a third. Among those killed was Trevor Drayton, a fifth generation member of the Drayton family and winemaker for the family owned winery. The second person killed may be a grapegrower cousin of Drayton (identity has not been released). Assistant winemaker 27 year old William Rikard-Bell is in critical condition after severe burns to 80 percent of his body. Apparently Rikard-Bell had the presence of mind to run 100 yards to a small dam and immerse himself in the water.

The explosion produced a huge fireball that blew off the roof of the winery and burnt areas 50 meters away. The bodies of the two dead have not yet been removed from the site due to the instability of the structures following the blast and fire. The explosion is believed to have been caused by sparks from a welding machine igniting fumes from stored ethanol.

The Drayton family has had a history of tragedy. Half the family was lost to typhus during the trip to Australia in the 1850s. In 1994 his uncle, the retired winemaker Reg Drayton, and his wife Pam died in a plane crash on their way from Williamtown to Lord Howe Island. Their bodies were never recovered. Seven years earlier winemaker Barry Drayton was suffocated by fumes when cleaning out a wine tank. And Barry Drayton’s wife Rhonda unexpectedly died shortly before from hepatitis and their deaths orphaned four young daughters.

Drayton’s established their presence in the Hunter Valley in the 1850s, and have been grape growers and wine makers since that time. I have never seen any Drayton Family wines in North America, although the description from James Halliday’s online Wine Companion indicates that they do export to the USA. Production is 90,000 cases of typical Hunter wines. I remember drinking Drayton wines back in the "70s, but that would have been before Trevor Drayton was even through wine school. Trevor Drayton graduated as Dux of his Oenology course at Roseworthy Agricultural Training College in South Australia and was also the current President of the Hunter Valley Vineyard Association.

Audio Slideshow at Sydney Morning Herald.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

On My Bedside Table

Regular readers will know that Miranda and I share our house with three standard poodles, and four cats (of an imagined Irish heritage). These animals also occupy various parts of our bedroom, but the most conspicuous occupants of the bedroom are the bookshelves on either side of the California King. Mine, the really small one, is stacked with books on a multitude of topics including wine. Well in truth, most books on my side of the bed are about wine. This book fetish creates a problem when I travel as I can’t carry the whole bookshelf with me. So I select a book, or two. And hope that I will find the time to read. On my trip to Australia last December I packed a half-read copy of Campbell Mattinson’s “Why the French Hate Us. It’s a passionate book. Worthy of purchase. But the second half is a less interesting read than the first. So, wandering around LAX. I snapped up a soft cover copy of Jay McInerney’s “A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine. I have it in hard cover. I’ve never looked at it. Its collecting dust in another room of our house in San Diego. A quick skim of the LAX purchase suggested that I might find some interest in a few of the chapters; why is it that non-Aussie wine writers find it so difficult to write about the most innovative and interesting wine continent?

Never mind, Oz is filled with good bookshops. And Dubbo, at the periphery of the (wine)outback, is no different from anywhere else. With little else to do but hook up the laptop to the internet in my cousin’s Darrell Lea chocolate shop, and hope that my work email might function correctly. I decided to walk the main drag in search of wine books. The Book Connection at first proved uninteresting. But in a little alcove a few used gems. A 1979 copy of Wine Australia” by The Australian Wine Board ($7AUD) slouched next to Max Lake’s “Hunter Winemakers” (1970); the inside covers filled with copies of wine labels of decades past. Ah, the memories. Another eight bucks. And then a few spines further along. An almost pristine copy of “Wines and Wineries of the Barossa Valley” by Bryce Rankine (1971), and even more wine labels. Another $7. The little bedside table in a bedroom once occupied by the most forgiving of grandmothers was beginning to buckle.

Off to the big smoke, Sydney. And my mate Ted’s little house on the edge of national parkland in Warrimoo. The Blue Mountains. A hell of along way from anywhere and central to everything. Ted has a small idiosyncrasy, he collects pretty much everything. Well OK, for many years its just been Australia prints (but its a bloody diverse range of artists, Ted), books and periodicals on art, and now postcards. His excuse for the latter is that he is writing a book on photography of the Blue Mountains.

Ted is celebrated for something else. He thinks of his mates or more specifically his mates’ idiosyncrasies when he’s on the hunt for more acquisitions. So after we have gone through a few bottles of (rather obscure) Aussie wine I am presented with a foxed but otherwise excellent copy of H E Laffer’s “The Wine Industry of Australia” (1949). It cost him $8. Thanks mate.

There is one more book to add to the bedside table. Halliday’s “2008 Australian Wine Companion”. Dymocks in the city has it. It makes my checked luggage “overweight” but the ticket counter lady does not even notice. Home, James!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Wine chief forced to smash Grange

A regional manager for Australian drinks giant Fosters says he was forced to destroy two bottles of Penfolds Grange at Melbourne airport due to security restrictions.

Having just come back from Australia with 11 bottles of Seppelts fortifieds in my luggage I think the above story says more about Foster's employees than the difficulties of taking wine onto a plane.

Some of the comments here are, well, interesting!

An additional note. Mr Grant estimated the two bottles were probably worth about $3000. In the Langton's Auction sale of Dec 17 the two vintages of Grange went for less than $350AUD each; the 1980 for $332 and the most expensive bottle of 1982 was sold for $326. Works of art indeed!