Bruce Anderson

Winemaking with convictions

Californians describing their wines sound like ballet teachers; not so the Aussies

Any Australian who admits to not having convict ancestors loses caste. When granted a coat of arms, the smart ones always include fetters. It is the Oz equivalent of claiming that your ancestors came over with William the Conqueror. But it was not always thus. In the Adelaide of the 1890s, there was a family called Strangways Wigley, who had paid for their tickets and never stopped swanking about it. But they had a blot on the escutcheon in the form of young Robert. He was determined to rectify the lack of criminal blood.

In those days, a pieman — as opposed to a swagman — used to sell his wares in the town centre. He was especially popular towards the end of the evening, when the ockers needed ballast to soak up the grog. But one night, Robert hitched his horse to the pieman’s wagon and took off. A glorious chase ensued. The entire town took part. The air was full of view-
hallooing; all the men were waving their corked hats. Finally, Robert was captured and spent the night in the lock-up. The locals were delighted that the snobs had been discomfited. The Strangways Wigleys were mortified. Before he could add to the disgrace, Robert was transported, to the wine country in McLaren Vale.

There, he planted the Wirra Wirra vineyards. But the course of true winemaking never did run smooth. Although he was a good taster, the other aspects of the trade were neglected. The bush reasserted itself. Rescue came in 1969 from the late Gregory Trotter. Trotty — the customary usage — was not a snob. He may well have been the swagman’s descendant. But he created a serious vinery, with a range of impressive bottles, too few of which find their way to the UK.

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