Yet another gripe about wine lists… #predictablestu

I write this column from atop my high horse. I’ve been riding this particular steed for quite a while and intend never to get off till I get my way. And trust me people I’m a hefty bloke with some pretty serious saddle sores right now, so for god’s sake please pay attention.

Australian wine does not have nearly enough representation on the better wine lists of Sydney and Melbourne. And it pisses me off. And it has done so for more than a decade. And I thought it might be improving, but it’s not.

Last month I was invited for the fifth year, to be a panel member judging the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Wine Lists of the Year. Big lists, short lists and regional lists and the winners will be announced on September 1. There are some terrific lists, cleverly constructed that understand that bigger is not always better, that empathy with the food is essential and that supporting local “producers” includes the wine grower as well as the pig farmer.

And then there are the “others”. The ones that think they are “on trend” by being deliberately obscure; ignoring local wines that might simply be too easily understood and accessible.

And then . . ., ooh baby, then  . . . . there’s my particular bete noir; the hypocritical locavore.

The bloke (and it’s ALWAYS a bloke) who forages the weeds from his median strip and  blends them with the whey from the cow he keeps in his yard and the salt he pans from the Alexandria canal . . . oh god, it’s all so painfully LOCAL and ON TREND, it might just make you grow a beard.

But when I see his drinks list, I really want to hurt a hipster because, yep no surprises here, 90% of his wine list has travelled halfway round the world, in big clumsy, heavy bottles with stupid waxy tops and contents that look like the urine sample of a man with just one functioning kidney.

I’m sorry but I call a big, fat, BULLSHIT on that sort of behaviour.

For mine it shows that the person in charge of this restaurant is a chef, not a restaurateur, and that’s bad for business.

I could understand this dire situation prevailing if we lived in, say Wales or Kenya or even Thailand but we don’t. We reside in one of the most clever, brilliant, diverse and exciting wine producing nations in the world and we are getting too widely ignored on our own shores.

If I was in government (and you can be glad I’m not) I would be bloody legislating against this sort of behaviour. I’d be banging on louder than Senator Crazypants from Queensland – and making a hell of a lot more sense.

I have nothing against wines from all over the world; I love them and drink them all the time, but I reckon an outstanding wine list should offer diners the best of both worlds – wacky wines and drinkable wines and an opportunity to discover something they didn’t know they had, possibly right here on their own doorstep.

So think local, eat local and drink local.  It will make you a better human.

Think. Eat. Save. Why we need to repurpose our fridge. @OzHarvest. #mealforameal

Bill Pritchard is the Associate Professor in Human Geography at the University of Sydney. I first read this post late last week and it was set for a run in the mainstream media but extraordinary events dictated otherwise.

Today Bill and I both participated in Oz Harvest’s incredible Think. Eat. Save initiative in Martin Place. He agreed to let me post his piece on my blog.

Thanks Bill.

Think. Eat. Save. Why we need to repurpose our fridge. @OzHarvest. #mealforameal

Take a look at your fridge. If it’s like those of many Australians, too many of its contents exist in situational limbo between being bought, semi-consumed, and then, some days, weeks or months later, discarded.

A fridge of half-consumed food might seem like the most implausible subject for serious intellectual enquiry. But in the quest to understand and repair the twenty-first century’s dysfunctional food system, it’s a good place to start.

Our current global food system leaves more than 800 million people under-nourished, makes more than 500 million people obese, and unsustainably diminishes our natural resource base. The current ways in which we produce food aren’t feasible for a future planet of nine billion.

Fixing these problems is tough work. It takes good science, clever policies, and political and civic leadership. However, sometimes the best strategies are also the most obvious. The World Bank has estimated that somewhere between one-third and one-quarter of all food produced in the world is wasted. If we can address this, a huge step forward would be taken.

Why is food wasted? In Australia, the ironic cause of much of the problem is our excellence in transport, logistics and packaging. Our easy access to a huge range of food that is packaged and presented for (apparent) freshness, make the problem of food waste seem invisible.

I’m old enough to remember my mum planning our meals. Sunday dinners would be converted through the week into stews and casseroles. My mum did these things because of the cultural repertoire that defined her generation’s attitude towards food. In an age less dependent on refrigeration and with less packaging, doing the most with the food you had was a moral and economic code. The cookbooks of the age celebrated the creative uses of leftovers.

We shouldn’t invoke nostalgia for its own sake. But remembering the past brings the shortcomings of the present into view. Social, economic and technological systems have seduced consumers into false economies. Buying food in bulk may give the suggestion of cost savings, but these savings evaporate if the food is later discarded. All too often, fridges have become transit zones of poor food choices.

The irony is that with microwaves and other supportive technology, we are better positioned than ever to organise food consumption in ways that minimise wastage. However, contemporary consumer mindsets treasure new and different meals every night, rather than planning weekly food cycles. Supermarkets construct and feed these mentalities by glamourising perfection. Misshapen fruit is filtered out of sight. Packaged foods are sold in increasingly idiosyncratic and expensive ways through manipulations of exotic combinations of ingredients.

The horizon is not all bleak. The Think.Eat.Save initiative by OzHarvest in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme and UN Food & Agriculture Organization, brings these issues to the foreground. Among the hipster communities of the younger generation, food is sexy. In my experience as a lecturer at the University of Sydney, the best and the brightest of the next generation all understand the importance of food politics. Volunteer community gardening is the new black.

These trends don’t reach everyone in society equally. For the many households on struggle street, getting a meal with greatest convenience and lowest price remains the priority. But as a society, we are now starting to have a different kind of conversation about food, and one which is bringing the problem of food waste front and centre. A good start is to look inside your fridge, and think about how and why its contents tell a bigger story about the global food system.

We live in a society where we think we’re still better off if we buy in bulk, leave the detritus of our choices in our refrigerators, and then dump it at zero personal cost for our local Council garbage collectors to pick up.

Whether we’re better off is questionable. Whether the planet is better off is undeniably not the case.

#thankful for Ester and her @dairygoodness


Ester Wimborne was not famous but she was much loved, almost revered by people who love great dairy, real people and beautiful produce.

She sold Country Valley yoghurts and milks at Eveleigh and Marrickville Markets every weekend for at least the past five years. She died in a road accident last Sunday.

Ester or @dairygoodness as she was known on Twitter, was remembered at the Delicious Produce Awards on Monday. She is a great loss.

Without prompting, our wonderful Business Manager Sophie Steverson drafted this #thankful tribute to Ester, who she saw every weekend for five years.

Soph has agreed that I can post this tribute on my blog. Thanks Soph.

#thankful for Ester and her @dairygoodness

By Sophie Steverson

We had a timely reminder on the weekend on the preciousness of life and how it can be turned upside down when least expected. 

We have been buying our milk and yoghurt from the Eveleigh or Marrickville Markets for the past five years. Once upon a time we brought milk at the supermarket and didn’t really give it much thought. Then we met Ester who sold milk, yoghurt and cheeses at the markets. 

Suddenly there was a story behind where the milk was coming from and every week she would tell us almost exactly the same story about how great her milk was, how many awards it had won and how we wouldn’t find better. We were slow to adapt. I wasn’t convinced. But over time and many a free sample we became addicted. 

We started to share Ester’s love for the product, her never ending and tireless campaigning for the small guys who believed in what they produced. When we had our babies, Ester would personally deliver milk and yoghurt to our house at no extra cost but would love a simple conversation on how we were all going. 

We went for our usual trip to the markets on this Sunday morning just past. As one of the first people to arrive we were told the terrible news that Ester had died in a car accident on her way to the markets, only an hour earlier. 

We were stunned, in shock, not sure how to process the information. While not being close by any means, Ester has played a big part in our weekly habits of the past five years and suddenly she would now not be involved any more. Ester will no longer tell us how much our children are growing and how it must be because of her milk and yoghurt.  

The last time I saw Ester my son was having a meltdown that not even a free sample of juice, yoghurt or butter could abate. I was looking forward to having a real conversation this week but it didn’t happen, and now never will. 

I can’t remember if I ever expressed my real thanks to Ester for being there every week but I’m thankful that we were able to share our Sundays, that she shared her story with us and that we can continue to enjoy her beautiful products and remember her when we do.

Thanks Ester. Rest in beautiful dairy peace.



Australian manufacturing has a future. It’s called craft.

Australian manufacturing has a bright future, maybe. If we can look past the past and into the future; if we can get the government out of the way and let us be awesome; and if people can reconcile that we will never drive an Aussie made car again… If all these things happen Australian manufacturing will thrive again.

Australia’s manufacturing future is craft. It’s good things made in small batches. It’s high quality and ingenuity over mass produced and homogeneous. It’s food and booze not clothing and textiles. It’s stuff where we have a natural competitive advantage, not things where we need hand-outs, leg-ups or trade protection.

Now I’m going to warn you that there is a totally self-serving piece of promotion coming up, so if it makes you uncomfortable, look away. But it gives context. It tells a real story, so here it is…

Three weeks ago I received an email that the gin brand I am lucky enough to be partner in, Four Pillars, had won a Double Gold medal at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco – at our first attempt. Boom! We had made what good judges thought was one of the nine best in the world. We make this gin in small batches in the Yarra Valley and we’ve been at it for less than a year.

Our win received a little bit of publicity and it was bookended by two other brands winning awards that make me see a bright future for Aussie food and booze. A couple weeks before we won our award, a small whisky distillery in Tasmania, Sullivans Cove, was voted the World’s Best Whisky at a serious and credible competition in the UK. You can read the story here. It is a brilliant result for a small distillery that has been going almost 20 years.

And then last week Cobram Estate, Australia’s biggest olive oil producer, jagged a couple of international awards at a global food showcase in New York. And this was the second year in a row it has happened. And yes, thanks for asking, I know and like the Cobram Estate guys and I’ve met and tasted the Sullivan’s Cove drinks and yes I am massive fans of them both.

It is important to note we are craft, not “cottage” industries. We are serious brands wanting to take great products to the world. But with one simple caveat:

PLEASE, can I beg our Treasurer and his mates TO GET OUT OF OUR WAY.

Get this – the Federal government makes almost THREE TIMES more revenue out of one bottle of our gin than we, the producer, do. Yep that’s right. We make around $12 per bottle (and then we take out COGs and expenses) and the Feds get $24 excise plus $5 GST – so close to $30 PER BOTTLE! It’s INSANE.

And it makes Australia the highest taxed spirits industry in the world. An American craft distiller is taxed 10 TIMES less than we are. Yes, granted, we like Austrade but this sort of punitive tax regime HAS to be fixed to allow more of us to flourish and employ many more thousands of people in our craft industry.

And don’t start me on us being part of the alcohol “problem” this country supposedly faces (which it doesn’t, but that’s another story).

OK, political soapboxing complete.

Here is a message – to the cheese and ice cream makers, the olive oil producers, the distillers, the winemakers, the brewers, the bakers and the tea and coffee makers… WE, yes WE are the future of manufacturing for this country. We manufacture things that are the world’s best and we showcase them proudly across the globe. And we win. We show that Australia is a sophisticated, tasty, discerning, clever, creative and crafty country.

Long may Aussie manufacturing reign. I reckon we should all drink to that. Who’s with me?

Born to Run – a Springsteen review

On Saturday night I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play AAMI Stadium in Melbourne. It was, by absolute miles, the best concert I have ever seen. It was incredible on so many levels. I will attempt to do it some justice but I won’t even get close. The fact is if you have any interest in music, even a passing curiosity about what this Springsteen phenomenon is all about, you simply have to see it, hear it and feel it to believe it. And trust me, I’m not even one of those weird Springsteen fans – this was my third concert – spread over 29 years!

It went something like this. Band walks on stage at 7.50pm, a perfect Melbourne Saturday night. Springsteen is last to appear (there are 18 in the band – it’s a BIG band) and casual as hell, Springsteen introduces Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and they launch straight into Highway to Hell. You literally have chills. And then it’s straight into Darkness on the Edge of Town from Springsteen’s 1978 album of the same name. It’s a completely epic song and you can imagine a young Vedder growing up and never imagining in his wildest dreams that one day he would be on stage with Bruce singing the important verses of this once in a generation song in front of 30,000 people in a corner of the world he probably didn’t know existed.

Vedder is 49 – about the same as everyone in the crowd. Springsteen, of course, is 64.

Bald blokes, fat blokes, a sprinkling of younger types – sure Bruce has plenty of female fans, millions of course, but I just kept feeling how rare an experience it was. We blokes were “owning” it – in our daggy dancing, poor fathering, over-drinking, middle aged way.

Because you see, Springsteen is a strangely masculine thing. The two blokes I went with, Watto and his mate Tim, are both from Townsville. The first time they saw Bruce was 1985 at the QE2 stadium in Brisbane. They took a 23 hour bus ride down and then back home for the gig.

That shit bonds two blokes forever.

Nowadays one lives in Sydney and is a leading light in music management, the other is an academic living in Melbourne’s west. Springsteen bonds them.

Springsteen bonds blokes. Blokes with crap jobs, blokes from small towns, blokes who grow up a bit bloody confused about chicks and life and what the hell it’s all about. Springsteen is a poet, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and for more than 40 years he’s spoken to us all. Even those of us from the “Badlands” of Sydney’s north shore.

Blokes last night were hugging each other, they were drinking quite a lot of beer and they were dancing like it was 1985. A couple of times I was mesmerized by a bloke behind me, probably 50, dancing like no-one was watching. All over the place. Worse dancer than me. Bloody hilarious yet totally beautiful in a very, very strange way. Sometimes beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder…

But back to Springsteen. A lot of blokes, a lot of us, no matter whether we are 20 or 50, still struggle to make sense of it all. Still wonder whether our glory days are behind or in front of us, or whether we really ever lived up to what we promised ourselves we would achieve back when Born in the USA was top of the charts.

But this is not melancholy. Quite the opposite. The night was truly euphoric. It was joyful – at times it really felt a bit messianic.

An hour into the show Bruce casually announced that next he was going to play Born in the USA – the album not the song, in its entirety – from start to finish. There was just this feeling, this uprising that made my heart, my spirit soar. Even Watto, who has seen him more than 20 times on four continents, shook his head, pissed himself laughing and said something like “Can you bloody believe it?”
Nope. You can’t believe it until you are there feeling it.

Most people know the concerts go for more than three hours, that he might just be the fittest 64 year old on the planet, that the music is brilliant, tight, unadorned and simply incredible, that guys like Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine are happy to play third fiddle to The E Street Band’s two legendary guitarists Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren. That the late great Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake now OWNS the saxophone solos that made his uncle the most famous sax player on the planet, Clinton aside.

I know what I heard and I know what I saw. What truly took me by surprise however is what I FELT. And what I still feel today. That music, that a rock concert, that a musician can really create a transformative experience. I know, I know, I will go back to being the same sloppy husband and average employer tomorrow but today I feel a bit different.

I know that I’m taking my wife to the concert in the Hunter Valley next weekend and I know she doesn’t get the whole Springsteen thing. But one thing I am certain of is that when the first chords of Born to Run start up and her husband punches his fist and sways from side to side and sings every word like he means it …well for six minutes at least – she might understand and maybe even love me just a little bit more.

And then the lament of Thunder Road… hopefully the jubilation of Jungleland… I will be feeling exultant, bullet-proof, ten foot tall… and then, almost inevitably, I will tread on a foot or knock over a glass of wine, say the most impossibly wrong thing, maybe even lose the car keys… and life will return to normal.

But I will still have had my three and a bit hours of awesomeness with Bruce and 10,000 blokes who I’m pretty sure have just been through exactly the same thing.

See it for yourself –

We Aussies are no gold medallists in the Grog Olympics

There are certain things in life that if we are told often enough we simply believe to be true.

Recently we’ve been told, endlessly, that Australia has a “booze-soaked culture”, that we have an “alcohol abuse epidemic”.

And guess what? It’s JUST NOT TRUE.

On Australia Day I was at a party like most of you and I asked pretty much everyone I ran into where they would rank Aussies on a global table of booze hounds.

Most had us in the top five – and every single person had us in the Top 10. Why wouldn’t they?

And I was the same. Until I checked the stats.

I swear to god if drinking booze was an Olympic sport we’d be in the middle of a Royal Commission right now because our place on the global pecking order beggars belief.

According to the World Health Organisation figures published in 2011 we are 44th in the developed world on overall per capita consumption of all alcohol. Sure we are number 21 in beer and number 25 in wine but we are ranked 92nd in the consumption of spirits (which frankly I wish I had known before creating my own gin brand last year ).

I’m not in any way suggesting we should be shooting for a higher spot on the table, I’m just craving a little bit of balance – I just wish some politicians and commentators would put on their sensible hats and get out of the sun.

More Australians these days are drinking less but better and that is evidenced by the multitude of small bars and expensive craft drinks. We are taxed and policed more than any drinking culture in the world. And as for the policing, well we deserve it and tolerate it so we can try to avoid the tragedies of recent months.

But we are not global booze hounds, we are NOT, on the whole, serial alcohol abusers. We most definitely have issues with binge drinking, alcohol and drug related violence and sometimes handing out licences to people who probably ought not have the privilege.

If you want the booze gold medallists then take yourself to Moldova (overall), Czech Republic (beer), Luxembourg (wine) or South Korea (spirits) to see cultures soaked in booze.

We have our social problems just like everyone else and we should continue to make sensible and reasoned decisions to better our society. Half baked, knee jerk policy on the run is not the way to make our city or state a better place to live.

Stuart Gregor runs marketing firm Liquid Ideas and owns a gin business and a small winery.

Alcohol-fuelled violence – I’m not so sure.

I just Googled the phrase “alcohol-fuelled violence” and got 360,000 results – yep 360,000.

I’ve been truly gobsmacked as much by the very acts that have been perpetrated in Sydney as the hysteria and poor nomenclature used to describe them. Because unless I am out of my head on some sort of weird psychedelic myself, these acts are not merely alcohol-fuelled, they are fuelled by the EPIDEMIC in Sydney of amphetamines, uppers and steroids.

The fact is that NO-ONE can go on an eight hour drinking binge and be capable of throwing much of a punch. They are more at risk of falling in front of a cab, spewing in the very same vehicle or walking into a wall. Acts of serious and consequential violence committed by people in the vast majority of these recent cases are thanks to the dual mechanisms of plenty of booze and a few “bumps” of whatever choice of drug keeps the perpetrator going longer. The sheer intensity of the recent violence is proof enough to this untrained eye that there is a lot more than bourbon and beer fuelling the fights. I am not making light of anything, but let’s be honest, fights fuelled exclusively by booze tend to be as comedic as they are consequential. Punches fly everywhere and rarely hit a target. When they do, of course it’s a tragedy. But I just don’t reckon that’s what I’m seeing right now.

It might be crystal meth or ice – if you think this insidious drug is strictly the domain of bikers and “westies” you’d be wrong – it is all over the inner city. Then throw in a few Red Bulls, a couple of lines of coke if you’re fancy, maybe a key of speed or some GHB – anything to keep you at the bar feeling good. These drugs are EVERYWHERE. Ask your kids.

If you are a body builder, chances are you’re already on the steroids and they can make you plenty angry with a little bit of weekend help from your recreational drug of choice.

Look where this is happening. Where bars and pubs have been for the history of the city – but today where drug dealers and crooks reign supreme.
I just don’t understand why alcohol is seen by the vast majority of people as the sole problem here.

Of course I am compromised – I make wine and gin, I promote beer and all manner of drinks and just like EVERY SINGLE other purveyor of booze I want, in fact now more than ever, I NEED, people to consume my drinks as they always have – with some sense of personal responsibility. The vast majority of publicans, club owners and bar operators feel exactly the same.

We aren’t drinking more booze than we did a decade ago. More people, in fact, are drinking less but better. That’s a good thing. At least for those of us who think a moderate, and maybe occasional semi-binge, drink is OK for both us and society.

We love small bars and we adore a civilized drinking culture. I’m OK with these new laws as proposed by Barry O’Farrell today, not because I want to leave bars at 1.30am (which as a 45 year old is past my bedtime anyway) but because Sydney is NOT a civilized place to take a drink late at night. It’s NOT Seville or Rome. It’s a city riddled with a really dreadful drug sub-culture – the cops know this, the politicians know this and it’s no surprise that the recent spate of gun crime, which is ALWAYS related to the drug trade, is happening at exactly the same time as this epidemic of drug and alcohol fuelled violence.

It’s harder to crack the drug dealing code than it is to close pubs early. It’s easier to police the streets of the Rocks than it is to bust organised, trans-continental crime. In other words, it’s easier to be seen doing something than working behind the scenes trying to catch the real criminals. I get it.

Licensees who allow drugs to be dealt on or around their premises should be stripped of the privilege of having a licence and thrown in jail with their dealer mates. Those who don’t control the consumption on their premises should likewise face serious punishment. The fact is, a rogue publican loves a few amphetamines hanging around the pub. It means his punters stay longer and drink more. And then they go out and belt someone. It’s a bloody tragedy. But it’s not all the fault of booze.