We can never know About tomorrow Still we have to choose Which way to go
You and I are standing At the crossroads Darling, there is one thing You should know
When I joined a wine publishing house 21 years ago my boss Paul Clancy gave me his old tuxedo for all those dinners he didn’t want to go to, along with a ticket to Vinitech Bordeaux and a copy of Making Good Wine by Bryce Rankine and a dozen other books. “By the way,” he said. “I don’t like Pinot Noir.” Neither did I, mainly because I’d never heard of it. I didn’t know anything. Or anyone. But I did have an important wine connection that I had mentioned in my CV. My brother-in-law’s best man “Yacka” went to uni with Grant Burge. I told Grant that, but going by his blank look he didn’t find it as interesting as I did. I had bad days. Wanted to quit. The wine industry appeared to be a closed shop. Demoralising. My resolve to stick with it cooincided with the appearance on my desk of a polystyrene box of wine samples. Two of each in case one was corked. Come to think of it, perhaps I could make a go of this tough industry!
One day Clancy brought a mate back to the office after another lunch. This big man with a booming voice and ready smile barged through the door and spread cheer and laughter, shaking hands with all 17 workers. He lifted the mood of everyone except the proof readers. Then he was gone. Father Christmas in July. Sir Lunchalot. Big Bob McLean. At last I knew someone famous in wine. And Bob knew everyone. Soon I had met every weird and wonderful character from Zootopia. The intense Robert O’Callaghan, the chilled-out Charlie Melton, the conscientious Tyson Stelzer, the gentle Geoff Weaver, the renegade Dave Powell, the articulate Di Davidson, the nurturing David Ridge, the thoughtful Peter Leske, the humble Louisa Rose, the distinguised Peter Dry, the gracious Peter Gago, the generous Iain Riggs, the deep-thinking Chester Osborn and the bloody f**king Wolf Blass. The shop was opening up. I started to feel part of it. I made mistakes. Got carried away. Wore a suit and tie to a media interview in a Macedon vineyard! After 10 years I still hadn’t met Brian Croser. I wasn’t going out of my way. That brain box would chew me up and spit me back to Port Pirie.
I’d heard the Croser stories. That he was opinionated; prickly; intimidating; an enigma. At a Tech Conference once I ducked into the interview room to fill my pockets with free Minties again for me and the kids and there was Croser, studying his notes for yet another speech on fine wine. That stern face, those intense eyes, that Hogan’s Heroes moustache screamed, “Don’t even think about distracting me.” I finally got to have a proper chinwag with him at a Maurice O’Shea dinner. Friendly enough. Encouraging and supportive. He can write! He’s always lobbed the odd hand grenade in the comfortable lap of the Australian wine industry. I think Croser still is Australia’s #1 thinker in wine; still a visionary; still cares more about fine wine than anyone. On 30 September Croser will retire as a director of Wine Australia. He tells WBM, “After 40 years of involvement in wine community politics, some things haven’t changed despite the enormous regional and varietal change in our vineyards and wineries, reflected in our export and domestic markets. That’s a disappointment to me.” Croser says many other things, too. It’s another hand grenade. Read Croser’s departing essay here. If you’re starting out in wine and finding it hard to crack, don’t give up. Zootopia is your oyster. And if you need a tuxedo, yell out. Never been (re)used. 4XL. Was always far too big for me. – ED
• Last night at the Barossa Wine Show the Bob McLean Memorial Trophy was won by Henschke 2020 Five Shillings Shiraz Mataro. Big Bob would approve.