I’d like to introduce you to an old mate of mine. His name is Grenache. To say that he’s a complicated old bugger is an under statement. Grenache has lived here for ages as a bit of an imposter – getting in the way, nobody caring about him!
Aussies only ever saw him at face value, and thought he was a bit simple. We didn’t realise he had a complex personality or depth of emotions. Growers had no idea where to put him, or why he was even here in the first place. He was kicked around and abused.
To understand why, we need to head back in time some 100 years, to work out why poor ol’ Grenache was treated this way, why he got such a rough time, and how with just a little bit of care he survived.
He tagged along to Australia with his early shipmates in Busby’s bag. They dumped him in the Riverland mainly, in shitty bits of dirt good for no other crop. Unlike some of his snobbier shipmates he didn’t complain. He just got on with it.
He was easy to grow. You just whacked a few callus sticks in the ground and a few years later he rewarded you with a bountiful crop.
In a funny way, Grenache needed to be treated a bit mean. If he got a sniff of the better land – the ritzy sites with the beautiful views, good water and talented geology – like any starving creature he couldn’t help but gorge himself. He’d go on a bender, grow fat and big, and spurge out way too much fruit. The good life didn’t bring out the best in him.
When we come to the swinging successful 1980’s my old mate was still being pushed and pulled, squeezed and stretched, as our god forsaken wine industry chased a quick buck.
Grenache would like to strangle those big winery accountants with their quarterly growth numbers. He was out of fashion. Hell, he was never in fashion in the first place!
The modern winery wants a sexy story and new exciting wines. Poor Grenache, he was poo on the boot. The ugly stepsister nobody wants to talk about. Left hidden back in the shed, barefoot and chained to the tank. He was only used to fill up goon bags of swill.
Whatever you think of him, old Grenache is a survivor. He even survived the leafy Croser years with no love from above. He doesn’t do lean, green and 12.5 potential. Instead he’s was over cropped, over watered and completely misunderstood.
And then in the mid 2000’s my old mate awoke to a soft touch. He sat up, rubbed his eyes from winter slumber and felt a tender, nurturing hand lifting him up. He looked in the mirror to find that he’d had a new haircut. He had less buds to show off with. As the weather warmed he grew his usual beautiful kaleidoscope of green. The same kind hand removed his blind shoots and thinned his crop so he could happily ripen every berry.
Old Grenache felt rejuvenated, “about bloody time” he thought. For the first time in his long life in Australia he got some self – respect.
Grenache really smiles as a heat wave rolls in. He takes it in his stride with no need for stress or shrivel. He’s not a sook like some of his peers, and he calmly ripens his crop in a tough arid land. He’s smart, intuitive and dignified.
In my footy team, I’d play him at centre-half back. He’s reliable, courageous, and he’s tough enough to eventually outsmart his opponents. I have learnt that my mate is a generous soul. He rewards the brave. He’s versatile and can work with a quick cut, a few spurs per elbow, with a trellis or no trellis. He’ll always give you something, whatever the big fella sends from above.
So now the funky – bunch ride it to town. They’re cool; they have beards and holes in their jumpers. They’ve got the biodynamic calendar app on their phones and fresh marketing bullshit in spades. They are on the path to invent nothing other than replaying history but they take to my mate. A few of them suck, but others are good. As they knock down some of the old prejudices.
New drinkers are getting to meet my mate Grenache for the first time, seeing and enjoying him in a new light.
Grenache knows that all ships rise on the same tide, and he dips his hat to the true believers who saw him through the bad times.
He gives thanks to, names like Melton, Farmillo, Smart, Noon, Hoffmann, Pannell, Osborn, Bratasiuk, di Fabio, Bekkers, Cirillo, Gartleman, Binder and Fraser. He’s also excited to hang with the new gang. He knows that he is good; he knows he can be better than good. He knows he can take a ladies breathe away. He knows he deserves to stand judge against the best.
I’m happy to see Grenache has finally got some swagger and new – found respect. I hope he’s being treated better by the hand that farms him and, by the God that brings him sunlight and rain. I’m happy for the brilliant young winemakers who are discovering his charms, and very happy for the consumers that can enjoy his juice. Happy for the smiles he brings and the laughter he creates.
He is my old mate and he is there to help us share a laugh, a kiss and a smile. He wants to enrich our lives. When that new baby is born, those nuptials toasted or those new virgin warships eventually hit the water, in time, I would say it will be un-Australian not to have a fresh glass of brilliantly slurpable Grenache in your hand.
Finally Australia has a great grape that loves this land and he loves it back.