Decanter book reviews
The History of Australian Wine, Edited by Max Allen, Victory Books; A$50
Subtitled ‘stories from the vineyard to the cellar door, 1900–2000’, this is not quite a complete history, but covers the entire 20th century.
It is a narrative assembled by Max Allen from a mass of more than 200 interviews of winemakers, grapegrowers and others involved in wine, conducted by historian Rob Linn over 10 years, which are kept in the South Australian State Library. Linn not only interviewed these people but transcribed and edited the tapes, so it is odd that he doesn’t receive a credit on the cover. The book project was funded by donations, principally from the Wolf Blass Foundation.
Allen weaves snatches of the interviews skilfully into the text, and the result is a very good read: colourful, entertaining and informative. And, with such a cast of characters, it couldn’t fail to be diverse.
He divides the book into chapters on public taste, winemaking, viticulture, education and research, marketing and so on. In a chapter on ‘pioneers’ we hear from the likes of Tom Cullity (Vasse Felix), Max Lake (Lake’s Folly), Graham Wiltshire (Heemskerk), Betty Quick (Forest Hill) and Colin Gramp (Orlando). We also hear from the first man to use a pH meter in a winery, Penfolds’ Ray Beckwith; the man who drove the establishment of Australia’s second wine science school (at Charles Sturt University), Ron Potter; and the man who created Grange Hermitage, Max Schubert.
The book is punctuated by archival photographs, some quite old and rare, and many of which today seem quaint; tasting glasses have come a long way since 1940!