Friends, family and wine growers, makers and consumers gathered at Riversmith on Tuesday to celebrate the launch of 'The Way It Was' by Peter Forrestal and Ray Jordan.
Andrew Caillard, MW gave the launch speech. Here it is in full.
And hence this book, written by authors Peter Forrestal and Ray Jordan, is an important narrative of Margaret River’s early pioneering days. It tells the story of Margaret River exactly as “The Way it Was” – and hence the title.
Peter Forrestal and Ray Jordan are veteran Western Australian wine writers, who have both played an important role in building the reputation of the State’s fine wine industry through their column inches in various media channels. Having known each of them for well over twenty-five years, I think it would be fair to say that they also epitomise the collaborative, generous and “can do” spirit that defines the Western Australian character. I have always admired their writing, their commitment to the cause of wine and their encouragement of others – especially younger people working in wine. “The Way it Was” puts the stories of Margaret River’s early beginnings into a perspective that will be referenced for years and years to come by historians and writers, including myself.
As a researcher and writer I am hugely aware of how the truth can be exaggerated over time. Memory is often peppered with inaccuracies. Accounts of an event, by several eye witnesses, can be wildly different because humans naturally distill information and remember truths in different ways. The modern form of wine marketing has taken this to an “art form” where stories have been made up around the truth. To some extent the Penfolds Grange story has become a myth, some of it true and some of it an exaggeration. But the myth is now the accepted story. It is what happens when stories are retold for generations without scrutiny. Dr Ray Beckwith, perhaps one of the most significant characters in Australian wine history was almost forgotten, if it had not been for the discovery of Ray’s memoirs and Ian Hickinbotham’s determination to reveal his work. The marketing machine during the 1980s at Penfolds literally obliterated its true history by mythologising Max Schubert as their only great visionary. John Reynell, my own great great grandfather, was credited for planting South Australia’s first vineyard and this was received wisdom for over a hundred years, but historians have shown this is not really the case; even though wishful thinking on my behalf would like it to be different!
We live in times where truth and fantasy are blurred to give depth and interest to a story. And this extends into our daily news feed with rubbish commentary from each side of the political divide.
“The Way it Was” is important as it references oral histories from the people who pioneered the modern Margaret River Wine Industry. To be quite honest, I don’t think anyone should really care too much about who planted the first vines, made the first chardonnay or the first cabernet in Margaret River. The origins of this region are steeped in 19th century aspirations anyway. The most important thing to remember from this book is the extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment by pioneers such as Tom Cullity, Kevin and Di Cullen, Bill and Sandra Pannell, Denis, Trish and John Horgan, David and Mark Hohnen, David Watson, etc. They all relied on each other - one way or another. Tom Cullity planted the first vineyard in 1967, but it was Kevin Cullen who did the deal and secured the land for Tom Cullity. While this narrative has been unravelled, there is a greater and more fascinating truth that is revealed. One of kinsmanship and decency, of genuine respect and love for others, of ambition, friendly competition and persistency. Of real sacrifice to get the region going in a meaningful way. And they were aided by amazing people like Dr John Gladstones, Professor Olmo, Jack and Dorham Mann, Bill Jamieson, the politician Charles Court, Robert and Tim Mondavi, David and Anne Gregg, John Brocksopp and Bob Cartwright and hundreds of contributors like Terry Merchant, Annie Russell, Simon Fraser etc.
Recently I was in the Hunter Valley for a wedding and stayed at Pokolbin. I worked here as an “intern” nearly 35 years ago when I worked with Iain Riggs at Brokenwood. The landscape was distinctly rural. Today it is a mish mash of sub divisions, ugly architecture and advertising placards developed by entrepreneurial egos for bored weekenders looking for something to do. These people have devalued the aspirations and visions of generations before them and promise to take down the Hunter from a premium wine region into a generic puddle of no particular meaning or identity. The wholesale destruction of vineyards by the coal mining industry nearby is a disgrace and a tragedy. Considering the ambitions of its 19th Century founders, the Hunter Valley has become like a discarded fish bone with practically all its flesh eaten away. Only its head reminds anyone what type of fish it was or could have been.
And Margaret River today has it challenges of balancing a growing community and protecting the identity of the region for future generations. The development of breweries and gin houses may improve the foot fall of consumers and tourists but does it build a region of its fine wine credentials?
“The Way it Was” is a reminder of what it takes to become an overnight success in wine. Even with its compressed history of 50 years, the answer is somewhere around 25 to 30 years to build something sustainable and long lasting. “The Way it Was” recounts the efforts of Margaret River’s pioneers. While they did not pay the ultimate sacrifices remembered on Remembrance Day last weekend, they endured hardship and ridicule, physical, emotional and financial strain. Their extreme visions for themselves and for those around them paved the way for a wonderful modern wine region. It now behoves the next generation to set aside its differences and work together to protect and and build Margaret River into the great wine region it should be and must be. But it requires strong collaborative leadership and the kinsmanship and generosity of spirit of yore. The fighting between wine industry factions should stop for the betterment of the community. This is not only desirable but an absolute necessity. Otherwise mediocrity will average this place down. And all of that pain and hard work and incredible steps forward, described in “The Way it Was”, will come to nothing.
So Peter and Ray. I would like to congratulate you on a job well done and a work that would have taken a long time to sleuth and piece together. While this is not a book for Harry Potter fans, it is a very important and distinguished piece of work. I am perfectly sure you will both be remembered for your contribution to the Margaret River Legend – not only through this book, but also through your life long commitment and energy to this region.
Andrew Caillard is a wine marketing graduate of Roseworthy Agricultural College, South Australia (1984) and passed the Master of Wine examination (winning the prestigious Madame Bollinger Medal for excellence in wine tasting) in 1993. He was a member of the team behind the film Red Obsession and is currently working on a second film with the group.