Identity and Coincidence
Andrew Upton is a playwright and film screen writer. He and his wife Cate Blanchett – the distinguished Australian Actress – have recently taken up their positions as co-artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company. At a recent gathering – to mark the launch of New South Wales - Wine – Andrew gave a very insightful speech about “identity”. This is of course an issue that resonates with fine wine.
The Australian Wine Industry’s Directions 2025 Strategy recognises the importance of individuality and regional wine definition. Over the last year various tastings – focussed on Landmark Australian Wine and Regional Heroes have taken place around the world. Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine – first published in 1991 – and regarded by the consumer and the industry world-wide as an unofficial form guide of Australian wine –is steeped in the notion of identity, meaning of place and individual house style. Andrew Upton’s speech is a thoughtful and lovely outsider’s view of identity – a subject that will become increasingly important in years to come.
“About eight years ago when we moved to England we lived in a part of London called Islington. On one day I went to a strange little bookshop – London is full of strange little bookshops. Anyway in I went to this particular bookshop and there gathering dust on the shelf was a wonderful thick paperback. It must have been eight or nine hundred pages, no pictures; a deadly, deeply serious tome. And what was it about?
BURGUNDY - The whole thing!
It was called “Burgundy” and that was what it was all about.
Eight or nine hundred pages of closely argued, profoundly researched insight into the history and meaning of Burgundy, not only as a region but as a distinctive type of wine. As an examination of identity this was the most thorough testament to just how far you can go.
My wife and I are currently taking over at the Sydney Theatre Company as the Artistic Directors. One of the big questions facing us and indeed facing anybody in starting of taking over a company is what is the company’s identity?
How does it talk to its clients and how does it attract the sorts of clients it wants to talk to in the first place?
There is the public face of the company and there is the internal identity of the company. Unsurprisingly – like all human endeavours – there is a point at which the apparently inorganic object is in fact profoundly linked to a simple human endeavour or trait.
Take for example the mechanical digger.
The human conception and invention of the mechanical digger is drawn directly from the human experience of the hand. The Digger is in fact just an oversized mechanised hand; so too is the identity and branding of a company. It is the creation of a character; there is the public face, the personality, clothing choices etc, and there is the private face of internal philosophies, guiding principles and overriding ambitions.
Personality is in copy. Clothing is in art direction. What is put out into the public arena will be shaped and guided by the internal health and happiness of the company. Guiding philosophies will do just that and a company without one will have the delinquent “a-social” quality that one associates with crooks and shysters.
When you create a brand you are engaged in an act of fiction; not because you are telling lies or making stuff up. In fact fiction is the telling of lies to get to the TRUTH. You are telling a story about a character that you hope will go out into the world and communicate with like minded characters; your clients. You are inventing an historical narrative, a back story and a personality which are all a true reflection of your internal workings with a co-ordinated and approachable exterior.
The added complication – if one was needed – to this act of creation is Burgundy.
A company, particularly a gathering of different, separate and independent producers, vineyards and wines is huge; its nine hundred pages long and a little daunting to the average punter.
How do you tell all those stories and be fair and supportive of all those differences?
AND YOU HAVE TO BE. As it is our duty as local producers and creators to be true to our various products and identities.
The Sydney Theatre Company – believe it or not – has similar daunting prospects. Why? Well let’s see…
Theatre can be many things. It should be many things from Phantom of the Opera to weird student experiments; from Broadway smash comedies to cutting edge political drama. New forms need to be embraced, the cross form work with dance and the visual arts, the incorporation of technology and the varied use of venues and theatre sites other than the standard theatre. All these practices are relevant and significant parts of the complex identity of theatre and the attraction to different audiences
What have we come up with at the STC?
A PERSPECTIVAL SHIFT. You look at all that spreads out before you; all those different wines and identities and approaches and you see BREADTH. It is a great long line of differing identities and in some cases conflicting identities. But if – like the writer of Burgundy – you line them up differently, if you take a few steps round the side; that great raggle-taggle breadth can suddenly be a long cue stretching to the horizon; DEPTH.
The key to finding ways of branding diverse identities is to give it a depth perception rather than a breadth perception. That’s what we are working on at the Sydney Theatre Company
That book on Burgundy. I picked it up; I wanted to buy it. I wanted to read it. I couldn’t resist because it was so simple on the surface and yet so deep in its engagement with the subject.”
Andrew Upton – Sydney February 2008
In early 2008 a friend and charity auction collaborator made the deal of a lifetime. He was sitting at a table with his advisory team at Buon Ricordo – one of Sydney’s great restaurant institutions. The lunch had progressed well with Armando Percuoco’s exquisite Northern Italian fare. A few wines had been consumed including a more than half decent 1952 Barolo from a distinguished winemaker.
I was an hour or so up the coast slumped over a computer and trying to make sense of a myriad of tasting notes. It was one of those gorgeous afternoons. A couple of rainbow lorikeets – were acrobatting in a Banksia bush – in a seemingly endless search for nectar. A faint cacophony of Kookaburras and the gentle ebb-and flow of surf-breakers wafted through the warm sub-tropical air. Oddly just as I was finishing off some notes on Penfolds Grange, I received an urgent telephone call.
A discussion about Australia’s most beautiful wines had been made. 1955 Penfolds Grange was invoked as an example of something very special and exquisite. One of the advisors had made a bet with my friend Paul that “If you can find a bottle of 1955 Grange, I will pay for the bottle.” To be quite honest such a challenge was the last thing I really felt like on such a balmy summer day. I was already soporific from reading and making sense of the seemingly endless reams of tasting notes and opinion. However it was presented as a “life and death” situation and Paul rarely asked for such out of the blue favours.
Eventually I awoke from my computer generated trance and made some telephone calls; first to my office with a negative, then to Melbourne; negative. After about an hour, I tracked down a bottle in Victoria. Triumphant, I phoned Paul back; “No I need to have it delivered to me by this evening or the bet is off.” Not even a magician could wangle the Victorian bottle to Sydney in the prescribed time. Deflated and now rising to the challenge, I made some more calls, eventually finding another old contact; Dave had a bottle but he was in Old Toongabbie. “Where the hell is that? Queensland?” “No, he said “Near Parramatta”. After twenty years in Sydney I had not only learned of a new Sydney suburb but had also found a bottle of 1955 Grange Bin 14, recently re-corked at a Newcastle wine re-corking clinic. A handshake arrangement was made. A motorbike courier was despatched and the wine duly delivered to the said advisor within the prescribed time. Paul had won the bet.
A month or so later I was invited – out of the blue – to one of those Sydney boardrooms that seemingly hang in the sky overlooking the emerald green and ultra-marine blue harbour striated with the white entrails of a myriad of yachts and ferries. On the round lunch table were two opened bottles of 1955 Penfolds Grange; a re-corked bottle of Bin 14 with postage stamp label and a mint-condition bottle of Bin 95. Same vintage, same wine but released almost five years apart. Served side by side, there was no question that these were exactly the same wines with their beautiful mocha, grilled meat, polished leather demi-glace aromas and richness and generosity of flavour.
The re-corked version was fresher and brighter but the mint bottle was supple and seductive if not a touch frailer. They were twins parted for over half a century and once again united – an unmistakable sibling pair with different cellaring histories. I was amazed at the extraordinary likeness. Around the boardroom, no-one spoke of the deal other than the reminder of why we were all sitting around the table. The entire lunch and conversation was centred around these two bottles of wines; no other wines were served. 1955 was a famously great Penfolds vintage; a wine that brought Penfolds Grange back in from its cold shouldered exile.
After lunch I met up with Anders Josephson – an old client and Grange collector. In the mid 1990s he owned over $2 million worth of Grange at auction value. Langton’s held a special wine auction with Christie’s in 1993 to launch his “Anders Josephson Wine Collection”. He has retired from wine business these days (in fact he has some of his aged wines in the current and forthcoming Sydney sales). In his hey day Anders would serve the 1955 on more than a few occasions. At his memorable “Great Grange Experience” he opened up two full sets of Grange and a few extras. That was quite something! Anders recalled the memorable 1955 “for its freshness and classicism”. Even he was mightily impressed that these wines were still being enjoyed.
Just a few days later I was down in Adelaide to interview John Bird – a longstanding senior red winemaker for Penfolds and who used to work for Max Schubert and his successors. He actually prepared the 1955 Granges for entry into the Open Claret class in the Sydney Royal Wine Show in 1962 where it famously won a gold medal.
Over the last five months I have been writing the Penfolds Rewards of Patience – a book that seems to grow and mature – each time a new edition is released. The 6th edition will be released around August and will be published by Allen and Unwin. The first print run is around 50,000 copies. There has been plenty of time to reflect on the history and wines of Penfolds. Langton’s – which celebrates 20 years this year – has played a supporting role to Penfolds through various special auctions, red wine re-corking clinics, Rewards of Patience tastings ( I have co written or authored four editions) and the general cut and thrust of the secondary wine market. Many of the most special moments have been with Langton’s members and collectors. There have been so many fun times from selling a set of Grange for the first time to the many memorable dinners, auctions and re-corking clinics.
I was just only reflecting on the generosity of spirit and character of all these people when I came across a parking ticket issued to me for parking my car in the wrong spot at the Wine Australia Headquarters in Adelaide. To be quite honest I was mightily pissed off. I phoned a parking infringement officer or someone of that immoveable force and remarked on the over officiousness of the ticket issuer. After a lengthy argument which I would naturally lose (he was just doing his job etc), I looked at the ‘expiation notice’ generated on behalf of the University of Adelaide. I noticed that the parking ticket had been issued to me by one of Paul’s subsidiary companies. That was a remarkable coincidence. Just as well the fine wouldn’t cover a millilitre of 1955 Grange. Otherwise I might have felt robbed!
Andrew Caillard, MW – February 2008
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