Almanac Wine and Footy: Rockford, Tanunda and how to cope with winter

Smokie and Marg (Dawson) are on a road trip which has taken them through the magnificent Mallee country and on to the Barossa Valley. Family Harms has just driven back from Adelaide too. The Wimmera is having a magnificent season – there are headers harvesting wheat everywhere.

 

Smoke has mentioned that they went to Rockford in the Barossa.

 

Smokie Dawson Rockford

 

I first visited Rockford in 1984 – just after it had opened. I met its owner and spiritual leader (that’s the sort of place it is), Robert O’Callaghan and would catch up with him at cellar door from time to time when we visited every year (and I mean every year). It was a small battling winery committed to making wine by hand – using the traditional methods. Robert did not waver from the philosophy which underpinned his art.  Over the years we have become friends. These days I help with their (printed) newsletter The Rockford Rag. Gradually the world came to realise Rockford wines were top class (Basket Press Shiraz is one of Australia’s great reds) and over the last 20 years Robert and his team’s dedication have been rewarded. Rockford is now established and going beautifully – while maintaining that commitment (through current winemaker, the very talented Ben Radford) to its philosophy.

 

These days I visit Rockford three or four times a year. In December I was there for two days which included the growers’ dinner. Every grower who provides grapes to Rockford is invited to a terrific meal (understated, but delicious, in that classic Rockford way) in a marquee next to the Home Block. The wine made from each parcel of grapes is in bottles lined up on a table – about 120 of them – labelled with things like Hoffman Shiraz and Creek Block Riesling. These are the wines from which the blends are made – in each style – once the alchemist feels the spirit move him.

 

Here’s a piece I wrote in the winter of 2009, a version of which was first published in The Age:

 

 

Saturday afternoon in the Barossa Valley. I am sitting with Robert O’Callaghan — winemaker, yarn-spinner, cricketer, golfer, Port Adelaide supporter, larrikin, lover of life — in front of the fire in his 1850s home. A mallee root burns beautifully. Fev is having an ordinary first quarter.

 

Robert’s winery, Rockford, is a two-iron away, if you can get the ball rolling down the Krondorf Hill. Robert is telling stories.

 

“The old man played for Barooga in ’59. Maroon and gold: the Hawks. Team full of O’Dwyers and Tooheys and Dohertys and Cullens. Could have been an Irish hurling team. Vin Toohey is Bernard’s father,” he explains.

 

“Played for Geelong,” I say.

 

“And Sydney,” he reminds me. “Great characters. Sparrow Quinane: jockey-size, just wanted to blue. Gav Cullen: the whitest skin and the reddest hair; used to take off on these long runs and come back rosy-cheeked and puffin’. Bricky Neal who was wider than he was tall. But not as big as Tubby Brooks, the full-forward. Sat in the goal square. Pioneered the lace-up jumper up the Murray. So big the Barooga jumper wouldn’t go round him. His mother had to cut it up the middle to put in a panel. Had to lace it up.

 

“They made the grand final. Against Wunghnu, the Presbyterians. Three-quarter-time they were copping a hammering. Gerry O’Dwyer, great player, great coach, searched for inspiration. ‘Look at those wowsers,’ he said, pointing at the other huddle. ‘If they win this they’ll be celebratin’ with three pots of tea and a lemon sponge cake. But if we win …’ He was interrupted. ‘I’ll put on a keg,’ came a voice from the outer circle. ‘I’ll kill a sheep,’ said another. ‘I’ll put on another keg.’ They won running away and partied for a week.”

 

We’re in the footy mood. I suggest we duck into Tanunda to watch the local match.

 

So we do, driving through the puddles, past rows of shiraz vines, as knotted as Kevin Sheedy’s knuckles. Into town.

 

Huge pine trees ring Magpie Park, the home of the Tanunda Football Club. We drive in. Past the Tanunda Kegel club where they’ve played skittles on the wooden floor (and drunk a lot of port) for generations.

 

Blue-grey clouds sweep across the sky. Bitter sou’ westerly. Tanunda is giving Willaston a lesson, playing skilful footy on the squelchy wings and avoiding the sour-mud centre-square.

 

Old Ray Giersch is on the port in his time-keeper’s box. He’s been keeping time (in his own way) forever. But time is different in the Barossa. It’s measured in season, and in Births, Baptisms, Confirmations, and Weddings – and the cycle begins again. And Deaths. But this is a Valley of faith. And hope.

 

We stand in the outside bar which is on the Antarctica side of the stone and red-brick and wrought-iron grandstand. One of the few footy bars with a port keg. And it’s going down nicely. As restorative as Communion wine.

 

I look at the advertising hoardings on the far fence: “A.P. JOHN — COOPER”. Now that is a first.

 

Robert introduces me to Carl Lindner, a big ruckman-type with a ginger-grey beard. One of the famous Lindner clan of Don and Hank and Bruce. Carl was a star at Tanunda in the ’60s. “Did you go to town?” I ask.

 

“Oh, I went down to Centrals in ’64, in the days when Adelaide was a long way away,” he tells me. “My first game, ‘Bubbles’ Obst tackled me. I thought he’d cut me in half. I suddenly knew what old Pastor was saying when he used to talk about the soul leavin’ the body. I just wanted to come home.”

 

One of the South Australia’s great footballers was captain-coach of Centrals then. Ken Eustice was regarded by Fos Williams, Mark’s dad, as one of the toughest footballers ever. He didn’t think the boys were hard enough.

 

“Football is about getting the best out yourself,” he said one Thursday night at training. “You blokes aren’t aggressive enough. Here’s what you need to do. On Saturday morning you’re going to eat a plate of raw meat.”

 

“I really wanted to come home then,” Carl says. “Footy was more glorious here.”

 

I go out to the three-quarter-time huddle. Blokes are hot-cold. They clear their throats and nostrils. Snorting. Clapping. Urging. Listening.

 

Tanunda is too strong. All but two are locals lads. They were undefeated last season.

 

Robert and I return to the fire. Fev has kicked nine.

 

 

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo9, Anna8, Evie6. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Writing this from my home town. Maybe I could attempt a piece on Centrals’ Barossa Blow-Ins. Plenty went the other way after they finished in SANFL ranks

  2. Beautiful.

    Cheer up Smoke, things can only get worse!

  3. Peter Schumacher says:

    Great piece!

  4. Alas, the Basket Press is out of season and unavailable for tasting. But I ensured that the cellar at home would not be without some Rockford reds.
    I can highly recommend a visit to Rockford, a beautiful place.
    JTH, I vividly recall reading this piece when it was first published. I thought “How good is that – a port keg!”

  5. Grand stuff. AE and I had lunch at Seppeltsfield a month ago. First time I have been back to the Barossa for 30 years. Southern Vales and Adelaide Hills are my usual haunts.
    30 years ago Seppeltsfield was tourist coaches and cask wine tastings. Now beautifully restored 3 years ago by new owners (Seppelts and Seppeltsfield are entirely different companies and wines these days – go figure) we had a wonderful lunch at very good value for the quality.
    Much to love about how family wine companies are restoring the love and traditions lost by the multinational “beverage” companies.

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