Monday, December 15, 2008


Yesterday I did what many Perthians do when they have a free Sunday afternoon and a houseful of international guests – I drove them out to the Swan Valley for a tour of the wine district.

The Swan Valley is a fertile area dotted with wineries of all sizes, from obscure family vineyards to colossal international booze conglomerates. Between them are the sort of businesses likely to appeal to inebriated tourists with bulging wallets and lowered sales resistance – restaurants, art galleries, craft shops and one big shed specializing in nougat. There were six of us in total, so we took The Flatmate’s Saab and my friend PM’s Toyota Corolla. We could have taken my MX5, but I relaxed my otherwise firm ‘No Corollas’ rule because it was 39 degrees in the shade and for all their faults Toyotas have remarkable airconditioners.

We started at the soulless corporate hellhole that is Sandalford Wines. Well, maybe “hellhole” is a little extreme – somehow I doubt that Hell has outdoor mist sprays to keep its patrons cool. However I’m pretty sure that, like Sandalford’s, Hell’s gift shop has $100 wine glasses.

We’d hoped to have lunch in their restaurant, but the whole place was booked out. There were people everywhere. Not to cast any aspersions, but I think that it'd be safe to assume that every single person there owned a very large plasma television and was planning to buy their mother an Andre Rieu CD for Christmas. After we'd been there a little while, The Flatmate cast a penetrating gaze around the establishment and said, "So wine-tasting... am I right in thinking that it's a bourgeois thing to do in this country?"

"You've been here half an hour," I replied. "And you still need to ask that question?"

"Fair enough," he said, and went off to collect his Scaly Mates, who were rather more boisterous after tasting half a dozen different wines than when they'd arrived.

I hadn't tried any wine, partly because I was driving, and partly because Sandalford has the gall to charge $2.50 per person for the privilege of tasting their wines. I imagine that this is because they struggle to turn a profit. It can't be easy trying to get money out of happy, boozy tourists who have turned up specifically to buy your product.

As we pulled out of the carpark and up the long, imperial drive, I noticed that it was signposted as having a 20kph speed limit... which is odd, as the speed limit on the way in is 40kph. Obviously they expect people to develop markedly lower reaction times between arriving and leaving. However by this time I’d had enough of the place. "To hell with you and your rules!" I said. "This is private property, and I'll do whatever speed I damn well like!" I managed to hit 80 before having to brake hard and sling the Corolla onto the highway. Meaningless little acts of rebellion are my favourite kind.

We proceeded to the decided smaller scale, family-owned Talijanich winery, where wine tasting is free (unless you want to quaff their most expensive bottles, which is fair enough). I bought a bottle of their complicated Graciano, about which I have waxed rhapsodic on previous occasions. I’d say snide and entirely unfair things about them too, but it goes against the Australian character to attack the little guy.

But the next place we visited, Houghton’s, gets no such free pass. It’s another of the grand "destination" wineries, situated in another landscape dominated by rolling lawns, gracious trees, and little pockets of grape vines that are probably more decorative than functional.

It was late in the afternoon and it was obvious that the staff were tired and heartily sick of... well... everybody. They spoke in weary monotones that suggested their souls were being slowly eroded by yet another cashed-up philistine with the discerning palate of a dog eyeing a toilet bowl. I would have liked to have heard their interior monologues as they recited the information about each wine:

This is our Verdelho. It's a full, soft wine made from late-picked grapes, not that you care, because you're just pretentious idlers who want to be able to tell your friends that you went wine tasting this weekend even though you have absolutely no idea about wine and couldn't tell a Grange Hermitage from supermarket balsamic vinegar.

Having failed to buy anything from Houghton's, we elected to end the afternoon with a visit to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory. Despite the name, this is not so much an artisanal chocolaterie as a big, blocky monument to corporate cynicism. It not only sells chocolate but also jam, olive oil, mustard, icecream, chutney… anything that will sell at double the normal price if you slap a cunningly minimalist designer label on it.

The store was busy when we arrived, and then about five minutes later a massive tour bus pulled in. We were just in the process of buying some wildly overpriced Rocky Road as the tourists poured into the store. The Margaret River Chocolate Factory has a couple of huge bowls of chocolate buds near the front door, placed there so that customers can sample their milk and dark varieties before they purchase. The tour bus people fell onto them like starving, possibly menopausal wolves. I couldn't help but look at them askance as various chubby girls jostled each other for the space to drag their cupped hands up the sides of the bowls and collect as much of the rapidly diminishing stock of chocolate as they could.

Sweet merciful crap, I thought. It's middle-quality chocolate, not little nuggets of platinum and diamonds. I may be a fat bastard with poor impulse control, but at least I don't lunge at free chocolate like a Prader-Willi Syndrome kid let off the leash.

So we took our chocolate and our wines and headed home. The Flatmate hit the supermarket and bought everything we needed for a barbecue. PM attended to the meat, TFSM2 made a salad, TFSM3 made dessert, TFSM1 got out of our way and fell asleep on the couch, The Flatmate made salad dressing, and I shuttled between them doing everything that fell between the cracks. In no time at all we had a fabulous feast to eat out on the patio in the warm evening light.

Did we enjoy the wine? No, we drank some cheap stuff we got at the supermarket. The Rocky Road was good, though.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I used to think Australians were pretty cool, decent people. But between your Prader-Willi comment (for the record, my nine-month old daughter doesn't need a leash yet, she can still barely move) and the way y'all apparently treat your Down's Syndrome kids...I'm beginning to think that Australians are just real douchebags.

But thanks for linking PWS on your post so everybody can read just what an insensitive ass you really are.

1:21 AM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

I find your douchebag comment incredibly insensitive, Anastasia. Millions of women across the world have to go through this invasive and humiliating process to treat infection in their most intimate and private places, and yet for you it's just one big joke, isn't it.

I'm so happy that you can use the pain and suffering of others to make a cheap joke.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm beginning to think that Australians are real douchebags"

Hey cool! You've seen the movie! :-)

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anastasia, normally I wouldn't be able to resist making a joke about your surname, but I'll leave that to my Canadian friends. Thanks to Blandwagon's link, I actually know what Prader-Willi Syndrome is. At first I thought it was some sort of crazed fashion conscious buyer who couldn't spell. But I went to the link and now I understand the context. By the way, in Australia, to be 'let off the leash' is a term used commonly to describe someone being given free reign, or no limits. However I take umbrage at your comment: "..the way y'all apparently treat your Down's Syndrome kids." If you are going to sling that out there, you should back it up! My experience is that Downs syndrome children and adults are living in our society as normally as they can and participating in schooling, work and other activities as fully as they can. I hope it is the same in the US and I trust that all your people have full access to free health and hospital care as we do in Australia, and parents of children with disabilities receive Government benefits to help raise their children.

On another matter Blandwagon, I know that many of the more popular wineries charge a tasting fee not to help their bottom line, as it wouldn't cover staffing needs, provision and cleaning of toilets, and consumption. They simply use it to stop the legions of people who use wine tasting as an opportunity for a type of free 'pub crawl' with no intention of possibly purchasing wine. Perhaps that is why you were so put out? Less popular wineries or wineries off the well worn track, tend not to charge a tasting fee because they tend to attract the more serious tasters who have sought them out.

Finally I am getting confused by the use of bourgeois. I think if we have a word, or words in English which can describe what you want to say, then use it. Your flatmate's use of bourgeois is confusing. Was it meant in the literal sense, or used as by an aristocrat in a disparaging way? Better to use English. Our language is complicated enough as it is! Jaymez

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

I appreciate the clarification of the term "let off the leash." However, please understand that many of us with children who have this disorder have googlealerts set up for the term "Prader-Willi Syndrome" to keep up-to-date on the latest research and health information. Because of that, blogs like yours that use the term in a thoughtless and hurtful attempt at humor are brought to our attention. I didn't go looking for your blog, it was dropped into my mailbox. Given your obvious delight in shock value I'm sure my feelings will mean little or nothing to you. I can only hope that someone who reads your comments will at least come away with a new-found awareness of what Prader-Willi Syndrome

Mom to Hailey, a beautiful and intelligent, 5-year girl with PWS who enjoys chocolate but doesn't grab large quantities of it even when she's not being watched.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Given your obvious delight in shock value I'm sure my feelings will mean little or nothing to you.

Your feelings are hurt, therefore I'm a monster. Understood.

Crikey, Kimberley! You have a system set up where EVERY mention of a certain keyword on the internet is sent to you? This is the equivalent of that old Hollywood trope in which a person is magically granted the ability to hear everyone's thoughts about them. Like you, these characters are somehow surprised when not every one of those thoughts turns out to be positive.

Not that what I said about Prader-Willi kids was negative. They have a medical condition that drives their behaviour. The gluttonous tour bus girls had no such excuse, which made their behaviour all the more appalling. Comparing them to Prader-Willi kids was creating a metaphor, drawn from real life, to illustrate the extent of an event or a feeling. It's no more reprehensible than bemoaning the fact that you are a social leper or that your sneaky cat is a kleptomaniac. It doesn't mean that you think that people suffering from leprosy or clinical kleptomania are any less worthy as human beings.

So rather than insisting that the rest of the world censor itself to suit your sensibilities, how about appreciating the fact that not every mention of Prader-Willi Syndrome is about you?

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the page of information about Prader-Willi Syndrome, Blanders. Like James, it pleases me to have the opportunity to learn more about this condition.

Personally, I think that Anastasia and Kimberly are being entirely too precious and oversensitive. I understood your remark about PWS to be in the nature of a metaphor, and its purpose to be making fun of the gluttonous hordes of fattie s gorging on the free choccies. Certainly I don't consider your remarks to have been intended as a slight to the unfortunate sufferers of this disorder.

As an occasional statistical scientist, I find it interesting to note that there is a 100% correlation between being the parent of child diagnosed with PWS and a demonstrated inappropriate affect in their commentary on your blog. As PWS is a genetic disorder, the link between PWS and parental emotional hypertrophy may prove to be a fruitful field of research.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous bruce said...

"The way you treat your Down's Syndrome kids". I think this is a reference to the recent case of a German prospective immigrant with a Down Syndrome kid which led to his application being queried/rejected.

Look I'm an Australian Carer for the Disabled, and we treat them extremely well. Better than the US I suspect, because there is massive govt funding here and the US is too much in the grip of fads.

But that's just the point, people with disabled kids from all over the world would love to bring their kids here because of the superior quality of our disability services.

And if we just had open slather the system would be swamped. To prevent overload on our system we do need to query some cases of immigrants who want to come with disabled children, and not admit more than our system can cope with. It's just commonsense, yet the point was missed in overseas reports.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of cours that's what Ms Beaverhausen was referring to. Well the US don't let fully fit Mexicans over the border if they can help it, so I can't see them opening their arms to families with members having significant pre-existing conditions, even if their health services are not free to all. And trhey would have no chance of getting private health cover. Totally agree with you Bruce. jaymez

1:27 PM  

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