Last night's viewing - Chateau Chunder: When Australian Wine Ruled the World, BBC4; Some Girls, BBC3
Australian wine wasn't always a byword for excellence, to put it mildly.
Chateau Chunder: When Australian Wine Ruled the World, a very enjoyable parable
of snobbery, success and self-damaging greed, set the context for its account of
a wine revolution by opening with a Monty Python sketch, in which Eric Idle
warned us off the eponymous bottle. While "a good Sydney Syrup can rank with any
of the world's great sugary wines," he said approvingly, Chateau Chunder was
"specially grown for those keen on regurgitation, a wine that really opens up
the sluices at both ends."
You laughed at the caricature, but then Bruce Tyrrell, a Hunter Valley wine-maker, recalled the early days when his uncle would sit in the winery shooting rats off the rafters. One day, one dropped straight into a vat. "Do you want me to get that out?" Bruce asked his uncle. "Nah," he replied, "It'll add a bit of body."
Back then, beer was the national drink and "plonkies", as wine drinkers were known, were regarded as either effeminate or alcoholic. Penfolds exported "medicinal" wines to Britain, but it was into a market where the vast majority of the public, as Oz Clarke noted, believed that wine wasn't "for the likes of us". Stephen Oliver's film told the story of how Australian wines helped utterly transform that drab landscape, and how their triumph over French wine snobbery came with a sting in the tail. And at the beginning it was a buccaneering sort of affair, in which cheeky marketing provided the chief weapon. When Australian wine growers invited British wine writers down under to see how much things had improved they posted a bottle to the partners they'd left at home, just to seal the deal.
The French were appalled, naturally. But early attempts to nip this intrusive shoot in the bud failed. When French growers took legal action to prevent the use of descriptions such "claret" or "burgundy", the Australians started labelling with grape varietals, and shiraz and chardonnay were launched. And when European cork producers fobbed off Australian wineries with sub-standard corks, because they couldn't keep up with the new demand, the Australians responded by developing the screw-top seal, another democratising touch. It still hurts, obviously. One of the funniest moments in a film with quite a few of them was the scornful reaction of a French wine-maker, Jean-Luc Colombo, to that last development: "Where is ze dream," he said. "Where is ze legend?" He was such a ludicrous caricature of Gallic disdain that I had to Google him to check that he wasn't played by an actor.
There was a nice concluding twist to this story of insurgent triumph, as big brewers and distillers greedily exploited and coarsened the very qualities that made Australian wine so desirable. So, as French vineyards belatedly play copycat with regard to informality and marketing, their Australian counterparts are discovering the advantages of a certain amount of stuffy connoisseurship and artisan mystery. And all this was captured in a way that reflected the qualities of the wines that made the difference. Cheeky, vivacious but with surprisingly complex undertones, Chateau Chunder slipped down a treat.
The crude description of Some Girls would be a female Inbetweeners. It's got four crisply differentiated school-age friends and a similar salty take on teenage sexuality and exasperation with the adult world. But the crude description doesn't entirely do justice to what's distinctive about Bernadette Davis's comedy, which is a definite tilt towards drama and sympathy. When the camera catches Holli preparing her siblings' lunch boxes by putting a boiled potato and M&Ms into each one, you're simultaneously invited to laugh at the menu and to feel a little pang at her precocious maternal responsibilities. I'm far too old and male to say whether it's authentically representative of young girls' lives, but there's heart here.
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