I live about ten minutes from the road that snakes out of the heart of Adelaide and slowly unfurls its way past a series of car yards and hardware stores towards the Fleurieu Peninsula. I have always noticed that car yards flourish in the outer reaches of Australian cities, a step higher in real estate pariahhood than the imaginatively named palm nurseries that are always owned by people named Don or Kev and always sell, well, palms. Once the road has gone past Big Kev’s Cheap Palms, the houses start to drop off and the tarmac picks up speed. Soon you are in wine country and the labels you might remember from a good red sipped at a friend’s place start to show up with monotonous regularity; Simon Hackett, Rosemount Estate, Hardy’s, the list goes on and on with over a hundred wineries in the region. The names are often imbued with as much history as the vineyards. There is the small boutique winery Two Dam Blondes which is named after the spouses of the two owners who are, you guessed it, blondes! Then there is Hugh Hamilton with his Black Sheep winery, a nod to his reputation as a bit of a rebel. Hardy’s is named after a young labourer Tom Hardy who worked in John Reynell’s vineyard, the first in the area. Today, Reynell lives on in only the name of a suburb while Hardy’s is known across the globe.
If you overlook the big names and take a chance on an unknown label as we did once, noticing the sign to White Feather almost too late, you can find yourself wandering up a country lane bordered by vines. The vines form a thick lush tunnel through which you thread your way, wondering where to go if a car should come from the opposite direction. Suddenly a flock of honking geese create a little traffic jam before they cross from one side of the road to the other. Just as your eyes are getting used to the brilliance of the green each side and the iridescent blue above the waving tendrils, there is a turn in the road and you find yourself in front of a strange slab hut with various bits of farm machinery and grape presses strewn around. There must be enough wood there to make a film on chainsaw sculptors. As you get out of the car to stretch your legs, half hoping that you are not going to be greeted by a bunch of murderous hill billies, the honking geese appear again, softening the look of the place.
This time they seem to have brought reinforcements as your eyes take in the sight of the biggest, whitest dog you have seen, padding towards you on enormous saucer sized paws. He is followed by the owner of White Feather, a fellow called John but better known as Moondog. Introductions are made and the big dog turns out to be Titan the Maremma, a gentle giant who allows the geese, the chickens and three ancient turkeys to herd him about. Soon it is clear that John aka Moondog is an encyclopedia of local knowledge and given to various tall tales. He also has an eye for the ladies and attempts to get your phone number from you without success, laughing off his failure with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders. He will sell you some of his wine although the winery no longer has a cellar door or direct sales facility. He will also sign your bottle with a permanent marker in silver, looking at you hopefully again, just in case you want to tell him your name. He seems to genuinely want you to stay a little, pouring champagne liberally into glasses for everyone over 18 and eyeing the bottle hopefully, looking piratical with his parrot sitting on his shoulder sipping demurely from her owner’s glass. He may even come out with you when you leave, crushing a handful of Schinus or Chilean pepper berries in his enormous hands to give you a whiff of spice or picking a couple of bluebells from the soft soil by the gate, as he winks broadly. The parrot stays inside, aware of the fact that her owner may be making a spectacle of himself. I suspect she has had to see this once too often, even though the winery is tucked away neatly, behind the first of the rolling hills that border McLaren Vale