WHAT THIS PLACE REALLY NEEDS IS A NICE COALMINE

One of my normal occupations at this time of year is to draw up a list of wine heroes – The ‘Grape Expectations’ Awards for those individuals or companies who’ve gone the extra mile to bring us decent drinking. It’s very much a virtual award, no plaques or tacky glassware, no framed certificates, just a nod in the direction of the good guys. This year, however, it’s the bad guys who are occupying my thoughts. Like the villains of this piece.

An Aussie friend, Ian Parmenter, public face of Tasting Australia, Adelaide’s prestigious biennial food and wine festival, lives in Margaret River, Western Australia. It’s a significant wine area, making its mark in particular with top notch Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay majoring on subtlety and charm, without the full-throttle intensity of those from hotter regions. Margaret River is home to esteemed producers like Cullen, Mosswood, Vasse Felix, Xanadu, Leeuwin Estate, Cape Mentelle, Howard Park and more. Many of the wineries boast highly-rated restaurants.

A coastal area, it enjoys a warm, maritime climate. The core of the region is the attractive town of Margaret River itself. Throughout the area, scenic delights are manifold – beaches for walking or surfing, rivers for the fisherman, rolling hills, Karri Forest, everywhere abundant wildlife. The locals have encouraged tourism and developed it while maintaining the region’s beauty – there are no theme parks here. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And it is, I’ve visited four times and Margaret River has never lost its attraction. Alas, Ian tells me there are signs that the idyll could be about to end.

King Coal is the reason. The black dictator that scarred the face of a once rural England, Scotland and Wales has raised his ugly head again. A company called Vasse Coal has submitted proposals for a coal mine at Osmington, a mere 15k away from the town of Margaret River, with seams under the region. Two further proposals are on file. As old Bob Dylan wrote “Money doesn’t talk, it swears” – Ian informs me there’s every likelihood that the Western Australian authorities might give this nebulous scheme the go-ahead.

Barmy, criminal, suicidal or what? We complain daily and with justification about our own politicians but I don’t think even Cowen, Lenihan and Co would sanction mining for coal under the Ring of Kerry.