Monday, February 21, 2011

A Genuine Gentleman: Bill Chambers of Rosewood Remembered

The Sunday morning dogs aren't barking at Rosewood Winery but their catholic pastor hasn't lost his vocation. 

Bill Chambers leaves the cellar door visitor with the distinct impression that he is one of the genuine gentle men of the Australian wine scene. There is a quiet grace about the man which is in no need of promotional airs. The winery itself is a rambling organic assemblage of rusting tin sheds which hasn't changed much over the last twenty years. There's been the entirely pragmatic addition of a "new tastin' and despatchin' shed", however the current generation of underfed and undefended feral cats seem to be about as paranoid as their continuing survival demands. 

One of the more enduring themes of a visit to Rosewood Winery is the relationship between Bill and his feral cats. You see he doesn't have much time for cats of any description but after twenty years he's beginning to recognise that the D.O.G. manifesto for their control is not really working. 

"Bloody cats, can't get close enough to shoot 'em, and there's no use starvin' 'em out. Run rings around them dopey dogs. Might as well bark at 'em me-self"

In a tradition as romantically rustic as the best of them, Rosewood seems to be more nooks and crannies than regimented industrial production space and as a consequence there is no shortage of sanctuary for the hasty retreat and, no doubt, subsequent lazy reproduction of cats under its comforting eaves.

The introduction of a couple of highly fed and underbred guard dogs to the scene hasn't resurrected the situation any. Oh they bark all right! In fact on the early autumn morning I visited there were three of them attempting to fulfil their part of the workplace bargain by half-heartedly barking and snarling at everything and nothing in particular. The rostered two would rush about the place in parallel abandon occasionally giving each other a casual nip on the flanks while a palely loitering old arthritic grey beard whined encouragement from the comfortable shade of a nearby shambolic three rail fence.

As part of the tourist routine, an extraordinarily ginger feral tom would provocatively strut out from the relative safety of the winery into the luxurious sunshine of the courtyard only to be harried back into the darkness through the parallel persecutions of the demented duo.

This went on more or less unabated as the great, washed, God-fearing residents of Rutherglen passed by in newly polished church-bound automobiles and the early Sunday morning winery walkabout crowd, gave up on Bill's tardy appearance and headed off to more commercially viable devotions at Mick Morris's parish up the track.

"Yeah I know I'm s'pose to be here by 10 but the missus wanted some straw carted for her vege patch, so's I was a bit late."

"Still Bill, it's too good a day to spend in bed, isn't it"

"I wouldn't go that far," says Bill, "there's no day too good for that"

You couldn't say there is no mischief in those aging sky blue eyes, but you would be hard pressed to find any meanness. Bill Chamber's wine tastings are legendary and have always been on the generous side. I counted thirty five wines on offer at the last visit, from $6.00 1987 Rieslings to $50.00 half bottles of very old, world class Tokay. All were open for tasting, and it was simply a matter of helping yourself. Bill retired to assemble a few boxes in the background while fielding questions with a laconic honesty which is truly disarming.

"Those little bottles are too bloody expensive. Most people don't like the idea of spending $50.00 on their tummies. Still, (waving a directional arm at an increasingly less agnostic assemblage of imbibers) youse can wipe yourselves out on that lot"

And then there is the famous "true" story of the "Floor Muscat" which ended up with the gold medal at the Melbourne Show.

Apparently Bill had to attend a local grape grower's meeting during vintage, when the unspeakable happened. His best cask of vigorously fermenting muscat sprung a stave and spilled on to the floor of the winery. In true Chambers style, the wayward brew was sponged up into another cask and forgotten until it ended up winning a gold medal at the Melbourne show. Oh, yea of little faith, that's what legends are made of and legend is what Bill Chambers and Rosewood is all about. The feint probability that Bill was Chairman of Judges that particular year is but a happy co-incidence.

As for the dogs, well they kept barking and snarling and spitting and rushing about the place until they heard Bill's car approaching, whereupon they completely clammed up and wandered off to lay down grinning in their appointed dog-holes against the warm tin of the winery walls.

"Call 'em watch dogs" says Bill.."it'd be a bloody miracle if they knew which end of a cat to chase!!"

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