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… I’m already referring to 2017 as the Year John Clarke died whilst walking round the Grampians photographing wild birds with his wife and friends.

By Bacchus he was such a lovely bright spark. What a telling hole he leaves in our national discourse! I can never forget finding him in the rabble of the old Universal Wine Bar in its heyday at Festival time, sitting at a front table with the simple glee of a delighted schoolboy. He had such bright curious eyes that seemed to suck at every radiation you exuded so thoroughly and forensically yet somehow at the same time comfort you with such casual reassurance you forgot about what those eyes were seeing whilst also you just happened to forget to talk. If you dropped your line of vision from his eyes you hit that charming, disbelieving, cheeky grin. My goodness.

Just coincidentally, but maybe it’s not, there was a big slice of demeanour Clarke shared with Dr Ray Beckwith (1912-2012), the great Penfolds wine scientist. This was an unswerving faith in their own curiosity. To my eye, they were both dazzled by what their curiosity handed them. They followed it around.

It’s cheap and easy to whinge about the wine industry, the ethanol biz, not having a Clarke to mimic it publicly. Or a Beckwith hidden within, plastering its walls and corporate mentality with bright science. History now shows that even in its ridicule of politics colonial Australia has afforded only one John Clarke. I trust that his very saddening death reminds us all of the importance of that sort of humble greatness that is so rarely recognised or given room to move …

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Philip White, Drinkster