Last week, my sister-in-law and her hubby were busy running around like headless chooks, looking to buy the perfect pearl for their niece as a wedding present. The Lady owns a beautiful South Seas pearl which she used to wear often. It suddenly dawned on me that I have not seen her wear it for a long time. Maybe she knows they are rare these days and therefore, so highly prized it should be kept under lock and key. Maybe she has decided it should be reserved for his eyes only; after all, a pearl can mean a person or thing of great rarity and beauty, a precious gem, by definition. It is a symbol of wisdom gained through worldly experience. Buddhists believe that unlike the pearls in a pearl necklace which are held together by a string – the ‘soul,’ which passes through all the pearls in a series of rebirths connects them all. Life continues after death. Successive existences, although separate, are all connected. Some believe a pearl offers its wearer protection and good luck. A pearl is undoubtedly a natural beauty. Lustrous, sometimes perfectly round, sometimes spherical, no matter the colour, be it a pure white or a bluish-grey or black, for me, it brings out the feminine qualities of a woman. Fertility and purity. Formed inside an oyster from an irritant that somehow found its way into the bivalves, it evokes in me a sense of irony that a speck of sand, a worthless irritant, can transform into a stunning precious gem in a living thing.
But, the irony will be quickly forgotten when you admire the pearl that you are holding in your hand. It is nature’s wondrous creation, a magical transformation from what was rather ordinary into a rare beauty. They remind me of two people in a loving embrace. The pearl, a perfect creation of natural beauty, exists peacefully and grows perfectly inside the sanctuary which the shell, her hero, provides her with. With a shell so safe and hard, her oyster is her everything, her world. It will eventually sacrifice its life for her to become the jewel she was always meant to be. Nestled inside its womb-like fortress, nourished and protected, the pearl is the oyster’s everything, his creation, his true love. A naturally-occurring gem that is formed inside a living creature, the pearl and its oyster is a beautiful story of a union between two parties, as precious and poignant between mother and child, as loving and loyal between husband and wife or indeed as romantic and sensuous between two lovers.
The Lady and The Bloke told me they spent a week looking for one in South Australia, but to no avail. “You can’t find one in Burnside? What about in the city?” I asked disbelievingly. Burnside is a blue-ribbon suburb where every second car seems to be a Merc or Beemer. Surely, the well-dressed scions of old-money society here know to appreciate the beauty of pearls!
“Nope,” The Lady simply said.
“Buy it online?” I suggested.
“Nope,” she said again. Hmmm, a woman of few words in the absence of a glass of good wine, I said to myself.
“We have to see it and appreciate its beauty with our eyes before we buy a pearl,” The Bloke explained.
I guess I revealed to him I have never bought one and would not know how to pick one. I was not aware of the inadequacies of the internet when it comes to buying a pearl.
“He has never bought me one,” The Mrs said, emphasising the truth which I tried to hide.
Earlier in the week, the couple finally bought a beautiful pearl. “A specimen of the highest quality,” The Bloke said in a hushed tone, as if he was afraid of being overheard, forgetting there were just the four of us in their house. “Show! Show!” The Mrs said excitedly to her sister. The Lady rolled her eyes like how my dog would but uttered not a single word as her sister pestered her to show her the pearl. The Lady was normally a person of few words, but after dinner, a coded term for after many glasses of our best reds, she was prone to turn into a talkative person, one who liked to ‘lecture’ a puppy, in fact. Murray had somehow formed a habit of biting at their exquisite French door after his meals at their house next door. So, when Murray wanted to play his new game which I called ‘bite their glass door’, The Lady began her litany of lectures about the etiquette of good behaviour after being well-fed.
But, The Lady did not produce the pearl for her sister to admire. “No, I had to get my niece in Perth to buy it,” she said. “There is a Kailis store in Perth, the one here closed down,” she explained. So much for needing to see it first, I thought. “It’s perfectly round and it is much bigger than mine,” The Lady said, apparently reading my mind. “We should celebrate,” she said. The Bloke was quick to agree. He had just got off the phone. “We will enjoy a sumptuous barbeque at my friend’s place tomorrow!” he said.
His friend’s place turned out to be a winery we visited in January 2020, just days before the pandemic changed the world. That summer saw a savage spell of bushfires that ravaged many wineries in Australia. The 2019 vintage as a result was a small one. Monteperle Wines luckily was unscathed that summer and continues to produce their best wines today. I remember arriving at the gates of the winery in 2020 and was gob-smacked by the heavenly prettiness of the 26-hectare estate. Monteperle’s logo and name, for me, hinted at the biblical twelve gates making up the sun as the gateway to heaven. Each of the twelve gates were made from a single pearl and as our car rolled to a halt at the gate, The Bloke stopped the engine to let us soak in the beauty of the land in silence. “This is truly a pearl in heaven,” I said, not realising I had spoken loudly. I still had the same feelings as the first time. Yeah, there is no need for me to fulfil my dream to visit Tuscany. Although not under the Tuscan sun, this place does not lack its romanticism and magic. “It is so very pretty,” The Mrs said, oozing with positivity and charm. It was summer the last time we were there. The rolling hills were no longer mocha in colour, but the distant gum trees still appeared grey rather than green. The gum leaves, freshly dropped by the cold air of late autumn nights, rested listlessly on the ground that was sodden with overnight rain. Suddenly, they danced playfully together in the air as a gust of wind lifted them from their late morning stupor. The Bloke cranked up the engine of his Discovery and the car slowly inched forward over the path of crushed river pebbles, its tyres crunching loudly on the stones as we made our way towards the glassed building. “Ah, I can see Wenyu 文宇 lighting the barbie,” The Bloke said, referring to his friend by his Chinese name.
On their Gods Hill Road vineyard, four varieties of vines are still cultivated by Monteperle. Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Cabernet Sauvignon. The GSM, a multi-award winner, was their flagship for 2018 and 2019, but I was eyeing their shiraz. Munching at a succulent lamb cutlet, I listened to Louis intently as he described the quality of their shiraz, especially the ones from Block 6. At $195 a bottle, they are a steal, considering they are the same Syrah that Penfolds used to procure for their Grange production pre-2017, i.e. before Louis and his associates acquired Monteperle Winery from Max, an old cobber who built his immense wealth from making and selling silos to South Australian farmers. A bottle of Penfolds Grange these days will easily fetch $1,000. I still have my Grange collection of 1996, 1997 and 1998 vintage, bought with the view to crack them open at any of my son’s weddings. I am still waiting, lads – but I cannot guarantee I can resist the temptation for much longer!
“The 2023 vintage will be the best in fifty years,” Louis said. A viticulturist, he spoke like an oenologist also, as he talked about the best wines and the best wine-making regions in the world and why the shiraz from Block 6 is considered the best shiraz. Tuscany, Rioja, Napa Valley, Bordeaux and of course, Barossa Valley are the apogee of wine-making by his standards. Originally from China, it did not surprise me that Louis also spoke very highly of the wines from Ningxia and Shanxi.
Satiated and contented after the lamb cutlets, my no-longer-hungry eyes drifted past the wall of glass window and honed in on the playful leaves outside. Their energetic display of gorgeous browns, reds and yellows caught my attention as they danced to the rhythm and intensity of the wind. Louis’ booming voice brought me back to the room. A persuasive man and highly intelligent in the way he organised his thoughts, he enraptured The Mrs, even though the topic was a potentially disruptive one. Strangely and uncharacteristically, The Mrs had this need to engage herself in current world politics. Louis held everyone’s attention in the room and his words were mostly accompanied by nodding heads. Wearing a stubborn crease on his forehead, he had a prosperous nose and a genuine smile. A man with a towering figure, his physical presence forced me to give him my full attention. His eyebrows were faint and almost non-existing. If his face were a painting, I would have said the artist forgot to finish his brows. A cloud laden with rainwater moved abruptly into the sun’s path and momentarily blocked its rays from beating down on the land. The blue sky that was decorated with puffy white clouds changed to an angry grey right in front of my eyes. It reminded me of The Mrs whose mood can change equally drastically when she is painting. Last weekend, she ruthlessly scrubbed out the painstakingly and perhaps lovingly painted strands of white hair from Caravaggio’s head. The atmosphere changed and it felt like the temperature dropped a few degrees suddenly. I need more wine to warm up! Louis seemingly read my mind and opened a second bottle of his lovely GSM. As he was topping up our Riedel glasses, and unmindful of his Mona Lisa smile, he proposed a toast. “To health, happiness and peace,” we echoed, as we clinked our glasses.
After the wonderful lunch of the best cuts of lamb cutlets, ribeye steaks and spicy sausages sourced from some friendly local farmers, I asked Louis to show us where Block 6 was. I wanted to see why it was reputed to produce the best shiraz in the world. The arcane world of wine-making had roused my curiosity. The vines had turned golden as they would at this time of the year and they resembled a pot of gold under the rainbow that suddenly beamed in the sky. From a distance they looked the same, just an expanse of rich golden and mocha colours but a closer look aided by a detailed explanation from our host revealed why the microclimate of Block 6 was different from Block 5 and 7. Their Syrah vines thrived in all three blocks but the topography and location of Block 6 delivered favourable temperature, humidity and even wind effects that were ideal for those vines. Whether the land got more or less sun and whether it was the morning sun or late afternoon sun had a big bearing on the quality of the wine also. Even though our eyes could not delineate the differences, every slope, every different hillock and every slight variation to the soil type offered different benefits to the vines. I could not stop admiring the effulgence of the land, the lustre of the golden landscape was as captivating and intoxicating as the nacreous lustre and iridescence of a perfect pearl. I turned around and realised the others had left me a fair distance behind. In that brief but wonderful moment, I experienced a paroxysm of laughter. It was sudden, unstoppable and thoroughly divine. Immersed in happiness and a strange sense of peace, I walked quickly to rejoin the group. Was it the wine I had that day or was it the pearl in Monteperle I found?