Blue Poles Vineyard
Grapes that suit our site…
The choice of wine varieties is now a daunting task, 100’s of different and unusual varieties and clones are available to the vintner and one must wade through these choices. When you also include the impact of growing varieties in demand due to fashion and wine industry forecasts, it becomes a bit of a minefield.
Following wine fashion is a tempting outcome for a variety of reasons, but the goal of growing and vinifying great wine must take precedence, and this philosophy of following fashion, we believe, may not have provided us with a long term benefit. At Blue Poles Vineyard we took the approach that we must plant vines that best suit all aspects of the location and even the micro variations noted within the property – the varieties must be in harmony with their “terroir” and make sure the variety can express itself in its most positive light.
* See the article on Terroir in Australian vineyards by Jane Anson - Business Destinations.
The major players…
A total of 7 hectares have been planted at Blue Poles vineyard, with 6.3 hectares dedicated to just 4 varieties – these varieties are described below and an explanation for their choice at Blue Poles Vineyard given.
Merlot: A Bordeaux variety that can be blended easily with cabernet grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon in the Medoc, and Cabernet Franc in Saint Emilion and satellites), or made as a separate wine as seen in Pomerol. It grows best where the soil is iron rich, gravelly and containing a percentage of clay to hold some moisture – this is an excellent description of the south east corner of the vineyard and where 2ha of these vines were planted. Merlot is a capricious vine and has issues with fruit set, and when ripening, due to its thin skin, it can be subject to rots and mildews if the end of vintage weather is not near perfect. The cool setting and south facing aspect of the slopes where the merlot is planted gives Blue Poles every opportunity to have this grape reach maximum ripeness without the loss of fruit flavours due to heat stress.
Cabernet Franc: Known as a Bordeaux variety, and grown predominantly in Saint Emilion with small percentages in the Medoc, it is also grown in the Loire Valley where it is the sole red grape. This grape variety has been only a minor variety planted in Australia due to the success of Cabernet Sauvignon and the supposed “hardness” of this variety when made singularly. It is a variety that grows well in the clay rich sections of Bordeaux and underlying the gravels in the southern section of our vineyard is deep kaolin clays that provide perfect support to this variety. One hectare was planted adjacent to the Merlot, so it too has first use of the southerly sea breeze in summer, keeping the vines cooler and extending the growing season. Cabernet Franc is a very strong growing vine in Margaret River, and with small tough skinned berries the vine is less affected by diseases and mildew pressures than other varieties.
The ratio of 1 Cabernet Franc : 2 Merlot is archetypal of the finest estates in Saint Emilion where our soils and climate appear to be best approximates. This blend is poorly represented in Australia and we feel that little attention has been made to appreciating the symbiotic nature of these vines in both the vineyard and the winery. From our wines made to date the sum of the two wines is significantly greater than the wines individually, and this is an exciting development that we will be following with great interest.
Shiraz: A grape common throughout Australia but derived from the upper reaches of the Rhone Valley where the best examples are seen at Cote Rotie (where it is blended with a small percentage (3-5%) of Viognier), Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph. The extreme slopes of the Rhone Valley have a shallow regolith from the erosion of the underlying granitic rocks; these vines endure heat and water deprivation but produce the most stylish of wines. Blue Poles have planted 1.5ha of this variety, and have sought leaner soils and higher heat load to maximise flavour and concentration. The location of our vines is at the top of the property with slopes to the west to catch the afternoon sun, and planted in complex barren gravels and sands, giving us the potential to make an exciting wine.
Viognier: A lesser known white grape from the Rhone Valley that has gained favour over the past 5 years as both a straight varietal and as a blending grape with shiraz. Grown in a small pocket of the Rhone Valley called Condrieau, this variety is subject to significant heat and stress in the growing of a highly flavoured, rich, hedonistic wine. This grape is difficult to grow, has a fine line between being too ripe or not ripe enough, defoliates at the drop of a hat – but in all of this it can produce the most riotous of wines with honeysuckle, apricots and honey aromas all vying for your attention. A total of 1.8 hectares has been planted at Blue Poles, located on the lower western slopes in an area that obtains greater heat loading than most of the varietals, but in soil that is not excessively well drained or overly fertilized.
The minor players…
The following grape varieties have been planted in small allotments and if they prove successful in trials over the medium term, further plantings may be contemplated.
Marsanne: This grape variety is also from the Rhone Valley, and found as a white variety planted (with Roussanne), in the areas of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph. We have planted 0.4 hectares of the variety. A vigorous grower has meant the vines are carefully hand tended to reduce yield, and to date we have been extremely impressed with an intense lemon and honey flavoured grape that appears to have great potential.
Teroldego: A very rare variety sourced from the Trento-Alto Aldige region of NE Italy, it has a minor following for its medium bodied, red fruit flavoured wine. Less than a row of this variety has been planted out in the vineyard and it is considered a purely experimental variety while we determine the best way to grow and tend this vine. The plants look very similar to another Italian variety, Nebiollo, with its very thin laterals and large bright green leaves.
Chardonnay: One of the most common white grapes grown in the world, it is a variety that calls Burgundy, Chablis and Champagne its spiritual home. In Margaret River there are some fantastic examples of this varietal, and the region does appear to suit this grape. At Blue Poles we have planted 0.3 hectares of this variety on the lowest and coolest location planted within the vineyard. Being such an early ripening vine we want to extend the growing season as much as possible so as to maximize fruit flavours without reducing acidity and raising beaume.
And the future …
We believe that the vineyard could be expanded to a final size of 11 hectares if drainage and topography issues are resolved prior to planting. If we do expand there is an opportunity to look at increasing the plantings of the grapes above or consider other new grape varieties such as Roussane (White, Rhone Valley, FRA), Graciano (Red, Rioja, ESP), Tempranillo (Red, Rioja, ESP), Albarhino (White, Galicia, ESP) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Red, Bordeaux, FRA).
We will keep you informed of our progress!