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Monthly Report - April 2006

Hand picked and hand crafted…


Well the vintage is now over with all the work that goes into it, with the completion being a bit of an anticlimax as now I drive around doing odd jobs amongst the vines.  Only two varieties were picked for Blue Poles Vineyard this year, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with the Shiraz not vinified as the grapes simply did not get physiologically ripe enough for us to make wine of the quality that we are seeking from our estate.  I’ll go over the climatic conditions of the 2006 vintage in the weather report below, but needless to say it has been a variable year for wineries in West Australia.


Our Merlot was hand picked on the 15th April 2006 with the wine processed early morning of the 16th April 2006.  We were fortunate to have a number of friends and family members turn up (see photo below) and help us as there was a lot of selectivity required of the pickers to make sure that only the best of the grapes made the grade.  The tonnage and results for the Merlot are as below:



  • Tonnage                             3.12t

  • Beaume                             12.5

  • pH                                       3.32

  • Titratable Acidity (g/l)      5.99


Tonnage for the merlot was lower than predicted but the wet and windy weather in November / December hurt the Merlot’s flower set more than any other variety and this meant lower weights for the bunches and variable ripening levels (that our marvellous pickers monitored and removed these underdeveloped bunches of fruit).  The resultant wine has a lovely depth of flavour with excellent acid balance (one of the many things we were aiming for this year), and a smooth fine tannin structure – good news.


Cabernet Franc has looked the best variety throughout the year with a great fruit set and a really healthy open canopy and even budburst along the cordon.  The cool weather at the start of the season meant it was going to be late, but how late?  April was a month that started off with good heat levels but by the 15th the temperatures were dropping, heavy dews were on the ground and little sugar ripening was happening – a decision had to be made so we decided that the 25th April (Anzac Day) will be our D-Day.  The day started black as a weather front passed over us dropping the first bit of heavy rain in a few months, but the skies cleared and fruit dried off and out ran everyone to bring in the grapes.  The tonnage and results for the Cabernet Franc are as below:


Cabernet Franc

  • Tonnage                           2.42t

  • Beaume                           12.1

  • pH                                     3.46

  • Titratable Acidity (g/l)     5.00


From these results I believe we made the right decision as the pH was perfect but the acidity levels were starting to drop and if we’d of waited another week we may have had a very tired and sad wine without that spark of brightness that fresh acidity gives to all the great wines of the world.  The Cabernet Franc is still fermenting away and we hope to press it off into barrels by mid May – so I’ll provide an indication of the wines quality then, but from comments made by our winemaker, Sharna Kowalczuk, she is very pleased with what we’ve produced and in her infectious, enthusiastic manner has assured us that it’s a great return for the year.


A special thanks this month goes to our next door neighbour Garry Cain who has learnt along with me the finer points of running out and collecting in vine nets with our new netwizz.  His farmer “guile” has meant that we have a system that is both efficient and safe, and most of all timely – thanks Garry.


Eamon, David, Georgia and Julia relaxing the night before helping pick the merlot


The vintage that’s been….


Presented below this month is a graph of the 2006 vintage temperatures and rainfall in comparison to the iconic 2001 vintage in Margaret River, so as to show the differences and difficulties that the region faced this year.

200604 Graph.JPG

A few points that you can gain from a graph like this are:


  1. Maximum temperatures for Oct/Nov/Dec in 2006 were well below average, and were some of the lowest recorded since records have been kept – a lot of heat was lost from the start of the season delaying vintage for all varieties.

  2. Though Feb/Mar were hotter months, April was again colder with significantly more rainfall, making the final ripening of most red varieties very difficult throughout the region.

  3. The 2001 growing season was very even temperature wise and had very little rainfall (well below average), and this meant plants were stressed more by water deprivation than by high heat loads which tends to shut the plant down.  2006 did not have a season like this at all with average rainfall and some heat spikes in the latter months.


I have contacted a number of local wineries and spoken to some viticulturists and all have commented on the difficulties of the season but have noted some positives.  White wines from Margaret River this year may be exceptional in some cases, as the cooler start to the season pushed the ripening out of the heat spikes in late February / early March and into the cooler end of the vintage.  Red wines are a bit more of a lottery, with the Bordeaux varieties appearing to have fared well but the Rhône varieties fairing quite poorly.  Also note that the size of the Margaret River wine region gives those at the northern end a much better chance of getting solid red wines made than those from the southern end.


One point to be made however is that this vintage will go down as a unique and one-off type year due to the number of records set for low maximums and minimums during the latter half of 2005.  The previous cool starts to summer were all before wine grapes were planted in the region, and my next door neighbours were able to reminisce to me about the halcyon grass growing years of the 50’s and early 60’s …


There’s always something…


We found out early on at Blue Poles that you can not sit back and relax for a month or two as there are always jobs that need doing all year round.  Admittedly May and June are two of our quieter months as we lead into pruning, but there are lots of odd jobs to tidy up so as to make life that much easier and the vines that much more healthier.


Little jobs we’ve got on include liming sections of the vineyard, spraying out various weeds, digging out the last remnants of blackberry that sit around where the old dairy was on the block (which is now under our Viognier), putting all the nets in, clearing the shed, mulching mid-rows before the weather sets in, etc, etc, etc.  It has been a busy 6 months so I do hope to have a break with the family for a week amongst all this, as well as dropping in on some of the other growers and vintners around the traps.


All the best to everyone and have a very happy Easter.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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