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Monthly Report - November 2006

Ready, set, go…


The vines have moved through flowering and are now completing their fruit set for the 2007 vintage.  This period last year was a bit disheartening as the weather was windy and wet through November and most of December meaning vines such as Merlot and Marsanne were badly affected and set poorly.  This year has been markedly different with lovely days, only moderate rainfall (well… we did have an inch of rain on 28 November, but most of the varieties have completed their set so it was basically a watering for the vines prior to the heat of summer) and warm consistent temperatures.  The vines are all in great shape and after having gone through the whole vineyard hand thinning and clearing away basal growth, they have concentrated on the canes set, and overall we are extremely happy with how the vineyard has shaped up over spring.

200611_Merlot - Fruit Set Nov06_resized.

Merlot fruit set

We have sprayed only twice this month with mildew pressures reduced by the relatively dry month, and we have also sprayed out some kelp emulsion to provide some sustenance for the leaves and the growing tips.  Shiraz continues to amaze us with its growth.  We have given the variety NOTHING but a bit of lime to keep the soil in balance (this is a problem for all the inland vineyards in the Margaret River region due to the granitic source of all the soils in the region), and still it pushes on.  We are extremely glad we cane pruned this variety, thus reducing the number of buds that produce canes and therefore fruit, and it excites me to think what these vines will produce this year. 


The first wire lift has been completed through all the vines and with the reduction of foliage by our fruit thinning this was a very straightforward job.  The panels look thin and dappled light reaches through the canopy still, just as we had intended.  One thing noted by many vineyards this year is the amount of lateral growth in many varieties (this is growth from lower buds along the new cane, causing shading and leaf around the bunches).  This is not an issue with our vines barring the Cabernet Franc and this means pencilling in a few days of hand thinning these vines to ensure adequate exposure for the fruit and no spots where mildews can hide and proliferate.  Last year we hand thinned continuously due to the cool growing conditions of that season, but this year if we get an average warm year we will not go crazy as we do not want to burn the fruit.


Irrigation, a necessary evil?


This month I might go through one of the areas of vineyards and wineries that tends to be a bit “mythologized” and I thought that the average reader might like a bit more knowledge in this area. 


For the past few decades there has been a push through many wineries that dry grown fruit is better than irrigated fruit, hence wine made from those grapes is also a cut above.  The theory is most apparent in the Barossa and other regions in South Australia, where very old dry grown vines provide the backbone of the expensive boutique wines.  Thus irrigated fruit is then looked at sideways with a sort of smirk and classified as “commercial”, and as such have bulk wine tattooed on their final product.


But like all good theories, the answer is not as clear cut as it is made out.  Most good vine growing areas are planted over free draining soils; the iron-rich gravels in Margaret River, the famed terra rossa strip of the Coonawarra, the outwash sediments of the Barossa Valley etc – and the planting of young vines in these areas is fraught with difficulty during the early years.  Re-planting in any of these areas would require some watering or simply you will continue to plant and plant again trying to fill the holes through your vineyard.  I have seen no evidence to support that young vines are stronger grown dry, than irrigated – the issue here is how much fertiliser was used to get the growth and the less you use the better the plant will be in the long run judging from our experience.  Water keeps them alive and growing, and they obtain the nutrients naturally if the soil is in balance and healthy.


We have set up our irrigation predominantly to raise small vines.  This does not mean pumping out tens of thousands of litres each week, but rather providing enough water for the young vines to continue to strive to grow.  As the vines have got older we are watering less and less – in fact we have not watered any of our red grapes at all this vintage to date.  You want to maximise the flavours in the grapes and the best way to do this is by stressing the vine ever so slightly – the vine places effort on fruit if it feels it may not be around for the following season, but the plant has to be healthy to ripen the grapes to full physiological ripeness.  Such a tight rope we walk!  For us it is very simple, you spend a lot of time in the vineyard – water stress can be seen through the growing tips of the cane and the “cupping” of the active leaves and you always check this while doing your work.  At this stage we may not complete any watering in the red varieties until January at the earliest – and if we do, it will only be for short bursts.  By February and March the mature vines are actually getting most of their water requirements from depth and surface watering of predominantly dry grown vines is a bit of a waste of time as the surface roots have become inactive.  Eventually the mature vines will not need any irrigation at all for most years, with only exceptionally dry starts to the season seeing the use of the irrigation system.


Being dry grown is not the be all and end all of fine wine.  It is a tool used in many very old vineyards to which it is extremely well suited – but for many boutique vineyards the judicious use of water during development and in specific time frames during vintage can provide the drinker with some super booze as well!


Spring ends on a high note…


The weather has been great for growing grapes in Margaret River, temperatures have been moderated by our maritime location and the nights have been cool but not cold (no frosts for us thank heavens, gut wrenching to see the devastation over east), and rainfall has trickled in except for a solid days rain (26mm) on the 28th November.  The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:

November 2006:     

Avg Maximum Temp          23.5°C

Daily Max recorded            30.2°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.1°C               

Daily Min recorded               8.4°C


Rainfall:                               52.8mm

In comparison to 2005 the maximum temperatures were quite a bit higher, with minimum temperatures a little higher as well, which will be a consistent theme running into December as well.  Rainfall is similar but unlike 2005 where the rainfall occurred on 18 days of the 30, we have only had 5 rainy days this month in 2006.

November 2005:      

Avg Maximum Temp          20.2°C

Daily Max recorded            27.5°C

Avg Minimum Temp             9.2°C

Daily Min recorded               3.4°C


Rainfall:                             43.0mm

As with last month I have included below the weather values for Bordeaux during their equivalent of the month of November in the southern hemisphere.

May 2006:      

Avg Maximum Temp          21.1°C

Daily Max recorded            31.0°C

Avg Minimum Temp          11.3°C

Daily Min recorded              3.0°C


Rainfall:                             54.0mm

Well the similarities are now very obvious between us and Bordeaux.  Reading a report early in their season, the Bordelaise were very excited as the flowering was progressing very well with little wind and low rainfall totals.  You must note that their vintage starts a little later due to much colder winters but the extended sunlight hours due to their latitude gives them this growing time back over the vintage, and lo and behold we pick at very similar dates.


First month of summer…


December traditionally provides the first real taste of summer in the south west of Western Australia.  The vineyard is in good shape with nearly all varieties well through their flowering and fruit set.  This bit of extra heat should be handled with ease.  We will need to complete another wire lift towards the end of the month and the passes through the vineyard are never ending as there is always a wayward cane or vine that needs attention.


Our house on the vineyard will have the concrete laid early this month and all the framework and claddings put on by the end of the month. This will be a bit hard for us to take in as it has taken us many years to get to this point.  The locating of a Christmas tree in the local pine plantation and the storing like squirrels of mince pies, ham, turkey and the families presents will start in earnest in the next two weeks, an enjoyable time while the girls are still young.


So from all of us at Blue Poles Vineyard, we wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (and that you have had access to a few bottles of really good plonk!) …..

All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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