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Monthly Report - March 2007

Vintage ends…


The vintage has ended for Blue Poles with our last pick completed on 31 March with the Shiraz coming off and delivered to the winery for processing.  It has been a huge month and I will work through the varieties one by one such that you can see how it panned out for us all here.

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Vintage is over and the picking buckets have been cleaned and put away for another year

March started with some rain that was in fact needed for some of our vines, 15mm fell on 1-2 March and this perked up our shiraz and cabernet franc that were suffering a tad.  Skies cleared and tasting-runs through the vineyard continued.  To this point we were getting good sugar levels but little-to-no real flavour in the grapes.  A problem arose with 5-7 March being scorching hot as temperatures got to 37°C on each of these days, and the vines just shut down and were not happy.  After the heat passed the sugar levels had really jumped with some water loss in the vines, but still the flavours were not as we wanted them.  So we took the punt and waited rather than pick on beaumé levels alone – and I believe we did the right thing.  Fruit from this point on all came off with the most intense rich flavours and ripe tannins that has made the vintage our most exciting and potentially our best for years to come.


Viognier was hand picked on 10 March very early in the morning and taken to the winery for whole bunch pressing immediately.  Flavours for this wine came in like a steam train.  On 8 March the flavours were very mute and not varietal, but by the morning of 9 March there they were – apricot, ginger, blossom and coconut milk in spades.  This provided confirmation to us that this variety is picked on the day and the results showed that the fruit was in excellent condition on 10 March with the beaumé’ 13.0 and pH 3.63.  We picked enough fruit for 3 barrels of wine and Sharna our lovely winemaker is thoroughly enjoying the barrel ferment with some special yeast that she has procured especially for this pick.


Next cab off the rank was my beloved Merlot.  This variety has shone all year with a great fruit set, no disease pressure and the most fantastic small black berries.  Many vineyards in the region had taken off their Merlot by the first week of March and I can only think that many were picking on sugar levels and not fruit ripeness.  By the first week of March we had beaumés of 13-14 which were high and worrisome as we did not want a super alcoholic wine which can detract from the wine we want to represent us.  We waited and waited until on 13 March the flavours came in with a rush and it was just fantastic to see how intense these berries were in the mouth.  Warmer weather was predicted for 13-17 March so I bit the bullet and decided to machine pick in the cool of the evening so as to not have our fruit exposed to any heat issues and to make sure the fruit all came off quickly.  With the fruit being so clean on the vine the choice to machine pick was really made for me and I am very glad we did as the fruit came off (8t in total) at 11pm on 15 March and was processed by 8am on 16 March with the temperature not getting above 15°C during the whole period.  I have since had a chance to taste the ferment and by crikey this is what making fine wine is all about.


I thought the Cabernet Franc would be picked in early April, as in 2005 we picked on 9 April and in 2006 it was 25 April.  But again the even-heat and clear days of the season really bought this forward and on 19 March sugar levels and flavour were really starting to move.  By 22 March the fruit tasted superb with a richness not encountered before and it meant we had to pick soon.  Picking was planned for 24 March and started at 8am in the morning at 4°C, the coldest morning of the month (and didn’t I know it having slept the night on the vineyard to get everything ready to go for the picking team).  By 10.30am it was all in the bins and getting loaded out, everyone was pleased with the fruit (pickers especially as we have spent a lot of effort opening up the canopy and pruning to limit canes making their job that much easier), and our tonnage came in just over 3t for the hectare (the Merlot was only 3.7t per hectare – spot on as we want to really concentrate the grape flavours in our youngish vines).  The fruit numbers have also come back very nice with beaumé of only 13.2 and a pH of 3.51 which is a super number for balance in the resultant wine.


A little dabble of Blue Poles this year was to pick some Tempranillo with some friends of ours who own the Hopping Stone Vineyard.  Lynne and Phil Foster are super people and super growers.  They are so good at growing and managing vines it is always a real pleasure for me to sit down and talk “viti” with them.  They have not made their own wine yet but have sold all their grapes to other producers in the region – so in the interest of science we agreed to share in the making of a Tempranillo from one row of vines (which equates to about a tonne of fruit).  This was picked on 22 March and sent to Sharna and the team to have a play with.  We are hopeful that 3 barrels will be made and though it will not be released under the Blue Poles label, we may let our mail order customers have access to this exciting variety so as to “spice” up their drinking life.


And lastly we get to the Shiraz, a variety that has proved to be difficult to grow in the Margaret River region and we have planted this variety in a specific location within the vineyard to best mimic conditions found in the Rhône Valley.  So far we have found ripening this variety difficult and this year proved no exception.  We decided to pick the fruit on 31 March so as to guarantee the best quality fruit available.  Only 488kg was hand selected from the pick so as to maximize the flavour and intensity of the resultant wine.  The balance of the fruit was left on the ground.  At Blue Poles we are simply not prepared to make average wine; it simply is not a valid path to take as we hope that anyone who selects a bottle of our wine will be assured that a well made, interesting and complex wine will be poured – boring simple wine is not what we are after.  I personally have a bit of work to do here to ensure that this variety can be best expressed from our site and I am cracking on to it straight away with a few meetings planned with Margaret River growers who are making a good fist of the variety and I hope to apply some of their ideas to next years vintage.


I will not go into any other topics this month simply due to the opus I have composed above but I will discuss next month aspects of fruit ripeness and flavour profiles.  I have recorded quite a bit of sensory data and I will try to get it in a form that makes sense for you all. 


Dodging bullets …


The report of vintage above is in its own way a weather report and I will quickly embellish on what has already been said.  The month has been as hot as February and this was mainly due to the 3 very hot days we had at the start of the month – and I believe the hottest March day ever recorded in Margaret River.  The weather was not affected by cloud coming down from the tropics in the form of ex-cyclones (we had three hit the Pilbara coast in the far north of this huge state of Western Australia) and this meant the sunlight was crisp and clear during the finishing of the season.  Three frontal systems came through and dropped a tad of rain and brought some very cold southerly air into the region but overall the vintage was not affected by the rain.  The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:

March 2007:     

Avg Maximum Temp          25.6°C

Daily Max recorded            38.5°C


Avg Minimum Temp           11.2°C               

Daily Min recorded               3.2°C


Rainfall:                               25.4mm

In comparison to 2006 the maximum and minimum temperatures were a little lower, even though there was a very hot period in 2007 at the start of the month.  Rainfall was low at about 25mm in each of the years.

March 2006:      

Avg Maximum Temp          26.7°C

Daily Max recorded            37.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp           12.4°C

Daily Min recorded               6.1°C


Rainfall:                             26.4mm

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

Bordeaux September 2006:      

Avg Maximum Temp          25.9°C

Daily Max recorded            35.0°C

Avg Minimum Temp           15.0°C

Daily Min recorded             10.0°C


Rainfall:                                136.0mm

You have to feel for the bordelaise in 2006 as the vintage has ended warmer, but get this... only 3 sunny days for the month of September.  It rained and it rained and then it thundered a bit before it rained again.  Free draining ground would be a minimum to not have rots and simple dilute reds from this vintage.  I would have just put my head under a pillow and tried to think of something happy if this happened in Margaret River – how quality wine was made in 2006 would be a miracle of site location and 100’s of years of the bordelaise dealing with these mini catastrophes.  With the historic hype surrounding the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux, it is balancing when a poor season brings the region back down from the heights.  October may provide some relief for the later ripening varieties (Cabernets and Petit Verdot) so we will check in next month to see if a little bit of sunshine could brighten their vintage.


Well it’s over but still…


We have a fair amount of work to continue within the vineyard, as this is a significant period of root growth and many of our varieties could do with access to some nutrients.  April will consist of fertilising, liming, some weeding and some general clean ups around our block while the weather is still nice.  In most year's, vintage continues into April and I guess we have an extra 2-3 weeks to get many of these jobs done, so our opportunity to create excuses has been diminished some what.


It has been a busy month so I might have Monday off before we crack on.

All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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