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Monthly Report - December 2007

Cricket on the radio…


One of life’s little pleasures is listening to cricket on the radio during summer, a skill passed down from my mother who spent every summer listening to her beloved Northern Districts team play in New Zealand.  Many of the jobs in the vineyard now are simply tasks that take time and are “tidying up” and having the radio tucked into a pocket in the shorts while cleaning up the base of the merlot, or completing the final wire lift in the shiraz makes the day pass a bit quicker.  All the wirelifting for the season is now complete, and now some canopy work is required to ensure the sunlight and air can filter through the fruiting zone.  A further mildew spray has also been applied and with this application a good dose of fish and kelp emulsion was spread as well to give the leaves something to chew on.


As each year passes it becomes apparent that the vines become more and more tolerant of the seasons heat load, as this time last year I had begun irrigating the vines slightly but it appears that I have a further week or two before this is required for this vintage.  Growth of the vines themselves continues and all the fruit has set now and you can begin to see how much fruit the pruning has allowed – the only variety that appears to be down is the Cabernet Franc and this is due to the size of the bunches as they are quite small this year for some reason so we are hoping this equates to top drawer quality.  Another aspect of the vines growth this year is the relationship of the vines with the soil types that vary through the individual blocks – in previous years the growth was more dominant in the gravels and lesser in the sandy clay, whereas this year the vines are very similar in cane lengths and bunch counts, again a feature of a maturing vineyard.

200712_Cab Franc 04_resized.JPG

Cabernet Franc - smaller bunches this vintage

A baby is born…


And on this occasion we are not talking about Jesus but rather the birth of Sophie Ai Lucinda Markwell, to Tim and Yuko who are joint owners in our vineyard.  Born at St Vincents and Mercy Private Hospital in Melbourne on the 19 December 2007 and weighing a hefty 9lb 2oz, she is the first born to the Markwell household.  Both Yuko and Sophie are back at home now and doing extremely well, and Gail and I look forward to seeing the latest addition to our greater family during 2008.


Sophie Ai Lucinda Markwell

When to put a cork in it…


Over the past three years there has been a quiet but resolute revolution to screw cap seals for bottled wine in Australia.  The trend is such that it is predicted that within 5 years that over 80% of all bottled wine will be sealed with a screw cap for both red and white wines.  However, now that many companies have jumped on to the band wagon of screw caps there has been a “corkiste” back lash and it is becoming recognised that cork has aspects of its seal that are advantageous to the consumer and there may be a trend away from screw caps for some product lines.  But let’s just take one step back and ask why did we change from the romance of cork in the first place?


One word, variability.  A winery tenderly makes a wonderful wine, bottled it after 2 years and posts it off to the consumer who has been waiting patiently.  The consumer pulls out the cork and finds that it is either magnificent, corked (affected by a taint) and/or oxidized through leakage.  Historically the consumers would take this on the chin, claim bad luck or whatever BUT consumers became savvy and they started sending the bottles back asking for refunds.  Some wineries kept good faith and posted off new replacements, others did not and these wineries were flogged in open wine forums and beaten into meeting the consumer’s expectation.  So where to for the winery?  They know that up to 10% of their wine may be corked or oxidised and they can not raise the cost of the wine to accommodate these potential losses as their product is very price sensitive, they have no real claim against the cork manufacturers (though none really tested this avenue with much persistence), and worst of all, if a consumer drinks an “off” bottle not knowing the problem and assumes all the wine is as bad as the one they just had and tells all their friends about this “ghastly” bottle they had last night etc.  Is it therefore worth the heartburn of continuing with the romance of cork with all these problems facing you?  Well many, if not most, have gone and said no and that is fair enough as screw caps have proven capabilities of storing wines in the best form for ageing in a taint free environment.


We here at Blue Poles are one of these screw cap devotees and it is because of the reasons mentioned above, but here is the rub, maybe cork is best for our wine.  Wineries who have bottled wines in both cork and screw cap have noted that the cork bottles were much easier to drink and approachable young when bottled in cork, and as most people buy, open and drink a bottle of wine on the same day this is of importance if you want people to like your wine and to buy it again.  The problem with screw caps is that there is no chance that the wine will “soften” quickly due to the fixed environment it is in such that any sulphur used to protect the wine or unresolved tannins and oak in the wine, will take time to settle and show what the winemaker saw before bottling – cork can let the wine mature a little quicker due to the method of emplacement and the nature of cork itself.  So here’s the rub, if we wanted the consumer to open and drink our 2006 Merlot / Cabernet Franc today then we would have needed to have used a cork to seal the wine – a screw cap simply would not let this “bigger” wine time to settle into itself.


Our great expectations for all of our wines are that they are great expressions of our vineyard and the variety, and they will AGE so as to gain complexity and interest for the wine drinker who cellars his wine.  Screw capped wines are the most likely to age the most consistently and we demand that of all our wines.  However, we recognise many will buy a bottle and drink it straight away, then it is up to us to not release the wine until it has resolved itself in the bottle such that those who drink the bottle immediately will still really enjoy it.  This means the release of the 2006 Merlot / Cabernet Franc, now called “Allouran”, will not be for a few months at least as this wine is finding its feet still.  Many wineries may also be forced to go down this path if they have used screw caps for all their wines, and release dates for some wines may be 3-4 years after vintage especially if they are particularly tough and tannic wines.


Be assured that if you are fortunate enough to have a few bottles of Blue Poles 2005 Merlot / Cabernet Franc or 2007 Viognier and you feel the need to have a glass of revitalising wine these both of these wines are drinking very very well right now.  And even better they will continue to do so for a few years to come if cellared well due to their screw cap seals – so cheers!


December weather lottery...


A month of two halves is the best way to describe December in the Margaret River region.  The month started off with very cool weather, even some frontal weather and “sheep farmers” were alerted to get animals out of the weather as very cold winds blew in from the south.  Then it cleared over a week and then started to heat up, and heat up, and heat up some more reaching a peak of ~40°C on Boxing Day – blimey it was hot.  The last week of the month has however been pleasant after the high maximums over Christmas and the vines are thriving with clear sunny skies keeping them clean and green.


The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:

December 2007:     

Avg Maximum Temp          23.6°C

Daily Max recorded            39.3°C


Avg Minimum Temp           12.0°C               

Daily Min recorded               8.0°C


Rainfall:                               27.4mm

The 2007 maximum temperature average was lower than last years due to the cool start to the month, but the minimum temperatures were quite similar indicating generally fine nights over most of the month for both years.  Rainfall is a little bit more in 2007 than 2006 but the rainfall was very light and is considered still quite low as no major rain events came through the region.

December 2006:      

Avg Maximum Temp          25.3°C

Daily Max recorded            35.2°C

Avg Minimum Temp           11.5°C

Daily Min recorded               6.7°C


Rainfall:                             9.8mm

The comparison with Sonoma Valley continues with the data from the month of June (northern hemisphere’s equivalent to December), 2007, is presented below:

June 2007:      

Avg Maximum Temp          27.6°C

Daily Max recorded            36.7°C

Avg Minimum Temp             7.6°C

Daily Min recorded               3.3°C


Rainfall:                                0.0mm

The weather at the start of summer in the Sonoma Valley has now begun to really hot up with daily maximums getting quite high in comparison to Margaret River.  The minimum temperatures however are still much lower than Margaret River minimums, and this must be the relationship of the mountainous regions to the east and the cool valley fogs in the Napa / Sonoma regions.  Rainfall is nil so pressures from mildews you would assume to be quite low.



Bring on 2008…


Well 2007 has gone like a blur with all the activities of the vineyard and the building of our house as well as losing Tim and Yuko to Melbourne; it has been a frightfully busy year.  The month of January is busy as we prepare for vintage as well as complete the passes through the vineyard to ensure even ripening through all our varieties. 


We here at Blue Poles hope you have all had a successful 2007 and are looking forward to an even better 2008. 

All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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