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Monthly Report - January 2008

The changing colours…


The month ends at Blue Poles with all the red grape varieties starting their “veraison”, which is a term which describes the changing of colour of the vine’s berries.  This is a marker in the growing season as we can now begin to estimate picking dates and volumes as the fruit becomes more obvious to the eye as they swell and change into the deepest black reds and purples.  Just checking through my growth diary from 2007 I note that veraison was a bit more advanced for all red varieties that year, so I expect vintage this year to be a week or two later.  The whites of course set their own path and they are now starting to swell and fill out, but as with the reds I would expect them to be a week or two later than last years season, and this can be explained by the cooler start to December which slowed the progress of all the vines this vintage.

200801_Cab Franc2 Veraison 0108.JPG

Cabernet Franc in Veraison

Work amongst the vines has been one of nip and tuck as we set the vines up within their wires to extract the sunlight without burning the fruit.  So by carefully removing spare leaves and laterals around the fruiting zone on the east side of the rows, the amount of air within the canopy increases and the sunlight comes through on to the fruit as a dappled light from mid-day on.  The weather numbers to date have indicated for January a warm growing season as in 2007 so I am following much of what we did last year so as to try to replicate the results we have now in barrel.  Other tasks completed has been the slashing of the vineyard so as to make the place look tidy, but more importantly keep all the mid row growth out of the nets that we will be putting out in February; also a further spray has gone out and some further maintenance on the irrigation system was required due to an electrical fault.


At the moment I am very happy with how the vintage is panning out.  Tonnage I expect to be about the same as last year for our Merlot and Cabernet Franc, higher for the Viognier, and the Shiraz is looking extremely promising and we hope to get our first commercial vintage of this varietal in 2008.  Obviously there are still plenty of risks to the season, and the most problematic will be any major rainfall event over the next 4-8 weeks, thus from this point on we start looking to the north of this huge state of ours to see if any cyclones are forming in the Timor Sea and then tracking them to their final destination (which we all hope for is the middle of the Indian Ocean).


Label Drinking and Why it is Bad for You…


I say this with tongue in cheek of course, but during a wine tasting held in Perth and the wonderful Dave and Jen’s house I was sitting next to the ever correct Carl and he made mention of a tasting he had attended where the sole objective was to drink as many “name” wines as possible.  All other wines not considered “significant” at that particular tasting were promptly passed over to some following Burgundy or Bordeaux.  This particularly interested me as we use highly regarded wines as “markers” or “pointers” with regards to our wine's quality and direction, but those wines are not the be all and end all of fine wine drinking.  To be quite honest a young expensive Bordeaux is not great drinking for many “normal” drinkers out there, but for experienced tasters and industry folk like ourselves it is like a master-class where you can fine tune your palate to acid balance, level of fruit extraction, fineness of tannins and use of oak.


Thus when a group of general friends or acquaintances sit down for a meal, to have bottle after bottle of this complex and often “lean” old world wine, it in fact loses much of the fun of wine.  Personally I really enjoy all types of wine and having a brilliant no-name wine from the Cahors or Mount Barker is as exciting at times as having a classed growth from the most expensive vineyards in Europe – and the reason is simple, they both tasted excellent.  As much effort is put into many wines of the world as is seen in some very expensive wines and to uncover these potential gems is something a wine lover can do in the most delicious way.  For a world traveller rolling up to Margaret River there is a huge choice of wines that he could taste in the many cellar doors throughout the region that would not be available to him anywhere else – sipping and spitting his way through these no-name wines may be an experience he or she would remember for years and bringing back some bottles to share with friends in the future shows the thought and effort they will share on the evening.


Small wine tasting events during my life led me to developing a vineyard with my friends and family – none involved a Chateau Latour or a bottle of Domaine Romaneé Conti, but they involved people who grew grapes and made wine.  Two specific people stick in my mind.  Old Mr. Collard from Collard wines in Henderson, Auckland NZ, where he spent most of an afternoon with me going through his wines, showing me the vineyard behind the shed and discussing why Chardonnay grows so well in the area, and then taking me through his barrel shed and putting taste after taste in front of me – KNOWING full well that I was a miserable poor university student and will end up buying just 2 bottles to salve my conscience.  The other was Maureen Wright from Wright Wines (now Juniper Estate), who introduced me to the world of winemaking and tasting groups that opened my mind to the potential of growing grapes well and then letting something magnificent come out of it.  Drinking the best wines in the world is a wonderful experience, but to meet passionate and generous folk who share a common love, now that’s life changing!



Parched is the word...


The skies have been blue and clouds can be seen skitting across the skyline to the south and east, but no relevant rainfall has been recorded in January.  With this mini drought, the temperatures are higher this month and this has led to the drying out of the vineyard from the top to the bottom.


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

January 2008:     

Avg Maximum Temp          26.2°C

Daily Max recorded            33.1°C


Avg Minimum Temp           14.2°C               

Daily Min recorded               8.0°C


Rainfall:                               0.2mm

The 2008 maximum temperature average was higher than last years due to the clear blue skies, but the minimum temperatures were quite similar indicating generally fine nights over most of the month for both years.  Rainfall is a lot more in 2007 than 2008 but the rainfall for last season still could be considered very light at less than an old “inch”.

January 2007:      

Avg Maximum Temp          25.1°C

Daily Max recorded            35.6°C

Avg Minimum Temp           14.5°C

Daily Min recorded               5.4°C


Rainfall:                              0.0mm


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

July 2007:      

Avg Maximum Temp          28.7°C

Daily Max recorded            37.8°C

Avg Minimum Temp           10.0°C

Daily Min recorded               8.0°C


Rainfall:                              0.0mm


The weather in the Sonoma Valley is now very hot with daily maximums much higher when in comparison to our site in Margaret River (the equivalent in Western Australia to these temperatures is the Swan Valley near Perth).  The minimum temperatures however continue to be much lower than Margaret River minimums – and this is where the comparison to Perth ends (the average minimum in the Swan Valley is about 17-18°C), and provides the Sonoma Valley with the opportunity to let their grapes ripen into the later months of Summer and early Autumn which is considered critical for the production of much of the fine wine around the world.  Rainfall is again nil and I would be assuming here that some irrigation will be undertaken for specific sites or younger vines – should check this up as vines would be very stressed in the heat load seen here..



Steady as she goes…


It is a waiting game now, the last of the sprays will go out in the first week of February and then it will just be a matter of fine tuning the vines to ensure the best use of the sunlight and water (that we sparingly use).  This month will also be the move of my family to the vineyard as our house is nearing completion and the final touches are being applied – this will make a huge difference to us and has been long looked forward to.


All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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