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Monthly Report - May 2008

Almost a hush…


The vineyard has the feel of a sleeping giant about it, each morning when we look across the vines the canes become a bit more starker and the grass a bit more greener as we enter this period of recess.  It is a bit of an illusion of course as the vines are now recovering their energy from the season been, and are actively storing up their energy for next vintage in their root structure. 

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Jackson the vineyard dog

Usually while a vineyard is in recess, the winery is very busy with the completion of ferments, pressing and preparing barrels as well as getting the malolactic fermentation under way – something which we fortunately leave to our wine maker Sharna.  Fortunately for us Sharna could spare some time and taste with us our wines of the 2008 vintage, as well as the wines still in barrel from the 2007 vintage – a very enlightening event. 


Tasting notes from the wines are as follows…


2007 Merlot:  Ruby black in colour, with a deep crimson rim.  Lifted nose of plums, mulberry and fresh chervil, with a hint of chocolate.  Palate is full and with a restrained power that gives this wine great intensity and excellent balance.  Structural elements of oak, tannins and acid are the deep foundations to a rich wine that has very good plumy length.


2008 Merlot:  Black purple in colour with a youthful purple rim.  The fruit dominates this young wine with plums and fresh red cherry very forward.  The wine drinks very well with an acid brightness and smooth fine tannins that are hallmarks of Blue Poles merlot, length is very good.


2007 Cabernet Franc:  Black crimson in colour, with a deep scarlet rim.  The aromas are delicious with blackcurrant, dried cranberry, and a sweet flame grilled red capsicum supported by an all spice aromatic lift.  The palate is a hedonistic delight with the fruit richness having matched and melded into the oak and fine tannins, with the length being pure and fruit sweet and the most extended we have ever had.


2008 Cabernet Franc:  Black scarlet in colour with a youthful purple rim.  A rich young wine with tamarillo and mulberry leaping from the glass.  Extremely well balanced for a young wine with the tannins framing a delicious fruit rich palate – again the length is a stand out with fruit sweetness remaining on the back palate well after the wine was drunk.


2007 Tempranillo:  Black in colour with little sign of letting go of its youthful depth.  The nose was more restrained than in the past but there were tantalizing hints of plumy fruits, savoury notes and sweet French oak – and becoming more complex and indecipherable with each swirl.  The palate is full and in impeccable balance, sweet fruit sit along side fine tannins and bright acid giving into a fudge flavoured length.


2008 Shiraz:  It is underground dark, very very deep black in colour with only the thinnest of a purple rim.  The nose was difficult due to the stage the wine is at but amongst the brooding fruits raspberry and blackberry were most forward.  The palate has blockbuster printed on it as at this moment the super fine tannins are so full and redolent it was hard for the others to be heard.  Very good length and a cracker in the making, this wine will take no prisoners!


Overall I must admit to feeling very proud of the wines that we have coming through the winery.  All of the wines have excellent balance and lovely ripe tannins, which combined with distinct and complex fruit flavours we really do have a lot to look forward to.  A sneaky blend of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc from both vintages looks spectacular and keeps the tradition going!


“I am not drinking f****n Merlot!!!!” … Miles from the movie “Sideways”


This Napa Valley based movie that provided the often repeated line above, brought at the time a bit of a spotlight on the humble Merlot grape.  What really Miles was saying, as almost 90% of serious wine drinkers think, new world Merlot is most often a flabby, indistinct wine of little merit.  What has happened is that Merlot used in most of the new world vineyards is as a small percentage blend with Cabernet Sauvignon – the spread of Cab Merlot’s throughout every new world wine region is staggering and amusingly a little late on the scene.  ….


(An Aside :  Straight Cabernet Sauvignon was a staple wine in many Australian wineries until about the late 80’s when finally some bright spark realised that these tannic monsters were often not much fun to drink and had a hole in the middle palate as deep as Mammoth Cave – whack in 15% Merlot and hey ho you have a much more drinkable wine and more approachable when young.  Basically what Bordeaux has been doing for 200 years, and why we never picked this up earlier is a mystery to me).


…. But what happens when you use a variety as simply a filler to the main act?  Well you treat it pretty poorly as you are not really chasing pitch perfect fruit and tannins, you are just after the simple fact that this wine fills the middle palate and takes away the roughness of a Cabernet Sauvignon wine, thus “volume” is more important than quality. If any Merlot was in excess post blending, you could guarantee these singular varietal bottlings from many wineries were pretty average, thus besmirching the grapes character. 


I guess you must then ask us the question, “Why plant Merlot then, as it is only a bit player for Cab Sauv and makes pretty ordinary wine by itself?” … and this is where you find out the truth, Merlot is the most planted grape in the Bordeaux region and forms the majority of the blend for over 60% of ALL Bordeaux wine.


The strip where Cabernet Sauvignon is most suited is a thin strip of gravels that run from near the Bordeaux town site on the Gironde River, to the pine forests 5-10km short of the mouth of the river as it enters the Atlantic Ocean.  The Merlot grape is however better suited to clay rich soils, which predominate throughout the region up away from the flood plain.  By studying this information at the beginning of our grape growing journey and having a geological bent, it was easy enough for me to see just how well suited our site was for the grape as in the lower portion of our estate we have 1.2 metre thick Fe rich gravels overlying a variably graded kaolin clay, not unlike many areas of the most hallowed of Merlot growing areas Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, the choice was obvious.


Another key ingredient to making a fantastic Merlot is ensuring that all the “structural” components of the wine are in place.  With this comes issues as Merlot is a wine that lacks “steel” within the lineal line from front to back of the palate – the Bordelaise new this and planted Cabernet Franc with their Merlot to provide this strength to the palate and aromatics to the bouquet (they are very smart folk!).  Even the most celebrated Merlot in the entire world, Chateau Petrus, has 5% of their plantings in Cabernet Franc. 


We have planted our vineyard out in the classic ratio seen throughout the Saint-Emilion region of 2/3 Merlot and 1/3 Cabernet Franc, and to date we think it has been a great success with all our wines showing excellent character and complexity, but giving us some “terroir”, that sense of place, that once you know our wine you can find it amongst others due to the aroma combined and formed only from our estate.


Miles had a point, but this wasn’t the fault of the Merlot grape, it really came down to a lack of understanding and effort on the part of many wineries throughout the world.  By planting Merlot and Cabernet Franc as the classic ratio and treating these varieties with exceptional care we are seeing the rewards and our customers get a glimpse of what can be achieved with this humble, but all powerful pair of grapes. 


Miles finished the movie drinking his most precious wine in a fast food outlet from a polystyrene cup … if only it had dawned on him that over 30% of his precious grand vin was Merlot!



Good for grass...


Our neighbours are dairy farmers and we see them often and enjoy their company over tea and cake regularly.  But during hay making in October and November and seeding and fertilizing during April and May we see little of busy Gary.  This year when we finally did catch up with him he was beaming, all the paddocks are now seeded and fertilized and he has had one of the wettest and mildest May's he has had for a few years which means only one thing – grass.  For us in the vineyard it is a sleepy time as pruning sits around the corner, but it has been great to see the neighbours walking about with a bounce in their step.


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

May 2008:     

Avg Maximum Temp          20.0°C

Daily Max recorded            23.7°C


Avg Minimum Temp           10.7°C               

Daily Min recorded               6.1°C


Rainfall:                               149.4mm

The 2008 maximum temperature average was warmer, but the minimum average cooler providing confirmation of the mildness of the month.  Rainfall is significantly higher and we have had only 8 days without some rainfall, ensuring that the groundwater is being topped up by regular rainfall.

May 2007:      

Avg Maximum Temp          18.5°C

Daily Max recorded            23.3°C

Avg Minimum Temp           11.1°C

Daily Min recorded               4.2°C


Rainfall:                              56.4mm


Pruning begins…


Well my little rest from the vines is almost over, we typically start pruning in mid to late June, and this year will be no different with the Shiraz kicking off proceedings before we get onto the other varieties.  It is a job which I feel is undervalued by the industry at times as it sets the volume and canopy for the vineyard in the upcoming vintage.  One advantage this year above all others is that I can come home from the block and have a nice soak in our deep bath bought specifically for this purpose.


All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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