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Monthly Report - August 2008

Oh fickle skies…


I had spent the best part of July dressed up in wet weather wear, each morning trudging out in the weather to prune the vines and invariably being rained on.  By the time I finished pruning we had had no rainfall for 14 days and the vineyard was drying out and the dam had stopped overflowing.  It really was bizarre and is starting to scare many of the Margaret River grape growers as the vineyards are now drying out at such a rate many of the early ripening varieties are going into budburst 4-6 weeks early.  We tend to have this problem with the Merlot variety as the vines are planted over gravel on our upper slopes and it dries out more quickly than other portions of the estate, and we have some vines in budburst. This is a real issue as if the weather gets cold and windy, as it is likely to do in September, we and others will lose all these shoots and the vine will re-set a little later and this means that the vine will not only be under more stress during the growing season, the grapes will not ripen for a further few weeks which pushes the whole vintage out into dangerous territory.

200808_August 08 Budburst - Merlot.JPG

Merlot in early budburst

We do have some options to keep the vines “calm” which involves irrigating the vineyard to keep the moisture levels up thus inhibiting budburst, but this is a last resort as once you start meddling you are on a bit of a slippery slope.  Our best option is to hope the season “recommences” and we have a wet and mild September and fingers crossed this will control what is going on out there amongst the vines.


Another task locked away for another year during the month after the pruning was the spraying out of the weeds under vine.  This is a slow job, but one that cleans up the estate before we mulch the midrows and get all the goodness put back into the ground.


Listless wine lists…


One of life’s little pleasures is going out for a nice meal, sitting down with the menu and the wine list and inching your way through the potential matches of great food and great wine.  This opportunity is however becoming more and more of a rarity as many restaurants have generated wines lists from the poorest of selections and without a care for the customers’ eye brows when charging 2 to 3 times retail on generic plonk.  How a customer expects to have their diners return to pay these extortionate mark-ups is beyond me, but what is even worse is that the choices of wine made are just sooo boring and predictable it is cringe worthy.


For such an important money making aspect of their business, many restaurants are simply unbelievably lazy.  Selections are often the combination of a couple of generic distributors wines (nb re-ordering becomes simplified to one of two numbers, let's not tax these poor busy folk), and to boot they get a level of wholesale discount that would make the average wine drinker green with envy , as they would be aware of the wines retail prices.  But are the punters getting what they deserve?  It seems that many diners simply order what they drink at home (safety first), or purchase a known brand or variety – restaurateurs do not want to have the hassle of having “educated” staff so they put together an uninspiring, grossly inflated collection of wines and label it a wine list.  Because of this “reinforcement behavioural loop” the greater proportion of ALL restaurants and cafes have managed to generate a wine list containing mainly dross.


So how do you break this loop?  Well there are many many ways of moving forward (having restaurants even thinking about the issue may be a start), but with out any prompting I have put together the “Blue Poles 4 Point Plan” that could revolutionise the industry, or at least make it bearable to attend dinner out….


Point 1:  Limit the Primary Wine List to 18 bottles


Why?  Because every one of those 18 bottles should be interesting, food friendly, unique, able to be known and tasted by all the staff, and it will make a statement about just how serious the restaurant is about its “avant garde” credentials.  The list must be reviewed every 4-6 months and wines bought in and out to match the seasons and the menu.


Point 2: Limit the supporting Wine List to 25 cellared and excellent wines


No-one wants to be given a book full of average plonk – I do not want to wade through this bunch of daggy wines that were not moved two years ago thus placed in this tome of mediocrity; size does not matter here folks.  But quality does, selected bottles that have been cellared or imported to meet specific requirements would be the highlight of any one wanting to experience a “special” bottle with a “special” meal is the sole goal of this list.


Point 3:  There should be no wines that are freely and cheaply available at the local franchise liquor store


Because it simply highlights what a great bunch of money pinching cheap skates you really are – in the perfect world there would be no Jacobs Creek, Rosemount, cheap Penfolds, Wolf Blass, etc etc on any half decent eatery anywhere on earth.  If I am in a restaurant to have fine food and wine, do I want to eat a McDonald’s hamburger?  Then why am I forced to drink the wine equivalent?


Point 4:  Of the 18 primary wines, at least 4 wines must be available by the glass and of varieties or regions that the average drinker would have had little experience


I can hear it now, screams of how can we make money, they will never buy it …. Tosh.  If you have selected quality wines that will go with quality food you will gain diners for life, rather than the current suffering bunch that wander aimlessly through the establishments.  If you could have a meal which started with a glass of Fiano, moved to a glass of La Grien, and finished with a glass of botryized Viognier – and they were great and went with the food, you win.  It means that you care and want to show how much effort you have put into the wine list that has historically gouged the diners without a care.


The lack of wine conviction of almost all restaurants that “claim” to be excellent is astounding.  We have eaten in many of the top establishments of Perth and other cities in Australia, and the absolute sameness and downright DULL composition of their wine lists continues to astound me.  Highly paid sommeliers recommend plain competent wine (with French examples occasionally touted are usually 10€ bargain bin wines in Europe, but they will happily sting you $50-80 with the aloofness thrown in for free).  They have no interest in seeking out interesting wines; “let the wine come to Mohammed” they say as they sit Buddha like peering over fawning wine rep’s.


The cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all wine world we see in almost all wine selections is an indictment on the restaurant industry in general.  My recommendations for all diners are that you go to BYO as much as possible so as to enjoy an interesting wine with a meal bought.  Even with licensed establishments, ring ahead and see if you can negotiate a corkage fee – as anything is better than been forced to witness the colour grey which dominates the wine list.


Competition - Win 3 bottles of unreleased 2006 Allouran


And here endeth the rant!  Just as an aside – I would be interested to see what you the readers think would be a great reasonably priced 18 bottle wine list from currently available wines.  Make it as for a trendy café and email your list to  The best list I will include in next months monthly report and I will forward out a dozen bottles of our soon to be released 2006 Allouran.  Good luck with it.



Another record broken...


Since the commencement of this monthly report nearly three years ago, we have encountered - hottest days on record, driest winters on record, and even coolest months on record, and now we have another one.  The driest August on record in the south west of Western Australia with a paltry 35mm of rain during the winter season has now been set.  It seems unbelievable that after so much rainfall during July, that the whole system of weather bringing rainfall to the state would simply stop and almost in effect bring in a summer pattern.  The temperature ranges were consistent with past years, which is a pleasant surprise.


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

August 2008:     

Avg Maximum Temp          17.3°C

Daily Max recorded            20.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp             5.3°C               

Daily Min recorded               0.7°C


Rainfall:                               35.0mm

The 2008 maximum temperature average was identical to last years, however the minimum was much cooler than last year due to the predominance of clear skies and crisp mornings.  Rainfall is minuscule in comparison to last year, and we have now gone from a position of greater rainfall for 2008 in comparison to 2007 by 110mm, to a position of lower rainfall by 60mm.

August 2007:      

Avg Maximum Temp          17.3°C

Daily Max recorded            19.8°C

Avg Minimum Temp             10.5°C

Daily Min recorded               5.7°C


Rainfall:                             209.5mm


Hoping for a wet month…


… if only to bring the vineyard back into some resemblance of order.  The month in front of us is one of the quieter months in the vineyards year, with further undervine spraying and possibly the first of the protectant sprays to inhibit mildews developing in the vineyard.  But otherwise the first month of spring is full of those jobs that are aesthetic as much as necessary (the roses are up for a good old pruning), and I may even try to finish the dry stone wall that I started.


All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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