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Monthly Report - September 2008

A re-awakening…


September slowly shakes the vines from their slumber (though some have been prodded by the very dry August), and the vineyard now has most varieties nearing bud burst.  It really is a quiet month amongst the vines, which is well needed as we have a lot of work to complete around our new garden, so we have been busy building stone walls, seeding and developing lawns, planting trees, setting out gardens, and other such like activities.  A few jobs were completed amongst the vines such as another weeding under vines (as the spring-like conditions have made weeds even more active) and the mulching of all of our midrows, thus cleaning up the pruning cuttings.


A fair bit of planning has gone into our spray program this year to ensure the fruit is all nice and clean and free of mildews which are a bit of a menace down here in Margaret River.  Powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis are our regular problems, with the added problem of weevils during a short spell in late spring.  We have been attempting to minimise our sprays as much as possible so as to not add unnecessary chemicals into the vineyard, and this continues, but we do need to be very vigilant and consistent.  With this in mind I had hoped to get our first protectant spray out at the end of this month but the weather had other ideas and blew and blew, not to mention the rain – so it will have to be early October if the weather breaks into some nice clear still days (like August!).  The good thing about spraying is that you get to see every row in the vineyard, so you can pick up areas not doing so well (or conversely jumping on), and this gives you the chance to plan ahead for the coming weeks.

200809_Jackson the Blue Poles dog amongs

'Jackson' the Blue Poles dog amongst the Merlot

The implication of being “ripe”…


One of the interesting aspects of being involved in the wine game is that there is no such thing as a universal constant.  You could say that great vineyards produce great wines, but that can be so easily undone by the weather or poor management.  You could say that great winemakers make great wine, but alas without great fruit they too would be only slightly better than everyone else. 


One of the great contentious issues that we all know the answer to but no-one can spell it out clearly, is when is a grape “ripe”?


We as an industry have had a lot of discussion about this exact issue, and there have been a number of workshops on the topic to try to get a more consistent approach in the hope of raising the overall standard of wine in Australia – but I would argue that we are now being requested by the theory of “physiological” ripeness to pick too late and this is as bad in my eyes as picking to early. 


  • The picking of a grape before it is “ripe”, especially for red varieties, is that you get terrible astringent green characters (think cut grass, tomato stalk), high thin acids (and if the wine maker takes those out, hollow flavorless wine), and no fruit flavors dominating the nose and palate.  No-one is keen to make a wine with the above descriptors, but the other extreme can be as bad. 

  • The picking of grapes when they are “too ripe” leads to porty, jammy hot aromas which invariable leads to a thick palate that has little balance (and if the winemaker adds the acid back in then think of a palate as components and not melded), and high alcohols that distract from the pleasure of drinking more than a glass of it.


Interestingly enough there are wines specifically made to be as “jam” packed as possible and often are referred to as the Australian style, big brutish Barossan Shiraz leap to mind.  On rare occasion I find one of these wines enjoyable, but when made with the 'more is better maxim', often I leave the glass alone.  In Margaret River we can not match these wines in style, BUT much of the understanding of the issue of “ripeness” has come out of this work, and we are being asked to follow.  The guidelines for a grape being ripe usually involve the following field tests;


  1. The pips in the grape are completely brown (no greenness), and when chewed they have a dry granita biscuit, crunchy texture.

  2. The skins of the grapes are collapsing, and shrivel can be noted at the stem in many of the individual grapes.

  3. The bunch stem is brown and woody in texture.


I am afraid to say that if I was to base my picking of fruit on these 3 field tests we would never get a vintage as the grapes never get totally to this point in the field.  In hotter areas of Australia you can get there BUT your sugar levels are generally very high if the vines have kept on working and the acid levels are very low.  What we do at Blue Poles is a combination of many tests, but with regards to the physiological tests described above we try to achieve most of the first two points, with constant checking of the pH and total acid levels.  By getting the acid and TA levels similar to the final wine levels, the amount of manipulation of the wine in the winery is basically wound down to an extremely low level – what you pick is what you drink.


Not all “green” flavors are bad, but rather too much is bad – I will explain it in the sense of great Bordeaux wines are often described to have tobacco leaf, or cigar smoke type aromas.  The aromas are hedonistic and just waft over all those lovely blackcurrant and plum fruits as well as support vanilla oak – they are “green” flavours but at the final end of the spectrum, too much would be off putting, but a touch is sensational. 


We have just bottled our first reserve wine for Blue Poles ('2007 Blue Poles Reserve Merlot'), and within the 2007 vintage we may have picked the grapes when they were “ripe” in the best sense – it has glorious flavors from the full spectrum, it is rich and delicious, and is complex with a length that finds you wondering when you had your last sip.  That day when the grapes were picked and processed was completed at our perfect point in time – here is hoping in 2009 we can pick our grapes again when they are truly “ripe”.


Wine list winner …


Well done to John D of Canberra for sending in an excellent wine list that made me salivate at the thought of having a few glasses.  Though not putting in a Blue Poles wine (and having a bit of a Canberra bias!), I’m sure the restaurant would have come to its sense and quickly made space for our lovely wine!  Here’s the list that was entered:


  • Gilberts Riesling (Great Southern, WA)

  • Ravensworth Marsanne (Canberra, ACT)

  • Ashbrook Semillon (Margaret River, WA)

  • Cape Mentelle “Walcliffe” Sauvignon Blanc Semillon (Margaret River, WA)

  • Valminor Albarhino (Rian Biaxas, ESP)

  • Anger Pinot Grigio (Alto Aldige, ITA)

  • Scarborough White Label Chardonnay (Hunter Valley, NSW)

  • Brookland Valley Chardonnay (Margaret River, WA)


  • Eldridge Estate Gamay (Mornington Peninsula, VIC)

  • Turkey Flat Rose (Barossa Valley, SA)


  • Spring Vale Pinot Noir  (Tasmania)

  • Ravensworth Sangiovese (Canberra, ACT)

  • Luis Pato Joao Pato Touriga Nacional (Bairrada, POR)

  • Remondo “La Montesa” (Rioja, ESP)

  • Marius “Simpatico” Shiraz (McLaren Vale, SA)

  • Clonakilla “Hilltops” Shiraz (Canberra, ACT)

  • Minot Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River, WA)

  • Majella Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra, SA)


What impresses me with the list is the counterpoint styles with many of the known varieties, the chardonnays are of a leaner (Scarborough) versus fatter (Brookland Valley) styles, and it could be said the same is done with the Shiraz and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  Super list John and your wine is winging it all the way the capital.


Funny old month...


The weather at the start of the month was very similar to much of August, dry and clear, in fact during the first 10 days we had 1.9mm of rain.  It was getting a bit dire and at the polling station during the state election we had a chance to catch up with most of the neighbourhood and they were a worried bunch of cockies.  But the weather finally did come back and for the last 20 days of the month there were only 5 without some rain and the grass in the surrounding farms paddocks have bolted with the moisture and the changing season.


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

September 2008:     

Avg Maximum Temp          17.5°C

Daily Max recorded            20.7°C


Avg Minimum Temp             8.5°C               

Daily Min recorded               2.2°C


Rainfall:                               88.5mm

The 2008 maximum temperature average were similar to last years, but the minimum temperatures were a little lower due to the fine nights at the start of the month for this month.  Rainfall is a lot more in 2007 than 2008 and this came after a very dry May and June in 2007, we have gone the opposite with a drier August and September after a wet start to the season.

September 2007:      

Avg Maximum Temp          17.4°C

Daily Max recorded            21.0°C

Avg Minimum Temp           10.0°C

Daily Min recorded               4.9°C


Rainfall:                             188.4mm

After much thought and a couple of glasses of decent red, I have decided to not go abroad in the search for vintage comparisons (you may remember the comparisons of the 2007 vintage to Bordeaux, and last years to Sonoma Valley in California) – but rather do the comparison of Margaret River to the best sites for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, in my humble opinion, ie Coonawarra and Mornington Peninsula.  Below are the September weather figures for both sites:

Coonawarra September 2008:      

Avg Maximum Temp          17.5°C

Daily Max recorded            25.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp             5.2°C

Daily Min recorded               1.9°C


Rainfall:                              50.2mm

Mornington September 2008:     

Avg Maximum Temp          17.5°C

Daily Max recorded            25.7°C

Avg Minimum Temp             7.6°C

Daily Min recorded               2.2°C


Rainfall:                              31.0mm

Well will you look at these average maximum temperatures, all within 0.1°C of each other, and we are pretty well spread over this huge country of ours.  The minimums are colder in both sites than Margaret River, but the rainfall is dramatically lower.  Looking at the data you can definitely see a more “continental” setting for both of these regions, even though they are quite near the ocean.  I am looking forward to see how this progresses and I will contact a couple of wineries to get their spin on the weather as well. 


Let’s get busy…


We have had our vineyard “holiday” one could say for the past 6 weeks, it is now time to crack on and get back into the swing of walking through the vines in continuous rounds of wire dropping and lifting, cleaning the excess growth of the vines, spraying the vines and general care in all areas.  Bring it on, and here is hoping the weather is kind and we can replicate our success to date.

All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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