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Monthly Report - November 2008

Everyone has a story to tell…


A feature of this time of year is the heightened level of “gossip” that folk in the wine industry down here in Margaret River suddenly find themselves indulging in.  Every time you drop into town, or the country supply agencies, everyone has a story to tell.  The current story around town is the “plague” of downy mildew that is hitting vineyards all over the country side – with this “disastrous” news I started checking again through the rows to make sure that we were not infected (of which we are not – but it does get you nervous).  Other gossip revolves around wine shows and award winners – who made what and where was it sourced is the usual game of verbal tag – as well as the weather and its continuing erratic behaviour (and all that entails).  I guess the obvious reason for such wagging tongues is the nervousness of the approaching vintage with flowering either starting or near completion, grapes hanging on the vines are not too far away, and that brings its own pressure to bear.


The month for us has been very busy with the clearing out of the surplus growth along the cordon, the lifting of wires for the first wire lift, the spraying for mildews and the spraying out of weeds under vine.  All these jobs, even with all our best intentions, are continuing and we should have the vineyard brought into line by Christmas – just in time for a “feet up” and snooze by the beach for a day or two.  No irrigation water has been used to date due to the continuing on again, off again, rainfall – never enough to cause major hassles, but insistent enough make you worry (hence the downy mildew stories), and reduce your capacity to get sprays out when you want.  Talking to our new next door viticulturist, issues of mineral deficiencies are starting to affect their vines, and it means that we may need to have a good review of our plant’s “health” status next year to ensure the vines continue to produce excellent wine.


This month has also been one of travelling about in my other role as a geologist, with friend Mark Evans giving a helping hand.  One of these trips was to a remote area of Western Australia completing some primary geological field mapping, and if you want to be in an area less regimented than a vineyard, the outback of Australia is a good place to start.  Time away in these weird and wonderful environments makes you very much aware of how dramatic the landscapes of WA can be.

200811_Mark Evans in a field of everlast

Mark Evans in a field of everlastings - Ennuin, WA 

Margaret River Wine Show…


The annual wine show for the region was completed at the end of November and threw up the usual level of contentious issues and debate.  The point of these wine shows is becoming more and more debatable (I rambled on last year about the same issues) – but what has started to bug me now is the way in which the show is judged.


Now I am not going the competency of the judges, I am sure they are all very fine judges of wine in their own right.  I am more worried about what they consider advice to our industry, and this is often seen in comments at the end of each judged class.  I will give some examples below:


Class 4:  Blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon 2008:  “Lots of well made wines, with plenty of fruit but probably disappointing as we had expected some great wines from the vintage.  Some sweaty notes which do not help.  This should not be the class for surplus ‘other’ varieties”


There are a few points which come out straight away, why were they expecting great wines from 2008 vintage and where to the surplus ‘other’ varieties come into this class?  The SSB as it is known in Margaret River is a staple, it can not really become a classic wine as it is for generally drinking early (hence a class of 2008 wines only), but it is a very enjoyable white from this region.  The making of a “great” wine from these two grapes is simply related to vintage as no-one will be reducing crop dramatically so as to get a “classic” wine.  If you did no-one will buy it and you would lose of your immediate income, as this wine sells itself at $15-$20.  What is the point of the comments then?


Class 11:  Other Red Blends & Varietals 2007 & 2006:  “A very mixed class, with many wines tough and overly tannic.  Top wine has good balance and drinkability.”


Now I am not sure what they are expecting here, but this class has over 12 varieties in varying percentages, with many of the Italian varieties difficult to taste blind often due to their tannins.  What are the wineries meant to do here?  Make a Nebbiolo less tannic?  The top wine was a nice middle weight wine from Cape Mentelle, but it was not as interesting as many of the other wines, once you knew the variety and how they have treated the grapes.  A tough class to judge I am sure, but silly comments like this just make you shake your head.  However I cannot complain too much as they awarded the 2007 Blue Poles 'Hopping Stone' Tempranillo a bronze medal and it came third in the class.


Not great but not bad...


With such a good start to the growing season, with a lovely warm and problem free October, November has put us all into a state of concern again.  Sixteen days of patchy rainfall and very windy weather has mucked about the flowering of many varieties and reduced the effectiveness of many sprays put out in the past month.  But it has not been too cold and when it has been warm there has been little to no humidity so much of the vineyard is finally drying out a bit and there have been no outbreaks of mildew within the vineyard to date.


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

November 2008:     

Avg Maximum Temp          20.0°C

Daily Max recorded            24.9°C


Avg Minimum Temp             9.8°C               

Daily Min recorded               6.6°C


Rainfall:                               48.7mm

The 2008 maximum temperature average is much cooler than last years, as is the minimum temperatures, and this has caused delays in the vineyard with regards to growth and flowering.  Rainfall is more in 2008 than 2007, and this has been one of the reasons for the cooler average temperatures, no blue skied hot days.

November 2007:      

Avg Maximum Temp          23.5°C

Daily Max recorded            35.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp           10.7°C

Daily Min recorded               5.0°C


Rainfall:                             14.4mm

This month both David Lloyd from Eldridge Estate and Prof Lynne have sent in some updates on their vintage to date and this should prove very enlightening.   Below are the November weather figures for both sites:

Coonawarra November 2008:      

Avg Maximum Temp          22.2°C

Daily Max recorded            35.3°C

Avg Minimum Temp             9.2°C

Daily Min recorded               3.8°C


Rainfall:                                22.2mm

Mornington November 2008:     

Avg Maximum Temp          20.9°C

Daily Max recorded            33.7°C

Avg Minimum Temp           10.9°C

Daily Min recorded               2.8°C


Rainfall:                              33.8mm

At this point in time you can throw a tea towel over the numbers with regards to the maximum and minimum temperatures noted in all three regions.  Both Coonawarra and Mornington still have the capacity to get quite chilly in the mornings and this is a feature of a slightly more continental setting – but this variability is quite negligible at this point in the season.  Rainfall continues to be quite low in both areas as well and I must remember to ask if either of our vignerons are irrigating currently.


Prof Lynne from Majella has reported that he is very happy with vintage to date with the term “good average year” being the descriptor used (… in 2007 they were hammered by frosts and this means large losses of fruit tonnes, so place an early order if you hope to get some of their excellent Cabernet from that vintage).  They have had a minor touch of frost and lost a few tonnes of Cabernet on the eastern portion of their estate this year, but he is indicating good tonnages expected still and they are under no disease pressure.  Looking good.


David from Eldridge reports that flowering is over half way through for his chardonnay, and started for the pinot.  Growth appears rampant as most varieties are now 20cm above the top wire, and he must be working pretty damn hard as he has completed three quarters of the shoot thinning, as well as keeping the winery work under control.  Mornington has infestations from a variety of insects with vine moths being a problem – a quick clean up with a systemic insecticide might be the go soon to keep this pesky pest out of the canopy.


Bring on the Christmas break…


Well there is still a fair bit of work to go, but we are very much looking forward to the Christmas break and a bit of relaxation down on the beach.  The vineyard will require further shoot thinning, spraying and wire lifting and this will keep me well in check for at least three weeks.  We do have family coming across from New Zealand (my wine mules, as they drag across some delicious wines from boutique producers for me which is greatly appreciated), and it will hopefully be a great time had by all.


So without further ado, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your families, from the team here at Blue Poles.

All the best everyone.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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