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Monthly Report - January 2009

Green quilts on the hills…


While the south of Western Australia drops into a long summer with total fire bans and air conditioned nights, the vines around Margaret River confound the scene with their bright green colours setting off the brown paddocks and dull green of the local Marri forests.  When you work amongst the vines for a while, you begin to note the shades of green for each of the varieties, and in our vines the colours are quite distinct with the Viognier being a lime green, Cabernet Franc being a dark olive green, Shiraz a pale green and more subtle variants for the rest.  Thus driving around you can quickly note how someone’s Chardonnay or Cabernet is going while traveling at 80kph – a handy skill but at times it does mean you wander across the road while being nosey, much to my wife’s annoyance.


The month amongst our vines has been pretty productive, with the whole vineyard now wire lifted, slashed, thinned and all the spraying up to date.  This was able to be completed with the help of my wife (and occasional child), but more importantly by having family stay over and them looking after the meals and reading all the books … giving me a free run at the vineyard which now looks a treat. 


With the family being here we did manage to get out and about and one of the trips took us to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse at the southern tip of the Margaret River wine region.  As usual for Cape Leeuwin, it was blowing a gale, which can’t be unusual as you then notice that all the trees and shrubs have a distinctive lean to the left due to the continuing southerlies.  Our label and wines incorporate many aspects of the first French sighting of Western Australia at Cape Leeuwin by the “Gros Ventre” a French royal navy ship.  The captain was named Allouran, and an island has been named after him in Flinders Bay, and this can be seen from the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse.  My daughter Abi and my mother are having a look across the bay in the attached photo, and looking in the direction of the island which is a bit windswept as you can imagine.

200901_Cape Leeuwin 0901.jpg

The spoils of thinning foliage

Once the final wire has been lifted and the final plant thinned it becomes a waiting game – and this year it may be a long waiting game.


Veraison, the changing of colour of the grapes from green to red, is an important marker with relation to the picking dates of the red grapes.  In the 2007 vintage, Merlot was through veraison by mid-January, in 2008 it was a fortnight later and completed by late January, for 2009 … we are still waiting.  This puts picking of Merlot for us, at best late March, at worst mid-April – and with Cabernet Franc and Shiraz picked even later we are looking at a vintage that resembles 2006.  The weather going forward over the next 3 months is critical, we ca not afford to have an early break in the season as we may not be able to get our late varieties fully ripe and that would be a shocker for us, as each year the vines produce wine clues that help us with our journey.  It also means that I have 2 months of plotting every cyclone in the north (hoping they leave the south of our large state alone), and cursing the lack of heat in late March … who wants to be a vigneron then?



Steady as she goes...


A month in which the temperatures have been pretty consistent (only one hot day for the month of January), we watch with dismay at the extreme temperatures affecting the vineyards of South Australia and Victoria.  There is one trick that the vines do complete when the temperatures are extreme, they shut down and preserve their water and nutrients, but this does mean that the plant stops growing (and ripening), while this extreme weather occurs, which may in fact delay vintage rather than bring it forward.  Any way back to Margaret River, no extremes here and our minimums have been quite warm so it has been a good month for growing vines.


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

January 2009:     

Avg Maximum Temp          26.7°C

Daily Max recorded            37.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp           14.5°C               

Daily Min recorded               8.1°C


Rainfall:                               2.4mm

The 2009 maximum temperature average is similar (though a tad warmer) in comparison to last years, as is the minimum temperature average.  Both months effectively had no rainfall and this has dried out all parts of the vineyard and leaving it quite dusty.

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


I contacted both David at Eldridge in the Mornington and Prof from the Coonawarra early on in the month to check how they were going, and both said everything was going very well.  One week later they have both gone through a patch of 3-4 days in excess of 40°C and this would have caused a bit of consternation but both vineyards for differing reasons should come out of this quite well and we will attempt to confirm that next month.  Here are the weather values for both sites:


Coonawarra January 2009:      

Avg Maximum Temp          28.7°C

Daily Max recorded            44.5°C

Avg Minimum Temp           10.1°C

Daily Min recorded               2.6°C


Rainfall:                              2.4mm

Mornington January 2009    

Avg Maximum Temp          25.5°C

Daily Max recorded            44.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp           11.5°C

Daily Min recorded               5.2°C


Rainfall:                              2.2mm


Maxima and minima from both sites are higher than expected due to the period of hot weather in the past week, though I am continually surprised by the capacity of both regions to have such low minimums recorded in one of the hottest months of the year in Australia.  After the deluge in December, both sites have had next to no rainfall since and this will be of great aid in reducing moulds and other pests within the canopies of the vines.

More summer sun…


We are now approaching the pointy end of the season, so a further spray is to go out, then out with the nets, and then a matter of keeping fingers and toes crossed that the grapes ripen evenly and fully.  This year has been a good one amongst the vines so we have to hope that all the work and attention to detail pays off in another great set of wines.

As always if you have any queries about what’s been written or about wine in general, do not hesitate to contact us either by email or and we’ll do our very best to answer any question.





Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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