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Monthly Report - February 2009


Australia has been rocked by the most devastating bush fires in its history, with hundreds of people dying and 1000’s of homes lost.  The state of Victoria has been rocked to its core with small towns simply erased off the map by a maelstrom which like has never been seen before.  The tragedy and the loss is monstrous and we hope and pray that all those affected by the disaster are now in a safe place and able to contemplate the future without reliving the past.  To those in the profession of growing grapes and making wine that have been affected by this horror, we wish them all the very best and our deepest sympathies.


With the tragedy having occurred in Victoria, it seems a bit churlish to worry about our minor problems, but we must continue on and support their recovery as well as our own business. 


How we are going…


It is very easy to swing from hope to despair during the month of February.  You have managed to complete all the tasks in the vineyard that sets the fruit and what you hope to be their quality, and you are sitting back checking, checking, checking.  During this time the vines are basically left to finish the job themselves, sprays now are pretty much over so the sight of a minor amount of mildews is just the way it is, and ripening will go at its own pace, no matter how much you will it otherwise.  For myself this is as difficult a time as pruning or thinning, as having it out of your own hands can be very frustrating and leads one to go on a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. 


The vines this year are just simply … confused.  Veraison has been uneven for all the varieties and this means some areas are only a little late and others very late, within the same variety, same row, and even same vine!  We usually drop fruit that is secondary or too much for the plant to finish, this year we will be dropping primary fruit that just did not follow the rules and either set too late or set poorly – the first time for us and rather confusing.


Attending a viticulture conference in town for other growers in the region, this failure of the vines to set fruit evenly for the 2009 vintage has been seen throughout the region.  It has caused major headaches as much of our spray programs are based around certain growth stages, and when any variety could be at 2-3, or even 4 different growth stages at any one time, then spraying specific chemicals is problematic providing poor protection and becoming quite costly as many sprays are repeated, over and over.  With the added complication of a new pest (the looper caterpillar), and a windy period during flowering that may allow the harboring of botrytis spores in the damaged fruit – we have had one of those years where we will look back and say things like “Tough, you don’t know what tough is.  I remember the vintage of 2009 it had the lot …”


Anyway, back to the now!  Nets are out, but there has been an excellent flowering of the local Marri trees and this should keep bird pressure down.  Our Viognier is hanging in there with only a touch of botrytis showing up, but that can be avoided during our hand picking – looks like mid to late March for the picking of this variety.  The reds are in varying states of play, the shiraz is 80% through veraison (still!) and we will need to knock off the fruit that is just running too late, so mid April for this variety, merlot and cab franc are mostly through veraison but are even later than 2006, which was late.  So we are unsure on what quality of fruit we can expect.  As you can see we are continually monitoring and decisions on what is taken and what is not will be left to closer to the event – and we may need to be courageous with our choices.


Remembering the past…


This month was the 75th anniversary of the settler’s church in Osmington, the region that we live in.  A church service was held with the local Anglican bishop in charge of proceedings, and many of the local families, and original settlers’ families attended and then met for lunch at the local Rosa Brook Hall.  With the memories and reunions that are part of a function like this, it is interesting to note how our block came into being, and all the effort that made the district and community the place it is today.

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75th Anniversary the Settlers Church in Osmington


In the 1920’s the Western Australian Government advertised through Britain a Group Settlers Scheme, where settlers were sponsored out to Western Australia and given a block of land with an income to clear and develop the land.  Many of the folk that took up the group settlement scheme were city folk that wanted a new and better life, but unfortunately had no real idea of what was ahead of them.  Our block (Sussex Location 2291), was allocated to the Thorne family, and it was part of the group settlement 85 known as Osmington.  They developed the property over many years, and went through the depression years with little to no income, and unlike many others, held on to the property for the rest of their lives.  It was eventually sold to our neighbours Ken and Mary Lee in the 1980’s, who then subdivided it and sold it on to us in 2001.


Old Photo of Settlers Church in Osmington


The group settlement scheme was a tough initiation for many of the new arrivals, who were collectively known as “groupies”.  They came out to effectively virgin bush, with a minimum level of supplies and as a team had to develop accommodation for each family before the clearing of land could begin.  There was a foreman for each settlement and all worked together for the greater good.  Houses were built by teams of government builders later on in the scheme and this gave a floor and bedrooms to the groupies, what luxury!  Many of the wives upon arriving would not get down off the cart and insisted that they be taken back to civilization, those that stayed however were an incredibly resourceful bunch as well as mentally tough.


One of the famous local stories is that of Mrs Thorne arriving from Perth with a pram for her baby, great to have but unfortunately it could not be used as there was not so much as a track upon which she could push the pram along.  Many of the locals are still related to the settlers of the 1920’s and 1930’s with the names of Arthur, Williams, Darnell and Franklin still common throughout the area.  The Rosa Brook, Airdale and Osmington group settlement areas are still hidden treasures to the general population and long shall it continue.  We feel very fortunate to have been able to develop our vineyard in this region and we look forward to seeing the area grow but still keep its identity that has been fiercely protected by the “locals”.  Oh, and yes the local CWA ladies do make magnificent cakes for morning tea, as seen below.

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CWA ladies and one of their legendary morning teas

No dramas yet...


February is usually the hottest month of the year, this year January was warmer, but the average maximum and minimums were pretty much as expected.  We do not have much in the way of rain during the summer months, and though it rained for a couple of days at the end of February, the total rainfall is just over half an inch in the old currency and this has little effect on the vines ripening and health (though a few mildews do get a second chance for life which is problematic). 


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

February 2009:     

Avg Maximum Temp          26.5°C

Daily Max recorded            35.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp           14.4°C               

Daily Min recorded               6.8°C


Rainfall:                               14.7mm

The 2009 maximum temperature average is lower in comparison to last years, as is the minimum temperature average, though it should be noted that 2008 was one of the hottest February’s on record.  Both months effectively had little to no rainfall.

February 2008:      

Avg Maximum Temp          28.1°C

Daily Max recorded            36.0°C

Avg Minimum Temp           15.4°C

Daily Min recorded               9.0°C


Rainfall:                              6.0mm


I have managed to contact 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 believe that the vintage will be alright, though tonnages will be down.  David has the added concerns of bush fires located to the north of his estate and there is a danger of smoke taint if the fires are able to get closer and the smoke hung around the vines for a while – this is unlikely but we still wish him well.  Prof Lynne has come back with the belief that they will have a slightly lower yield expected for 2009, but the quality should be alright considering the blistering heat of the region – some cooler days into February may have helped both regions and saving the vintage from too much fruit damage.  Here are the weather values for both sites:

Coonawarra February 2009:      

Avg Maximum Temp          29.2°C

Daily Max recorded            38.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp          12.0°C

Daily Min recorded              2.6°C


Rainfall:                              0.2mm

Mornington February 2009    

Avg Maximum Temp          26.0°C

Daily Max recorded            45.8°C

Avg Minimum Temp           15.2°C

Daily Min recorded             10.5°C


Rainfall:                              4.6mm

Coonawarra has been warm on average and this will bring the grapes into vintage at a reasonable time frame, with the minimums quite cool on average protecting the flavor of the grapes.  Mornington had an extremely hot day on Saturday 7th with predominantly average temperatures (20 – 30°C), for the rest of the month, it should also be noted that the minimums for Mornington are much higher than expected for such a continental site (as seen in the previous weather data), and this may have an effect on the flavors for their predominantly planted pinots and chardonnays.  Both sites have had no rainfall to speak of during February.

Vintage begins…


That sounds hopeful doesn’t it!  We should be able to pick the Viognier this month and the reds will be a bit later on in April.  Lots of samples to be taken, and grapes to be tasted as we await the picking dates to be decided by our fickle nemesis, the weather.  We have gone through all sorts of issues with this vintage so some further surprises are expected, but hopefully they will all be surmountable and the first of the Blue Poles wine for 2009 will be safely fermenting by the next monthly report.

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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