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Monthly Report - April 2009

Time to take stock …


Our wines have provided us with steady improvement and some stellar moments over the past 5 years that we have been making them.  Each vintage has provided a window into our site and style and we feel there is a thread that is leading us to even better times.  But with this steady improvement and obtaining some excellent results there was always going to be some speed humps along the way.


We have a simple philosophy at Blue Poles.  All of our wines are to be of such a standard that when anyone who appreciates fine wine opens a bottle, they will be satisfied with what they are drinking.  The wines are to have character, a sense of place, be made in the vineyard and not in the laboratory, and that they are comparable to each other over time.  Now to meet these criteria it means we have to have quality, flavoursome grapes from the vineyard, each and every year, and if you locate a vineyard in an area which has a micro-climate that will ensure vintage variation this may not always be possible.


2009 vintage for us was one of those years where we have reached wonderful highs and frustrating lows, as it was a year where our whites are superlative and our reds basically failed to meet our standards excepting the Teroldego.  Having variable vintages is not unusual; it is the hallmark of many of the great wine regions of the world (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône etc), so for us we had to make a decision early on with regards to the quality of this vintage and with that decision most of the red wines have been sacrificed for the first time since our inception as they would not have met the high standards that we have set.

200904_Teroldego Ferment Cap.jpg

Photo of Teroldego ferment cap

Our decision to sacrifice most of our red wines of this vintage revolves around our understanding of the vines and grapes and how the critical components of grape ripeness and vine growth interact.  I will cover some aspects of our location and varietal mix so as to give you a feeling for the way we have developed this vineyard, and how all this affected the resultant 2009 vintage.


Our vineyard site was selected by me for two specific reasons:


  1. The soils were gravel rich and in some areas overlay Fe-rich clays, and in others coarse quartz sands to depth.

  2. The site was in one of the cooler spots of the Margaret River region, being inland and receiving the sea breeze almost 2  hours before other vineyards closer to the coast due to a quirk in the topography of the region.


Knowing therefore that we will not get the heat load of other areas, grape varieties were planted to match not just the soil profiles but also the climatic conditions.  Hence we do not have any Cabernet Sauvignon on our site as it would require a slightly higher heat load than I would expect even in the warmer vintages, and a few other varieties were discounted due to the windy conditions that could be expected during flowering etc.


This vintage proved to be one which made life extremely difficult as there were issues with the timing of the vines growth versus the respective grapes progress at all stages of the season.  A very dry August brought our vines forward and we had a very early budburst in September due to this premature drying and warming of the soil. September and October were too wet but were warm months; however they were followed by a very cool November that destroyed any hope of a great red wine vintage for us as we were unable to get on the front foot with these grapes from this point on.  With early budburst and a disrupted and drawn out flowering for the red varieties in windy cool November, we underwent veraison very very late, but the vines had been growing for much longer than usual – such that though the red grapes looked healthy enough, the vines growth cycle was well in front of the fruit’s ripeness.  January, February and March were good average growing months and nice and dry, and these bought the white grapes in for us in excellent condition, but we had run out of ripening time for our reds and this meant the vines by the lovely warm month of April this year had stopped worrying about the grapes and were more interested in stocking up for next season and growing some roots.


We had hoped that the Shiraz would provide us with a solid wine, but with the variably fruit set this year did not produce a wine considered good enough for a Blue Poles label.  Our Merlot and Cabernet Franc were never likely to recover from the cool November blast, which was very frustrating as we had wonderful fruit flavours come in for both of these varieties well in advance of the grapes being fully ripe and the skins and tannins being fully resolved. 


The Teroldego was the red wine exception, with its homeland in the alpine valleys of north east Italy possibly helping it out, the fruit reached 13.9 beaumé with slightly higher acids than we were used to but flavours that were rich and redolent – now let us see how it settles into its new French oak over the coming year.


Our Viognier is another exciting story, with the flowering completed in October; this variety has sparkled like a diamond this year with the most developed and complex flavors we have encountered from this grape to date. 


I indicated in the title that we were to take time to take stock, and this is essential in any business that relies on the seasons as well as the production of fine produce.  And unfortunately for my greying hair, vintage variation is the key in making fine wine – without this knife edge of climatic variables you cannot obtain the flavors and depth of character required in the making of truly great wine.  The 2007 and 2008 vintages were a pair of vintages that were truly marvellous for our specific site and from these vintage we will produce an excellent series of wines.


The 2007 Blue Poles Reserve Merlot (released 11 May 2009) has received the following tasting note from the well respected wine critic Campbell Mattinson @ :


“This is released next month and if you have any bent for classically-styled merlot, you’d be doing well to grab yourself some of this.


Great to smell, great to drink, great to contemplate what it’s going to become. It has concentration of mulberried, blackberried flavour but really that’s not its game. Its ‘thing’ is structure, a minerally strut of tannin, tobacco-like edges and perfect form in the mouth. It drinks well the minute you open it, and even better a day later. There are some eucalypt-y notes and various, subtle, complexing notes - but there’s no need to list or count them. The wine is, simply, excellent. I don’t even like merlot but I’ll be buying some of this.”


Rated : 94 Points 


The process of making our wine is a combination of so many factors, and so many variables that at times it is a little mind-boggling.  But we are dedicated to the want making great wine, and then to make more.  With a vintage like the one that has just been, you become a little bit dejected and then you taste the Viognier and Teroldego and you think, that is fantastic – and away you go again.


While we at Blue Poles may have had a varied season, this may not be the case throughout the Margaret River region.  I have heard stories of some fantastic whites and reds from all over, and I recommend to all buyers of Margaret River 09’s, come down here and try them as there will be some absolute beauties from sites that were warmer, protected from the windy period in November, and just simply plain old lucky.

200904_Abi in Vineyard - April 2009 (2).

Abi on the bike

A glorious month ...


For a month that usually heralds the “break of season”, with cold winds and fronts bringing rain to the capes of Western Australia – 2009 provided us with one of the most glorious months of weather I think we have ever encountered.  Lovely crisp mornings with often lifting fogs, cleared to blue skies and moderate temperatures on nearly each and every day.  Even picking grapes was a pleasant experience, with no worried upward glances and furrowed brows.  For many vineyards, this series of lovely warm days would have helped finish off their vintage to a tee.


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

April 2009:     

Avg Maximum Temp          23.6°C

Daily Max recorded            31.1°C


Avg Minimum Temp           10.5°C               

Daily Min recorded               4.0°C


Rainfall:                               2.8mm

Last year I indicated “No Indians this summer” as it belted with rain and cooled very quickly, well the Indians were back this year! The 2009 maximum temperature average is much higher in comparison to last years, though the minimum temperature average is identical for both years.  Basically no rainfall was recorded this year, yet in 2008 there was nearly 100mm.

April 2008:      

Avg Maximum Temp          21.3°C

Daily Max recorded            28.9°C

Avg Minimum Temp           10.5°C

Daily Min recorded               3.9°C


Rainfall:                              95.3mm


David Lloyd of Eldridge in the Mornington Peninsula has sent through a summary of his vintage with all of his grapes picked in April – Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc were down by 30% and 50% respectively, but the good news was that the Chardonnay and Gamay Beaujolais were up 7% and 20% respectively.  Anyone who has had the opportunity to taste any of Eldridge’s wines would know that the Chardonnay and Beaujolais are worth walking over hot coals for, and there is never enough for all.  Quality does not appear to be an issue, and all that David was concerned about was a hacking cough – here is hoping that it has cleared up for our visit to Mornington and David and Wendy’s lovely estate in a few days time!


Prof gave a quick update with tonnages of all varieties slightly down on their average tonnage (7.3 tonnes per hectare for 2009 versus the average of 7.5 tonnes per hectare average).  Quality does not appear to be an issue in 2009 with Prof very bullish about the wines being made from this vintage.  It appears from the outside looking in; by having such old well set vines, it appears to protect them from any minor detrimental climatic conditions at Majella.  Prof also mentioned that vintage finished 4 hours before it started to rain, excellent timing team!


Here are the weather values for both sites:


Coonawarra April 2009:      

Avg Maximum Temp          21.1°C

Daily Max recorded            33.5°C

Avg Minimum Temp             7.6°C

Daily Min recorded               0.6°C


Rainfall:                              55.2mm

Mornington April 2009    

Avg Maximum Temp          20.0°C

Daily Max recorded            31.4°C

Avg Minimum Temp           10.1°C

Daily Min recorded               3.0°C


Rainfall:                              90.0mm


Both sites have cooled down even further from the March maximums and both also have picked up a bit of rain during the month – though the bulk of the rainfall has fallen at the end of the month, post vintage in both cases of Majella and Eldridge Estate.  The month appears to have been in two halves in both regions with quite warm temperatures initially (averaging 23-24°C), before cool weather took over with many days below 18°C in the latter half of the month.  I am sure both David and the Prof are more than happy to have this vintage to bed, suffering frosts and heat waves before the vintage evened out – I personally would like to thank the pair of them for providing me with the detail of their season.  Thanks guys.


A new season awaits …


At the end of vintage you tend to look around and wonder why you were so busy … well you just are!  Now the picking buckets have been stacked away, Dave at Vasse River is finishing off some touches on our two wines this year; Gail and I are going to take a quick break in Melbourne visiting friends and wineries, and recharge.  When we get back there will be a thousand and one jobs to do, and we would have no excuses to not do them.


Of course for all of you lucky mailing list subscribers, our 2007 Reserve Merlot will be released on 11 May and the wine is terrific. Rave reviews and a smile on my lips every time I check on the wine ensures anyone who manages to get a hold of this wine will be drinking one of the best Merlots produced in Australia (… and we will happily compare to any wine, the wine is very very good).

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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