Monthly Report - May 2009
A sense of the absolute …
During vintage you always seem slightly out of control. The weather, the vines, the grapes all seem to conspire together to make things difficult to follow and lead one down many paths of worry and frustration. May however is one of those months that feels more grounded, like having a wandering two year old confined to a chair, and you can settle down to planning your winter’s works and cleaning up the mess left behind by a growing season. It is also a month where you can take a few days off and not fret about sprays, picking dates, grape quality etc etc – so that is what we did.
The start of the month involved a week in Melbourne where my wife and I managed to visit a couple of wine regions, have lovely wines with lovely friends, eat like kings and queens in the heart of Australia’s foodie culture, walk the centre of an old historic town, and spend time with our joint owners and their lovely daughter. As a Captain Cook devotee, Melbourne does have one unusual bit of Cook paraphernalia, the cottage in which he was raised and it was transported brick by brick to Melbourne – well that was one spot I had to visit.
Photo of Cook’s cottage – Fitzroy Gardens, central Melbourne
Of course it was not all beer and skittles as we did release our 2007 Reserve Merlot and do the rounds promoting our wine, as well as discuss all the detail that Tim and I do best over a table with lots of paper, a computer and a decent red. For a week’s break it was pretty full-on but the chance to put the vineyard and our ambitions in perspective was of high importance – bring on the next 12 months!
Last year in the May 2008 monthly report I completed a full tasting run through all our wines in barrel – this has yet to be completed this year and I will report back in June on how all the various components of all our wines are looking as well as give you a heads up on the exciting new wines we are currently adding into the portfolio. We have completed a new label for the Viognier so as to make the new bottling of the 2009 Viognier (by the way this is a sensational wine, every bit as good as the 2007 and in many ways better) very swish and keeping the wine looking as good as it is tasting.
Work in the vineyard has been a series of tasks that are long winded but very important as we approach pruning which overtakes every other task. All of the vines received a bit of lime to keep the soil pH in check, all the weeds were sprayed out, and the Cabernet Franc received an extra dose of organic fertiliser to get it up and running for next year that little bit quicker. Also within the Cabernet Franc we have started a trial of wood-chip mulch under-vine for a couple of the rows. The use of mulch is common for many vineyards, but predominantly either a compost or a loose cover like straw is used (in fact we used straw for the Merlot and Cabernet Franc when we first developed the vineyard back in 2001), but in both cases the mulch breaks down quite quickly and fails to aid in water retention and nutrient supply after 2-3 years (though admittedly the soil has been enriched). The use of wood-chips should provide a more hardy mulch, and if nutrients are kept up to the vines in the form of foliar sprays and organic slow release fertilisers it could help the vines find a more balanced growth path than the current case. The source of our wood-chips is, of all people, the local power company, as they have moved the power lines running along the front of our estate much closer to the front trees than recommended and as such have to trim and mulch regularly – not good for them but possibly good for our vines.
Photo of the new mulch under the Cabernet Franc vines
This month I am going to briefly touch on an area of fine wine that is rarely discussed, confused with wine components like tannin, acid, flavors etc, and one that I am obsessed with – the “structure” of wine. This area of wine analysis falls into the category of wine mumbo jumbo at times and ends up looking like a discussion on what constitutes beauty – hardly a good starting point, but it is perhaps the one aspect that differentiates good wine from great wine. The structure of wine is like the foundations of the house, it needs to be a solid from which to build up your ornamental flavors and aromas as well as support the heavy weight of tannins, alcohol and acid and ensure that they are balanced. No wine can age without structure, as it ensures the wine keeps its shape through time, and if the structure is weak or lacking the wine becomes a caricature and undrinkable.
Briefly, the structure of the wine is a sum of the components that form the strength of the wine, which generates its weight and balance, and allows the individual components of the wine to shine as the wine ages and develops.
Structure cannot be added like tannins, acid or even sugar (alcohol), it is either there or it is not. Thus I believe it is a component that can only be found in the vineyard, and can only be assured when the grapes are picked from a site that ultimately suits the variety. It could be therefore considered the backbone of “terroir” – but that term discusses a specific site, smell or place, structure maybe found in any wine if the grower and winemaker have made a wine that has accommodated the location and vintage.
I believe that Blue Poles wine has a solid structure, giving us the opportunity to make fine wine with a sense of place and style. If I received a dollar for every time that someone tastes our wine and says “it tastes European”, I would be very rich, but also it would highlight that our wines are not dominated by single points of interest, but rather the complexity of all the wine’s components which many tasters find hard to describe and can only relate to the European wines of their past.
Many, many Australian wines simply lack structure and as such lack interest to me. Now the rub is that many of these wines do very well within the show and retail circuits and appear to represent what Australia wine is. My view is that it is a bit like comparing fast food to a gourmet meal, the fast food may taste fine but it has no character or soul – and with a wine industry that happily jumps onto bandwagons and cash profits for the short term, many wines are now simply fast food. While the show system and the “lacking” retail trade continues to support poorly “constructed” wines then our reputation as a fine wine nation will be severely tarnished and the reputation of the industry will end up riding on the coat tails of a few iconic wines that have not had to change their wines to accommodate fashion. While we are not yet “iconic”, we have a model that is driven by making structural wines that will compete with the best in the world for complexity, flavour and balance. If you would like to “test” our wines please purchase our “Right Bank” tasting pack and have a look for yourself – these wines are not simple, fruit driven, tannin added, and shapeless, they are wines of interest and complexity built around a solid “structure” – and they will make that next roast lamb you cook taste just superb!
Break of Season ...
Well we went from a dry, dusty vineyard to one bursting with life on 21 May at 8am. Up until that point we had continued April’s glorious weather with clear days and cool nights, without even the hint of serious rain, then as predicted the skies turned black and we had our first soaking rains and it continued for 3 days. It now feels like a new vineyard with green coming through like felt underlying everywhere.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 21.7°C
Daily Max recorded 27.1°C
Avg Minimum Temp 6.7°C
Daily Min recorded 1.5°C
The clear cool mornings and the warm sun filled days at the start of the month provides the contrast between this year and last. The 2009 maximum temperature average is much higher in comparison to last years, and the minimum temperature average is much lower. The wet rainy, cloudy May in 2008 kept the temperature range much more constrained in comparison to the 2009 weather. The rainfall totals are not too far apart, but it is interesting to note that there was only 7 days of rain in 2009 and only 8 days without rain in 2008.
Avg Maximum Temp 20.0°C
Daily Max recorded 23.7°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.7°C
Daily Min recorded 6.1°C
Pruning begins …
June traditionally is the start of pruning at Blue Poles, but this month I will commence pruning a little later so as to give the vines every chance to suck back to their roots and get the water table up a bet so as to make the canes that little bit more flexible. Funnily enough I do enjoy pruning, even now as I am walking around digging out the rogue blackberry that just will not leave me alone, I am looking at the vines with an eye to where I will be placing my cuts – I blame my Zen pruning master Mark Evans for inspiring me in this regard. There is also lots still to do around the house as we set up the last of our lawns, I hopefully finish the dry stone wall and build a further fence for the orchard, as well as set out a few more garden beds. It will be a busy month and the amount of work I have in front of me in little old remote Osmington should keep me out of the way of any swine flu epidemic!
Take care everyone, and if you have any queries do not hesitate to contact us either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or www.twitter.com/bluepoles and we will do our very best to answer any question.
Blue Poles Vineyard