Monthly Report - June 2009
Entrapped in Osmington …
It feels like it has been raining non-stop for the month as I start to write this missive whilst looking out over wet vines and steel grey skies. With the start of pruning and the weather forcing you inside more often than not, you begin to feel like you have not been anywhere or seen anyone for months as the daily routine becomes all pervasive. I know this to be not the case, with lots happening this month, but with the shortened days and the never ending length of vines stretching out in front of me it sort of feels a bit “groundhog day “ –ish.
Pruning has commenced and the raincoat and over-pants have had a fair bit of use. I have changed the order of the pruning around this year to account for the state of some of the varieties at the end of May, as well as to sort out some questions in my head about the effect of pruning timing to budburst dates – a correlation that some vignerons swear by and others dismiss as old wives' tales. Our biggest block of vines is the Merlot block, so this year I started there due to the early shut down of those vines and the inference that early pruning gives a bit more wood growth. I finished these vines a few days ago and the pruning was quick due to the amount of clearing out completed during the growing season. Also completed this month was the Marsanne which was a days work, and I have cut down the bud count on this variety to see if I can open the canopy up a bit more and raise the fruit quality which has been lacking for a couple of years. I have just started the Cabernet Franc, and there is less than a weeks work before I crack on to the Shiraz, Teroldego and finally the Viognier – all to be completed by the end of July if I can keep the enthusiasm up!
2009 Blue Poles Viognier with new label design
Once you complete a few seasons in a vineyard you begin to see the connectivity of many of the vineyard jobs and the effect on fruit quality and vine growth. One of the most important tasks I am seeing with regards to our vineyards health is the clearing out of excess growth during late spring – the job is as slow as pruning but the effect is dramatic with regards to opening up the canopy, reducing and concentrating the crop, balancing the vine, and aiding in the pruning post vintage. I can not see how a vineyard could not do this task if they are chasing premium wine, but it is not common in Margaret River, with many vineyards choosing instead to “hedge” their vines and fruit drop closer to vintage. I consider both hedging and the dropping of fruit as poor viticultural practice as both have made the vine work to its maximum for little return into the final grapes. This may be contentious as there are many vines that can easily handle this, and they can do this because they are fed up with either high inputs from the grower or are in a high vigour setting. Low input to the vines on low vigour soils are generally where the better wine is sourced and these areas do not have the capacity for such management.
2008 Barrel Tastings
I have had an opportunity to go through the 2008 barrels with our winemaker Dave Johnson and have taken some notes for you to peruse, as you may not be seeing these wines for 9-15 months!
2008 Merlot: A lovely black-red which is really shining at the moment. The overall impression is that the 08 Merlot barrels were much more even than the 07 barrels and many were equivalent to the best of that year, and none were lesser. The nose was very concentrated with plum, chocolate and spice being common descriptors. None were overly “fruity” with all having an underlying strength and weight that shows the wines are maturing with the vines. The palate was dense and weightier than the 07 at the same age and leads one to the conclusion that the ‘personality' of this variety is becoming more pronounced and serious – some barrels had just fantastic length and others just fantastic mouth feel with the balance pitch perfect. A total of 6 barrels were set aside for a Reserve and I think this wine will be the equivalent of our well regarded 07.
2008 Cabernet Franc: Well here is a turn up for the books. Though the colour is deep and brooding the nose of this wine is the most delicate of fruits, violets and allspice. Expecting the roll of tannins and aching wood to emerge on the palate, this simply was not the case with the wine being rich and fruit driven with its length of blackcurrant and oak. The least austere Cabernet Franc we have made I can say – this has me a bit confused, but when combined with the Merlot all becomes clear and this combined wine just sings its own tune yet again. I do not know how it happens but these two grape varieties are simply made for one another – ahh, the French, they know a thing or two.
2008 Shiraz: A nice deep raspberry plum colour which is bright and inviting. The nose is of raspberry and “strawberries and cream” with a hint of spicy oak – pretty and floral could also describe it. The palate is nicely balanced and the fruit goes through the length – tannins stick out a touch but the wine is in its infancy and they will tame nicely in the coming months. I see hints of many shiraz wines that I enjoy in this wine and it keeps me intrigued as it moved in the glass … a wine for those into classic shiraz.
Our 2009 Viognier was bottled on the morning of 29 June, and we hope to have this wine available a little later in the year as it settles into the bottle. We have introduced a new label for this wine as we thought the old label was a bit plain, so we have updated it and we think it looks pretty spiffy. The quality of this wine is also a step up on our original bottling so it is quite exciting to see the style of our wine continuing to emerge as well as the quality being maintained through the years.
Of Historical interest…
One of the interesting parts of owning a vineyard and producing your own wine is where this leads you with regards to meeting people. A salesman for our audio and visual systems in the house also enjoys wine (as we all do), and he contacted me to present some wines for an '1805' dinner to be held on behalf of the University of Western Australia’s History Department later in the year. Well I am obliged to chase out some facts about the year and where French wines were being sold and drunk, so as to ensure that our wines were at least made during the period. Some little points of interest for those of you with a historical bent:
Thomas Jefferson was the most common Google hit as good old TJ was the most anal of all record keepers ever and the staff at Monticello have put his every note on the web. TJ toured France on a wine odyssey and he visited most of the famous wine regions in the late 18th Century. In 1805 he purchased a large consignment of 'sparkling nebbiollo' from Italy and thought it of 'high caliber'. Now, if you know the nebbiollo grape, this wine would have been a sparkling RED wine as the juice most definitely would have been red when pressed off skins. I simply had no idea that large volumes of sparkling wines were being made outside of France let alone exported.
The Spanish missionaries planted European (ie vitus vinifera) grapes in the Sonoma Valley in 1805. The vine was called the “mission” grape and was referred to as “criulla”, and even the Spanish monks thought the wine made was pretty ordinary.
1805 was during the period of Napoleon who was in the middle of rampaging around Europe on many fronts. Britain of course was at war with France so the wines imported into Britain were predominantly Port from Portugal (good old Wellington was in Portugal creating wall of defence after wall of defence so as to halt the French advance at a later time). Note that dry red wines from Portugal and Spain did not appear in large volumes until after the phylloxera outbreak in France during the 1860’s.
The Bordeaux region of France was doing a roaring trade with the Dutch and the Belgian during the period, and their favourite tipples were in fact the Merlot dominant areas of Pomerol and St-Emilion. The wealth from the Dutch East India Co. spilled over into many areas and the copious consumption of fine wine was one of them by the looks.
The Rhône River was a major distributor of wine and produce from the upper reaches in Burgundy and Beaujolais as well as the lower regions in the Rhône valley where Shiraz and Viognier were commonly grown. Significant trade with the coastal cities in the Mediterranean meant that they were drinking French Burgundies and Rhône wine as far away as Lebanon and Egypt.
In 1801 the French Minister for the Interior Jean-Antoine Chaptal wrote the “Chaptal Treatise” which was aimed solely at improving the quality of French wines. The main recommendation was the addition of sugar to ferments so as to raise alcohol and stabilize the wine. To this day the practice of adding sugar to the wine must is referred to as “chaptalization” and though you can add sugar you can not add acid to balance a wine in France. If only Jean-Antoine was aware of the advantage of using tartaric acid in 1801, maybe the laws would be different today.
As the famous English Historian Arnold Toynbee(1852-1883) so aptly put:
“Anyone who know his history … must surely know his wines.”
When it rains, it pours ...
It has to date been a very dry year, with no significant rainfall occurring until late May, but this June has more than made up for this slow start to the year with 28 rain days in the 30 day month. With all this rain the groundwater levels are now full with water running out of damp spots within the block, the dam is approaching over flow again, and that would be in only a few more days, and the water tanks are full meaning hot baths after a day’s pruning. With the continuing rain it has meant a lot of cloud cover keeping the minimums higher than average, and it has been extremely windy with the local roads having tree branches regularly blocking the way after the passing of each weather front.
The numbers for the month and last years figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 17.0°C
Daily Max recorded 22.5°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.2°C
Daily Min recorded 4.6°C
It has been a wet and cool month. The 2009 maximum temperature average is much lower in comparison to last years, and the minimum temperature average is higher. The wet rainy, cloudy June this year has kept the temperature range much more constrained in comparison to the 2008 weather. The rainfall totals are very different with this been the wettest June for Osmington for over a decade (329.2mm in June 1998).
Avg Maximum Temp 17.9°C
Daily Max recorded 20.8°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.7°C
Daily Min recorded 2.7°C
Cut, cut, snip, snip, tie …
The title is the sounds to be heard every day in July if the weather does not drive me away from the vines. Pruning during July is all encompassing, with only the pleasure of watching the Tour de France rolling through the glorious French countryside to keep me distracted. I always hope to finish the pruning in July, but this has never quite eventuated so this year could be the first time. For those who live in Perth, Western Australia keep the 25 July open as we are running a promotional tasting at the Re Store in Leederville all afternoon – drop on in and try the whole range and have a chat, we would love to meet you all.
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 www.twitter.com/bluepoles and we’ll do our very best to answer any question.
Blue Poles Vineyard