Monthly Report - September 2009
Expect the unexpected …
Well the last week of August was just lovely, some light rain but the vineyard was drying out and with this change of season in came the mulcher and it dealt with all the pruning canes and cleaned up the mid rows. A couple of lovely dry days at the start of the month also meant all the under-vine spraying was completed and much of the odd jobs were completed before I headed off to Melbourne and Sydney to do some promotion of our wines. As I left I said to Gail “keep a track of the rainfall, I don’t expect much” – how insanely wrong was I! Every time I rang home from the warmer climes of the eastern states it was a tale of heavy rain and driving winds nearly every day in the Margaret River region. It almost made me feel guilty as I had a lovely round of golf in Sydney (82 off the stick if you don’t mind!), and getting a touch sun burnt while walking around Manly Beach - almost.
The vineyard has had a quiet month with all the odd jobs pretty much tidied up as we now head into the growing season. All the wires were fixed and put down awaiting another year of growth, weeds under vine were dealt with, and sprayers etc serviced and ready to go. So with this all tidied up at home I had a fortnight mid-month in Melbourne and Sydney where 2 dinners were held and a number of clients met as well as new clients made. Having to talk to large groups of people about our wines and vineyard is quite easy in the sense of knowing all aspects of what we are doing and how we are trying to improve – but some of the questions always stop me in my tracks and make me think again.
During the presentations the name of the vineyard “Blue Poles” was always a cause of discussion, as many assume there is a wine link to the painting (well Jackson Pollock sure knew how to drink, but that may not count), but we named our vineyard to highlight the metaphorical connection of a changing of the guard in Australian art, being replicated by our wines on the Australian wine scene (or so we hope).
Another question that got me wondering was, why our Merlot and Merlot blends tasted so different, and in fact had more in common with Bordeaux wines than other Australian Merlots (including Margaret River Merlots) – and to be honest I am not so sure myself. I could argue along the lines of all the care we take in the vineyard, picking when the grapes are perfectly ripe, reducing tonnages to a bare minimum, and all the other details – but it does not answer the question as we are still in Margaret River, Australia and our wine should have some similarities. It is best answered therefore as simply, that is the way it is, with our site providing this point source of difference I am more than happy to be making, promoting and drinking such interesting wines.
I had some wonderful meals and I really must pay tribute to Chris at Moretons of Carlton, and Stuart at fix st james in Sydney CBD for putting on two truly magnificent meals that matched our Blue Poles wines superbly. As for matches made in heaven, Chris’s “coquille st jacques” with the 2009 Viognier was sensational as was Stuart’s “lamb, pecorino and olive rigatoni” with the Allourans – both food matches were sublime. We cannot speak too highly of both the restaurants and you owe it to yourself to have a meal in either if you are able. Wine critic Winsor Dobbin also popped in to meet with me at fix st james to go through our range. An irresistible photo opportunity.
Winsor Dobbin - fix st james Sydney
Wine Shows and the death of interesting wine…
Anyone who is a regular reader of my reports is aware of my concerns with the wine show system in Australia. The past two November monthly reports gave a rundown of my impressions of the Margaret River wine show that we enter a couple of bottles in. We do not do this in the expectation of winning anything (heaven forbid that a wine other than a cabernet or chardonnay took away the gong in Margaret River!), but rather the ability to taste our way though the regions' wines and reference where everyone is heading and the overall quality of wines produced each vintage.
But, in all honesty the concept and continual promotion of wine shows and their winners is a futile and pointless exercise. In fact I can say without fear, the whole system has passed its use by date and provides nothing to the consumer except the chance to peel off some gold stickers on some random bottles. Now this is not sour grapes due to our lack of show success (we do not enter in any, bar the local Margaret River show and we have no expectation there at all – crikey our famous Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc is forced to compete against Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Grenache, Graciano, Nebbiolo , Sangiovese, Mouvedre, etc and blends of all the above! How enlightening for the tasting panel.), but a view which has come from being in the industry and now looking out at the consumers.
Wine shows were developed to help improve the “breed” and wine experts were brought into wine growing regions to help the local, often unqualified, winemakers with expert tasting knowledge and wine making expertise. Concerns such as under / over ripeness in comparison to “best examples” could be proffered, and when wine making faults such as over sulfuring and “brett” became too prevalent, this could be highlighted as well. But move forward to today, who in the business is not aware of the world of wine and the faults associated with wine? Each region has so many qualified wine makers, many of the wine judges tend NOT to be winemakers but retailers or members of the press! So what does the unqualified with self-proclaimed palates bring to the table?
Well a load of tosh really, they highlight trends and fashions that are “opportunities” (remember the Pinot Gris fad... those were the days), and with their 4th Estate ownership we are meant to dive over the cliff lemming style. As for the other judges, it is like a big crush of winemaking buddies who are either in the merry-go-round of wine shows or doing their very best to “crack” into the wine show circuit – in effect we the owners are sponsoring the back slapping and clasped elbow handshakes of the wine maker’s fraternity.
Now, you would think with all this high level of “expertise” rolling around the country snuffling through hundreds of wines and attending all their dinners with their bottles of rocking horse poo, that there would be a consistency, standard, uniformity, evenness, and constancy with the wine show results? Well they are the best the industry has to offer apparently (judging by the standards they set themselves), but still are they at all consistent?
In fact the whole system is such a lucky dip that most wineries who believe that the gold medal stickers on the front of their bottle is the reason for making wine may enter 10-20 shows on the off chance that they will do well SOMEWHERE. What a joke it has all become, wines from Yarra in the Mt Barker shows, wines from Margaret River in the Cowra show – and yes there is every chance they will pick up a gold medal in one or two shows, and with pride they will get the stickers ordered. Mission Accomplished. Also many shows are now so directly linked to marketing spin that it is impossible to believe some of the hype that is generated, and it also questions the representative nature of the wine samples submitted – almost too much to lose.
So let us run through some major points before we get to the crux of the discussion – “the death of interesting wine”
Wine show results are not consistent
There is no consistency in the judges and their methods
Many well known wine labels do not enter in wine shows for fear of poor results (refer to the 2 points above)
Wine shows as a source of advice to wine making communities is historic and not relevant today
Wines can be “doctored” to ensure a greater chance on the tasting table lottery
So how are wine shows the death of interesting wines? Well it is simply the way wines are judged and the fact that wine makers are very aware of what wines do well in this circus and consciously (or possibly sub-consciously), are making wines for this setting. The big four ticks required for a wine in a wine show are:
Clear as a bell, with the deeper or brighter the colour the better
Must be VERY aromatic from the get go. No use having it open up 3hrs after the tasting panel has been through.
It must be rounded and big, no harsh acids or tannins or anything out of the ordinary (regardless of age). Long length not necessary.
Varietal, varietal, varietal – any wines that confuse the judges are bad wines.
If you meet these criteria you have every chance of picking up a gold medal somewhere. But are they at all interesting wine? Are they wines that show where they come from? Are they wines with character and complexity? Are they wines you want to drink every day? Not a chance, but these wines are touted as the best wines in Australia. So for decades the wine industry has gone down this path of making more and more uniform wines – throw in new tools like new chemical additions, micro ox and various fining techniques - and voila you have a nation of consistent wines that rarely excite the knowledgeable wine drinkers out there (especially in our export markets – see last month’s monthly report for further detail).
The multiplier effect is the presence of retailers and media personalities, who are often linked with wine shows and they promote the winners heavily. Thus you have wine makers wanting to be part of the circuit, retailers and critics who want to use the circuit and you have often blind chance providing the results – with the only way of putting the odds in your favour is to meet the varietal guidelines. Throw in a heavy dose of self appointed regional classification and ego from all participants and you therefore have a simple path forward to the death of interesting wine in Australia.
And after all of this … well we will be entering a couple of bottles in the Margaret River Wine show just for the hell of it. It means nothing at all, BUT Gail and I get a morning off listening to some erroneous waffle and tasting through 100’s of bottles (note to self, ensure Gail practices some wine spitting or get her to wear sandals), and we get a chance to catch up with friends from around the district.
It is a funny business the wine game, having a product that can be praised or damned on the back of simple opinion is difficult at times for me to understand coming from a science background – but our desire to make great wine is not dented and you can be assured Blue Poles wines compares well with other examples of the styles from around the world and are delicious to drink. So next time you see a bottle covered in gold medal stickers, think to yourself what was the point?
Weather for ducks...
Well it looked like everything was going along swimmingly, a couple of dry clear days in between some rain fronts and then I headed off to Melbourne and Sydney. From this point on it was just wet and windy with an embedded hail fall or two thrown in for good measure on the last two days of the month.
Abi on the bike
In fact it has been the wettest September since 1931 in Rosa Brook, and they had an almost identical 217mm for the month (it would have been tough as many were still in pretty poor housing as part of the Settlement schemes). Review of the data also indicates that 2009 is the coldest September since records were kept as well.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 15.9°C
Daily Max recorded 20.5°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.8°C
Daily Min recorded 2.2°C
It has been an extremely cool month, with the Average Maximum for the first month of spring colder than any winter month this year, and it was also significantly cooler than 2008. The much higher rainfall in 2009 has meant the average minimum temperatures were not very low, but the south - southwesterly winds bringing in much of this rainfall did depress the maximums.
Avg Maximum Temp 17.5°C
Daily Max recorded 20.7°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.5°C
Daily Min recorded 2.2°C
Walking the walk …
October is a great month, green grass covers the surrounding paddocks, the weather warms up and we all get to attend the Busselton agricultural show – an institution for the locals. Also October is the month where all the thinning out of all the excess growth starts and this means many hours of walking and clearing out all the “doubles” and unfruitful growth along the cordon – we may do this 2-3 times during the season and we believe it is a critical component of making quality wine. A few more functions with our wine present are also on the go, and I had better get use to talking about our wines as more wine lovers are finding out about us. Also my spray program begins and that means some very early starts so as to get in before the breeze picks up – and I am not too good before 4am so it is tough for me!
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