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Monthly Report - March 2010


2010 Vintage Begins …


Well what a year it has been, so much expectation with such a warm dry year and then all sorts of little issues to deal with associated with the vagaries of nature.  It was with great relief that we finally took the nets off the Viognier in mid-March to complete our first pick.


Like all aspects of Blue Poles wines, it was not simply a case of running over them with a machine in the night and squashing them dry in the morning, it was completed a little differently as we handpicked the vines in the evening.  We did this such that we could put the handpicked bunches into a cool store overnight and this gets a bit of activity between the skins and the juice, adding texture and flavour to the finished wine.  The Viognier is now completing its ferment in a series of oak barrels that have been hand selected to add to this wine and we have really high hopes that this vintage will build on the 2007 and 2009 wines which are both delicious drinks.


So as to ensure bills are paid and children are clothed I quickly scooted abroad to complete a review of a geological resource in the Philippines for 5 days.  I knew that the Merlot was a week away judging from all the tests I had been doing amongst the vines and the different growth stages for the vines this year, so all was “sort of” under control, but it did mean that when I returned it would be busy busy times to get these grapes in at the peak of condition.


Flying in at 6am on Monday 22 March, I quickly got through customs (they are truly excellent at Perth Airport), jumped into the truck and belted home down to Margaret River.  Arrived home in time to quickly get changed and then go out with the next door neighbour and Gail to take off all the nets on the Merlot ready for picking the following day.  After 3 hours all the nets were wound up onto their spindles and then it was just a matter of getting all the bins set out and picking buckets set out on the first two rows.  A quick check of the fruit proved to me that it was just looking super and pickers were confirmed.  So at 6pm I sat down for a bite to eat and when I looked out the window I saw this:

201003_storm sunset over vineyard shed.j

Blue Poles under a blood red sky

The sky had turned to red and then the phone rang with my daughter in Perth caught up in the most damaging hail storm Perth has ever encountered.  It really did sound like the final days were upon us – I was terrified that the entire vintage was about to turn to naught.  Scanning the radar for the next 5 hours was pretty scary as large storms passed <50km to the east of us – but fortunately we were spared with only a couple of millimetres of rain and when we woke the next morning to commence picking the Merlot was dry, delicious and clean.  It can be said that once the grapes were in the winery I slept VERY well that night.


Checking, checking, checking of the grapes remaining to be picked (the Shiraz and the Cabernet Franc) has been a routine for the balance of the month.  My little graph places both to be ready in early-mid April and if the weather can hold out for a further fortnight then this vintage will be a success and one with a few stories thrown in for good measure.


When everyone’s opinion counts…


I am a natural born sceptic … it is both a blessing and a blight.  Really, at times I would love to simply turn the old brain off and think that management team building games are “fun” or listening to an “inspirational” speaker is tolerable, but alas I never have and I am not sure why.  But there is one aspect of this “doubting Thomas” world of mine that I do respect and that is the opinion of experts / capable people and they tend to be the folk I do enjoy talking to, reading about, and being friends with.


You see I simply recognise my strengths and weaknesses and I am more than willing to admit them – the fellow owner of our vineyard, Tim, was my computer geologist for many years and he is an exceptionally talented guy when it comes to all aspects of IT and understanding the computing process.  My next door neighbour runs away from anything more technologically advanced than a simple mobile phone, but his knowledge of animals and machines is second to none and I have the greatest of respect for him. But because I know a little of both of these two guys world, does that mean I should have an opinion on it and thus show everyone else my level of “expertise”?


Well this is the current wine world we are in – so many people touch wine in their lives and with it enjoy wine immensely, some are even now writing about it in regular blogs and forums.   Now personally at times I find this absolutely amazing as the courage to write comments that could be dismantled by experts at the tip of a hat would be too much for me, but this has not stopped many from leaping in.  I simply do not know how deeply these new born “critics” are thinking about their respective opinions and how they are seen – however they are changing the face of wine promotion and wine image for the little guys quite dramatically and this is both good and bad.


If you go back 15-20 years ago, the world of wine criticism in Australia revolved directly around the newspapers, magazines and the wine annuals.  The number of wine experts in Australia numbered about 20-30 at a guess, and they all knew each other well.  Now do not pretend for a minute that this set of experts came up through a Masters of Wine type learning curve such that you the public could have a erudite opinion, or even pretend that they could make wine – hell no.  I would have as a guess that a majority of these experts simply fell into their position and have never let go as they know a gravy train when it pulls into a station!


You see the experts started off in a remote part of the publishing world and they simply lucked into a magnificent and growing industry, and as it grew, their recognition grew.  Some like James Halliday who is the doyen of the published critics even went into the wine production side of the industry and developed Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley – I guess having such pulling power within the industry it was not such a great risk, but he did put his money up and do it.  Most however stuck like limpets to a newspaper or publishing group, release a simple Annual and do everything they could to get into the wine show circuit (junket?) across the country so as to justify their “expertise”.  Oh, how they have grown in weight and reputation, like Buddhas - until recently.


The internet is the great leveller.  If you want an opinion on the conditions on board the Endeavour on its first voyage to Tahiti – google it and find out all.  No more locating obscure printed matter from all the Cook devotees of the last 200 years, sifting through a myriad of related information to get to the heart of the issue.  No, do not do that – just simply do a quick search and find the easiest to read reference.  You see our wine critics had become our Google and their publications were the short abrupt view of the wine world – why dig deeper when Oliver has given it 94pts?  The level of questioning was solely around the different critic’s “palates” and which one “aligned” with yours – no-one ever stated that many were not very good, simple heresy.


And the internet started to level.  With so many interested wine amateurs out there, forums discussing wine became great fun, with lots of interaction and a new breed of wine writers came into being.  Internet savvy and very literate folk were the ones who could really find a foothold in this new world and they became wine critics by default as other forum members and “lurkers” started to take notice of what they enjoyed and drank.  Around the world the more talented of them started to develop wine blogs and wine websites that provided heaps of delicious wine information for FREE, and there were copious amounts of it unlike the weekly column in the local rag or the once a year book.  Their fame was as such that they themselves have now become mainstream – and there are simply thousands of wine blogs reviewing and discussing wine everyday from every point of the globe hoping to share their love of the grape.


This worldwide explosion of wine information from wine buffs has broken down many of the barricades developed carefully by the old guard.  The old guard hangs on tenuously to their little publications (as they too become an irrelevancy), weekly columns and show judging positions, and they have simply been saved from the ocean of indifference to their ramblings by the size of the wine industry now and their historic reputations.  Some have tried to make the step into the world of the wine blogger but nearly all have failed (Philip White is perhaps the most articulate and interesting of them in this new world, and can be found at but the articles are generally those he publishes and it makes the blog a bit stilted unfortunately), as many do not have the skills in that setting, and the more they write “off the cuff” the bigger the target I would have as a guess.


To say some of the wine bloggers are talented is an understatement – they are driven by a real passion for the wine they drink, and some of their work is excellent. I will provide two quotes from bloggers that are definitely worth following if you are into a left sided glance at the bottle in front of you.  The first comes from Julian Coldrey of , an extremely talented writer and someone who you would love to share a really expensive bottle of plonk just to hear him describe it later.  Here is his take at the start of a tasting note on our Viognier:


“Interesting personality, this one.  It expresses itself differently, like someone whose speech patterns are syncopated with respect to everyone around them.  Quite high toned, powdery aroma, like those personal fragrances that are heavy on the aldehydes. Flavours are in the citrus, spice and vanilla spectrum, but its character is less about fruit and more about silhouette and line.”


Just wonderful text and word images (I have bolded what I think are just simply delightful phrases and a joy to read) – he is a real wine writing superstar in the making.


Now the second quote comes from a guy that continually questions the bigger issues while looking at the smallest items – god bless him.  Jeremy Pringle started out of a simple desire to stop reading generic dross which was simply doing his head in a bit, and at times still undoes him (that is just me reading between the lines).  He may not be as poetic as Julian, but he is a thinker and to show this here is a small taste of Jeremy’s prose, the last paragraph on the Blue Poles 2008 Shiraz tasting note:


“As we lingered over the wine, my brother and I discussed a set of ideas that are of great interest to me. Certain wines bear their maker’s mark clearly without hindering the expression of region, fruit or vintage in any way. The wineries that make these wines are generally amongst my favourites. And I can’t help but going back to a point I keep making. Place of terroir is important. But just as important is the way the wine maker interprets their specific place throughout its temporal movement. Or, as I like to put it, the way a wine maker / viticulturist wants to represent their place (how they “see” it I guess). Within this paradigm, I must say that Blue Poles’ vision is one that holds great beauty to me. The 2008 Shiraz adds yet another layer of appeal to my perception of that vision.”


It is like Jeremy has looked over the hill and has seen the bigger picture, and it made me think long and hard about many wines that I enjoy and their link with their makers – great stuff.  Now for anyone wanting to know more about Blue Poles wine, the tasting notes and the thoughts proffered by these two “bloggers” would provide a fantastic start point.  And if this is the case with us, it is also the case with many other small producers wines that they have tasted and reviewed – thus the joe public get both a real insight and a story to go with the back label as they enjoy a glass or two.


And the flip side to this is that many of the “historic” experts are simply failing to meet minimum standards of wine writing.  Many who still have a column write absolutely abysmal reviews and shallow “press release” dross, just asking the editors to axe them like a mercy killing.  Why would any editor keep on giving column inches and paying cheques to these 20 minutes of thought?  There may be a big concern out there that wine is getting less and less press, but crikey there is a jolly good justification at times to shoot the messenger for just plain incompetence.  But under the skin there is however a new breed slowly coming through within the mainstream press, and fingers crossed that their enthusiasm and interest can stop the rot which has taken hold of this section of the wine world.


But as with any “growth” industry, many wine blogs and forum comments are written by people who should really stick to simply enjoying wine mutely. I am not going to run down or denigrate a series of wine bloggers and lovers as it is not the reason for this discussion, but if you wish to promote your view of wine through a blog or post, please, seriously, give some thought on what you are saying and why you are saying it. Some “newbies” for a better term have the temerity to criticise world renowned critics because of the language they use or the choice of wines they drink, or a wine from a producer they have not heard of or a grape they do not understand … and they do it woefully.  Honestly, it is best to keep ones mouths collectively shut and stick to learning about the game first.


We look forward to the day when we are “found” by the old guard … but we are not holding our breath.  Fortunately for us there is an explosion of information now making its way around the wine world outside of the “Maginot Line” of the historic experts, and if folk just follow their nose and the opinions of those who really care then all sorts of gems will become available to them…



Variety is the spice of life...


March is always a really variable month as you enter the start of autumn and the changing weather patterns that go with this.  As mentioned at the start of the report there were some dramatic storms that affected the southern half of Western Australia, but fortunately little of this weather rolled through Margaret River.


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

March 2010:     

Avg Maximum Temp          26.5°C

Daily Max recorded            36.9°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.3°C               

Daily Min recorded               6.1°C


Rainfall:                               16.7mm

The temperature ranges are quite a lot warmer this year in comparison to last year, with both maximum and minimums significantly higher.  With such a cool spring in the 2009 vintage this meant that the red grapes were not able to fully ripen to make red wines at Blue Poles, but this vintage we have had some very consistently warm and dry weather and all of the grapes have gone (and are going), through to full physiological ripeness.  Both months had a low level of rainfall which is common for March in the South West of WA, as this area is renowned for the “Indian” summer that rolls through until “break of season” which is usually Mid April – May.

March 2009:      

Avg Maximum Temp          24.5°C

Daily Max recorded            35.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp           11.9°C

Daily Min recorded               6.5°C


Rainfall:                              13.9mm


The end is nigh …


Two to three more weeks of checking and harvesting will complete the vintage for 2010 at Blue Poles.  We are hoping that the weather can stay dry for a further few weeks such that all the fruit can come off clean and rich in flavour giving us the chance to make interesting and fully ripe wine.   We do also have lots of odd jobs to complete around the house, such that if you make the trip to Margaret River and drop in, it will be acceptable.

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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