Monthly Report - April 2010
We will not compromise …
It was not a pleasant series of phone calls that I made on 16 April to our winemakers and the contract pickers – but ~60mm of rain over the previous two days had put a premature end to our vintage at Blue Poles. The start of the month had gone well with a few showers about but with little in the way of real rain, this meant that the Cabernet Franc came off in lovely shape on 9 April. Tonnage was down due to some heat in January as damaged bunches were dropped but the remaining fruit was in excellent health and will make an excellent wine.
Surprisingly the Shiraz was still not quite ready. This is caused way back in September / October when the extended rain and cool meant a later budburst for this variety than the others and this cantilevers forward to the final days of ripening. Pickers were planned and bins collected for harvest on 14 April – alas on the night of 13 April and the following morning 40mm of rain fell. Rain continued to fall for a further 24 hours and when I checked the grapes for both the Teroldego and the Shiraz, all the hard earned flavours and sugars had been lost. To wait for a few more weeks to try and “re-concentrate” the grapes was not really feasible as a significant volume of the grapes will simply fall apart and the natural acid and “vitality” of the wine was lost. The calls were made, and the dropping of this fruit has begun – what a frustrating end to what had been a solid vintage for us at Blue Poles.
I have no doubt that if we had picked both the Shiraz and the Teroldego a week or two later that we could have produced a drinkable and enjoyable wine. The problem with this is that the wines made would have not represented what we are trying to do and achieve at Blue Poles – they would have been shallow impersonations of the wines we were hoping to make. Some things in life are simply “close enough”, but with regards to the big items which you work long and hard for, then “close enough” does not cut it.
The Merlot block
Well with the vintage cut short I have had a bit more time cleaning up the shed and around the vineyard and we are slowly getting on top of all the little jobs that need doing. It feels a little incomplete to be honest, but there is always so much to do between the vineyard and my other responsibilities it is always a busy day every day (I have an unfortunate habit of forgetting which day of the week it is such that I must be a bit like Dr Who when asking store staff what is the day today?). I am back to making “to do” lists but with a few weeks of cracking on to numerous jobs I should be up and ready to complete the pruning of the vineyard in winter without too many other tasks backing up.
Compelling Arguments …
Compelling is a word that evokes either one of two responses. The first is one of a “car crash” response, you do not want to look but you find yourself unable to look away. The second is that of a positive inquisitive spin, where you are drawn over and over to define or glimpse an elusive truth or thought. I always tend to see the word in the first usage as if I hear the word I tend to think the worst – but when “compelling” is used in wine tasting notes it is almost always in the positive form, and this does lead to confusion.
When you crack open a wine (this is the screwcapiste in me talking here), the one thing I am looking for most is that the wine will hold my interest. For many as they start their wine journey, at the point of opening a wine they are simply wondering whether they will like the wine or not – the way it should be! We all remember when we started drinking wine, those boozy afternoons and silver balloons that filled the rental’s backyard – I too started with cheap whites (Muller Thurgau from Gisborne, New Zealand, a deep dark secret please do not repeat) but anyone who has drunk Muller Thurgau (or Wohnseidler as it was called when bought) would realise it was not exactly the most complex wine and the desire to find more interesting wines was the beginning to this end. As I started drinking wine at the beginning of a table wine “revolution” in New Zealand meant I encountered some great wines and truly abominable wines – and this have given me the capacity to spot an under ripe Cabernet from 50 paces!
To be frank, during my early drinking years the really expensive wines I shelled out my youth allowances on were pretty much wasted on me as the next phase of wine appreciation is the “spot the variety” period, and often many newish wine drinkers have had little experience with many varieties and to define them was a goal in itself. To be quite honest most wine drinkers never leave this level of knowledge – they know what they like, they know the variety of the wine and sort-of where the better examples are grown, and that’s enough. And that is not a problem either. However as soon as you take one further step up the ladder of wine knowledge, you are in big trouble as the grape has the habit of making devotees easily and its relentless in its grip – hence our search for “compelling” wines.
How can a wine be “compelling”? How can a wine hold your interest for an extended period of time? Well it comes down predominantly to its complexity (another c-word that I have discussed back in the October 2007 Monthly Report), and its structure – without either the word is meaningless. A fault such as brettanomyces (a yeast that grows in the bottle of a finished wine and imparts a distinctive flavor), and volatile acidity may be seen as compelling as the alter the aroma and taste of the wine – but to be honest they are simply masking the true nature of the wine and as such I am not a big fan of them. (An aside, for many years I thought the aroma of a Bordeaux wine was that of brettanomyces – it was not until I started drinking “uncontaminated” examples that I started to see more subtle differences in the region and its sub-regions). So where to find compelling wines?
For a wine lover a compelling wine can come in a number of disguises. To find them you tend to start with “wine generalisms” and then work up to “wine detail”, let me explain. If I said to a fellow wine tragic “My fine fellow, go out to the world of the unwashed and purchase for me a compelling wine, and do not spare the horses!”, the mind of this poor soul would immediate start ticking over with a mental checklist, and these would be the points of reference:
It needs to be European
It needs to be costly
It should be from an unusual variety – or
It should be a well known variety but from an unusual location
It may have a number of grape varieties in the blend
It must come from a highly regarded producer.
Thus I would be assured of a strange little blend from (often southern) France, a unique producer from the hills of Barolo, or a rare/biodynamic single varietal from a well known appellation. Thus if you are trying to make a “compelling” wine in Australia you are up against it, to say the least, as I can assure you he would not have dared to bring along a “simple” Australian wine.
Producing a wine that is made with the ambition of providing extended interest in the glass is not an easy task; in fact it can almost be seen simply as a desire rather than an achievable goal. I have thought long and hard about this and the potentially impractical nature of having this as a target for our wines – but by aiming for the highest goals you create the landscape for potentially better and more expressive wine. We see the need to have the fruit flavors of the wine to be as concentrated as possible and this extends into every aspect of vine care and vigour every day of the year. The grapes when picked must be in excellent health and have an average ripeness that will be both expressive on the nose (encapsulating the aromatics of the grape) as well as on the palate (ensuring the grapes have attained near physiological ripeness). Flavour extraction during ferment must be controlled and sympathetic to the vintage. Oak selected must marry into the wine flavours so as to provide both a frame and a support to the finished wine, and lastly it must be bottled at a point where no one component of the wine dominates all others.
As simple as that.
If you get all that right and nature has given you a growing season which provides you access to your tended grapes, then and only then do you have the capacity to make compelling wine in the absolute best sense of the word. I can only but recommend to you all to try our wines (or re-try if you have not had a glass or two for a while), and apply the simple test of drinking the wine the wine over an extended period of time. A moving feast of aromas and flavors is the end result of an excellent wine – and we proudly believe that we are achieving much of this within our wines. But you cannot rest on the assumption that one or two solid wines is enough, we will continue to strive to make a better wine year on year, such that you the drinker are simply “compelled” to purchase a bottle or two.
A broken season...
As discussed at the top of the report, the break of season in Margaret River was early this year and has brought new life to the region after such a dry and warm summer. For locals it is a dramatic change, brown paddocks suddenly have a velvet green sheen and the soil comes to life. This year the break of season is quite early and as such affected our vintage, but we must expect variances in our climate when making wines in an area that has the capacity to make fine wines – they go hand in hand.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 22.0°C
Daily Max recorded 26.4°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.1°C
Daily Min recorded 3.4°C
The temperature ranges are cooler this year in comparison to last year, with both maximum and minimums lower. The most telling number is the highest maximum for April 2010 was only 26°C, 5 degrees less than in 2009 which implied that the rate of ripening at the start of the month was not as significant as seen in previous years. Rainfall is dramatically different as the break of season is in April in 2010 and in May during 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
Off to the big smokes …
It is becoming a tradition now that I take a couple of weeks off to visit Melbourne and Sydney during the month of May as it is one of those windows within a vigneron’s year that is open to travel (this and September/October). This year I will book in a trip up to Brisbane to visit a few shops and restaurants and hopefully get a few more folk on the Blue Poles boat. I am pretty sure I will be able to provide a free tasting of our current wines and wines to be released when in each of the capital cities so if you would like to try the wines and have a chat with me please drop us a line and I will keep you in the loop on my movements.
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