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Monthly Report - August 2010


The excitement is building …


I am typing out this report with a slightly sore back (an old Gifford Tradition, and one I do not thank my father for), but a bit of a buzz as in about 10 days I will be sitting in a wine bar in Paris somewhere, with some Chinon Cab Franc thinking about which museum to visit and which restaurant to eat in.  By 15 September I will be in Bordeaux and a month of vintage awaits me – now that is exciting!  But that is in the future, this month has been a busy one and has provided a bit of closure.


First up all the pruning is now complete, with all the wires dropped and ready for another year of growth.  A quick tidy up undervine was also completed as well as getting the mulcher in to deal with all the canes pulled out during pruning.  All the roses have had their annual haircut and a quick weed so as to show off their blooms over the next 3-4 months.  We have prepared all the Teroldego cuttings and will plant them out for rootlings as we will be expanding the planting of this variety as the wine to date is very exciting and it could be a popular one – this means the loss of a Viognier row, but there is plenty of acreage of this variety and it continues to increase its tonnage without affecting its quality.


The weather continues to befuddle and only today (30 August), the dam on our block decided to overflow – the latest it has ever been (the longest we have had to wait in the past was 23 August 2006, which I thought was crazy then). The lack of rain continues to dog the region, but there have been many “rainy” days but with only small falls which is fine for the surface but not so good for groundwater recharge.  I must admit to a degree of nervousness as quickly falling groundwater levels may bring budburst forward a bit as in 2008 which brought all sorts of problems later in the vintage of 2009.  But unlike 2008 where it was hot and sunny in August, this was not the case this year as it has been quite cool.  Also being in France when a spray may be due could be of concern, so I have a backup plan – but looking around the vines there is not a lot pushing this year’s growth forward so everything should be fine for my return in late-ish October.

201008_Bike with mulch - 290810.jpg

A mountain of woodchips at Blue Poles

You may remember last month when I extolled the virtues of the woodchip mulch that I have used under vine in the Cabernet Franc.  At the start of this year we had a number of road side workers come through and clean up overhanging branches and the like and chipped them up with their mobile “chipper” – the naturally friendly bloke that I am, I said to them, rather than travel all the way back to the disposal site would you mind off loading the wood chips here?  Well they thought “What a top man” and proceeded to build me a mini mountain of the stuff.  All winter it has been rained on and I have now started spreading it on the next few rows of Cabernet Franc.  Two things have dawned on me: 1. This is bloody big pile of woodchips and having completed 160m of mulching I have only made a small dent in it, and 2. Do not work too fast as you will hurt your back!  But I am very happy as it looks like this pile should cover all the Cabernet Franc which is a hectare of vines.


Coal mining madness …


I seem to be on a bit of a geology sojourn with the monthly reports – but this “geological” review is one which makes one annoyed if not downright angry.  Currently we have in our sleepy little location of Osmington a series of coal mining leases that have finally been acted upon by their current owners.  These leases have been owned in the past by a series of holders (Rio Tinto, being the most well known), and were on sold as those owners knew that the extraction of coal in the area was extremely unlikely and potentially futile (though as always with Rio Tinto they will earn a significant royalty if any coal is mined – they are tricksy).  The new owners are faceless investment groups that are solely in this for the money – they do not honour any shareholders but themselves and they do not report to any community scrutiny as you can not access their halls of power.  These “faceless men” have sent out some mining bumpkins from NSW to pacify the natives and to extol mining of coal from under our feet.


Well this is all well and good.  I too have had to go and talk to landholders and try and move mining projects forward in the past, and with an open and honest approach, and goodwill from all parties, some projects have been successfully developed (and some quite rightly were shelved!).  The coal mining process in New South Wales and Queensland is literally the giving up of the states to the miners – there are so few laws to protect landholders and resistance at times seems futile.  The damage caused by coal mining in these states is also horrendous and the respective governments are blinded by the returns and continue to push this demonic barrow.  In Western Australia we too have a mining rich state government – but they are beholding to the major iron ore and gas/oil producers and as such are located in the far north of the state and not amongst the food bowls of the state as is the case of the eastern states coal miners.  It appears that without the royalty stream the states would collapse, and as such preference and kow-towing to the major mining corporates is ingrained.


But let us take a step back.  Coal is vital in Australia for power production – there is no alternative base load power apart from gas power stations within the states.  WA has its coal mining town in Collie, and the mined coal supplies a couple of major power stations.  No coal is exported from this state, but over east the coal tonnage exported is massive as well as the coal used in power consumption – 100,000t’s of coal per DAY is moved around to meet this huge demand, and no pesky dried up river bed or distorted and buckled countryside is going to stop that.  As a geologist, coal geology never interested me as the mining process was more important than any geological inputs.  But while we debate the capacity to get renewable energy up and running, and our unwillingness to use the most modern nuclear power technologies – it is here to stay for a while longer.


The Vasse Coal Shelf which is proposed to be mined has been known for decades.  It is located on a shelf 150-2000m below the surface from Busselton to Augusta.  It lies smack bang up against a huge pile of sediments that are just a mish mash of unconsolidated clays and sands, with the older sands at the bottom of this pile being known as the Yaragadee Formation (which holds the Yaragadee aquifer), and the younger clays and sands on the top on the western side of the basin being the Leederville Formation (which holds the Leederville aquifer).  There is no clear cut boundary between the two (Yaragadee and Leederville), and as such water from each travels through both in an unclear and pressure driven system.  Also, the sands which hold the Vasse coal shelf together also are linked to the younger surrounding sediments, such that groundwater from all sources has the capacity to traverse throughout the whole basinal system.  So in effect, imagine a bath tub full of sand and clay with water filling the gaps – if you pull the plug almost all the water has the capacity to drain away.


Enter LDO, our “faceless men’s” miner of choice.  They have turned up from NSW where as discussed above, the NSW state government over there has given them carte blanche rights to extract coal wherever and whenever they want.  Their primary discussions in Margaret River are with 2-3 landholders who believe they will be rich beyond their wildest dreams and are happy to be strung along with their fantasies.  One in fact strikes it "lucky" and LDO get the “faceless men” to pay well above the odds for a low lying block such that they can begin planning their mine (see below map).  As for the 1-2 others, they pacify them with promises of compensation, hell they do not know anything about coal mining so easy promises on easy money seems easy enough.


Now the tricky bit.  LDO has to get “community support”, what to do?  Well you roll up into the council chambers for a briefing, dragging with you some state development officers who have just been made aware of their intentions and as is part of their brief they must try and facilitate a way “forward” – I mean you can not have “state development” stop development now can you?  The council is like 2 year olds being shown shiny objects (more jobs, diversification of income, more growth), most agree what a sterling idea.  Alas the process LDO was trying to sneak through hit a rather substantial snag – public outcry.  Once the community became aware of the proposal the wheels of motion to cull this ridiculous concept was sent spinning.  Even I have written to the paper (in fact the first!), but since my little public rant, my little effort has been swamped by public marches, prime time news stories, and masses of electronic correspondence to help stop the mining of coal in Margaret River.


Poor old LDO – they had promised to individually talk to the landholders this month, but they now realized that they would put their hands into a hornet’s nest.  They hastily threw up a website and foolishly presented pictures and images that were farcical and maps that had been doctored (I will get to that).  In fact I had been contacted in June so as to have a meeting with LDO – they never contacted me again and expect they never will.  The meetings they had planned were curtailed to 2 days, and they did not respond to most of the locals request to see them – we only went because 4 groups of landholders were cobbled together at a single location so as such were forced to talk to us. It did not go well.


They bought no maps, no plans, no information, and not so much as a pen – but oh the promises, oh the platitudes.  It was shocking to believe these were mining professionals; it was even more shocking to believe that OUR council fell for their song and dance act.  The misinformation put forward in their discussions are as such:


  • Drilling the shafts will be straight forward and shown to be possible

  • They do not expect any significant ingress of groundwater, even though they will mine to the “contact of the coal with the sands”

  • Groundwater will not be contaminated

  • They know the areas which are faulted underground and will avoid them

  • The coal is low gas and that it provides no risk

  • They will mine under the Margaret River, but even with no monitoring bores within 2 kilometres (!!!), they see “no impact at all on the river”

  • Everything is just conceptual, but they know enough to plan out a mining schedule and methodology without presenting it to us.


But the grand-daddy fib of them all


  • They had no idea on how the aerial photograph (the map above), that they are using was manipulated to remove all the vineyards, paddocks, houses, olive groves, infrastructure in the region.  In fact the manipulation is such that you would have as a guess that no-one lives there at all.  Our dam is in (as is lot 21’s above us) – but where is our vineyard, our house?  In fact they have removed 6 vineyards and 2 olive groves.  Imagine giving this to all the residents via their website, of whom you are trying to get their “goodwill”, such a doctored and clearly distorted image? It reeks of ineptitude and incompetence at all levels – and they want to mine around us?


So post these discussions with LDO, what has happened?  Well the pressure from the local community and newly formed “No Coal!tion” group has meant that the council has done a u-turn for the good of the community and has come out unanimously against the mining proposal.  The wine association has put out a strongly worded release, rejecting the idea outright with high profile wine makers and owners dousing the idea as idiotic.  Continual pressure at all levels of politics has ensured that even the state Premier Colin Barnett is very circumspect, and you get the feeling if he was given the right reasons from the right people this proposal will be blown out of the water with the Premier being given 3 cheers from all the locals (in our vineyard hopefully!!) as the photo opportunity of the year.  We now await LDO to submit their mining proposal to our Environmental Protection Authority – as soon as they do we can comment and insist on the level of scrutiny expected of such a government department.  In a way the LDO submission will be a circuit breaker and give the government the “project” to stop – we can heartily support the process.


I am not anti-mining, I support it and all the good it does for the world.  But if that mining is done without the communities support, without sound environmental management, developed through misinformation and deception, and does not benefit ANYONE except the owners and a few short-term employees then it is a sham and should not proceed.  LDO who represents the “faceless men” are presenting a sham and should be stopped by all means possible.


If you would like to learn more about this fight against evil (J) then join the No Coal!tion group which is tirelessly held together by Brent Watson and his family located at the end of Osmington Road – he is very energetic and pro-water and pro-Margaret River (and so am I, but possibly less energetic).  



Cool end to winter...


The last month of winter is always a tricky one to predict weather wise. Sneaky spring weather patterns flow in from the west and this leads to warming trends and little rainfall. So at the start of the month when we had 4 beautiful spring-like days I thought we were in for a shaky start to the season.  But on 12-13 August, 75mm of rain poured down, nearly filling the dam and brought with it quite a cool change for the following fortnight.  No major rain has occurred since, and we have had winds from all directions which indicates that the weather itself is undecided on what it should do.


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

August 2010:     

Avg Maximum Temp          16.7°C

Daily Max recorded            20.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp             6.6°C               

Daily Min recorded               1.6°C


Rainfall:                               113.0mm

The maximum temperature range is a little warmer in comparison to last year, but the minimum is quite low, giving the impression that it was a cool month.  Rainfall is ~20mm less this year in comparison to last, and this puts us in a large rainfall deficit for the year to date (Total rainfall in August 2009 was ~800mm, where as in 2010 the total to date is ~550mm), and it is unlikely we will have substantial rains in the months ahead (and nor do we want them, especially during flowering).

August 2009:      

Avg Maximum Temp          16.2°C

Daily Max recorded            18.7°C

Avg Minimum Temp             9.0°C

Daily Min recorded               3.1°C


Rainfall:                              134.6mm

Off to France …


As discussed at the start of this monthly report I will be in Bordeaux for vintage during September / October and hopefully seeing a great bordelaise vintage unfold before me.  It is exciting as this will provide the platform for eventually building our own winery at the vineyard, and the principals and practices that it will entail.  I still have a few odd jobs to knock off before I go to the international airport – liming and mulching being the major ones, but I have a reasonable window of opportunity to complete them.  I hope to get a monthly report out while in France but I can not guarantee this, so do not get too worried if I go AWOL next month.

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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