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Monthly Report - March 2011


Vintage takes hold …


March is madness.  The hundred’s of details that need to be kept in the back of my head as I run about trying to organise all the elements involved with getting the grapes to the winery in the best state to make the best wine we can from the vintage drives me nuts.  From the physical aspects of nets going on / nets coming off and continuously walking through the vineyard tasting grapes in all the various sections to determine if the flavours have reached a zenith, to the simple worry about the weather and the continuing heat.  As of the last day of the month we have harvested the vineyard clean.   Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc and the Teroldego, all sitting in the ferment tanks and awaiting their vinous fate.


The Merlot was picked in two “tranches” this year, with the reason for that being the simple heat at the start of the day of 18 March meant that even with an early start at 6.30am, by 10am it was nearly 30°C and I was not prepared to keep hand picking the block under those conditions.  It also meant that I could test the theory that the fruit on the eastern side of the block tends to ripen slower than the western side and there could be some subtle differences in the wines made separately.  The second pick occurred on  22 March and it was completed early on a cooler day which meant the fruit arrived at the winery in very good shape.


The Shiraz was picked on 29 March and attained a lovely level of ripeness with very rich flavours – it has every chance to make a cracking wine.  The variety seems to handle the heat very well, but it has to be irrigated on an ongoing basis as the vine is very sensitive to soil moisture.  The trellising this year was lowered slightly to provide more shade and this has helped the fruit as well as they like the heat but not the direct sunlight.  Have not got to sample the ferment as yet, but I am confident that this should be a wine of great style when released.

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Shiraz picking at Blue Poles


The Teroldego came in the next day.  Huge bunches of black fruit sit on this vine for nearly two months waiting to reduce their stark acid and fine up the mouth puckering tannins in the skins.  A big crop this year as the young vines get a bit exuberant, but the intense cherry flavours mixed in with an almost berry concentrate taste leads us to think that this is a great follow up to this year’s release.  Picked on 30 March it is a lot earlier than in the previous vintage, and even with the high heat load this year it has kept its acid and structure really well.  Super happy here.


Lastly, the Cabernet Franc.  To finish a hat-trick of picking days – I am looking forward to a lazy April 1st.  In stark contrast to the Teroldego, small light bunches of perfectly round Cabernet Franc came off during a cool morning and were on the way to the winery by 11am.  Sugar levels are higher than normal (as is the case with all the grapes taken off around the district), but the intensity of flavor is there and it ensures that the “backbone” of the Allouran will be nice and strong and giving the wine that centre-line through the palate that makes our Allouran such a great wine.


Vintage has been early and this has been caused simply by the continuing hot days.  I have never known a hotter March – even the nights have been warm with little in the way of morning dews that are such a common occurrence this time of year. I am a little bit of a purist I guess and I would like to see a more drawn out vintage and mild “Indian” summer – but this was not to be and the vines (though slightly stressed), produced good consistent grapes and at good cropping levels so we will see how we went post ferment.


To finish the month off I have been forwarded 3 bottles of Eldridge Estate 2010 Gamay for me to have a look at.  David Lloyd the owner, vigneron and wine maker extraordinaire at Eldridge Estate forwarded the bottles such that he can get independent opinions on which style of his “Gamay Beaujolais” is preferred and why, via the social network “Twitter” to get interactive immediate responses.  The wine community has really taken to “Twitter” and it is a very busy and energetic site which has provided me personally and Blue Poles generally with some great contacts and new friends.  If you are feeling “social” have a look and follow us – only too happy to help you along the way.

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Eldridge Estate Gamay bottles for the Twitter tasting

Margaret River Coal Mine – Scuttled


On 20 March 2011, Dr Paul Vogel of the Environmental Protection Authority informed the public of his decision with regards to the coal mine proposed at Margaret River, and under our vineyard.  The decision was an unequivocal NO to the company to continue developing the project as the risk to the groundwater and the catchment was so great that it is unlikely to ever gain approval.  This is fantastic news for us and all our neighbours and all the surrounding community, as post the Minister signing the documents provided by the EPA in the next week or so we will now have closure with regards to this proposal.


As a geologist that works within the mining industry I am still quite astounded by the techniques used by the mine proponents LD Operations.  At no time did they actively liaise with the landholders, it was merely a box ticking exercise.  But most confusing was that at no time did they provide any science to back up their claims of “negligible” impact on the land and water.  It was as if they “expected” approvals, and that may be the way in New South Wales where they operate, but fortunately our government agency did not take them on trust and put forward a finding that damned the project.


Blue Poles can now carry on as per normal.  Another 30-40 vintages for me hopefully in this beautiful spot in Western Australia, if not the world.


Perfect …


On 18 February 1999 on a warm summers day I was riding along the Busselton bicycle track to get to a squash game in town (we were living ~10km out of town, and this ride warmed me up for training).  Coming around a corner, a bus had parked on the track and I went head first into the bus and broke every vertebrate in my neck and 4 in my back – in fact the primary neck vertebrate (nicknamed C-1) was smashed into ~25 pieces and was floating around the base of my brain.  Fortunately I stayed conscious, I told the ambulance staff I had hurt my neck and by pure luck and chance I not only survived but I did not suffer any loss of movement or paralysis in any part of my body – I have used up one life (possibly 2 or 3) you could say.


After a brief stay in the Emergency Hospital in Perth, I was transferred to Shenton Park spinal rehabilitation unit.  Unable to move at all until my bones knitted themselves together over the first 2 weeks after the accident, I was left staring at the ceiling for a couple of weeks – and on that ceiling was a crack.  It ran along jaggedly for about a metre, did a 20 centimetre jog to the left, and then ran on for another metre.  That crack was a god send – it meant my mind could wander.  I saw tectonic plates, familiar mountain lines, maps of cities I have been to, trees and forests, and I saw contrast.


You see the ceiling was not a pure white surface, it was nowhere near perfect, but you see perfect, is not all it is cracked up to be.  Perfect can lead to sterility and lack of imagination, it can stop you striving, and it can halt the learning process.  Wine is really the same – I am not one to admire a perfect canopy, and perfect fruit set it just leads me to believe that the wine will just be one dimensional, lacking in that x-factor or possible kink of the new. And that is not leading you to surmise that I believe wine made by wild ferments completed over a bed of amethyst crystals provides you with a “better” wine is the case either.  I am looking at simple acceptance of natural variations within the vineyards and wineries be seen as advantageous, with those that recognise their “quirks” (for a better word) being more likely to make wines that lead one to contemplate the nuances, subtleties and changes in flavor that can only be encountered in the most interesting of wines.


We have the fortune (maybe misfortune) of having an American wine critic called James Suckling busily self-promoting himself on twitter.  Like watching a car crash, I dutifully follow the link to his next video and sit back in awe of the man’s ego.  One of his initial videos was him taken in sound bites scoring different wines in various Bordeaux Chateaux – wild exultations of “I’m 97 points on that” “I’m 98 points on that” until at last he reached his peak “That wine’s perfect, 100 points”.  You see, I think that is just crap.  Apart from the fact I find his behaviour simply bizarre, how did he come to that decision?  It is just pure bravado and his perception of the wines quality.  I do not deny the 100 point scale, it is useful and when you know a wine critic's taste and style preference you can quite easily imagine how that wine would taste if you were to try it.  But please a bit of common sense needs to be applied here.


While we see the critics such as James above striving for mass-adoration for locating that “perfect” wine – we have a whole “show” system within the wine industry that is seeking “perfect” varietal flavours, like the colour blue.  You see that is rubbish as well, and when you throw on top of that an export system that seeks even a blander level of wine to achieve a standard as set by goon in a bag (but do not raise the wine quality as you may in fact not get an export licence at all), all interest must be removed to be an “Australian” wine.  You can begin to sense that this rush to some form of perfection is in fact a stampede to familiarity and common.


Many if not most wines made in the world are made to meet a business model, and as such “perfect” varietal cleanliness is a target.  They do not want kinks and quirks, they will use the word terroir only to buy themselves some credibility, but it means nothing – they are after a safe wine that meets a price point.  The winemakers want grapes that are clean and simple, they do not want issues, and they want them in large volumes.  No doubt the wines are fine to drink – but are they complex?  Do they open up any new thoughts about how wine could be improved and made more interesting?  No, but they have given to you some easy to quaff alcohol.


This is where I am at with wine.  Even if I had not have bought and developed the vineyard and was still a “drinker” I would still be in the same boat I reckon – I am after interesting wine.  I am after wine that tells a story.  I am after wine that is made by somebody.  I am after wine that is made from one patch of dirt.  I am after wine that does not taste like the last wine I had.  I am after an experience that makes me think about why the wine is difficult to decipher.  I am after the honesty that lies within a bottle.  Am I after something “perfect”?  No, that would totally miss the point and make what I do at Blue Poles totally contrived and disingenuous.


I am not sure if breaking my neck led me to developing Blue Poles Vineyard with Tim and our families in 2001.  But during the 10 years of work taken to get to this point, I have never wavered from the belief that we can make quality interesting wine from our location if we work hard enough.  Fortunately our site has produced flavoursome grapes and rich wines, and every vintage provides a greater level of underpinned support for my primary assumption.  To finish, I can only hope you crack a Blue Poles wine at some stage this month and just enjoy the wine with all its flavours and subtleties, as you can see from above we are doing our best to not make it too “perfect”.



Hot, hot, hot...


It has been an unbelievable month of clear fine days in the Margaret River region.  The clear days have translated into warm days and, even with the clear skies, warm nights as the easterlies brought in warm air from the centre of the state.  With no rainfall and the continuing warmth the vines have been put under a bit of stress this year and we are now hoping for an early break to the season to get some moisture back into the ground as it is severely parched out there at the current.


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


March 2011:     

Avg Maximum Temp          28.3°C

Daily Max recorded            34.0°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.6°C               

Daily Min recorded               8.0°C


Rainfall:                               2.0mm

The maximum temperature range is a lot higher than last year, but the minimum is similar though there have been shorter periods of cool as the days heated quickly.  Rainfall is less this year in comparison to last, and with little to no rainfall in February as well this year the region is very dry.

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


A chance to get out and about …


Well, all grapes will be sitting in their tanks bubbling their way through ferment by 1 – 2 April.  On 6 April I head off to Melbourne / Sydney / Brisbane for a series of meetings with clients as well as host some dinners show casing our wines.  I arrive back on 16 April to start some tidying up work around the vines (mainly digging out some pesky weeds, where do they come from?), before heading off abroad to complete some geological work on 27 April.


At some point this month I am going to sleep in and just relax for half a day – if that is remotely possible.  Will be in Hong Kong in early May promoting our wines and I will give you an update on what I will be up to there in next month’s report – also looking to visit Singapore later that month if all goes to plan with some contacts made.

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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