Monthly Report - April 2012
Rustling leaves …
Well that is about all you can hear if you lie down between the rows in the vineyard. All has gone quiet, even the bird life has moved around as all the parrots and other birds are much more spread as they chase down alternative food sources from the surrounding countryside. I do enjoy the flock of Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo’s that decide to set up shop in the bush block just at the bottom of our block – they turn up each spring and autumn providing quite a spectacle as 100 birds swoop in over the house to drop in on the vineyard. Folklore has it that when you see them flying it is about to rain – well that may explain why I only really see them at the start and end of our wet season. They do however cause some damage to the vines in spring, but I will allow them that just for the sheer spectacle of it all.
This is the quiet time for everyone in the wine industry – except perhaps for the marketing types who will be starting the new rounds with possibly wine makers in tow. Was fortunate enough to attend a wine tasting of Chateau Coutet in Perth last week, from the Bordeaux region of Barsac and who make some of the best sweet wines in the world – and having been to the estate when I was in Bordeaux in 2010 it was a real treat to catch up with Aline Baly again.
As for Blue Poles wines – not much to report there I am afraid. The 2012 Teroldego is finishing off its malolactic fermentation – had a taste last week and it is still looking and tasting great, so we are happy to have another good one in the barrels. The 2011 reds will have their barrel selections done in May – quite looking forward to this as the vineyard was picked in “tranches” for the Merlot, and how those 2 different batches will combine in the final reserve wine (if made), as well as the review of the 2011 Cabernet Franc, Teroldego and Shiraz should be a great day of teeth staining goodness. We will aim to bottle up the Teroldego and Shiraz in the middle of this year, and have a release for everyone sometime later in the year – we will of course keep you all fully informed.
Tim and I continue to spend too much time travelling, and that will not be easing off anytime soon judging by the number of e-tickets we both have in our inboxes. But this does not mean that you can’t drop in and see us at Blue Poles in Margaret River as Gail is most happy to show you the range in our tasting room (and she is much more interesting than I am, I can assure you).
As is often the case I start thinking about a topic for the monthly report almost straight after I have sent out the report I had just finished. I have covered areas from soil to climate to cellaring to numerous issues and places – and I do not really want to rehash old topics into each new month’s report unless I have something really interesting to say. So this month I have wandered along without an epiphany until I was having a few drinks in the Margaret River Settlers tavern last Saturday afternoon and the discussions were broad and wide ranging, and I realized that the people and topics and even the wine drunk were all “modern” and not what would have been discussed 10-15-20 years ago. The industry has had a shift to the left and no-one has really pointed it out, like frogs being boiled we have not seen the thermometer until, well, …. now all is different.
Settlers Tavern, Margaret River
I will go through the afternoon in the order it happened and discuss the variances as I encountered them from my vague memories of 20 years ago entering the same tavern when trying to catch up with a wine maker to discuss “stuff”.
Well it sort of looks the same – exposed bricks and tables too close together. There is not a smoke layer anymore and the plethora of flat screen televisions has certainly meant you can keep up with the footy from any nook or cranny in the place. But the big difference is when you order a beer – you have to “choose” from 10-15 beers, gone are the days of draught or export – this puts you into a head spin as now you have to know all the variances of Little Creatures beers and which one will be just simply a beer. Also sitting on the bar is a wine list that takes up 20 odd pages, with a by the glass list that fills a couple of pages as well. Just never happened, never.
2. Look Around
A Saturday afternoon historically would have been filled with blokes drinking booze and glancing at the races on the small screen in the corner. Well now the bar is filled with “families” and groups “talking” – almost unheard of 10 years ago let alone 20. Spotting the familiar features of Mike Bennie, the wine writer and critic, beers and wine were ordered before retiring to the “garden” bar – but as we were walking to the door Mike noted a familiar face in Matt Gant and his family.
Now Matt Gant is the winemaker with First Drop Wines and he is in Margaret River to finish off some wines that he is making for his brand. This whole concept of fly in winemakers from the eastern states for their own private wine companies is totally new to the region. Many winemakers have come from afar to work here in defined wineries, but the concept of making wine here and then selling it out of your cellar in Barossa or McLaren Vale for example was just out there until the past few years or so. This is adding a level of complexity to the industry that only the most ardent wine lover could possibly keep track of.
3. Sit Down and Sup
Arriving at the long table were not only Mike and his wife, but also Ben Gould and his family of Blind Corner wines, and the effervescent Brad Wehr from Wine-by-Brad. The wines made by Ben are derived from his 4ha biodynamic vineyard, and is made as “natural” wines. I do not know if there was a BD vineyard in Margaret River 10 years ago, but when I had wine tastings during the 90’s with winemakers from the region it was never discussed – and yet through the hard work by folk like Ben there is now many transferring their vineyard management to this methodology, and still more prepared to make wines with minimal additions and interference. It also could have been said there were little in the way of wineries like Brad’s where the wine is made from brought grapes in a contract winery (historically Brad bought small batches of wines and blended) – there has been a shift in how wines can be sold and promoted and the inference that fine wines can only be made from one block and bottled by the owners of those grapes is taking a bit of a beating. With Matt Gant and others starting to apply their winemaking skills to grapes from all around Australia, and Brad Wehr and others applying their knowledge of specific regional wines to their wine portfolios, we are seeing a shift to the left.
4. Order Some More Booze
And unlike another round of Swan draught’s rolling on in (though Mike Bennie did buy me a Swan draught, gawd bless his elasticized tracky pants), we could actually order a bottle of Bourgogne or even the Jimmy Watson trophy winner from 2011 (which we did). Now this Jimmy Watson winning wine is unusual in its own right – the wine was a Shiraz from Tasmania. To have said such a wine would be rated one of the best in Australia 5 years ago, it would have been considered crazy babble – but here we have it, outstanding wines in regions that their presence would never have been considered historically.
After a few hours of chitter chatter the sun was heading west and all had plans. Having paid for very little myself I am now indebted by the Karma god to cover the next drinks I have with Mr Bennie – which if in Sydney could have proved to be a wise move by the man.
The wine scene has changed. Yes there still is a very traditional core to it all, but look around no-one is getting any younger and I do not know how long the traditional approach to wine understanding will last. The presence of “winemaker” wineries is a common aspect of the American wine scene (you only need to understand the history of such wineries as Bonny Doon to see the long line of tradition there), but it is new to us in Australia – but not for long. The feeling is as much heady promotion and connection as much as traditional wine quality and history. Being “middle” aged I can see both sides of the coin, but as time goes by the encounter I had 20 years ago with a winemaker in Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, will be like looking at black and white World War II footage – something from a long, long time ago.
Season’s a changin’ ...
The season has broken – as soon as the first rains hit the ground the whole feel of the countryside in Margaret River alters. Day time temperatures noticeably drop back, though it does not really get cool at nights, just a bit nippy in the morning. It is a pleasant relief this time of year after the heat of summer, and there is nothing more relaxing than an afternoon red wine, sitting on the verandah during April.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 23.6°C
Daily Max recorded 30.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 12.6°C
Daily Min recorded 4.7°C
The maximum and minimum temperature ranges are quite similar to last year, indicating a similar break in the season in regards to temperature. Rainfall last year was a whopping 86mm, which is high for the break of season, with the ~2 inches of rain we have encountered this year much more in line with what has been encountered in the past.
Avg Maximum Temp 23.8°C
Daily Max recorded 32.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 12.4°C
Daily Min recorded 6.5°C
A quiet hush …
The vineyard and the surrounding district has a lovely quiet period as the tourists subside from the region and the work amongst the vines will have a slight break before pruning commences. It is a sensational time to be in the region, waves are usually largish for the adventurous types, the cellar doors are quiet and staff are keen to chat, and there is a waft of green starting to appear across the paddocks. As indicated in the report, both Tim and I will be out and about with geological type work, and I look forward to going back to New Zealand at the end of the month to catch up with the family.
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