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Monthly Report - June 2012


Stormy, stormy nights …


Well this month has brought about a dramatic reduction in our candle stocks due to significant power outages caused by some blooming large storms that passed through the region.  The first storm which hit us on 10 June was a cracker as it came from the south and not from the north west (then south west as is the way), and with all the trees hardened against strong wind from one direction, this change caused absolute chaos.  Nearly every power line from Augusta to Geraldton went down as tress fell over power lines and caused one of the biggest power outages in the state’s history.  And being on the end of a line we had our power down for ~2 days.


Our western property edge with a tree over the boundary fence.


With all this action I have had little chance to crack on with the pruning (a job and a half for July), and this has been compounded by a trip back to New Zealand to visit family and then a fortnight in Africa completing some geological work.


But do not fear.  All of our wines in barrel and bottle are fine with no damage to the winery and storage facility and all is in hand to release the Reserve Merlot at the end of next month and to bottle off our Teroldego and Shiraz (which taste great, as I completed the fining trials this morning).




Battle of the clones…


I recently was contacted by a wine writer (blogger? – it is hard to tell them apart these days), about what clone of Merlot we use in our vineyard.  Now in wine making parlance the clones of the different varieties can play an important role, and being stuck out in Western Australia in which we have a limited clone “pool” we are often considered the poor cousins of the Australian nurserymen’s group.  I will put the response to Sean here for your interest, and also to highlight that at the end of this month we will be releasing the 2010 Reserve Merlot, which we think is another excellent release post the 2008 and 2007 wines which I think have set a high standard for such a difficult variety.


So here it is:


“In our vineyard we have predominantly D3V14 Merlot clone, but there is a chance that a portion is D3V7 Merlot clone due to minor variances we have noted amongst the vines.  There has been other merlot clones bought into WA, but we have not taken them up as we see little advantage.  The reason I say this (which goes against the so-called wisdom of the current thinkers) is that we are making a Merlot which has the traits of the best of Pomerol and St Emilion off a clone which was well used (and still is) within those regions.  The excuses for new clones is rather banal and shows more about the approach to Merlot and the wine it produces more than the clones itself.


The first reason is that we are always comparing clonal selections to those of Burgundy - Pinot (and to a lesser degree Chardonnay) that has a wide range of clonal variants, and they make a significant difference in the wine.  Ask any Pinot making vigneron and he will spend an hour going over all the options and growing regimes for the clonal selections.  But turn up in Bordeaux and ask about clonal selections anywhere on the Right and Left Bank - 99% just shrug their shoulders and just point at the soil.  It is not seen as important, and there are 100's of variants noted within individual vineyards, thus the new world obsession with clones is seen as mad by the Bordelaise.  After tasting through ten's of different Merlot clones in Medoc, Pomerol, St Emilion and Entre-deux-Mers it became apparent to me that the soils and location created the biggest difference as well as the cropping regime and pruning methodology.

201206_Chateau Ausone.jpg

Chateau Ausone, St Emilion: I counted at least 4 clones in this little Merlot patch alone.

This leads to the second reason.  Merlot has only ever been considered a filler by 99.9% of the Australian wine making fraternity - most Merlots in the market are simply the barrels left over from the cab merlot blending.  Picking dates are often based around when vats and presses are free, rather than the ripeness and specific requirements of the grape.  Also consider the fact it is a "bit player" so you do not wish to set too much of the vineyard aside to the variety thus you would rather push to a volume rather than give the grape more ground within the vineyard.  The assumption that all varieties are treated equally is a lie, as some make the reputation and some make the portfolio - Merlot generally fills the portfolio.


The third reason is simply wine makers are making what the market appears to want.  When we say Merlot, you are generally talking about a fat, soft in the mouth, non-complex red wine - why would you make a wine without those characteristics for the masses?  Yellowtail fills shelves with this soft lollywater and it becomes a standard perception.  In Australia we have little understanding of the variety, and when in Bordeaux few Aussie winemakers make the statement of doing vintage on the Right Bank, almost all of them are in the Medoc playing with the Cabernet.


So combined, you have a variety that is over-cropped, picked too early or too late, made in a generic style and our solution?  Get better clones.  I say bumpkin.  Our Reserve Merlot and Merlot blend "Allouran" are solid complex wines carrying good tannins, savoury flavours, able to age extremely well (we are only just releasing our 2008 Allouran now due to the time it needed to settle into the bottle), and all made off a derided clone.  I have tried Merlots from NZ which have collected even more Merlot clones than Australia, and those wines vary dramatically in quality as well.  It really does come down to your attitude and willingness to make fine wine.


We bought our block specifically because of the high iron rich gravel content that lies over a kaolin clay - almost a mimic of Pomerol.  We thin and prune in such a way to reduce yield to 4 tonnes / ha as a maximum, and we pick on the day that our sugar, acid and FLAVOUR all come into synch - I may check the vineyard both day and night to get this right.  We only hand pick and we only make limited volumes, it is the only way you can meet the standard required for the variety.


Petrus, Pomerol: The holy grail of the Merlot world (and yes the grapes tasted great)

Things are changing in Australia, but very slowly.  We are hoping that when quality Merlot is finally recognised within the country (and abroad), that we will be seen as one of those wineries that are showing what can be achieved with the variety if the work is done.”


Whoa, enough of this ...


Well as described at the start of this report we have had a heavy month of weather with 2-3 storm events rattling across the region of Margaret River.  But when you look at the averages for temperature we have had an average month (maybe slightly warmer minimums due to the added cloud cover), though rainfall has jumped up.


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


June 2012:     

Avg Maximum Temp          17.4°C

Daily Max recorded            20.2°C


Avg Minimum Temp           10.3°C               

Daily Min recorded               4.4°C


Rainfall:                               237.2mm

The maximum and minimum temperature ranges are similar to last year.  Rainfall last year was the average for May, but this year the rainfall is significantly higher than average for the month.

June 2011:      

Avg Maximum Temp          17.8°C

Daily Max recorded            20.4°C

Avg Minimum Temp             9.5°C

Daily Min recorded               2.3°C


Rainfall:                              156.0mm


Pruning starts, it really does …


Well it is all go.  No excuses – rain, hail or shine (well please more shine than anything else thanks).  First up on the chopping block is Shiraz and then I will move through the Merlot, Cab Franc, Teroldego and then the Viognier – in that order.  Again I am abroad for work later in the month which makes it more doubly important to crack on each day.  Also if you are not part of our mailing list; why not?  We will be pre-releasing the Reserve Merlot to our mailing list this month and I would hate you to miss out on this gem of a wine at a discounted price.

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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