Monthly Report - December 2012
I am sitting in our house on the vineyard typing this out and enjoying some respite from the weather (the past week has averaged nearly 40oC), with a moderate day and westerly coming in through the window. Christmas has come and gone, with all the girls making it back to the house (partners in tow), and I nearly went upstairs to get some ear plugs for the poor males sitting around the table as my daughters and wife had a rather loud reunion. Tim on the other side of the country had the difficulty of moving house immediately prior to Christmas, but it appears to have been completed without him pulling his hair out, and that is a relief.
The vines had a month of growth and then a week of shut down as the temperature soared. It is all a bit under stress out there at the moment, but if we get some relief over the next few weeks then they should be fine. I am always wary of too much heat, as it is almost as bad as it being too cold – the vines shut down and the even growing season starts to become spikey with activity and cessations and this is not good for the development and then retention of flavours etc. Thinning has been the order of the day amongst the vines and a good chunk of this has been done between trips abroad and eating too much ham and trifle.
A big final bottling was also completed this month with the 2011 Reserve Merlot and the 2011 Allouran put into bottle and laid to rest for a few years. Very happy with both of these wines; as the Reserve is very similar to the 2010 Reserve, and the Allouran similar to the 2007 at the same stage. You know you have got a good one when the bottling line foreman is asking when he can buy some!
So as you can see, all quiet on the Eastern (Margaret River) Front.
This month I am going to talk about the most interesting, exciting, tiny wine growing region in the world - Pomerol. For Bordeaux wine lovers around the world it is very well known and revered, but for those with only a vague knowledge of wines and their regions this little circle of iron rich soil means very little, and the grape that dominates is one that only gets a passing nod of attention, Merlot.
When most folk sit down to a glass of “Bordeaux” or “Claret” styled wines from the New World (Europe is old, everything else makes up the new), they most probably think they are drinking Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact this is so ingrained; many do not even realize that any other grape varieties are bordelaise at all. I am not sure how this snow job occurred, but I am blaming it on the 1855 Classification system for vineyards on the Left Bank of the Gironde River that simply defined the “best” vineyards in the region. I have no idea why it stuck – but by these merchants drinking and burping their way down the river to Bordeaux the city, they have made a huge impact on the world of wine and the cost based upon those vineyards ranked within tiers 1 to 5.
But what most people do not realize is that they did not taste 90% of the vineyards in Bordeaux – in fact they most probably tasted <5%, and the ones they tasted were dominated by the grape Cabernet Sauvignon which was more suited to the deep outwash gravels near the river’s edge. It is like classifying the peoples of Perth by just rowing up the Swan River and visiting houses adjacent to the water’s edge – you would immediately think all Perth families are housed in 10 bedroom mansions, have a swimming pool and Jacuzzi each, ladies are blonde and laugh like horses and their husbands talk in a stock broking form of gibberish … I kid you not.
A simple fact about Bordeaux is that ~60% of all red grapes grown are Merlot grapes. They ripen earlier than the Cabernet grapes (by about 2 weeks), which limits the vintage variability a bit, they extract good colour in a range of soil types, they are not too herbaceous, and they ferment quite easily through to dry. Issues resolve around poor fruit set if there is a windy late Spring, they get rots quite easily due to their thin skins and “fat” bunches, and they stress quite easily if not planted in a clayey soil or have a drought vintage.
Merlot vines at Chateau Petrus
The King of all Bordeaux for growing Merlot is Pomerol, glorious Pomerol.
I am going to be honest with you here – Pomerol ain’t pretty. It is a small 800ha area with one small town (if you call it that), Catusseau which does not even have a bakery (much to my annoyance, and I’d say 1000’s of others) – wall to wall vines with the occasional winery, house, and in the centre is a spire of the church that is good to use for bearings. The roads are poorly sign posted, the vineyard’s boundaries can not be distinguished from one another while pedalling along, and the soil is this dark brown gravel that varies very little as you go north to south along the eastern edge, but on the western side there is less iron and more sand so a little less famous estates are located there. No majestic chateaus, no lined driveways and gorgeous gardens, no open wineries I encountered, very few winery signs (1), and even less touristy things to do. In fact, even during vintage the place feels like a bit of a ghost town. No wonder all the action is in the town of St Emilion, 15kms up the road, crikey a tourist bus in Pomerol is simply lost with a Spanish driver looking dishevelled at the wheel.
Photo of the vineyard locations – it is the only tourist sign in the area
But you see it is all about the wines. Pomerol makes what I consider to be the best expression of the Merlot grape in the world. They obtain a ripeness which balances the delightful structural elements of the wine and make it both round but firm. Comparing Pomerol wines to many cheap Merlots throughout the world is like comparing a 1956 Morris Minor to a 2011 Bugatti Veyron – they are both capable of taking you from A to B, and that is where the comparison ends. When constructing the Blue Poles Reserve Merlot I use my memory of past bottles of Pomerol to guide me, as well as my time spend in Bordeaux in 2010 (September 2010 & October 2010 Monthly Reports).
Neal Martin has just completed writing a book on the estates of Pomerol. I will be buying it as soon as it hits the shelves in Australia – I am certain it will be fantastic for a wine lover like myself to flip through and enjoy the anecdotes and history. But the issue we all face now however is the ever upward spiraling price of Pomerol wines, and I wonder if Neil looks at this. When I was buying Bordeaux I could get the 85’s to the 95’s from a range of Pomerol producers for $50-$80 per bottle and have a great cross-section of wines. Now multiply those values by 5-10 to get the same wines from the 2010 vintage.
I personally think that the prices are far too high and are ensuring that they sit outside of the world of wine but rather in a world of exclusive “brands” and as such lose a lot of appeal to me. Will I ever get to drink another glass of Chateau Petrus, the recognized “best” wine of Pomerol? Highly unlikely as the prices I am afraid to say for this wine are unbelievable – they bear no relation to costs (apparently it is 35€ a bottle to make – it sells for >1500€ a bottle en primeur), and highlights the world of the outrageously rich and the rest of us.
This is a terrible shame due to ever increasing cost of buying quality Pomerol, the “taste” of Pomerol to the world of wine lovers is now basically unobtainable. Merlot is a wonderful grape and when grown in the right location in the right soils as in the case of Pomerol, it makes one of the best red wines the world can produce. We at Blue Poles are dedicated to making a Merlot which is as good as it could be, and I know that the wines we are making can stand up and be recognised as solid examples of this wonderful wine. Pomerol will always be the guiding light to our Reserve Merlot, but it will be harder and harder for me and many others to appreciate these unique and wonderful wines into the future.
Summer, well hello...
You could say this is a month in two parts. The first 3 weeks of December were typical end of season stuff with the weather warming but in dispersed with a cold front or two which brought in the rain and a gust of cold air. But from Christmas day until the end of the month we have had a week of temperatures hovering around the 40°C mark and this has stopped the vines in their tracks – crikey, it has stopped everyone in their tracks! With this run of hot weather it has meant this December is the hottest we have had records of, and it does not bode well for January and February, traditionally the hottest months of the year.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 27.3°C
Daily Max recorded 40.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.7°C
Daily Min recorded 7.6°C
The maximum temperature range is significantly higher than last year (which was in itself significantly higher than past years), however the minimums are quite similar which is quite unusual for Summer months. Rainfall this year was very similar to last year, and this is positive, as it provided some moisture in the topsoil prior to the hot spell at the end of the month.
Avg Maximum Temp 26.7°C
Daily Max recorded 38.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.6°C
Daily Min recorded 7.9°C
A quick skim through the rainfall totals for the past decade has shown a worrying trend – we just simply are not getting enough rainfall in comparison to the average expected rainfall. 2012 had 872.9mm for the year, against a 100 year average of ~1200mm. But in the past 10 years it is not common to encounter a rainfall totals greater than 1000mm consecutively, and in 2010 we did not even break 700mm. With temperature, the ranges have generally been within the 100yr range by a degree or two (with the last 10 years on the high side), so as such is less of a worry than these continuing low rainfall totals. Nothing can be done about it, but we will need to consider “drought proofing” the vineyard into the future with maybe more mulches and under vine covers.
A year of opportunity …
At the bringing in of the New Year, I always tend to feel a little nostalgic but also a little underwhelmed. I felt exactly the same after I completed my last exams at University – sort of “is that it?” nagging away at the back of my head. Well this year I have decided to be a bit more forward thinking, rather than seeing an end, I am going to try and see where the beginning is. I do believe this year will be significant for a number of reasons, and I hope that I can keep the energy up to push myself along with all that is happening in all areas of my and my family’s life. And I hope that this is the case with everyone who makes time to follow our little vineyards activities, time to crack on I say! All the very best for 2013 everyone.
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