Monthly Report - January 2013
Welcome to our teens…
Well the century has now moved on into its teenage years and it will be interesting to see if the globe becomes more “global” or “local” over the coming decade. For the past few years it feels as if we have all been in some form of holding pattern, with no country or philosophy really having a big impact on the world – and this has led to much of the lethargy seen in the world’s economies as much as the realization that you cannot keep on spending what you have not got.
So fiscal cliff avoided, an Australian election date already date stamped (how very fortunate for labor as Craig Thomson gets led away for police questioning), and a series of floods and forest fires that are almost becoming the East Coast norm – it is time to get busy with the upcoming vintage.
We are now into veraison in the vines, which basically means the changing of colour, and in the case of white grapes, the softening and ripening. Our vines look pretty thirsty, and I am letting them suffer a bit this year so as to bring the vines forward a touch as the high heat of December surprisingly put them behind as when the heat is too high the vines shut down and it all goes a bit backwards. We are still undecided on the worth of the vintage, so a decision will be made in February if we will be making wine from this vintage – so many competing factors are involved and we will weigh them all up when we all get together in February.
One of the more pleasing aspects of the past month has been the support of our wines by one of the country’s most eminent wine writers, Philip White. As many of you are aware I only forward our wines on to a few critics and reviewers, mainly because it is a cost we as a small winery cannot subsidise if we were to support them all. Surprisingly, we were asked by good friend and excellent palate Jeremy Pringle of Wine Will Eat Itself fame, if we could post off some wines to Philip as he was interested in trying Blue Poles wine. I have always been a huge fan of Philip’s writing on his website Drinkster but always felt a small winery in Western Australia would hold little interest to him (hence the lack of samples forwarded). The wines were duly sent, and we were very humbled when Philip has written up our wines so as to confirm what we know in our hearts, we are making very good wines. Below is the note that Philip completed on our 2010 Reserve Merlot recently:
2010 Blue Poles Reserve Merlot
$35; 13.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points
Review: Philip White
"GEOLOGISTS Mark Gifford and Tim Markwell spent years drilling holes in Western Australia. They drilled so many holes the joint was beginning to look a bit like a sponge. We should be relieved that before it filled up with Indian Ocean and sank, that side of Australia eventually offered them a site whose geology was pretty damn close to the Pomerol bit of Bordeaux which they dreamed of all those hot nights in the donga. So they grew the much-misunderstood and abused Merlot, which they obviously love. Merlot never quite got over the Amurkhans confusing it with mellow, which nearly destroyed it. Apart from Petrus, that is, the most famous Merlot vineyard, which has obviously never been drunk by anybody who confuses Merlot with mellow. Petrus currently sits at around three or four grand. Per bottle. Before tax. So this wine’s cheap. It’s not Petrus, but it’s freakishly close. I’ve had this bottle open for a week, and as I worry the bones of the last glass, the bloody thing still insists it’s only a flesh wound. Think of marello cherries, part-dried prunes, dates, figs and damp, mossy earth. That’s what I’ve still got. And slightly ticklish oak. Drink it, and that natural whiprod acidity smacks the mouth around and sets me dribbling greedily for a juicy haunch of beef at The Elbow Room. Best Australian Merlot since the 1994 Highbank. Blessed are the hole-drillers!
I can only say it so often before I sound like a broken record, but, our Reserve Merlots and our Allouran Merlot blends are bloody good and for their quality extremely cheap bottles of damn fine booze. It is only a matter of time before the 2010 Reserve and 2008 Allouran are down to museum stock, so please if you haven’t got some, grab some. They will cellar 20 years in a canter and you will have as Philip puts it, the “Best Australian Merlot .... Blessed are the hole-drillers”
The wine industry peak body in Australia is “Wine Australia”. It is our lobby group, it is our planning department, our export approval system, and it is our link to the technical innovations being reported both here in Australia and abroad. However over the past few months there has been a lot of scrutiny of this group and how our peak body is performing – and some of this is not flattering. Our contact with Wine Australia is limited, apart from some export permits which costs a substantial amount, and the passing on of fees, we hear very little from them. Why is this?
The answer is that the wine industry’s peak body does not support or wish to represent the wine drinker (many of you reading this), or the small lesser known winemakers directly (me and many of my fellow friends). They support an INDUSTRY – a business if you will. As when you break it down Australia is predominantly a wine “industry” with all the 1000’s and 1000’s of hectares of grapes, that makes millions and millions of litres of wine being owned mostly by 2-3 entities (yet are represented by 100’s of labels). They are then subsequently sold through their product restricted retail outlets – that for the 1000’s of labels and wineries sitting outside of the “industry”, we are often but mere spectators. Now you would think, this is a well understood paradigm and that the wine industries controlling body would admit, “Yes, we are meant to represent all, but we are primarily interested in the health of the INDUSTRY and that is in effect 2-3 companies selling wine in Australia and abroad – so to the little man we say good luck”.
But they don’t. They have this assumption that they represent the “best” of the industry, small hand crafted wines as well as the behemoths prestige brands – while at all times solely doing the bidding of the behemoths in the various halls of powers. Is this wrong? Surely we know that most of their income comes from these super vintners and our few hundreds of dollars as fees are miniscule in the big picture of things. Well yes it is wrong, and it is wrong in such a way that may damage the wine industry and drown the best, to promote the poorest – with you dear drinker having nothing left on the shelf but all 6 flavours of brand A (or brand B – depending on which of the 2 liquor outlets you drove on into), to choose from when you next leave a capital city.
Over the past month some writers with a much greater talent for the written word than I, have been discussing this very point of wine industry direction, and much discussion has ensued. I do not have the skills or history to be able to present all the points made, but I would like to highlight one area that really does need addressing by our peak body, but I fear will not and in effect may condemn us all by their (and our), inaction.
It is alcohol. Surprising as it may seems, everyone sort of forgets that we peddle a drug. An addictive drug. One that can be linked to road deaths, cancer rates, family break downs, street violence, suicide, alcoholism, and nearly every other social disorder you wish to name. And please do not try to deny it – like smoking causes cancer, alcohol causes social disruption. And I am peddling and promoting my alcoholic product here, there and everywhere – you’d wonder if I had a social conscience at all!
Our peak body uses a simple counter argument to the halls of power, we recommend you drink in moderation, and every bottle or cask of wine in Australia will have these magical, mythical words printed on the side. We will even tell you how many standard drinks are stored within, but we do forget to mention how many drinks are recommended over any given period. You see, we are telling YOU to be moderate, be wise, be sensible, and be aware – the product we are selling to you may kill or make an addict of you, so be careful, OK?
[ Whenever I think about it, I still am amazed that the wine industry still gets away with it in this litigious age. ]
I hear it coming, like a wave, stop being a wowser Gifford. It’s just a glass of wine with dinner or friends, and we humans have been drinking alcohol as part of our diet since forever, in many cases it was the ONLY thing we could drink as the water would kill you!! And believe me I’m with you brothers and sisters, all the way to the barricades – but you do know common sense does not have a role to play here?
Let me explain. All of our children have nearly finished their secondary schooling (yesss), but I do remember when they were attending primary school the hassle whenever one of the girls encountered a child with nut allergies in their class. You see it could not be the responsibility of the poor child to not eat anything with nuts in it; it was the responsibility of the class (and lately the school) to make sure there were no nuts that he or she could eat. For my wife packing lunches she always found it difficult as she loved throwing in a muesli bar and this always caused a good round of discussion. And what has this to do with alcohol? Well simply put, for that one person out there who is easily addicted or violent when using the product, we as an industry at some point will have to accommodate him or her.
The way we are going, we are heading towards this scenario:
We are going to have to remove labeling as it makes the product appear attractive and enjoyable
We are going to have put numerous warnings all over our product
And where have we seen this before? Yes folks we will be treated as the tobacco industry, that insidious monster of an industry that kills it clients over time. That’s us, the next evil empire.
But, but, but! Sorry, no butts. We are going down this path because we deserve it. While we are selling wine at a cost less than $2 a litre to the public – with its 10 standard drinks – we are seen as simply ghouls by the medical and temperance societies. And they are right. How have we got to the point where the price of beer has basically tripled in the past few years, but wine is given away like water (very, very cheap water!)? How? Why do we have whole shops dedicated to a product that has no branding, often no variety, but an alcohol content as the only information printed on the label? And yet we claim we are a “responsible” industry? Drink in Moderation – oh my, the irony in that statement. We are asking to be kicked, and kicked all the way down to the Temperance Union tent.
The finest wine available to humanity...
You see little Timmy or Tammy will pop up one day soon and say “I’m an alcoholic” and not to an AA meeting circle, but to a judge in a civil case. Up will come the slides of wildly happy people enjoying a moscato or three (our “stepping stone wines” – we may live to regret this saying), while sage heads will nod on the bench. This is our future – almost assured, I feel as sure of this as anything else I have predicted (I have had to withdraw hovercars, but I was 7 and unaware of gravity’s mighty influence).
So what can we do? Simple really, make the price of “alcohol” more expensive. The wine industry cannot keep its head in the sand any longer – we must STOP selling wine for less than 20c a standard drink. We must be proactive and make the price of wine reflective of the drug it contains. And the best way to do this is with a volumetric tax for all alcoholic beverages and we need to apply it ASAP. This tax is to replace the “Wine Equalization Tax”, or more commonly known as WET which is a 29% tax on the price of a wine, so a $1 bottle has 29c tax, and a $100 bottle $29 tax – yet both contain the same amount of alcohol. If a tax of 50c per standard drink unit was applied, the cost of tax on most bottles of wine would be $4-5 per bottle, and on a cask of 4 litres it would $20-22 of tax. It would reduce the tax on Grange by ~$120 and provide a platform for all wines to work from, as the floor is now not set at cleanskin bulk wine, as it will still cost a minimum of $6-7 per bottle, and many superior branded wines are in this cheap price point.
It will however gut the cask and bulk wine market. Yes that cheap market in which half the wines of the major 2-3 winemakers of Australia are allocated to. 1000’s of hectares of heavily irrigated poor quality fruit in regions not suited to fine wines may have to be removed if an export market cannot be found. Drinkers of these cheap wines will complain as if they have been shot, it will make the low income earners feel like they have been targeted by wine snobs and will scream out that sentiment everywhere. But you see all alcohol will be more costly (except possibly beer surprisingly), and this will make this very unpopular and possibly a vote loser for our Canberran politicians. And the reason why inaction is the most likely path forward.
So where does this leave us? On a one way ticket to plain packaging I am afraid. Unless our peak body can separate itself away from the demands of our major 2-3 wine companies, and start to represent the majority and core of the industry which is predominantly the fine wine portion of the industry, we are in trouble. A volumetric alcohol tax is a fair and equitable solution to a moral and social responsibility alcohol producers are meant to have.
While we do not have one, we do not have a leg to stand on.
Summer, is here...
January last year was a stinker – with the maximum averaging nearly 30°C, whereas for the previous 7 years the average had not exceeded 27°C. Until this year. This is the second year in a row where the maximum temperatures has exceeded 27°C, and the minimum 15°C – so folks it is a very hot vintage when taken in conjunction with the hot December we have just come out of.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 27.9°C
Daily Max recorded 38.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 15.2°C
Daily Min recorded 9.4°C
The maximum temperature range is significantly lower than last year however it is still well above average. The minimums are quite similar and at all time high levels as well. Rainfall this year was very similar to last year, however very little rainfall is expected during January and this was duly given.
Avg Maximum Temp 29.7°C
Daily Max recorded 40.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 15.7°C
Daily Min recorded 8.2°C
Lazy Summer Days …
I wish!! Though the vineyard is quiet with the grape vines photosynthesizing sunlight into sugar and making our grapes swell and ripen, I will be needed to complete some tasks both here and abroad. As always if any one area is quiet, another is busy, so I am busy geologizing over many of the coming days. Next month we will give you an update on our assessment of vintage for Blue Poles, and what wines will be made in this warm year.
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