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Monthly Report - October 2013


Here we go again…


Well a month of warming weather and towards the end of the month, quite warm indeed.  It is the sound of spring in the south west of WA, that of tractors going round and round in ever diminishing circles as grass is cut, then spun into heaped rows before being baled and stored at the paddocks end, or a barn.  There is also the sound of tractors pulling whining sprayers as the first protective sprays hit the vineyards and these will be nightly noises on a two week rotation through to nearly Christmas.


Grass leaps out of the ground this time of year and we have just completed the mulching of the vineyard, which was late due to the wet in the vineyard, and the mulcher was chomping its way through 600mm high strands of inter-row grasses intermingled with the prunings of a vintage past.  Green layers the top of the vines and the first wire lift will be in a week or two – it is amazing to watch the speed in which the vines hit out.  The only stop to this are the cockatoos who have a habit of chewing on some of the new growth, but it is only a plant or two and we will live with that to see them squawk and flock around our house which is always an impressive sight.


Our neighbor has had his new herd located around our house as they have eaten down the house paddocks, and unlike the replacement dairy cows that I have been training to annoy him in the shed, this year has been a herd of Black Angus as Garry and Kerry have finally given up the milking and moved into beef.  After one of the storms went through at the start of the month we noted all the cows had congregated by the rain gauge out the back – and the centre of attention was a pink galah chatting away to them all.  It was bizarre and worthy of a photo.  Our assumption was that the bird was a raised parrot lost in the storm, but apparently not.  It is a bird that hangs out with the locals on a regular basis to the north and east of us and is called “Jimmy” – hard case.

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"Jimmy" the galah keeping the black angus cows company

We have also been raising a few birds of our own with about 30 chicks hatched from our Australorp chickens – they had become very tame before we put them in the vineyard to do their work of eating under the vines and giving us a multitude of eggs “for my breakfast”.  So tame in fact, that every time you went outside the back door you were mobbed by them – Jackson the wonderdog was not impressed at all.  We are finding the Australorps are great little bug hunters and snail eaters so they are making a difference out there in the vines which is good news.


Makati Town…


Last October Tim and I shared our joint travel knowledge and tips on helping you our dear readers.  Now as the wine news this month has been full of silly wine show results and our peak industry body the WFA doing the large wine companies bidding in regards to the Wine Equalization Tax (WET) Rebate scheme – I am going to leave those topics to one side.  Why?  Well you know my opinion on wine shows and their inconsistencies (so politely put), and I have discussed the WET tax and my preference to move towards a volumetric tax for all wine, with a rebate applied to that.  So what I am going to do is discuss the other half of my life, which is the Philippines where I am currently developing an exploration / resource company.


In fact many of these reports have been written in airports or in my little condo in Makati, which is the central business district of Manila.  I live a double life so to say – one is a quiet rural life in which I run a vineyard, raise some wine, and occasionally sell some.  The other is as a geologist reviewing projects in the Philippines and determining their value and their prospectivity so as to raise funds and hopefully develop a resource company.  I have been doing this for over 3 years now, and I thoroughly enjoy each area of work and it has been an exciting ride along the way.


When I am in Manila I actually d not travel too much out of Makati, a central suburb of Manila (apart from flights into the provinces for project reviews etc), as this is the norm for most travelers into the capital – and it gives you a very skewed view of the city.  Most foreign companies work out of Makati, and their ex-pat employees either live in apartments in the suburb or if wealthy enough in the gated communities very near the CBD.  Hundreds of thousands of local workers come in each day, and leave each night to service the CBD and most ex-pats have no clue or understanding of where these people come from but do love the fact they are a very cheap work force.


So when I do wander outside of Makati into the suburbs of Manila I try to look very hard at what is going on in this town of 11 million people.  Outside of Makati is not slums (though some of the very poor areas along the river banks can be classified as such), but rather very crowded ‘towns” that you would see in every provincial area you travel through – concrete block houses cram up against one another and every space is used, little shops are on nearly every street front and kids are simply everywhere.  Many many of the CBD workers live in very simple housing in very simple areas, generally with water and power and they work very hard to ensure kids get to school and food is on the table (and clothes are clean – almost obsessively so), but saving is difficult.  Little things mean a lot, so having an iPhone for example is pretty much top of the tree for many and they treat all of their goods with utmost respect.


But back to Makati.  Makati is dominated by 3 roads, Ayala Ave, Makati Ave and Paseo de Roxas, and are in the form of a triangle – they were in fact the old airport runway and plane terminals / hangars.  You can still see the old airport if you go hunting out behind the Heritage Library, and the reason why Makati was selected as the CBD was that it is the driest spot in Manila.  All of the business offices are predominantly on Ayala and Paseo, with many smaller offices in the surrounding suburbs of Legaspi and Salcedo.  Manila floods at the drop of a hat – I can’t count the times where I have been stuck in Makati as every road out of town is flooded.  But amazingly once the rain stops the town dries out within 24 hours and it is hustling bustling business as usual, with just a few more potholes on the road to the airport in Pasay to negotiate.


The Philippines is politically quite stable, and everyone is very politically aware as it affects their everyday life much more than it affects westerners in their own country.  Elections are held for every level of governance, from village captains, to mayors, to governors, to senators through to the big cheese - the President.  The issues that arise with such a significant political ladder is that almost all positions are “buyable” as the richest families throughout the country run the political landscape – with some families in power in some regions from Mayors through to the Senator, with everything in between.  Currently there is a significant controversy with the realization that the senators have been abusing the “Pork Barrel” which is a fund in which they have discretionary powers on its spending – it forms a big chunk of the GDP and it is now realized that as much as half of those funds may have been funneled directly back to the Senators themselves.  This is a massive problem at every level in the Philippines and in fact is one of the biggest blocks to the growth of the country, and one the current President is trying to address (though he himself is at times dragged into the issue as well, it is indeed a very wicked web they have weaved).

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Statue of Benigno Aquino being led away before being assassinated.  This event started the “People Power” movement and led to the overthrow of Marcos, his wife Corey becoming President, with now his eldest son, Noynoy, the current President.

The industry I am in, the resource and mining industry, should make the country one of the richest in the region – as it is a wonderful resource rich nation that could provide wealth for all.  But it does not and generally this is an issue with the locals and their systems and protocols rather than any foreign company exploitation.  It is a massive shame, and also a massive challenge.  My personal aim is to develop projects that help local communities and the country, are environmentally sound and grow the economy – and I think most Western foreign companies have the same goals.  Local miners are however not so altruistic and this is where the problem lies and one in which the country needs to confront as soon as possible for the good of all.


I have got used to the place.  After the quiet of my vines it is like a jolt of volts to be in crazy traffic and busy business.  The people are unique and very proud of their heritage, and are crazy for travel – Filipinas have become the workforce of the world almost based on this desire to travel as much as their cheap labor.  I am also learning to speak enough Tagalog to follow the conversation; however my PA shakes her head at my pronunciation most of the time. But I am getting better (I think), and I watch the Pinoy soaps on TV in the evening to try and improve which also makes me shake my head at what they actually can put on the little screen there – oh my!


Living two lives as such has become part of my lot.  I am constantly busy and often I forget what day it is as they all become a continuum.  But when I sit down and think about it, I am enjoying it – life is very hard to savor from the couch for any length of time.  For those who have been reading these reports over the years you have seen all the cycles of the seasons and the growth of our winery – this work abroad ensures the future of the estate and the support for our wines.  As they say, you only live once and I am keen to do as much as I can while I am here :)


Season comes back into shape...


Well winter has at last been put to bed and we can move into the warming months prior to summer.  October started cool and we were beginning to think that we were in for a 2006 vintage when it was very cold in late 2005 – but by mid-month it had warmed up and dried out and it feels like spring is well and truly in the air (which really means there is pollen galore – pity the hay fever sufferers).


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

October 2013:      

Avg Maximum Temp          20.6°C

Daily Max recorded            32.4°C


Avg Minimum Temp             9.7°C               

Daily Min recorded               3.0°C


Rainfall:                               5.1mm

The maximum temperature average is lower than last year, with the minimum a lot higher.  The maximum variations relate to the cool start to the month this year keeping the average down.  The minimum was higher than last year and that relates solely to the cloud cover.  Rainfall is lower than in 2012 but it is about average for October for this part of the world.  

October 2012:      

Avg Maximum Temp          21.5°C

Daily Max recorded            29.6°C

Avg Minimum Temp             8.6°C

Daily Min recorded               3.0°C


Rainfall:                              41.1mm


Spring has sprung …


The growing season is in full swing every November, with shoots requiring tucking in from the first of two wire lifts to be completed in the month, and the sprays need to be put out to keep those mildews at bay.  Flowering for our varieties will also hit full swing and by the end of the month we will know how the crop will look.  Another trip into the Philippines at the end of the month, but all should be nice and tidy before the departure lounge is visited.

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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