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Monthly Report - January 2014


Crazy good…


Vintage of the Century. Vintage of the Decade.  Or the one I like best, Vintage of the Year!! [ Well I’m laughing even if no one else is :) ].


I’m afraid to say but the weather has been extremely kind to Margaret River this year with no extreme hot temperatures as seen in the eastern states, no tropical weather coming down from the north generating any humidity, early sea breezes at Blue Poles ensuring no large heat load, and just glorious blue blue sky.  What can I say?  By all accounts it looks like we will have another vintage of very good wines from the region and this is a blessing for all the growers and wineries who have put so much effort in over the year.


The month for us has been pretty much just tucking and trimming – the fruit set has been moderate so I can see no need to fruit drop this year and this means it is just about keeping the air through the vines, dappling the light on the bunches and ensuring the excess growth finds its way to the mid-row.  Irrigation trickles over with no ups or downs as the weather has not been variable enough to warrant it.


Thus you can say steady as she goes.  Fingers crossed, touch wood, and all other superstitious habits are in action in the hope that this can keep on until late March / early April and then you can be assured of some lovely Blue Poles Merlot and Cabernet Franc on the way to the winery to make what we always hope will be our best wine yet. Y ou never think otherwise as you work away in the vineyard, it is just the way it is.


Australian Wine…


Well I missed a topic last month, so this month in the style of Baz Luhrmann (well let’s hope not to be honest, what a terrible movie) and with it being Australia Day today I’m going to write about “Australia”.  And to be a little bit more specific, Australian wine.


I guess those who are reading this missive (and I have counted, this is my 97th Monthly Report – that is a few!!), know a bit about Australian wine and in some cases know an extremely large amount.  But in all honesty where do we sit in the world of wine?  Are we one of the top hitters we like to think we are?  Or are we just simply making up the New World numbers while the Old World continues to make the wines we all wish we could make?  Will this ever change?


Big questions and well worth asking as pretty soon there will be a big push to promote our wines to the world again (reducing exchange rate, new critic discovery, history repeats etc), and our industry leaders of all stripes will step up and most likely embarrass us all once more.  But before they do their usual failure to recognize the new, I am going to have a look at those questions right now so as to say I said it first.


Will they?  Could they?……probably....


Well?  Where are we placed in the world of wines pecking order?  To be completely honest with you, I actually believe somewhere near the top.  While our top wines are only a smidgeon below the best wines from numerous countries, our junk wines are alright and palatable.  So what does that mean?  Well in my eyes I believe the best examples of Australian wines are extremely good, though they may not quite reach the peaks of wines from the big three of France / Italy / Spain, they do have some extremely unique and impressive flavors and tastes which rival the old world and make them world class on every level.  In the making of fortified wines for example, Australia could easily be ranked the equivalent of Portugal and Spain through the wonderful Muscats and Tokays of the Rutherglen (though admittedly our production is only a tiny fraction of the Iberian producer’s total output).


But to be brutally honest – the best wines of USA, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa are also very impressive and you could only separate them into a pecking order by parochialism alone.  Thus somewhere “near the top”, actually means “with nearly everyone else” – thus the promotion of our wines on the argument of quality alone is fraught with danger and should not be used.  However, pronouncements from our industry heads to date have indicated that they will try to use the “quality” line as the next arrow in their bow.  So with such a thin promotional plank on which they walk, I have decided to give these suited “thinkers” a helping hand.  [ Rest assured fair reader, it won’t go past you and I… ]


In the promotion of Australian Wine, we have a massive window of opportunity within the realm of “personalities”.


Now I am not talking about a Wolf Blass and his dapper bow ties and his aim to make every red wine taste like cough syrup, or a David Powell who strutted around with $1000 bottles throwing cash at the nouveau riche in Asia and Europe – but rather the little guy who grows the grapes and makes the wine, or the enthusiastic communicators and the talented sommeliers.  These are the guys who make Australia different to most places in the world and are our link to the market that wants to see a “reality” when they are paying more than $10 for a bottle of wine.  


You see throughout the world the owners of estates predominantly have nothing to do with the estate except “manage” and “promote” – it is an old school model where only the wealthy could afford to own land (or have it passed down through the generations), and this landed gentry have just fallen into the role like a Duke.  The cost of land in famous wine growing areas of USA and NZ (and even Australia to a degree) has leapt out of bounds for anyone except the very rich, and in South Africa, Chile, and Argentina where land is cheap but so is labor the owners can “manage” their estates without ever getting their hands dirty.  Where’s the story in that?  Getting paid employees to ramble on about “terroir” and history while you throw a few $million at a wine and a space age cellar door reeks of “bollocks” (for a better term), to the thinking wine drinkers out there.

201401_2006 leaf plucking.jpg

One from the archives - A real family run vineyard with crazy leaf-plucking in the cool and much maligned 2006 vintage (…and the wine turned out fantastic too!)

So the Australian Wine Industry must find a way of getting “real” winemakers, owners, sommeliers and even commentators into the spotlight.  We have 100’s of the most intelligent, unique, talented and humorous people in this industry that through their size alone can never contemplate an international “campaign” – but they can provide the platform for promoting Australian wines at the price points we all wish we could export our wines into.  From hipsters to cockies, we have a group of personalities that can honestly say that they broke the soil, planted the vines, pumped over the vats, blended the barrels and bottled the wines.  They can say this in a way that makes you want to break bread with them, they can say it in a way that makes you want to visit Margaret River, Mornington, Geelong, McLaren Vale etc etc just to see what they see, and they can say it in a way that makes you believe they CARE about the wine they make and/or drink.


You may remember my little chat about the Paso Robles man – he has been used in a YouTube campaign to promote their wine region in California.  To me, having taken little interest in the American wine industry, he has provided me with one of maybe 2-3 wine regions to which I would visit if I ever wished to be internally searched at American border security (one of the others is Texas – don’t ask).  Many of you may also remember the Barossa ad campaign where they linked a sinister Nick Cave tune to a series of almost Amish images of the Barossa – hipsters of the world united in the love of that advertisement through independent cinemas of Australia and clicks on YouTube.


Both campaigns show a pathway forward – be a bit humorous, be a bit hipster, be a bit rogue, be something interesting.  If we move forward into images of vines on rolling hills and blondes with teeth, clinking glasses over prawn skewers, we may as well have built a hill of money and burnt it for all the use these images provide us in the world.  You see those images support one thing – bland supermarket swill – and that supports two companies in Australia, and that my friends is the initial peal of the death knell of our industry.


And this brings me to the last point I’d like to make on this extremely quiet Australia Day here in Manila.  Why the general failure of the Australian quality restaurant industry to support the makers of Australian wine?  You may think that is an overreaction, but I believe what I say has merit and is also worthy of discussion.  On a twitter stream yesterday, a wine producer from the Yarra Valley noted that an American wine critic commented that when having an expensive dinner in Melbourne the wine list was predominantly foreign wines – others chipped in and quoted numerous examples of the same.  The answer may be this simple – many just do not care or they have not thought through what they are actually doing to the industry.


For quality restaurants of this country, and the sommeliers who claim to take an interest in the product that they spruike a knowledge of and an interest in – it is difficult to reconcile their collective attitude towards an industry that provides their tools of work.  I will not bang on here – but next time I look at a menu with pronouncements of “locally sourced ingredients” and “seasonal” and “organic”, and then look at a wine list full of large company generic wines and cheap foreign imports at 3-5x wholesale, remind me not to get up and leave.


Thus, in summary…


  • Does Australia make world class wine?




  • Could they be promoted in a way that could harness all the amazing talent and character in this industry of ours?




  • Could our restaurant industry do more to support a wine industry that is innovative, diverse and quality driven?




Australia is a fantastic place to live, work, raise a family, drive a car.  With this being Australia Day, I can honestly say I am extremely grateful to be living and working in this country and the opportunity it has given me and my family.  To all Australians reading this, I hope you are as grateful as I and continue to enjoy the benefits to which we all enjoy.  I’m drinking a glass of our Reserve Merlot tonight and pondering over our journey, and I hope you have all cracked a nice wine and had a chance to relax and ponder yours.


[ As I have finished typing, fire crackers are being let off down the road in the suburb of San Andreas, their fiesta apparently, north west of my apartment – my very own Australia Day light show :) ]





My ability to summarise the weather with a word continues.  While last month was fine, this month has been dry, dry as a bone.  I did remember the day it rained, we woke up and it had gone and just left the smell of dust in the air – irrigation has been on since November and unlikely to be turned off until March at this rate. 


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


January 2014:      

Avg Maximum Temp          28.0°C

Daily Max recorded            37.0°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.2°C               

Daily Min recorded               6.3°C


Rainfall:                               0.9mm

The maximum temperature average is the same as last years, with the minimum’s average a bit lower accounting for the clear nights.  Rainfall is negligible, but the odd tropical downpour from the north does often make an appearance giving spikey rain totals.  Not this year though, this has meant an easy growing period with little pressure from the mildews.

January 2013:      

Avg Maximum Temp          27.9°C

Daily Max recorded            38.6°C

Avg Minimum Temp           15.2°C

Daily Min recorded               9.4°C


Rainfall:                              5.1mm


Happy Chinese New Year …


Well I watched all the fireworks crack over Manila last night as they welcomed in the Chinese New Year – I’m sure the Filipinos would celebrate any birthday of any deity if it meant some crackers and a few drinks :)  Back home on the weekend to meet up with my parents who are spending 2-3 weeks with us on the vineyard and that means a few decent meals and a few decent games of scrabble – and yes I will be putting my foot down on the use of Maori words this year!  One of the tasks is to get my father to make a “smoker” for me and that will be my new toy which should be great.  Vineyard will continue to be watered and trimmed and tucked and nets will go out later in the month – great vintage conditions at the current (touch wood this continues).

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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