Monthly Report - August 2014
This month did not start well. The wine community woke up to the news that Jeremy Pringle, wine scribe and thinker, had died in his home. It was a shock as JP was young to us all (41 years old), and he was in a way just starting to get mainstream appreciation of his wine tasting and reviewing ability. Many of us saw him grow via the internet, and though he often took the hardest path to get to a small peak, we all respected the integrity and at times sheer bloody mindedness of the guy.
I met JP a few times when I tried my best to get some Blue Poles wines into Brisbane. The Brisbane “crew” who I ended up meeting during those visits were a tight core of 10-15 with a peripheral spread of a further 30-40. JP and his good friend Julian Coldrey were the “academics” of the group for a word, they had their blogs and they were also well known for doing the occasional piece in the local media. They were my main reason for visiting the town to be honest (selling classic Bordeaux style wines into Brisbane retail is really quite a silly thing to do as I have found out over the years), and my time with the pair of them was always the greatest pleasure as though I know I should have been more serious, I genuinely just enjoyed their company either alone or together.
Many of the online community over the past 3 weeks have written eulogies and their common history with JP – and some of them were beautifully written pieces. His friendships with Philip White, Gary Walsh, Campbell Mattinson, and many of the “new” spoke of a changing of the guard in regards to wine thinking and review, it felt for the first time since I have been around, “fresh”. Australia had become mired in a system in the 80’s and 90’s with regards to how wine was viewed, and the onset of forums and then blogs led to a new look at an old concept. In fact JP and I had issues with the old in similar areas, and our coded emails over a 6 month period a few years back was of great support to me and my “silliness of thought” at the time.
But enough. JP by now will be screaming “What a pile of dung! SAY SOMETHING or move on Gifford.”. So I bloody well will – and I am going to make you provide me with an answer JP if we ever meet again.
Tasting note, my arse…
One of the biggest hang ups and discussion points JP and I would ramble on about is the value and the actual use of a tasting note when discussing wine. I remember he embarrassed me once by reading out loud my back label to me in Bar Alto during a wine dinner I was hosting. It read like this:
“The vintage of 2008 was consistent and warm ensuring grapes were healthy and ripe at harvest. Our Blue Poles “Allouran” is a combination of 79% Merlot and 21% Cabernet Franc, a classic “Right Bank” Bordeaux blend. The wine is deep red/black with a nose dominated by lifted red fruits and chocolate, with a hint of subtle oak. The palate is full and balanced giving in to a delicious length.
This wine would age gracefully for 5-10 years in a cool cellar.”
I died a little inside as he was absolutely right, it was insipid, and my counter to his argument was to ask him to give the wine a score then (he had just started using the 100 point system on his blog), he winced and sharpened his tongue.
We then spent the balance of the evening dissecting our views and that meant I failed miserably in my duties of trying to sell wine to those in the room – but it was worth it. The issue is that conveying taste and smell through the use of words is fraught with danger and a lie. It is the same as conveying colour through the written word – if I say blue it means nothing without the descriptor “Cambridge Blue” “Oxford Blue” “acetylene blue” “sky blue” and even then what is the actual memory of the reader of the actual colour? So by saying “lifted red fruits and chocolate” as I did above, what the heck does that mean to anyone when referencing it to wine. I KNOW that it actually cannot be a good representation of what the wine smells like, but it is the wine writer’s shorthand of defining that it smells “fruity” for a term, and has a “dusty” richness which can be linked to tannin and oak. Yep, it is insipid, but have a look into any wine almanac and see how often the word blackcurrant is used in the Cabernet section, lime in the Semillon section and ask yourself if all of those wines smell the same as your memory of those aromas? You can guild the lily and put hyperbole and fluff around those descriptors but you come back to the same conclusion they are selling the same colour and it cannot be right.
The written wine tasting note is actually just some individual’s compilation of thoughts about a moment of time (or series of moments as thoroughness can invade some practices); on a product that often defies description. It is a pointless act unless the reader can actually ascertain what the hell the author is trying to describe – and often it is so redundant that without a simple numerical score no one would have bothered to remember the wine at all.
Just last week, Wine Front’s Gary Walsh gave Roger Pike from Marius in MacLaren Vale 97 points for one of his wines – and folks this actually is a high tide mark as this score does indicate a WORLD CLASS status for the wine. When you read the tasting note, you get the “enthusiasm” for the wine amongst all the euphemisms and the demand for its recognition. It is where tasting notes need to go – they need to highlight what the taster felt about the wine more than an ingredient list of aromas and tastes. To continue with the simplistic note in this day and age is failing to recognize that no-one really gives a crap about “lifted red fruits and chocolate”, but they do want to know just how that wine made you feel, how it made you trigger your memory, and how it made you grasp its history and currency.
BUT. Here comes the kicker – for every piece of unbridled enthusiasm that we see written in the great wine almanacs and websites of today, are they providing YOU with a window into the wine? How could I or anyone know? From the glorious Hunter Thompson-esque writings of Philip White, to the enclosed and personal tales from Campbell Mattinson, on to the accuracy and detail of the gifted Mike Bennie – we are running to the bucket of gold. It is such an ephemeral thing, something that is there but not there.
JP was facing this off. His last correspondence with me was to try and reinvent his own tasting note dominant wine website. But to what? And what would that entail? It makes my heart ache to know that I will not get the chance to find out where that mind would have travelled and traversed, but what I do know is that I loved him like a brother and I did not say it enough.
Love you JP and I will miss you.
August began so warm and so mild that it felt like Spring had skipped a month. The weather did return later in the month (as I flew abroad with a brilliant sense of timing), with strong cold fronts bringing rain and storms to the south west corner of the state.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 18.4°C
Daily Max recorded 21.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.3°C
Daily Min recorded 1.7°C
The maximum temperature average is much higher than last years and even higher again to the August average since we have been at the vineyard, but the minimum was a bit lower with the clearer skies from the start of the month. Rainfall is about average for this time of year and it was raised by the very heavy downpours that occurred in the last week of August.
Avg Maximum Temp 17.5°C
Daily Max recorded 20.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.2°C
Daily Min recorded 5.6°C
New life …
I had better mention that I did some pruning in August and I will do a bit more in September to finish off this job for the season. Spring will be here from 1 September and that means buds will be a-bursting and grass will be reaching for the sky. Will do the mulching and the slashing once the ground dries out from this last flurry of weather and then we can settle into the spraying and vineyard routines of the growing season.
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