Monthly Report - October 2014
I am always nervous on this one day. A bit too much so, considering I have done it so many times before, but I cannot help it. One of my habits during all of the time we have been making wines at Blue Poles is to not taste the wines from the latest vintage (after the initial “state of the nation” check in May), until at least 6 months after vintage. So barrels were arranged on the ground for the first look at our completed wines from the 2014 vintage. I knew that it had been a really great growing season, and the lack of heat spikes and the steady reliable end to vintage weather wise meant that the grapes on the vines tasted as good as they have ever been, so now was the time to confirm nothing had gone horribly wrong.
From the first smell of the Merlot I knew I could sit back and relax. Wow, simply wow. Such a gorgeous fresh plum and tobacco scented wine, tannins as smooth as a ceramic cup, and just lovely length. The new oak added this year was a little out of kilter with the wine, but it was still finding its balance and I have no doubt that will come around within the next 12 months where it will still be in barrel. Next was the Cabernet Franc, and this is when I finally felt we had made it as a vineyard, the wine was just spot on in every way. Previously the Cabernet Franc had been a little “one-dimensional”, but not this year – violets and lots of red and blue fruits, not a hint of green in any way, with a dense flavor, complexity and richness that means I am forced to make a Reserve Cabernet Franc – it has to be shared. A quick blend of the two at the “classic” ratio of 2:1 ensured all is well with the world and the Allouran will be as good as any we have made before. I have been on a high for a couple of days since, but that will pass I am sure as I start all the wire lifting this afternoon and then start whining about my back and hands to Jackson in the vineyard.
Kate at Fraser Gallop helping with barrel tasting
Steady season, is the best way to describe it. We dodged a bullet when large cells of bad weather formed in land bringing heavy hail and rain mid-month, and that fortunately worked away from us leaving the vineyard in a state of blissful ignorance. The vines are leaping up, but with the delayed pruning we are still a week or two behind many others in the region which should be a blessing if the weather stays warm at the end of vintage as predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology (65% chance of hotter than normal weather – Dec-Feb). Three sprays have gone out and they have done a great job with no mildews seen in the vines as yet (even the Cab Franc which just cannot quite ever throw it on one or two vines), and all of the leaves photosynthesizing to the max! All good on the western front, so here is hoping that the vines track on in this vein and have a great flowering set during November.
I know – I promised a sustainability report. But I got caught out by life and failed to set up my account with the McLaren Vales growers group in time so as get all the information forwarded through. I will do it, I promise. BUT I did get forwarded a really interesting article from a contact on Twitter that made compelling reading and got me thinking. The article I am talking about is this one translated from German on the Spiegel website Link Here
The article opens up with a small interview with Alain Vauthier, the owner of Chateau Ausone on the edge of the town St-Emilion. Now to anyone who has been to France you can almost “feel” in the text that the interviewers were being “endured” as much as anyone who visits France is. And it is almost palpable the degree of “we know best” coming through in their discussions, but at the same time you KNOW that this form of arrogance is just farcical in this modern world. Mr Vauthier, and I would say 99% of all other bordelaise, think that they are immune from the changing climate as like a frog being slowly boiled, they know it is getting hotter but it is not enough to affect their wines too detrimentally as yet, or in a nutshell “kill” them. The weather in 2010 when I did vintage in St-Emilion was warm during the day and cool at nights, with a long Indian summer finishing that vintage. The grapes came in with incredibly high sugars (16-18%, which is a match for the resultant alcohol percentages), if they were picked when the tannins were ripe, and by all accounts an army of reverse osmosis machines came into the region and “de-alcoholized” many millions of litres from the region – possibly Ch. Ausone itself.
Wine lovers often gloss over much of the actual business of making wine, and how much manipulation is involved at times to produce those classic bottles we have come to know and love. Bordeaux is now producing many great wines with a series of very good vintages, but the grapes are slowly and ever so steadily going out of whack in regards to their tannin ripening (time dependent) and their sugar levels (weather/ heat dependent) – which has been an Australian issue for decades. No one from the region dares talks about it as it would lead to the questioning of the “natural” suitability of the region for vines and wine and that is not a topic for discussion.
Let us continue on. Off to the Rhone and the latest winemaker from the Guigal family, Philip. He says it straight, it is getting too hot for many of the varieties planted and we need to do something about it. Now Philip actually starts babbling some “craaazy” talk here and mentions the potential to plant varieties that are outside of the allowable vine selections for the AOC (Appelation d’origine Contrôlée). Now the AOC is the rule book for growing vines and making wines in France, it tells you which are the most valuable sites and what are the vines you can plant in any registered growing region. What Philip said in this interview was heresy – Cabernet Sauvignon in the Rhône Valley? Planting on northern slopes? Yes folks that is the smell of smoke as half of France burns with outrage at such suggestions. So why is Philip saying this? Because he represents a massive company and his brand is recognizable worldwide and as such he will not be hassled by any blow back. He does represent some amazing wines from some amazing sites, but he can see that warming has made the vintages more consistent, but maybe not for the long term. It is a realization of the issue that Mr Vauthier above treats with distain (“The storms, well, perhaps they are getting worse.” – you could almost see him wistfully sipping on his wine while he says this), but Philip knows that change is brewing.
The last section is an extended piece with chain smoking, natural winemaker Isabelle Frère from somewhere in the southern wine growing regions of France. It is apparent that the extended heat, the loss of rainfall through extended rainy seasons, the lack of cooling nights has all come to play a role with her vineyard and her lifestyle. This is a picture of where many more classic and renowned regions of France could be going if some of the issues aren’t addressed. But the big question is will they? Can the AOC system be totally rewritten as alluded to by Philip Guigal? Is there a possibility that the most famous vineyards in the world, which have been planted out to specific varieties for centuries will now be replanted in new and more heat tolerant vines? (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti made from Nero d’Avola instead of Pinot noir anyone?)
With that, the last two paragraphs of the article were the most intriguing and debatable and are as below:
“A great, rich period will come to an end then, perhaps as soon as 2050, which isn't far away, or perhaps later, in 2100. Perhaps people will no longer get to know the great names, because it will no longer be necessary. Because Château Pétrus, Cheval Blanc and Yquem will no longer be part of the world's cultural heritage -- nor will Hospices de Beaune, Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy.
They will be names that once represented individual worlds, worlds almost painted in oils: the Loire and the Rhône, Burgundy, Bordelais and Champagne. Appellations like the lines of a poem: Médoc, Pomerol, Pauillac, Meursault, Chablis, Hermitage, Pommard. Forgotten. Consumed. Finished.”
I think it is a long bow to say that by 2050 it is all over red rover for fine French wine, even 2100. But there will need to be some major overhauls of the attitudes of the country to how this climate change will affect it and how. The article did indicate that warming is a continual trend, it is not as we had amazingly steady temperatures for 10 years (2000-2010) and I commented on this a few years back – but since 2011 there has been a distinct warming of the climate and I now plan for this in my vineyard and activities. We may in the decades ahead be forced to plant alternate more heat tolerant varieties to ensure we can keep the claim of making fine wines, but I am not sure if the fine wine regions of France could contemplate such thoughts. There are vineyard and winery tricks to be played out in France, but the clock is ticking and we in the industry will be watching with our corn chips and guacamole to see just what will happen next.
In a word, pleasant. One poor day as a storm came through early in the month, but otherwise it has been just glorious spring weather with the sun having just enough bite to give you a touch of sunburn on our winter white limbs. The weather was predominantly dry with rain often being at night and only a millimeter or two, and this kept the minima up a little but it still felt cool after arriving back from Manila!
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 20.3°C
Daily Max recorded 28.4°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.7°C
Daily Min recorded 5.8°C
The maximum temperature average was a little lower than last years, but the minimum was a bit higher with the cloudier skies from the start of the month. Rainfall this year is about average for this time of year, and it is likely that we won’t get more than 30mm for the balance of the year.
Avg Maximum Temp 20.6°C
Daily Max recorded 32.4°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.7°C
Daily Min recorded 3.0°C
Creating Brown …
Last month we had the vineyard and the undercover grasses forming a coat of green throughout the property, well this month is the start of the green as all the grasses finally run out of oomph and start to brown off. By Christmas all the paddocks will be a shade of brown and we’ll know we are in summer in Western Australia. Sprays continue and odd jobs tidying, thinning and wire lifting through the vineyard are tasks of the month. I am here all month so I have no excuses to be busy 100% of the time.
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