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Monthly Report - February 2015

Molding the vintage…


The dry and warm days of February mold the final weeks of vintage as they set the tenor of the season.  Having it too cool does not help as the shorter days gives the grapes little chance to ripen evenly, and the same could be said by having it too hot.  So like Goldilocks, we want the temperature “just right” and to date we can say that all is looking superb out there in the vineyard.  The unusual aspect of this vintage is that there is not a single Red Gum blossom out in the region – this is the main tree in the forested areas and supplies most of the food this time of year for the nectar eating birds and even the parrots.  Thus if you do not have nets out you will lose half if not most of your crop – a crying shame as the noise around town is that everyone is really happy with fruit quality, but there is a loss of tonnages of the early picked varieties of 30-50% just through poor fruit set (those cold and windy spring months I rambled on about a couple of reports back appear to have done the damage).


All of our new barrels have been delivered to the winery and like an excited grandparent heading off to see the latest grandchild I patted them and smelt them knowing they will be the keys to some of the flavors and character in the 2015 wines.  We have actually picked off one lot of Blue Poles wine, a Fiano which is grown by good friends in the northern region of Margaret River.  Fiano is a native Italian white wine that has quite a lot of flavor and is recognized as a really good variety for Australia due to its heat tolerance and the holding of its acid during vintage (meaning no additions).  Very excited, but only about 80 dozen as we try it out, so it will be a race to get one of these bottles but judging by the ferment it will be worthwhile.


Merlot Ripening late February – Row M22


Nets went on of course in February – lucky for us we have invested in bird nets over the years to provide good coverage – as the birds are voracious this season.  They must be pretty hungry as there is fruit damage in the first couple of bays in the Cabernet Franc, prior to the nets going on, which means the birds were eating effectively green grapes just past veraison, a very rare event.  Walking through the vines you can see that the spray program to hold back any mildews has worked really really well this year, and I think this is due to a stronger spray unit pushing the sulphur into the canopy much more forcibly and this has reduced mildews almost to nil.  This is a first for us, as we always have a little due to our minimizing of sprays for the health of our soils and to reduce compaction etc.


So all is looking good out there amongst the vines.  It should be a cracking vintage and if it can live up to the 2014 wines which are in barrel, well then I will be a happy camper.


Defining a truth…


I have written about all sorts of topics since starting these monthly reports, and I have written them solely from my perspective and my understanding of the issues.  In a way they are a form of keeping pushing and testing myself “academically” for a word as I have reviewed others in regards to written commentary, and I have reviewed topics in relationship to our vineyard and wine (soils, climate, clonal selections etc etc).  But are they truthful?  Are they useful to anyone but myself as they are not peer reviewed and they are not tested apart from my own rigor?


You may ask yourself, what is he on about?  And you are most probably right, it does appear a bit self-indulgent, but what I am trying to say is whatever I have written it has little worth in the long run if it is not “truthful” at its core.  I have had a long period of time in Manila in the past month, and as it was a bit extended due to my company’s work program, I did have the chance to read a number of books.  And during this time I noted that the most well regarded and most inspiring authors have the capacity to test your view of the "truth” and it has made me look back over my musings and realize that I have not really “cut clearly to the heart” of a number of matters and this to a degree frustrates me.  I do recognize I am no author of note (or even tuneless cord), but the lack of clarity in some of my writings may in fact be caused by my inability to face the actual truth of the matter.


I will give you an example and try and explain myself.  I have written in the past that I disagree with the current tax regime in Australia for wine products.  The reason is simple, the tax is price-based, so if you have a very cheap price you have a very low rate of tax, but if you have a high price, the tax is accordingly raised to very high levels.  


Now, little wineries like ourselves get a benefit of having the wine equalization tax refunded such that we have only the GST tax to contend with in regards to our sales which is a massive advantage for our vineyard.


Now, my interpretation is that wine tax is too low in Australia in general across the wine industry and as such there will be change coming.  I am in favor of raising the tax for all wine products on a per volume basis, this will make the cheap wines more expensive, but the expensive wines much cheaper.  My “truth” is that no matter what we say and do as a wine industry we cannot avoid the issue that we sell a product that has the capacity to be consumed as if a drug.  Our product also has the capacity to intoxicate people to the point of hurting themselves and others – very much like tobacco, but in different ways.


The issue I face is that what I have never said is that as a small winery we cannot afford to lose the wine tax rebate, if we did we would be doomed as that volume of money makes or breaks us.  Thus I have spun a “truth” without really saying we want to have a volumetric tax “and a continuing wine tax rebate”.  I can do this type of dismantling of many topics I have written about and show where my biases and opinions have clouded the issue and looking back this worries me a little.


Later this month an interview I had with Wine Business Monthly will be printed in their magazine.  I have read the bulk of the article, but have not read the introduction or conclusion of that chat I had with Anthony Madigan, the editor of the magazine.  He has indicated along the way that I am a forthright and opinionated member of the wine community, but am I?  I am not so sure, as I have never stood for board duties of the local wine association, and I have never lobbied state or federal wine bodies, or Members of Parliament.  I have just written this little opinion piece on a monthly basis for the past 8 years; and as you can see from the discussion to date I am beginning to wonder about my own version of the “truth”.


Having my Mum, Dad and sister here for the past week has compounded this reflection as many discussions related to our memory of events and what we took out of it.  Many of my takes on events talked about were often without context at the time, and only that now is being cleared up as we are more open with our shared histories.  This has the effect of humbling me to a large degree as we all live a life that choices are made by us, and sometimes choices are dictated by circumstance – my parents and family unit have lived varied and full lives, but not always were the paths chosen by us.


I would like to just ask every one of you wonderful readers of these monthly reports, take everything I say with a pinch of salt.  I do try to be as accurate and equitable as possible in areas that interest me but I cannot guarantee that my wired in biases will not leave their indelible mark on the text somewhere.  I do appreciate feedback on any topic so drop us a line and we can chew the fat and get meat on the bones of my at times “skinny” discussions.


Easy heat...


The problem with February in years past is that there always tends to be a few days in the 40°C’s which cause all sorts of problems during the ripening period.  Well this month we had a period of 26 days without rain (a thunderstorm struck on 27 February giving us >95% of the month’s rainfall), and the highest temperature just over 35°C – which is pretty much as good as you could hope for.  Last February we had low maximums as well, and that proved to be an exceptional vintage for us.  Low humidity as well has meant there was no mildew pressure once the nets were put on, so all is looking good.


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


February 2015:        

Avg Maximum Temp          27.6°C

Daily Max recorded            35.1°C


Avg Minimum Temp           15.2°C

Daily Min recorded               7.7°C


Rainfall:                               13.0mm


The maximum temperature average was a little bit lower than last years, but the minimum average was a little higher indicating a bit more cloud cover than last year.  Rainfall is often low in February and without 12.5mm of rainfall on the 27th then it would have been identical.

February 2014:        

Avg Maximum Temp           27.8°C

Daily Max recorded             33.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp            14.2°C

Daily Min recorded                8.3°C


Rainfall:                               0.5mm



Final days…


The next report will have a summary of all of the varieties picked and tonnages recovered.  It is always an exciting and incredibly busy time, with the final pick and final stacking away of all of the buckets being a real sense of satisfaction.  Very much looking forward to seeing how the wines look as this year appears to be super good for growing quality grapes and possibly making that great wine to which we always aspire.


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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