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Monthly Report - March 2015


Vintage Complete…


With a sense of relief and satisfaction we have put the vintage to bed.  We had an early start for us as we picked a small tonnage of Fiano at the end of February, with the “real” vintage for us always being the Merlot and Cabernet Franc +/- the other red varieties.  I knew that the vines were a little advanced due to the dryness and easy heat we’d had all through January and February – but it was not possible to determine how far in front or back you are until you start sampling through the vineyard properly.


The first set of samples we analysed on 9 March came back with modest sugar levels (under 13 Baumé which matches approximately the final alcohol levels), but pH and Total Acidity (TA) were a bit more advanced than we were used too.  The low level of pH and TA in the Cabernet Franc was scary in fact as it appeared by the numbers to be ready to go, but tasting the grapes indicated that the tannins and flavors were not quite right.  The weather was fine and dry, so we sat down had a drink and thought we would wait for a week.  Well what a week it turned out to be as by 12 March Tropical Cyclone Olwyn had formed off the coast of northern Western Australia and was bearing south.  It hit the far north west corner of the state and by 14 and 15 March had made its way to the south-west corner bringing with it buckets of rain.  We had 24.8mm of rain over three days and though much ran over the surface of our dry dry soil, some started to seep in and those hungry vines were ready and waiting for a good long drink.


The decision was made on the 15 March that we would pick off the Merlot on 17 March, as this variety is gluttonous for water and is very soft skinned and prone to splitting if left on the vines with rain around.  This could only lead to trouble in the vines with mildews and rotting a big potential issue.  The weather forecast also had another rain event coming through on 18 March with almost as much rain predicted, so it was all hands to the pump as we pulled off the nets on 16 March and a 6am start on the 17 Marchwith my United Nation of pickers who roll into Margaret River each vintage.  It was a lovely cool morning and the rain that was due in the afternoon stayed at bay as predicted such that the fruit came off dry and clean.  The final tonnage and results were fantastic for balance, and the grapes were peachy ripe – in fact I was quite astounded to how good the grapes were and we have high hopes for the Merlot wine this year.


Merlot:              Hand-picked 17th March 


Tonnes:             6.324t 


Baumé:            13.2 Be     


pH:                     3.35pH              

Total Acidity:     5.8TA

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Fresh Merlot about to be de-stemmed and cooled for a cold soak


So one in the tank, cooling down prior to ferment; now for the next one which was sitting out under the weather.  Cabernet Franc like its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon actually does not mind the rain as the berries are smaller and the vines do not take up the water as easily as many varieties, but with another 20.9mm of rain and already having quite low acid levels I made a call to pick on my sister’s birthday, 19 March.  The 18th was a very long day as the last of the nets came off and wary legs tramped up and down the rows trimming off fruit that were not to be in the final pick.  6am on the 19th the team turned up once more and away we went under cloudy skies that slowly cleared as the morning passed.  Tasting, tasting as I do started to show that I think I have made the right decision as the grapes were fully ripe in the skins and the pips and the flavor was there in spades (I have gone and checked a small panel of unpicked grapes in the cabernet franc block just yesterday and they have already lost their spark and flavor only 10 days post vintage), which still surprises me as the Cabernet Franc had ALWAYS taken an extra 10-14 days to ripen on the Merlot.


Cabernet Franc:              Hand-picked 19th March 


Tonnes:                            3.190t 


Baumé:                           13.0 Be     


pH:                                   3.56pH              

Total Acidity:                   5.1TA


Again the balance is great and the wine should with a bit of luck make itself.  We do everything we can to ensure that the amount of playing around in the winery is minimized and you can only do that with solid, healthy, well balanced grapes and this appears to be the case with both the Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  At this early stage it appears to be a Merlot year (after the brilliant Cabernet Franc of 2014, it was due you could say), and checking the ferments as of yesterday I am still of the same opinion.


The Merlot is already deep deep in colour and has that fresh plum already leaping out of the glass.  Pressing off the Cabernet Franc has shown this wine to be just beautifully balanced and not a remote hint of any greenness or under ripeness in any way what so ever, but still keeping that vitality.  Clive Otto and I when checking the Cabernet Franc just looked at each other and said at the same time “violets” – so so floral and so so bordelaise.

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The United Nations of Picking Teams – 9 countries from 17 helpers!

The decision on the other varieties has come through and we will not be making a Shiraz or a Teroldego this vintage.  The Shiraz has not enjoyed the long dry January and February and the wet in the middle of March has picked it up but too little too late.  The Teroldego was simply a matter of tonnage, we would be lucky to have half a tonne and this means it is hardly economic to make and bottle for such a small volume – it would literally become a house wine of a barrel and a half.


Margaret River has had a solid vintage overall, but it has been very low yielding across the board and it has been very unusual in the ripening patterns across the region.  Many who did not pick before or during the rain are still waiting for the sugars to come back up – but I think that is difficult as the evenings are very cool and the sun weak, thus it does feel like break of season already.  Many Cabernets from single vineyards have been picked over 2-3 weeks and this is very odd, with many speculating that it may not just be climate but nutrition being an issue.  Much scratching of heads out here amongst the vines this vintage.  I am excited by the wines we have made, no steps backwards and all three wines will be excellent examples of what we can produce here on this handkerchief of land.


End of Vintage Selfie – looking as tired as I felt…

Another one finished…


This time last year I was the proud father of my daughter Beth who had recently graduated as a Registered Nurse.  And now this year, my eldest daughter Hannah has completed her Law degree out of the University of Western Australia which is a real achievement and we are all extremely proud of her and her partner Tom.


It was with great pride that we attended the graduation and it was especially pleasing to know that Hannah had completed her degree with only minor help from her parents and can truly claim that it was an effort that she will look back on with pride.  I still hold bragging rights with my two degrees, but not for long as Hannah will complete a Master’s in Education over the next 18 months and that should be the coup de grâce for me.  Which by the way, I do not mind at all.

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Hannah and Tom at her graduation – UWA 23rd March 2015

Vale Simon…


It is always sad to hear news of the passing of someone you know, if only in passing or through social media.  Last Sunday 23 March Simon Burnell, the wine maker at Willow Bridge Estate in the Ferguson Valley (east of Bunbury and north of Margaret River), passed away while kite surfing off Prevelly in Margaret River.  He was well known and well liked, with an opinion on almost everything in the occasions I either chatted on the phone or messaged on twitter.


Simon in his own way was a pioneer.  He went to Willow Bridge Estate from a well-known Margaret River winery knowing he was going to a winery and a region with little in the way of accolades or support.  He must have sat down at some stage and thought what was required and then went out amongst the vines and then within the winery and did it.  Because from his arrival to now the winery’s wines have been consistently very good and on occasions excellent – they broke the mold in the region and must have given the owners of the estate so much heart and relief.  He worked with a wine maker named Jane, who has been involved with Blue Poles wines in the early days, and she is young, energetic and modern – and she still went to work with Simon in the Ferguson.  She must have seen and still sees the vision and opportunity too.


Though I never met Simon in the flesh, he was a character and well regarded.  It is sad when someone with such skills and ambition passes away before their talent has been truly realized.  And this is the case here.  A truly gifted wine maker, ambitious and visionary – he will be missed by all.  Farewell Simon.


Instant Autumn...


Well that is how it felt by the middle of March. The month started dry and warm and everything was rushing to ripening, but as discussed TC Olwyn blew down the coast dumping rain as it went, which followed by a cold front meant we had 46mm of rain over a week, right in the middle of vintage.  The mornings from 22 March onward have been decidedly chilly with the average temp being 10.2°C, compared to 14.4°C prior to the rain events and this has reduced the opportunity to ripen many grapes still hanging out waiting for their sugars to rise.


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


March 2016:        

Avg Maximum Temp          24.9°C

Daily Max recorded            33.2°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.3°C

Daily Min recorded             6.8°C


Rainfall:                               46.0mm


The maximum and minimum temperature averages were a little bit lower than last years, indicating the change of season has come early this year.  Rainfall is higher due to a couple of major rain events in 2015.

March 2015:        

Avg Maximum Temp           25.4°C

Daily Max recorded             35.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp            14.1°C

Daily Min recorded               6.7°C


Rainfall:                               28.5mm



Off to work once more…


This month has been the roller coaster ride of vintage and that now is safely put to bed.  All the nets are back in the shed, the wines pressed and into their barrels (in the case of the reds), and we have had a chance to mow the lawns and sort out the chickens (basically culling the excess roosters).  As always there is maintenance to do on all of the equipment and vineyard wires/ irrigation lines etc – and I will do them prior to heading back to the Philippines for work.  The vines will lose their leaves, put some energy in the roots for storage and have a well-earned break.  Pruning will start in June and then we start the cycle once more.


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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