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Monthly Report - October 2015

A Decade Done…


Yes this month is the report that brings up the 10 years of Blue Poles completing a summary of our activities, a discussion topic of some sort (usually), and the climatic data from the vineyard.  It was initially put together by me simply as a record for us and our families of what’s going on and it gave us something to look back over.  The first monthly report got all of about 30 views that were not us checking if it was still there – and for many of the early years we fretted about the website and what we would do with it.  Currently we are developing a website face lift and we hope to have that up and running by the year’s end.  We are however much more relaxed with our content and we hope over the coming year or two to add in other features such as direct payment options and maybe videos etc.


All of the reports (fortunately or unfortunately as it depends where you are sitting), have been written by me.  Thus I have no excuses.  I guess I must own all of the rambling, unclear thoughts, shoddy intellectual connections, poor research, and average writing skills.  Tim does edit it closely each month, this was brought on by one report that created a furor a number of years back as I wrote one quickly and discussed a half-arsed argument that did not present well – thus we have been more circumspect since and I am grateful, in a way, as it made me think much more about what I am writing and how it sits.  I still ruffle feathers but I know this and often it is done in a way to highlight how “closed” and “mediocre” this industry of ours can be at times.


I have been asked if I get bored with it, or lack for a topic each month.  And surprisingly I actually have enjoyed this part of the month’s work as it does bring me back to thinking about what has gone on, to work up a topic and at times do some research, and it gives me time to think about what is coming up with the wines and the vines.  From extremely small and humble beginnings, the Blue Poles report has reached many 1000’s of readers and I always hope that I am able to knock it out each month without too much delay.  Thanks everyone for reading it and getting in contact with us when something strikes a chord – we have talked and met many Blue Poles comrades through this report and for that we are grateful and thankful that so many have come to know and enjoy our wines.


These reports have also seen our families grow and shrink, as well as congratulating everyone’s successes as they have come along.  With this in mind we are very pleased to have our second daughter Beth now engaged to her longtime boyfriend Aaron, an exciting time for them and both the families.


So without further ado…. Let’s get down to business.


Fiano – A new release…


Well this is exciting.  Our first one and less than a pallet (64 dozen) made, and we are very proud of it.  The grapes are not from the Blue Poles Vineyard but from our friends vineyard towards the northern end of the Margaret River region and they also way back in the early days gave us some grapes to make up a small parcel of Tempranillo (one of the rarest of all of our wines, and one that drank well and has aged a treat).  


Fiano is a grape from the Campania region of southern Italy and the island of Sicily.  It can handle the heat well and as such it has been touted as an excellent new variety for Australian regions, and I believe this to be correct and we will be planting some in replacement of a portion of the Viognier block that is to be slowly changed out.


2015 Blue Poles Fiano

The grapes were hand-picked on 27 February and came in with good sugar and acid levels, but more importantly the flavor was strong and rich with lots of pear drop and lychee / ginger notes.  Only 1.1 tonnes arrived at the press, (and this was due to low tonnage rates for most wineries throughout the whole of the region – everyone is still working that one out), and about 600 odd litres was fermented in tank through to dry.  From the start this wine has always tasted delicious and with such a small amount it will be the lucky few who can have a case for drinking this long summer.  We are especially pleased and we hope to continue making this wine as part of our selection as we think that this wine will be a gorgeous drink for those in the know.


Mailing list will have first go, and if there’s any left we will place it on the website and hand the balance out to our brilliant retailers.


Remember the Vineyard?...


Yep, I was getting there.  Vines are now reaching for the sky and flowering is but 1-2 weeks away at the latest.  Vintage has been dry but it has also had good cool nights and the wind levels have been slight, thus the canes have not been pushed and pulled too much.  No hail or heavy rain as yet (touch wood, touch wood), and this has meant an excellent set on the vines and all look slightly more advanced than last year.


Vineyard has had three sprays, it has been mulched, and some of the Merlot has been thinned (and I will keep on tapping away at that before I head back out to work in Asia once more).  We will get a much better appreciation of fruit set after flowering next month so I will give you all the heads up then – but at this stage the vineyard is looking a picture, roses are blooming, and the chickens are happily foraging around under vine.


A wall of green in the Merlot Block – Flowering 1-2 weeks away.

“Whites out in Wonderland”…


I will explain the title to this section later in the piece; it is worth the wait I hope.


On an extremely lazy Friday this late October Tim and I had the pleasure of going through all of our Blue Poles Bordeaux-styled wines with Philip White and Roger πke (of Marius Wines fame), from the very beginning through to the recently blended 2014 reds which I took along as barrel samples.  This formed part of two days of touring and drinking that will live long in the memory and provide us great heart as we continue along this wine adventure of ours.


Both Tim and I rolled into Adelaide at 10.20pm on a Thursday night – Tim an hour late and me 20 minutes early – off to Hertz and then into town.  Adelaide is not really a city as you would understand a city to be – it is a country town which happens to be the largest in the region.  That is not a bad thing trust me, but big bold capitals on a map could be replaced by light cursive text with ease when referencing Adelaide.  After the ritualised series of complaints about the hotel’s $5 chocolate bar and $7 water, we woke up to a city not so much buzzing, but chirping slightly.  Breakfast was ordinary but the coffee was welcome, and from this auspicious start Kangarilla was entered into Google maps and off we went to meet up with Philip.


Philip has not been well for a while.  I had sent off back in June all of the Allouran wines for him to taste through just prior to the release of the 2011, but his health had been such that he has looked at this row of soldiers for a while and he felt they were giving him the stare and he would not return the look.  When I emailed him in July and asked him how he was he admitted that it had been a tough few months for him, so I said for him to forget about the wines, get better and I will see if we could get together to do it in late spring.  


Fortunately for me he went through with this plan – chased up his mate Roger πke and arrangements made.  So there we were on one of the most glorious days the McLaren Vale could produce, sitting on Philip’s verandah, glass of our soon to be released Fiano in hand, shooting the breeze.  He was looking forward to the day almost as much as us and when The Pike barreled up the driveway in his Cosworth-enhanced Escort all was in preparation.  We made our final plans, and like Border Collies chasing a ball we took off to The Elbow Room restaurant (now closed sadly) with two cases of wine, various pipes, e-cigarettes, and high expectations.  The wax had been sealed on the day.


It did not start well – Philip was accosted by a large man bearing a glass of (his?) wine which meant something to him, and him alone, and this caused a bit of disquiet.  The man with large hands and little etiquette training then left (much to ours and the restaurants relief), and the task at hand was set out before us.  Five Reserve Merlots made an appearance, then 7 Allourans and lastly a Reserve Cabernet Franc from 2014.


The Merlots. They shone on that day – 2007 grainy and full, 2008 glossy and polished, 2010 petite and perfumed, and the 2011 writ large with flavor and tannin.  The 2014 barrel selection was a compote of fruit and tannin demanding time in bottle, but from experience it had a bit of the 2007 about it.  A thread weaved through them and their source could not be doubted – these were Blue Poles wines and only that.


The Allourans.  Like a platoon, these soldiers stood straight and played their role.  2005 willowy and satin, 2006 fresh and alive, 2007 violet and long, 2008 sturdy and redolent, 2010 gyroscopic and handsome, 2011 strong and lively, with the 2014 soulful and round.  Every wine spoke of the vintage and the site – it is like a large family photograph where you notice how the children look like their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.


White and πke at “The Elbow Room” post the round of Allourans – October 2015

The Reserve Cabernet Franc made the table and it was shining brightly, so rich and long.  A 2010 Marius Shiraz from Roger’s tiny block of conglomerate sitting below the Willunga Fault, like a lonely tear on a dusty face, was drunk with the gusto it deserved.  Brooding and licorice it was black with long term intent.  People came and went from the table and surrounds, providing both interest and laughter in equal amounts.  The meal was of the highest quality and Nigel the proprietor/head chef lounged with us as the sun lowered behind the surrounding vines.


We delivered Roger πke back to his house on the scarp, drank tequila and Speyside malt whiskey with him while the sunset grilled the gulf.  While Philip has been recovering his bounce of late, Roger had been resurrected from near death in the past few years. Surrounded by his e-smoke we learnt of his illness and recovery and the ongoing issues post glimpsing the tunnel of light.  The πke and his wines are now recognized as treasures, and rightly so, but without the help of friends and family this may not have been so.  Marius wines are now in such demand that Roger feels no compunction to suffer fools gladly and as such lives his life to the fullest.  He has won the battle and the war, and we could not be happier for him as it is deserved – quality and hard work are always rewarded.


The trip back to Adelaide was uneventful – Philip kicked on with the Yangarra winemaker Peter Fraser that evening and we managed to get a Chinese meal before the town shut down.  The town was pretty much asleep by 11pm and walking home with bars only inhabited by middle aged business men using the company credit card it was time to find out if we remembered where the hotel was.  It was where we left it – our only skill may be that Western Australian geologists can remember how to get back to their vehicle and/or accommodation (something you only get when working in a desert).


The following day we recovered with a much better breakfast and a much larger coffee and then made our way back to the Vale.  We were to catch up with Roger and look around the vineyard, have a chat with Philip and then find a bar to go over what the last two days meant to us and our wines.  Roger, his garage of cars, and plague of rabbits was where we had left him and though he has difficulties with his joints he showed us the rows, the mélange of rock which forms his underlying geology, and the neighbors untended and unloved vines.  We also confirmed his connection to DBC Pierre, a writer of extraordinary talent, and to make it even better we were made aware that the latest book “Lights out in Wonderland” is actually partly written about Roger – a book I have devoured in the past three days.  Both Tim and I received signed copies and left thinking, now that was something else.


Over to Philip’s abode where we handed across the requested beer (simple text – Cool! Bring beer), and then wandered through the surrounding Yangarra vines.  A large block of bush grown Grenache sits above the estate like capping snow and its 1946 planting seems a gift to the wine world.  The High Sands Grenache that this block makes is exceptional by all accounts and a great advertisement and standard bearer for the wines of the McLaren Vale.


Philip White with Tim (top) and Mark (bottom) – High Sands Grenache 1946 Planting, Yangarra


We left, but only after hearing an unusual tale of Philip having met Bruce Chatwin (an English author that made me love reading once more) at the Exeter Hotel in Rundle St where he sat in Philip’s spot at the bar and refused to move over a 2-3 month period.  Well this piqued our interest and on the drive home we made plans to find the spot that Chatwin inhabited for that window of time.  Philip’s description ensured we found the locale and we settled down with a Coopers and watched the world walk past us from this iconic location – and oh my goodness within that 90 minutes we witnessed some bizarre and crazy moments, and even had the reason why Adelaide is called the City of Churches explained to us by a stranger (and yes it has not much to do with physical churches apparently).


That evening Tim left for the airport and much to his horror broke the bottle of wine Roger had given him whilst checking.  I had dinner with Kate a wine distributor in Adelaide, watched the All Blacks secure a World Cup final spot and got to the airport at 5.30am for a near empty Sunday flight to Perth.


Two unforgettable days.  Two days where we were given much more than we received.  Two days where we had our convictions confirmed and with our ambitions now feeling attainable.  And finally two days where we had an opportunity to meet two guys who are treasures to the wine industry – from very different directions of course but they represent something both real and special and we were humbled that they felt that they could take the time out to meet a pair of geos who had a simple plan, and are doing their best to carry it out.


“Well Didier’ll will tell you Pike had an epiphany.  Went searching for unicorn soil to settle his tab with Bacchus.  Took him years, but he found it.  Word got out to a few.  Rumour says that virgins go to rut in the vines, that it’s a pilgrimage for bent convent girls and aristocrats.  I met a man at the Kempinski who said a Comtesse d’Auxonne conceived a child under Marius vines…. More than one sommelier’s saving up for a tumble under the grapes.  Didi’s even advised them to do it under the Shiraz.  Says that the Shiraz thrives on passion but the Grenache prefers regret.”

Lights out in wonderland – DBC Pierre


Thanks Whitey and πkey.  Unicorn soil is just so damn hard to find, but when you find it you just know you have gotta use it...


[ …You can find Philip’s memory of the day and the wines HERE ]


Summer shadow...


October greets the vines with a warming sun, preparing them for our hot and dry summer approaching.  It was a warm October – a few degrees warmer than normal which has put the vineyard in a heavy period of growth.  Minimums are as expected, and if it was not for a 25mm downpour on Friday the 30 then we would have had below average rainfall as well.  Summer may appear a month early and that means careful vine management to ensure shade and light in the right percentages.


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


October 2015:        

Avg Maximum Temp          22.1°C

Daily Max recorded            28.2°C


Avg Minimum Temp           11.0°C

Daily Min recorded               4.2°C


Rainfall:                               50.5mm


The maximum temperature average was much higher than the 2014 maximum, with minimums quite similar between the two years.  Rainfall was slightly above average and last year’s total, but much of the rain fell in a single downpour such that much was lost to run off over the top of the dry topsoil.

October 2014:        

Avg Maximum Temp           20.3°C

Daily Max recorded             28.4°C


Avg Minimum Temp            10.7°C

Daily Min recorded                5.8°C


Rainfall:                               37.1mm


Flowering amongst the vines…


The month of November is as critical to yield and quality as is the months of harvest in March and April.  Flowering is easily disrupted by rain and wind and in some years yields can be so low due to flukes of weather conspiring against the vines.  It all looks positive out there and we have high hopes of further quality vintages as we encountered in 2014 and 2015.


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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