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Monthly Report - January 2016


Fire and Rain…


The extremes of our climate in the south west of Western Australia came out to play this month and it is not pretty.  After a very dry start to our spring and summer, the region was tinder dry.  This did not bode well as a large thunderstorm struck east of Waroona causing a number of lightning strikes to begin what turned out to be one of the largest bush fires in the South West.


Though starting 40km east of Waroona, the fire flew west, widening and becoming more intense and after burning to the ground the town of Yarloop and damaging hundreds of farmers’ homes and sheds it eventually made its to the coast 120km away.  A burned out strip 20km wide and over 100km long scarred our state, cut the main roads south to Margaret River, and affected the lives of hundreds of families devastated by the event.  We flew back in from England on 11 January, and had to take a 400km long detour to get home – and the following week when the highways began to reopen it became apparent to all the scale of the damage.  It is a sobering thought that this could just as easily have occurred east of Margaret River, and the same if not worse damage would have occurred as well as most probably a greater loss of life.


Thus the last thing you would expect post such a large bush fire would be one of the wettest days on record in the south west.  And this is exactly what happened on 17-18 January with many sites around Pemberton recording well in excess of 150mm in those two days – washing out crops, nearly overflowing dams and causing further devastation.  We received about 100mm over the two days, causing a small river to flow past our front door and to top up our dam, which I have never seen before.


Rain flooding our front yard in the middle of January – Blue Poles 2016


The effect on the vines is yet to be really felt.  As we have mainly reds, and the fact that we are a little bit behind many of the wineries closer to the coast, the rainfall should not impact on us in regards to quality or mildew pressure.  We put out a further protective spray 6 days after the rain event, and with our bunches nowhere near closed or deep into veraison (i.e. the colouring/softening of the grapes), we should avoid possible botrytis as well as splitting of the grapes caused by water uptake.  This will not be the case for many growers of Chardonnay and other early white wine varieties in the region and they will have issues with mildew pressure, splitting, and bird/insect damage.  But the possibility of reducing the vintage’s quality is still there for us, so we will be having a hard look during late February as the grapes approach ripeness to ensure the health and flavor is still there.


Now with all this activity weather-wise I should make mention that we have just finished bottling the 2014 reds.  To say we are excited is a bit of an understatement, with our first Reserve Cabernet Franc, another outstanding Reserve Merlot, and a cracking Allouran all safely bottled and labelled.  But to make it even more exciting we have bottled 24 magnums of each of the wines and they are now safely stacked away.  I will sit down and number them all soon and between the two families we will devise the packaging for the magnums (Wooden box? Cardboard box? Something in between?). They will be super rare, and if you would like first dibs give us an email and we will start a waiting list to go with the already allocated ones.  Release will be some time off, especially for the Allouran which we like to leave for a year or so after bottling, but the Reserve wines should be ready during the latter part of 2016. 


Kate Morgan and family trying the new Blue Poles Reserve wines prior to bottling.

Nets are out earlier this year, we have a real issue with lack of blossom in the surrounding red gum forests of the Margaret River region.  So even though the grapes are not near ripeness the white eyes and parrots are already damaging some of the fruit at the head of the rows.  There is however some pressure relief coming as the large red gums to the bottom of our property are finally starting to bloom, and this should be a good omen for the region (and my daughter Beth’s bee hives that are being relocated to the vineyard soon).




As promised last month, we had a quick trip from England into Spain over the Christmas / New Year break so as to make the most of our time there.  Flights are very cheap, and we used Ryan Air from Stanstead Airport to Barcelona (£32 plus fees each).  As with all budget carriers you take the lack of cleanliness and everyone’s five carry-on bags with a pinch of salt and then move on.


Why Barcelona?  Well firstly because a while ago an old friend of mine Tristan said he really enjoyed it (and he is of a similar scholarly persuasion to myself), it has a lovely climate even during winter, the family wanted to try some Spanish foods and see a bit of Spain, I wanted to drink some Spanish booze, and I also had a desire to wander around where one of my favourite authors Roberto Bolaño had once described in a few of his books.


Looking across the Barcelona Marina, Barcelona 2016

We arrived with the minimum of fuss and took the bus to town, which was pretty quick.  Found our Airbnb accommodation in the old Gothic quarter of town, bought some groceries from the adjacent little supermarket, and then wandered off into the narrow and steep streets of the old part of town.  The Gothic is a bit of a maze, thin winding streets with 5-6 story buildings leaning in on you as you wander along prior to exiting into a placa before being consumed again.  To the east of the Gothic Quarter is the harbor, filled with millionaire boats and play things, to the south is the castle and hills of Montjuïc, to the north the buildings and parks of Gaudi, and to the west the holy shrine of Camp Nou, home of the Barcelona Football team.


The streets and sights of the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona.

The city is easy enough to navigate either by foot or by the metro, with many of the metro stops only a few 100’s of metres apart.  The only issue I had really was the difficulty in getting your bearings off landmarks while you were wandering around, but the town is not that big that you could get lost for any length of time so not as stressful as other European cities.  The food we had in the many restaurants and tapas bars was good without being awesome – and the reason for that I guess is that it is a bit of a tourist town and everything is pulled back a bit, or hidden away from the likes of us tourists walking about.  As for the wine, absolutely gutted by half the rubbish I drank – basically port was the best way to describe most of the red wines and thin and simple for the whites.  Compared to my trip through Rioja and Valladolid in 2010 you could not find a bigger gap in enjoyment – alas it could have been my own fault for not hunting down the better wines, but still it was pretty dire.


Tourist traps worth travelling half the world for were the Cathedrals (Barcelona and Santa Maria del Mar), Museu d’Historia de Catalunya, Santa Caterina Market, La Sagrada Familia (this one split the family, I was a bit underwhelmed), and Camp Nou.  The balance of the museums and the Picasso / Gaudi sites are incredibly expensive and pretty shoddy for a word.  As for the opening times of various shops, well your guess would have been as good as ours as we never found the stores open on any form or consistent basis.


Blessed be the Catalans as the light shines upon the Catalan Shield, Barcelona Cathedral


I did enjoy a coffee and bun at a café described by Bolaño, as well as watch a game between Barcelona and Espanyol (a local derby), in which Messi smashed in two terrific goals.  We were pleased that we went after we landed back in Blighty and it was something to store away in the experience bank.  Would I go back?  Most probably not, and if I did find a way back to Spain I would head out into the countryside me thinks and go touring once again and find some more of those wines that got me so excited all those years ago  …


Tropical Disease...


If we were to start a story on the impact of global warming on the wines of Margaret River I think we would use January 2016 as the index month.  And it is not the temperatures but rather the humidity and rainfall which has moved markedly southwards from the tropics than in previous years.  These swings of tropical air usually comes in with a tropical cyclone that wanders south, but not this year – just a large section of unstable tropical moisture that settled over the south west corner of the state creating huge rainfall totals and havoc for many farmers.  This after a very hot dry start to the month generating the worst bush fires we have ever seen in south west WA.  It feels like Armageddon folks!


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


January 2016:        

Avg Maximum Temp          27.7°C

Daily Max recorded            37.7°C


Avg Minimum Temp           15.5°C

Daily Min recorded             10.1°C


Rainfall:                               114.6mm


The maximum temperature average was again higher than the 2015 maximum, with the minimum also a bit higher due mainly to that tropical influence. Rainfall was dramatically different with our rainfall total this year being the highest we have ever encountered for a summer month since we have kept records.

January 2015:        

Avg Maximum Temp           27.4°C

Daily Max recorded             36.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp            13.9°C

Daily Min recorded               8.5°C


Rainfall:                               0.0mm



Vintage is coming straight at us…


I used to get very worried around about now, but with a few vintages put to bed it is a bit more less worrisome, but never less busy.  I am in the Philippines currently but by the time I come back we will be out dropping fruit, checking beaumés, tidying up wind-blown nets and organizing a picking / delivery schedule as it all comes together.  How we go will come down to how the fruit looks going into March and the weather that gets us there.  Fingers crossed everyone!


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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