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Monthly Report - February 2016


Patience required…


It is summer, the sun is shining, the breeze arrives sometime after lunch and insects are on the chirp.  Not much is going on but photosynthesis in the vineyard – nets are out and the spray program has parked the tractor in the shed.  Not much to do but wait.


I do however play a pretense of busy-ness with a daily check that the nets are on, tasting grapes to see where the ripeness is at and hunting out any mildews that might have survived the season.  I even drop some spare bunches that look like they would not make the final cut.  But it is just a really quiet month.


We are very sparing with our irrigation and fertilisers such that we rarely have a big crop set – so the demand to drop bunches is not really necessary.  I used to do this when the vines still had access to the fertilisers we ripped in prior to planting, but that has looong gone and the vines are in this good spot where they forage for what they need in the soils.  So we wait.


All of the grapes have undergone >80% of veraison, which means though we will not be picking as early as last year.  We are not be far off it – with the Merlot and Shiraz due mid-March and the Cabernet Franc due at the end of the month.  Fingers crossed the next monthly report summarizes all of the picks, tonnes, quality, barrels, ferments, hope and relief that comes with every vintage.

Merlot 201602.jpg
Cab Franc 201602.jpg
Shiraz 201602.jpg

A healthy fruit set in the Merlot Block (top), Cabernet Franc (middle) and Shiraz (bottom) finishing veraison


In Reply….


The Wine Business Monthly has been heavily promoting a story which “critiques” the Margaret River wine growing region, apparently.  The article however actually does not really do that, in fact it is sort of weird, puzzling piece that befuddles.  I am not kidding. Can I please ask that you have a peruse here --> WBM Article and be as amazed as I was.  Now do not get me wrong, I am a big fan of WBM and all wine lovers who enjoy reading about Australian wine should subscribe, but this article is just odd.


Now in the past I would have had a go at rummaging through it to try and find something salient, but this month no, no, no, no.  Instead I will practice my creative writing skills and just slightly alter the “exact” text and provide for you how it could have been presented by simply swapping out “Margaret River” for “Wine Writer”:

Is generational change in Wine Writing more blue blood than new blood?  Mark Gifford asks the question.


When the moneyed types who own Printing Houses and Newspapers attempt to lure wine writing talent, they dangle carrots dipped in Barossan red and dried in the lounge bar of the closest tavern.


“Just look at those empty bottles on that wall,” they say as they pull out a contract from their pocket.


“And did I mention the last time we had such an erudite writer such as you, Port Adelaide had won the flag?”


There’s no denying that some wine writers have done very well when the free bottles were being hand delivered and the flights were business class around the country, but that is missing the point about what really defines them as a group.


A writer in charge of 6 column inches of a large national paper once told me – over a bottle of Krug in a late-night Sydney bar – that the best thing about his job was the fact that nobody made the effort to read or analyse anything he wrote.


“I once fact checked and edited my stories because I heard that the editor might be popping by, but he ended up extending his stay in the boardroom and I never saw him.


“That was three years ago”


Some wine writers are staggeringly handsome, have bodies that God dialed in when he made Adam, and are pretty much left alone to do their own thing.


And they have natural wine bars.


But can you have too much of a good thing?  Does being so talented lead to complacency?


Is it true that court reporters are better in the sack because they can’t just lie there and rely on poetic prose?


In my mind many wine writers sit right on the tipping point of the argument between factory and natural wines that all good wine writers face.


Their strengths are so apparent, describing the variety, colour, bouquet and taste – there seems to be little room for anything else.


So apart from the occasional pet nat, whole bunch ferment and wild yeasts, there’s not a lot beyond the wine writers tasting notes that you can sink your teeth into.


I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.


We are all happy to have The Wine Advocate as a one trick pony, and despite Winefront’s apostolic advocacy of reader’s comments, conventional wisdom says they would be wise to shut it down.


But how do you balance that with the voracious appetite for something new that exists in both the marketplace and the contemporary media landscape?


Is the fact that the column inches and magazine articles still dominated by the wine writing pioneers a story of tradition over providence or an indication of a closed shop?


Is generational change in wine writing more blue blood than new blood?


I’m prepared to admit I might be a little out of touch. It’s been four years since I have read any articles from small players like Coldrey and Graham, than from the West’s bright star, Ray Jordan.


I’ve always been a fan, and I still am, but the list of my favourite wine writers I would write now is basically the same list I would’ve written 6 years ago and I don’t think I could say that about any other part of literature in Australia.


But most wine writers probably like it like that.


That its biggest market – daily papers – are so parochial it makes the old boys of the Adelaide Club look like a bunch of orange wine swilling hipsters might seem as a blessing to some, but I can’t help feeling it’s a curse.


Wine writers are such very special people.


They’re a whole lot more than just a boozy Andrew Bolt.


This is all in jest of course – but the point I’m making is that the article did not actually discuss Margaret River as much as I theoretically discussed Wine Writers.  The author of the WBM article, Nick Ryan, has just seemed to have slipped in a whole lot of generalisms and memories that do not have a whole lot to do with this region anymore.


I am (and I am sure many other wineries), are more than happy to support any wine writer who comes through town and give them an update on where we are at.  Blue Poles as a rule only send out wines to a few – mainly because we do not have much to give away and because the ones we do send them to are generally excellent at their craft and I want to LEARN from them.  Defining Margaret River so “loosely” as Nick has done in his article is basically a disservice to us and his readers – it makes the wine making community here just simply scratch their heads.  What was he trying to say?


Anyway, on to the weather.


Summer weakens...


I have always believed that the hottest month in south-west Western Australia is February – all the averages indicate it as so, so I have never questioned it.  This month was however quite a bit cooler than January (though it did have a hotter single day maximum), and I thought to myself that this must be a rare occurrence.  Well, I was wrong as in the past 11 years it has occurred 4 times, and in 2012 the reduction in temperature was 2.2°C with the average rise in temperature only being about 0.6°C.


Researching this further I note that many BOM average monthly statistics are now reported ONLY over the past 20 years, as the lower temperatures from the 19th Century to the end of the 20th Century skew the numbers so much (lower) so as to make the average useless as an indicator.  Yes folks, climate changes are now recognisable at every level of our weather data and assumptions of a regions suitability to grape growing based on historic data and wine is a poor indicator of its “current” suitability.


Back to our weather – overall a well-balanced month with temperatures in the mid 20’s most of the time with one or two hot days. Rainfall was light and patchy and kept the soil a little moister than we are used to at this time of the year.


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

February 2016:        

Avg Maximum Temp          26.9°C

Daily Max recorded            39.6°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.5°C

Daily Min recorded               5.5°C


Rainfall:                                 7.5mm


The maximum temperature and minimum average this month were a lot lower than last years, and this is after a run of warmer months than in the 2014/15 vintage months.  We also had a very cold minimum on 25 February, only 5.5°C and this not long after I had arrived back from the Philippines meant I thought it was winter!


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



Vintage arrives…


The waiting is almost over, and the one thousand and one jobs are now filling up the “to do” list as we approach vintage.  Our new oak barrels should be in the winery very soon, all of the pickers and bin boys are to be arranged, Brett the truck driver needs a call, Craig is pulling off the nets, and samples are to be prepared every week.  All fun and games, and with the fruit looking great and the weather holding well (touch wood), we all have high hopes for 2016.


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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