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Monthly Report - March 2016

Done and dusted…


Well March is my crazy busy month – my most tiring as it seems there are always 100 things to do prior to picking each of the varieties off.  The weather held out really well this month with the only real rain hitting town on 27 March (Easter Saturday when Margaret River is full of tourists), with the final pick the Cabernet Franc safely in tank about to commence ferment after having been hand-picked on 25 March.


And it was not as if the weather did not threaten in March, with lots and lots of thunderstorms and rain cells all to the north of the region never quite making their way south.  The warmish nights and the occasional warm day time temperatures kept everyone on tenterhooks a bit as a heavy thunderstorm could damage the grapes in more ways than one.  And on top of this we had a number of the “old timers” had declared “start of season” by mid-March and this is not a good thing as this effectively removes the heat out of the system and reducing the capacity to ripen fully.  A real contradiction on what we were to get.


First cab off the rank was the Shiraz, hand-picked on 15 March.  We have not made one for a while, mainly due to my reticence about the grape quality and depth of flavor in some of the recent vintages.  This year however was out of the box; absolutely gorgeous black bunches of grapes sat all in a row with fantastic acid retention, great sugar totals, ripe tannins and bright flavours.

Shiraz 2016.jpg

Very clean even bunches of black Shiraz – March 2016


Normally we have such a wide spread of ripeness through the Shiraz block, but not this year with all of the vines coming through to ripeness very evenly.  Final numbers were:


Tonnes:             1.982t 


Baumé:            13.6 Bé     


pH:                     3.38pH              

Total Acidity:     6.5TA


[Bé is the Baumé which is the sugar content as a percentage (all sugar is converted to alcohol, so it roughly equates to the resultant alcohol content).  TA (Total Acidity) and pH relate to the acidity of the grape must – you try to ensure that no acid addition is required by ensuring the TA is >5.5ish]


Three days later I decided we had better take off the Merlot and get it in the winery.  Fruit testing throughout the previous 3 weeks had indicated moderate levels of sugar, but searing acidity and this started to create issues as the grapes were becoming fully ripe in regards to the tannins and the skins, but to hang them out longer you would begin to lose that lovely fruit freshness you want with your wine.

Merlot 2016.jpg

Garry our neighbor with a full bin of Merlot – March 2016


Picking started early on 18 March with the ambition of having it off and dusted by lunchtime.  This all came together and the truck was off to the winery before 1pm.  I am sure that Tim, who had dropped in from Melbourne, will claim that his superior picking skills ensured everything went smoothly – and he may be right – but with the Merlot cropping well this year it was pretty quick filling buckets for all.  These grapes tasted great, really rich and a good follow up to 2015 which was out of the box.  Final numbers were:


Tonnes:             4.878t 


Baumé:            13.3 Bé     


pH:                     3.43pH              

Total Acidity:     6.1TA


A beautiful set of numbers as we say in the business.


Cabernet Franc was still waiting.  It is an odd variety as it takes ages to get both the tannin ripe, and then to lose its “grassy” tasting edge.  Many who pick Cabernet Franc early get quite a shrill wine with that cut grass / tomato leaf aroma coming over the top of simple fruit flavours – definitely not what we are after.  But to counter this you have to not let the wine go “flat” as then it falls into simple blackcurrant flavours and tannin feels so soft as to be missing.  When I had picked the Merlot, the Cab Franc still tasted green, but by the weekend that flavor was gone and then it was a matter of picking the day.  Thursday 24 March was nominated and off it came in the cool of the morning – only 8 pickers unfortunately which meant a lot of cajoling to get it done.  Final numbers for the pick were:


Tonnes:             2.892t 


Baumé:            13.8 Bé     


pH:                     3.64pH              

Total Acidity:     5.7TA


A bit surprised the sugar got up to 13.8%, and the pH dropped to 3.64 after lowering so slowly and steadily for the fortnight before – but the TA was good and I am sure this will be another solid wine.  Good Friday involved nothing more than a lazy day around the house pottering basically – all the nets are in the shed, buckets washed and put away, and snips oiled and put back on the shelf.




How much is enough….


As usual I sit and ponder what I will write about after I have completed my diary above.  And this week is no different – lots of stuff going on in the world of course, much of it not very pleasant, but what caught my eye was something said on a wine tasting forum:


“Do some wineries end up producing too many different wines?


Personally, I reckon so. I sometimes think (as an example) Larry Cherubino spreads himself too thin; too many wines, labels etc. I’m no mug, and I get overwhelmed trying to keep track of all he does. Dilutes the brand a bit for me, and increases the chance of variable quality.


I get the general merits of the idea of having a broad range to cater for drinkers of wine across all styles and price points, and some may well cite Penfolds as a pretty compelling counter argument to my general position on this, but I still wonder if some wine-makers/wineries do themselves a disservice by producing so many different lines.


I’ll leave it to any other interested parties to comment.”


WineFront – Michael Mueller 24/3/16


I find this an interesting discussion as wine buyers when they see a wine on the shelf, have the concept of owner, vineyard, winery, and wine – all from the same spot.  Alas this may be less than 10% of all wines that you see in the larger commercial shops, and it is becoming rarer by the year.  The large wineries that have these portfolios of 10’s if not 100’s of wines have one big thing in common – they buy in tonnes and tonnes of fruit . From everywhere.  Thus they are keen to exploit lots of different aspects of the wines they make, so you could go through the list:


  1. Variety

  2. Blends

  3. Natural/Organic

  4. Region

  5. Vineyard

  6. Winemaker

  7. Anniversary

  8. Style


So by my reckoning, if you took in 5 parcels of fruit from 5 regions and made 3 blends, 3 varietals, used various natural techniques, had a 20th Anniversary, respected 3 blocks, and used two winemakers you could easily have a portfolio of 60 wines without a worry.  And when you look at wineries like d’Arenberg which is predominantly McLaren Vale based, I think they would have in excess of 60 labels from just a couple of regions.


What I believe is going on here is the “Penfolds” effect.  It does not matter what you call it, you are relying on the name of the winery / winemaker at a price as the quality indicator.  You note this with Larry Cherubino being mentioned above – you do not need to know the wine you just need to know that Larry has passed his healing hands over the wine to make it validated.  Thus for those trainspotters who love knowing which wine is which, this test of knowing a range of wines that were developed predominantly just to keep up appearances will eventually break them down (apart from the rarest Rainman).  Personally I believe it is a risk, as if I ever see a Jacobs Creek wine or Wolf Blass label I just turn cold – it would not matter if Chateau Margaux was inside, I would not touch it and many others may feel the same way.  This hypersensitivity to brand also ensures price sensitivity for the variously labeled wines – thus top wines are held up in such high regard by these groups that their prices are often obscene, as they are priced so highly not because of any “real” quality but because of the 100 brands beneath needing elbow room in their pricing.


Personally I cannot stand it.  I understand the reasoning and even the deep set psychology that is being tapped into, but let us be honest folks, it is rubbish.  The best wines in the world are estate wines (I am discounting Grange here as to be honest I have never had a really good one), and in those estates they limit the number of wines made.  It is about the location, variety and the winery that makes the wine compelling – the less noise ruining the hearing of this pitch perfect note the better.


For me the best wine comes from somewhere, and grapes are tended and wines are made with minimal interference by someone.  The minimal somewhere’s and someone’s is the best way to ensure integrity and quality in the bottle.


Autumn creeps in...


And I do mean creep as we have had quite warm nights and some very warm temperatures brought in from weather still rolling down from the north of our large state.  It is still quite warm even at this late time in the month with temperature on the 30th being 27oC, much warmer than normal for autumn.  Rainfall only really fell on two days, the 26th and 27th with dry end of season weather dragging through to finish our normal “Indian Summer” here in Margaret River.


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


March 2016:        

Avg Maximum Temp          25.7°C

Daily Max recorded            36.4°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.9°C

Daily Min recorded               7.9°C


Rainfall:                               19.6mm


The maximum temperature and minimum average this month were a bit higher than last years, which ensures this vintage is one of the longest and warmest we have recorded at Blue Poles. Also with the heavy rainfall in January it appears it is also one of the wettest since we have been making wine.


March 2015:        

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


My aching back…


Yes indeed, my age is creeping up on me with my back being the most obvious sign of my impending dooooom.  But with that said, I am looking forward to a couple of quiet months before getting into the pruning once more, as we had lots of growth this year and that means lots of pruning options.  Do not expect much too said about the vineyard next month, it is having a break and I will be off abroad for work – and I am sure it will be still a riveting read (I can only hope!).


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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