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Monthly Report - April 2016

The smell of oak…


Expensive oak.  Apart from the bottling, labeling and packaging of our wine – the single most expensive item we have to cover is the purchase of new oak barrels.  We use a variety of coopers as we want aspects of each to come out in the finished wine.  In the beginning we could not afford many new barrels at all (maybe 3? Tim would remember), with the 2005 wine made predominantly from second hand barrels we picked up around Margaret River.  Back in the day many wineries were really making good money and I dropped in on Voyager Estate and got 12-14 second-year barrels for very little, and they represented about eight different French coopers.


From this I have managed to define 4 coopers which suit our wines the best – each forming a part which supports the rest.  The bit which is the pain is that they happen to be very good barrels and quite expensive, hence our bleeding cheque book and foreign transfers.  All of our 2016 wines are now resting in barrels after being pressed off and they will be starting their malolactic ferment as I type – this should be done and dusted by June and then it is just a waiting game as the wines mellow and grow into their bodies.  I will have a summary of how the wines look in the next couple of months – I am never keen on continually tasting, fretting, meddling; just letting the barrels sit and chill is best.


The vineyard is now dropping its leaves and the soil is starting to soften and breathe once more with the grasses (and weeds) starting to sprout in the mid rows and around the surrounding paddocks.  Fantastic time to be alive in the region as we have the large World Surfing competition on, milder weather, deep red sunsets and fresh winds from the west blowing in the air from the deepest south.  Great time to see the fog rise in the mornings as well, roos are active and with the quiet which comes with being in one of the more remote spots in the region, it is a pleasant month to sit back and have a few days off.

2014 Blue Poles Reserve Wines


We are at the point of finalizing dates and moving bottles around in preparation for the release of the 2014 Reserve wines – a Merlot, and for the first time a Cabernet Franc.  2014 was a beautiful vintage for us at Blue Poles after the dramas and disappointments of 2012 and 2013.  The Merlot came off on 24 March and looked good all season, with the Cabernet Franc on 7 April – I remember that final pick well, as I arrived at the winery with the fruit I stopped the truck and the skies just opened.  The petrichor was almost overwhelming.


Every step of the way these wines have looked exciting.  So at the point of reserve barrel tastings and the blending for the Allouran a decision was required in regards to a Reserve Cabernet Franc – it was not difficult.  Once we had tasted through the barrels it was immediately apparent that we HAD to make a straight Cabernet Franc, but the effect on the Allouran?  There was not a need to worry, even with the reduced Franc component it tasted perfectly balanced and of our heritage with the wine.


Bottled in January 2016, we only have three barrels of each reserve wine, and when you take out 24 magnums bottled on the same run then you can see to get access to this wine will be extremely difficult.  There may also be a small price rise to match in with the limited amount made and the desire to keep solvent.  So as to keep everyone in the loop in next month’s report we will have dates for tastings in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and possibly Brisbane.  Time for a party meeting comrades, and I am very much looking forward to it as well.



The En Primeur System….


During March / April every year the wineries of Bordeaux provide barrel samples of their wines from the vintage of the past year for tasting by the press, negotiants, retailers and public.  It is an opportunity for the wine world to get an impression of the vintage just passed (basically 6 months on), and to determine the expected value of the wines if bought en primeur – in advance of bottling.  It is an unusual time, as all wine makers know that a 6 month old red wine that is made for significant aging will not be an ideal representation of that wine, and could even be considered a major distortion.  But this practice is one that provides significant income to the wineries prior to any bottling (they sell the wines in advance), and on many occasions those who have bought the wines prior to their eventual release have made significant returns as the demand, thus values, increased over the period before bottling.


The whole system in the 80’s and 90’s became a bit of a roulette wheel – everyone rode on the back of the critics predictions for greatness, with the most renowned soothsayer of all Robert Parker anointing many wines with greatness well in advance of their arrival to the market.  These wines made some buyers significant sums of money as they were “flipped” on the auction market for at times three to four times more than they were bought for.  Many wineries in Bordeaux felt a little ripped off by this, such that they started to rise there prices to accommodate the auction market and by the 2010 en primeur campaign most of the top wines throughout the region had achieved prices that were basically absurd - €500-1,500 per bottle was not uncommonly asked for and achieved.


Then problems set in.  The years 2011 through to 2014 had a run of lesser vintages, not horrific but not great.  But the wineries were basically hooked on the cash and their prices did not drop in line with expectations at all and by last year everyone was thinking that was it … all over red rover (read this excellent article for a summary Jane Anson Decanter Article ).  So with a rather somber opening the 2015 en primeur crept up with what appears to be perhaps the best vintage since 2010, and some critics started to get a bit excited.  But no one else did.  In fact it appears that the en primeur price releases have attracted as much attention as the daily movements of the Zinc price in the London Metals Exchange (next to nil!).


For all of its massive flaws I quite like the en primeur system (yes, call me cray cray).  With experienced tasters and critics you can see the quality of a wine at 6 months of age and this does provide with an opportunity to pre-purchase wines that will be limited upon release.  It also provides wineries with an income prior to the bottling of the wines which alleviates many financial pressures.  I could even see it working in an area such as Margaret River, where the best Bordeaux style blends would suit this arrangement.




There has to be balance and the Bordeaux wineries abused that balance and may over time get smashed for it.  They spun out ridiculous prices because of a perceived market demand, but when the market demand collapsed they continued on thinking all was well.  The price of quality Bordeaux wines now is ridiculous, it is almost obscene, and I for one do not hanker to buy them anymore as they have jumped the shark.  I watched a movie called “Red Obsession” in which the chief wine maker of Chateau Petrus was talking about the responsibility of making one of the most expensive wines in the world.  And his reasoning for this level of responsibility?  Well it went something like this, if a young couple orders a bottle of Petrus from the wine list and it was not perfect then they will feel disappointed and they may not fulfil their destiny.  Seriously.


Utterly deluded.


As the effects of climate change start to show on the wines of Bordeaux, as the wines of the world can be more and more easily compared to their own without cringing or deference (and I put our wines in here), these huge estates and in many cases mass produced wines have to recognize that they are but one piece of the world of wine pie.  The natural advantage they have held has slowly crumbled under the influence of many factors, but like a frog being boiled slowly they keep yelling out “we’re fine, just a touch warm, nothing to worry about”.


The empire called Bordeaux is on the wane, and we are witnessing it slowly crumble.  It is a terrible shame but it is a self-inflicted wound that can not be healed until the patient recognizes the symptoms.  And with a classic indifferent Gallic shrug, you can hear them say “but we are French, this is Bordeaux…”


New life...


The change from the heat and dry of summer to the restless cold fronts touching the capes region gives the feeling of new life to the countryside.  Green starts to outweigh the brown, and the soil softens like a sponge soaking in air and moisture.  This month has been typical of the season, with the only difference being the warmer minimums than we have encountered before.


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


April 2016:        

Avg Maximum Temp          22.1°C

Daily Max recorded            29.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp           12.9°C

Daily Min recorded               7.3°C


Rainfall:                               66.7mm


The maximum temperature and minimum average this month were a bit higher than last years, but not in a large excess.  The rainfall total is approximately half of 2015, but it is a good break of season and the rain has been spaced apart over the month this year.

April 2015:        

Avg Maximum Temp           21.3°C

Daily Max recorded             26.6°C


Avg Minimum Temp            11.0°C

Daily Min recorded                5.2°C


Rainfall:                               122.0mm



Month off…


Theoretically.  Good month to do those odd jobs and to get some promotional work done.  Need to sort out the wooden boxes and packaging for the magnums as well as prepare for the release of the reserves, so that should be a bit of fun.  A tasting of the 2016’s with Clive and Kate is on the cards, as well as a check up on the 2015’s as they will be approaching their barrel selections and blending later in the year.  All in all a good month to appreciate all that we have.


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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