Monthly Report - September 2016
There’s a delay…
With yet another cold month, and I mean really cold, the vineyard is looking rather subdued with budburst only at very early stages of development. It is truly mixed up at the moment, with me typing this out with an apparent temperature outside of less than 6oC in late September at midday. Yes comrades it’s freezing for this set of bones, so let’s hope that October bringeth the warmth we have been waiting for.
The whole region has had a significant delay to budburst, with many areas 3-4 weeks behind to where they would normally be at this time of year. This will have an impact at the end of the season with vintage potentially into mid-April for some of the late ripening varieties, and we have not seen that for a decade or so. Thus we have a riskier vintage coming up, but potentially greater reward as the tannins get beautifully ripe in these late seasons and if it is a dry end to vintage, great acid balance.
The dam continues to overflow as the weather stays wintery
Our first spray went out on 29 September to protect the newly arrived shoots and to try and keep them clean while the weather is blustery and wet. In fact another wet month has meant a lot of water has passed through the dam and the vineyard is still with wet spots all over. The heavier mulching machinery has been delayed until a week or two (assuming that the weather comes around and warms up), and that will herald the last of the wires to be brought down before being put back up again.
With the longer days we have managed to get the chickens out and amongst the vines, and as always with this time of year we are overloaded with eggs. Over 2 dozen a day, and with the neighbors in a similar predicament we are all finding ways of using them up as well as giving them away. I am making a heap of lemon curd but the problem is you need to eat it pretty quickly, so the daughters are up for some early birthday presents.
Not much else to report vineyard and wine wise, steady steady until the season starts proper with a bit of warmth and drying days. Actually looking forward to it as it is no fun walking around dressed up like an eskimo this late in the year!
Merlot trying to leap forth during this unusually cold month
Margaret River Shiraz….
One of the interesting aspects of Australian wine is the way that we have “classified” each wine growing region into what it is “best” at and what is “best left” unplanted. Our home of Margaret River is a great example of this – Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the ONLY top wines made here according to many pundits. We are also allowed Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc so as to provide the obligatory cheap white, but outside of these top four it is all just bits and pieces and junk time. The same could be put to all the known regions in the country which suffer similar varietal listings, and it is hard to argue against as there is nothing really to compare it to.
Now I know that many will argue that this is the way it is BECAUSE it just is – but I will argue that you have been all duped. Australian fine wine growing regions simply do not have a long enough history with table wine throughout most of the country, as well as having had little in the way of grape varieties to plant and experiment with to be able to take almost any grape variety in or out of a regional mix. The lee time on any variety being planted to making fine wine may be decades and we do not have it in any of the newer regions. In the older regions, what was already there became the grape of choice and added into that the ramping up of perception of certain varieties as being “noble” and others being less so. Barossa Shiraz is a good example of this, with old vine shiraz being a highly sought after grape, yet old vine Grenache and Mataro having little recognition until recently (with many of these vines being pulled out in the 1980’s due to their lack of perceived value).
When we developed the vineyard here, I did a bit of research into our climate and soil types. I was not happy with just accepting folklore and spin as I did not view wine with the reverence many adhere to, simply because I had met many of the winemakers and owners in the region and they were often as flummoxed as the rest of us. Why Margaret River is the home of Cabernet and Chardonnay is simply because the first 3 medicos planted them in preference to other varieties. Other varieties were planted too – Pinot Noir at Moss Wood and Petit Verdot at Vasse Felix for example, but in smaller volumes. What if the 3 medicos were Spanish and planted tempranillo, graciano, and garnacha in preference to everything else? We would be most probably world famous for those wines instead of the current varieties.
But I digress. My point here is that most wine regions suit a large number of wine varieties and it is often due to the public’s fickle perception as much as by chance and circumstance that any one or two varieties become the regional champions. Thus we arrive at the enigma which is Margaret River Shiraz – much maligned and seen as without a reason for being here.
[As a useless piece of irrelevant trivia, you may not be aware that Robert Parker Jr has rated only one wine from Margaret River at 95 points or higher, and it was a 2001 Shiraz from 3 Hills owned by Erl Happ. I am pretty sure his magazine the Wine Advocate has rated other wines from the region higher since, but that would not have been big bad Bob’s nose and gullet.]
When we planted the vineyard I concentrated mostly on the Merlot and Cabernet Franc and setting them in the most suited spot. We had the top of the vineyard empty and an area lower than the Cabernet Franc that suited whites – Shiraz went on the top of the hill and Viognier on the lower slopes. Now climate wise we are a pretty good mimic of southern Rhone valley in Margaret River, but we lacked the rainfall at end of season and we lack the diurnal range of temperatures (it gets cooler at nights during vintage in the Rhone Valley), but apart from that it was not too bad. Irrigation could aid the Shiraz if needed, and the high point actually lost the heat more than the lower slopes so the temperature range comes back into balance a bit.
The wines we have made from our Shiraz block have been pretty good, but not startling. We did strike the fancy of Campbell Mattinson with the 2011 Shiraz and he gave us a whopping 94 points, but overall, even with the high scores, there had been reticence from many retailers due to the simple fact it is “Margaret River Shiraz” as what are they actually selling? And herein lies the problem, as Shiraz would be the most widely planted red grape in Australia as it is seen as a quintessential Aussie wine, but for all of its proliferation it is only really highly regarded in a few locations which make a specific style of the grape. Thus a Margaret River Shiraz has not much in common with a big unctuous Barossan or McLaren Vale version of the wine, or the lean, meaty and purple robed versions out of the Hunter Valley.
In fact, every region (and possibly vineyard) has its own take on the grape with Shiraz being potentially the greatest marker of terroir in the country. And with that you can obtain some fantastic versions of the wine in the most unusual places – Mon Pere won the Jimmy Watson a few years back with their Shiraz from Tasmania; Evans and Tate from Margaret River won the International Wine Challenge in London with a Shiraz even further back, and some regions came up into the light on the back of a Shiraz wine (Canberra made waves with the Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier for example). It is the “Jack of All Trades” and because of this it is very difficult to pin down what expectations for a Shiraz wine from Margaret River should be.
I will give out a guilty secret here; I am not a big fan of Shiraz. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some utterly brilliant bottles and they still sing in the memories, but the planting of the grape at Blue Poles was as much the demand of Tim as it was mine. I would have happily pulled it out when it just did not come good for a few vintages, while we were making some excellent Merlots and Cabernet Francs. But with the 2016 version I have had to have a rethink and possibly give Tim some credit. The 2016 Blue Poles version of Shiraz is actually a serious wine, admittedly cool climate in its nose and palate but a structure and balance we had not encountered before. No new barrels were thrown at it, but it is spicy and lifted, suede tannins and with length to burn – I was more than surprised and it confirmed the quality of the grapes that we picked this year which were blacker than a black and tasted cram packed full of flavor.
But here is the kicker – it is still “just” a Margaret River Shiraz. It will be a heroic wine and Tim will drag bottles out in the decades ahead with an “I told you so” look on his face, but the wine falls into this crazy realm of perception over reception.
So where to with Blue Poles Shiraz?
It is either go for it, or play it safe and keep the wine in the same orbit as we have it now. Well the answer is obvious, we need to go for it as with everything else we have done at Blue Poles, it is hardly worth all of the effort if we cannot be the best we can be.
I am happy with the balance of the vines this year, and the pruned vines look good. Hopefully this weather clears up and lets the grapes set well and evenly across the block. I have ordered 2 new 300 litre barrels from a fine French cooper for the coming vintage, will look closely at the 1yo and 2yo barrels we use with the wine, and will go over with Clive how we can harness as much character and flavor during the primary ferment and the following malolactic fermentation. So it is a go, 2017 will try to harness this grapes potential and be a cracking “Margaret River Shiraz”… whatever that may be.
Got the cold weather blues...
If last August was cold, then this September took the biscuit (and the biscuit barrel). It is the coldest September since they have kept records at Leeuwin lighthouse (since about 1890ish), and also quite wet for the first month of spring. It also was the coldest September on record in Perth and numerous centers throughout the SW of the state. A bit of an enigma with the world warming, this corner of the globe being relatively wrapped up and shivering.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 15.7°C
Daily Max recorded 18.1°C
Avg Minimum Temp 7.3°C
Daily Min recorded 1.5°C
The maximum temperature average this month was again a lot lower than last years, with the minimum average being colder but only by a small amount. The rainfall total was also higher making it quite a wet start to spring with the rainfall total for the year to date 912mm, less than 100mm away from the long term annual average.
Avg Maximum Temp 18.4°C
Daily Max recorded 24.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 7.5°C
Daily Min recorded 2.7°C
It is still like a tsunami of energy about to be let forth amongst the vines!! Budburst should finally roar into life as we start a month of warmth and growth. The vineyard should dry out enough to get the mulching done, also slash it once more at the end of the month, maybe two protective sprays and get the first wire lifted. Busy busy, however I am here and not abroad, so no excuses for me. Tim and Yuko drop in with the family later on and I will get the kids to go out and squash some snails and squish some weevils – that should be fun. It is also birthday month for 3 of our 4 daughters in October, so happy birthday Hannah, Beth and Abi.
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 www.twitter.com/bluepoles and we’ll do our very best to answer any question.
Blue Poles Vineyard