Monthly Report - February 2017
Extremely tricky season…
It sort of had to happen didn’t it? We have had a good-to-great run of vintages in Margaret River since 2006 for the region and it finally looks like we are endangering the run, or at least making it a hand wringing experience for all of us vignerons as we look at the sky and curse, exclaim, sob, thank or simply smile. What can we do? Not much I’m afraid, just make sure the vineyard is tidy and clean with good open canopies and some dappled light coming through. The ray of sunshine poking through all of this cloud is the fact we are expected to have a hotter and drier March / April / May … all may fall into place.
We did avoid an incredible weather system that went through the center of the state in mid-February as a low-pressure system bought in huge rainfall totals throughout the south-west of Western Australia. Perth had its coldest February day ever, the second wettest February day ever, and many vineyards in the Swan Valley in eastern Perth were flooded when the Swan River burst its banks. And while towns throughout the state were on high alert and being evacuated, roads and infrastructure being destroyed and sheep being ferried by jet skis and dinghy’s in the middle of dry summer paddocks, we in Margaret River looked on with just 17mm of rain over those 4 days of deluge – what strange times we live in. By having this weather pattern missing us by the merest of margins, we have a window in which to complete this vintage with solid grapes with great flavor and super fine tannins – it just needs to keep dry and warm through to mid-April. As easy as that.
Purple Rain – the sky in the evening at Blue Poles before “that” rain band traversed WA
The trimming off of the excess growth has been nearly completed and it is really just walking along now and snipping off bits and pieces (and bunches) that are out of position (or under done) and tucking the odd canes in. The vines are now 16 years old, so the amount of growth has settled down with the years and with it the yield which is now pretty steady at about 4-5 tonnes to the hectare for both the Merlot and the Cabernet Franc.
It was a great vintage for us 2014. We had not made wine from the 2012-13 vintages and it was essential that our vineyard produced so as to provide a level of confidence in our site and in our ambition. All came together in late March – early April and some sensational Cabernet Franc and Merlot were finally in the bins at the winery. This vintage was also the first year we were making our wines with Clive Otto and Kate Morgan and it was always going to be part of the learning curve on how each of us would behave with regards to this vintage. Fortunately for me, Clive and Kate have a very similar philosophy to wines as ourselves and the winemaking and barrel selections went without a hitch and all of the wines came out looking great.
The Allouran is a wine made from the barrels not selected into the Reserve bottlings. But funnily enough they often contain the same level of new oak and attention as the Reserves as all wines are blended for balance and structure – it also appears the wine often makes “itself” as there has only been two years in which all of the remaining Merlot and Cabernet Franc barrels were not used in the final blend. There has always been a distinctive taste to the wine as well, sort-of European, sort-of Margaret River, enough to confuse the taster to think he has a French wine in his hands but at the same time providing enough clues to its express its origin.
Our vineyard was set up predominantly to make this wine. We are located inland of Margaret River town site in a similar way that St-Emilion and Pomerol are located inland from Bordeaux the city. It is also a favorite of mine due to the simple fact that it was a lot of concept and hope that came to fruition and it happened to be proved right – a satisfying and winning combination for me personally (and for the rest of the families, a grateful sigh of relief).
We do send this wine out to a few wine critics prior to release, and this is a risky business in the height of Summer which was the case this year, but unfortunately an essential one with regards to our sales schedule. The 2015 Reserve wines are being released this coming winter, hence the earlier release of the 2014 Allouran. Though it was not an ideal time to post this wine out, we were fortunate that they arrived safely and Gary Walsh from The Wine Front gave us the following review:
“I note there’s now no mention of grape varieties used anywhere on the label. Fine by me. When I review wines like Blue Poles, Hillcrest, Marius etc. I kind of feel that they are what might be called ‘WineFront Community Wines’, in so much as they are, perhaps, disproportionately loved by our subscribers.
Plum, dried cranberry, and raspberry, baking spices and Ginger Nut biscuits, polished wood, subtle floral and herbal perfume. Medium bodied, with a delightful churn of thick ripe tannin, depth and brightness to the fruit, clean acidity, a pleasing precision married to richness, black olive savouries and exotic spice: the Merlot and Cabernet Franc weave a lovely tapestry here. Finish is long, almost crisp, with a slurry of tannin to bring it home. Top shelf.
Rated : 94+ Points”
This once again keeps the run of scores with this wine at a very solid level, tantalizing us with possibly making a wine in the future that could be considered a classic. But right now, this wine does live up to the hype of the vintage and we are rapt that we can sell it to our mailing list, retailers and restaurants with confidence that they are not only getting value for money but a sensational wine into the mix.
I know it is clichéd, but I love this wine. It epitomizes all that we are at Blue Poles and it provides a window into that world between art and science, as well as being a ripping wine to drink. Of course, the mailing list will have first chance in regards to purchase, and then we move on to our supporting retailers and restaurants.
An early release offer will be sent with the monthly report email in March and as we have only just over 200 dozen do not expect them to be available for long. I believe we have allocated all of the magnums for this wine, if not Tim will provide details. So, comrades, take this opportunity to stock up on the Allouran and keep your cellar smiling J as this wine will be likely sold out within the month and like the 2014 Reserves it may not be available for general sale.
Not a long topic this month as I have already taken up enough of your time. But I would like to discuss a topic that popped up on a wine site thread recently – the issues of falling in and out of favor as a wine region. The region discussed was Coonawarra – once an Australian powerhouse region with all the Cabernet goodness in the world wrapped up within this specific area of cigar shaped terra rossa soil. Back in the 80’s this was the top of the town when it came to buying the ever-loved Cabernet, and even in the 90’s when Shiraz roared back to life in the Barossa and McLaren Vale it still rode along on a pretty much indestructible wave.
But now? It all seems a bit daggy – winery regions next to the major cities have struck back to take the new wave of drinkers coming through and to condemn the region to an “old man’s” wine region. This has come about by lots of new grape varieties, wine styles, wine stories, small batch wines becoming the connection people want and the 100 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon raised in a stainless tank farms could not be further away from that vision of cool. Even the Barossa / McLaren Vale have been busy re-inventing themselves post Parker walking out the door, leaving his money on the bedside cabinet and not even looking back.
The Coonawarra region will argue quite vehemently (and rightfully so) – this is a passing fad, look at other wine regions in the world that have gone in and out of fashion over the years (Bordeaux the behemoth is a good example of this). But will the masses do the U-turn? Can this large rural plain, many miles from a coast or shopping mall actually come back into vogue? I am not so sure, and I say this because the areas in which change is occurring is on the edge and not in the core – thus it is a peripheral effect and you still have the fact that Coonawarra is what it is, a large Cabernet / Shiraz producer in the rural plains of South Australia.
And what is happening on the edge is excellent – I know of the wines of Ruckus Estate and the excellent Merlots coming out of there with their special soils and clones, Raidis Estate and their Pinot Gris, Sue Bell with her eclectic range at Bellwether which are made in Coonawarra but sources countrywide, and some others I am sure. But the heart of the place is the huge Wynns estate of Treasury and the major plantings of other mid-tier wineries such as Balnaves, Rymill, Parker, Katnook, Majella, etc. With having such major players in the area, and having a limited spread of varieties planted, there is always a lot of scientific research done there in preference to regions such as Margaret River, Denmark, Adelaide Hills etc as you can apply generic results to generic plantings – our regions are just too hard to get a real handle on thus the AWRI does not wander far from what it knows. Thus, research confirms that mindset that confirms the approach that therefore provides the affirmation – regardless of what the world is doing outside of the bubble.
The other issue, and it is hard to not say it without seeming rude, is that many of the wines are actually a bit “boring”. And unfortunately, that vibe is coming through on many of the comments of the region and it is starting to do some damage. Another aspect is the degree in which wine is “manipulated” in its making through acid and tannin additions – which is not the end of the world in any way – but if the critics are noting it and saying it then you are up against it. Highly promoted wines like the Wynns collection remain a staple, but the extravaganzas that promote them are just bought glitz and hype – money purchasing presence, nothing more.
So, what can the Coonawarra do?
Not much. They have paved the road and driven down it for years and it will still be there for years to come. There will always be a market for Cabernet and Shiraz from the Coonawarra, and large retail chains will always stock it as a matter of course. But can it regain its past glory? Can it be the “Bordeaux” of the southern hemisphere that it once touted itself to be? I am of the opinion that it won’t; it will become a wine region that fills the shelves of large retailers but not the columns and comments in newspapers and wine sites.
It is a cautionary tale actually. Being in Margaret River, there is a risk that we will lose relevance if the wine quality or wine range from the region starts to drop – but we are protected to some degree by the extremely large number of small producers that have to strive to be heard and that ensures wine quality and range forms a major part of the equation for success. However, no one can rest on their laurels in this industry, you are only as good as the last bottle produced, opened and drunk – so heads down and back to work everyone!
What can anyone say – it is getting really hard to get a bead on the weather and what’s likely for this vintage. A warm, dry February was dashed by a massive rain band passing through southern WA cooling the maximums quite dramatically, and then a small cold front rushing up for a day in late February – very much out of context of a “normal” February. It is predicted to be a warmer and drier than normal March, so let’s just see if this comes to fruition.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 26.5°C
Daily Max recorded 35.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.9°C
Daily Min recorded 9.6°C
The maximum temperature average this month was again lower than last years, with the minimum average actually a little warmer, which is surprising considering the cool nights we have had. This diurnal spread continues to be more typical of Bordeaux than Margaret River at this point in the vintage. The rainfall total was higher than last year, with an inch falling over the month.
Avg Maximum Temp 26.9°C
Daily Max recorded 39.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.5°C
Daily Min recorded 5.5°C
Here it comes…
Vintage this year will be a real head scratcher – I can only guess at how many times I will wander up and down the rows checking the grapes, but I think it will be quite a lot. As I type this the first Chardonnay has been picked in the region, a week-fortnight later than normal, so it’s on folks! Hoping to have our new tasting area finished and open for by appointments this month, so hopefully it all goes to plan with vintage.
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