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Monthly Report - March 2017


Difficult decisions…


This 2017 vintage, Blue Poles will not be making any wine.


This decision was made a few days ago, as we battled with the knowledge that the red wines from our vineyard will not be close to the high standard as the previous three vintages.  We do not have the capacity to soak up the costs and downstream effects of a poor vintage being as small as we are, and I feel in my heart it is against the philosophy of the place to make a manipulated wine, which would have had to have been the case this year.


This does not write off the Margaret River 2017 vintage at all – it is just us I am afraid.  We are in a cooler location, we irrigate very lightly, we do not fertilise and we thin heavily via pruning and vintage works – all of these factors combined mean is a season like this we have grapes that are not in balance and reflect a cooler and wetter growing season for the region.  News around the wineries is that they are very pleased for the quality of the whites (even with the 2-3 week delay), and are now waiting on the reds which are also 2-4 weeks delayed.  It may surprise in regards to quality overall, with the more northern vineyards likely to have been more buffered to the cool than the vineyards to the south and east.


To top off a rather average month for us, our dog Jackson was ill and required surgery and he is now recuperating.  Since we started living on the vineyard 9 years ago, Jackson has been running up and down the rows being the perpetual puppy which has been as constant as the seasons.  It would be very odd to not have him while we walk up to feed the chickens, prune the vines, or to trim off the excess growth; so, here’s hoping he recovers well and gets to enjoy a few more years being pampered by his mother!


Jackson the Wonder Dog showing off his stitches.


This month also meant I got to spend a rushed few days in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney showing off the 2014 Allouran along with some back vintages as well as feasting on delicious food and meeting some great people.  One of the few retailers in Perth who always has a stock of our current wines is Gangemi’s Fine Wines and I ran a quick evening tasting there to provide the local folk a taste of the new release – as always Ed out did himself with providing some exceptional cheese and company.


Next was Melbourne – time to spend with the Markwells, wear something black, drink organic sustainable coffee from a grower called Raoul, and to avoid getting stuck behind a tram.  Loved it.  Had a brilliant dinner at Scopri in Carlton and caught up with old friends and new, as well as had all the wines show really well on the night.  Highly recommend the restaurant and you must order the goat dish – sensational.


Wow what a meal – Scopri in Carlton


And to cap off the 4 days of rush rush – the lights of Sydney glittered under the grey pall of sky.  Went and showed the wines to Richard H and the team at United who are now almost our partners in the release of our wines, before having an opportunity to sit down with Mike Bennie, one of Australia’s most astute palates and portal between the old and the new faces of the industry.  Sitting with Mike in the rare thin air of his tasting facility, you notice two things – one is the huge array of wines that are sent in to be tasted and hopefully adored and scored well (behind him cupboards and tables overflowing and this beside Mike’s actual desk full of bottles to boot), and two is how at ease Mike is while tasting the wines. It is a tricky skill folks, and having hosted many many tastings you tend to find that most find the process of describing wine intimidating, and if they do not they tend to bluster and dominate (bombastic is the word) – Mike like all of the best tasters I have met looks totally at ease and enjoying the experience.  I appreciated the chance to sit down and talk too much with him.


No trip to Sydney is complete without a meal with Gary Walsh – another renowned wine critic and all round interesting “dude”.  Drinking wine with Withnail is a cross between holding a chicken by one leg while talking, and laughing out loud at the outlandish comments and remarks goaded on by each other as if we are about to head out and raid the girl’s dorm.  Another excellent Italian meal with the Mussels and Octopus being the stars of the evening – the restaurant was pretty much empty as we pulled up stumps and he toddled on back down the hill and I made a short run north back to my sister-in-law’s house.  Next morning, airport then vineyard after 3 hours driving directly south.


2014 Allouran (2) …


We were both overwhelmed and ecstatic by the level of response received to the release of this wine.  From the sending of the mailing list email, to the final case allocated – a total of 3 days had elapsed, with only a few stragglers who were regulars that we kept some wine aside for on the likelihood that they would be purchasing.  This is a wonderful response and one we could only have dreamed of.


So, with our 2014 Reserve wines sold out on release, and the 2014 Allouran meeting the same fate, we now look forward to the 2015 Reserve wines which will be released later this year (2015 Res Merlot, 2015 Res Cabernet Franc), with the 2015 Allouran likely to be released in the middle of 2018.  We do have the 2016 Shiraz which is to be bottled in a couple of months and we will define how this is released once we see how it has settled down in the bottle.


To all of those lucky guys and gals who have secured an allocation of the 2014 Allouran, I say well done comrades!!  You have done very well and you are assured of some wonderful booze now and into the faraway future.  And for those who have missed out, commiserations – I can only urge you to take advantage of the mailing list allocations as each year more and more of the total wines released are purchased by the mailing list and it is becoming the only way to guarantee getting hold of a bottle or two.


Discounting Discounters…


Australian wine marketing and sales is always in a state of flux.  There has not been any hard and fast rules since the 1980’s to be honest as the marketplace has moved so much, as well as the buying public being much more “flexible” in their buying habits for a word.  If we go back 10 years you could not walk down a street without seeing a “Clean Skin Wine” shop having popped up, or the local liquor store having clean skins galore spread around the shop like dandruff.  Excess wine, collapsing exports due to strong dollar, and wineries under pressure meant a flood of this rubbish into the system.


But the system is now starting to come back to sense of balance volume wise, but the number of wine labels have exploded with the invention of “home brands” by the major store brand owners, as well as the forever cutting and dicing of their product ranges within the big to medium sized wine companies.  And this is where it starts to get all murky – as a medium sized wine company in the Yarra Valley for example could develop an offshoot label, which upon release they have indicated a price of $80 per bottle.  This bottle is forwarded to the critics, garners points good or bad with the price printed on the side such that they do not forget they are drinking a premium product.  They then sift through the scores and comments, and as if by magic it has immediately found its way to the etailers market place with a dramatic mark down (now only $30 per bottle, a saving of $50!).


It sells and it sells well.


These are cloudy waters here.  Most of these premium wines are never actually released to the market place at the full retail price, and if they were it was solely through the company’s website.  Why was the wine even made?  Much of these labels tend to push single vineyard offshoots from a major label brand, and though the vineyards may produce quality grapes, they had never been selected out before.  It makes one think that there is a bit of push and pull going on within this segment of the market.  Now for the consumer this is not a total disaster, the wines are often very good BUT there is no actual value being provided to them as they are paying a premium price (moderate admittedly) for a wine that has moderate premium traits.


The ones being taken for the ride are the wine writers and critics which receive their 200 bottles per week and then try and sort through the pile such that they can either get the notes up on a website, or prepared for print (be it a book / magazine / newspaper).  It is becoming outrageously difficult for them to spot these faux premiums from the real deal as updating labels and prices is ongoing at every level of the industry.  Any wine caught on a “good” day can receive good scores, and you only need 1-2 from the 15-20 critics you forwarded the wines too, to get the required bling on the promo.


It also highlights that the larger etailers who have dabbled in making their own wine, using well regarded wine makers, recognize that this is not the most cost productive path to take.  It is assumed that if you own the whole chain from production to supply you can obtain all of the profits at the point your product is sold.  With wine this is not quite true, as many wineries run at a loss or merely break even due to back-breaking overheads – but retailers have fixed returns and it is easy to swap and change your product at any time.  So once an etailer has found a formula to success (let’s say discounting premium wines after accessing wine under stress at a winery), then it becomes a case of simple turnover.


But what happens when that pool of premium wines under stress starts to dry up?  Where’s your turnover then?  Well, could it be a case of asking a winery to produce this premium product and then take up the rights to sell the now discounted product?  Where’s the harm?  Both parties are in front as they have obtained solid returns from solid wines, and the public has only been slightly duped but not enough to worry that they have “lost” something.


This is our evolving market place.  It takes a wine “Rain Man” to even know half the wines in Australia now, so this developing pathway of wine sales will continue for a while.  But what of the wine critics who are also part of the game? – well they just have to grin and bear it.  Many have no concerns as any recognition is a good thing and it keeps the samples rolling in – others are a bit warier and you may find that they may seek out more information on premium bottlings in the future prior to putting notes out.


This is the brave new world of wine marketing.  It is an ever-evolving space and by the time this report is written it may have moved further down a totally different path.  One thing is however guaranteed, you can never discount the discounters.


Disappointing month...


It is just so frustrating – we have been running behind all vintage with temperatures being so cool, and March then continued the trend and provided the coup de grace.  It was predicted to be a warmer and drier than normal March, but that could not be further than what happened with 50mm of rain on the 22-23 March cutting down any chance of the vintage being saved.  What can you do?  The weather is what it is and we need to work within its boundaries – so fingers crossed for a return to warmth in 2018.


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


March 2017:        

Avg Maximum Temp          23.9°C

Daily Max recorded            31.6°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.4°C

Daily Min recorded               4.3°C


Rainfall:                               74.7mm


The maximum temperature average this month was again lower than last years, with the minimum average being lower as well.  The rainfall total was much higher than last year, with three inches falling over the month, compared to just shy of an inch last year.


March 2016:        

Avg Maximum Temp           25.7°C

Daily Max recorded             31.6°C


Avg Minimum Temp            13.9°C

Daily Min recorded               7.9°C


Rainfall:                               19.6mm


Something Positive…


April is usually a happy month with grapes picked and vineyard going into recess – so with this year being disappointing vintage wise it is with great joy to know that we can celebrate the marriage of my daughter Beth to her fiancée Aaron in April.  I will dust off some old sports jacket and find a shirt without too many stains and a tie not too crinkled and get ready to rumble.  We are all looking forward to it with family travelling from around the globe to attend, and a very full house at the Blue Poles hacienda.  Tim and Yuko also make it back, so that will be great to share this occasion with them as well.


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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