Monthly Report - July 2017
And here’s Winter…
I am trapped here in the house. Lots of email correspondence to deal with, this monthly report to get out to Tim so as to load it on to the website, and the weather is utter crud as a large cold front is now parked over the house pouring down on the tin roof. One poor guy is in the vineyard finishing the pruning from yesterday (he will be finished soon), and I have a fair few rows myself to knock off in the coming weeks as well.
As mentioned above, the last day or two was in the vineyard knocking off the Merlot and Cabernet Franc pruning. We have always spur pruned these varieties (as cane pruning actually gave us too heavy a crop and too bigger grape and bunch sizes), which means getting pruning contractors in is not a big risk if what I show what I am after and help prune during the days they are here.
We have been working with a group of Afghanis that started work in the region about 12 years ago, and now they are flat out pruning some of the best vineyards in the region (Howard Park, Xanadu, Cape Mentelle). I have used Sayeed and the team for the past 4 years as my time has been eroded into by all my other commitments, but I try to work with them all ensuring the pruning is as I would want it (which often means removing excess spurs that many other wineries want on their vines). They did a terrific job this year and I am looking forward to a normal season and a top vintage in 2018 to make up for this past vintage.
Sayeed in the Merlot Block – Spur Pruning July 2017
Most folk in the city would not realise just how much we are dependent on the various foreign workers that come through to pick and prune the vines in Margaret River, and other Great Southern vineyards. Though the Afghanis are now permanent residents, they came by boat to Australia and they are now an essential cog in the viticulture wheels in the region. I know the issues behind these stories stir up emotion on all sides, but stories like Sayeed are great ones and I look forward to him growing his business as he helps us to grow ours.
Last month I mentioned that we were getting in some biochar to spread under the vines to aid in getting the vines to take up nutrients more sustainably. Well it has turned up, all 700 kg of it and it is continuing with its conditioning down at the shed and we will spread it in early spring so as to ensure it does not get washed away or thrown about by the mulcher which comes through in early September. Laura from Mobius Biochar has been excellent in getting this all together for us and I cannot wait to see how it goes. And that is a problem.
A bucket of black gold – activated biochar
I have been looking through the literature to determine how you measure growth and health on a vine / vineyard and it is not easy. Often it is very academic-ey. The most common way is to collect of all of the canes from a single vine, weigh them and repeat all over the vineyard and then compare it to other years. But what a difficult thing to do, and what a difficult way to define health. If the season was wetter, you grow longer canes and thus you are really measuring rainfall over vintage – hardly useful and I reckon destroys much of what these reported growth patterns were trying to define.
So, after much deliberation I have decided on a method that should provide me with a window on a vines health – measuring the rate of growth in early spring and this is able to be defined by the individual widths between the 4th to 8th nodes on a fruiting cane. Measuring this, which represents a time when there is plenty of groundwater and warming spring weather, provides you with the fixed data from a specific period that is pretty much identical weather wise and it shows me how the vine has accessed nutrients in this important period – too bigger gaps and the vine is bursting with energy, too small and the vine is struggling. I have gone and measured the vines from 4 specific rows that we will be treating with biochar and/or guano gold fertilizer and it will be interesting to see how it will pan out over the long run. My Excel spreadsheet shall runneth over.
Changing vine patterns…
All those years ago in 2001 when we planted out our vineyard, we were on the tail end of a large vineyard expansion in the region. Huge estates were planted in the southern portion of Margaret River, especially in the areas around Alexander Bridge and Witchcliffe. Almost 90% was planted out to Cab Sauv, Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc / Semillon, and it was seen as the great leap forward as wine sales were booming for the incumbents and they were desperate for more volume to match this demand. And then it all came crashing down, culminating in the Global Financial Crisis that basically stopped the whole industry for a while.
With this scenario also playing out across many of the more highly regarded wine growing regions of Australia, it can be noted that since 2001 there has been very very few new vineyards developed. But, look about your bottle shop, your wine sites, even possibly your wine cellar; there are literally 100’s of new labels arriving every year (possibly month) and this is not likely to stop soon. The slicing and dicing of the grape crop each year is now becoming an amazing splintering into a million tiny pieces – there has been no addition to the vine count, but the grapes and wines are now spread far and wide.
In effect in the past 10 years we have had an explosion of wineries and not vineyards. And those wineries are often a few barrels within other larger wineries, and then even further split down again – like an inverted pyramid. There is a fascination with these new labels to have something quirky about their wines or their region / grape varieties etc so as to fit into the buzz that gets generated with being “new”. There was a fascination for a while with the various ancient vineyards of the Barossa in regards to many of the Shiraz wines that became of huge interest in the United States – the older the vines the bigger the price for the wine, but this has mostly passed.
Nowadays, the fascination lies in the organic/ biodynamic grapes, natural winemaking, odd and unusual varieties, cool and arty packaging, links to interesting people, odd European heritage of the winemaker, the good looks of the winemaker – if you can think of a marketing angle here then it is most probably being tried. With the vineyards on the ground staying roughly the same the splitting out of some of the vineyards with mixes of odd and interesting varieties is simply astounding.
Talking with uber cool Brad Wehr of Amato Vino, one of the vineyards he sources grapes from is called Ricca Terra Farms in Riverland which itself sells to a myriad of winemakers who wish to make wines from unusual varieties. And in turn Ricca Terra Farms buys grapes in to meet the demand of the ever-increasing group of winemakers who are finding this route to market a pathway forward. Brad also makes and buys wine in Margaret River, and one of his suppliers are our good friends Lynne and Phil Foster, who in turn sell grapes to over 6 different wineries and winemakers (including us from time to time when I get a crazy urge to experiment).
Two Margaret River wines made by Brad Wehr, Amato Vino
It is becoming so splintered that a winemaker working out of Fraser Gallop Estate (where we make our wine) produces about 6 barrels of wine. Six. Max 150 dozen. 150. I have no idea how that works, and I am sure she will get a large amount of attention when these wines are carefully metered out – but wow, we are approaching peak wine marketing fragmentation…
Thus, what is Blue Poles doing? Why aren’t we buying in tonnes of grapes, increasing production with outside wine additions, promoting our second label, taking trips to China? Well basically, that is not us – we actually grew our vines specifically to make wine from a location that represented what we thought should make great wine. It is old fashioned (growing grapes and making wine from them and then selling them – crazy I know) and it is possibly short-sighted but when you think of the best wines in the world, the ones you “really” want to try – they are estate wines. And I guess that is how we would like to be remembered.
Winter has arrived like a wrecking ball, quoting the very underappreciated and misunderstood Mylie Cyrus. We have had a steady stream of cold fronts rise up out of the Southern Ocean and bash away at the front then back of the house as they bring wind, rain, occasional hail and the odd lightening strike. It has been cold and wet effectively for most of the month, and that was just what the vineyard and surrounding countryside required.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 16.0°C
Daily Max recorded 19.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.0°C
Daily Min recorded 4.7°C
The maximum temperature average this month was similar to last years which was also colder than average, with the minimum average this year being a little higher with no very cold nights. The rainfall total was similar to last year, but with such a large total it has almost doubled the year to date figure (485mm 2017 YTD).
Avg Maximum Temp 15.7°C
Daily Max recorded 19.4°C
Avg Minimum Temp 7.8°C
Daily Min recorded 2.2°C
Let’s get finished…
August will be a month to finish the pruning in the vineyard (fingers crossed), and the dropping of all of the wires so as to be ready for another vintage. We will spread the fertilizer but not the biochar, I will give that another month or so, and we willl get some lime thrown around to help our soil’s pH which is pretty good but some lime helps. I am also super excited about our pop up cellar door in of all places Eldridge Estate, Mornington Peninsula on Saturday 5 August, as well as catching up with clients and friends in Sydney on the following week (looking at you Carl and Rebecca amongst others).
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