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Monthly Report - September 2017


The set-up for vintage…


Southern hemisphere wine made from grapes picked in March – April begin their journey in September of the previous year.  I am becoming more and more convinced that the weather conditions and the state of the vines from September to December is as critical in the delivery of Grand Vin as is the final months of harvest and the avoidance of rain and cool.  Every vintage that we decided the grapes were not to a standard to make fine wine at Blue Poles were affected by these first four months of vintage – either the delayed development due to cool weather, or to rain and wind at the point of flowering.  I am tracking this information, and I will eventually summarize it all and report back in, but right now I am still playing with 12 years of climate information at our vineyard and the resultant wines we made.


Budburst in the vineyard has made an appearance throughout.  The dates for the budburst for all of the major varieties in the vineyard are:


              Merlot                 16 September

              Shiraz                 20 September

              Cab Franc           30 September


The Teroldego is a little patchy, and the Marsanne was really early on the 9 September.  So, it all falls within a normal time frame for eventual vintage, and the gap of the Cab Franc to the Merlot is about spot on.


Merlot – Now at point of leave separation, end of Sept 2017


Now although the weather is a little out of my control, the state of the vines in not and this year I have doubled down to get them in super shape for this vintage.  As you may recall there was no wine made under the Blue Poles label from the 2017 vintage, so the 2018 vintage is critical to us.  During this month, I have spread the biochar amongst the vines, as well as some natural phosphates to give all of the vines a bit of a lift.  Also, I have gone through the vineyard once more checking on the pruning and knocking the excess spurs and buds off just to ensure the growth is balanced in the vineyard.  Wires are all down, and the vineyard has been mulched with all of the vine cuttings from the pruning smashed to bits and not finding their way into the soil.  The only job outstanding is the replacement steels, and this was due to the simple fact there was none in the state – will have this sorted early October.  By simple calculation I think I have walked about 66km in the vines in the past 3 weeks – doing wonders for my fitness levels!


As indicated, we have spread out the biochar and for each vine we spread about 1.5 litres of activated charcoal (~600g).  This is all a bit of an experiment, and one of our readers of this report forwarded some scientific data in regard to its effectiveness and the measurement of it.  I have made an attempt at determining the current status by measuring the growth of the vines over spring, and I will do this every year for the next 4-5 years to see what the impact was – as well as just look at the health of the vines.  I am a little excited, as these little things could be the one percenters that move our wines from excellent to truly great and with that a sustainable vineyard for the future.


The start of the month I was abroad and I flew back into sending out all of the Reserve orders that flooded in from the mailing list and from our retailers.  As you know, the Reserves are only made in small quantities – 80-130 cases each usually – but when you have 150 orders to fill out in 24 hours, I had a very long night packing and addressing them all for the postie to collect the next day.  Fortunately for me, the orders have made their way to all of those who have bought them and only one broken bottle to report.  A big thanks to all who have purchased the wines, and if anyone has missed out please drop an email and we will see what we can afford to release – there may be an odd case or two that could be released once we have finalized our wines to the restaurants and retailers.

201709_Cab Franc.jpg

Cabernet Franc – Just completed budburst, end of Sept 2017.


Quantitative Value…


Is there such a thing as quantitative value in a bottle of wine?  Now we all know when the value is zero – that corked or oxidized bottle that you have stored for years to have it undrinkable, or nearly as bad when you pick up something for quick consumption and find it to be swill.  But how do you judge value on wines that crack $30, $50, $100 and then on upwards to the stars?  Do you literally require an epiphany if you guzzle a glass of Grange or Chateau Latour, or at the least a minor “petite morte” to recover from the definitive cost for the liquid in the bottle?


So, the question comes to how do you perceive value?  It is human nature to compare and contrast – if we did not do it the lions would have chewed us up on the Serengeti Plain many many years ago.  Continual review of what we are doing now against what we have done in the past, and to have the capacity to remember disadvantages and avoid these problems at the next attempt gives us the inventive advantage, an enquiring mind.  But wine to the modern man has so many problems to our psyche, and it can create a rigor mortis of the consciousness.  I will list the issues that create the brain freeze:


  • It is really hard to remember the definitive smell or taste of something unless you have trained yourself to do so.  We are a visual and touching creature.  Thus, being asked to recall a flavor or a taste when given a glass of wine sets the mind ablaze – you are desperately seeking a handhold on the cliff face and often you need guidance.

  • The size and breadth of wine knowledge is truly huge.  To know more than 20-30 grape varieties could be considered amazing to the layman, but to the wine lover it is like knowing that is the tip of the iceberg.  Same goes with wine regions and wine styles – the more you know the less you know and this is not what we have taught ourselves to believe.

  • The wine world convinces you that YOU can define what a wine is made from and where it was sourced.  Simple charts and sound bites make you think that Chardonnay is just a list of simple to find list of smells and tastes, and from that list you will locate the wine’s heritage – until you try to test it yourself.  A world of doubt and tremor has entered your wine world.

  • Each wine bottle has its own life story to tell, its provenance can alter a wine perceptibly – and we ourselves are prone to have good and bad days with our palate while tasting wine.  We start a process of double guessing – we think we can resolve an understanding by convincing ourselves we smell or taste something that may not be there due to our minds fascination with the known and the unknown.


Now, we have a problem.  How could the average wine drinker define value when there are so many factors influencing his/her perception of the wine put in front of them.  You know it tastes good, but how good?  It is well known that when you are told that the wine in front of you is very expensive, you are immediately more lenient towards the wine – your salivation at the experience does cloud your judgement.  And this is visa versa for a cheaper wine, when you are more than happy to find fault.


So, we come back to the question, can you quantitatively define the value of a wine?  I do not think you can until you make the big break away the one factor that holds you back – your care factor.  It is like watching professional poker players with $500,000 worth of chips on the table, they could not bet if they valued the money as we would – thus our fascination.  You must shed your skin of worry and fear and just accept the moment for a much simpler experience.  Do not fret over flavors, tastes, cost, provenance, company, setting, glasses, etc, etc.  Just taste it and be honest.


You are seeking wine tasting ZEN.


Now this does not mean you are not to enjoy the wine, to be super critical, to not share the moment – but it finally gives you the platform to be truly honest with yourself.  I am an obsessive sort of character – I know this and I do try to dampen my cynicism and collecting genetics – and days before the vineyard (BV) I collected wines in a compulsive fashion and attended tasting groups, writing notes and hammering home memories.  After the development of the vineyard (AV) this all changed – no spare money to purchase wine and my wine tasting note book started to gather dust.  But, since AV a big change has come over me when drinking wines from my cellar or at dinners etc, I can finally honestly appraise them without fear or favor.


Now what I am not saying is to go buy a vineyard, take your family and others on a big financial rollercoaster such that you can find a ZEN state so as to taste wines.  That would be crazy.  But I do recommend this simple thing.  Next time you open a bottle, do not worry about the label, the price, the grape variety, the provenance – just drink it as if it was handed to you blind.  This may take away some of the anticipation and excitement, which is part of the fun, so just fall into this ZEN state at the point of drinking, let the wine mountain come to you, Mohammed.


At this point you can decide value.  And to be honest it is only ever going to be your take on it.  A $20 dollar wine recommended by a friend could give you as much pleasure as a $200 bottle of Bordeaux, and this kaleidoscope of rankings will forever swirl to the point where you do not worry about the value, but rather the enjoyment of the moment and now you would have achieved that mythical “quantitative value” that we have all been trying so hard to define…


Rays of warmth...


It has been a good month for vine growth this September as the weather has been pretty much benign.  Warmth early in the month did cause some consternation as it was maybe too early, but rain and cool bought the averages into alignment, and the lack of any real stormy weather and associated feared hail brought a sigh of relief.


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


September 2017:      

Avg Maximum Temp          17.5°C

Daily Max recorded            23.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp             8.7°C               

Daily Min recorded               2.9°C


Rainfall:                               116.7mm


The maximum temperature average this month was much warmer than last year, with the minimum average this year also being a little higher with no really cold nights.  The rainfall total is higher than last years and is close to the expected average for September.


September 2016:      

Avg Maximum Temp         15.7°C

Daily Max recorded           18.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp           7.3°C

Daily Min recorded             1.5°C


Rainfall:                           100.5mm


Growing canes…


The vines grow like crazy from this point on until January – our wall of green is on its way.  Thus October commences the spray program proper, with sulphur and copper being sprayed to hold back the potential mildews that form early on in the growing cycle.  Thinning of excess growth will start, and then we have the pleasure of taking up the first wire – one of my many exercise program days.  Sometime abroad for me will also be on the cards, and we also may be finally ready to get this 2016 Shiraz released to the mailing list and retailers / restaurants.


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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