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Monthly Report - May 2018


Local Tragedy…


In the early hours of Friday morning on 11 May, our next-door neighbor Peter Miles apparently took his own life after taking the lives of his wife, daughter and grandchildren.  It makes no sense typing those words, and it makes less sense reading them – but this is the situation that all of us in the region have found ourselves in since that day.


A long time ago in my second monthly report I wrote the following line “Working amongst all the locals and watching the seasons pass with them has given us even more of an appreciation of their efforts and trials”.  This tragedy where our neighbours have lost their lives, within a community that genuinely looks out for each other and yet provides you enough space to live a very private life – has shaken us.  It does not let one rest, predominantly due to the realization that the tragedy has no “cause”, thus the reason for this terrible loss of life is behind a veil and may never be known.


Osmington has a population of 135 people.  From my verandah I can see the properties which house about 27 of them.  The Miles family lived just over the hill behind us on one of the smallest properties in the area, apart from the river blocks.  They moved in about 3-4 years ago and like everyone in Osmington, pretty much kept to themselves and had their own circle of friends and colleagues from their time living nearer, and working within, the town of Margaret River.  Gail and I did not know them but knew of them – this is pretty much normal for most rural communities that are near a town center.

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All of us in the area are extremely lucky.  We are the “quiet” part of the Margaret River region and as such we are not bothered by unwanted visitors or excessive noise or anything more than a relentless quiet.  Most run beef on their properties, a few of us have vineyards (~7 vineyards all together, with 4 making their own wine), and a small number are lifestyle – which involves small crops of fruits and vegetables (mandarins, avocados, garlic to name a few).  No one drives down our road without someone noting the vehicle – same on Osmington Road past the Jindong-Treeton Rd intersection – as there is very little reason for anyone past the postie or a visitor to make it into our neck of the woods.


I am not going to speculate about the reason for such a tragedy – many have, and I find this abhorrent.  Some have simply done so as the Miles family on the outside appeared to be living an idyllic life style and as such they assume there must be a clear-cut cause, this is from a deep-set fear more than an actual knowledge of the event.  As there is not any true understanding of why the loss of life occurred that morning we await a coroner’s report, and when we finally do get the coroner’s verdict I doubt it will shed more light on the reasons than what we know now.  So, with a very sad heart, vale to the Miles family and deepest sympathies to all who loved them and to all who miss them.


Approaching slumber…


As we approach mid-winter solstice, the sun sets further and further north and the soil starts to open up awaiting the first rains with the dew each morning creating the sheen that starts this process.  The vineyard is actively putting back into the roots the energy stored from the growing season and as such is shedding leaves and hardening wood as it approaches a winter and a form of hibernation.

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As the vines go to sleep

In Margaret River we do not get the cold of many wine regions of the world, with snow not possible for any wine region of Western Australia – so the vines as such cue from the shortening days and cold overnight temperatures as much as the chill of freezing ice up against the vine and soil.  Grass shoots pop up from summer seed and weeds take a window of opportunity to quickly fill the open space generated by the dryness of a typical summer – Autumn and Spring in Margaret River have a similar feel, a feeling of renewal and of awakening and it is an awesome time to be in the vineyard and sense this rustling of life.


The first storm / cold front rushed through the vineyard at the end of the month, ensuring roads were blocked and power was down for a day or so.  We had an incredible first 3 weeks of May, where the clear days and red sunsets seemed to roll on and on (also ensuring smoke filled the air as many of the local forests were set alight for preventative burning).  It was all a bit surreal there for a while – approaching mid-year and day time temps in the mid-20’s – but with the season broken and showers on every odd day, the end of the month looks like winter was about to start proper as June is meant to do.


The release of the Allouran was put to be this May, and upon arrival home I sat down to a couple of pallets of wine, a large list of varying numbers of bottles and addresses and spent a night simply boxing up wine for collection the next day.  It is a bit of a grind but going through the list and coming across familiar names and places (love sending wine to Robert Parker of Ballarat for example, or to Coledale and Oyster Bay in NSW from long time comrades), makes it much more enjoyable and gives me a sense of “family” for a better word.  With the extra volume of Allouran in 2015 we have not quite sold out which is great and gives others the chance to get some of the wine that has been locked out in the recent past.


Having had a few bottles of the 2015 Allouran during the promotional run last month, followed by my time at home this month I am pretty convinced this will age really well and it mimics the 2011 in many ways, especially the concentration of flavor produced by the strength of the Merlot component in 2015.  There are still a few magnums left – a real treat for later life as sharing one recently at our daughter’s wedding ensures a sense of occasion that cannot be replicated with just a couple of bottles.


All of the wines are safely in barrel and I did not run through them again post a look in April – all is well according to Clive at the winery and I will have a look at them again when Tim comes across in a month or so to do some work in the vineyard.  [I’d better plan out some difficult tasks so as to keep him exhausted at the end of the days – making him feel like he’s earned his dinner and booze.]  As always, May is the month where you can chillax in the vineyard a little bit and this was the case with us here at Blue Poles.


The confusing dreams and ambitions of a vigneron…


If you are wine-vine-curious I recommend you read this New Yorker Report on Randall Grahm prior to reading my review here on elements of the article.  This is an article that has me at times genuinely bewildered and at other times crystal clear in my own perception of wine and my role in it.


I am going to premise this little piece with the following proviso – I respect and admire any winemaker / vigneron / grape grower who stands up for what they believe in.  They are the rocks in this, at times, bullshit industry of hype and hyperbole and without them we would be flotsam on this sea of spin.  My reason for the review of this article on Randall’s hopes and ambitions is based on the fact that in a very limited way we have gone down a similar path by placing our futures into the quality of our wines, seeing wine as a total sum of where, how, who, what and when, and the seeking of a wine of presence from the works that we put in.

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Cartoon characterization of Randall Grahm (New Yorker Magazine - May 18)

The New Yorker article spells out the life and times of Randall Grahm, a wine maker from California, and the hopes and dreams of his final act which is to make a “truly American wine”.  It is noble, and as referred to in the article, a bit Quixotic in its ambition.  My feeling is that it is a romantic dream that may provide new windows of tastes and flavors, but to alter the world of wine to a “higher” plane, to make the target as much cerebral as pleasure is a loving fantasy.  It is a dream from those in our industry who do not want to believe that others are not willing to accept a truth, an honesty, a change; just because they themselves “know” it in their hearts.


“Wine is a mystery that holds the promise of an explanation.”


Sometimes when I am feeling mentally lethargic, I look up Dalai Llama quotes and try and pull them apart – little sentences of sweetness and light that have a supposed core of deep understanding.  These small pieces of “prose” are at times so cripplingly short of foundation, ephemeral to the point of meaninglessness, structureless and at times unrealistic – strike a chord within the mind as they “sound” deep and meaningful.  And the sentence above is one of those statements that drives me bonkers.  Let me explain:


  • Wine is a mystery:  This is simply because it is such a varied drink that comes from so many places and from so many people with so many potential aromas and tastes, that no one could possibly know all aspects of wine “regardless”.  Coffee is a mystery.  Tea is a mystery.  Bacteria are a mystery.  Stating this, to me, is a mystery.

  • That holds the promise of an explanation:  This is ego over reality.  To assume all wine holds some potential to resolve some mystery is up there with saying the “power of love will move mountains” – romantic and not doing anything more than providing lovely sounding words strung together.


Thus, the primer to the article made me a little uneasy.  Being a natural born cynic, I had a feeling that we were going to be led to the Kool-Aid as we got deeper into the story.


With my ears pricked and my hair brushed, I moved in.


Throughout the article Randall is portrayed as an absolute Francophile – from the car he drives to the naming of his child – but what makes him bleed the tricolor is his view of the world’s wine.  He actively seeks the defined past to define an undefined future “I don’t want another nice wine. I want a wine that’s like the old Saint-Émilion Cheval Blanc…” – this line made me cringe.  Because the total article is an attempt to promote the new, but it continually harks back to the past (or a caricature of the past).  What will the new “truly American wine” taste of?  It will taste of old Europe by default – as Randall himself contradicts every statement of the new with his love of the past, the love of the perception of elegance, the love of the perception of place, the love of an unrealized and unknowable wine.


The development of the wild dry-grown vineyard at Popelouchum in Santa Cruz California to potentially develop this “truly American wine” is a concept that only Randall and his devoted followers can believe.  Some debate his timeline for initial results (10 years), and others doubt the reality of such a venture in the first place – I simply doubt the whole premise.  EVERY wine made from American grapes (be them from Vitus vinifera, Vitus labrusca, Vitus californica etc etc), is an American wine – the fact that they do not define place due to a perception that a wine HAS to represent a local, regional, country’s “terroir” is simply a spin placed on its so-called importance.


There are so many factions within the wine industry at the “boutique” end of the spectrum that you need to note that we are all individualistic and what may bind us, may also separate us.  We grow and tend a number of grape varieties – some we blend to make a wine and others we simply bottle the single variety.  Our site, my way of tending the vines, the methodology of picking, and the raising of the wine has made a unique wine – and fortunately for us, all of our wines have proved to be of a high quality.  Blue Poles wines are often referred to having a “French” style, which references the structure of our wines and for this I am grateful.  But are we a “truly Australian wine”?  Emphatically yes!!  Emphatically no!!


As much as I love the ambition and drive of Randall Grahm (and I have been lucky enough to meet him once in Margaret River, and he occasionally replies to me on twitter), he has become the modern day Don Quixote and I sort of understand him, and yet I should say I do not within the same breath.  At the end of the article, one of the final quotes from Randall was as follows:


“I know perfectly well that there are elements in my character that have isolated me from people,” he said. “That the intensity of my obsessions often crowds out the expression of my affections. There’s no one in the world I love more than my daughter, but I struggle to explain the importance of all this to her.”


I can directly relate to this – and it feels like he has sneaked up behind me with a cosh.  Anyone who is absolutely focused upon an ambition or goal, forms the justification for their drive through an implied “importance” and it is difficult to share this with even your closest friends and family.  In a way you hide behind it, it excuses you from the table and it makes you look in rather than take part.  Randall has opened his arms to the world through this article and I deeply respect the guy for being so gawd damn BRAVE.  I may not agree with much of the aims and ambition of his great undertaking, but I can only wish him the very best as he charges flat out at those forever moving windmills…


Autumn Ends...


As mentioned within the report – the month came in 2 pieces.  The first was mild with showers leading into then beautiful clear days of no end to the horizon which melted into red blazing sunsets day after day.  The second began on the evening of 24 May and involved thunderous rain and gusting winds breaking against the house with various levels of respite before it was repeated and repeated.  So in effect 160mm of rain in 6 days has meant the ground is now wet and the soil is like a sponge to these falls – a full blown change of seasons within a week.


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


May 2018:        

Avg Maximum Temp          20.9°C

Daily Max recorded            26.6°C


Avg Minimum Temp           11.9°C

Daily Min recorded               7.9°C


Rainfall:                             170.4mm


The maximum temperature average this month was a little higher than last year, with the minimum average this year also higher with warm temperatures throughout first three weeks of the month.  The rainfall total for 2018 is very high at nearly 20% of our average rainfall, and double to that recorded last year.


May 2017:        

Avg Maximum Temp          19.4°C

Daily Max recorded            25.0°C


Avg Minimum Temp             9.4°C

Daily Min recorded               4.9°C


Rainfall:                               84.0mm


Chop, chop, chop…


Yes, it is the start of pruning – we will begin with the Shiraz and then do a loop around the vineyard in a large clockwise movement.  I will also look at getting a guy in to sort out some wires – I have realized that I am just pretty hopeless at it and rather than losing my hair and ragging my temper, bring in an expert.  I will also drop into Singapore to have a look at the possibility of exporting and selling some of our wines there – possibly direct (as we have had issues in the past), and there may be a way of doing it, so I will check that out.  Also, abroad once more for work, so I will be busy busy again this month.


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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