Monthly Report - June 2018
I have been abroad. I arrived back to the vineyard at the end of June and I walked out on my first morning to grey and wet and hunkered down vines. The colour is tawny brown that varies in its depth and tone as you enter the vines and walk through the soft mid row. The smell is sweet and as evening closes in, the chorus of frogs from the dam echo like a 1000 squeaks from a child’s toy.
Pruning has not started yet – I will get out there from this weekend and get it completed over July. It is not the panic and rush as all those years ago when I would mentally cross off each row and fear the long rows of never ending vines. It is almost a relief now to just hunker down over the cordon wire and just chop chop chop – my head clearing process.
I did spend some time in Singapore and it was an interesting experience as I did chase up on several different groups associated with wine importing and sales. Singapore is a funny place – clean as a button and almost soulless because of it – but the locals have now had enough generations living and growing up in this controlled environ that it is totally normal.
Singapore – literally green buildings, and constant construction
Unbelievably expensive in so many areas and bloody good value in so many others – it is a little bi-polar and the population sort of only trusts this high – low end world. An example of this is the hotel I stayed in – a glass of beer costs $14, a buffet meal cost $100, and water in the hotel mini bar was $7 for a litre. Walk 500m to the Maxwell Food Centre, a large 750ml beer is $6, Laksa was $4, and you buy water for 70 cents. And the funny thing is there is not much in between – a night out according to my brother is $100-150 thus the hotel buffet is seen as a bargain.
Tim and I have a bit of thinking and planning to do in regards to Singapore and starting our export odyssey. We know that our wines would suit the market place, and that we can actively support the sales process – but getting traction with a population that hides in tall buildings seems a tricky task and I will follow up on the friends and contacts I have made and see if we can make this happen.
Two Blue Poles wines through the prism of Philip White
Though this is technically July, we were lucky enough to have Philip White review our wines for the InDaily publication and the review can be found here. One of the nicest things about reading people describe your wines, is noting how they generated the link between the smell and taste of the wine and how they explained it in text. Philip is therefore a living treasure as he manages to conjure up imagery that is so succinct and clear that you cannot help but get the mood of the wine and the feel of the glass in your fingers as you chew on his prose. These are great lines that we will steal with a nod to his genius:
Blue Poles Vineyard Margaret River Reserve Merlot 2015
“…its texture is all velvet and dry; its flavours jostling to settle like a basket of puppies.”
“This is a benchmark Merlot for Australia. And price-wise, it’s a serious cannonade across the bows of Bordeaux, whichever bank you aim at.”
Blue Poles Margaret River Allouran 2015
“…dancing, giggling like Harlequin in circles round the more reserved Merlot.”
“If Jackson Pollock had a case of each of these wines he woulda stayed home painting poles instead of perishing with Edith when he rolled his Olds while tanked on rye.”
We still have a few cases (and a couple of magnums) of both of these wines for sale – both wines are drinking brilliantly, but do not forget to hide a few for future reward. The Merlot in 2015 was spectacular and both these wines highlight the fortunate combination of great vintage, great location and awesome Clive Otto wine making.
I am a numbers sort of guy – as long as they are not accounts and receipts I am on to it like a flash. Being part of the mining industry for so long, you thrive off all of the data that you get. It could be hourly tonnage rates on a conveyor belt, flow meter reading on a heavy mineral spiral, or the assaying of rare earth elements on an exploration sample – everyone of them could give me a bit of a kick. And the reason for this perversion? Well, it leads you to the facts of the matter – it provides the window from which you can crawl through to get to the file of knowledge, and sometimes all is not what it seems.
Manipulating numbers is also how Tim and I are vineyard partners. When I first met Tim, he was on a drill rig in the area between Leonora and Laverton in the goldfields of Western Australia. He was the best geo of the bunch that was there, and I asked him if he would like to work with me completing the resource work of a project before it became a mine. I think his first working impression of me was one of “what the hell is he doing” as I sat down with the assay database and proceeded to fill a white board up with geochemical connections. And much to my amazement he understood what I had achieved and to my unending gratitude he was able to make this work within the computer programming and we became a team (as much as today, I willl do the easy bit of writing this and Tim will amazingly get this edited and up onto the website).
So why am I rambling on? Just recently a friend of Blue Poles, Kamal [please put in a follow to Kamal on Instagram if you can @kamal_farmer – he has a fine taste in wines and a great eye for his images], had managed to locate the numerical scores from Halliday since ~1994 and knowing of my interest in the scores from past monthly reports (best reference is July 2014), forwarded to me a summary of all of the scores of these wines. Awesome, as for the first time I can define what has been going on with the scores from perhaps the most respected and influential Australian wine scribe (and perhaps now, group of wine scribes, as a team is employed to keep all of the wines tasted and scored thus from now on I will reference the tasters as “Halliday”).
The total number of scored wines was 117,470 with the total number of wines tasted per year from 5-900 per year in the 1990’s through to ~7-9000 per year in the 2010’s. Now the kicker here is that we do not know if these are ALL of the wines that “Halliday” has tasted, but we can be assured they are all of the wines that have scored well and thus the influence on the data set would be wines that have scored lower and not included. The totals per year tasted does match in quite well with the totals recorded in Halliday’s Wine Companion (HWC), so let’s assume that they have a similar ratio of wines left out as left in and judging by the totals not a significant number of wines from each year would not have been included in the database I received.
Now back in July of 2014 I made a case for the scoring of wines within the HWC had been increasing. But it was a tenuous relationship as I was only comparing two HWC years (2012 and 2015), and it could have simply been an anomaly. But with this data set I can compare the total high scoring wines (all wines scoring 95 points or more), every year going back to 1994 and this is presented below as a percentage of all of the wines tasted:
The most noticeable aspect of this graph is the skyrocketing of scores from 2011 onwards. To score 95 points or above between 1994 and 2008 was about a 1 in 20 chance, to score a wine 95 points and above from 2014 on you have better than a 1 in 5 chance – the statement made here is that wine is FOUR times better in the past 4 years than apparently at any other time of “Halliday” point scoring.
Simply put, what the heck has gone on? Why this massive points inflation? What could have been the driver for “Halliday” to begin this apparent race to the top?
Now, remembering during the 1990’s Robert Parker hit town, and had a huge soft spot for the Shiraz wines of the Barossa and McLaren Vale and his scores during this period were uniformly high for the wines of his style (which dominated the wines he tasted). In fact, 95 points at the time was considered a mere “pass” mark for many wineries, and those that garnered 99-100, well they hit the jackpot and could almost put any price on their wines. “Halliday” obviously did not follow the lead here and kept his high point scores very consistently low over the period (peaking at 6.5% in 1997 possibly due to the excellent vintage conditions of 1996?).
Now wine tasting as we all know is a very subjective matter, and the application of points to this process is difficult to understand at times. But the data here shows there has been a massive shift in the “Halliday” tasting landscape and the reason is unclear, as there is simply NO WAY possible that wines today are 4 times better than those in 2008. In my eyes, that is literally yesterday as I am drinking a 2007 Allouran tonight with dinner and it is a cracking wine that matches well with all of the current releases – thus in effect from a vineyard and winemaking perspective little has changed apart from a slight push towards more sustainable vineyard management, new varieties and blends, and natural wine making processes which adds a little but cannot predicate such a massive change in the number of high scoring wines.
The one and immediately obvious clue was the implementation of the latest HWC red and black 5 star rating system – for a winery to achieve this pinnacle within the HWC world they must have numerous wines scoring 95 or more within your tasted wines of that annual. This powerful “5 star” marketing tool of both the wineries and HWC would require by default the need to raise points to match in with the arbitrary requirements as set by HWC. Looking back at the 2007 HWC the cut off score was numerous wines scoring 94 points or more to obtain the 5 star rating – but this alone does not explain the dramatic jump from 5% in 2007 to the current 22% of wines scored by “Halliday” now rating 95 points or more.
This begs the question why has our most known wine writer and critic overseen what can observed to be a massive change in their “own” system of scoring?
Over the last 4 years many wine critics within the main stream press have actually started to move away from using points or in fact have never used points – Max Allen and Philip White immediately come to mind – with others tend to make the points secondary to the story behind the wine or the brand. Wine sites such as WineFront and Huon Hooke’s real reviews, appear to have moderated their points rise when in comparison to previous years (this is anecdotal – I have not been able to crunch any numbers here), but it could be argued that the points are slightly higher now than when they began.
I recently (and unfortunately) got entangled in a twitter spat between many wine writers out of Britain who were arguing over the actual sense of points and perception of rightness and wrongness for all critics. You see this is just a big shemozzle now – who is right and who is wrong? Do you dear reader want the scores to justify the purchase or do you want the reputation? Looking at the numbers of the HWC it appears that they have plateaued at this absurd level of points where more than 1 in 5 of all Australian wines tasted is in effect “World Class” – shark jumped and now to keep selling the sizzle to those addicted to a “5 Star” world.
It is all numerical gymnastics. Double back flip with (Roger) Pike and sticking the landing.
It has been cold and wet, very cold and wet. Days of very heavy rainfall were followed by cold southerly squalls bringing more rain in to the countryside. No clear air as the fronts rush up from the Indian Ocean like a stack of cards being flicked along the Western Australian coast.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 15.9°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 is a lot lower than last year, with the minimum average higher due to constant cloud cover throughout the month. The rainfall total for 2018 continues to grow with nearly a further 200mm which is in contrast to the very dry June of 2017.
Avg Maximum Temp 18.3°C
Daily Max recorded 21.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.3°C
Daily Min recorded 3.4°C
Better chop, chop, chop…
Pruning will begin this month regardless of the weather and the sore hip I seem to have collected. Tim and I will have birthdays and then quietly forget how old we are, and my Mum will also get another year under her belt. A month at home so a few deliveries around town, a few guests to the vineyard, as well as hopefully catching up with friends for some mid-winter roast dinners – red wines ahoy.
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