Monthly Report - August 2018
The big reset…
It was about 17 and a half years ago when Tim and I did a silly thing and bought the vineyard. It was a big empty paddock with no internal fencing, no water apart from a shallow depression in the bottom north-west corner, no sheds, no power supply, and little if any topsoil throughout much of the block. Perfect – said nobody ever. And even less likely for a pair of guys that were geologists working in the goldfields and with a limited farming history, let alone knowing the first thing about setting up a vineyard.
But we did know that there was a ridge of iron-rich lateritic gravel near the front of the block, and we did know that this overlays some clays and sands, and that there was a chance (small chance) that this could be a great spot for growing wine grapes. So, the two families set aside nearly every weekend for 3 years and planted and raised the vineyard. Having Tim around for a week during this August reminded me of those times and brought out the simple fact that we fortunately enjoy each other’s company, because if we had not have, we would never have got to this point in the winery’s development.
The task we had set ourselves was the replacement of all the broken steels in the vineyard as after 17 years they were beginning to rust out at the base of each steel post. There are by my calculations 1,741 steels in the vineyard, of which we have already replaced about 300 of them, and with Tim we managed to replace a further 400 odd this August. Most will last 30 years, but those where the soil is very wet during winter, well, they tend to rust out in 10-15 years which makes this maintenance an on-going saga. It was a bit of hard work for us both, but we did it in bite sized pieces and knocked it all off. Lots of wine was imbibed and delicious food consumed, and I managed to survive Tim’s “Dad Joke” type humor (I feel you Yuko, I reallllly do) for the 7 days.
Corrosion at the base of the trellising steels
Well with this bit of effort the vineyard has had a reset and all the wires dropped and ready for another growing season. I have one job I will knock off just at the end of the month and that is to tidy up and fertilise all of the roses at the head of the vines (I am writing this tome a little early as the weather is horrid out). It used to be beautiful down the front of the vines, and though it still looks lovely it really does need a big tidy up – so there is a weekend’s work sorted for me before flying back to work abroad.
Speaking of the weather – another wet month this August with nearly 200mm of rain filling the gauge. This month the rain came from the south as much as from the north and that meant it felt like sleet rather than rain – absolutely freezing when out and about in it. The weather with its colder minimums has held off some premature budburst that has been noted by other wineries of the region and aligned the vintage to a more expected schedule. Our vines are at the “wooly bud” stage with only the Marsanne moving a bit faster than normal, but this is all about right.
“Wooly” buds in the Merlot and the Shiraz blocks – August 2018
Now I am not keen on making this a topic which is a for or against, all guns blazing, upscale rant, or any such nonsense – we are much too civilized for that here in Blue Poles land. But, during a conversation with Clive Otto during a barrel tasting he did bring up some interesting points about “additions” to wine and how various groups add and subtract through permittable inputs during the wine making process. You get the feeling from the chitter chat out there in internet world that there are only two groups of wine makers:
Natural: Where nothing is added apart from perhaps some Sulphur to protect the wine from exploding.
Commercial: Where the white lab coats add everything under the sun to concoct a wine which starts with grape juice.
Now, yes there is the natural group which stick to their philosophies and bless them. But my interest is in the commercial area and how this subset accounts for about 99% of all wineries out there – from the largest to the smallest. And the spread of wine making philosophies is as wide as the range of wines produced.
What makes this discussion so interesting is that most people have absolutely no idea on what actually is permissible with regards to wine additions. Many have heard about adding “acid”, some have heard about the French “chaptalization” which is the addition of sugar in some European wine regions, and also many have heard about “egg whites” to fine the wines. But most would have no idea on how extensive the list of additions actually are, and as a true friend I offer you access into this murky world. If you follow this link here you get transported to the Wine Australia Wine Compliance guide – now skip down to pages 5-7 and there you will see an abbreviated list of all the “extras” you can put into (and take out of) a wine. The “extras” are broken down into two groupings – Additives and Processing Aids and I will discuss each separately.
Additives is the easiest group to understand. This is a list of mostly wine products that are present in most wines already – various acids, tannins, grape juice and extracts, with some ferment bi-products like yeast, carbon dioxide, and Sulphur. There is nothing really funky there – even the odd named ones (Dimethyl decarbonate, Sodium carboxymethylcellulose), are pretty benign and can be found naturally in a fermented must. The range of acids is huge and implies that you could skip one whole step of the wine making process by neutralizing the acetic acid and then adding the malic acid without having to wait for the malic fermentation process – kinda spooky.
Where the fun starts is in the next group – Processing Aids. This group of additions to a wine is used to complete specific tasks – with the big ones being making the wine look good and to get rid of off-flavours. The “cleaning” ones are things like egg whites, isinglass, gelatin, even clays like perlite and bentonite. The “flavor altering” ones are a huge spectrum of alkalis (knocking out the acids), proteins, all types of oak products, and some that just appear nasty to neutralize the smell of rot and other rather off-putting aromas and tastes.
And this is the odd thing about these additions and processing aids – the cheaper your wine, the higher the inputs of these products. Well-tended clean grapes actually need very little in the way of additions and help – they “make themselves” (very much like Blue Poles!) is often the term used as these grapes are mostly picked with balanced acids levels, no rots or moulds, good strong skins and pips for tannins, and little delay between picking and processing. Many of these additions and processing aids are associated with cheap crappy grapes, or in some rare cases just simply overzealous wine making.
There has been a push in recent years to have all additives and processing aids listed on the wine label to inform the consumer. The list on many cheaper wines would be similar to that seen on the back of a pack of gummy bears – ridiculously long. And it harks back to the fact the grapes which make these wines are crappy, the wine making is over zealous, and the ambition is to produce “product”. This is but one of the many reasons why I always drink wines made from small producers, as who knows what has been added to the cheap goon bags and bottled dross that fills the liquor barns out there today? If you are thinking that having restrictions on these additions somehow protects the consumer, think again, within the list of processing aids everything except cyanide has NO limit – the term used to control their use is GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and this gives you a clue to the thinking here, it is a manufacturing process.
If you buy fresh foods, look at the back of your food products when shopping, get free range eggs or meats, buy good coffee and ethical chocolate, or any such concern on the products you put into your body – why on heaven’s earth would you buy cheap plonk? Yeah, it is cheap, but so is that Chinese garlic that you know contains bleach and gawd knows what. Your liver is busy enough processing the alcohol from your delicious wine, don’t distract it with various chemicals that are not adding to your health if you don’t need to.
To avoid this “additional effect”, drink less and drink better – works out the same cost wise in the long run and I guarantee you it is much more enjoyable and healthier than much of the swill filling the shelves of the liquor stores today.
Wet Winter Weather...
The three months of winter this year have been very consistent in regards to temperatures and rainfall – with only the slightly higher maximum/minimum value of July taking away from an absolute consistent set of three months. August started and ended with a lot of rain, saturating the vineyard and making the Margaret River down below the road burst its banks for a day or two. Some colder nights and icy southerly winds added to the low temperatures recorded and it meant an extra layer of clothing for everyone in the region.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 15.8°C
Daily Max recorded 21.1°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.3°C
Daily Min recorded 0.9°C
The maximum and minimum temperature averages for this month were a little lower than last year, and also noted many of the previous years. The rainfall total for August 2018 is about normal for this time of year and matched well with a wet August last year which turned into a terrific vintage starter.
Avg Maximum Temp 16.6°C
Daily Max recorded 21.3°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.8°C
Daily Min recorded 3.0°C
Springing into action…
With the vineyard being so wet the mulching and under vine spraying has been delayed until this coming month. A few wires need repair and the pump needs to be turned over so as to prepare for the season’s spray program – I am hoping to do another dry grown vintage as the intensity of the 2018 wines is excellent and I am sure this formed part of the reason. More time abroad, but it is hoped that this work will slow down into the coming months and I can spend more time on the vineyard.
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