Monthly Report - September 2018
Reserved Release Realized…
The third of a run of three sensational vintages in Margaret River, 2016 was a year in which the evenness of the growing season shone in the wines. It did not start that way with the Spring of 2015 being the warmest on record pushing the vineyard ahead very quickly, but a cool December, average January and cool February brought everything back under control and the warm March meant that the grapes could be picked off with little stress of a breaking season and cool wet weather fouling the end of a lovely vintage. The one event that caused a bit of excitement was a huge downpour in January – with the ground being so dry most water just ran off the top of the soil and no problems were noted in February as the grapes slowly ripened.
Our Reserves this year remain the same – Merlot and Cabernet Franc with 50% new oak on the Merlot and 60% on the Cabernet Franc. The weight and density of the wines is delightful and unlike previous vintages where the wines needed a window of rest, the 2016’s have been balanced and delicious almost immediately post bottling.
Looking back at the harvest in 2016, on 18 March we took off the Merlot and it was excellent and had wonderful richness straight from the get go – the Merlot now has become very consistent and the window of picking has widened a little but still to retain the fruit and acid, and match in with the ripe tannins extra care is always taken. A week later the Cabernet Franc hit the bins, and it came off clean and perfectly ripe as well – always keen to ensure the “grassiness” (which sometimes blights this variety), is burnt off we waited for the fruit to keep its freshness but lose the “bite” and that was delivered on 24 March. Both varieties came off on time and we have always known they would form both excellent reserve wines as well as an exemplary Allouran for when it gets released next year.
Clive and Kate did their thing and wines were put to bed in 100% French barrels for a period of about 18 months before bottling in December 2017. The reserves were selected a few months prior and blended in barrel before being settled and prepared for bottling. No fining agents were used, and all wines have looked great since we have bottled them – balance is the word of the 2016 vintage – pitch perfect balance.
Both wines have been reviewed by The WineFront team and the points and descriptions are as below:
Gary Walsh – The Wine Front – September 2018
Blue Poles Reserve Merlot 2016: Red and black fruits, sage and cedar, some sweet tobacco and earthy things, spice too. Medium-bodied, sophisticated and elegant in style, vibrant fruit with earthy bass tones, chewy open-weave tannin, earth and bright red fruit on a lively finish. Really good.
Rated: 94+ Points
Blue Poles Reserve Cabernet Franc 2016: It’s a hard act to get a straight Cab Franc going, but when it’s good, it’s often very good.
Red and blackcurrant, slight prune note, mint, pencils and spice. Medium-bodied, grip and grainy tannin, slightly nippy acidity, attractive perfume of dried herbs on a long insistently tannic finish. Needs a couple of years to settle, I feel, but potential here.
Rated: 93+ Points
As you can note both wines receive the obligatory “+” on the scores – our wines have shown over and over again that they age really well. The first Reserve Merlots from 2007 and 2008 are showing beautiful balance and richness of flavors still and will last for a further decade at least judging by what has happened to date. Every time we drag one out and show guests and friends, all are surprised as much as delighted – and this pleases us as much as any one thing we have done with our vineyard.
For the last two releases these wines have sold very quickly, and we recommend that you take advantage of getting access directly as in a couple of weeks we will allocate the balance of the wines to our retailers who actively support us. A number of tastings have been organized in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne during October and I will list them below. Everyone is invited to attend and we look forward to seeing you over a glass of wine:
Wednesday, 10 Oct 5-7pm
Different Drop HQ
42 Wattle St
Ultimo, NSW 2007
(Entrance via Fig St, last warehouse before underpass)
Thursday, 11 Oct 5-7pm
Le Pont Wine Store Milsons Point
Shop 2, 110 Alfred Street
Milsons Point NSW 2061
Saturday, 13 Oct 2-5pm
Small Patch Wine Store
346 Hawthorn Rd
Hawthorn VIC 3122
Tuesday, 16 Oct 5.30 – 7pm
Petition Wine Bar
Cnr St Georges Tce and Barrack St
Perth WA 6000
Bursting with Life…
September is an unusual month, it tends to be both winter and spring – interchangeable on a daily basis. Some of the coldest days of the year have occurred this month, with the risk of frost hurting the small vines as they go through budburst, and fortunately for us the temperature did not drop below freezing on the nights of 15 and 16 September as the Merlot had just reached budburst on these dates. Shiraz has followed four days later and the Cabernet Franc has just reached this stage of the growth cycle as of 30 September. There is a fair bit of a pent-up energy running through the vineyard at the moment, and October will be when it releases into a wall of green.
The first protective spray has gone out – with only the Merlot, Marsanne and Shiraz requiring protection. A bit of preparation works has been completed on the vines that we are preparing for grafting to Chardonnay this coming November – this is exciting for us as I am beginning to think the top of the block could suit some Chardonnay vines and I guess I will find out in a year or two. I have not spread any organic fertilisers as yet, I will do that in early October, time was not my friend this month. I have a few wires that need fixing and the mulching could not quite get out as the vineyard is still drying out post a very wet August. But with all of this jostling on the To Do list, the vineyard does look in splendid shape and as always for this time of year you feel very hopeful for another great vintage.
Merlot Vine through first leaf separations
What’s your price?…
We all have a price apparently. I am not sure what mine is, as I have never ever really thought about it much – money is not really my schtick and that is both a blessing and a blight. Just recently there has been a spate of articles and stories about the price and profitability of owning vineyards and they provide an interesting window on this industry of ours.
Let me explain.
Wine is a product that covers a huge spectrum of price points and perceptions. It can be goon in a box drunk while cooking dinner or spun on the hills hoist, or it could be Chateau Latour drunk with reverence of a royal wedding and almost as costly. AND literally every point between these two end members there is a niche wine that fits into the continuum.
This massive market spread ensures that when wine “experts” and “marketers” start discussing wine it is just a case of playing “Devil’s Advocate” until everyone just gets blue in the face. An example of this would be that we need to “educate’ our buyers, and it could then be quoted that most people are not interested in knowing more – another example is that you should use less “flowery” or “scientific” language to describe wine and yet if you fail to describe your wine in such terms you are turning away those that care for such detail (and who in fact may be your buying “base”). You see absolutely NO ONE is right – NO ONE. As the wine market is simply so diverse that any single approach applied generically is a total waste of time.
So, we cannot sit down and discuss the buying and selling of wine without ensuring that everything said could be both wrong or right – how would you go when you sit down and determine the value of a winery? What are you actually valuing and what could possibly be the price? It is known that nearly 40% of all wineries in Australia are not profitable (some numbers seen this week indicated that a massive 70% of South African wineries were considered on the borderline of bankruptcy) – thus buying and selling vineyards and wineries are fraught with danger as it is not just “valuing” land, chattels, wine, good will etc – you would also need to guesstimate future yields, quality, market trends, regional initiatives, impact of new ownership, and you can only imagine everything else in the electronic world.
Value defining problems aside, a report was written valuing the properties of Bordeaux (and you can find it here ), and it was incredible in regards to the valuations set for the famous estates of the region. The title of the report was crazy enough as “Valuing the great estates of Bordeaux – who is in the €50m club?” – just over 50 Chateaux apparently – but what I could not follow was the assumptions that went into defining billions and billions of euros worth of Bordeaux wineries without considering the reality of the future and its impact.
From a subset of 8 sales recorded between 2003-2009 in Bordeaux, the author determined that if you valued all of the wines made in the vintage of the sale, there is a factor of 15 to determine the value of the estate (for example if the wine of a single vintage is valued at $1 million then the estate was worth ~$15 million). With the incredible growth in wine value in the past 20 years you can then determine that the highest value Chateaux are now worth extraordinary values – Ch. Lafite Rothschild €3.7 billion, Ch. Latour €1.3 billion – and put on top of that some incredible anomalies like Ch. Le Pin with a production of 600 cases worth €90 million, just mind blowing. And this is where I am starting to wonder how much of this is reality and how much of this is actually just pimped up oligarch prestige?
A few checks and balances here – Bordeaux is a bit of an anomaly in fine wine as the volumes made from the top estates can be huge (Lafite 46,000 cases, Margaux 30,000 cases) – and often this is not the case as the best wines tend to be defined from smaller and smaller plots of land as often seen in areas like Burgundy or Barolo. Also, the historic nature of the region tends to have a much larger impact on the fine wine world than many other regions, combined with less “clutter” of vineyard nomenclature and wine maker / owner names etc.
Chateau Cantenac-Brown sold in 2006 for €72 million
Now the guts of it – pretend you are an incredibly wealthy Billionaire with a spare few 100 million Euro, would you buy a fantastically expensive Bordeaux estate knowing the following:
Global Climate Change wreaks havoc in every vintage throughout France now. Be it through storms at the season’s start, heat during vintage, to unseasonal rains and humidity at varying times. Can quality and yield be assured with any certainty for the coming decade?
Many Bordeaux vineyards are located at very low topographic levels, and any rise in sea levels will risk rising salt levels in the groundwater tables, especially in the Medoc where some of the most expensive Chateaux are located.
Is the period of excessive wealth and consumption seen in the past 20 years to continue indefinitely to sponsor the continuing profits of the chateaux?
Has Bordeaux reached a “consumer” peak and if this is the case will we see within a few years a decline based on a changed perception of value and quality? Will the historic precedence of the region continue to prop up what is becoming a vulgar display of consumerism at its most lavish?
And the answer would be most probably still an emphatic Yes! And the reason why? Because you may never get to own such an estate ever again – the sales of these estates are rare as hen’s teeth and if they were to be sold there would be a scramble to throw money at the sellers. But the facts remain the same – there is a good chance you will lose your money and the wines that will be produced into the future may well be inferior and in lower volumes. Some regions of the Medoc could become waste lands due to salt water encroaching up the Gironde River, and other areas throughout the world would start to gain traction with the same grape varieties as being “better” than Bordeaux. It could become a lost cause.
This scenario is not limited to Bordeaux – this future modelling leads itself to a pretty difficult position for all wineries throughout the world – many are owned by families and there is no guarantee that the next generation will follow through and take up the reins. Multiply this by the fact that many owners are approaching retirement, who will be running into a business that is so fickle and so difficult to understand? Many young winemakers today avoid the traps of owning the vines, but their window of accessing these grapes may be closing as well as the owners start to move off the land and avocados or apples or peaches or macadamias become the preferred crop – vines and wineries will start to go missing and with it wine choice.
I do not really know how anything much will play out over the next decade – it may still be like today or it could have been totally disrupted and shattered into 1000 shiny pieces. The price you set for your value is not the same as anyone else’s and this is the take away from this topic – a vineyard is as romantic a proposition as almost any for those who love wine, but its value is not fixed in stone, it is fixed in perception and mystery. I look out on our vineyard and wonder what its real value is, and what’s my price, and I can honestly say, I don’t have a clue…
Slow spring start...
With winter put to bed, the first month of spring in the Margaret River region often brings up weather that is of winter interspersed with fine warming days as the sun starts to set later in the day. Some very cold nights in the middle of the month matched in with predominantly clear skies and cold southerlies ensuring the heat never stayed in the system for long.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 16.9°C
Daily Max recorded 21.9°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.6°C
Daily Min recorded 1.7°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 September 2018 is very low for this time of year as well, and many of the wetter parts of the estate have dried back quite quickly.
Avg Maximum Temp 17.5°C
Daily Max recorded 23.8°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.7°C
Daily Min recorded 2.9°C
With the release of the Reserves from 2016 I do have the opportunity to head out and about and run some promotions of our wines on the eastern seaboard as well as in Perth. If you could make any of the tastings in the cities highlighted above please drop in and have a chat and try out these two excellent wines (there will be some older wines for reference of course). Work on the vineyard and around the house at home will be flat out as it is not just vines that grow like crazy this time of year, so the lawn mower will be getting a fair old work out as well. First wire-lift most probably on my return from East, and a couple of protective sprays will go out to keep the mildews at bay.
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