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Monthly Report - October 2018


Growing season…


It is hard to believe that we are cranking through another vintage very quickly.  It just seems like yesterday that we were at budburst, and now we have shoots up and running with all of the varieties and our first wire lift is but a week away.  October is normally quiet with just protective sprays going out, but this month it has been rather hectic as we prepare for the grafting over of some Shiraz to Chardonnay, as well as bringing back into production our Viognier which has had a few years off.  Thus it has been every day amongst the vines as well as doing all the gardens around the house and watching the occasional Rugby Test Match.  On top of this has been the reset of the roses at the head of our vines and they look awesome with all the roses about to colour up the vineyard.


Roses at the head of the Cabernet Franc – October 2018


There are often questions asked on why vineyards have roses at the head of the vines, and the reasons oft quoted is that they are “canaries in the coal mine” as they tend to suffer from mold and disease, as well as get attacked by insects before the vines do.  Thus, giving the vigneron a bit of a “heads up” so to speak.  In my experience this actually is not the case at all – mildews and insect attack hit the vines well before any spots or blights on the roses occur and I am beginning to think that it was a reason of convenience just so a pretty ornamentation can be justified.  Whatever the case, the roses are looking great and make a lovely sight while driving down Bramley River Road.


Our pump shed has also had a bit of an overhaul as this winter the suction valve in the dam finally gave up and fell apart.  It is very difficult to prime a pump when the water keeps running out, so the experts were called in and the pump has had an overhaul, suction valve replaced, and new buoy placed in the centre of the dam.  We do have a dam full of marron, as I am not one to go and pillage them (as I know another family that part owns this vineyard would immediately go and do), and this means it is very impressive dropping in at night and seeing the large marron near the dam’s edge grazing away.  Some are over 20 inches long and would provide food for a family of 4 easily, but they are like the King’s deer and have rights around here!


As many of you may have been aware we did the rounds of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth promoting the new releases and it was a lot of fun.  Great time in Sydney with the Different Drop team and the guys at Le Pont wine store – with those tastings being well attended and lovely to catch up with many of our various retailers and restaurants that stock our wine.  Melbourne is where Tim and Yuko live, so it was a case of enjoying some glorious food, wine from his cellar, catching up with the kids, and meeting up with our regulars.  Even had a bowl in the nets as William is becoming a bit of a cricketer – and surprisingly I could still lift my arm above shoulder height in the morning, miraculous!

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Ready to go at the Different Drop tasting  - October 2018


A super busy month, but a pleasing one as all of the sprays have gone out in a timely fashion.  The Shiraz vines selected have been prepared for grafting to Chardonnay, and 4 rows of Viognier are heading back into production after a hiatus of a number of years (we do occasionally drink one of the 2010 Viognier bottles, and it is holding up beautifully – really delicious and fruit flavours still dominate).  My lawn and garden have been pulled into shape and the fruit trees in the orchard are covered in blossom, so we are all looking forward to some bounty this summer and autumn.

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Small Patch Tasting


Yuko and I at the cricket

Miraculous Marsanne


Not many folk know that we have two rows of Marsanne in the vineyard.  They sit between the Cabernet Franc and the Viognier, and the two rows are referred to as the “Pumpkin Patch” due to the amazing vigor and the large flat leaves that form around the fruiting zone.  A heavy cropper that requires shoot thinning to make the most of it, and it does need to have the wires lifted very early, as if you are late the weight of the canes makes it a super human task to get the top wire to clip on.


We obtained our Marsanne from Voyager Estate back in 2002 as they were ripping it all out and were to burn them as they did not fit the portfolio of wines they had planned.  We turned up and dug out these 3 year old vines and replanted them out – they took off and have always cropped well.  The issue is that a couple of rows from a saved variety sounds romantic, but as we have our wines made for us, often a minimum of 2 tonnes is required before the winery would process them (issues of cleaning, tank sizes – basically more effort than it is worth).  Thus, for many years we have sold these grapes and they have been processed with larger tonnages of Sauvignon Blanc and occasionally Chardonnay from one of the more well known producers of the region.


The ”Pumpkin Patch” aka as the Marsanne Vines


Marsanne is a grape that originates from the Northern Rhône valley and forms part of a triptych of white grapes from the region – Marsanne, Viognier, and Roussanne.  Most famous from the small Appellation of Hermitage where it makes a rich, textured wine which is known to age.  Within Australia the largest (and oldest) plantings are in Victoria and the most well-known producer of this variety is Tahbilk in the Nagambie Lakes area of Goulburn Valley.  The Tahbilk wines are famous for their ageability and many a wine cellar from the 80’s and 90’s were loaded with this cheap but delicious wine.


This year I contacted Brad Wehr from Amato Vino that has a small winery out on Stevens Road and asked him if he was interested in mucking around with this grape.  Joint ventures such as this in the wine industry are rare – and considering the corners of the market place both Blue Poles and Amato Vino sit – they are also highly unlikely.  This pigeon holing of wines and people is not something I conform to, and Brad and I have known each other for many years – he is still surprised we made it through the process, and I am still surprised how quickly he has moved direction of his wine portfolio.

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Only 70 odd dozen made – half will be sold by Amato Vino and half by us.  It is a wine that is distinctly Rhône in its heritage as it sheds off apricot and peach on the nose and palate, but the variety shines through with that dense slippery texture with a hint of lanolin, honeysuckle and what to me smells like star anise.


The wine will be bottled without fining and filtration and as such is a “natural” wine with the combinations of wild amphora and barrel ferments, pressed off from whole bunches, and no additions making there way into the wine at all.  Released to the mailing list this November it will only be available for a few days judging by the response we have had to date.  Based on the quality of this wine it is likely that we will be making another collaboration in 2019 – I will chat with Brad in the coming months to see if we can get “Lost on Mars” together for another year.


Aims and Ambitions…


We had the well-regarded wine critic Mike Bennie roll on up into Margaret River a few weeks back.  He had put out the clarion call to a number of wine makers and owners to drop into the Settlers Tavern with a bottle of something new for him to review.  It has been a difficult past few months with me in regards to my corporate world and I was not really with it that night, so a lot less talking and more observing for me.


One aspect of the night that intrigued me was the extremely wide set of aims and ambitions that were around the table that night.  This is in part due to the wide set of positions each person held within their corner of the industry, but also it shows a real changing face of where wine as a product is going.  One thing that struck me about most of the winemakers and owners that were present was the very low level of talking about old world wines when discussing their own.  We had one of the guys from McHenry Hohnen heading off to Burgundy the following day, but in drinking his chardonnays with him he never once mentioned that they were like or constructed similar to this or that Village or Commune in Burgundy (which 10 years ago would have been the first sentence said).  Even Will Berliner from Cloudburst with his expensive offerings did not bring up old world similes – but rather concentrated on the vineyard and its management.


Many of the “natural” wine makers present did not really push their wines as well – just an acceptance that they are what they are.  No one is “fighting” a war, it is just where they have landed and they are as such confident in the direction they have taken.  Of the 5-6 natural wines on the table, all were interesting and provided discussion, but none were earmarked for greatness and all seemed comfortable with this.


So, as I left the event, it got me thinking.  Have we as a region now accepted our position and simply aim to do the “best” we can with whatever the vintage comes along?  What is the driving force now, and do we even have one?  I am not sure.  It used to be high end Cab Sauv and Chardonnay, with tasty Sem Sauv Blanc – the three work horses of the region – heavily promoted as our regional stamp.  But not so much anymore, lots of variants coming out everywhere and those with just the big three and without an attitude of making excellent examples of it, well they are potentially going to be lost and forgotten.


The confidence of making good wine with good grapes comes with the new wave of Margaret River wineries and wine makers.  A lot less shouting and posturing goes into their promotion than in the past, and with that you can pick up on the solidity of the region.  I would like to think that Blue Poles fits into this description as well – but unfortunately my aims and ambitions gnaw away at me a bit more than many of the younger guys around that table that night.  Time is slipping, and I still feel we have something great to be produced – every vintage from now until  I am not involved anymore will be one that I will always aim for that something special.  My aims and ambitions are set by that dreaded clock ticking, and I hate the thought of those seconds just falling away…


On track...


With a cool and very dry September there was a risk we were in for more of the same as October dawned.  Luckily, we had neither with an average warmth waking the vines and grasses, and some good rains to keep everything growing well and with good vigour and colour.  The rain arrived predominantly on one weekend of the 13-14 October and this was welcome as it managed to soak in and keep the vines pushing forward.


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


October 2018:           

Avg Maximum Temp          19.2°C

Daily Max recorded            24.7°C 

Avg Minimum Temp           10.7°C

Daily Min recorded               6.3°C


Rainfall:                               72.3mm


The maximum temperature average for this month was a little lower than last year and the minimums quite a bit higher after a cool 2018 September.  The rainfall total for October 2018 is very high for this time of year and this being the wettest since 2007.


October 2017:           

Avg Maximum Temp           19.4°C

Daily Max recorded             28.1°C

Avg Minimum Temp              9.8°C

Daily Min recorded                4.5°C


Rainfall:                                45.3mm





The vines will be bursting up and will be requiring a series of wire lifts to hold them in this month as well as a couple of sprays to keep the mildew at bay.  Flowering is key during November as it determines the size and quality of the crop often – let’s hope for a less windy and wet November to ensure a good fruit set on the vines.  There will also be the grafting of the Chardonnay buds to some of the Shiraz vines and that will be exciting for us as we look to make our own version of this lovely varietal.  I am not exactly sure of my location this coming month, but if it is not abroad it would mean it is in the vineyard working working working away.


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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