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Monthly Report - December 2018


The Silly Season…


Margaret River is a fantastic place to live – the beaches, the forests, the wineries and vineyards parked up on many corners – but – during Xmas and Easter Holidays it becomes a bit of a mad house.  To find a spot to park, to grab a coffee, to go for a swim is a bit of a chore to be honest and many days during the holidays I never leave the estate due to the thought of the crush.  And yet, sitting out here (as I am now, typing out this terrifically interesting report) you would never know as those of us parked up on the east side of town have very little holiday traffic and it feels like any other day of the year.  So with this feeling of peace and tranquility I have been tapping away at all of the jobs that have been required in the vineyard and it has been a bit of a chore but I am nearly up to date.  The big one was looking after the grafts of Chardonnay and they appear to be all going well – John our hired help will be back in to check on progress soon and then we start the tricky business of training the vines upwards over the cordon wire. 


Chardonnay bursting through from the grafted bud – December 2018


Last year we were completely dry grown throughout the vineyard.  This was a first for us, and though this appears to have been a huge success for the Merlot and Cabernet Franc, I have my doubts if this was the best plan of action for the Shiraz.  Speaking with friends around the traps they seem to say the same thing – Shiraz is a bit of a wimp.  Though it grows really strongly, with canes that go for what appears miles (I measured one 7 metres long!), as soon as stress hits the plant it seems to sacrifice the fruit growth ahead of the foliage – just sort of slowly fades without pressing on.  This means we get large acid retention and not quite ripe tannins, yet the fruit looks like it is on its last legs.  We did not water the variet15y last year and to counter some of the issues faced, Aidan who helped out that vintage went ahead of the pickers and selected the vines for harvest, leaving vines that did not ripen out properly – this has led to a nice wine in barrel but not a practical solution for the long term.  And the answer appears to be irrigation – by keeping the plant happy here it grows much more evenly and ripens evenly as well.  This means running an irrigation program – it will still be very limited, but it should bring this variety back into balance and ensure some delicious and balanced wine.


This morning while sitting down to start writing this report out on New Year’s Day, I stepped outside with my coffee and looked straight at a large Dugite snake sitting beside the herb garden.  Now, having been bred and raised in New Zealand this could mean only one thing – cardiac arrest and an underused adrenal gland exploding aside – I stepped back inside.  This year we have seen a large increase in snakes and kangaroos around the house and the only explanation is the lack of Jackson our old dog running about.  We may have to address this issue at some point in the coming year, if only to keep my heart in my chest for a little longer.


Large crop of peaches this year – jam and chutney on the agenda

Other jobs that got a run were the wires being raised to hold the vines up, training of the Viognier block that we have re-allocated and hoping to have in production next year, writing up text for our upcoming new website which is being developed (and will have all those wonderful things such as a shop function and nice legible pages), slashing down all of the grasses in the mid-rows in the vineyard (and mowing the lawns around the house), and eating as much ham as possible in the days post-Christmas Dinner.  It never seems to slow down, a feature of doing much of the work in the vineyard myself.  With more time allocated to be at home in 2019, I’m thinking I might have a chance of reducing the To Do list to half a page, and that would be a big win.


The great separation…


It has been a quiet month for wine controversies.  Very quiet.  So, I can only assume that 2019 will be the year where fine wine explodes into the consciousness of the masses and that we are inundated with enquiries and orders… Or not.  Let’s simply hope so then.


But what has struck me while I have been crawling around with my grafts and recovering a number of rows of Viognier back into production is how the Australian wine “world” is being pulled apart from the outside, and no one has really stepped back and noticed it.


Many years ago, when I first went to Paris, all the “cool” wine bars were serving natural wines.  You went there as a form of education and a way to find out what all the noise was about.  Most of the cafes and general bars at the time served a mix of co-op wines and generic reds, so these wine bars were a glimpse in on the natural world.  Within 10 years, this corner of the wine world now dominates the small retailer/ bar/ restaurant market place as they have found that this IS the great point of difference.  It is becoming such a point of separation that there are many little wine stores in Australia that will not sell anything else but natural wines – and their choices grow and grow each year.

201812_Natural wine.jpg

One of the new wine stores in Perth selling predominantly Natural Wines – Wise Child


And this is super unfortunate for us.


As the smaller wine stores concentrate more heavily on this corner of the market, the major chains continue to limit their ranges and invest heavily in stealth “Home Brands” and for all of us in the middle we suffer the squeeze.  And it has never been tighter.  And, I am going to say it here, it is not the best thing that can happen to wine in Australia.  In fact, I think this form of separation can lead to a loss of reputation and eventually a culling of quality wines throughout the country.


You see, an individual wine’s quality almost has almost no bearing on sales of wine anymore.  Winery reputation and/or profile is much more important.  It seems absurd, but there you go.  We all recognized previously the great pulling power of “Halliday Points” when it came to individual wines, and to some degree it continues, but it is fading away and a write up in major daily newspapers or magazines is almost the “fish and chip” wrapper of publicity in today’s society.  Having just spent a year on Instagram, you immediately note the most followed wine “scribes” are those with a natural wine bent (and being quite good looking helps) – they simply get the most followers and the most conversation.  There are those who post what is effectively wine porn (highly priced bottles opened in highly priced locations), and they too have many followers, but much less conversation.


And the great point of separation has come true in the modern wine world.  We are now looking at having to press, press, press once more to ensure we can stick in with our small retailers as they have the natural bug in many cases.  Wine bars and restaurants are the same, and this means almost having to convince them that quality isn’t such a bad thing!


It is all very strange and unfamiliar and sort of the reality of the world right now.  Who would have thought 20 years ago that someone’s opinion on a subject in which they have no qualifications or general understanding would have as much weight as a life time expert on that very same topic?  Well, almost everyone now and the media feed this beast daily.  We are giving as much credence to the imaginary as much as to the reality that we are forgetting the simple things like tolerance and respect.  And do not think this is from either the right or left of politics – it is both and it is in the general community in many other areas as well, wine being one of them one could say.


This is not a go at natural wines, of course they have a place in the wine world and I am totally fine with that.  I have been drinking through a case of La Violetta wines for the past few months and have enjoyed the experience.  They are truly a required component of the wine scene as they tap into the natural zeitgeist – but they can not be the sole definer of alternative wines to the gross factory wines pumped out in casks and home brand bottlings.  And this brings me back to the potential undoing of Australian’s wine reputation, as if these two end members take the reins in the retail space, we will fritter away those who meet an older standard, an older form of understanding based around historic truths and realities.  And as the wheel turns, as it always does, what will be present to show case Australian wines to the world?  Some Penfolds and Reserve Jacobs Creek wines that survived the great retail upheavals of the 2020’s?


Spending more time at home in 2019 also ensures I will be spending more time putting our wines in front of smaller retailers, bars and restaurants and I do hope that they can see the bigger picture as much as the minutiae.  It is an interesting time for many reasons throughout the world, so let us hope that there is some clarity in thought and future planning which goes with the feelings of the time.


Yoyo weather...


As we approach the end of the year, the start to the 2019 vintage in 2018 has been varied with average temperatures up and down, and weather within the months hot and cold to match in with this yoyo effect we are seeing.  December has come back into a close mimic of an average temperature spread and rainfall total – but within the month we have recorded some quite hot days and quite cool days to keep the ever-changing feel to the vintage.


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


December 2018:        

Avg Maximum Temp          24.3°C

Daily Max recorded            35.5°C


Avg Minimum Temp           12.5°C

Daily Min recorded               6.7°C


Rainfall:                               29.9mm


The maximum and minimum temperature average for this month was similar to last year’s range, just a touch lower.  The rainfall total for was lower than in 2017, but this is closer to the average as in 2017 there was a major weather system that bought unseasonal rainfall.


December 2017:        

Avg Maximum Temp           25.1°C

Daily Max recorded             34.0°C


Avg Minimum Temp            13.1°C

Daily Min recorded               5.2°C


Rainfall:                               61.4mm



A New Year beckons…


The jobs do not really stop.  I have had a busy time cleaning up excess growth and training vines, and this will continue well into the new year before we start putting out nets and sampling for grape ripeness.  The fruit set on all of the varieties has also been quite good and the yields should be fine which is good news for our wine making for 2019.  Here’s hoping for a warm and dry new year, and like Goldilocks let it be not too hot and not too cold as we move towards vintage.


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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