Monthly Report - April 2019
Times of Change…
Life has become very hectic for me both personally and professionally and this has meant for the first time since 2005 I am not doing an individual monthly report but rather I am coalescing a couple of months to form a vintage report (...and we have also brought our web page into the modern world at long last!). Life is very rarely a straight road, we all make stops or put our foot down along the way, but you know that you cannot double back and drive it again, so decisions are made knowing that this is the route you’ve set yourself. I have made some decisions that were important for my future so now all I can do is look up, strap myself in, and put it into a gear as I am moving forwards regardless, be the next section off-road or on a 4-lane highway. My view has always been to make the most of the time you have on this one-way crazy journey, and as the stylus races around my LP of life I had better make every moment count.
With this going on, it has crystallized in my soul just how important my time in the vineyard is, and I have a real sense of excitement as I look forward and plan for a future with exciting new wines, new developments and new varieties. Plans are in place to develop another section of the estate and new varieties will start coming on board from the 2020 vintage (beginning with our Chardonnay). Emails and phone calls are on the go sourcing various cuttings from varieties that are rare or simply difficult to get out west and that should be sorted out before winter. Every day brings new works and challenges, and this makes me both busy and happy.
Enough of the preamble – let’s get into the important stuff of what happened this vintage.
Well definitely not a lot happened in February and almost all of March. It was all simply too cool a growing season for the grapes to be ripe within the normal window of mid-late March. You can look back and say well it was nearly identically cool last year during February and March in 2018, and you raved about those grapes (oh yes, but they were awesome), but vintage is never the last 2-3 months it is also how the vines budburst in Spring, and whereas the 2018 vintage had a delightful warm period of growth, the 2019 vintage had it coolish and windy, slowing the vines and reducing the grape set. We were so delayed I did not even take a fruit sample from the reds until 18 March – often a time that we would be deciding whether to pick or not.
Older vines and dry grown conditions meant that our vines were still growing well during March and that the fruit was ripening evenly across the vineyard. But. For the first time since we bought the Blue Poles block, the Rosa Brook area was totally devoid of blossom on the forest trees.
It is really odd to look out from the vines to the bush block and to see every red gum green with not a single blossom present. This lack of blossom throughout the whole forestry block of the Capes region has caused a disaster for the local wildlife.
The blossom sustains most of the bees (native and imported), most of the birds, and ensures a large regrowth of the trees post the dropping of the blossom. Our bees, according to my daughter, are still healthy but they have no summer store and no honey can be harvested from them. They should survive the winter alright and then we must wait on the red gums once more. The birds are the ones that have suffered the most – flocks of parrots and white eyes (as well as birds you do not normally see out in the fields such as shrikes) have simply descended on the vineyards in the region. This has caused massive losses on those that do not have bird nets, or full coverage with the nets.
We do not have full coverage, as the birds did not fly up into the vineyard past the 200m of net coverage as they are exposed and easy picking for hawks. This year they were starving, and it simply did not matter to them – they needed to eat something. Whole vines were stripped in unprotected areas and panel after panel of damaged fruit could be seen throughout the vineyard. Bees harvested sugar from the damaged grapes which was a bonus for them – but overall the sugar in fruit is not as concentrated as blossom pollen and both the bees and the birds will not be in good shape as we approach winter.
Netted (top) vs Un-netted Merlot (bottom) – Vintage 2019
Vintage started for us on 1 April (no joke), and we picked the Merlot off on a lovely mild dry morning. The Merlot was again dry grown in 2019 and the mild growing season meant it did not suffer much stress at all. The early samples came in with good beaumés but high acidity, and this became the trend with all of the samples moving forward to picking. Over 3 weeks the acid content only moderated slightly while the tannins ripened, and the flavor rolled on in. It was a small window to work in this year, maybe 2-3 days to get the most out of the grapes and not have them tip over and fall apart – I think we did pretty well and like the 2018 version, fantastic colour and depth of flavor post ferment makes it an exciting wine.
Date: 1 April
Titratable Acidity: 6.9 TA
So now we look towards the Cabernet Franc. Dry grown and doing it with ease, possibly too much ease with such a mild year. Fully ripe for this variety in my opinion is linked to the dampening down of the “grassiness” in the grapes, ramping up the flavor, getting the pips predominantly brown and a bit of browning on the stems, and having the grape skin just at the cusp of “tearing” – fussy I know, but this is the key to estate wines, making the effort to ensure the grapes are picked when at their peak. Acid was again an issue, hanging up higher than normal during the regular tests, but when picked it all came into shape beautifully. Colour may not be as strong as in previous years (just seemed to be lighter on the vine – heat load component with this variety?), and it reminded me so strongly of my time in Bordeaux running around St Emilion tasting and testing various Cabernet Franc plots, similar colour and feel. With the vines having 18 years of age on them, the ripening process is a bit quicker than when they were younger so the delay between the Merlot and Cab Franc is often only a few days now, and this was the case this year as well. A cool morning on 5 April got the job done, with a few showers passing over after the pick was complete at 10.30am.
Date: 5 April
Titratable Acidity: 6.5TA
The smorgasbord of backpackers and locals picking the Merlot – April 2019
Lower tonnage in both picks so far which related to a smaller fruit set and the damage caused by the birds at the top of the rows. This was to play itself out fully when we picked the Shiraz – we were only seeking a couple of tonnes so as to keep the range filled – but a cool season really pushed the ripening period out and, on 8 April, it was decided that 11 was the date. All set up ready to go, we waited out the 3 days but alas the birds did not. They simply went into this distant portion of the vineyard for the first time since the vineyard was developed took many of the grapes out. Picking the remainder off was a bit disheartening as the grapes taken in were in beautiful shape but just so little tonnage. The values of the Shiraz harvest were nearly identical to 2018, though picked 3 weeks later.
Date: 11 April
Titratable Acidity: 7.1TA
It will make a lovely lifted and fragrant wine, but only a couple of barrels unfortunately.
A strangely difficult year due to factors out of our control. Our spray programs and weed control was fine, and the health of the vines is excellent – just unseasonably cool all spring and summer, and to top it off a blossom-less year for our local forests causing massive issues with bird pressure. Some lovely wines will be made in the region – well balanced, lovely fresh fruit retention and smooth tannins for all the vineyards that made the effort, of which there are many.
The Shiraz was extremely noir this vintage – April 2019
I am intrigued by many things including, “Why doesn’t Scrooge McDuck break his neck when he dives into his vault of money?” as well as “Will the Chinese claim on the South China Sea and beyond extend as far as Australia?” – but one thing that has intrigued me recently has been the proliferation of awards within the wine and “drinks” industry. They are now becoming such a common thing that I cannot even remember half of them, or their titles but they include:
Young Guns of Wine
Women in Wine
Numerous Wine Writing Awards
Drink Easy Awards (just popped up)
Website and Cellar Door Awards
…plus too many to mention wine shows, wine event and wine writer’s book awards
Congratulations to Gapstead Wines – Alpine Valleys / Beechworth
It is so prevalent, that a week would not go by on my Instagram or Twitter feed in which someone somewhere has not won or been nominated for an award and they have the capacity to promote this as such. It is so common that I wonder if in any way success with any of these awards can make a dent in the main stream media and as such get value for all of their hard work? Or is it simply an “industry” award and you get recognition by your peers as the pay off? And this is the confusing part, winning an “industry” award seems all good and valid, but we do not have a transferable economy in the wine industry and individual success is reduced down and limited in its return. Awards to be worthwhile in the wine industry need to have an impact on your brand recognition, otherwise it has gone to waste to a degree.
[Though this could be argued against. Our winemaker Clive Otto won Australian Winemaker of the Year while he was the winemaker at Vasse Felix, but by some coincidence on receiving the award he had just been released by that same winery. This may have aided him in placing his next job at Fraser-Gallop Estate, but maybe not as his reputation was very solid regardless. An aside…]
I do believe that the groups that run these new and exciting awards within the wine industry have become in themselves the possible point of the awards in the first place. You may win best Regional Cellar Door, but it is the “Gourmet Traveler’s Regional Cellar Door Winner”, you may have 5 Red Stars but we know who gave them to you, and the Women in Wine are part of a Fabulous Ladies Wine Society – meeting up in New York this year to give out the gongs. Winners of all of these “awards” are in fact grist for the annualized mill that churns out the opportunity for potential self-promotion by the event organizers.
Is this a bad thing? How else could it work? I do believe that the nature and sheer range of awards has made the capacity to successfully use them to get more customers for your wines more reduced now than at any other time – and this is with your capacity to pass it on to 1000’s and 1000’s of prospective drinkers out there through all the forms of social media and even mainstream media to a degree. I say this simply because there are just “so” many winners that your success becomes so diluted. Winners of events such as the Jimmy Watson award do have an immediate impact on the sale of “that” wine, but does it extend for any period of time? Not really. Brand name recognition is key – Penfolds is Penfolds, and Yellowtail is Yellowtail – these are the true award winners in our game. People know and trust the brand, be it expensive Grange or a cheap Yellowtail Chardonnay.
I do not begrudge any of the 100’s of awards that now cover our industry – they do their job and give the impression that we are all winning. Alas, it is all a bit fish and chip wrapper-ish, and those who have their name remembered and trusted by the greatest number of people will be the most successful over time.
Our wines have a very high standard to meet each vintage, we will not make them if it’s not met (as in 2017), and that quality is key to all that follows. The awards that we aim for are simple; return customers, new excited customers, beautiful wines, and the time to sit back and enjoy them ourselves.
Truly a difficult vintage for most of the Margaret River region as discussed in the vintage report above, with the oddest factor being the absence at any type of a heat wave (3 days in a row >35°C), or any really high temperatures over the vintage. We did encounter this form of “cool” last year as well so there must be some form of a climatically explainable reason for such an oddity within the Capes region of WA.
Where February was dry, the rainfall in March was in the form of minor showers that arrived from the south generally creating only a little mildew pressure. The reason why mildews could not grow is that the rainfall did not create the massively humid conditions that can explode the fungal spread which could occur with more “tropical” rains from the north. Of course, the late ripening has meant everyone was looking to the skies in April, and for those with late picked reds they will be tossing up on risking their remaining grapes through the potential rainfall and storms expected over the Easter weekend.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 26.2°C
Daily Max recorded 33.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 14.0°C
Daily Min recorded 10.4°C
Avg Maximum Temp 24.3°C
Daily Max recorded 32.8°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.6°C
Daily Min recorded 7.2°C
The maximum and minimum temperature average for the months of February and March was extremely similar to last year’s range, just a touch lower on the averages. The rainfall total for was very similar, though there was a slightly higher total in 2019.
Avg Maximum Temp 25.6°C
Daily Max recorded 31.5°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.7°C
Daily Min recorded 7.3°C
Avg Maximum Temp 25.5°C
Daily Max recorded 33.8°C
Avg Minimum Temp 14.0°C
Daily Min recorded 9.4°C
Planning and Preparation…
With vintage put to bed (or nearing being put to barrel one could also say), we look to doing all those last jobs prior to the vines shutting down and the ground getting soggy with winter rains. A plan has been developed with our viticulturist John and we will be spending the next 2-3 months redeveloping a section of the vineyard. This involves pulling out head frames, recovering wires and irrigation pipe, spraying out weeds and moving towards digging out old vines that are not part of the big plan. Blue Poles will be spreading its wings a bit and this is an exciting time as we get ready for this expansion.
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