Monthly Report - July 2019
We all have a way of planning our futures. Some do it by carefully storing away their savings, others by writing out 5-year plans, and others have a drink too many and think “let’s do this”. It usually is a process that at times just catches you out, you just fell into it and you end up looking back and thinking “that’s what happened” – so much for your careful planning! Vineyards are nothing like life – they cannot up and move to a better spot, they cannot change what they grow instantly, and they cannot save up for a rainy day. Thus, resetting a vineyard is a passion project, as whatever you decide to do now will impact on you for decades to come.
And this is what 2019 has commenced. A passion project.
Excuse the delay between reports, once again my life has had a series of busy interludes, but this period of change with work and life currently is looking towards the next thirty years (pretty much like our vineyard) – so a little set of delays now will make it easier for the future. The vineyard is currently being pruned, but before we oiled the secateurs and pulled out the wet weather gear, we did pull out some areas of the vineyard that are simply not going to grow quality fruit – no matter how hard I try.
Sometimes it is not just the climate, or the soils, it is just chance that makes an area unsuitable for growing grapes, even in the greatest of regions. Our vineyard has some areas where water rises to the surface through sand “lenses” in the mix of clays and sands that form our basal geology under the soil and laterite gravels on the surface. We have tried to drain these areas with slotted pipe, but the mix of clay layers means that the water doesn’t flow easily, and you tend to still get wet patches and they just are not “drainable”. These areas are to be honest simply not suitable for growing grapes; nutrients do not rise into the vines due to saturation later into the start of season and there is little stress on the vines to produce fruit of any quality – a pretty dire combination. Though small patches are “fixable”, there were two large areas at the base of the vineyard that simply could not work, and during June we removed all of the posts and steels and defined the new growing areas.
Nine rows at the bottom of the Shiraz block have been taken out, and 10 rows of the old Viognier and Teroldego have been shortened (but there is the capacity to develop a few more rows – something for 2020). Thus with the Chardonnay fully grafted to the old Shiraz vines in 16 rows, and with these 9 bottom rows removed, the Shiraz block has been reduced from 1.7ha to 1.0ha which is fine with us as we now have a block that is perfectly suited to the variety and the wines can only improve in quality.
Big tractor = a little trouble. Clearing the base of the Shiraz Block, July 2019
With the reset of the areas to be planted, it has also meant we have had a long hard think about the varieties we would like to grow in preference to some of the varieties we originally planted back in 2003-05. The big change up is that we had planted a lot of Viognier – I had high hopes for the variety and we set out 2.2 hectares of the grape as almost our sole white wine (we did have a couple of rows of Marsanne that are still going well). Alas, Viognier was near on impossible to sell and the reputation of the grape in Australia was seen with rather raised eyebrows ahead of anything positive – it was not going to work. We therefore put all our effort into our Merlot and Cabernet Franc, tried really hard with our Shiraz and planted a couple of rows of Teroldego. The Viognier was left to one side – something to come back too if there was a way to resurrect it.
Thus, after much thought we will be doing two years of planting and training vines in the stead of much of the old Viognier block. One half of the vines will become a “white” block which will contain Marsanne, Viognier, Rousanne and Arneis. The other half will become the “red” block and we will extend the Teroldego plantings and add in 3-4 more red varieties (Malbec has the inside running – still working out the other 2-3 varieties that would suit). We have secured the cuttings for the “white” block and they will be planted out to make rootlings this spring, before we plant them in their specified rows.
Hours of work will be required to make this all happen. It is a passion project for that 30 year window and it will complete the vineyard in its entirety, and fingers crossed we will look up one day and say, “so that’s what happened”.
Pruning as mentioned is a steady steady winter job. The Shiraz is nearly complete and the spur pruning of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc will be finished in early August. My first run with Chardonnay of course, post the grafting, and we will leave this pruning until later in August – this is all a bit new to me here so I will get John our viticultural support to clue me in to this job.
The dam has been overflowing since 6 July where we had a few days of decent rainfall – but overall it has been light on for rain in the month of July after a very wet June. Almost balancing out the total expected rainfalls, but still running lower than the long-term averages – which has been a thing since we have had the vineyard in 2001.
June was also a quick barrel tasting of the 2019 wines with Clive at the winery. Looking at the Merlot, it highlighted the vintage most distinctly with slightly higher acid and more aromatics but being dry grown and the age of the vines has ensured great depth of flavor still and resolved tannins. Cabernet Franc appears to be the star of 2019, super strong in colour and flavor (almost like a resolved Cabernet Sauvignon), with the aromatics still to the fore – super exciting. We did have a small pick of Shiraz (what the birds left) and like the 2018 it has exceeded all expectations with gorgeous aromatics and exceptional raspberry infused balance. Quickly checking the 2018’s confirmed why I made growing grapes and making wine my future – what an exceptional set of wines, unbelievably refined and balanced with the Merlot in every barrel (new and old) an absolute stand out.
2019 Merlot barrel
Our good friends David and Carol Lloyd from Eldridge Estate in the Mornington Peninsula did stay over a night or two in June as they took a break from their promotions in Perth. David is an exceptional winemaker and his wines are peak Pinot and Chardonnay (and Gamay!!), and to be able to spend time with him is always a pleasure.
David and Carol Lloyd far away from home in Margaret River, June 2019
2016 Allouran Release
For those on the mailing list, the 2016 Allouran is about to be released on 26 August 2019, so keep an eye out for the email as it is a very very special wine. With quite a bit less of it made than the delicious 2015 Allouran it will not last long once our standing orders are met and the regulars top up their cellars – it may go the way of the 2014 Allouran which did not make it to general distribution due to limited supply.
This wine is a fantastic finish to the triptych of 2014-2015-2016, a fantastic run of vintages prior to the difficult 2017 in which we did not make any estate wines for that vintage. It has a similar feel to the wine to the great 2010 Allouran, where the Merlot is the hero and the Cabernet Franc shines as the fragrant overlord.
The blend is 71% Merlot / 29% Cabernet Franc for this vintage, and it has a balance across the palate which is simply “gyroscopic”. Blending can at times take me a couple of days, moving barrels in and out, but in 2016 this blend just made itself – put together it had that distinctive Blue Poles aroma and fineness of tannins from the get-go, and it has never looked back.
It will not last long as I indicated above. Little made and more and more people seeking it out as the Allouran is our most popular wine with good reason. A bottle has been sent on to Gary Walsh and Mike Bennie at www.WineFront.com.au and a review may be up on their site within the coming weeks.
Where to for Bordeaux?…
I love Bordeaux, the city, the region, the food and most of all the wines. I have done a vintage there in 2010, bought 100’s of bottles of their wine, read 1000’s of pages on their soils, climate, wine making techniques – and developed a vineyard around a Bordeaux ideal of site-specific geology matching specific Bordeaux varieties. Yep, you could not get to be more of a fanboy than myself.
But Bordeaux is changing. It is changing for the worse and I am not sure if it will ever be the same again as climate change has stepped in and put a heavy footprint on the wines that are now being produced. Yields are being smashed by unseasonal hail and storms in spring, vines are being shut down and at times killed by incessant heat waves that occur in June and July, and groundwater is dropping with the reduced river flows meaning more stress on already stressed vines in many fine wine growing regions.
I remember writing a small piece on how the bordelaise have been studiously ignoring the climate elephant in the room for years. It has been assumed by many that the fine wine regions of France would not alter grape varieties as defined by their appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) – but the cracks are starting to open up and the wedge that has begun this, is the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wine producers’ syndicate unanimously approved the use of seven new grape varieties in Bordeaux.
Now before you fall backwards, note that this is not the expensive end of town – no Grand Cru Classé or Cru Bourgeios is entangled in this step away from tradition. But, what is happening here is something that those two auspicious groups are burying their heads in the sand from – their making of more and more average-poor wines over time.”
But before we get into the drama of defining a bleak future for Bordeaux, let’s have a look at these new varieties approved at the syndicate’s annual general meeting:
Four reds - Arinarnoa, Touriga Nacional, Marselan and Castets; and
Three whites - Alvarinho, Petit Manseng and Liliorila.
Arinarnoa, a cross between the Pyrenean grape variety Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon
The vines were chosen primarily for their reduced susceptibility (but not resistance) to disease, later harvesting potential and ability to maintain acidity and volume in the face of climate change’s warmer weather and unseasonal frosts. All the while maintaining existing flavour, aroma, production and quality levels. Growers will be allowed to plant the new vine types on up to 5% of their vineyard area, and to add up to 10% of their production to final blends, all within existing controlled origin (AOC) rules.
From the article by Sophie Kevany in which I obtained most of the new variety’s information here, she had quoted Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur grower, Christophe Piat of Château Couronneau, who said the vote for the new grape types was an excellent first step, but more was needed. ‘‘We are still a long way from planting the polygenetic, disease-resistant, hybrid varieties we need,’’ he said. He also added that Bordeaux was reaching the limits of what it could do within existing rules. ‘‘We can’t keep making Merlot at 16 degrees. Anyone who works in international markets will say that,’’ Piat said.
What is also interesting about these “new” varieties is that they did not pick through the thousands of indigenous vines around and select them for the specific reasons mentioned, but rather that 3 are “made” varieties, crossing varieties from the area with more heat tolerant varieties from the south – a major step away from the ideal and possibly a difficult process to control as these “crossed” vines may not be consistent to their own strain.
Now I am not aghast at any of this. We in Margaret River could plant any variety in the world (if we can get it into the state), but what intrigues me is that one of the quotes in Sophie’s article was a rare insight into a reality that the wine world has missed. When Christophe Piat let slip “We can’t keep making Merlot at 16 degrees…” you suddenly realise that there are no Bordeaux wines out there with 16% alcohol – why? And if a poor Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur grower is getting to 16 degrees on their less “suitable” sites, what is the sugar levels in the better growing regions? I will tell you, they are higher – at times much higher, and if those grapes were fermented to dry the alcohol levels would be 16-18% Alcohol – basically port like levels.
And here’s the rub. NO top Bordeaux wines have alcohol levels close to this with maximum alcohol levels being 14-14.5% - so how? Because the wines have had the alcohol removed by Reverse Osmosis (RO), and over the past 20 years it has become a major component of their wine making process. No one talks about it much, as this flies in the face of perfect grapes making perfect wines – but it is a reality, a climate change reality.
Who blinks first here? Will the Grand Cru Classé or Cru Bourgeios Chateaux be able to take even the smallest step away from their grape varieties planted at their site for 100’s of years? Or will they move to add in more acid-preserving and heat-tolerant vines into their blend? Chateau Petrus with 10% Touriga Nacional added anyone?
Chateau Petrus – Vineyard Boundary Marker
As when I started this monthly report, I was talking about my passion project on our vineyard for the next 30 years – how could you plan for 30 years in the future in Bordeaux right now? I am not even sure if I will be able to ensure my grape quality with a potentially very warm future in front of us, and we have not had half the temperature gain that the bordelaise have had. It is tough for everyone who produces wine right now, and even more so for those that rely on making fine wine.
We are in for a wild ride over the next decade in regard to the influence of the climate on all fine wine growing regions throughout the world. There will be winners (like the English wine industry), and losers (like much of unirrigated southern Europe) – but it is so unpredictable that it makes our industry’s future which relies so heavily on consistency of place a very difficult place to be…
June was simply soaking, and didn’t we need it with an Indian Summer dragging the dry weather forward through Autumn. It was a rolling series of rain fronts from the south joined by weather dropping down from the tropics to our north that made the rain go on and on. As we moved into July the weather from the north abated, and it became a sparse set of rain fronts from the south bringing the weather, and unfortunately for the wheat belt of Western Australia not much rain with them. This led to colder nights and crisper days with that bright white light shining across the vines.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 17.2°C
Daily Max recorded 22.5°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.0°C
Daily Min recorded 3.8°C
Avg Maximum Temp 16.7°C
Daily Max recorded 19.9°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.4°C
Daily Min recorded 2.9°C
The maximum and minimum temperature average for the months of June and July were similar in comparison to last year’s range, with some very cold nights to match in with the clear rain free days in July. The rainfall total for the two combined months is near identical for the two separate years, but the rainfall was more evenly spread in 2018 and very June dominant in 2019.
Avg Maximum Temp 15.9°C
Daily Max recorded 19.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.0°C
Daily Min recorded 4.7°C
Avg Maximum Temp 17.0°C
Daily Max recorded 19.6°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.2°C
Daily Min recorded 5.0°C
Pruning and Promoting…
It is a month of two halves – the first being the completion of the pruning and setting up of wires etc in the vineyard, and the second being out and about presenting Blue Poles wines to all fine wine lovers around the countryside. Still have some other odd jobs to do of course – they never reduce it seems, and I think I have avoided a further trip abroad for a month or so which is pleasant relief.
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