Monthly Report - October 2019
Every time I see the word “forth” I think of all the Blackadder series and laugh a little bit as I quote some of the dialogue in the back of my mind – still some of the funniest writing ever put to screen. Not that we watch much television anymore, in fact if it wasn’t for the occasional sports event and the news, I’d doubt I’d even bother. With this in mind we have all changed our viewing habits, our way of communicating, our way of reacting to events, and our perceptions of the global conglomerate – but in all of this, the world of nature just carries on and right now our vines are bursting with life and going through a series of leaf separations before setting their flowers (and our grapes). So, for all our crazy “connectedness” the actual natural world just chugs along, season to season, sunrise to sunset.
Simply put, the vineyard is looking great.
With my time being spent abroad being cut into smaller and smaller pieces, I have now had a chance to put a lot more time into the detail as well as prepare sections of our vineyard for a big revamp [Not that I’ve met my monthly report schedule – a feature of a busy busy life right now.]. The chardonnay grafts that we set last year have now set their first canopy and it is awesome to see >90% of the “wire” filled with green – we will get our first Chardonnay in 2020 and having just organized the barrels for the fermentation and storage it is all becoming very real. Also, and very fortunately for us, Clive and Ellin at Fraser Gallop Estate are absolute devotees to Chardonnay and they’re also looking forward to seeing what the Blue Poles Chardonnay will look like – it’s going to be fun.
The Merlot and Cabernet Franc has leapt ahead, lots of growth this year as we have had a very good spring for growth. The heat load has been steady and warmer than the past two years, and we have had well-spaced rain events ensuring that not only is the soil moisture kept up, we have been able to put out our protective sprays without much drama (and today as I tap tap away here, it is showery, cold and wet outside before we head into a delightful mid-20’s spring weekend). The thinning and basal cleaning for these varieties will be done in early November – being that bit older they are not the runaway freight train of growth they once were.
The Shiraz has had a good start as well with the huge effort put into this block over the last few years reaping benefits. Very evident from the fantastic results we are now tasting in barrel from the 2018 and 2019 vintages. These grapes are the hardest for me to understand at vintage – I continually fret over acid / tannin / fruit balance, but they have just come together so well for the past two vintages that I am beginning to see what I’m aiming at. At the time of this report we have thinned out half of the block and that also included cleaning the base of the vines and prepping wires (the bane of my life… wires).
We have also set up our nursery with the Roussanne and Arneis cuttings – we will be planting these rootlings out next year and every spare moment we have is to sort out the Viognier for its vintage in 2021. We have so much going on in that white block with the Marsanne pumping up for a big vintage, we may only have 1.1 hectares of these special vines, they take up most of my thinking time in planning all of the options we have once they come into production.
So, the vineyard is flat out. Loving what I’m seeing and loving my time out there.
But it’s not just running up and down rows looking after vines and chasing down sprays and mulching, I did have the job to blend all of the 2018 wines into the different styles and varietal reserves which I did on 10 October. I need not remind you all how exciting the 2018 vintage was – it came off like a dream and apart from being bitten by a dog while walking down the road, it had few to no dramas. Ever since vintage, the resultant wines have looked awesome, and for the past year I’ve only passingly looked at them. With blending I usually have the wine makers going through the barrels with me – this time round Clive Otto was abroad watching rugby in Japan and I had to rely on Ellin Tritt to bring down the barrels and lay them out as well as check through with me on the final blends I put together.
One of the new wines that will come out with the 2018 vintage is a blend that will a Reserve Allouran (or perhaps “Chateau Allouran” or something similar) – basically the best few barrels that are absolutely the peak of what we can produce. It will be rare, and it will be exclusive and it will be the final piece that I have worked towards for the past 20 years. My ambition was always to have estate grown grapes to make an estate wine – this is what we have achieved – but there was always the ambition to generate a world class wine, if at all possible, to be able to highlight the site and the amazing character of the wine generated on our little block of gravel over clay and sand. The Reserves are excellent and are beautiful examples of the varieties they are selected from, but I was after the magic. The best 2-3 barrels that could show the perfect synergy with weight, balance, length and flavor that would surpass all before it.
After tasting and re-tasting every barrel from the 2018 vintage I have made a selection that I think is the best example of what our vineyard is capable of. I know that this is a big ask, but after 15 vintages I feel I know the wines and the site and this selection was as good a wine as I have ever made. I thought the 2018 Reserves and the Allouran were exemplary, but they had to stand back to this unique combination, it provides an exclamation point to all of our work and I look so very much forward to showing this wine to the world once it has settled into its new bottled life.
Well I had a whirlwind week in Sydney and Melbourne in late August with the release of the 2016 Allouran, and I am rapt with all of the positive comments and support for the wine. It looks like we have started to get the recognition for the wine, and much of it is simply because it is such an awesome glass of vin. The best part about all of this confirmation of just what a top idea it was to plant Merlot and Cabernet Franc in a location suited to the varieties. It means a lot to me as the time it has taken to get the winery stable and steady was not quick by any standards, but now that we are there, we can really push to keep this high standard and forever try to improve.
The Blue Poles Wine Dinner at L’hotel Gitan in Prahan, Melbourne was one of the highlights of the promotions I ran through over the week. Commencing with the 2007 Allouran (and a cheeky glass of “Lost on Mars” Marsanne), the two 2016 Reserve wines of Merlot and Cabernet Franc rolled out next prior to 3 vintages of Allouran (2016 / 2015 / 2010) finishing the meal off. Beautiful food, lovely location and room, top company and to cap it all off the wines were singing – really enjoyed it and thanks to all who came!
Our Allourans all have a thread of similarity that runs through them, and they all have the capacity to age indefinitely. So please feel free to purchase from our retail friends, or even better from the website here and put a few away in the back of the wine drawer. Use the code GourmetEscape and get an extra 5% off any of our wines with free shipping over $150. There’s still a few Reserve Merlot cases, but unfortunately the Cabernet Franc is sold out.
Gourmet Escape Weekend…
Tim and I usually shun major events like the Gourmet Escape Weekend held in Margaret River. Not because we are recluses and painfully shy, but often because we do not have much stock and to organize around a time with our lifestyles can be fraught with problems. But against our better judgement, and in the spirit of “why not” we have secured a booth at the Gourmet Escape Weekend held between 16 – 17 November and both of us will be pouring our wines and possibly explaining the name Blue Poles over 100 times each. My daughter Abi is a talented artist and she has painted up a couple of barrels, we have knocked up a competition from which you can win a magnum of Allouran, and we are wondering what we should wear to attract Nigella Lawson’s attention…
I think we will also be part of the “Grand Marquee” tastings being hosted by Mike Bennie and Gary Walsh so that should be a bit of fun. As it is held on the lawns of Leeuwin Estate it does highlight to me the gap between all the various wineries and estates in the region – there is such a diversity of wineries and wine styles in Margaret River now that there is no way you can say the region is sitting on its hands, all of us little guys are really expanding the portfolio and I personally think in a good way.
Never Go Back…
My hometown growing up was “smallville” in the Waikato of New Zealand, in a town called Morrinsville. The town is surrounded by some of the most productive farms in the world, with the region being effectively the biggest dairy herd on the planet. Everywhere in town you look you see examples of this, huge veterinarian clinics, massive farm machinery outlets, one of over 10 large dairy factories for the region located on the edge of town, numerous milking equipment stores and most importantly lots of cafes as cow cockies love coming in for a coffee and cake!
I went home this September to spend time with my mother and family, and as part of this little visit I booked a small holiday to the Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, a wine mecca for those who know the history of fine wine in the country. I was introduced to wine as an early teenager in the 1970’s watching my parents have dinner parties with duck that Dad had shot as the centerpiece of the meal, closely followed by the stack of Jacob’s Creek red (covered in medal stickers) that everyone oohed and aahed over. The presence of “goon” bags then became part of summers at the beach for the “adults”, and yes, they did make excellent pillows if you got the spout out of the way. My family had no pretensions about wine, and in fact the country really did not have any either – it was a drink and no one had any real access to any “fine wine” anyway.
But it all began to change around about 1980. A few things happened that got the industry rolling – one was that for the first time wine was discussed on TV in a cooking show on a Sunday, and bizarrely this sort of took off as the host of this little show actually talked about wine with food, and wine from bottles that were better than the usual stuff you could find. Grapes were planted in Marlborough, and the winery Cloudy Bay received huge recognition for its Sauvignon Blanc which aided the industry which had just planted 100’s of hectares of the grape with the biggest winery being Montana. Older vine plantings around West Auckland, Gisborne, and the Hawke’s Bay suddenly became of value and labels began to pop up like candy, with the older small wineries suddenly getting exposure (Kumeu River, Te Mata Estate, Babich, etc). By 1985 it was an explosion of activity, and I at the age of 20 was loving it.
I used to travel to the wine regions and visit cellar doors in my Morris Minor. When I rolled up I used to get rock star treatment – for a start I was under 60 and at the time going to cellar doors was a pastime of the elderly, and secondly I actually was interested. Taken into the vineyards, shown the barrels and thieved from them, sat down with families for meals, and given bottles as I left (my poor student attire may have triggered this response!). My most loved region was Hawke’s Bay – oh my, the wines were amazing. Everyone was obsessed with making better and better wines, and to taste the wines with the wine makers and owners was thrilling. I tasted verticals with George Fistonich (Villa Maria), blended Coleraine at Te Mata, picked Cabernet at Brookfield and thought this is awesome and in a way this is what led me to writing this very monthly report.
But. You. Can’t. Go. Back.
The whole scene in Hawke’s Bay when wandering around through the cellar doors last month just appeared to be on autopilot. There was no enthusiasm, nothing new and interesting, most were shut, some were ridiculously priced, and some were just dead set pretentious. It was gutting, because the wines we tasted were in the same mode – Te Mata was nice but steady steady, Elephant Hill was consistent but more restaurant than winery, Craggy Range was plush but to me plain jane wines at extraordinary prices, Unison was a ghost shop with at least lively wines, and numerous small wineries that had wines that were average to poor. We were there on a weekend as well, and that made it even sadder to be honest – kiwis haven’t really moved on much from the 80’s and what we are seeing from outside the country is the marketing spin that they are so very very good at.
It appears you need to be an exporter in New Zealand if you make quality wine. The whole hometown push is a wasted effort unless you can access the wealthy set in the large cities. Recommended wine stores had average ranges, and I just felt a bit defeated by being there. In comparison to somewhere like Margaret River, it’s night and day – so much new wine, so many new winemakers and styles, such an interesting range of busy and enthusiastic cellar doors, and such a low level of recognition abroad in comparison to those kiwi wines.
I was not sure what I expected to be honest when I travelled through to Napier and Hastings. My memories of the region had always been so positive, it may have been better to have kept them that way, memories. But, I did enjoy my time with Marjory, my mother and sister while touring, and I could begin to gauge where our wines sit in this worldwide spectrum – and to be honest I am pleased how we are doing, what we are doing, and where we are doing it.
Three months for the price of one this month – a meteorological overload. Overall, we have had a slightly warmer end to Winter and start of Spring as we are reaching maximums not encountered at this time of year since the start of the 2016 vintage. The minimums have been consistent, with no frosts to potentially damage the new buds and little in the way of hail or other damaging weather Showers on most days but only a few days with heavier falls and even that was light on – looks like another year with lower rainfall for the South West corner of WA.
The numbers for the past 3 months and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 17.4°C
Daily Max recorded 21.7°C
Avg Minimum Temp 7.6°C
Daily Min recorded 2.7°C
Avg Maximum Temp 18.8°C
Daily Max recorded 25.5°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.6°C
Daily Min recorded 1.7°C
Avg Maximum Temp 20.4°C
Daily Max recorded 29.5°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.8°C
Daily Min recorded 4.0°C
The maximum temperatures this year were higher than last year and the minimums slightly lower, which usually means clearer skies, but this was not quite the case with cloud cover most days. The rainfall total was similar over the three months as a total, with a more even spread in 2019 in comparison to 2018.
Avg Maximum Temp 15.8°C
Daily Max recorded 21.1°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.3°C
Daily Min recorded 0.9°C
Avg Maximum Temp 16.9°C
Daily Max recorded 21.9°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.6°C
Daily Min recorded 1.7°C
Avg Maximum Temp 19.2°C
Daily Max recorded 24.7°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.7°C
Daily Min recorded 6.3°C
November will be a month of walking up and down rows, cleaning up excess growth, putting up wires, training vines, and simply checking checking checking. Very good exercise let me tell you, but very tiring after the 3rd to 4th day in a row of it. It does get broken up by the Gourmet Escape weekend, which means I have Tim over from Melbourne complaining about the coffee as any good Victorian would, and I have a few odd jobs for different clients in the geology sphere. No matter the day, there is always something to be done during this month, so there are no excuses for not being up and at ‘em.
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