Monthly Report - Vintage, March 2020
Before I get into the vintage that has just passed it would be a bit ridiculous if I did not discuss the Covid-19 Pandemic that is currently sweeping the world. An event that has been threatening for decades but avoided until 2020 – a year that will alter everyone’s perspective and future plans, and maybe the way we live as a community for ever more. I am typing this as we are tracking the magnitude of the event – 660,000 cases (known) and rising at exponential rates – countries one by one locking down borders, trading, services, and people.
And yet it still isn’t taken seriously by many – and this is the way of the world we have made and why this virus will spread much further than where we are right now. If “we” do not “physically” encounter the issue, we are allowed by our own divine right of self-importance to ignore it. This is “Flat Earth” thinking that has overtaken the masses and it, in a way, has damned us to a much longer time to resolve and eradicate this virus.
I will not dwell on this, but I do hope that if you can self-isolate, please do, and do it for as long as practicable. Treat your every contact as if you have the Coronavirus and have the potential to spread it – this by itself reduces the spread. Take time to contact your friends and family, and support them as well through this. Having worked solely from home for many years this is easy for me to accept, but many will find the restrictions very difficult and they do need comforting.
Simply put, look out for one another. These are worrying times.
Please also note, how we come out of this will not be the same as when we turned up. A Reverse Polarisation of humankind is in play – we may not feel any different, we may not see any physical changes anywhere. But. Our joint psyche will be affected, and this will be a global switch, our “group” innocence may have been lost and this could take decades to regain, if ever…
Just so damn quick.
Though we had normal to slightly cooler maximum temperatures for the Margaret River region during January to March, the heat load accrued back in November / December 2019 played a major role in not only ensuring the grapes were ticking over their ripeness levels faster than a cab’s meter on the way back from the airport, but that the yields were lower than expected as much of the fruit set was also compromised by that warmth. It is normal for Margaret River to kick off vintage in early February with the Chardonnay and other early varieties – 2020 had a January start and it was all a bit of a scurry, as not only was it early it was also very light on the vines.
We had our first Chardonnay picked this year, and having been recently grafted the vines were not able to ripen it as quickly as typical vines. Added to that is our cooler location in the region which meant that by the time it was hand-picked into bins we were pretty much the last Chardonnay in the region on the vines. We grafted the Gin Gin clone which is well regarded here in the Margaret River, and with the famous “hen and chick” look to the fruit set, you do not get very high tonnages – and this proved to be the case with us as well as we had hoped for 2 tonne and ended up just over 1 tonne. Picked early on 24 February it was in great shape – birds were still busy with a bumper redgum blossom this year (after nothing last year) – and acid retention and maximum flavor development was assured.
Chardonnay 24 Feb 2020
Baumé: 12.6 Bé
Total Acidity: 7.37TA
Chardonnay grapes – February 2020
Blessed be Clive and Ellin working with this small tonnage in their press, and we managed to secure 3 barrels of delicious wine. The barrels used were ex-Leeuwin Estate from their Estate Chardonnay, as this wine uses 100% new oak and they end up with an excess of once used barrels each year that are quickly snapped up – an absolute bargain for us as we learn what barrel regime we should be apply for the following vintages. Having tasted it, it is surprisingly attractive just post vintage – discussions on how we progress the wine will be put into play in a few months and I am really looking forward to sitting down with a bottle of this with my good friend and Chardonnay maestro David Lloyd from Eldridge Estate in the Mornington Peninsula, once he has recovered from his recent illness of course.
Two days later we moved down to the Marsanne rows and picked them off for young Brad of Amato Vino to raise into the “Lost on Mars” Marsanne that was such a hit last time we made it in 2018. The Marsanne this year was possibly a bit riper than we had hoped for, but the rich flavor spectrum that defined the grape did not arrive until that point – showing the disjointedness between the time it takes to ripen for sugar levels, and the time it takes to get flavor compounds concentrated in the grapes. Not as much picked as we would have hoped – dashed by the poor fruit set as many were encountering with their white grapes.
Marsanne 26 Feb 2020
Baumé: 13+ Bé
Marsanne picking – February 2020
With the wine being made with wild ferments and limited additions (if any), Brad has followed a similar path to the 2018 wine – placing some in older barrels and some in amphora during ferment and storage before bottling this coming spring. Flavours are there in spades – those waxy lanolin and honey suckle notes to the fore. Most probably only 40-50 cases to be made, so keep your eyes on the inbox this coming October if you would like some of this delicious full-bodied white.
So, a mini break occurred with the Merlot still sitting nicely on the vines but with quite advanced sugar levels and yet still quite primary tannin and flavor profiles. It was a game of patience and nerve one could say, as you cannot afford to lose that freshness of the grapes (those dead tasting jammy flavours and a dull “thuckness” on the palate are not to be seen ever within a Blue Poles wine), but at the same time you have to get those tannins ripe and silky in the skins and pips. Still early, but on the Friday 13th we took off all the Merlot in one hit – long day but worth it as the fruit looked spectacular all day – every row was evenly ripe with a real spark.
Merlot 13 March 2020
Baumé: 14.2 Bé
Total Acidity: 6.2TA
Merlot vintage in action, March 2020
With the final numbers we managed to preserve the acid and structure of the wine to come without having a huge sugar load knocking at the door. Very happy with the fruit and it will be pressed off to barrels in the coming few days. Looking back at the numbers, it feels closest to the 2015 Merlot (which was a cracker), but the flavours have a bit of the 2007 in them being slightly less forward than in the past few years – whatever the case may be, we definitely have not taken a backward step with this wine.
So all set to pick off the Cabernet Franc on 19 March, and then it basically bucketed down for two days – Sunday and Monday (15 and 16 March) – nearly 2 inches in the old scale and the grapes just had a drink and boom down went the sugar and flavor overnight. Plan B came into effect – wait it out until it came back into balance and fortunately the weather cleared, a good dose of heat came through on the 22nd and 23rd and off came the nets for a pick on 24 March. If the weather had stayed steady, it would have been earlier and the grapes were a little “precious” with skins very thin and grapes hanging on by a thread it seemed. All finished by midday with the pickers all packed and driving off into an uncertain future.
Cabernet Franc 24 March 2020
Baumé: 12.6 Bé
Total Acidity: 5.4TA
The numbers were a little light on in sugar, but the acidity, tannins, and flavor were all excellent so I am pretty sure it will turn out to be an excellent wine – whether it will suit a Reserve selection we are not to know for another 15 months, but I have my fingers crossed.
Cabernet Franc grapes, March 2020
No shiraz will be made in 2020 – a few factors there and not because of the fruit quality. I am sure we could have made a lovely wine, but as soon as the Covid-19 virus hit and our friends in the restaurants and retail all started sounding the alarms we had to make a decision quickly. It may be regretted in the future, but we believe it was the right thing to do as we can top up in 2021 if required and we do have a new Chardonnay and our “Lost on Mars” Marsanne coming through as well – so we hope they can be released into a busy marketplace.
Only some odd jobs coming up – nets away and tidy up of the shed. Some quick tidy up of some of the vines prior to shut down to aid in pruning later in the year, as well as some pruning of the roses at the head rows. April / May is traditionally the quiet time in the vineyard, and one where we all head out to sell wine – this was also my plan as we have some of the most exciting wines we have made waiting to hit the streets, but that may need to be put on hold. But that did not stop us from releasing the 2018 Shiraz and I will quickly discuss the wine here.
We had been planning the release of the 2018 Shiraz for a while – had discussed doing organised tastings and meet up with many of our regular buyers. And the reason for this amount of effort for our Shiraz? Because the wine is positively excellent, and I mean really really good, and this wine was to break our Shiraz out of the shadows a little. But as discussed, a Coronavirus has put pay to these plans, like snuffing out a candle.
2018 was pretty much picture perfect in Margaret River for the growing of grapes. A warm start in Nov/Dec with enough rainfall in December to keep the vines growing without stress, then a dry-ish Jan / Feb which had no major heat spikes at all (an actually quite cool February), implying the vines did not shut down over the period, finishing off with a warm and dry March. The closest vintage comparison is 2007, and that was a sensational year for us with a pair of great wines made. All dry grown, limited sprays required during the season, and a helping hand for vintage – everything was in place to make a sensational wine.
On 23 March the grapes came off in great health – long black bunches of these delicious ovoid grapes. Just over two tonnes were picked, the sugars ended up being just over 13% giving the wine an equivalent alcohol level, and the acidity kept nice and tight at 3.21pH and a Total Acidity of 6.7.
Aidan with our “palate” selected Shiraz in the 2018 vintage
Every vine picked was selected during the pick by Aidan who spent a few weeks over vintage helping out. And the reason for this? Well there were some vines that were not as advanced as others in ripening, and rather than damage the overall quality with most of the grapes being pitch perfect, Aidan went ahead and tasted the grapes from each vine, taking out ~10-20% from the pick – master stroke. They came off even, tasting sensational, and all with equivalent acid and tannin development.
21 months in 1-2yo French Oak barrels after a 12-day ferment – it has looked amazing from the first day. I have often said that our Shiraz has a bit of a Northern Rhône “feel” to it – now I can die on that hill, a real life copy of one of those St-Joseph’s I used to order as my go to in French cafes (if a decent Merlot wasn’t on the chalk board!). It is an awesome wine and one that makes me feel it will travel its own path – vintage variable, but those highs will be extraordinary.
A sample has been forwarded to the guys at WineFront, but I have a suspicion that they will be a bit overwhelmed with the rest of us. So, my take on the wine in the glass is as below:
“Crystalline plum colour in the glass, swirls garnet and depths are morello cherry. Fragrance lifts from the glass on impact – initially pinotesque with those cherries and strawberries, before deeper aromas of red charred meats, sweet tobacco, briary goodness fill it all out. Wow, taking that first draft you get hit by the freshness of fruit (raspberry, plum, cherry) melded with an oak /spice which just lifts it up. Tannins are integrated and across the tongue and cheeks before you just linger on that long “red” flavoured length. It is our best Shiraz we have made – hands down. Should age 5-10 years with ease.”
This wine is available to all now – only 90 dozen made and we have not moved the price to accommodate what is happening in the world and so as to ensure this beautiful wine gets into the hands of those who appreciate the value and quality of a good Shiraz.
A discount of 20% will apply to this wine for the next week via our online store, and for all of our other wines as well during the same period. Just use the code MRShiraz2018 in the "View My Cart" page.
Summarising a Season...
Well, to put it succinctly it was warm, but it was not hot. The maximum and minimum temperatures were uniformly higher than the recent averages, but there was not a single day over 35°C for those three months – and I have never had that for any January / February since I have lived here in Margaret River. Not a single day of heat wave to shut the vines down, and hardly a night under 10°C to slow the vines down – no wonder the vintage was just roaring along like a freight train.
The rainfall this vintage seems disproportionately large in comparison to other years as we had two days (we often just get one) where the rainfall was significant – 23 February and 15 March with both days recording over 43mm. Interestingly enough the February event was not a problem as most of the rainfall ran off the topsoil, but the March event did cause a little strife as the ground was opened and the vines did take in a volume of water.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 26.1°C
Daily Max recorded 34.9°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.3°C
Daily Min recorded 5.9°C
Avg Maximum Temp 28.4°C
Daily Max recorded 34.2°C
Avg Minimum Temp 15.3°C
Daily Min recorded 9.7°C
Avg Maximum Temp 25.8°C
Daily Max recorded 32.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 14.9°C
Daily Min recorded 10.7°C
The maximum and minimum temperatures this vintage were a lot higher than last years, which meant the growth in the vineyard and the ripening of the grapes was well advanced. The rainfall total was very high in 2020 with over 105mm – the wettest vintage we have recorded (though 90mm of this rain occurred on two days), with rainfall in 2019 being close to the average of 60-70mm.
Avg Maximum Temp 25.1°C
Daily Max recorded 33.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 12.3°C
Daily Min recorded 7.9°C
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
Keeping to oneself…
What can I say about the upcoming month? Crikey – who could possibly know? To everyone who reads this and to all your friends and family, keep safe, look after each other, and as I think I will have a bit of spare time on my hands I will see you next month.
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