Monthly Report - May 2020
What a strange time we live in…
Another month slides away from us all, with generally a feeling of sameness merging the days and the months for me here in Margaret River. Only a couple of days work in the vineyard completed during this period of recess – knocking in some new head frames for the bottom of the vineyard and running up the wires to set it all up. So that means I have been tapping away at the keyboard, reviewing all sorts of odd resource projects and trying to make sense of a variety of documents in Spanish, Dutch creole and French from weird and wonderful places which I can tell you are not that easy to translate when in a hurry – but I digress. So here we are awaiting our return to “normal”, waiting for the pub to allow more than 20 at a time, weekend markets, cellar doors and shops to not be restricted, and for the simple ease of offering to shake someone’s hand and not be met with a shocked look (sorry Fernando! I do apologise).
But as all of us sit back and ponder how we will be recreating our “normal” we can only watch with dismay as the United States finds new ways to pull itself apart. I have come to a point where I look upon the American situation with little emotion anymore – after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I put away my empathy. So, as we watch cities burn, hospitals fill, armed vigilantes demanding rights, and political groups fanning flames of hatred and distrust – who really cares in that setting anymore? For those poor Americans that genuinely do, they will be belittled and derided and the cycles restart and reset. And we look on – thinking solely of the economic impact on our own nation and not the actual pain and suffering within the borders of the United States itself. We are all perfecting the shrug.
And to cap it all off, Western Australia has had a series of damaging storms run through the month causing a bit of havoc. Margaret River lost power and cell phone coverage for over a day and this meant quite a strange feeling of having no gadgets either charged or useable. I spent a day reading after the computer battery gave up the ghost and I must admit that reading is harder today than in the past – my mind finds it difficult to settle. But the forced gadget closure through the power outage eventually focused my mind and I thoroughly enjoyed reading through Peter Fitzgerald’s “Mutiny on the Bounty” – trust me when I say the whole Mutiny bit was just a morsel in the “feast” of the mayhem that went on.
Let there be light! – and a decent bottle of red…
Thus, in this craziness, I do hope you all are riding the pandemic wave safely and have been able to meet all the little goals you may have set yourself during this bewildering time.
Normal for me in May is a barrel hall tasting. Every barrel getting a health check and a picture emerges in my head on how the vintage will look in the years ahead. I have not had a chance this year to taste every wine in every barrel from the 2020 vintage, as well as a 2019 vintage health check-up due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place at the winery, but Clive and Ellin did set aside blended samples of each of the varieties for me to go over.
My brief impressions were the 2020 reds were plush and round, little less tannic than in previous years but still with good length and character. Merlot was the slightly better wine of the two. 2019 red wines were actually looking really good for the vintage it was (cool), and had nice tannic grip in all three varieties (Merlot / Cab Franc / Shiraz) as well as a refined length – made me think of the 2008 vintage in its mouth feel and character.
But this quick look over the wines was but a prelude to the release of the 2018 Reserve Merlot and 2018 Reserve Cabernet Franc which was released to our Five Spot mailing list members and being released to the general mailing list very soon. A summary of the wines is as below and will be available for all to purchase on the website shortly.
2018 Reserve Cabernet Franc
Dry grown and Cabernet Franc was always going to be the perfect combination. In 2018, little bunches of little red berries had been sitting out in the canopy for 8 weeks and we were just waiting for the flavour and tannin to be in synch with the loss of “grassiness” which is often found in under ripe Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc). As of 16 March, the field sample numbers looked a little riper than the Merlot – but tasting the grapes it was seen to be a false flag. Checking, checking, checking then indicated that the 22nd should capture all that we seek in a top package. Nets off, and mostly Japanese pickers for this morning, off we went to take off 11 bins. All through the pick I was reminded of just how great the grapes were and as I looked up I realized we had another bin’s worth on the vines – they had to be picked (sacrilege to not) and we duly harvested them in.
Date: 22 March
Titratable Acidity: 5.9TA
What flavour and what aromatics this wine produced. The Reserve selection process was difficult due to the quality across the board, but what a combination of 3 barrels that were found. This vintage is a true classic and we may not see its like for many many years to come. I do not think we have produced better wines overall than in 2018 and this Cabernet Franc has reached the heights of the extraordinary 2014 version that will remain as a beacon for us.
A single bottle was forwarded (twice) for review at The WineFront and it was received well as noted below:
2018 Blue Poles Reserve Cabernet Franc – The WineFront (Apr2020)
“So well knit” is the quicksilver thought that slipped in and then out of my brain. Seamless ride of blue fruit, quiet cedary-clove-cinnamon oak, a lick of green herb, bayleaf and mint, almost chocolatey profile to tannins including a little powdery, 70% cocoa dark chocolate thing to finish. Cool, fine, long, tight-shapely and lithe. A very lovely wine that delivers great drinking and elegance. Rated 94 / 94+
All of our wines age well, but the Cabernet Franc and Merlot based wines more than any other. This wine has the capacity to age indefinitely, the tannin profile is superb and totally integrated into the wine. Drink it now or wait 20 years, the choice is yours and you would not be disappointed at any time you opened a bottle.
2018 Reserve Merlot
There was such an even growing season in 2018 that the tannin ripeness was approaching quickly but the acid levels were holding beautifully and ensuring the fruit freshness would be preserved in the wine. Refreshing rain came through on 15 March to hold the vines in good stead, and it was decided that 19 March would be about spot on to get the grape’s “ingredients” at pitch perfect levels. [This date also happens to be my sister’s birthday, so after a crap year for her in 2018 a few bottles of this wine will be stored away for her pleasure.]
Date: 19 March
Titratable Acidity: 6.4TA
The grapes came off with exceptional flavours – strong tasting and rich and during the ferment very deep inky red, nice fine dense tannic structure (even without that lovely oak to come), and divine length. The selection process for this wine was an amazing day – to have the choices of so many new and 1-year old barrels which contained wines that brought me back to my 2010 vintage in Pomerol like a time-machine. Four barrels made an unbelievably difficult cut and for those who have brought and cellared these wines in the past and know what they are capable of – this will surpass all those previous wines for sheer strength of character.
2018 Blue Poles Reserve Merlot – The WineFront (Mar2020)
Two things of note: the fruit has an extra intensity and vigour this vintage, and there seems to be a little more oak showing than is usual. Crushed boysenberry, blackberry, raspberry, ginger and clove biscuit oak, some sage, violet, earth and lead pencil. It rolls out and thickens with time in glass, a wine of depth, gravel and earth, spicy oak in the mix, but freshness and brightness of fruit shines, and there’s a long and silty finish, all tannin, perfume and spice. It’s very good. Very. Time will be kind… Rated 95
This wine is “world” good, it is as good as I have made as a single varietal from the vineyard and sums up just how well suited our site is for Merlot. I want to share this wine, I want to pour a glass and step back and let it speak, I want to see the light turn on as that first sip is taken, and I have the pleasure of knowing this wine meets those ideals. Cellar it, drink it – the choice is yours for now and for years to come.
I am late on the whisky scene, and I mean really late. Now this was not because I did not like the stuff or had an intolerance to its wiles and wicked ways. It is simply because I just never really had a “reason” to go down this rabbit hole, as I know I have a terrible habit of once getting hooked into something I sort of get carried away … I will use wine as my personal example of this.
Taking a step back.
One rather hazy night out on the tiles a few years ago with Tim and our winemaker Clive we ended up in a hidden whisk(e)y bar (as only the laneways of Melbourne can provide) and a couple of the whisky drams selected resonated with me and I tapped them into my phone – and promptly forgot to follow it up. Months past, and I then became aware of a whisky single malt group in Margaret River, but again failed to follow up on dropping in on one of their monthly meetings. Thus by chance at the start of the year while checking my notes in the iPhone I saw the whisky notes, noted that there was a whisky soiree on in a few days, and since that date I have now managed to enter the wormhole of the whisky world.
Fortunately for all, this will not be a list of what I have been buying and drinking since that fateful single malt club meeting, or all of the subsequent whisky tastings (that are now all done in Zoom), but rather the amazing dissimilarities seen between the alcoholic beverages wine and whisky – and why they are so. It is super interesting because it is so different and because it may be a pathway that wine may regretfully tread if we are not careful, or potentially learn from and take advantage of if we are … but back to my ramblings.
When a member of the public thinks of whisky they generally think of its high alcohol levels and its big brands – Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels – and maybe some side brands like Macallan, Glenfiddich, Canadian Club etc. For the “drinker” most of the whisky bought is based on price point alone or at best name recognition – very much like wine purchases and I guess this is where the similarities end.
I will talk my way through this by talking about “Scotch Whisky” from this point on – there may be more links between wine and bourbon/rye, but I will stick to my knitting of comparing the world of scotch to wine, of which I know a smidgen more.
You see whisky in Scotland has a rich history going back to the 16-17th Century (matching the time frames of larger vineyards and wineries in France and other areas of Europe). Illicit stills were commonplace in Scotland and were a way of making a bit of extra money from the barley and wheat grown on the small holdings throughout the country. Larger stills were developed over time, and they have remained active for 100’s of years with little change (apart from ownership and periods of recess and the like), with pretty much many of the large stills working today are related to the primary stills of earlier times and at the same locations. Small private distillers were considered a curse since the 18th Century and were chased out by the law, and the industry became a controlled entity that provided work for communities, and excise and duties for the government. Licensing and control was such a critical process in the history of whisky in Scotland it has ensured that there are very few new small private distilleries throughout Scotland today (I know of 5 from my reading), regardless of the current boon in the single malt market.
Most of the whisky made in Scotland is a blended whisky, and it is a blend of malted whisky and grain whisky – and it is huge. One of the biggest exports from the United Kingdom is whisky, and >80% of all of that is blended scotch whisky. But the high end of the whisky world is in the single malts where whisky is derived from a single distiller and often aged for a significant period of time and released at higher prices than the blended scotch that fills the supermarket shelves. And it is booming and part of the reason for that is that specific aged whisky from a specific distillery pretty much assures the buyer a good drink – and as a bonus it is pretty cheap on the whole to enter into this “spirit” world.
And here is the kicker about whisky – it is quite easy to understand. And even if you not sure about an aspect of the whisky you have purchased or drank, it is relatively easy to find out and get that information. Thus, the main level of whisky appreciation can be quickly learnt with others or by yourself – and what you have tasted and accrued as a whisky collection, many others would also have tasted and collected those very SAME bottles. With the capacity to share experiences and share knowledge from a controlled sample set, everyone can feel attached. I will outline below the major reasons why I believe it is so easy to understand:
There are 5 whisky regions (6 at a pinch), in Scotland
There are 120 distilleries in Scotland
Not all distilleries make individual whisky – most of their product goes into making cheaper blended whisky.
By purchasing 12 different whisky bottles you could effectively taste every region and at several aged statements giving you a pretty wide appreciation of the styles and characteristics of the single malt whisky of Scotland.
Now, let us think about wine for a minute and place the same constraints to the buyer as per purchasing a bottle of whisky. Below are the comparative values for “just” Australian wine:
There are ~65 wine regions in Australia.
There are more than 7,000 wineries in Australia.
All registered wineries in Australia sell their wines. Cheaper wines are made from bought grapes and not bought wines.
By purchasing 300 bottles of Australian wine you would just be scraping the surface of all of the nuance and variations across this wine landscape. It could take a lifetime to fully come to grasp all that wine in Australia can produce, and it changes year in year out with the regional vintages and new varieties and wineries / winemakers that enter the scene.
Every distillery that sells their whisky has what they call their “core” range, and many have been consistent for decades. This means when someone describes a whisky that they like they can have a conversation about it with anyone in the world and have a common appreciation – as the core whisky is made to be consistent year in, year out. With this in mind, when a whisky commentator says online “I really love the Clynelish 14yo whisky”, you could generally find that whisky and try it and place what they are seeing and tasting with what you are seeing and tasting – the bond is formed by the fact you can all partake in the “same” experience.
Even in Margaret River, unbeknown to most, we have direct access
to some of the world’s best whisky.
This simply is not the case with wine, access to the most common wines might be straightforward, but no one would sit down for a comparative tasting with Jancis Robinson to compare the 2018 [yellowtail] Chardonnay or Merlot as it is “pulp” wine. Prices of the wines that are of interest to wine lovers within that discussion setting are usually priced stratospherically and/ or impossible to obtain relative to the time Jancis may do a video of herself drinking and commentating on it. Thus, we are limited to reams and reams of millions of tasting notes that discuss vintage, blends, varieties, wine makers, etc, etc – there is no intimacy with the commentators and the viewing public. When we see wine commentators on screen we are naturally conditioned to be swayed by the “emotion” shown, and that just becomes who has the best story to tell, and the best way of telling it – as we have no shared “experience” with the wine commentator.
Now, I know there will be the knowledgeable whisky lover that would state – yes there are only 120 distilleries, but the whisky produced could be a multitude of bottlings from each distillery with not just the primary core range of whisky, but also innumerable single barrel bottlings, different types of cask finished whisky, private bottlings, non-age statement whisky, festival bottlings and lots and lots of other details – BUT – they try and distinctly represent the taste of the distillery in every release, and many of these releases are just localised or specific collectables, with the distillery’s “core” range being the bread and butter of their sales.
So, is there anything we can transfer from whisky culture into wine culture to take advantage of their relative success? I think there is – and it is not the desire to make cheap blended booze, but it is their desire for consistency and presence of place. My takeaway points from wandering into the “whisky wormhole” are:
Have a “core” range of distinctive and high-quality wines that can only be found from your specific location.
Any addition to the “core” range must adhere to the philosophies applied in those wines.
Simplify the process as much as you can. Do not manipulate the wines to remove perceived unwanted characteristics – whisky today is most respected when unfiltered, undiluted and uncoloured and this is prized and referred to as an “integrity” malt.
Respect the past but push the boundaries to maintain the most interesting and progressive wines you can.
I now have a little collection of whisky in my cupboard, and each night I have a dram of a distinctive and interesting single malt whisky. It is a really pleasant end to the day and keeps me testing my senses and confirming what is really good in this world. A little bit of whisky wisdom found in an integrity bottling is well worth seeking out…
Smash and bash...
It has been a wild old month weather wise. On 5 May the first really significant storm hit and 20 days later we had another major weather front come through creating havoc with the road and power lines etc. Having the seasons change dramatically is not unusual, but what has been unusual has been the ferocity of the weather which has pretty much battered the lower south west of Western Australia.
It should be noted that on 5 May when the restrictions were lifted on gatherings of less than 10 people, I did have a game of poker with old friends. The weather was howling outside but it is not every day you see a Royal Flush set out on the table…
…and yes the power was out so we were playing by torchlight.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 18.9°C
Daily Max recorded 25.8°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.2°C
Daily Min recorded 4.3°C
The maximum temperatures were similar with 2020 being slightly lower due to the cool weather following some of the stormy weather. The minimum was lower in 2019 with less rain and less cloud cover in comparison to 2020. The rainfall total in 2020 was higher and came from a larger number of rainy days in comparison to 2019.
Avg Maximum Temp 19.2°C
Daily Max recorded 22.2°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.0°C
Daily Min recorded 3.0°C
Peeking out into the world…
Another month ahead with uncertainty in regards to what we can and cannot do as individuals, state, and country. My workload will still be pretty much house bound but I will head out and do the barrel tasting promised last month (subject to the winery opening up access), and some pruning will kick off in the Shiraz. It will be so damn nice to look up at a distant skyline rather than a close small screen. Lots of wine to deliver and I do hope you are able to obtain a few bottles of the 2018 wines – all are universally excellent and will provide a huge amount of pleasure when consumed.
Keep safe everyone and look after one another. Until next month then…
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