Monthly Report - June 2020

Landlocked…

 

This is the third report in which I open up with a version of the refrain “How are you all going?” – and to be honest it is going to be a wild set of answers as we ride through this pandemic on the back of an emotional mechanical bull.  Genuine sympathies to all Victorians which revert to a form of lockdown once more – it is not easy to get a glimpse through the door only to have it closed for another month or two.  It has mashed up our plans of having our big dinner in Melbourne in August for the release of the Reserve Allouran.  The wine is now awaiting final packing before being put out to those who managed to secure theirs in our “En Primeur” campaign back in February, and those who will purchase on release in August.

 

Here in Western Australia we feel “sort of” normal.  We can work, play, and have access to hotels and bars and other venues – but it is all a bit like a family party where no one from out of town has turned up.  Tourist operators in town have started taking in Perth bookings for tours that were usually filled with the well to do from Asia, Europe and America, and these school holidays has meant an exodus north for many – Geraldton, Kalbarri, and Exmouth must be pumping.

 

But.

 

We cannot go anywhere else.  We cannot see how we are going to be able to go anywhere else.  We just watch on with a morbid curiosity as the world traverses the pandemic.  We are landlocked, if not marooned.  Maybe we could have direct flights to New Zealand – that might be our glimmer of release, but it will not aid us in any real future planning.

 

So, keep safe everyone, wherever you may be.  And let us all hope for a way forward that can have us all being human once more by accommodating our collective desire to travel and congregate.

 

Provision for Pruning…

 

June commences the pruning program and I have managed to get out there for a few days when my consultancy work has not been knocking at the door.  It is a lovely feeling to be in the quiet of the vineyard just head down looking at the plant, determining the cuts, and then working your way through the process.  For me personally I appreciate the simple nature of the work, the looking up at a skyline instead of a computer screen, the clear air in the middle of the vineyard and best of all, the silence.

As I have got older, I have become more and more averse at the noisiness of life.  My phone just vibrates now, the beeps and rings that emanate from it make me uncomfortable so I most probably miss calls but it is a price I am willing to pay as I use it enough already without having to be at its beck and call.  I remember going to see “The Church” playing at Dunsborough a few years back, and thinking I have got to get out of here – seeing them in the 1980’s was a much more enjoyable experience.  I do however miss talking and being with my partner Marjory who has been caught out by the pandemic and is in Manila until such time as she can get back home – some noises are comforting and missed badly when they are not rattling around in the background.

 

John our viticulturist and I are preparing the bottom of the vineyard for replanting next year – it has been a long time in the planning and it is a mountain of work, but it is something we need to do to get the vineyard producing fully and making a range of excellent wines to go with the Merlot and Cabernet Franc which we revolve around.  We will tap away at this in the coming months while we step away from the pruning every now and again.

 

Collating Conceivable Climate Calamities …

 

Here is something that always piques my interest, future climate reports that are vineyard specific.  The Climate Atlas report just released by Wine Australia is something I will have a look at this month to see if it is relevant to us and our vineyard.  It was compiled by a number of qualified researchers with funding from Wine Australia and you can find the Link Here.  The opening statement of the report provides a window of the objectives and goals and is as below:

 

“A three-year project with the University of Tasmania brought together an extensive, multi-disciplinary research team to consider the impact of seasonal climate variability and longer-term climate trends on the wine sector in Australia.  It has generated the finest available climate projections for Australia’s wine regions and provided detailed information about how the climate may change in the near, mid and long-term time horizons (out to 2100).

 

This information has been incorporated into the Australia’s Wine Future: A Climate Atlas, a free online resource of climate information for all Australian Geographic Indications (GIs).  The atlas helps to answer the question – what will my region’s climate look like in the future?  This is essential knowledge for making good management decisions, based on decadal changes, and supporting strategic decisions over the longer term, both within and between regions.”

 

This sounds pretty interesting, and as someone who has kept weather records every vintage since 2005 and trying to understand the impacts on our vineyard through the climate pretty essential reading.  All of those who are accepting of the reality of climate change, recognize that we are heading towards a warming climate in Australia and that is now being played out in horrific bush fire seasons that start earlier and burn hotter than ever encountered before.  We should make every effort to mitigate the affects of climate change, and if we are in an industry that relies on the weather as integral in product quality this is doubly so.  But how do we plan based on what we can take from this information?  To be honest I am not sure – and based on the caveat at the start of the report by the authors, nor are they:

 

“Wine Australia and the University of Tasmania provide no warranty, guarantee or representation that the material will prove to be accurate, complete, up-to-date, non-infringing or fit for purpose.  The use of the material is entirely at the risk of the user.  The user must independently verify the suitability of the material for their own use.”

 

Look I understand these caveats – I use them in reports I write as well, but come on guys, “must independently verify” using computer modelling from inputs we do not have access to is a bit of an ask.  It is a guide – got it – but what is the outcomes for Margaret River between now and 2100 according to the print outs and modelling?  Let’s go to the headline diagram for Margaret River providing us with the big outcomes.

 

The headlines here are that we get hotter (up 1.4°C by 2041) and hotter (up 3.2oC by 2081), we become more arid (soil moisture) by 16 – 39%, and a reduced rainfall total during the growing season.  The increased temperature has been extrapolated to be a larger “Excess Heat Factor” which I have found out relates to how humans feel about the heat waves – but for this exercise it simply notes that it will be hotter in the heat waves as well.

 

The takeout from the overall numbers is that it will get hotter.  The reducing rainfall over vintage means little in Margaret River and in a way is a blessing as it means the modelling does not indicate tropical weather coming this far south bringing summer rain and humidity and excess heat factor has been a Western Australian concern since I arrived here in 1988.  But if we delve a little deeper into the report, they did produce this graph that is kind of worrying:

 

I think it is a range of modelled actual and average temperature values over time with temperature averages heading up to the levels of Swan Valley in Perth by 2100, with the range of possibilities in regards the average temperature being ~1°C.  This is interesting in the simple fact that I have also produced the mean averages for 15 years from our site in Rosa Brook and it ranged from 16°C in 2006 through to 19.4°C in 2011 (our hottest year on record).  This graph somehow did not notice 2006 which is really odd as it was a huge negative outlier as well as also not showing a marked positive difference in 2011 – it does raise a flag with me.

 

The rate of global temperature average rise also is a bit of a worry – we are +2°C on 2020’s average by ~2045, and by 2090 we are 4°C up on today’s average values, and basically you could say we have moved to Perth.  Now that should have a dramatic impact on ripening times and the research team have a nifty graph to show how ripening times are reduced with the greater heat load over time, and that is below:

 

What this multi-coloured rainbow and Joy Division album covers actually represents is quite tricky and cool.  The team have added together the heat load from the start of the year and different grape varieties need different heat loads to ripen supposedly fully – Chardonnay is picked early so it has a lower heat load requirement than Cabernet Sauvignon for example.  Now the top two of 1000 – 1500 Growing Degree Days (GDD) has naff all to do with any decent grapes – so ignore them – but run down to the 2000 and 2500 sort of window and February/March in 2000 GDD is sort of Chardonnay and 2500 is sort of Cabernet Sauvignon. They are predicting picking dates to move for those grape varieties as below:

 

…and folks, when 2080 rolls around we are not making fine wine anymore.  Many flavors within grapes are “time” related and if we are picking off “sugar ripeness” we are months in advance of when they have fully ripened thus we do not get ripe tannins or the actual loss of mercaptans (the hard green flavors we see in under-ripe red grapes at times).

 

The biggest issue I can see with the assumptions is that heat waves often delay vintage and not bring it forward – the reason for this is simple, the vines shut down during heat loads over 35°C.  You could argue that Swan Valley should pick later then?  But you have forgotten that the Swan has much much warmer spring and early summer temperatures, earlier budburst etc etc.  So warming temperature averages are the key and how they are derived – and with our semi-maritime location are we that easily transferred into a semi-desert climate?  I do not know.

 

And here is the kicker – what do we do about it?  Plant later ripening varieties?  Why?  By 2080 the whole thing is cactus anyway according to the modelling.  Move to Tasmania?  Is this the big plan here – define areas to exploit in 60 years?  Crazy – for a business like ours we are not provided with transportation options.

 

So, Wine Australia and the researchers have put a lot of effort in to tell us that we will be impacted by global warming – TICK.  And…now you recognise that wine at the upper levels is dealt with like any other multi-national business – they now have long term planning confirmation and can plan to exploit large areas of southern Victoria and Tasmania as they rip out the vines of the Riverland and Murray Basin.  Transference of assets, in business speak, so as to keep the 4l casks and $8.99 bottles filling floor and shelves of the booze merchants.

 

In a way this report has nothing to do with Tim or I, and also nothing really to do with Margaret River.  It is just some window dressing for the business of making cheap booze and we are all chipping in to pay for it.  We are not “Collating Conceivable Climate Calamities”, we are “Controlling Collective C’Alcohol Consumption” all wrapped up in disinfected science speak…

 

Winter Blues...

 

It has been a windy and changeable month in Margaret River with quite destructive winds coming through with associated frontal weather.  The rain gauge was not overflowing due to the lack of “set in” rain – everything was flitting through in a hurry making the vineyard still reasonably dry though the weather feels like we should be submerged.

 

The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:

 

June 2020:        

Avg Maximum Temp          18.5°C

Daily Max recorded            21.6°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp           10.6°C

Daily Min recorded               1.6°C

 

Rainfall:                               113.9mm

The maximum temperatures were quite a bit warmer in 2020 and that equated to the large periods of windy norwesters hounding the coast bringing with them warmer air from up north.  The minimum was lower in 2019 even with the greater rainfall and this is due to the cool westerlies that dominated the month.  The rainfall total in 2020 was much lower and came not from less rainy days in comparison to 2019, but rather just a simple lack of heavy rain.

June 2019:        

Avg Maximum Temp           17.2°C

Daily Max recorded             22.5°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp              9.0°C

Daily Min recorded                3.8°C

 

Rainfall:                               292.2mm

Stepping out…

 

Into the vineyard I need to go.  Pruning awaits and it is a job that is like water dripping on a rock – it does wear away but at a slow and consistent rate.  As mentioned in the report, it is a relaxing job if you know what you are doing and that you have a mind that likes the simplicity of the task.  Obviously, no travel is planned, and my geological work makes my days and nights busy when I am not in the vines.

 

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.

 

Cheers

 

 

Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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