Monthly Report - July 2020
As we enter the 5th month of Covid based restrictions it is difficult to come to grips with just the simple uncertainty of it all. This forward planning of our lives is driven into you from the earliest memories – “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, “Have you packed all that you need?”, “That’s all you are getting so don’t spend it all at once” – and now we cannot plan past the coming few weeks. Living for the moment is what the grasshoppers did while the ants toiled away … we are now having to get a bit of that grasshopper vibe into our lives!
The restrictions associated with the pandemic are however a form of emotional squeeze that sort of catches you out when you look up for a second. You know that you are sort of safe, but it feels like you have left a window open after you have driven away from the house and it preys on your mind. That lack of future clarity and sudden jolt of awareness will make its way known at some point for everyone and I sincerely hope that all our Blue Poles comrades are doing well and finding a pathway through this emotional forest…
The concept of a wine in Australia that mimics the best of the wines from the Right Bank of Bordeaux has often been farfetched and out of reach. Until now.
From the point we believed it was possible, to the two years to find the right site, to the planting and growing of the vines, management of low yields and limiting irrigation, spending time in Bordeaux doing vintage work amongst the wineries of St-Emilion and Pomerol, hand picking, careful barrel selection and the support of a dedicated winemaking team – it was all for a purpose. With this purpose being, simply put, the making of a world class Merlot dominant wine.
Every vintage from 2005 on, we have gained experience and attained another piece in the puzzle. I have religiously kept notes on the climate, the picking dates, tasting of ferments, barrel selections and blending trials – with these notes having been my guide on this journey and formed the basis of the belief that our site could make an exceptional wine, without compromise, and equivalent to the best examples in the world. In 2018, we had a vintage that provided the opportunity to complete the circle.
From the Merlot and Cabernet Franc barrel tastings completed in late 2019, a very specific combination of barrels was defined, and this has been combined to form a Reserve Allouran. It is special, it is as good as many of the wines I have tasted throughout my times in Bordeaux – tasting in barrel halls and in a sense, palaces – and it marks a high point in our vineyard’s existence.
I have sat down and tasted this wine with Clive Otto our winemaker, and we recorded the discussion. He and I both know that this wine is world class, and to be able to share its development together has been exciting and confirmation of what we have always known – the Blue Poles Vineyard site is special and warrants the attention we put into the vines that we have planted there.
With the wine then came the issue of naming it to account for the special nature of its creation and to provide a high point for our vineyard. After much deliberation we decided to name the wine after the two coins (“Deux Écus”) that Captain de Saint Aloüarn used to claim Australia for France in March 1772 (unaware of Captain Cook’s claim of the continent at Botany Bay in April 1770). Set in a bottle, buried in Monkey Mia, Western Australia and now on display at the W.A. Maritime Museum – these coins link our vines with their origin in France.
A bottle was forwarded to Gary Walsh at WineFront for his review and he posted his tasting note on 29 July. I had shared with Gary a sample of this wine back in November of last year before it was bottled, and at the time he recognised its quality and I am sure he was happy to see this followed through into the bottle, with his note as below:
2018 Blue Poles Reserve Allouran “Deux Écus” – 13.8% Alc
“Strong colour, and gee it’s an intense wine to smell too. Essence of blackcurrant and raspberry, almost to liqueur-like in strength of signal, dark chocolate, baking spices, and pleasant note of fresh green herbs. Medium-bodied, concentrated fruit flavour, a little cocoa and black olive, firm fine gravelly tannin, freshness, and a very long and tight finish, all that delicious tannin sweeping it along. Such a potent wine built for the long haul.” 96pts GW
In February of this year we invited a select group from the mailing list to take part in an “En Primeur” campaign specifically for the Reserve Allouran. They were able to purchase the wine at discount within a “First Tranche”, with just over half the wine made available. The take up on the offer was beyond our expectations and it was quickly fully subscribed within a few days. Which now leaves the balance of the wine for release and this will be put out to the mailing list near the end of August. It will be extremely limited due to the small volume to be sold, so keep an eye out for this if you are a Mailing List member.
For all of those who have secured the wines from the First Tranche – really well done and thanks for your trust in the wine, I know you will not be disappointed. Your wines will be forwarded at the end of August and if you have any changes to be made to the order and/or delivery details, please get in touch as we will be doing an audit prior to the deliveries being made.
It is a slow and deliberate approach that you take to pruning a vineyard – none of this looking at the weather forecasts, wringing of hands, sampling up and down rows day after day. It is just there, solid as a block – and all you can do is you get your pick and start hitting away at it until it is gone.
And because of its nature, I like pruning. I like the ticking off of blocks and rows. I like the silence and even the chatter when someone is out working with me. I like to see the skyline which is as familiar to me as looking at my own hands. And I like to see the vineyard take shape. Talking with John our viticulturist as we finished off pruning the Chardonnay, he asked me what I am going to do when I retire – and it struck me strange as you cannot really retire from a vineyard, seasons do not let that happen. So, my answer was basically “this”. I’m comfortable doing the job that defines the coming vintage – it’s not the race of putting wires up, thinning growth, dropping fruit, chasing pickers – I may get too old for that I suppose, but pruning I’m cool with.
For the first year ever, I relented to having a barrel pruner come through and take off the tops of the canes in the Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This normally is not done due to my dislike of machinery in the vineyard in winter, and the mess it makes. Fortunately this year we have not been really wet and the barrel pruning was done by John with his new piece of equipment that is very sharp and effective – looks great and makes spur pruning easy and by the end of August the Merlot and Cabernet Franc will be all finished and ready to go.
Cabernet Franc – the Way…
Here is something I usually would not say out loud or in mixed company (Pinot drinkers) – I am generally not much of a fan of Cabernet Franc wine. There it is out. But it may not be what you are thinking – as I AM a “massive” time fan of bordelaise Cabernet Franc, but have been extremely disappointed by nearly every other version I have tried from France and around the world outside of this tethered spot.
Cabernet Franc is not a simple grape to understand as a “varietal” as it behaves differently in every location it is grown. In France, the “source” of the vine, it is grown solely on the Western half of the country – from the Loire Valley, down into Bordeaux, and then into the South West of France. A significant chunk of the 36,000Ha planted in France is in Bordeaux (~14,000Ha), with the balance being the Loire (~10,000Ha) and the South West and other small holdings along that French western edge. In Bordeaux I have never tasted a 100% Cabernet Franc wine (tank /barrel thieving excepted), in fact nearly every red in Bordeaux apart from some very small Merlot plots are a blend of a number of varieties. In the Loire, almost every Cabernet Franc wine is 100% Franc and no blending options offered.
And what does that mean for the variety around the world – just a mishmash of jumbled themes that often make for pretty average wines. And Australia is one of the biggest culprits – if I could get a dollar for every time I have been offered a glass of Cab Franc “made in an easy drinking style – sooo delicious and fresh” to have this acidic backwash of a wine sitting in my glass just disappoints (and my bank account would have grown – ka-ching!). Yeah, I get it – rah rah fun wines, don’t think too hard, 40% stalks (or whatever) and unoaked in a “village” style – who could not like that? Me.
It is even worse when they have let the grapes hang out to obtain some level of “uber” ripeness and you get a version of viscous soup sparked by the occasional lightening rod of acid – blah. Even some of the Napa versions from the USA I have managed to procure and taste basically made me regret opening them, after going through all the expense of getting them.
This is the intriguing thing about the variety – currently it is a popular wine. With only 330Ha grown in Australia (I think – I could not find the accurate plantings in Aus), we have no real marker for what it is meant to be. You could really only go by price for style I would guess – cheaper being the thin floral end, pricey is the “uber” ripe end pretty much. Thus, I am sort of at the point where I do not really look at other Australian examples to lead our hunt for making that version that ticks all those fine wine boxes. It is the one wine in our line up in which I honestly just use my own perception of what would make the best “wine” – as the Merlot and Allouran and other varieties, I have lots of solid markers in the back of my head while I taste through the barrels and do the blending. Cabernet Franc, not so much.
Yep, that is what I have got when it comes to Cabernet Franc. I am really keen to head back into Bordeaux when we can all move around again and have another series of palate alignments so as to move forward with our wines, always stepping it up as best we can. But will I be looking to more local and non-bordelaise drops to help me on my Cabernet Franc pilgrimage? … not any time soon.
It has been a typical winter’s month – lots of rain and cool. Weather has come in waves with some very heavy downpours before the showers cleared and some clear days interspersed the next round of rain and wind. Hardest part of deciphering the weather is working out when you can hang out the washing – a wary eye is required to ensure it does not end out on the line for a number of days.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 16.8°C
Daily Max recorded 20.3°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.6°C
Daily Min recorded 0.9°C
The maximum and minimum temperatures were very similar between the past two years, all very much of a muchness. The rainfall total in 2020 was much higher and came from more rainy days (24 days) in comparison to 2019 (18 rainy days), as well as some heavy downpours on 6 and 23 July (>50mm each).
Avg Maximum Temp 16.7°C
Daily Max recorded 19.9°C
Avg Minimum Temp 8.4°C
Daily Min recorded 2.9°C
It is a case of just getting it done – finish pruning the vineyard. And that is what I will try and do, and if I do not, I would be pretty darn close. No travel obviously and that means my geological work is slowly starting to peter out as companies with resource projects start to rethink how they will move ahead. Head down in the quiet of the vines during the day and wrapping and preparing the Deux Écus for delivery at the end of the month each night may be my month in front of me.
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