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Monthly Report - October 2020

Australia is truly an island…


We as a nation have managed to almost contain all of the Covid-19 cases within Australia to incoming residents in quarantine.  Through the preparedness of Victorians to accept a 3-month lockdown, the opportunity for the virus to spread rampantly throughout the country has been dashed (for now), and as a country we are extremely thankful.  Western Australia remains an island within an island, with cases turning up solely by air and by sea – our capacity to travel still remains at pretty much zero so we sit and wait for our “window into a travel bubble” (a phrase never previously written before 2020!).


To watch the numbers of this virus just explode throughout the northern hemisphere as the winter beckons, it is very unlikely we will be but an island for many months to come while we await a vaccine of some kind. This means the Christmas Holiday season will be home (state-) bound for us here in Australia, and we will be possibly limited to our immediate family due to all these travel restrictions.  It has been that sort of year – disruption, disruption, disruption.


Keep safe comrades.


The endless walk…


Also, the endless bend – October involves cleaning the base of the vines from excess growth and thinning the growth along the cordon wire which involves a lot of bending over.  Oh, and how I feel it the following morning.  About half the vineyard has had the bases cleaned and I have started a bit of growth thinning, but as we are running a few weeks later than last vintage I have got this job as part of my November schedule – how wonderful.  Wires have also started rising into position – that has only just begun and only the Chardonnay has had that task completed which means even more tasks scheduled forward – I may be too busy for a November Monthly Report by the looks.


And how is it looking?  Really good.


All of the vines have had a pretty even budburst, with the Chardonnay and Marsanne getting through with very little damage from the snails that seem to be omnipresent and particularly bad this year.  No flowering present as yet, but that will change in a few days and our grape set will be defined – we should note here that we are 2-3 weeks behind 2020 vintage flowering, so we are heading towards a more “normal” set of picking dates in March / April 2021.  With it being a cooler start to vintage than last year, the vines have settled well and there is only a few weevils appearing in one patch of the vineyard where they have always been present – a 50m wide strip for about 15 rows – with the rest of the vineyard pretty much free of the pest.  We used to have another pest popping up this time of year – the Spring Beetle – but I have not seen this bug for over 5 years, I wonder what happened to it?


Chardonnay (top) and Marsanne bunches (bottom) – pre-flowering 30 October 2020


The weather has been consistent and warming.  This provides a smell amongst the vines that is unique – very much like petrichor (the scent of when rain falls on dry soil) – it is the smell of the drying soil in the vineyard during the warmth of the day.  For about 20 years I have tended the vines and every October you are drawn back to the memories of the work done before – in the 2006 vintage we actually did not really have that “Spring Smell” as the soil kept damp until December, prior to being burnt off with summer heat – so it is a constant in the back of my head of the vintage that awaits and those that have been.

202010_Cab Franc.jpg

Merlot (top) and Cabernet Franc (bottom) growth 30 October 2020 – healthy and consistent set

We did apply some organic fertilisers to the Merlot block for the first time in a few years – the rest of the vineyard is doing well with strong healthy growth, so it remains fertiliser free.  In fact, fertilising the different varieties in the vineyard occurs only once every 5-7 years, and in the case of the Cabernet Franc and Marsanne just once (2009) over the life of the vineyard.  The reason for doing it often is not just growth, but also resultant nitrogen levels in the grape must – the more stressed the vines the lower this value, and the lower the value, the lower the ability to ferment the grape juice as the yeasts need nitrogen to complete the process.  You can add supplemental nitrogen, but if you can avoid it the better as it is an indication of vines under too much duress and this may reduce and/ or alter your flavours and tannins.


Not much wine news – Tim and I have been either in lockdown or very busy with our paying jobs – so we will put our heads together and see if we can organise some sort of Christmas pack and maybe a Museum release to the Mailing List.  I did knock off a bottle of 2015 Reserve Merlot the other night – delicious and well worth borrowing one from your stash if you have a few (though still years and years in front of it).


It’s a man’s world…


Sometimes I forget my age, I am still in my head in my mid 30’s (or so I think), but my body is beginning to realize (quite rapidly), that I am in my mid 50’s.  From my perspective I have had a lucky life and lived in interesting times – I have had great opportunity to travel, work in strange and wonderful places both in Australia and abroad, raised a family in a safe and open society, and had the chance to develop Blue Poles.  And to be honest much of the luck I have had has been due to where I was born in this world, my opportunity to get an education, and realistically, being white and being male.


I have never ever thought that I am unfortunate – even when there has been hard times and difficulties, my capacity to resolve and redeem has always been there underneath me, my very own “glass floor” so to say.  But.  So many of my “equivalents” spittle outrage when they see Gretel Thunberg denouncing climate change deniers, feel the need to express racist and misogynistic views publicly, privately and anonymously, and feel the need to belittle any movement towards more equality within their workplace and their society.


I don’t get it.  I really don’t.


It is very strange to me because as I have noted – I forget my age.  I am of an age now where the finger pointing of who is responsible for this dinosaur set of attitudes are actually my peers!  Hooley dooley – the crazy old men who were just conservative, ignorant old fools that I thought of as a dying race, are apparently my ex-school mates and fellow workers.  What the heck has happened?  I genuinely feel ashamed of the attitudes of so many of my contemporaries, have they always been that way?  Did I just have my own worldview solely in my head, completely unaware that my contemporary’s worldviews have come under perceived attack?


And I guess this is where we are finally at.  A crossroads.  Attention to how the advantaged treat the disadvantaged has been turned on like a spotlight.  And those who want the status quo are squirming and railing … their little worldview has taken a tumble from its artificially propped up pedestal and they are lost and angry.  It will continue for a while yet, whining men are good at keeping their grievances and finding confederates, but I hope that their house of pride (self-serving virtue) burns, burns to the ground.


So, where am I going with this?  I will explain as best I can.


The wine world has had a series of exposés in recent weeks where females in the wine industry (predominantly the promotion, retail and the sommelier “portion” of the business), have been abused, mistreated and belittled.  Some of these accusations have reference back over many many years, and some relate to recent correspondence between various wine critics and industry advocates.  I am not going to get into the details of it all, as to be honest I am not fully familiar with the groups and individuals involved and what exactly transpired.  But the stories are harrowing and highlight such consistent threads seen in many many industries:


  • Patriarchy in the workplace and institutions.

  • Misogyny as an underlying theme; devaluing inputs and opinions

  • Promotion of stereotypical imagery and views of femininity and behavior

  • Reference of a past as an idyll, inability to accept a new reality


Liz Mitchell, Jane Lopes, Victoria James and Courtney Schiessl say they experienced sexual harassment as candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers (Article Here)

And do not feel this is just at the corporate end of the spectrum.  Terrible behavior towards women and other groups have been noted within the “natural” wine making world as well as the “fine” wine world of the leading estates.  It is a recurrent theme of male position and privilege that just will not release its grip.


And yes, this is an area that needs addressing within our society as a whole.  And I will note that it is not just men that need to provide the lead, but there are some women that enable this hegemony to continue and, in a way, underpin it.  The Australian wine industry has the advantage of having many leading winemakers, winery owners and critics being women with ambitious agendas and world class credentials – the next movement as a guess will be spreading the race mix within the industry and having a broader inclusive wine world to the very “pale” look currently in play.


Tim and I own our vineyard.  We cannot change our race or our gender – but we know that we have worked hard to earn our little spot in the wine world.  We have never had position or power in this industry, and if we did, we would not be seeking advantage from those who are disadvantaged.  Our hope is that all wineries and wine industry related groups will also “act” like decent humans and accept the facts of modern life – to not, is to show just how impotent and shallow they actually are.


[PS: While writing this opinion piece I was thinking about the trials and tribulations that Dr Irina Santiago-Brown has been going through getting recognition for her work on sustainable growing systems from the Australian wine industry (Information Here).  Irina alleges to have had her work effectively “stolen” by our industry’s research arm and used for its own benefit – no recognition of Irina’s input and no value added of their own.  It is outrageous and I hope that she can be compensated and takes back what is rightfully hers – and here is the kicker, we pay fees to the group that are fighting Irina’s claims.  So never for one-minute think that you are not propping up a possibly broken system – we all are and often cannot see it.  I have written to the AWRI and sought from them an assurance that they meet the demands met by Irina and they do it immediately – a reply is not expected, but I hope it is a chip on their menhir of arrogance and privilege.]


Dr Irina Santiago-Brown fighting for her rights against the AWRI – Oct 2020


Shorts ahoy...


October is traditionally the month where you get your nose and the back of your legs sunburnt.  This usually happens at the Busselton Agricultural Show at the Churchill Park Fairgrounds while holding a toffee apple and wondering why you bought it.  And, though the show did not proceed this year (carnies locked out at the border?), I managed to get sunburnt while amongst the vines.  It has been a dry month but not a very warm one, keeping in with the averages rather than exceeding it.  Rainfall was much less post September, with over half the rainfall came through on one wet day on the 8th and it was loaded with nitrogen (aiding vine growth), as lightening rippled along with it all day.


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


October 2020:        

Avg Maximum Temp          20.9°C

Daily Max recorded            30.5°C


Avg Minimum Temp             9.2°C

Daily Min recorded               5.8°C


Rainfall:                              30.9mm

The maximum was similar to 2019, but this was the coolest month of the 2020 vintage and was an anomaly to the balance of the spring months of that vintage.  The minimums were also similar with the clear skies aiding in dropping the temperatures a bit more this year.  The rainfall values are low, and very low this year particularly – however, it was a wetter September in 2020 so this has meant a similar moisture profile in the soil between the years.

October 2019:        

Avg Maximum Temp           20.4°C

Daily Max recorded             29.5°C


Avg Minimum Temp              9.8°C

Daily Min recorded                4.0°C


Rainfall:                                73.9mm

Slow and steady…


The vineyard will have wires lifted and vines thinned and cleaned as the priority for the month for me – as well as keeping the sprays up to date.  Flowering is a critical window and occurs during November (normally), and during the vintage it not only determines the crop levels, but it also has an influence with certain disease vectors such as mildews that can be made more prevalent if not dealt with early on.  So many miles of walking coming my way, and a few sprays to put out as well – I had better crack out the sunscreen too as the weather starts to warm in the last month of Spring.


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 and we’ll do our very best to answer any question.




Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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