Monthly Report - December 2020
Be Gone Ye Calamitous Year…
I was lucky enough to watch the final sunset of 2020 on the foreshore of Yallingup beach with a glass of 2020 Blue Poles Chardonnay and a group of friends and fellow Western Australians – it was a relief to see the end of this tumultuous year, but we still have a hill to climb before reaching even close to a previous form of “normalcy”. As always, the final day of the year always gives you pause, and this year more than others.
It has been a difficult year for most, for those of us in Western Australia we have been extremely fortunate in reference to restrictions and lock-downs as we have not had any major controls enforced upon us by our state government. But throughout Australia there has been varying levels of state controls that have been at times harsh and very restrictive – but overall, most Australians recognize that they have been lucky, have respected the health of others and have abided by their various governmental requests.
Personally, I am very grateful for the freedom to continue to work unhindered and to be able to move and meet others within the state. It has still been difficult however, as my partner Marjory remains “trapped” abroad and the loneliness of living and working by oneself makes life that bit more remote and restricted both physically and emotionally. I really do thank my immediate family and Tim, who along with Marjory have provided much needed emotional support (and I hopefully some to them as well) – and in 2021 it will be with great joy to be able to spend time with them and begin a new chapter as we get to a point of “post Covid”.
Every one of us have had our lives rearranged by the pandemic. My sincere hope is that all who read these ramblings are safe, supported and moving forward with their lives in a positive fashion. Life may not ever return to how we knew it, but it will make us take note of just how much joy there is in the company of others and in the privilege of travel.
Keep safe comrades.
The vineyard is bursting, the way that the heat has come on slowly during the month building up to a warm Christmas and New Year week has meant the vines are just bursting with growth. We have another two to three weeks of this wall of green getting thicker and higher and we do not use any mechanical hedging as this tends to promote leaves growing around the fruit reducing direct sunlight later in the vintage, and the hedging does not discriminate such that some vines that have dropped off the foliage wire get snipped back too far ensuring fruit not being able to ripen as well as they could.
So, it comes down to getting out there and hand thinning fruit and foliage, and this is a bit long winded. I have already done two weeks’ worth and I will be doing this for the next three weeks to finish up. Fortunately, it is not a tiresome job like lifting of wires, which has been completed this month, but it takes time, and you have to treat it a bit like pruning. One other advantage in doing this is that you can just open up the eastern side of the vines and keep the western side a bit more shaded – so if it does get hot hot you have a bit of shade over the exposed bunches from the afternoon sun belting in at 40°C.
No irrigation watering has been turned on as yet. The rainfall in November has held the vines in good stead and it is only now that the topsoil is become a bit hard and brittle. We will most probably not water the Merlot and Cabernet Franc this season, their age and depth of roots seem to have them in balance – but the Shiraz and Chardonnay are not great without a drink and they may have a couple of weeks of irrigation up to about two weeks before vintage. We do have a very dry heat here in Western Australia, so you do need to be careful that you do not let the vines stress too much or shut down for extensive periods – this drags out vintage as much as too little heat. Many aspects of the grapes physiological ripeness relate to time constraints as much as simple sugar and acid values.
Lots of walking done this month and lots to do still. I did get a chance to walk somewhere different at the start of December as I got to go to the Pilbara to review an Iron Ore project. It was very near the Karijini National Park, so I dropped into Hamersley Gorge before heading home. The Banded Iron Formations of the region are impressive and if you do have the chance it is worth a visit to the region – but preferably not in October to December as the average temperature is 40°C and that is a little bit hot…
It has been a long time coming – nineteen and a half years in fact – but as of December 2020 we have bottled our first Chardonnay – all from estate grown vines. Our initial vineyard planting was in 2001 and we were focussed solely on our Merlot and Cabernet Franc with the following year 2002 being the year we planted out our Rhône varieties – Shiraz, Viognier, Marsanne. We did plant some Teroldego in 2005, but overall, we were set in what I thought our site would suit wine wise.
Over the years we started to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of our plantings and it was apparent that the Merlot / Cab Franc were super stars, and though the Rhône grapes were good, they were not at that same level. So, some rethinking took place in 2018 and we agreed that we could reduce some of the Shiraz block and graft about 0.4 hectares across to Chardonnay – we still have sufficient Shiraz to grow the wine and improve, but we could make a Chardonnay that could be unique now knowing the cool climate nature of our site. I selected off the most suitable rows for grafting over, and after 2 years of hard work in the vineyard with John and Marjory, we got our first crop. It was picked late for the warm 2020 vintage and highlighting the cool setting which we hope would provide retention of great acid and flavour.
Clive “Chardonnay Champion of the Worrrld” Otto and team went to work with just a small tonne parcel of our grapes and did a fantastic job with the wine. Settled and fined, it was bottled on 17 December 2020 and is now resting for a few months before release in March / April 2021. I have been fortunate enough to try a few bottles to see how it is settling down, and it is making great strides – my latest tasting note comes from New Year’s Eve with a dish of delicious ceviche and my memory says:
“Nectarines. Fresh and ripe white nectarines lift out of the glass, before you gain your bearings and note the apricot and dripping pear lurking, nutmeg waft, and touch of herbal counterpoint. Palate is Blue Poles line and length – you have the feeling we could copyright our structural feel from one wine to the next – rich stone fruit mid-palate moves into a touch tropical length (lychee?). My daughter Beth says simply “scrumptious” – that could also be sufficient.”
64 cases made. Barrel fermented in 1 year-old Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay barrels. Grown by us. Made by Clive and team. Classic Margaret River Chardonnay. A joy.
We do not expect the wines to last past the offer to the Mailing List – so if you have not yet subscribed to it, follow the prompts and you will have an opportunity to purchase a wine that is both truly delicious and rare.
Margaret River Tasting Experience…
I have a bit of a secret. One that I should not say out loud, but I will bring it up here as I am pretty sure my secret will be safe knowing no one actually reads this far.
I very rarely, if ever, go to other winery’s Cellar Doors in Margaret River.
There. I have said it. And like a Scot that never goes to a whisky distillery, it is a bit of a crime to be honest. But being part of the industry and not excited by the idea of drinking more wine in a variety of sheds / rooms / houses / palaces, I am a bit immune to the process. I do feel a bit like Grinch if I was to wander out as I am not looking for enjoyment “per se”, I am looking for clues and flags in other’s wine and that is often done best outside of the tasting room setting.
But on New Year’s Day, a friend of mine wanted to hit the Cellar Doors and I was to be chauffeur. Admittedly there were a few closed due to the Public Holiday, but we did manage to drop in on about 6-7 which seems about right for anyone doing it for themselves. Now as an outsider (we do not have a Cellar Door) I was intrigued by what I would encounter, and I will list below some of my observations of the more interesting aspects of the day below:
You would most likely be charged for a tasting and $5-10 per person was the norm, and it was refunded if you bought something. In the past this was more the exception than the rule, but this has now flipped the other way and I say huzzah!! – it is damned expensive to open bottles for nothing and I was rapt to see it being so common.
Many Cellar Doors are providing areas for the kids to play and be away from the tasting bench. It was common in all the rooms barring the end members of large restaurant themed or a small shed.
The pitter patter of chit chat from the pourers and cellar door staff was easy going and not overbearing. I heard no outrageous claims, no bagging of other wineries, pretty honest appraisals of their wines, and no pushy sales pressure. We met wine makers, family members, all the way to the employees dedicated to the Cellar Door alone and all were informative and pleasant.
The sit-down tastings are fine, but they do drag out and you do get the sense of obligation much more than wandering up to a tasting bar. I understand the advantages in it, but they were only done in places where there is lots of staff for their associated restaurant, so not too common.
No Cellar Door was too similar to another. Everyone has tried to make their own spin on it, and most have done a really good job.
And how were the wines? Now this is tricky as when you taste about 40 wines during the day you do tend to get jaded and it all becomes a bit of a muchness – so I did try to keep an open mind as we rolled into the various estates and do my best to provide an honest appraisal. My take was this:
Lower priced wines did show their relative value with lots of flatter flavors, little length and structure. Occasionally you find an interesting one, but it was likely to be an odd variety.
Some wineries were simply much better across the board than others. And in some cases, dramatically so. I have to give a shout out to Windows Estate here – every kick a goal – I did my best to not show how impressed I was.
Chardonnay and Cabernet rule the roost, and almost all top tier and priced wines were of these two varieties. I must admit that there was the feeling that many of them do not merit the exxy price tag ($20-50 could have been shaved off and that would make more sense), and many will just be bought by visitors that to be fair may not be “wine experts” and just want a memento from the tasting.
No one has really gone “off spec” too much with the staples of Sem/Sauv – Chard – Cab Sauv being pretty much universal. It does get a bit monotonous in that sense.
How would I rate the experience? Yeah, it was alright for a grumpy old cynic like myself. To be honest I was kind of dreading it as I did not want to be the one feeling pressured to say something “nice” when the only word you can think of is “insipid” – but that was not the case, and it all rolled along with little pressure or push. The facilities and staff available in the region are now well trained and very accepting of all levels of wine knowledge walking through the doors so I would say it is well worth it for anyone visiting.
For all of the drama and variable weather encountered in October and November, December has proved to be a settling factor providing both warmth and dry days aiding in the final period of fruit set in the vineyard. This year, December has warmed gently over the month with the final week being hot and dry making the vineyard have that “crisp” feel when walking on the now dry and brittle grass. Back on track with our averages now identical to the great vintage of 2018 – so we all now hope for that “Goldilocks” world of not too hot and not too cold.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 26.2°C
Daily Max recorded 36.7°C
Avg Minimum Temp 12.5°C
Daily Min recorded 6.4°C
The maximum and minimums were much lower than in 2019, which highlights just how warm the start of vintage was for the 2020 vintage. Rainfall for both months was negligible and very typical for this time of year in Western Australia.
Avg Maximum Temp 28.3°C
Daily Max recorded 37.3°C
Avg Minimum Temp 13.1°C
Daily Min recorded 7.1°C
Well, that is 2020 done and dusted – thank goodness. We have survived a very strange year and we head into another with the hope it can only get better. The vineyard will be needing a bit of help getting rid of some of the growth and excess grapes, and I will continue to snip away at that. We will be bottling the 2019 reds in the middle of the month with the Reserves most probably available in August / September this year. Not able to blend a Deux Écus from the vintage – an aspect of reaching for that perfection which is not always attainable.
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