Monthly Report - February 2021
Well - we had our little lockdown out West; we watched the Australian Tennis Open with all the spoiled ball hitters playing in front of crowds (and not in front of crowds), and we finally have the start of the Australian vaccination program underway. Are we able to start looking to the future a bit here?
And this is the risk we now all have – a sense of hope that this pandemic might have taken a turn for the better. But we know in our hearts that there will be series of twists and roundabouts before we can go online and book a flight, make a booking at a restaurant in another city, and start to plan more than 3 months ahead. As I have said all along, Western Australia has not actually had to deal with the pandemic in more than a peripheral way – our perception is horribly skewed to the rest of the world, even the rest of Australia, so our impatience to get back to a form of “movement” is almost palpable.
Talking to the pickers last week, they have been affected directly by the pandemic with almost all on extended Covid Visas, and to their delight they now have the upper hand in regards to getting paid for their labours. To get fruit hand-picked this year in Margaret River is an expensive option, with some wineries pleading online for folks to just roll up and help out – I am not sure how that is working out.
So, my pandemic predictions for the balance of this year are as follows:
Australia manages to complete the vaccination program in about September (2-3 months late), with a significant proportion not taking up the vaccine (10-15%).
Travel will be open in Australia with fewer restrictions and a “proof of vaccination” pass will be required to fly around the country.
International travel to start in a more open fashion towards the end of the year, with an agreed use of the (yellow) vaccination booklet as a requirement to access most countries (for those of us who travel in Africa regularly you already know and use this booklet). There could also be a new form of the vaccination booklet developed that is electronically linked to your passport.
New variants of Covid will peak in the coming weeks and then slowly reduce.
I am very much looking forward to getting vaccinated and seeing a freeing up within Australia and the world. We are all a bit weary, and a bit of outward looking would be a nice feeling.
It does indeed, but not without a bit of genuine concern at the start of the month as an ex-cyclone rolled down the west coast of our state bringing with it 2 days of solid rain and a touch of wind. We all knew it was on its way from the start of February – we completed a series of protective sprays on the Thursday before the Sunday that the rain just fell and fell.
The risk in having heavy rain late in the season is that grapes will take up the moisture and split and this leads to rots and other damage. The timing of this heavy rainfall event was at the start of the white grapes vintage in Margs, and for those in northern Margaret River (and up in Perth’s Swan Valley) it was as they were picking, so some problems did occur and tonnage would have been lost and quality affected.
But for most of us (and especially those dry grown), the initial rainfall tends to run off the parched earth and the amount of water that the vines take up is reduced by this flashing across the ground. Also being dry grown we do not have many active vine roots at the surface anyway, so when the rain soaks in the vine cannot access this windfall – but boy does the grass and other weeds get a leg up! So, walking in the vineyard in late February the underfoot is soft and the grasses are lush – more like April / May after break of season rather than the summer dust of a normal February.
A lack of follow up rains straight after the ex-cyclone went through meant the vines did not stop pushing on the ripening process and sugars continued to steadily climb. We did get some heavy showers on 18 February, but they were a bit scattered and only 3mm fell at Blue Poles. The first pick would be both the Marsanne and the Chardonnay grapes – we waited maybe a little too long last year for the Marsanne, so we took the opportunity to have a cleaner and fresher style of wine for the 2021 “Lost on Mars” edition. The Chardonnay was called in by Clive and Alex our wine makers, and after a fortnight of sampling they felt very confident that 26 February 2021 was the go – I think the last Chardonnay to be processed at the winery. Bunches were very small, and berry size was also tiny as well so the hope of two tonnes from our 0.5 ha small hilltop location was not quite achieved.
The numbers from the Chardonnay and Marsanne picks were as below:
Date 26 February
Titratable Acidity 7.6TA
Date 26 February
pH “a natural mystery”
Clive on Chardonnay…
Vintage is a really busy time for all wine makers – and even more so for our winemaker Clive Otto as he juggles 4-5 different wineries’ wines that are made through the Fraser Gallop Estate (FGE) winery, and all of the product tiers within FGE as well. So, to be able to catch him for 15 minutes, as he was running out the door to discuss all things Chardonnay was pretty lucky to be honest.
I wanted to do this to give you all an understanding of where the “new” age of Australian Chardonnay has ended up with Clive being an excellent example of a guy that has followed a path that others have either been walking in parallel to or stepped across to be on. Our Chardonnay journey has just begun and with our second vintage in the press out the back after spending the night being chilled down – so I asked a few questions of him to see the variety from his perspective.
MG: Burgundy or Chablis?
CO: Both! I’ve always made both styles as they infer different types of wine making and influence on the wines. With the Burgundy style of wines you have a lot more solids in the must, run to more new oak, have a bit of batonnage and other forms of manipulation to extract flavor and broaden it. For the more straightforward Chablis-style you are less reliant on these tricks and you try to let the fruit shine through the wine and this should give you a window into the vineyard and the site. I find that the better the fruit in flavor and balance the less new oak, less solids, less “playing” with the wine occurs and this is the style I really like to taste in my wines, and the wines that I make for others.
MG: Is that the trend for high-end Chardonnay now then? Less Burgundy / more Chablis?
CO: Everyone works to the grapes they receive, but it is apparent that the top wines from around Australia from the best growing regions have similar approaches. Most are picking with slightly lower sugar levels with higher acidities than in the past, and the best sites tend to be those that retain lots of flavor and character with these picking parameters. So, we are starting to see the better Chardonnays have lots of similarities with the difference being in the flavors present and the depth and weight of the wine within a lovely natural acid profile.
When I do find lower density of flavor and character, I recommend new barrels and push the solids in the must so as to get that depth that good Chardonnay needs. It is always a balancing act with vintage conditions, damaged fruit through birds or disease, and even just when the fruit was picked and how – every vintage has me working through the options to make a top wine with often the best vineyard sites making the biggest difference.
MG: Does the Chardonnay clonal mix make a difference?
CO: Yes, as the most successful clone of Chardonnay in Margaret River is the Gin Gin clone and to me it is markedly better than the other clones in the region. At FGE we have pulled out all Chardonnay clones that were not Gin Gin and replanted to it – the smaller berries and the ability to hold acid and have reduced sugar levels longer into the vintage ensures the wines do not lose their form and structure and have the capacity to make wonderful ageing wines as well.
MG: Have you considered going “au naturelle” with your Chardonnays?
CO: Well, we sort of are, the only variation would be the judicious use of some sulphur just to make sure everything is clean. All of the Chardonnay ferments in the winery are wild ferments and very rarely do we have an issue as most of grapes received are in pretty good health. There are lots of options with barrels and barrel sizes that influence the ferment and impact on the wines, and we monitor them closely and every FGE barrel is tasted separately, and this helps classify the wines into the various levels of our estate Chardonnays.
…and this is when he scooted off while I ran down to check on the free run juice form the Blue Poles Chardonnay that was sitting in the press.
Clive with his Chardonnay – Fraser Gallop Estate
(Image: Sean from @discoverymargaretriver)
We have been extremely lucky to have been able to have Clive as our wine maker at Blue Poles. The reasons are many, but the most important are that he follows remarkably similar philosophies to the wines we would like to make from our estate, and the second one is that he allows me to take an active role in the process. It may surprise many, but some wine makers are rather “important” and the allowing of “others” to determine picking dates, blending of finished wines, type of oak for each variety and to minimize their “manipulating” of a wine is simply not done.
Clive has worked in with us and provided us with sound advice along the journey. And, surprisingly, we to have added back into his skills by seeing me complete the barrel-by-barrel ranking of all of our wines each vintage to determine the blends – not normally done as barrels are often combined and then tasted (saving a lot of time). When he and the previous wine maker Kate completed that task on their Chardonnay barrels the results surprised them and they even started to refer to “magic” barrels – this has continued and the incredible success he and the estate are having is testament to his progressive behavior and never just standing still.
The question I should have asked but missed out on is as below – I have answered for him, though, I will contact him for comment prior to posting this report:
MG: As we are both kiwis of dubious heritage – do you think the Chiefs are the best rugby team in the country if not Australasia?
CO: I believe the Chiefs are the best club team in the world and I wish I was as lucky as you to have been raised in the heart of the mighty Waikato! The Auckland Blues are the best team in New Zealand and always will be!
Rain, rain go away...
My Grannie Barlow used to sing this little song almost all the time in New Zealand where I was raised – and I always liked the next line “…come again another day” as my hometown was a farming community, and we all knew we needed that precious sky juice. We had a heavy downpour come through on 7 – 8 February with 3 inches in the old scale recorded in the rain gauge. That rainfall and the subsequent cloud that followed down with the weather sucked the heat out of the countryside and this brought the average temperatures right back for the month of February following on from a warm January.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 25.1°C
Daily Max recorded 34.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 14.1°C
Daily Min recorded 8.7°C
The maximum and minimums were much lower than in 2020, a complete counterpoint to the month of January. Rainfall for this year was nearly double last years, with the rainfall in both months only occurring over 3 days with the balance dry and warm.
Avg Maximum Temp 28.4°C
Daily Max recorded 34.2°C
Avg Minimum Temp 15.3°C
Daily Min recorded 9.7°C
Looking at the average temperatures and the status of the veraison within all of our red varieties it looks like vintage will be complete by the end of March – give or take a Cabernet Franc. It is a busy busy time as nets are in and out, grapes are tasted daily and given a thorough test 2-3 times a week and lots of phone calls and texts are made as we organize pickers, trucks, tractors, etc etc. It is the final hurdle, and I am so very pleased with the reds as they look right now – super healthy and super clean with small bunches and even spacing and growth. Bring it on as they say.
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