Monthly Report - April 2021

Our 20th Anniversary & Our Allouran Release…

 

It is a big month for us as we prepare for the release of the 2018 Allouran, a beautiful wine and it becomes one of the most important days in our timeline since we stepped across the paddock and I said “This is where we’ll plant the Merlot and the Cabernet Franc Tim” – to which I received a nod and befuddled look.  This wine is the reason for the whole 20 years of toil, drama, frustration, and enjoyment.

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Merlot Vines in Bordeaux 2010 – This location is identical distance to the coast in both Bordeaux and Blue Poles, Margaret River, one of the many reasons Blue Poles was planted

 

There are several stories and anecdotes that I ramble through when running tastings and the like about why we grew our vineyard, why we chose the location as we did, why the name, and why we planted the varieties we have – concentrating on Merlot and Cabernet Franc as being our standard bearers.  And I am going to wander through one of those stories before getting back into the nitty gritty of when you can expect to get access to the latest Allouran and what happened in April.

 

Part 1…

 

I am often asked why we planted Merlot and Cabernet Franc ahead of Cabernet Sauvignon to be our red wine flagship – because everyone knows that the best reds in Margaret River are Cabernet Sauvignons.  This assumption always struck me as odd as back in the day (1990’s) I was buying Bordeaux wines when I could afford them, and the most expensive wines were not Cab Sauv dominated wines (though some were still terribly expensive), but rather Merlot dominant wines from Pomerol and St-Emilion.  So naturally the ones I desired the most were the ones I could not get, and these were wines like Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Le Pin, etc etc.  It also struck me strange that the area of Margaret River was similar in size to the greater Bordeaux region and all the inland portion of Bordeaux was Merlot dominant, yet in Margaret River there was no such division as no one appears to have ever seen or considered the connection.

 

In the mid-90’s I was lucky enough to be part of a tasting group that used to meet up at different wineries and was made up predominantly of local owners / winemakers.  John James (Ribbon Vale), David Moss (Moss Bros), Earl Happ (Happs), Iain Lewis (Cape Clairault), Maureen and Henry Wright (Wrights – now Juniper) were some of the guys that used to attend, and the tastings were generally excellent.  On one of those tastings on a deep wet winter’s night we were to bring blind a Merlot (Merlot dominant) bottle for everyone to taste and review.  I was very excited – raided my stash and dragged out a Ch Le Bon Pasteur (1985) and assumed it was going to be a Bordeaux-palooza.

 

Being a blind tasting event, we tasted all the bottles brought along before we commented on them.  About 10-12 bottles I think were in the round.  Well, I was gutted – almost every wine presented in the tasting was poor.  I spotted the Le Bon and one other Bordeaux wine (as Clive would say “it has got that Bordeaux funk”) pretty much from the start – but the others.  Oh my.  Oh my.  Just so disappointing.

 

[Now before we go further, a note on why I chronically embarrassed myself from this point on – every other tasting had had wines that were from all around the world in the tastings of the various varieties.  I had expected much the same with maybe some East Coast Australian wines thrown in on this occasion.]

 

So, I let rip.  Why are these wines all so insipid?  Who could grow this grape to have no tannin or structure?  What would inspire anyone to make a wine that tastes like this?  Assuming a chorus of support I looked up at a lot of rather blank faces.  All the wines bar 3 were from Margaret River, all were from the wineries around the table and almost all of them thought their wines were pretty good.  Oh my.  Oh my.  Just so embarrassing.  Whoops.

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1985 MR Winemakers – Maureen Wright 2nd row, 3rd from R, Iain Lewis bottom row 4th from R,

 John James bottom row 3rd from R, Erl Happ top row 3rd from R – at Moss Wood.

 

There was a lot of discussion that flowed after, but it was apparent that I had said the unsayable.  No one likes having their children criticized, even if they are drawing on the walls and pulling the other kid’s hair – so when Maureen Wright looked across the bottles towards the end of the evening and said to me with her delightful clipped English accent

 

“Well Mark, if you believe that these wines are as bad as you say they are, then you should make one yourself”

 

It struck a chord.  I drove back in the pitch black that only remote country roads can attain, thinking the whole time – why couldn’t I make a Merlot wine that was a ripper from Margaret River?

 

Reality was that I did not know the first thing about developing a vineyard or making wine.  But my head assumed I could learn to grow the vines and get help in the making of the wine.  I was working on remote mine sites for all of the late 90’s and during this period the concept still dogged me.  And before you ask, I did manage to attend many more tastings with the group, but it all started to dissemble as the Wright’s and the Lewis’s sold up, and everyone got busy with life – so by 1999 / 2000 working in a very “political” company, Tim and I discussed the concept of buying some land and growing vines and the rest is history as they say.

 

Part 2…

 

And in a very roundabout way this brings us back to the point of the release of the 2018 Allouran – possibly the best example of the blend we have made from our vineyard.  Bottled 16 months ago, after spending 20 months in barrel (30% new) – this is our Chateau wine.  This is all that we had set out to achieve.  This is the response to Maureen from all those years ago – not to mock or belittle but simply to state – “Here it is”.

 

Sitting down with Clive Otto our wine maker on Anzac Weekend – rugby on and a bottle of 2009 Ch Citran half gone, I opened our 2018 Allouran to see how it looked knowing bottles were out and about with the wine critics.

 

It was gorgeous.

 

We all know how good the 2018 vintage was – and Clive always says that if you could not make a good wine from that vintage, hang up your boots – but even with that free hit of a great vintage this wine is superb.  We discussed the vintage, the structure, the tannin, the balance, the price, and the reason why the Waratahs are having such a bad season.  It just shone and drinking the remnants the next day with some moussaka it was even better.

 

Richer than the 2018 Deux Écus (but maybe not the intensity and length of that special blend), it has a beautiful floral lift on the nose (38% Cabernet Franc making the impact here) with a round and coating palate that is just so damn delicious.  Tannins as fine as silk and a lovely red fruited length – it is a classic now and into the future.

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A sample was forwarded to Gary Walsh at Wine Front and he has come back with the following exceptional review:

 

“A special site here, I feel, and if I were to draw a long bow, I’d say this was the Margaret River equivalent of Marius of McLaren Vale. One more vintage to come from Marius, though hopefully many more to hoist from Blue Poles. As an aside, I prefer this to the 2018 Moss Wood Cabernet, even though they are quite different wines. But still…

 

Plum, dark cherry, a slightly grassy redcurrant jelly and minty perfumed top note, white flowers, baking spice and ginger nut biscuits. There’s succulence of raspberry and plum, a fresh ‘mineral’ feel to acidity, stony/graphite tannin, a bustle in the hedgerow, but ample ripeness of fruit too. Cool and well etched, with a tight finish that’s all bluestone gravel and perfumed and spiced red fruits. Deft and sure-footed. No excess. So excellent.” Points 94+

 

So, let us put the 2018 vintage into perspective – simple – it was pretty much perfect for the growing of grapes in Margaret River.  A warm start in Nov/Dec with enough rainfall in December to keep the vines growing without stress, then a dry-ish Jan / Feb which had no major heat spikes at all implying the vines did not shut down over the period, finishing off with a warm and rain free March.  Dry and relatively stress free was how I remember it.

 

Picking was straight forward with the fruit flavors hitting in pitch perfect and no disease or much bird pressure.  It all happened over 3 days and everyone in the region was pretty much on a high – with the picking dates and grape information as below:

                                   Merlot:          Cabernet Franc

Date                           19 March       22 March

Baumé                      13.4Bé           13.7Bé

pH                             3.23pH           3.57pH

Titratable Acidity     6.4TA              5.9TA

The wine is to be released to the Mailing List at the start of May, and then we will be moving it out to the retailers during mid-May.  This means keep an eye on the inbox – always a special price on release and I believe you would be hard pushed to find a better value wine in Australia.  Buy enough to drink and cellar – this is the absolute must have Blue Poles wine for the cupboard, shelf, cellar, storage room, kitchen bench as it can raise to the occasion every time it is tested.

 

Part 3…

 

So, what happened during April in the vineyard? – very little to be honest apart from a chunk of frustration and cleaning up.  Shiraz got beaten by the weather – heavy rain was predicted mid-month and with sugars not budging and the acidity of the grapes losing all shape we gave the thumbs down on 8 April and proceeded to pack all the nets away and get all the machinery greased and under cover.  The fact that we had two weeks of gorgeous Autumn weather to follow the rain meant it was lovely to be walking the beaches and tracks of Margaret River, and that I did to get away from the computer screen as often as I could.

 

Pandemic Update Update…

 

It remains an event that Western Australia still has yet to deal with.  But for how long I am not sure, and this goes for most of Australia.  These new Covid variants are a problem, and our hotel quarantine system is now filling up with carriers of these strains – it feels similar to the Dr Who show where they were stuck on a moon base and the water carried the “alien”. ‘Water just seems to find a way to get in’ said Dr “Tennant” Who – which was the best Dr Who hands down – and I have this sinking feeling we are just waiting for it to go “bang”.

 

A three day “lockdown” for Perth and surrounds on Anzac weekend – which did not seem to have limited the number of people in Margs over those three days – is the sum of our restrictions this month.  Flights to New Zealand have commenced and let us see if I can get back to visit my mother in the next month or so – just rolling the dice on my return unfortunately.

 

Cellar Tracker…

 

As someone who collects anything and everything I become interested in (all except rocks it seems – as a geologist of over 35 years I have only ever kept three rocks that I have found) – my advice here should be taken with a grain of salt (smoked Maldon / Pink / Black / Himalayan).  But as we are releasing the Allouran which I believe to be the most “age-able” and “cellar-able” of all of our wines, it seems like I should say something about the topic, if only in passing.

 

There are several reasons why you would cellar wines – and surprisingly not simply because aged wines taste better, as they do (and they don’t).  It is because you easily have access to wines that YOU have curated as being of interest to you and worth the shekels you have outlaid. It gives you options.  It gives you pleasure.  It gives you a chance to enjoy a glass of wine that reminds you of people, places, times, and emotions.  It gives you a topic of conversation, or if by yourself – the pleasure of contemplation.  It is a beautiful thing, and it also makes you warm and if you drink a bit more than allowed, it makes you absolutely positively assuredly correct in everything you say.

 

But I digress.

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The obvious next step after the filling of a wine fridge – the Aureole wine tower in Las Vegas

 

 

If you are to cellar some wines, I feel you should set yourself some ground rules:

 

  1. Only buy what you can afford.  Do not max out a credit card on a couple of wines that seem vitally important – forget about it – wait 2-4-6 months and it is likely just as awesome wines will be on offer.

  2. Get yourself a wine cellar.  Be that a wine fridge if you do not have access to a cellar/ storage.  Just makes sense to take care of a product that goes to custard in the heat (and also the cold!)

  3. Buy multiples – 3 if you are not sure (but excited), 6 if you are confident or the price is stretching you, and 12 for the full experience.  Trust me, when you buy a dozen of a wine the first time you think “I’m bonkers” – but you are not, you are a dead set genius.

  4. Remember to drink them.  This is the biggest failing of nearly everyone who owns a cellar – you just avoid enjoying the product you actually bought to consume.

 

The reason for the ground rules is that the collecting bug may strike and you forget the reason why you decided to cellar the wines in the first place.  We all have heard about those surreal experiences of 30-year-old Burgundies that ripped through the fabric of space and time letting you see the wonders of the universe through the bottom of a Riedel – it is simply a perception from a very hyped mind.  Yes, aged wines can provide amazing experiences and I can not recommend them enough as it widens your love of the fermented grape juice – but – recognize that the company, the setting, the emotional connection to that bottle also plays a role and bless them all for making your neurons buzz like blue bottle flies.

 

And in a way this is the problem.

 

Because we become so invested in attaining that special moment with these special bottles, we simply do not consume them.  We wait ever so patiently.  We skip past them thinking that they are not ready, this is not the right occasion, my father is a lush and it is a waste etc, etc, etc.  I know the thinking – been there myself on so many occasions I am embarrassed to recall them all.  But you lose the point of the cellar itself – it is a curated selection of “drinks” that are not being drunk and that makes the cellaring process a burial rather than a pro-active activity.

 

And this is why I say buy a dozen.  Do it for a wine that you are pretty sure that it will age.  Do it for a wine that you would drink mid-week or at a high end BYO.  Do it for a wine that tells a story.  Do it for a wine that makes you want to grow with it.  It becomes a journey – my first dozen bought was a case of Cape Clairault 1990 Cab Sauv and I bought it from Iain and Ani Lewis.  It lasted me 14 years.  The last bottle was shot, but I drank it pretty much by myself just after moving into our newly built house on the vineyard – did not care.  It was a part of that journey that I had thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Owning a vineyard has meant I have not bought as many wines to cellar as I did in the past.  But the enjoyment I still get from drinking and sharing the wines I have cellared previously is still awesome and I am always grateful for having done it when I had the opportunity.  So no matter what stage of the wine journey you are on – put aside some wines (curate if you will) and have a bit of fun, remember to drink them, and take that ride…  

 

When it rains...

 

It pours.  It is usually May / June when we get the first major rain events come through the region, but in 2021 it seems that every month since February we have been inundated.  This month was two major rain events on 12 and 30 April – both days having in excess of 40mm and nearly filling the dam 3 months early.  Temperature wise it has been gorgeous – with many days being early 20’s and beautiful still clear blue days.

 

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

 

April 2021:        

Avg Maximum Temp          22.8°C

Daily Max recorded            28.0°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp           12.1°C

Daily Min recorded               7.7°C

 

Rainfall:                               95.4mm

The maximum was similar to 2020 with the minimum being a little lower.  Rainfall total for 2021 was nearly double last year.  This has been our “wettest” vintage since I have been keeping records with 454.5mm of rain between Sept and April, the average temperature for the vintage is however nearly identical to 2018 / 2010 so it appears in balance for a very good result.

April 2020:        

Avg Maximum Temp           22.3°C

Daily Max recorded             30.7°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp            13.2°C

Daily Min recorded                4.1°C

 

Rainfall:                                59.6mm

Cleaned Up…

 

All done and dusted with the shed locked up with nets and machinery taking a well-earned break.  I may be able to get out to replace some steels that have rotted off at their base as well as fix some wires – but there is no rush as all the Margaret River region takes a deep breath and then relaxes. Wineries will be pressing off finished wines and transferring barrels in and out of the cellar – so I will drop in and take a look at the 2021 wines just to make sure all is well.  Also hope to travel again, a bit risky but I have made promises and I should make plans at least.  Take care everyone.

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