Monthly Report - July 2021

Gawd Damn…

 

There are times when you can only look on and just let what is happening just wash over you.  This is how I felt at 4am on Friday 30 July as I gave up trying to secure what little I could from our shed.  It was pitch black, wind was still barrelling in, and the shed had had its roof lifted off by a storm driven can opener at 6pm the evening before – I just looked at it and said “later”.  The power line to the shed (and house unfortunately) was still live and about 50cm from the ground, I am surrounded by distorted and flapping metal, it was still raining, so I went to bed for an hour or two.

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It is a cold numb feeling when you have something as “solid” as a large shed just ripped up and destroyed.  All our vineyard equipment and chemicals etc are stored in it, as well as personal items from friends and family and a couple of barrels of wine we decided to make into red wine vinegar (a surprisingly slow process when completed in barrel).  That morning when I came back after a pretty horrid night, it was a shambles.  Western Power did manage to squeeze us in from their crazy morning of reconnecting the power to the region and disconnected the shed such that it was safe to work.

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Most of the “loose” material has now been removed and taken back to the garage at the house, but there is still a lot of stuff under collapsed walls and frames.  With a further damaging storm going through today (while I write this it is hailing and howling – just great), I will drop out tomorrow and see what came of that as well.  We do have insurance fortunately, and we can recover a reasonable percentage of our costs, but we will be out of pocket by a largish amount which is frustrating as we try and keep the further development of the vineyard as a high priority.

 

So, we will have a look in the cupboard and see what we can offer to the Mailing List in regard to raising some funds for the new shed.  We do have the 2019 Reserves (see below) being released but we need that cash for the 2022 vintage costs and new barrels etc etc.  My current thinking is to offer some of the remnant magnums (Allourans, Reserve Merlots, Reserve Cab Francs), from the 2014-2016 vintages and I will personally write a thank you note on the wooden box that they are packed in – if you are interested drop us an email to secure one, otherwise we will be in touch with what we have available.

 

And In Other News…

 

I have had a month’s worth of pruning when I have been able.  The weather this month has been decidedly average – a grand total of ONE day in which it has not rained.  The temperatures seem alright until you note the wind chill, and it has been super cold as well (for Margaret River I should note – this is not pruning in the snow or other such crazy stuff!).

 

I have nearly finished the Merlot block, and as I have been pruning alone this year it feels quite satisfying and it has provided some head clearing time that was definitely needed.  The mucking about with the shed will however take some time out of my pruning schedule, but I do have some help coming in in early August and we should be able to finish the job this month, all things being equal.

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We do have a release of our 2019 Reserve Merlot and Cabernet Franc wines planned in the next few weeks or so, and while I had some wine making friends around for a “whisky” night we cracked them open and checked on their status.  All agreed the wines were looking awesome – and with there being no “Deux Écus”, these wines represent the best varietal blends I could complete with all the barrels available.  To be quite honest, I was surprised by just how damn delicious they were as during the blending process a year ago, I was having many structural and tannic barrels but not many with fruit forward barrels to counterpoint – I was expecting deep tannic bordelaise behemoths to rise from the bottles.

 

The reason for my vintage perception as being “structural” was that 2019 was an odd vintage as a “super” cool year with temperatures severely moderated during the summer months and during early autumn [The only vintage cooler being 2006 which was one out of the box].  The 2017 vintage was very cool also, but we did not make an estate wine that year, not due to the lack of ripeness, but due to the health of the grapes with lots of rainfall during the last 3 months of vintage basically washing the quality away.  2019 was however dry, very dry from spring all the way through to autumn when the last of the grapes came in and being dry grown the berries were small and intensely flavoured as the extended growing season had really brought the vineyard character out in spades.

 

The 2019 vintage tonnage and grape quality information is as below:

 

Merlot:

          Date:                          1 April

          Tonnage:                    5.244t

          Baumé:                      13.6Bé

          pH:                              3.15pH

          Titratable Acidity:      6.9TA

 

Cabernet Franc:

          Date:                            5 April

          Tonnage:                      3.144t

          Baumé:                        14.1Bé

          pH:                                3.40pH

          Titratable Acidity:        6.5TA

 

Slightly higher acidity in the grapes than would be expected for picking in April – but I do pat myself on the back for getting the grapes in when they were at their best condition.  Any later and we could have lost the freshness and the tannic structure from being picked too late.  Clive Otto and the team did their usual fantastic job in processing the grapes and keeping the wine in beautiful condition all the way through the process – they are a group of exceptional wine makers and are so skilled at their craft.

 

The closest vintage we have to compare to 2019 was the 2008 vintage, having a very similar temperature range and rainfall during summer and autumn.  But 2008 had a lot of rain in spring and this helped those young vines later on in that vintage – 2019 had a dry spring and this meant the age of the vines with their deep-seated root systems made all the difference in making an intensely flavoured and beautiful set of wines.

 

A, B, C, Delta…

 

If you have ever had the chance to sit down and read through Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” you will think to yourself, why did it take so long to see the obvious connections?  Forgetting that looking at a localized grainy photo of time as those in the 19th century saw, rather than a broad widescreen high-definition movie of time which we of this century watch, does provide you with a distinct disadvantage.  With the advance in communication, equipment, chemistry, geology and most importantly in this case, genetics - evolution is the underpinning principle to biology and a big part of why we are in a circle of Covid pain right now.

 

Giving any virus the access to further life cycles is just asking it to improve through selection – and this is what has happened.  New and improved versions of the virus have popped up regularly since the middle of 2020 due to the rapid evolutionary process in play and the continuing presence of the virus in the populations, and now we have got to the “Delta Variant” phase of our saga.  This variant on the theme is not only much more infectious, it is much more efficient and with Australia’s slow vaccine roll out we have given ourselves a punch in the mouth.

 

The state taking it on the chin this month is New South Wales and having not had such a harsh set of restrictions applied to them since the pandemic broke out many have not taken it well.  The novelty of Zoom meetings and online shopping has now worn off – and after having 17 months of rolling issues it just seems to want to sap your spirit, so to now be in a rigid lockdown it seems beyond frustrating.  Again, sitting here in Western Australia with restrictions limited to leaving the state in effect, we can only watch on and hope for the best.

 

So, wherever you are reading this missive we at Blue Poles HQ hope you and your family are safe and well.

 

Varietal vs Blend Mega Battle…

 

I remember the first time I sat down in a café in France and asked for the wine list to receive a withering dismissive look and a head tilt to the blackboard with 6-7 wines roughly written up in smudged chalk.  The list was limited, lacked nearly every bit of information I wanted and usually looked something like this.

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In many cafés they sometimes added whether it was red or white (or rose), a vintage, and even tasting notes that may involve 4 words of varying usefulness.  But what you do not know generally is if they were blends of different variety of grapes, or just a single variety– and the reason?  Because in the eyes of the French it is irrelevant, the location is enough to provide the typicity of the wine, and it gives all wait staff the chance to deride the foreigner for daring to not know the wines made in Loupiac are sweet – le crétin.

 

[Now this is an irony I sort of smirk inside about.  The French Appellation system loses their minds when anyone would consider planting non-recognized grapes within any one Appellation but give not a hoot if the lesser and crappy varieties which are allowed to be grown are used to dominate a wine and end up tasting “nothing” like the Appellation is meant to.]

 

Apart from the fact that if the wine is corked you will be treated as if you had presented them with a bag of “caca de chien”, or that asking to see the producer or any other details on the wine is one rung down on a diplomatic incident; it does make you think about how we here in Australia view the wines we see on a shelf.  How we “classify” them in our minds as more or less valuable.

 

Personally, I believe we as a nation do have a bit of a fascination with varietal wines and rate them much higher than blends.  And the reason would go back to the dawn of the industry here – in reality the 1980’s – whereby to be valuable the wines were not named after a European blend or region of some kind.  The cheap wines of the day (before the Europeans said enough is enough), were Chablis, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Hock, etc.  So, to be special you stood out by stating the variety on the front, and bingo that was “classy” and out came the Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, the Barossa Shiraz, the Hunter Valley Chardonnay, and so on.  Gone were the catch all names with the wines made from what was at hand, and now a few extra dollars a bottle was on the cards if you could remember what was planted in the back block.

 

There are always exceptions, Grange is a good example of this – but when referencing this or other iconic Aussie wines they are also as well known for the variety in which they are based on, as much as their name.  We do love to simplify our wines.  No ten variety blends for us, from grapes that we have never heard of (a glass of blended Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan or Terret Noir Sir?), and the reason is mainly because there was none planted.  We had 95% of all vines in Australia planted to about 15-20 varieties so we were always going to go down the path of variety recognition as there were less of them than actual wine regions!

 

Of the time, a wine expert at the table was the one that knew the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Noir.  Such skills and such a simple view of the world – blessed be our past.  But like all things in society, this subliminal messaging we witnessed for many a decade has had an affect and we witness this through our adherence to variety over place.  Yet we have never asked the question – are varietal wines actually better?

 

It does not actually matter.

 

Every winery in this big brown land notes that they generally need to have the variety parked front and center on every label to be able to get the punter interested.  And in a way, this is why we have “named” our blended wine “Allouran” as when we labelled our 2005 wine “Merlot / Cabernet Franc” it blew the fuses in people’s minds – they just did not have any presence in their wine understanding and it just seemed absurd, for a word.  Once we had changed it to Allouran, boom it was acceptable as I think they thought it may have been a new variety and were too embarrassed to ask.

 

We will release in a few weeks our Reserve wines with Merlot and Cabernet Franc writ large on the label.  They are delicious varietal wines, but if we were to be honest, they are beautiful Blue Poles wines as no one else makes wine quite the same.  They are wines that come from a selection of barrels that were “blended” to make the best “wine” I could from the single block of the variety on the estate.

 

Everyone involved in this discussion is a little bit right.  Varieties matter.  Regions matter.  Producers matter.  Vineyards matter.  Wine making matters.  There is no chance of a Mega Battle to define the righteous path – which is disappointing and totally misleading of me to put in the title, but like a French waiter looking down his nose at you “You already were aware of this, non?”…

 

Winter wellies...

 

One day.  That is the total number of days we have had without rainfall during the month of July.  It has been a never ceasing cycle of rain front coming through with windy, stormy weather followed by rain showers in its wake from the southwest ensuring apparent temperatures did not get above 8°C.  There was no window of weather to exploit, it was just relentless.

 

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

 

July 2021:        

Avg Maximum Temp          16.3°C

Daily Max recorded            19.3°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp             9.7°C

Daily Min recorded               4.3°C

 

Rainfall:                               238.9mm

The maximum was lower than 2020, but the minimum higher showing an increase in cloud cover.  Rainfall total for 2021 continues to be much higher than last year, with 2021 currently the wettest year since the 1960’s heading to a total >1300mm – well above the last 5 year’s average of ~1000mm.

July 2020:        

Avg Maximum Temp           16.8°C

Daily Max recorded             20.3°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp              8.6°C

Daily Min recorded                0.9°C

 

Rainfall:                                196.0mm

Hassle…

 

I have a month of hassle.  That’s the only way to describe it as we try to piece together all the moving parts in getting our shed rebuilt and all the ancillary bits and pieces fixed.  And amongst all of this I will be needing to finish off my pruning before we can start seeing those buds starting to move in September.

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