Monthly Report - September 2021
A bit of closure…
There is a strange feeling when you finish a task that you had commenced months before. You have gone through all the peaks and troughs as you tapped away at it thinking at many stages that it just seems too damn long – to then look up at it finished. How people react to this situation is always interesting – some cut loose, some immediately start the next task, some just sit down and take a moment. I am a combination of the latter two – just a feeling of relief before the mind starts ticking over what is next to be done.
And with that long winded introduction, pruning is complete for 2021. It is a lovely feeling, especially having had to do it myself this vintage, but it just heralds all the growth that is about to arrive in spades as the weather warms and the vines leap back to life. The last snip was in mid-September and by this stage the Chardonnay was already through budburst and awaiting the first protective spray. September has been coolish – so budburst is delayed for all the varieties which is also partly due to the pruning being delayed (growth starts at the end of the canes – so pruning later means that the vine has commenced activity at the end of the cane that will be cut off, therefore it has to “kind of” start again with the basal buds left post pruning).
Under vine spraying was completed mid-month, and the vineyard was mulched on the 28th with the ground just drying out enough to let a tractor with a heavy mulching unit strapped to the back to scoot around and make things nice and clean. Our Chardonnay did get its first protective spray, but it was the only variety this month as budburst for Marsanne, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz is still being worked through by the vines.
The other big job for the month was the blending of the 2020 barrels to make the Reserves and Allouran blend. Looking back at the 2020 vintage it is known mostly for two things – miniscule yields and heavy heavy bird pressure as there was no blossom in the region’s surrounding forests. Therefore, standing and looking at a single row of barrels instead of my customary two was a bit cutting – even more so when you recognise the quality of the wines after tasting through them. Clive joined me this year, and we tasted barrel by barrel noting the quirks and twists each barrel (new and old) gives the wines.
The blends for the Reserve Merlot and Cabernet Franc are very good – the Merlot has a lovely ripe plum juiciness to match in the structure and tannins, and the Cabernet Franc is just gaining more weight and character with vine age. No Deux Écus once more – for a simple reason, the final Allouran blend was simply better than any barrel combination that we could consider. We did recognise that the wines and vintage had the potential to make a Deux Écus, but no 2-3 barrel combo could compete with that final blend.
[Now you may ask – why not make the final blend the Deux Écus? But that would be cheating my friend, but I like the way that you think!]
So as for total volume of wines for the 2020 vintage, they are ridiculously small. Based on recent releases, all these wines will be sold out on the first day and that is a headache we have never expected to have. Are they as good as the 2018 / 2019 wines? Yes indeed, and that has now provided the final few steps in our wine travels from paddock to bottle – with the vine’s 20+ age and being dry and sustainably grown we can be assured that in each vintage which is relatively “normal” we can produce truly excellent wines – year in / year out. The work amongst the vines will not be reduced, but the worry that has always sat in the back of my mind has now receded to the deepest recess.
Many of you who are reading this missive may have received your 2019 Reserves from the latest release. Congratulations! We have sold out of the Reserve Cabernet Franc (all of one day post general release), and we have a very small volume of the Reserve Merlot remaining. As you know I am a “Merlot Man” – the manliest man of all men – and though I appreciate all you “Cabernet Comrades”, you should pick up some of the remaining Merlot if you are able. The cool dry vintage of 2019 has made this Merlot rendition simply the most bordelaise we have had since 2008 and with the vine age and all that other guff it is simply a cracker.
[There should be some Reserve Cabernet Franc available through our allocated retailers, so Different Drop, Wine Experience (Brisbane), Wine Culture (Sydney), Old Bridge Cellars (Perth) and Margaret River Liquor Merchants (Margs) should have stock now – so please support them, as we really appreciate the guys that make those stores just awesome.]
Every year for the past 5-10 there has been a regional tasting of 6-month-old Chardonnay’s from barrel at Vasse Felix winery. It is all part of this sub-region review of the Margaret River GI (Geographic Indication) where we try to define if there is any “real” difference between the 6 sub-regions within Margaret River GI itself. To be honest I am not a fan of the sub-regions as they stand anyway – as they were simply drawn on a map by Gladstone to try to separate out the known wineries and not based on anything apart from that and general topographical / climate assumptions.
Every year there are two tastings held at Vasse Felix with all submitting wineries sending in samples of either Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, which are labelled by sub-region and placed in a large hall with all the technical data set out below an anonymous bottle. I had never attended one of these events as we had never produced either of those varieties, but with our Chardonnay coming online I took up the opportunity to send in a sample and attend.
It was pretty packed and pretty much a who’s who of winemakers and owners from the region – lots of knowing nods and winks as they all walked past each other (very few in my direction dear comrades – we still sit on the very periphery of this wine region industry of ours). There must have been 150-200 samples set out on trestle tables – carefully aligned with the northern sub-regions at the front (Yallingup, Carbunup, Treeton, Wilyabrup) and central / southern to the back (Wallcliffe, Karridale).
The first thing that struck you when you did the preliminary walk around was that there was naff all Wilyabrup wines there – maybe 10-12 tops – for the most densely planted sub-region and having the most wineries this was way out of proportion. Secondly, there was a heap of Karridale and Wallcliffe wines – well over two thirds of the wines being presented (with us included), were within those sub-regions. Now this could be due to the “war” ongoing between some Wilyabrup producers and the rest of the region as they wished to split out of Margaret River by having their own private GI, but it is also a sign of the number of producers that are now located in the central and southern portion of Margaret River – maybe in response to possible global warming effects as well as access to land for planting.
Now to the tasting.
I could not see any regional separation at all. Nada. I did see lots and lots of really good wines, made in all sorts of styles and forms – but there was not one clear indicator that stood out to say, “that is a Karridale wine, and this is a Yallingup wine”. In fact, perhaps one of the most acidic and underripe wines came from the most northern sub-region which is upside down. All the wines had a degree of picking date and wine making method that totally overprinted the regional signature. It was just a tasting in which you got to see how the vintage went as a whole and taste way too many Chardonnays in one hit.
For those of you who are interested – 2021 Chardonnays from Margaret River are very good – maybe a little better than the previous two vintages. But it appears to be a selection of top and upcoming wineries that (I think) that are making some delicious wines – though you could not tell which producer was which. From my sleuthing and notes in my little black book it seemed apparent that the wines from Xanadu were special, as well as 2-3 wines from Forrest Grove to me were outstanding (not sure who, but Flowstone, Stella Bella, Devil’s Lair, or Green Valley were the choices I think). Our wine showed alright – it needs time and 6 months is a bit early for it to be tasted, but it was not out of place by a long shot.
“Chardonnay Master®” Clive Otto and winemaker Alex Peter who made our Chardonnay were in attendance (no Fraser Gallop Estate wines unfortunately – fall out of the great sub-region war of 2020). Their take was that it was a pretty good Chardonnay vintage and there were lots of wines worth looking out for. Alex will be making wines next vintage at Stella Bella and we at Blue Poles wish her all the best as she is a very talented winemaker and will be missed around the winery with her heavy kiwi accent and what appeared to be oversized boots!
I am over it … as is everyone else I suspect … next topic.
Life by design...
If you open our webpage you will see on our home page some photos scrolling through with a little saying “Wine Is Beauty and Balance” – and so is good design, art and even life itself. It is very easy to forget just how fortunate we are – and this is often due to our “world” feeling very enclosed and inward looking and pressed by what is effectively the “cost” of living. Cost is not just money pressure, but duty and emotional bonds that bind and at times feel pretty suffocating. But “Life is Beautiful” as the movie title states and looking around and feeling the small pleasures of warmth in the sky and leaves bursting forth as the seasons change you can appreciate the “world” just that little bit more.
We do our best to control our lives – to design it in a way. Circumstance and fate have bad habits of making a mockery of those best made plans with this leading to diversions and pathways which can provide the opportunity you may never have thought of without the kink in the road.
Why this meandering?
Well, it has been a big month for Tim and me personally in our own lives – our pathways had reached a point where decisions and actions were needed to get past the fork in front of us. The paths we have now set ourselves seem pretty “right” and it will be hopefully another few years before we are in this “predicament of life” once more – fingers crossed!
So, let us get to something that is less self-absorbed. Our labels. Our “wine by design” so to speak.
The Blue Poles labels have been pretty much the same since the first wine was made in 2004. The concept of using the Lions from the prow of the ship Captain Allouran used to map Western Australia in 1788 was thought up over a few bottles of wine and dinner when Tim and Yuko were down one weekend to work in the vineyard. We did not use a designer, just drew it up and then went to a label maker who made it suitable for printing. The Reserve and other variety labels which commenced in 2007 were pretty much just a color change with some nice silver foil.
We did however get a designer in to help with the Deux Écus label – but it was a one off and a label that we felt was to be to one side of all the other labels. But during that process (and the extreme frustration of it), we finally recognized we must sort out our labels in a way that makes them simply “better” – our homey way of doing things can only go so far in an industry that runs on the back of prestige and presence. I am not saying that doing your own labels could not be done – look at Brave New Wine and even Amato Vino and the labels they produce from their own artwork – but if you knew Tim and I, “artiness” is not our thing, and we recognize it for what it is.
Over the past 3 months we have been regularly going through meetings and discussions with our designer Rebecca to reset our labels. After much delay (predominantly on my part), we are now reaching the end of this process and can see just how improved the labels have become. We have kept the Lions and the general feel of the labels, but there is now a flow and a clarity with the Lions getting a makeover, fonts and placement getting fine tuned and just a lovely “cleanliness” to the finished labels as they reach the final stages of design.
I personally feel you must be more than a label – we have all had average wines from beautiful bottles – but we see that our wines are better than how we are currently presenting them and the “rebranding” through beautiful label design helps meet all of our comrades’ expectations when they grab a bottle for drinking. The 2021 Chardonnay will be the first wine with the new livery, with the 2020 reds all having the new label designs as well.
The process of choosing a printer and transferring the new branding all over our website, software, paperwork etc etc is still in front of us – but we are on the finishing straight. It is a struggle to change what has always been, and as I said at the start, we all become very inward looking as that is all we see or wish to see. But when you are shown that there is beauty in change then step off that ledge and take the risk – life is for the living.
Though the numbers indicate a similar start to Spring last vintage to this – you cannot quite get just how dash cold it is when working in the vines with the southerlies blowing up from Antarctica this month chilling the air. It has been cool and wet (yes, the rain just has not let up) for another month delaying much of the budburst dates for our red varieties and ensuring gum boots are still required every time you walk up and down the rows.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 17.9°C
Daily Max recorded 24.3°C
Avg Minimum Temp 7.8°C
Daily Min recorded 3.2°C
The maximum was so so slightly higher than 2020, with the minimum much lower with much of the weather coming from the south. Rainfall total for 2021 continues to be high with over 100mm once more for the month – though it was a wet month in 2020 as well.
Avg Maximum Temp 17.8°C
Daily Max recorded 23.2°C
Avg Minimum Temp 9.6°C
Daily Min recorded 5.2°C
The never ending walk…
October is an awesome month in the Capes region of Western Australia. Out comes the wildflowers in the coastal national parks and the weather warms up to the point you get your nose sunburnt for the first time in a while. For me it will be miles and miles of walking – all the wires are to be taken down (delayed due to the late pruning and the wet winter delaying the mulching), as well as all the vines to be basal cleaned and thinned before the growth gets too carried away. So, days once more will become a bit of a blur as I crack into the detail that makes the potential of vintage 2022.
As always if you have any queries about what has been written or about wine in general, do not hesitate to contact us either by email, Instagram or Twitter and we will do our very best to answer any question.
Blue Poles Vineyard