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Monthly Report - December 2021

Final Flourish…


At approximately 3pm on Boxing Day it was 43°C outside of the house with my view surrounded by the shimmering of the heat lifting of the ground.  I had gone outside to check the fuse box as the house had lost all power as I had turned on the aircon and I assumed the mains had tripped.  On the horizon northeast of the property was a grey pall that was just starting to rise, and my heart sank – a bush fire had started about 10 minutes before, and the Osmington area was just like tinder in front of a struck match.


The power would not come back on, so no water for the house (or to protect it), and the grey smudge started to fill the vertical space with ominous billowing black smoke.  Not great.

202112_Fire map.jpg


Sirens were blaring and the thump thump thump of the air beneath helicopter blades started to fill the valley.  Neighbours were seen along road edges and various cars and trucks raced along our sleepy roads.  At this point you start to chase up what is going on via the phone and you realise it is not good.  For nine hours I wandered around the house watering down the grass with buckets of water I pulled out from the water tank until the fire by all accounts appeared to be under control – the afternoon sea breeze never arrived, and the still air had kept the fire controllable.  So lucky.  So bloody lucky.


The next morning at 6.30am Kim, my local electrician, sneaked in to help me get the power on – and blessed be, he found the fault and repaired it.  He said I was so unlucky.  So bloody unlucky.  He left with a bottle of wine and I sat down and thought what would be next as the weather was already creeping back up to a high of 40°C once more.  We had a further day of heat on 28 December, but the fireys had broken the blaze’s back on the night of the 26th and the quiet of the local setting returned.  A bit of an extraordinary end to a year that has been extraordinary in its own right – we are living through extraordinary times.


The heat from those 3 days also causes other problems apart from setting the place on fire.  With our open canopy structure in the vineyard for some of the varieties you run the risk of “sun burn” to the small bunches of grapes, and that has occurred in the Chardonnay and Merlot.  It means we have lost tonnage of our grapes – quality for the balance will be the same but we will have less.  My estimate is that 20% of the Chardonnay and 5% of the Merlot / Shiraz was affected – the Marsanne and Cabernet Franc suffered no problems which is a blessing as the Cabernet Franc has set a smaller crop this year.


In regards to the overall health of the vineyard – it has been excellent this year with December being dry and the vines pushing on and looking in good shape.  Small to medium tonnages have been set in all varieties and even with this small amount of heat damage all should be fine for the next 3 months of vintage if the weather keeps its shape.  We have kept on top of all the sprays and the insect damage period has now passed us by without causing any real effects on the vines.  I have completed about half the basal cleaning of the vines and will continue to tap away at that during January.


Comrade Les…


Every few months, early on a Friday evening I receive a phone call from Tim as he is walking up from the train station in Canterbury, Melbourne to his home; this only occurs after a wine dinner with a bunch of his scaly mates.  He is usually a bit drunk and a bit happy, and with me being stone cold sober I am both a little jealous and a little smug as I know how he will be feeling in the morning.  But I have a feeling Tim has always thought it is worth it.


One of the stalwarts of Tim’s wine group was a larger-than-life character called Les.  He was a true wine lover, one that simply just loved the contents of a wine bottle.  Only drank reds and had an absolute obsession with Bordeaux – something that I can relate to.  A buyer of Blue Poles wines, and a guy that I met a few times when I was in Melbourne at our little tastings of the latest releases for all the Victorian comrades.  He used to arrive early, set himself down and just “love” the wines – taking numerous re-tastes and waxing lyrically about what was in the glass.


I heard of Les’s passing away on Christmas Day through Tim and it has really cut into his small wine tasting group as they are very close and have always looked out for one another.  One of Les’s close friends was a young Singaporean guy called Jack – and a more different pair of people you may never meet but they had a special bond over their love of Bordeaux.  Both Tim and I wish all the very best to the family and to Jack at this time.


You meet a lot of people when you are in the wine industry.  We have mailing list members that go back for 15 years and there is nothing more heartfelt than seeing their names pop up on an order.  You can remember having met them at various events and their enthusiasm for wine, and invariably their enthusiasm for life.  I am saddened by the loss of Les, but I am grateful that he has shared in Tim’s and all of his wine friends’ wine journey in Melbourne. They could only have been enriched by the time they had with him and will forever drink a glass of good Bordeaux smiling and thinking “Man I bet Les would woof this down!”


Vale Les – I wish you well wherever you may be. Salut!



Final Covid (Omicron) News…


It appears to be a case of never getting too comfortable when it comes to the pandemic.  The opportunity to predict where this tiger’s tail will lead us is nigh on impossible, so I only really have this to say:


  • Please get vaccinated, and if you are, please get your booster as soon as you are able

  • Covid seems to be a virus that will be with us for a long time into the future – thus the world will eventually have to find a way to live with it

  • Play by the rules – even if they seem kind of odd.  Most of us are not health experts and we need to trust in those that are.


Here’s hoping 2022 is the year of the great “herd immunity” influence on all the countries throughout the world and a sense of normality can come back into our lives.  I will not do a further Covid update – they may never end – and 2022 needs a clean slate.



Po-tate-toe / Po-tart-toe...


Over my wine journey I have had periods in which I have chased high scoring wines, well regarded wines, wines that have a mystique that required to be “experienced”, and I have done that to be able to find the “best” and claim them for my own.  This Christmas there were many many folk that posted the wines that they would be drinking over the holiday period to make you just be that little bit jealous, and at the same time happy for them to have the opportunity to enjoy their bounty.


I was also lucky enough to have had an opportunity to share in some very highly “scored” and reputational wines on New Year’s Eve and all were lovely wines.  There was some light-hearted banter about what you could smell and taste (only a couple of us were wine-wankers, for a word), and some chitter chatter about the 20 point scoring system.  All the wines were regarded as exceptional in both provenance and also for the scores they had recently garnered from wine critics.

202112_Wine Tasting.jpg


But what interested me during the sipping and glugging of those delicious wines was that for the first time in a while for me, we also went through a process of asking “which was your favourite?”.  And I suddenly felt totally confused as I did not have one – even worse I just did not care at all as picking a “wine of the night” just came across to me as totally strange and abstract.  For decades I have attended wine dinners and tastings and it almost invariably becomes the topic at the end of the evening when tongues are loose, and brains are looser, and selections are made – it was all good fun and gave a sense of closure to any wine event.  But sitting there on this lovely evening and being asked which was the better wine, suddenly seemed very strange.  What has come of me?


Conversations waxed and waned with various members of the dinner party taking the floor, and while this moved easily through the evening, a thought just would not dislodge from the back of my mind – was the scoring and classification of wine just some “follow the leader” type of activity that is all just a construct.  A matrix if you will, where you are led to the answer both consciously and subconsciously and that your personal preferences get manipulated by price, prestige, pouring place and propaganda?  How do you actually go about ensuring your biases aren’t just leading you down the garden path of a premeditated set of preferences?  It was quite a rumination (mainly on words that start with the letter p), as the evening passed through to dessert and then the Sydney Harbour Bridge being set alight for the pleasure of every Australian as they now tick off the year with a sense of déjà vu.


Now the obvious lead in to solving the question of personal enlightenment in regards to the quality and “ranking” of wine is to drink wines blind and “decide for yourself” – but that is just silly.  You cannot buy wines where you do not know what the wines are, and who should lose that frizzle of excitement as you open a wine you have been looking forward to as an occasion, and to be able to place the wines, vines, and vintage as part of the background colour to your drinking pleasure?  No one should – it is the plinth upon which wine stands, well above everyday mass-produced beverages.


So post-midnight as I said my goodnights and wandered up to the waiting bed it all sort of came clear.  There is no right or wrong, there is just a grey scale that pilots you to parts of the spectrum in which the wines you drink and enjoy congregate and provide a form of pleasure that keeps the affair alive.  That portion of the spectrum where your wine “moments” occur are unique to who you are and your perspective – and this relates to your experience, sense of taste, your actual enjoyment of wine, the connections to the wines you have, and the life you have led.  For a wine critic, the placement of any wine on a scale is based on the desire to classify and compilate thus scores come easy after a while – for myself as I guess a wine maker of sorts, I have no desire to classify and pigeonhole, I wish simply to experience wine for my own understanding and growth as a maker of wine.


Have a think yourself and see where you sit on the classifying / experiencing scale.  It is a nebulous setting as you can never truly sit at one end of the spectrum or the other – you are always being pulled in and around your personal set of tastes, but at the same time taking on the influence of others to lead you to the next level of appreciation.  For those that study all the millions of points of information that underpin all wine, their appreciation is further grounded in a layer of connections made by knowledge nodes that light up upon recognition of what they have learnt.  But it never stays still, you will have periods of ranking wines and periods of simply enjoying wines – thus within an electron probability cloud of positioning.


And considering this my wine journey has been wonderful.


I have been lucky enough in my early days to have had access to people and wineries that supported my interest.  I was lucky enough to have lived in the Margaret River wine region most of my working life, and to have eventually been able to be part of the industry itself.  I have also been very lucky to have been able to afford wines that provided my steppingstones, and even luckier to meet very generous fellow wine lovers who shared wines and meals on a regular basis along the way.  So, my journey of classifying/experiencing wine is a big whirlwind of dates and times; it has always been a case of potato/potarto and all the better for it.


A bit extreme...


Where to begin?  This month had the weather pull the vines in all sorts of directions.  A couple of days at the start of the month warming to 35°C+ with the weather then cooling and settling to the mid 20’s before we got absolutely belted by three days of extreme (for us in Margaret River I must note) heat post-Christmas that damaged some of the fruit set and put the vines into a form of survival mode. Boxing Day was the worst of it with temperatures soaring and the vines withering under a windless glare all afternoon.


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


December 2021:        

Avg Maximum Temp          27.8°C

Daily Max recorded            43.1°C


Avg Minimum Temp           12.5°C

Daily Min recorded               5.9°C


Rainfall:                               12.4mm

The maximum was warmer than 2020, with the minimum being identical.  Rainfall total for 2021 was slightly higher than in 2020, though there was minimal rainfall in both months.  It should also be noted that rainfall for 2021 was 1225mm – nearly 300mm higher than our average for 20 years and 150mm higher than our previous wettest year since we have kept records.

December 2020:        

Avg Maximum Temp           26.2°C

Daily Max recorded             36.7°C


Avg Minimum Temp            12.5°C

Daily Min recorded                6.4°C


Rainfall:                                5.1mm


New Resolutions…


We all do it – we promise ourselves a new start and quickly move back to the ways of yore.  I have a large commitment to the vineyard – I have a list! – so I will try to work through that and keep my fingers crossed that the weather keeps within bounds.  A new year and a new hope for what lies ahead – a great vintage is always hoped for, so I will keep that as my first aim and work my way out from there.  We hope everyone is safe and sound and looking forward to the new year ahead.  Take care comrades.

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.




Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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