Monthly Report - February 2022
And it begins…
There are only two times I actually jump out of bed when an alarm goes off at 4.30am – when there is a flight to catch and when there are grapes to be picked. On nearly every other occasion I question my life decisions and play a game of how long I can push the snooze button on my phone before it quits on me. Picking the grapes is a culmination of a year’s work and you always get a sense of fear that something is going to go amiss, and it makes you that little more on edge. With our business revolving around the one shot each year for each vintage and variety I do get a bit obsessive checking the vines – but with 18 vintages from the same block I do see the pattern and the “look” of the vines and touch wood we can get another solid vintage in the bins.
We have picked off our Chardonnay, this occurred on Saturday 26 February, and it was hand picked by a great little group of Afghanis, Marjory and me. Surprisingly the picking date was exactly the same as last year – and this goes to show that the solid warmth of a summer with never ending blue skies has managed to bring the vines back into line after a slow flowering period. We have not picked the Marsanne (that will be early March) as it does need those extra few days to gain flavour and fruit “weight”.
Tonnage for the Chardonnay was down and this was due to losing about 25-40% of the crop to sunburn which occurred on Boxing Day 2021. A little bit upset, and I feel for Clive and the team in regards to pressing off the small tonnage and looking after it in barrel with the reduced volumes – always a bit tricky and needing a careful touch to keep it all together. The numbers were as below:
Date 26 February
Titratable Acidity 6.5TA
As briefly discussed above, the heat this summer has been consistently hot – we have not had two months consecutively break 29°C maximum average on our vineyard since we have kept records. I have attached a messy graph to show you that little +29°C plateau in the 2022 vintage and also to highlight just what level of variation you can get from month on month at Margaret River. Overall, the actual heat hours and sunlight hours are within 10% of the average every vintage (except 2006 – that dotted dark blue line around the bottom), but how they get there is just wild. Springtime temperatures for 2022 have been in the bottom quartile of all the data (super cool), but the summer time temperatures are nearly all records and as such it has been the hottest summer in Osmington for 20 years (possibly longer, I do not have time to check back through all the data but 1999 was warm by all accounts).
The summer warmth has meant that our lawns and gardens have been pretty hammered, especially someone like ourselves that rely on rainwater and just spraying it on lawns can give you a bit of emotional damage. Even with the big dry I have been looking after my vegetable patch and it has been a boon all summer with big returns on all the regulars – but it must be said that eggplants have enjoyed this weather better than most and even I have got to the point where one more moussaka, could be that moussaka too far.
Craft or Commodity?...
Deep in a form of cunctation that only topics in my Monthly Report can achieve, I found an article from Peter Pharos on a wine website that made me perk up and take note. As you will note from above, we are deeply set into our vintage and the weather forecast app from the Bureau of Meteorology is receiving a severe beating – but you do forget that apart from the grapes themselves, there are 100’s of wine makers and winery workers beavering away at their craft.
Wine is but a commodity, however it has such varying levels of quality as to make the “craft” of the winery folk a complex web of effort and skill that ranges from minimal to incredible, which in turn makes the commodity itself both valued and potentially valueless. Peter’s article does degenerate into a bit of name calling and exotic prose (dismissing “Wine Snobs” has a touch of wine snobbery about it … especially if you brag on how you are so adept at it “pretentious, Moi?”), but it let me wander down another angle in this area of discussion based on my memories and thoughts.
Back in 2010 I walked into Ch Latour during vintage to have a private wine tasting and tour of the winery [And here I am telling off Peter about being pretentious!]. As I was walking past the fermenting vessels there was a “suit and tie” group of 8 in front of us and I assumed they were also there for a wine tasting – not correct, they were the wine makers and the wine making consultants. Entering the sorting room there were at least 20 people looking at every destemmed grape and checking that not a single malformed / damaged grape made it to the fermenting tank; and apparently in the vineyard there was a further 40 people picking into “trays” that held bunches in such a way as to cause no bruising or pressure on the grapes. So here we have a setting in which the winemakers have incredible resources and perfect fruit from a world class vineyard – what is their individual input into the initial fermentation and pressing out of the wine?
Pretty much naff all.
The wine making “craft” component of the wineries such as Chateau Latour revolves around very light touches in the wine making process and more importantly sensory evaluations at the time of blending. The blending is completed within a committee setting (the same group of suits one could suspect), such that individual responsibility is minimal, thus being a wine maker in a facility such as this could be potentially unfulfilling BUT you are considered one of the best wine makers in the world (and would have had to earn the spot one would also suppose).
Compare this to a wine maker in Margaret River that is buying in fruit, has only a few fermenting vessels, limited press capacity, grapes arriving in at all differing levels of quality and ripeness and has limited help. To make a clean wine in this setting is an achievement, to make an outstanding wine is incredibly tricky, and to be able to juggle all of this and eventually sell the wines is superhuman. The wine making “craft” shown by this individual is simply amazing and worthy of much praise – but that is often not the case as focus always comes back to the wines and the perception of the wines in the marketplace (such a fickle thing).
Could the wines of Chateau Latour be the commodity and not the craft in this winemaking world?
With this in mind I have developed a simple Venn “type” diagram in which I have on one side commodity wine making, and on the other side craft wine making. Shared by these two forms of wine making are all the grapes that they receive ranging from cheap commercial fruit through to expensive fruit from exceptional vineyards. The areas in which the wine making has the most influence and shows the skills of the wine makers the best in this area of our industry is where craft winemakers take cheap fruit and through effort and sensory talent and make wines that are fine and delicious, and where commodity wine makers take the exceptional fruit and maintain an incredibly high standard through sensory skills that are blending and selecting quality on the rarest of high levels. Mistakes in either setting is dramatically exposed and costly for everyone involved.
Another component of being a wine maker is the detail of the “health” of the wines produced that need to be maintained. This is trickier than you think as wine being a natural product has that annoying habit of simply going off, like your homemade jams in the cupboard. It is the knowledge required to know how to maintain the cleanliness and structure of the winery, as well as how to know to let the wines express themselves via wild ferments and extended skin contact and the like which creates both the fear and joy which the profession can manifest.
It is not for me.
I happily let Clive, Ellin and Anna at Fraser Gallop Estate take on the responsibility of fermenting our grapes through to wine and to maintain them in barrel until I can roll up and blend out the wines and sift through my old black notebook with oak types and tasting notes randomly scrawled for future reference. I am just a nose, palate, and memory stick that has a similar status to one of those suits walking around Ch Latour – but I am neither craft or commodity – I am just the guy hoping to keep focus and continue to aid in the production of awesome wines from our little block in little old Margaret River.
I look out across a very brown countryside this February – hardly a drop of rain for 3 months and consistent warmth day on day. Our third hottest February since we planted in 2001, following on from a warm January and December – with a total of 20 odd mm of rainfall over those three months. No tropical air rolling south to provide some cloud cover and humidity, no early sea breeze days to take the heat out of the ground – just consistent warmth and clear skies. It has been a “real” summer and one I will not forget for a while.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 29.6°C
Daily Max recorded 38.1°C
Avg Minimum Temp 14.4°C
Daily Min recorded 10.4°C
Major change up from 2021 - the maximum was much warmer than 2022, with the minimum being much lower due to clear skies. Rainfall total for 2022 was miniscule in comparison to 2021 as a large rainfall event in 2021 dropped 3 inches of rain at the start of the month.
Avg Maximum Temp 25.1°C
Daily Max recorded 34.0°C
Avg Minimum Temp 14.1°C
Daily Min recorded 8.7°C
Completing the Cycle…
It is very unlikely vintage will go past the end of March, and as such this month will complete the cycle which all vignerons map out in their heads each year. We have some beautiful dry grown fruit sitting out in the vineyard awaiting the final pick. It is just timing and connecting all the strings that can get those grapes from the vines to the barrels in the best shape possible. A month of texts and calls and various frustrations await, but it should all be worth it once that final bin gets it lid put on and trucked out.
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