Monthly Report - April 2023
Clunk. It does not take much in the southwest of Western Australia to go from dry and parched to svelte and green – if only by appearance. With our vintage drawing out into April we all become exposed to the seasons as we wait and wait for the grapes to reach full ripeness and full flavour. It did not take long with heavy rain events on 10 and 14 April causing one of two reactions in the region, pick asap or wait it out.
But before we jump ahead of ourselves, let us start at the start. The Fool’s Day 1 April – became our deadline for the Merlot. Oh my, it was making me edgy, fruit flavours week on week in March with the Merlot were as mute as a giraffe, just giving up nothing. It was not until the last few days when the flavours finally arrived, like a starburst, my relief was almost palpable as I took the last sample in for testing. Having finally achieved reaching our window, the next set of dramatics began to play out – how to pick it off in a season where pickers and machines were as rare as hen’s teeth.
Grandchildren testing fruit quality – very important job!
Pleading and begging began in very late March with finally an early afternoon date was organised for the machine harvester, an old tractor was pulled out of a neighbour’s shed and nets were rolled back up into their 60kg balls. It was asked of me to start at 2.30pm, but it was just so damn hot I sat with the machine operators and tried to distract them while I waited for the breeze to arrive – 2.45pm went by, nothing – 3.00pm the merest of rustling in the tree tops – 3.15pm the breeze turned up, temperatures dropped by almost 8oC within minutes and we were off. Troy the machine owner was grumpy as he rolled in and the last row was being taken off behind schedule – but it is our ONE time to make sure all is perfect and though I knew he had a busy night ahead, we now had some perfect grapes in perfect condition and even better, they were nice and cool as the evening closed in.
The numbers for the Merlot are as below:
Picked: 1 April 2023
Total Acidity: 7.0
For all the wine maker types out there, they would have noticed the higher acids than what is usually the norm for red grapes at vintage. But this was the season for acid retention at Blue Poles and when tasting the wine post pressing you could never has guessed that this was the case – absolutely stonking colour and impeccable balance.
Shiraz, our red-headed grape variety, was sitting out with simply low sugars and high acids for weeks and weeks on end. Even more reticent than the Merlot with fruit flavours, it became a guessing game what was to happen. The long dry spell of the 2023 vintage had affected the Shiraz and the Chardonnay the most, but the fruit was still clean and healthy, and we were wondering how it was going to turn itself around. It got to the point where I said “enough” we will let this one slide until I caught up with a winemaker friend who was punishing himself by starting a new label and making a gazillion different wines and he was after fruit. A cunning plan was hatched where we would provide the fruit and barrels, and he will make the wine taking a barrel of wine as payment for his effort.
Shiraz in the bins – a day or two before the initial rains
So, on the 8th on a lovely clear morning friends and family came out and picked off quickly one tonne of grapes, and I delivered them out to the winery by midday. No numbers as such to report, I believe the sugars are around 12-12.5 which is lower than usual, but the flavour is spicey fragrant and raspberry which is a mouth-watering mix.
Back to our Bordeaux grapes, which from the point of the Merlot being picked, there were five samples taken of the Cabernet Franc and all of them looked basically the same. How incredibly frustrating as the weather forecasts by this stage were predicting between Noah’s deluge and a light sprinkling of drizzle. The last sample on 10 April just post what was the first of the major rain events (20mm hit the parched surface causing water flows across the ground and little making its way into the soil), and it was finally good to go. Again, the sudoku of getting the bins, pickers, and machinery to match in with the tonnage and winery requirements, and this was a tad more tricksy as we were hand-picking and to date this had been a roulette of results.
On the evening of 13 April, Marjory and I took the nets off with Craig our Netwizz man, and it poured overnight but opened up to a beautiful clear morning. Sixteen Afghani pickers went at it in a roundabout sort of way and after much kerfuffle the grapes were in the bins – finishing for us our latest vintage since 2006. The fruit tasted astounding, it was almost as if it needed a quick drink to freshen up for the process ahead and it formed a wave of relief to see those bins on the back of Brett’s truck heading off to Clive and team for processing.
The numbers for the Cabernet Franc are as below:
Picked: 14 April 2023
Total Acidity: 5.8
Many thanks this year to Marjory who may have picked nearly a tonne of grapes herself, Gary our next-door neighbour for operating the tractors, and Ali D, Craig, Brett, Troy, Andrew, Brad, Sian, Bridgette, Amelia, Christine, Ronald, and on and on it goes. With a special thanks to the team who make our wines being Clive, Anna and Chris this vintage. On the night of 14 April, we promised ourselves a big night’s sleep with no vintage concerns to plague our minds, but 5.30am came with Jack wanting to go out and test the morning air – so sleep was limited but the pleasure of knowing the wines were on their way was not.
The last bins – Cab Franc for the winery
2022 Chardonnay Release…
Very very soon dear comrades. Keep an eye on the inbox. I think the word that best describes this wine is “deadsetdelicious”, we cannot wait to be sharing it with you all.
I am off on a train of thought this month as I have been reading several reports that make my cynical hackles rise like prairie dogs on alert. The issue that now makes a lot of noise is the lack of wine drinking by the “younger” generations and the lack of “growth” of wine sales in the non-traditional global wine market. At first, they appear to be two different discussion points, but they in a circuitous way come back to somehow blaming the industry for a lack of education and promotion as the root cause of both.
This is a response that I feel has been solely put out there by the guys who earn their income by providing the “education” and “promotion” rather than deal with the simple issues that sometimes that is just the way it is. But let us take a step back and see why we get to this impasse nearly every year for something or other to do with wine and its worldwide influence.
Surveys of various countries’ drinking habits and volume of alcohol have been around since forever. Remember those massive volumes of beer the Germans used to guzzle, the hundreds of litres the French and Italians used to slosh about back in the 60’s and 70’s, and then you will remember how this slowly started to fritter away as we recognized the dangers of excessive drinking worldwide, and the changing of drinking habits within many populations around the world. Funnily enough this was a GOOD thing, but you would never guess this from the alcohol promotion business – it is seen as the DEMISE of the industry, a Hindenburg event in our lifetime.
As a population we should drink less, and we should drink higher quality wines, beers and spirits. Why? Well simply to reduce the inherent risks to the health of the population and to make it a safer society in which to live.
But recently you could have thought that the world was falling off its axis as the latest generation to make their 20’s has decided to not drink as much in an already shrinking volume of booze being imbibed. Generation Z apparently drink at least 20-30% less alcohol than all other generations (Boomers, Gen X, Millennials) – OMG – set the house on fire advertising executives, those VB advertisements may have run their dash. And I say good on them, what a waste of money and health in drinking such shite booze, and drinks that we all start our drinking paths on – mixed drinks from cans, sweet goon casks, overpriced beers from pubs, paint stripping spirits of dubious heritage – utter junk and supporting the stench which is “big alcohol”. There is no reason to begin your wine journey with sweet goon – with so many options available to them, they could begin it with an online course and tutored tastings at their own pace – there is no need to drag us back 50 years.
The same old tosh comes out as “solutions” to this “problem”. We as the wine industry need to provide more education so they will choose wine, we need to encourage them to increase the amount they drink and spend on wine. Even typing this makes my skin crawl. Really? Knowing the cost of living today in our post-covid world is rising in everything except wages, we want the most vulnerable to literally “piss” their income up against the wall?
Stop. Just stop, you tired old tropes.
The same issue comes to the fore when wine drinking around the globe is discussed – growing middle classes in the world’s developing nations implies a huge new market for wine to step into as if it is the bastion of good taste. I find this world view simply colonial because it is just so dismissive of all the culture that underpins the nations in question. Look at that growing middle class in India, oh my how much beer is drunk in Panama, the Philippines and Vietnam have strong links with Europe … etc etc.
What a load of codswallop.
The middle class of India has a maximum income of ~$50k per annum (hardly enough to be purchasing cases of 2nd Growth Bordeaux), Panama has a culture of brewing beer for itself and neighboring nations, and Vietnam and the Philippines have high population densities with the challenges this brings plus their own special form of oligarchs. What the heck is the point of pushing quality wines in these countries where it is climatically unsuited for wine drinking apart from the crispest of whites and rosés, and basically the cheapest versions only?
These nations will grow at their own pace – pressing for more “access” or more “education” from wine growing nations is both insulting and grotesque. Another example of greed wrapping itself in the cloak of the “good life” – we have to stop this pretense that wine is a worldwide requirement, it is not and should never be. Having had nine years in the Philippines, I was quite comfortable knowing that I could not buy a decent Margaret River red in the Seven-Eleven. Very very comfortable. Plenty of San Miguel beer though and that made much more sense on a 35oC muggy day in Manila.
The next time you see this form of clickbait pop up in some of your news streams give it the big finger for me. Big Alcohol does not need a leg up, if anything they need a big slap around the chops and the fact that we are in an industry that snuggles up to these reptiles is perhaps the most awkward part of growing, making, and selling wine.
Here endeth the rant.
Just like breaking plates, it can be impressive, or it can be very underwhelming – and this year we have had a bit of a smashedy smash. A large rain event to end the month topping over 60mm in the gauge over three days ensured that this has been the wettest April since I have been writing these missives. As described in the picking notes, we had a nice warm dry start to the month, but it fell apart as the first cool weather arrived from the south impacting on the last pick but not enough to alter the sugars and flavours. A few warm days popped up between the 21st and 23rd, but too little to late to make any real difference on any grapes still hanging out there in the region.
The numbers for this month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 21.1°C
Daily Max recorded 26.5°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.4°C
Daily Min recorded 4.9°C
The average maximum and minimum temperature averages once more were lower than in 2022 which comes from the predominant southerly winds to finish the month in 2023. Rainfall total for 2023 is much higher than in 2022, with 5 days having greater than 20mm in 2023 and ensuring that the season is truly broken.
Avg Maximum Temp 21.8°C
Daily Max recorded 29.8°C
Avg Minimum Temp 10.7°C
Daily Min recorded 5.8°C
Clean Up and Ship Out…
So many tidy up jobs to do to finish the season. Nets to tidy up and put away, equipment oiled and secured out of the weather, electric secateurs in for a service and lots of sorting out of wires and other odds and sods that broke within the vineyard trellising. For the shipping out we will begin the first of two releases with the 2022 Chardonnay due soon and following that in June we will release the 2020 Allouran and Reserve Merlot. All wines are to be reviewed shortly by the WineFront team, so fingers crossed there.
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