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Monthly Report - December 2023

From the start…


What can I say dear readers, I doubt there will be a time in which I could say I was busier than the past 6 months.  A large series of major events coalesced, and it meant that little to no time could be allocated to completing my “routine” tasks, such as this monthly report.  But, for the first time in what feels like a full year I have a chance to sit down at my desk, look out over the vines and paddocks and thumb through my memories and get this update out and hopefully fall back into my “normal” life as quickly as possible.


So let us start – big things first.


Wedding Days….


Marjory and I were married on 28 October at Voyager Estate.  A fantastic day, with close friends and family sharing a meal at the winery before heading back to our estate for a night of revelry and karaoke.  So many great memories on the day and after so much chasing up on the many details it all went without a hitch, and we could relax through the event and party.  Big thanks to Tim who made the trip across Australia to be Best Man, and to Marjory’s sister Marian who made it out from the Philippines to be a Bridesmaid – Tim’s speech was in fact quite complimentary so he may have been a little unwell, bless him.



Immediately post the wedding, we were off once more to the Philippines this time to attend an “after party” in Marjory’s hometown with all of her close and extended family and friends.  My sister Joanne and close friend Paul made the trip from New Zealand to attend this half of the festivities and travel into the “Province”, and everyone was so glad they made the journey as they became the news of the town!  Lots of discussions, drinking, and dancing took place and for many they partied on for a number of days (I was quite happy to just chill out by this point).  Arriving back home in Margs late night in mid-November felt like a holiday – for the first time in a long time we are not chasing down one item or another and it is just us and the dog and the phone now surprisingly unused.


Deux Écus returns…


An exciting time for us here in Blue Poles country – the second release of our most important wine, the Deux Écus.  The wine represents a small barrel selection of Merlot and Cabernet Franc that when combined makes a wine of the highest quality – one that represents the “best” we can produce from the estate and is only blended when we have a vintage and barrel selection that ensures its provenance.


The first version of this wine was in 2018, a vintage that was exceptional in the region and our grapes came off clean and flavoursome.  While this wine is exceptional, it was unique in my mind – it did not bring back specific memories or a journey, it just was our wine transformed into a heightened version.  Still unbelievably delicious (one opened on the wedding day – absolutely singing), it was a wine that confirmed our ambitions and was a true “Blue Poles” wine.


This second version – 2022 Deux Écus – is not a mimic of the 2018.  It came from a vintage that was not as even a growing cycle, it came from vines that had been dry grown for 7 years and it was warm during the summer months without dropping into too many extremes (Boxing Day excepted).  But where it differed, it also had advantages, early spring for the 2022 vintage was extremely wet and windy – the vines achieved lots of growth during this period of plenty but set little fruit with the poor weather.  Five months of dry weather then arrived, and the vines went into protection mode as the warm days wore on.  Such intense ferments and strength of flavour, we knew we were in for something special, but to what ends can only be found out in ~18 months’ time when the barrel tasting and blending is completed.


The barrel tasting completed on 19 October was great fun.  So many good barrels and so much emphasis from the wine on structure and length – very much like being transported back to Bordeaux and going through the barrel halls and “thieving” tastes here and there.


Aromas were superb from all the barrels; so lifted and fresh with many melded flavours creating a wave of complexity.  The fruit on the palate was however restrained, hiding in the density of the wines but oh my, the tannins, the structure, extraordinary.  The barrel tasting did make me dance back through my chickaleary memories of Chateau Latour one September morning in 2010 tasting a one-year-old wine at the estate – sublime.


This wine was bottled this week, along with the other 2022 wines and many thanks to all who took part in the En Primeur release of this wine and the Reserve Cabernet Franc in November.  This offer is now closed and the orders will be shipped out in June this year.  There will be a release of the remaining bottles we held back at this time so if you missed out, do not despair but I would encourage you to act quickly as both the Deux Ecus and the Reserve Cabernet Franc have a habit of selling out rather quickly!


In terms of other releases to look forward to, there is a 2023 Chardonnay not too far away, and the 2021 Allouran which is out of this world good.  It is the first time we have made an Allouran in many years without also putting aside barrels for the Reserve Merlot and Reserve Cabernet Franc.  For 2021, this was not because the barrels did not make the cut for a reserve selection, it’s just that 2021 was a low volume year and we just did not have enough barrels full stop!  So although we missed out on making reserves, the Allouran is an absolute cracker.


And for those ‘Quick Draw McGraw’ email fiends out there, keep an eye on your inbox for our famous “Changeover Wine” special coming out in the next few months.  We are one of the few vineyards that bottles the wine left in the pipes as wine blends are switched (100% Blue Poles, but you will just get a mixture of the wine before and the wine after).  The wines are just too good to waste in our view and these special releases have become ridiculously popular.  So much so that out online store has trouble keeping up.  So be quick and take advantage of the opportunity when it arises. 



Vine and Wine News…


I will do my best to complete a brief synopsis of each month and to provide you a potted history of the past six months.  Life on the estate is always busy, I do not think there is ever a time where you can say it is all up to date and you can relax for a week or two – simply cannot happen.


Well July was the pruning of the Shiraz – it is now a consistent variety producing really solid wines every year.  We have a couple of local wine makers who grab a tonne or two each vintage and this good to have a little extra income for a variety that we make only a small amount of.  We also had a trip into the Philippines to organise aspects of the wedding coming later in the year as well as to sort out some details that had been hanging around for a few years post Covid.  All sorted and back home from a hot Manila to a cold Margaret River.


Once back I did have a couple of days doing some promotions with Old Bridge Cellars at both their Como and North Fremantle stores.  Marjory stayed home this trip as our dog Jack was a bit “tampo” – i.e. sulking, angry, and upset – with us having left him for the fortnight and he was in need of some Marjory TLC.  He is still a large puppy to be honest – every German Shorthaired Pointer owner we meet just nods and says he has “years” of this behaviour to go, oh my that was not what we wanted to hear.  The trip to Perth went well and I followed up with a few west coast store visits and our wines were well received.

Old Bridge Cellars – North Fremantle. Always a busy night!


We did also receive some “press” with an article in the “West Australian” newspaper.  Confession here – I have not bought a physical newspaper for 10 years, maybe longer and to be honest with everything behind paywalls I would have no clue what the “West Australian” actually promotes and stands for anymore.  But, a few chats with the Paul the writer and a bottle forwarded he wrote up a little bit on Merlot and us, as well as reviewed and scored our 2020 Allouran as per below:


“Unlike a “typical” Australian Merlot, this is fine, savoury and restrained, with fruit flavours only peeking through over time. Bay leaf, coffee grounds, cocoa dry leaves and cedar. Some blackberry and plum skin too. This is a beautiful, compact, sleek wine with energy and freshness. It is subtle, restrained and only with time in the glass does the full range of flavours emerge. This fine, velvety, almost seamless texture is rare and the flavours linger long on the palate. Highly recommended.” 94/100


Into August and this was the month where the Merlot was pruned.  You do not get that detail and vine by vine knowledge by walking the rows, even as much as I do – the act of pruning a vineyard is a bit like a conversation with each member of the audience.  The Merlot “meet and greets” made me realise that this variety will need a bit of support during the start up of vintage as we have let it do its own thing for 3 years, and that may be its limit.


Ahhh September – what a crazy old month.  I had to complete the pruning, but I could not quite get it done as I had to head into Tanzania for my geological work.  Very remote location thus a few days to get in and a few to get out plus doing everything in between meant a good two and a half weeks taken out of the pruning schedule.


Tim and his family turned up and spent a day or two on the estate which was a gratefully received helping hand.  The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, nailing in clips, pulling out rotten steels and replacing them, and tucking in some wires.  Always good to have the family here and even Jack got used to them wandering about the house.


Well early October was the completion of pruning, the blending of our wines for bottling in early 2024 and the getting hitched part of hanging around with Marjory.  Crazy, crazy month as we had 1,001 jobs to tidy up as we careened towards the wedding day.  We were able to have a selection of older Blue Poles wines at the dinner and reception, as well as lots of delicious other drinks and food.  The Rugby World Cup final was also later in that evening, so once the house emptied out, I waited for the game to commence – alas my beloved All Blacks “just” missed out which was disappointing, but we had gone further than we thought was possible, so hurrah for us!! Crazy old month, never to be repeated.

Blending the 2022 barrels – big and exciting day

November is a month that we hope will never be repeated weather wise.  While Marjory and I headed into the Philippines to have a wedding party with her greater family in the “Province”, the weather turned into the hottest month we have ever recorded for late Spring.  It was simply outrageous, with temperature averages being a good 4-5oC hotter than ever recorded.  When we returned home the vineyard was rushing through flowering and growth was off the charts – never seen anything like it.

Love a museum – Paul, Joanne and I at the Natural History Museum, Manila

Into the vineyard Marjory and I traipsed and cleaning up all the excess growth and taking away the basal growth was the order of the day.  After all the hoopla and parties held, we were back to boots and secateurs going from vine to vine in the early hours of the morning without any days off as the job was essentially required there and then.


Finally, we reach December, with three more weeks of cleaning up the vines from their excess growth and the unrelenting heat of the vintage, we managed to get to Christmas Day relatively unscathed and the whole vineyard cleaned and pretty.  One of the “good” things of having such a hot and dry vintage to date has been the total lack of pressure from mildews in the vines.  Sprays have been completed without delay or modification and the risk of infection has been near zero with the continuing dry weather since the start of October.

Christmas is for kids – Here is my Grandson Vance with his completed Dino puzzle

We had initially planned to bottle the 2023 Chardonnay this month, but we had an opportunity to bottle it at a friend’s winery and this meant we had a task for early January to schedule in.  I was truly grateful on New Years Eve to have got to the end of an extremely busy year and below I will outline what I hope for in 2024.


But for now… phew.  Done.


The Reset…


It is a New Year, and we all make promises to ourselves to try to follow for the coming 12 months.  Normally this involves a review of our habits, spending, exercise regime, and most often - weight and health.  It is a natural component of having our delineated mind recognize the changing year and wanting to release the “past” and embrace the “future” through this artificial boundary that our society has placed upon us.  We all know that we could have made these decisions to alter our behavior weeks if not months before, but we choose not to – or simply were not aware of our capacity to make the change at any time.


Now this is not me making out I can break from the pack – far from it.  Every New Year I reset my priorities and goals, and plan around some specific outcome.  Last year was a ripper as you could see from above with numerous major events and financial commitments going on and all of the planning and scheduling it took to get them completed.  With the move into 2024 the objectives are dramatically different with a series of specific smaller goals that are no less difficult to attain, but they make the future plans a bit clearer and most importantly, achievable.

So why do we do this?  Why are we waiting until some defined date before we get off our collective behinds and make the change?  I am positive it is because we are mostly hard wired for routine and the desire to not complicate what appears to be a complicated life.  If not for the changing date we would not take note of the year’s passing and our moribund nature as a whole, and this is where I think 2024 will be much more interesting than many of the previous years passed – Covid induced 2020 and 2021 included.


By all accounts it appears that major changes are afoot around the globe and we are all going to be variably impacted by the fall out of these events.  For the first time in a long time, I am genuinely concerned with the way the world is placed – morally, financially, and climatically.  We have used up all our advantages in advancing science and technology and are now squandering it with retrograde thinking and self-obsession.  What advantages we once held as humans is being eroded quickly and making the world a lesser place.


Now this does seem melodramatic.  Me, little old me, sitting here overlooking my vines tapping away in my house with my dog snoring behind me as it is too hot outside to run around, making these grandiose claims.  But I ask of you all to have a little think about what is going on with you on a daily basis, what is going on with your friends and family, and how you see what is in front of you and them.  And from the corner of your vision, you will start to see the crumbling at the edges of what “used” to be our gold standards – respect for authority, recognition of expertise, treatment of others, and community focus.


It is the little things that give it away – and these changes are occurring in plain sight without any form of redress.  We are being led into a dark place compliantly – phone in hand, head bowed.


So let me put my cards on the table and provide my points of reset that I personally need to undertake in 2024:


  • Put my phone down

  • Travel only as needed

  • Become more aware of local community activities

  • Contact my family and friends more

  • Spend as required, not as desired


The list above is not something that is mind shattering and ‘lifestyle coach enhanced’ or even slightly original.  It is how I used to live – and knowing this makes me a bit dumbstruck, have I moved away from the center that much?  No, not really, I have just been swept along with the rest of society using up my time and thoughts on what has been presented to us as the current way of doing things.  We are online 50-70% of the day now, we rarely answer the phone unless we know who it is, we have wide ranging interests and distractions that were irrelevant to us even as little as 10 years ago, and we are seemingly always busy but not really achieving much.


So, like that artificial date of the first day of the New Year where we start a new chapter, I am taking a deep breath, and working towards going back to a time where I had more control of my life, right now.  I am not waiting for some major event to force it upon me – this delay may make the transition harder and more complex.  Some of you may already be ahead of the curve – bravo; but for most I think we are still in the fog trying to see what lies in front of us and not recognizing the frittering edges along our path.


Time for a big reset…


Climate Calamities...


A lot to discuss, but the gist of it is that we have had the hottest Spring and early Summer since we have been keeping records, and also since records have been kept from the Margaret River region.  It is all a bit unprecedented, and the area is now a crisp, with all late spring grass growth burnt from a series of heatwave days in late November, creating a very odd landscape.  The last day where we had more than 3mm of rain was 2 October and from that point on we have simply had hot-clear-days after hot-clear-days.


Grape varieties which are usually picked in mid-February are now expected to be picked in mid-January and no one knows how this will impact on flavour and character of the wines.  Red gums that usually flower in March are now with blossom, completely out of synch with the natural rhythms of the Capes.  We are in a new climate, and all my assumptions that the surrounding oceans will temper the potential climate change appear to have been hopeful thinking.


This all may be an anomaly, and next year we may drop back into our “normal” climate window, but right now it is a completely new paradigm and we are all just driving in the dark with no lights hoping everything will be alright.


The numbers for the past 6 months and last year’s figures are provided below:

The average maximum and minimum temperatures since September 2023 have been much higher in comparison to the 2022 values.  The rainfall total over the same period has been less as well with no significant rainfall since the start of October.

New beginnings…


A new year and a vintage that is sprinting to the finish line, regardless of us wanting it to or not.  A month of cleaning up in the vines as well as putting out nets and possibly even picking our Chardonnay – such a crazy season almost anything is possible.

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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