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Monthly Report - January 2024

Moving along…


When I came out to Western Australia in late 1988 we were told of the heat, the bright sun and scorched earth of the summers – and in a strange way I was kind of looking forward to it.  So, as we started to see the summers come and go from the South West corner of the state we noticed something that was never much discussed – for every series of hot days, cool days followed, mainly due to the “trough” moving inland which is a pressure gradient that builds up when high pressure systems do not keep moving east as they should.  Also, to keep the temperature down, in the afternoon the “Fremantle Doctor” blew in from the south and took the heat out of the air – the hottest days were always when the “Doctor” did not arrive, and you did feel the warmth big time.


Margaret River region is a good 4-5°C lower in average maximum temperatures than Perth, even though it is only 220km south of the city as the crow flies.  The early arrival of the “Doctor” at 1-2pm instead of Perth’s 3-4pm causes this reduction in heat as the maximum of the day was not as high, and this meant our grapes had the perfect climate for growing quality fruit.  Not too hot and not too cold – our very own Goldilocks zone.


But here we are, a vintage that has not relented in heat from the start of October, has had no moisture in the air with little tropical air moving south and the “Doctor” for the first time arriving an hour or so later each day.  It is a little unnerving as I “feel” right now that it is the end of February on the timeline of vintage, but we are still FOUR full weeks away from that point which is just so spooky.  An example of how this mind trick is manifesting is that for 20 years we have been fretting on the red gum blossom, which arrives near to the end of Summer (late February / March), it feeds the birds and relieves pressure on those juicy ripe grapes from bird attack.  We were in full blossom by mid-January – and I mean FULL – with no birds even hanging around the house apart from our resident Blue Wrens.


White blossom covering the Red Gum trees along our Bramley River Road walk

My body clock says I am in March – we are in mid-January.  Like napping during the day and waking up confused, currently I am in that predicament.  An odd start to 2024.


All Things Chardonnay…


This month has been one where a lot has been going on with the Chardonnay – from the bottling of the 2023 vintage to the picking at the end of the month.  We will kick off with the bottling which was done by ourselves at a friend’s winery.  Only two barrels which equates to 50 cases was to be bottled, capped and labelled – which was an enjoyable morning’s work as we managed to get exactly 50 cases stacked and on the pallet.

Fifty cases on the dot… not a drop of this delicious wine gone to waste

All of our 2022 vintage red wines were sent off to the professionals in Jindong for bottling – some very special wines here.  That went without a hitch, avoiding a dreaded phone call from the bottling hall (your blood freezes when you see the phone number pop up – only ever happened once thank goodness), and the meetings post bottling to try and fix the problems.


The vineyard had its last protective spray on 11 January – not a single spray day was moved due to inclement weather nor was there any mildews spotted in the vines.  It has been an incredible run of long dry days from early October – quite astounding for Margaret River.


Samples from the Chardonnay block were delivered in for analysis from mid-January, and much to my amazement, Ellin and Clive at Fraser Gallop were insistent that the grapes were ready to go before the end of the month.  I am much more confident with the picking off of the reds, such that white grapes are tricky for me to get right for picking to retain freshness but not pick up green or overripe flavours, and this is where the boys and girls at Fraser Gallop are really in their element.  Picking date set at 29 January 2023 – the earliest we have ever picked the grapes as since 2021 the picking dates have been within a small window of 26 February to 1 March.  Marjory and I had two very early morning starts to get it all picked off and delivered in on time and the results look great.

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Chardonnay pick – healthy bunches where sunburn did not strike

Numbers for the Chardonnay are as below:


Picked:                            28-29 February

Weight:                           1,090kg

Beaumé:                         11.7

pH:                                   3.27

Total Acidity:                   7.8


Everyone in the region is in the same boat with early picking schedules.  Chardonnay from the northern areas of Margaret River Region were being picked by 10 January and some sparkling wine base was picked before the New Year (still a 2024 vintage wine?).  While our reds are still finishing veraison making me a little confident in at least a March schedule for them, many wineries have red grapes approaching sugar ripeness at the end of January which is so far out of kilter as to be almost alien.  How all wines from this vintage end up as finished bottles will be an adventure for all of us – this is a brave new world.



The Death of the Tasting Note…


Many, many years ago I poked a wine bear and ended up facing the consequences of a single misunderstood word in a hardly read little report.  Though the experience was not exactly delightful it did provide me with a much clearer understanding on how the “system” worked in regards to the promotion of wine.  Up to the point of the “prod” I had believed in some sort of level playing field, more fool me, but funnily enough it sort of was and it sort of was not.  Let me explain.


Every wine writer or wine critic I have met has been genuinely interested in the wines that they drink and almost consistently would give, in their eyes (and heart of hearts), an accurate “score” or tasting note of the wine that they had tasted (barring two, wow they were awful).  Many of these guys and gals actually have very very good palates, and in some cases are a little savant-ish in their wine knowledge and tasting ability.  But, it does not pay.  The ability to be a “wine critic” is partly related to your skills and mostly related to the “gigs” you have secured – and all who wish to taste wine as a profession are both reliant on a consistent income from a book / almanac / column / wine related company as well as some form of website where subscribers top up your bank account.


Wine brands with high volumes and high recognition are key for all wine writers to have some sort of opinion on.  It also is important that a conversation is started any which way such that “mainstream” media picks up the story and your viral moment generates a bit of individual brand development before the candle wick of interest splutters out.  Wine brands with high volumes also have marketing money, and that is a handy little gift if it could be accessed.  Most of the advertising being done in the industry now is by all the various e-tailing retailers and that advertising is predominantly online and through email campaigns.  So, you can see how wine writers, even with their honest hats on, are always keen to find a viral angle just to get interest piqued… a fine line to tip toe along.


Now this is where it gets interesting.


The new generation of drinkers coming through (20-30 years old), are not big readers of the papers and almanacs.  They are not particularly endeared with a slow process of accruing knowledge through the steady drip drip drip of “wine work” – it is a punchy, quick to change, fast to react world out there and opinions are easily found wherever you look on this World Wide Web of ours.  No single wine writer can tap into this zeitgeist as they are hidden behind their self-made pay walls set up for the aged professionals who want the camaraderie that comes with their wine enjoyment.  So, this younger generation will flit like hummingbirds in the forest, from one experience to another lightly touching on its surface before belting off for another experience hit.  No time to waste dear comrades.


The generation of the tasting note, even the ranking of scores, is becoming that old school niche that is looked upon like a Nokia 3310.  [What does it actually do? … Ah, make phone calls, how quaint.].  I was in a local liquor store during “Schoolies” last year, and as most of the finishing high school students are now 18, they are able to buy liquor.  How these young adults discussed their alcohol choices was nothing like how little old me in the early Pleistocene used to buy booze (beer was one of three brands – wine was from a cask – spirits were to get you drunk so lowest $/abv won the day) – they were checking QR codes, going off mates’ recommendations, spotting cool labels, attracted to what was “in”.  Price was not a consideration and in no way were they bothered by “scores” just interested in the peer group assigned reputation and what they actually wanted to drink!


Some of this younger generation will delve deeper into this wine world of ours, but unlike previous generation’s growth in alcohol, which was much more linear, theirs will not be a slow pathway.  In or out.  Know everything or know nothing.  It does not matter; it is how you feel and not how you are expected to feel that counts.  A generation spoilt for choice, and they know of no other.


So back to the heading – the death of the tasting note.


Tasting notes and the form of presenting them is becoming a historical artefact and the experts that write them are in essence writing them for the industry and not the consumers.  The industry may regurgitate them, abbreviate them, poach them, and even smoke them with manuka chips in a dry smoker – but solely to keep those that lightly touch upon their marketing banter feeling as if these lines of prose have a modicum of weight.  We are in an oneiric state, not realizing we are in the middle of change in how wine can be sold and presented but cannot follow how the goal posts have moved so we continue to kick to where they once were.

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The International Wine Writers’ Award winners in 2019 – now defunct

So, yes, the traditional tasting note is a relic as such.  I will continue to describe our wines and we may send our bottles through for review by some wine writers of choice, but it is becoming less critical as the impact of those finely minted words are becoming fainter and fainter and fainter


Heat Tempered...


We are in a new climate this vintage – the heat and dry of the season has not abated and for the 4th of 5 months we have set the highest average maximum temperature for the month.  We may be heading to one of those JG Ballard future worlds where the population harvests water as the deserts grow and grow – stretching my memory a bit, but I think that book was “The Drought” – and this is a worry that even our water tank is running low for the first time in 16 years, and we may be down to the dam for a top up.  Rainfall, that we have had, was pitiful mist that did not reduce the baked soil temps by more than a degree.  Harsh.


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


January 2024:        

Avg Maximum Temp          30.0°C

Daily Max recorded            39.0°C


Avg Minimum Temp           14.0°C

Daily Min recorded               8.2°C


Rainfall:                                2.4mm

The average maximum and minimum temperature averages are higher than in 2023 which was considered a very hot January in comparison to the past 20 years data.  Rainfall total for 2024 is negligible and this was the case in 2023 as well.

January 2023:        

Avg Maximum Temp           28.0°C

Daily Max recorded             35.8°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.3°C

Daily Min recorded               8.7°C


Rainfall:                                0.6mm

Treading unknown territory…


What will February bring for Blue Poles and the surrounding region?  Could I pick our Merlot off before the end of the month?  Will the weather cool or will this long dry and hot summer continue unabated? (speaking of which on 1 February it was 41.4°C in the vineyard.)  Who can know and who can predict the impact it will have on our resultant wines once we have worked our way through this very unusual vintage.

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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