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Monthly Report - March 2024

Closure, of sorts…


Vintage has been put to bed, not in a way that makes you feel satisfied and pleased, but rather in a hesitant and distracted manner.  It is early April as I type this, and it is 31°C outside and the sky remains a perfect blue.  To have vintage in the region completed by mid-March and yet be in early April with summer-like conditions is kinda wild, but that is the season, kinda bonkers.


We did pick off one variety to complete our vintage, the Cabernet Franc from one portion of the vineyard, so tonnages were never going to be high; but with the delay in pruning and the hardy nature of the variety we think that this could make a wine that will have a chance to be excellent.  Marjory and I once again donned the snips and picked just over 800kg of fruit from the best central portion of the block – having been testing it for a week, the acid and sugar levels were well under control – and mid-morning on 25 March the bins were delivered to Clive, Ellin and Anna at Fraser Gallop Estate.  Possibly the last fruit to arrive in and due to its tardiness, Ellin and her family dropped in over Easter to complete the plunging of the cap during ferment of the only wine remaining not pressed in the winery.  Thanks Ellin!

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Cabernet Franc in the bins – March 2024

About three barrels will be the red wine haul from 2024 vintage – slim pickings when there are normally 30-40 barrels in the racks.  It is incredibly frustrating, however if you do not recognise the impact any singular vintage would have on your wines and ignore the quality expectations of your customers, then you have a half life in the industry running towards you.  We cannot afford to not have every wine we produce be at the highest standard – no wriggle room at all – so our reputation flows solely through the wines as we do not pay for promotion or support.


But this vintage has shook me.


It still has not rained, six months now, trees are dying, and the vines suffering badly.  Irrigation may be an answer, but it is not the solution to ensuring the quality of our wines remains the same as we have produced historically.  Here is hoping this is a one off, an aberration, because if it is not, it will become a very different world we live in and not just for the wines we make but the ecosystem that surrounds us here in the South West of Western Australia.


As mentioned last month, I was able to spend a few days in Bendigo, Victoria doing some work on a geological project.  First time out and about in this part of Australia and apart from being very flat I found it a really interesting experience.  Some of the local wines were “unique” but to think it’s only 150km from Melbourne it could have been 1,050km for the difference in attitudes and the people.



Changeover Stock…


Yes, keep an eye out for the email noting the availability of the “changeover” stock for those in the know.  The “changeover” bottles are where the wine that mixes between each of our vintage wines while being bottled, these are separated and kept aside.  This guarantees the “official” wines in the bottle are exactly as we blended them, and this is important to us as we have many wines of 3-4 barrels and even 50 litres could impact on the wine ever so slightly.  Now normally the wines are cleanskins, but this year the bottling team have not followed instructions and labelled the wines.  Drat it all.


This is a problem, we do not want the changeover wines for the Deux Ecus popping up in auction for example, so I have marked every label with a marker pen just to show which wines are the actual, and which are the blend.  When Tim and I have had these wines in the past, they are all distinctly Blue Poles wines, but with little quirks that are in some bottles absolutely delicious and unique (especially the Shiraz and Res. Cab Franc blend).


The changeover wines to be offered will be as per below:


  • 2022 Allouran                                             Reserve Merlot → Allouran

  • 2022 Deux Écus                                          Allouran → Deux Écus

  • 2022 Reserve Cabernet Franc                  Deux Ecus → Res. Cabernet Franc

  • 2022 Shiraz                                                 Res. Cabernet Franc → Shiraz


As you can see below, all have been packed out in 6 packs, which are selected as a spread of the first case to the last case as the wines were bottled.  A way to enjoy mid-week drinking without any stress of losing bottles safely stored away of “official” Blue Poles wines, as well as giving you a heads up on the quality of the vintage, which I can assure was very very good.

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24-hour guard protection for our changeover wines – Jack on point

Battle of the Somme – s …

I guess this is something that I should be indifferent to, but it does nag at the back of my mind and it does trigger me every time I see some competition results or various forms of overt recognition for … Sommeliers.  I know, I know it is silly and possibly petty, but I just find this portion of our industry very difficult to get on board with.  Let me take this back a few steps and let you wander the “experiencial” journey with me.


As an introduction one should note, my family growing up was lower-middle class and we very rarely visited restaurants.  In fact, it was not until my very late teens that I ever went to a restaurant serving wines or some such.  This is understandable I guess as this is country New Zealand and the concept of “going out” was a bit of a big deal, even for the wealthier subset of the town.  As I got to understand wine and visit wine regions in the country, it never dawned on me that much of the more expensive wine I was tasting was aimed at the growing restaurant market, and that the rise and rise of sommeliers went hand in hand with this increase in wine drinking in general as well as the desire to enjoy meals in restaurants.

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Cobb and Co – Hamilton, New Zealand late 1970’s

We started raising our own family early, and because of this, the whole restaurant scene sort of passed me by, especially as I was living in country Western Australia by then.  Tim was a little different in that though he had a similar lower-middle class background, during his university and early years of employment he lived in central Perth and residing in Northbridge, Mt Lawley, Maylands, and with restaurants galore he thoroughly immersed himself in the eating and drinking out culture (then moved to Melbourne … enough said).  It also should be noted that I quite like cooking, which also limited the eating outside of the lifestyle we had – so starting the vineyard and making our first wines I had a great appreciation of wines as a drinker and collector, but not one who drank wines in restaurants or understood these dark arts of wine and food pairing and how wine would be promoted in these settings.


So, jumping forward to our first few vintages, very few direct contacts on our mailing list and buyers meant that we had to contact retailers and restaurants continuously seeking placement on shelves or on the wine lists.  And this is when I became very jaded dear comrades, the Sommeliers in many restaurants are “difficult” for a word.  I would have as a guess, for every 20 calls and messages, 2-3 may reply and when you secure a tasting time and date maybe 50% of those would cancel on the day or the day before.  If by pure chance you do get to taste your wines with them, it is highly likely that they would either find fault or just instantly forget what they had just drunk – the great man himself David Lloyd, the previous owner and winemaker at Eldridge Estate, once told me that serving wines to Sommeliers is “humility training” and he was so spot on.  Most wine sales to restaurants came from the restaurant contacting us and seeking our wines – based on having tried the wines or recommendations, very very few were from placing the wines in front of them.


So many wasted hours and bottles, with the added wash of being told the wines are not great or forgettable seems the worst of it.  Oh, if only.  Discounts on the wholesale prices are expected, especially if on-pour by the glass, and getting paid became a running battle for months, if not over a year in some cases.  Once we sent four cases of wine to a Sydney restaurant as they needed them before a Christmas function.  They signed for them when they arrived at their door and then when the bill was sent, they replied stating that they never received them – still makes my blood boil as it was a very fancy restaurant on the North Shore of Sydney, and we knew the mark-up applied to those bottles.


We should be looking at chasing up more restaurants and wine bars for wine placements, but unless you are promoted by the establishment or are placed as Homer Simpson once said so accurately “I will have the second cheapest wine bottle on the list”, it very rarely goes past a case or two for a lot of effort.  There are many Sommeliers along the way that I have met and thought they were really good sticks – Foni Pollitt at Mayfair Lane in West Perth and Stuart Knox at Fix in Sydney are two that immediately spring to mind – and the work that many Sommeliers do can be awesome as many run WSET wine courses as well as tastings and other wine promotion type activities.




Are Sommeliers still a “critical line item” in this world of instant connectivity and YouTube?  I understand the need for a curated wine list and ensuring bases are covered and so on, but do you need to have “wine” staff to achieve this aim?  Wine lists are not as scary as they once were and a couple of google searches and/or QR codes scanned, and most patrons would get as much information as the staff could provide.  Many restaurants are also becoming reliant on a single supplier or distributor, thus checking their wine list is a version of déjà vu from another restaurant wine list just viewed a while back.


The top end of the Sommelier industry itself is also mired in controversy with the cheating at Sommelier exams and sexual harassment of female staff, especially within the American Association.  A recent article written by Robert Joseph (here) about the latest Association de la Sommellerie Internationale annual general meeting touched on the problems facing the group, but reading through it, it felt like the dinosaurs were wondering what that light flashing across the sky could be.  Like a form of kismet, the destiny of this tiny subset within our industry may be reduced to a few performances for the most elite in the thinnest of airs, with the balance owning or operating wine bars away from the white tablecloths and clinking of cutlery.

Definitely not Cobb and Co. from New Zealand late 1970’s!

So, my viewpoint on this corner of our “business” world is a bit non plussed.  Are we watching the demise of a once important wine education link?  Or awaiting their re-emergence as guiding lights for a jaded and possibly simplified industry?  No lives will be lost, no impact on the daily behavior of the populous will be noticed – but we wine producers will all be watching with interest as the restaurant industry evolves with or without the wine waiters of yore…




Here we are once more “Apart from sounding like a broken record – it was hot … Apart from sounding like a broken record – it was hot”.  It has been so warm and dry for so long now that this first month of Autumn has felt like a form of a summer Groundhog Month as we wake to clear warm blue skies and not a speck of rain on the horizon.  Our water tank is dangerously low and long distant forecasts have no rainfall due before 15 April – it has all just become bewildering.


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


March 2024:        

Avg Maximum Temp          27.8°C

Daily Max recorded            34.9°C


Avg Minimum Temp           12.9°C

Daily Min recorded               6.9°C


Rainfall:                                4.0mm

The average maximum temperature average was much higher than in 2023 with the minimum temperatures quite similar.  Rainfall total for 2024 is negligible however the first rains of the new season had broken in 2023.

March 2023:        

Avg Maximum Temp           26.2°C

Daily Max recorded             34.6°C


Avg Minimum Temp           13.2°C

Daily Min recorded               7.3°C


Rainfall:                                21.6mm

Water Preservation…


April is not one where the vineyard needs to be bothered.  I do have some odd jobs with wires and spraying out some blackberry that refuses to go away, but overall, the vines are now in recess a month or so early.  My sole hope for this month is for some rain to provide the house with some water – showering once a day and limiting all water usage is now becoming a chore and we look forward to not having that concern each time we turn on a tap!

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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