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Monthly Report - May 2024

Four Weeks…

 

That was all it took to go from a dried husk of a landscape to a lush green vista.  The transformation took place from 2 May when we had our first decent rainfall over 20mm since 13 September 2023, and the following three days gave us a further 10mm.  It does not seem much, but my gosh it felt like the ground breathed out – such a dramatic impact to the fields and forests as the rain front passed (with obligatory thunder and lightning) and for the first time in a while birds were up and about with the heat was taken out of the soil.  A few days of millions of Portuguese millipedes invading the house was next, but even that did not dampen our spirits – just palpable relief (and an extra-long shower).

If it had been double I may have cried...

May in Australian vineyards is a quiet time – you often cannot prune as the vines have not finished dragging the energy back from the canes to the roots, and working on trellising is near on impossible as the canes from the past vintage are holding up access.  So, you sit and wait – or you go out and sell booze.  If you follow wineries on Social Media you would see a number of wineries out promoting their wares, and I got to have a front row seat as Clive, our winemaker at Fraser Gallop, who was in Melbourne decided to send my friend and I a dram by dram series of photos of all the whisky bars he and the team visited each night, a form of whisky kaizen.  Not jealous, not I.  No not at all.

 

Because.  I got to sell booze in Perth with Marjory.  But there was no company credit card to abuse, no Melbourne laneway speakeasy to slide into, and no flights of drams lined up on a bar.  Unfortunately.  However, Marjory and I did have a lovely couple of days with the boys and girls of Old Bridge Cellars in Como and North Freo, and as our AirBnB was on the river front we did enjoy the walkways and views along the parks in Crawley / Nedlands which are just fantastic – Perth is a beautiful city.

Wine tasting at Old Bridge Cellars

 

The only other auspicious occasion was that my mother returned back to Aoteoroa after spending 4 weeks with us at the house.  She loves the “serenity” and having the dog around as she ambles through the days – many a book read, and crossword completed which suited her to the ground.  Always great to have her here and she should roll up again next year with the same expectation of a quiet break and a coffee éclair or two (if she’s lucky!).

 

 

Reserve a Case or Deux (2)…

 

The Reserves from the 2022 vintage are to be released very very soon.  All En Primeur purchases have now been posted so keep an eye out for a delicious parcel on your doorstep if you were able to secure some of the Reserve Cabernet Franc and Deux Écus earlier in the year.

 

 

Gumboots…

 

One of the essential items for the well-dressed man around the Waikato in New Zealand was a pair of gumboots – quality Skellerup gumboots – for when walking down raceways behind a herd of Friesians as you get to the milking shed.  The cows were already organized, with the “lady boss” usually taking the head position in the first row of the 12 to 18 a side herring bone milking shed (in my day!), with the pecking order following suit.  I liked milking cows as a teenager, but I hated the hours – 4.30am starts and 4 hours in the shed before feeding out, feeding the calves and finally getting some breakfast… nah, not for me.

The Waikato is great for growing grass but pretty rubbish at growing grapes, and for quite a while this was the thought of many an agriculturalist for much of the country.  There were only a few areas known for grape growing, and these vineyards had a small selection of varieties to work from as these were originating from a long list of immigrants that landed, vines in hand.  One of the original clonal invaders was old Busby himself – yes, that James Busby who started the Australian wine industry had spent time in Northland, New Zealand.  He planted a number of vines, and though wild pigs caused havoc early on, by 1846 he was able to supply the army garrisons and locals with vino – no mean feat.

James Busby – Pioneer of both the Australian and New Zealand wine industries

By the 1840’s French peasants settled in Akaroa (near Christchurch) and planted out their cuttings transported with them, and the good old missionaries could not go without their holy sacrament, and vines popped up around the missions throughout the country.  The late 1800’s had a huge uptick in grape vines being brought into the country by other European settlers – Auckland and surrounds dominated the plantings (as it was the biggest population, it became the best market).  This free for all of vines from around the globe ending up in the soils of Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Northland, Auckland eventually came to a halt with the Department of Agriculture in 1957 ceasing all vine imports into the country without strict quarantine (so strict as to make it pointless).

 

So, a lull in proceedings occurred.  Most of the vines in country were pretty generic as they were brought in by farmers who were seeking yield as much as flavour – so lots of lesser varieties like Pinotage, Muller-Thurgau, and Chenin Blanc that we still refer to today, as well as vines that were even higher yielding but made rubbish wine such as Black July, Muscat Gordo Blanco and numerous odd and wonderful names.  With this shortage of quality wine varieties in the country many wines were pretty unmemorable.  However, in the 1970’s one of many things that happened which coincided with the rise and rise of wine recognition and quality of wine from New Zealand was the romantic arrival of the “Gumboot Clone” – a Pinot Noir cutting that was rumored to have been snipped from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vineyard itself.

 

Now this story is interesting as you would assume that the “gumboot” cutting sneaked through customs (actually in a gumboot), got planted out and went on to become the sensation that all Pinot Noir fanciers’ ooh and ahh over to this day.  Wrong, oh so actually humdrum wrong.  It was picked up by a customs official called Malcolm Abel (and yes it was in that infamous gumboot) and being a wine enthusiast did not incinerate it immediately but instead put it through quarantine and then planted it out in his own vineyard in Auckland.  From that vineyard almost all Pinot cuttings were taken for the rest of the country, and one of the most famous areas for Pinot, Martinborough, is still almost solely planted out to the “Gumboot” clone.  The guy who tried to sneak in the cutting from DRC most probably got a bollocking and returned home a bit sad.

 

Now where the heck am I going with this?

 

Well, this leads me to a recent story that was in the news in New Zealand a month or so back.

 

“Winemaker and vineyard owner James Millton – who in 2012 was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the New Zealand wine industry – has been sentenced to five months of community detention and fined $15,000 on charges linked to him knowingly importing goods with no biosecurity clearance and knowingly making a false or misleading declaration to officials at Auckland Airport.”

 

Just looking at that you think, that is a bit harsh.  Arriving at the airport from Adelaide, getting caught by the border security, and whammo $15,000 and 5 months with an ankle bracelet.  But that is not how it happened – unlike our gumboot clone where the ever alert Malcolm Abel found the cutting in the infamous wellington boot as it arrived in the country, James walked out of the airport with his cuttings of Savagnin in his bag, and then planted them next to his house by the vineyard in Gisborne.

Then took some more cuttings from those vines a year or so later and had them grafted onto rootstock and planted them in the vineyard proper (with his local nursery obviously asking no questions).  No problems so far, he now has the start of a block of Savagnin, but there was no way he could promote it on a label or even tell the next-door neighbor.  It, however, unraveled on him so very quickly.  He sold his majority holding in his vineyard and winery not long after planting the new vines and then moved to Blenheim.  When in Blenheim he requested that cuttings from this “block” of what he referred to as “Chenin Blanc Special Selection” be sent through to him, and again he wanted them grafted on to rootstock.  The nursery in Blenheim to do the grafting asked for the provenance – it could not be provided – and boom he was in big bad trouble, and this led to the “ankle bracelet” on one of the “organic” pioneers of New Zealand wine.

 

What the heck was he thinking, and what did he have to gain?  In court Jame’s lawyer said he was a “dreamer”, and an enthusiast who was on a “sensory expedition of his own”, but according to his lawyer at age 67 his personal life had collapsed, he had suffered a massive life set-back from losing his business, part of his family and now the reputational damage associated with the offending.

 

I am intrigued by this and not because of the vines themselves or the hoops you are required to jump through to import vine cuttings in New Zealand (or Australia for that matter), but by the tenuous thread we hold with what we consider important to us.  Here is a guy who seemingly had it all, but knowingly blew it up for a handful of Savagnin cuttings (the vines we in Australia thought were Alberiño) – he could not promote it, he could not discuss it, even enjoying the process taken to get to that glass of wine would have been tainted knowing the subterfuge involved to get to that point.

 

It is also kinda bonkers that during his hearing the Dept of Primary Industries told the court that James had risked the “entire wine industry” with the illegal import of these cuttings.  And this was used against him in sentencing – but, come on, really?  I call BS – New Zealand has phylloxera (hence the continual grafting), has all the mildews and molds of Australia, and the only thing that they are missing out on were some moths or maybe another bug or two but you were sneaking in wood cuttings so nigh on impossible for them to be carried along (and survive).  I understand – safety first and all that, but checking on the Millton website it appears that the vineyard was not razed to the ground as a protective measure… so?

 

It does not excuse what he did, I get it.  But come on, a bit of perspective here.  The guy is taking a hit for an esoteric concept, rather than the reality of what he did.  I do feel sorry for him in the sense that we all at times do not see clearly with regards to aspects of our life that are “of ourselves” – things that are important to us much more than we realise.  He did a silly thing, but to be castigated in the press (at least 8 articles I have seen) is over the top and a bit shrill.

 

Our romantic view of the pioneers in any industry would not meet any standards associated with the modern day.  Pioneers today are not those who toil away or travel to parts unknown, they are “disruptors “or “game changers” which puts concept over action.  We romanticize the past, but if it was to play out today, we would be aghast – and as seen in James Millton’s case lambasted and publicly shamed.  I have no idea why James did what he did, but New Zealand as a wine industry was built on this form of “pioneering” and it now resides in a very distant past, as today we would have boatloads of European migrants arrested at the dock.

 

So, getting back to our mythical DRC Pinot Noir, it appears that Gumboots are now solely for the farm I am afraid to say.

 

Hallelujah...

 

Rain.  Absolutely glorious rain. It all started on 2 May with 26.6mm and the rainwater tank for the first time in 7 months gained a few centimeters of water and was dovetailed by 37.7mm of rain on 29 May – giving us about 35,000l of collected rain in the tank by the end of the month (this now means we are having relaxing showers and washing the dishes without a care!).  While it was wet, it was also warm during May, and the odd feeling of having the sun low in the sky but still generating a pulse of heat did not go unnoticed.

 

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

May 2024:        

Avg Maximum Temp          22.0°C

Daily Max recorded            26.2°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp           11.2°C

Daily Min recorded               7.1°C

 

Rainfall:                             134.8mm

The average maximum and minimum temperature averages were much higher than in 2023.  Rainfall total for 2023 was pretty low after a wet April, but we had a solid month of rain in 2024.

May 2023:        

Avg Maximum Temp           19.4°C

Daily Max recorded             23.9°C

 

Avg Minimum Temp              8.7°C

Daily Min recorded                1.8°C

 

Rainfall:                                51.4mm

Pruning Begins…

 

Or so it should – the vines with the continual warmer weather have not lost all of their leaves as yet and this means you delay pruning until this occurs.  Chardonnay will be the first cab off the rank, followed by whichever vine looks the most rested.  I do have a trip abroad at the end of the month for my other work, so I had better crack on.

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.

Cheers

 

 

Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

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