Blue Poles Vineyard
It’s hard being green…
This has been a solid month of growth on the vineyard, with all the wire lifting completed and some continuing cleaning up of canes that won’t stay in place. With this steady steady “quiet” period I had an opportunity post Christmas to take a short break for a holiday – hence the delay for this monthly report (my apologies!).
The vines look the picture of health and during the month growth has been very even, vines are still pushing their canes but more effort has gone into the fruit and with the reduced fruit set (caused by our pruning, not by nature), and we are looking good to get some solid fruit flavors built into the fruit during ripening. One of our tools for vine health is irrigation and two days before Christmas the vines started to have a bit of an adverse reaction to the dry, so we have started irrigating ever so slightly (20 minutes every 2 days) in the red varieties, and this has done the trick and brought the vines back into balance without going over the top.
Our whites have really moved ahead this year with these varieties planted 1-2 years after the initial Merlot and Cabernet Franc. They have their first opportunity to be harvested, fermented, and bottled this year. Having just walked through the Marsanne and Viognier we were a bit surprised and a bit excited. The Marsanne is having an odd year, it flowers very early and it looks like the set is a little variable with a lot of “hen and chicken” type fruit – this is very common in chardonnay but the first time we have seen it in our Marsanne. Often you get very intense flavors in the small berries but your volume of fruit is reduced. Viognier is simply ripping along with solid even bunches along our cane pruned arms, it looks a picture and provides us with the opportunity to make a reasonable volume if we can keep the mildews out as well as net out those pesky birds. This is our first commercial vintage of these varieties and we may be looking to getting some advice from friends and experts with regards to picking dates. A whole lot of fun is coming up here as Viognier has a reputation of been a grape that needs to be picked on the “hour” – heaven help us.
Our house …
One of the goals of the past 6 years of work was to be able to one day live on the vineyard. Well this is actually beginning to happen with the site works for our house all completed during December and the steel frame now balanced on our concrete pad.
Photo of expensive bits of steel
Our builder has taken the holidays off and in late January the building will commence in earnest. The fun of selecting fittings and furnishings is on going and we hope to have our house fitted out with materials that will last our lifetime (… well I’m not going anywhere for a while). Post vintage we will give an update, with hopefully there being a few walls and windows to add texture.
Vineyard Equipment, a dossier…
An area of cost that seems to be lost in all the set-out of a vineyard is all the equipment that a vineyard needs to keep all their vines in the best of health and generating fine wine. Many of you would not be aware of all the different vineyard “tools” that are needed and what I will do is list a few of the more important ones out for you such that you can see how much capital is needed (if you don’t contract out the tasks), and to make it amusing for you (and hair pulling for us) I’ll list the number of days in which you’d use the said equipment in one growing season.
Tractor – needs to have a cab and air conditioned for spraying (20-30 days)
Mulcher – for mashing up your canes post pruning (2 days)
ATV bike – essential for getting around (365 days)
Under vine sprayer – we use ours from the bike for accuracy (20 days)
Slasher – keeping the grass down inter-row (2-4 days)
Spray unit – got to keep the mildews away (6 days)
Net Wizz – putting out and taking in the nets (6 days)
This is the basic list, you could go for inter-row seeders and hedgers and automatic pruners etc etc, but the big point is that you buy these expensive bits of gear and you hardly use most of it. All essential of course, and if you contract out many of the jobs you would terrify the average wage earner when the bills arrive, but the making of quality clean grapes means spending not only time amongst the vines but also money on the tasks to be completed by machines.
Glorious weather ensued…
Put simply the weather for the month has been glorious for growing grapes in Margaret River. It has been an extremely solid month of temperatures in the mid 20’s and higher with little to no rain that made no impact at all on the vines. The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
December 2006: Avg Maximum Temp 25.3oC (Daily Max recorded 35.2oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 11.5oC (Daily Min recorded 6.7oC)
In comparison to 2005 the maximum temperatures were a lot higher, with minimum temperatures being very similar. Rainfall is lower in 2006 than 2005, and in 2005 the rainfall occurred on 9 days of the 30, where as we have only had 3 rainy days this month.
December 2005: Avg Maximum Temp 20.1oC (Daily Max recorded 26.7oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 11.8oC (Daily Min recorded 6.5oC)
As with last month I’ve included below the weather values for Bordeaux during their equivalent of the month of December in the southern hemisphere.
June 2006: Avg Maximum Temp 25.7oC (Daily Max recorded 32.0oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 14.8oC (Daily Min recorded 6.0oC)
The end of June is the start of the “Tour de France” and my late nights watching the peleton bursting through small French villages from Alsace to Bordeaux is one of the highlights of my year. The weather at the start of the tour if my memory serves me right was glorious and heat was an issue, especially as they headed to the Pyrenees, and these figures support what a great start to the season Bordeaux was having, lovely warm temperatures (even the minimums were very high) and no rainfall to speak of. After a great 2005 vintage they must have been thinking that they were on target for another super vintage. Margaret River to have such similar numbers (weather wise) at a time in which the bordelaise were getting excited is a real solid vote of confidence in this vintage at the moment.
Slip, Slop, Slap starts in earnest…
January (and February) are traditionally the hottest months of the year in the south west of Western Australia, and unlike last year where the temperatures were positively “freezing” the weather this year looks like we will have the normal hot temperatures going forward. This is in fact a bit of a two-edged sword where the heat guarantees the ripening of the grapes, but too much heat brings that ripening forward too fast and this reduces flavor complexity and generally interest in the finished wine. We do have one fluky advantage over many spots in the region, where by we receive the sea-breeze an hour or two earlier due to a quirk in the topography around eastern Rosa Brook. This moderates the worst of the heat and makes the vines reduce the periods in which they shut down due to heat stress. Reviewing great vintages in Margaret River in the past show the key to be reduced rainfall and moderate temperatures – here’s hoping this vintage can head down that path.
The vineyard requires care and maintenance, not the weeks of leaf plucking and thinning that went on all of last year to make sure we made quality wine. But as always you can not rest on your laurels and there will be a few weeks of “tidying” to make sure that all the grapes get access to sunlight and air. There will be at least 2 sprays for mildews during the month and a quick whiz through with the slasher will aid in keeping the nets tidy when they are eventually put out in February. Also a job that needs doing is a barrel tasting run on the 2006 Merlot and 2006 Cabernet Franc – I will try to get some notes out to you next monthly report as well as some news and some reviews on the soon to be released 2005 Merlot / Cabernet Franc.
We here at Blue Poles hope you had a great start to the New Year and that you have made some resolutions that you can keep.
All the best everyone.
Blue Poles Vineyard