Blue Poles Vineyard
Painting the grapes red…
I will start off with a confession, the first week of January was spent by me and youngest daughter amongst the bustle and haggle of Hong Kong … and we thoroughly enjoyed it. This was my first holiday since we have bought the vineyard in 2001, and after 8 days of walking with thousands of people and looking up at permanent smog I was very happy to return to the vineyard (… but the shopping was great). No more breaks for a few months now as vintage approaches and this means all hands to the pumps as we pick off 5 varieties this year. Also this month our vineyard ute turned up (photo below), and it now does the trips around town collecting supplies and delivering wine, and we have also placed our name on the side so as to remember where it lives.
The new 'Blue Poles' ute
With January come the first real signs that action is afoot amongst the grapes, with bulging berries and the changing of colour, also referred to as veraison. This means that we are heading in the right direction as the dates for the colour change in our reds is a good 2 weeks earlier than last year and this places picking in late March through to mid April at the latest for the reds. I’ll expound this month on what I briefly discussed at the end of last month’s monthly report, so as to clarify the effect of ripening and flavours which are key in every vintage.
Picking earlier in the season in Margaret River has its good and bad points and these directly affect how the vintage quality will pan out. The good points are that:
the fruit is unlikely to be under any mildews or insect pressure (long dry hot days tend to reduce the chance of either problem getting out of hand, and also that the spray programs would not have been delayed)
the chance of significant frontal rainfall is slim (apart from the rain itself, upon a frontal weather pattern passing the SW corner of Western Australia you can be sure of cold southerlies following. These winds have a habit of carrying further showers and keeping the temperatures cool, slowing ripening process even more)
you can most probably pick at a ripeness that you are after with regards to the wine style you seek.
The bad points are really issues of quality and refinement that come with the territory of making fine wine – i.e. flavour. If the season is very hot the ripeness of the grapes leaps forward to typical “picking” sugar levels quite early but many of the flavour compounds are not fully formed or developed within the grape during this shortened time frame. Thus if you wait for these flavours to fully develop you lose the acidity in the grapes and the sugar levels continue to rise ensuring that after fermentation the alcohol levels are well above what many consider “normal” for red wines. Acidity can be added, where as flavour can't. So when you next walk down the wine shop aisle you may note a fair few dry red wines with very high alcohol levels and this is due predominantly to the reasons presented above. However, high alcohol and very late picked red grapes have their own flavours and some of these could be considered detrimental - high alcohol creates “heat” in the mouth and an “oily” mouth feel, and late picked grapes have a percentage of “overripe” grapes which may result in prune and raisin flavours which could be considered “old” and “tired” on the palate.
We at Blue Poles are very fortunate in our vineyards site location due to a quirk of nature and topography which gives us the opportunity to beat the flavour versus alcohol problem discussed above. Our vineyard slopes both south and west, with the southern boundary adjacent to the Margaret River that runs east-west across the region. The sea breeze that turns up most evenings during summer comes from the south and due to this quirk in the topography we have this sea breeze turning up as much as 2-3 hours before vineyards to the west and north of us. By depressing the heat load and “evening out” the heat we have an extended growing season in comparison to many vineyards in the region. Therefore by waiting for the flavours to kick in we do not risk having sugar levels (thus alcohol levels) going through the roof. In a year like the one we are in we are very very grateful as we will have the opportunity to pick super clean grapes at less risk of rain fall and cooler weather causing us problems. Last year when the temperatures were low we had to really work hard, and with the case of the shiraz we could not pick this variety at all due to the lack of heat. We have really high hopes for this vintage but we can not count our eggs just yet (see the Bordeaux weather story unfold below!), and hope that the season hangs together and keeps dry and warm (not too hot, or too cold of course … we’re just like Goldilocks), then we can sit back and see what the barrels will present us in the cellar.
Speaking of which I have had a chance to run through the 2006 Merlot and Cabernet Franc barrels and I must admit I am extremely happy. The colour is very dark red, almost black and the nose is of fully ripe, intense, rich fruit. The palate is superbly balanced, and with all the problems of the 2006 vintage it looks like we’ll have a wine that will be equivalent in quality to the 2005, and in some ways possibly exceed it. The most heartening aspect of the tasting is simply the consistency of “place” in our wines, specific flavours enhanced and enriched in the wine shine through in every bottling and barrel and I am now confident that this “terroir” unique to our location can be seen in our wine. Like a true “Francophile” we are seeking a relationship of the vines with the land and by golly I think we are getting closer with each vintage to seeing this relationship.
Work amongst the vines has been one of “nip and tuck” this month. With all the wires lifted we have gone along the eastern side of every row and tidied up straggling canes, cut out some laterals and exposed the fruit where possible. On the western side we have done nothing … for a reason of course! The heat of the afternoon sun can be intense in Western Australia and so as to protect this fruit from burn and high heat loads once the berries turn black (in the case of the reds), we have left a bit more foliage coverage. Irrigation is used sparsely and we may turn it off completely if we feel the weather is moderate enough to allow it – water stress is great for flavour but shut-down heat and water stressed vines do not make great wine either. We will walk this fine line very carefully over the next 6 weeks.
Hot and dry, just the way we like it…
It is going really well weather wise in the Margaret River region for the 2007 vintage. The weather has heated up, and barring 3 quite hot days at the end of the month we have had a very solid heat load without the hot temperature spikes that sometimes occur. The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
January 2007: Avg Maximum Temp 25.1oC (Daily Max recorded 35.6oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 14.5oC (Daily Min recorded 5.4oC)
In comparison to 2005 the maximum temperatures were similar, with minimum temperatures being a little higher. Rainfall is lower in 2006 than 2005, but only by a smidgen.
January 2006: Avg Maximum Temp 24.7oC (Daily Max recorded 30.2oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 12.6oC (Daily Min recorded 6.8oC)
As with last month I’ve included below the weather values for Bordeaux during their equivalent of the month of January in the southern hemisphere.
July 2006: Avg Maximum Temp 29.7oC (Daily Max recorded 36.0oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 17.8oC (Daily Min recorded 15.0oC)
Where as last month we could see how the relationship between the two regions could be seen as peas in a pod, this is the month that the Bordelaise started to panic a bit as the weather “turned to custard” one could say. The month in Bordeaux started dry and warm but then the first of a series of significant rain events came through, lightening and thunder and all, with over 150mm of rain dumped on the vines – the gravels do freely drain but with this amount of rain even these soils would have been wet. With the rain came the heat and this must have caused no end of consternation with regards to mildews and spraying would have been ongoing with every break in the weather. At this point the Bordelaise would have been hoping for a dry and warm August … that’s next month.
Preparing for the vintage…
We are now in a bit of a holding pattern, the grapes are ripening away and we can’t do much more than wait for them to get to optimal ripeness and taste. During the month nets will be put out over the whites and the merlot, with the whites’ nets transferred to the shiraz and cabernet franc once the whites are picked. Picking this year will take a fair bit of organization and crystal ball gazing so as to plan around all the folk who come out to help us (of whom we are extremely grateful). So it is a month of looking at the sky, the plants, the soil, the grapes and the calendar – easy as pie!
February will also be a month in which we have our joint venture partners and great friends move off to Melbourne – so to Tim and Yuko we wish them all the best. Unfortunately for Tim however he does travel back through Perth for his work and he will be used up as he becomes available.
All the best everyone.
Blue Poles Vineyard