Blue Poles Vineyard
Lazy Summer Days, I wish …
It has been a frightfully busy month, the amount of shoot thinning required has been much more than encountered in previous years and this has been due to the ever increasing age of the vines and the lovely moist and warm spring weather we had leading into December. I take as much time shoot thinning as pruning as I believe it is one of the jobs on the “critical path” for obtaining the best fruit quality in our vineyard.
There are however a number of ways a local vineyard can control fruit quality during vintage and they are often either mechanical or simply the dropping fruit just before harvest – both of these methods I believe are flawed if you are trying to grow the most concentrated and flavorsome grapes. I will try and explain by going over the various methods involved for improving fruit quality in the vineyard during spring and early summer, and their consequences:
1. Wire Lifting: This is simply lifting the canes and pinning them against the trellising wires so as to expose the fruit. An essential aspect of trellised vines in Australia. For many commercial vineyards this is essentially “it” when improving fruit quality – for a vineyard producing high quality fruit it is simply the starting point.
2. Mechanical Hedging: Once wires are lifted, canes do still extend out from and above the pinning wires. These canes are trimmed by a mechanical hedging apparatus set up on a tractor to create the “hedge” appearance of the trimmed vines. This method is basically not altering the amount of growth, direction of growth, or tonnage of grapes – it simply has trimmed the tips of the vines. To make up for the loss of the growing tips the vines create lots of “lateral” growth, which is new leaves sprouting along the cane and these “laterals” end up covering the fruit and reducing exposure as well as increasing mildew risks. I am surprised this method is so common but it does make the vineyard look neater, but the advantages are negligible.
3. Leaf Blowing: Later in the vintage to aid in sunlight getting to the ripening grapes a leaf blower may be employed to remove the old primary leaves. Of some use as exposure of sunlight on to the canes does improve fruitfulness for the following vintage – but there is no reduction of the fruit volume or unfruitful canes.
4. Hand Thinning: This involves going through each vine removing the doubles (two canes growing from the same bud), excess growth (canes which are not growing from the set spurs or canes and are not required for the following seasons pruning), as well as removing poorly set fruit or variably set fruit. The timing of this job is tricky – I like to complete hand thinning a little later than others as this reduces the chance of any further re-growth and it means that the plant won’t go too strong with the remaining canes. It is a balancing act, but when done well it increases air flow around the fruiting zone, provides light and shade in the fruiting zone, reduces tonnages, concentrates the vine on the remaining fruit, and reduces the risk of disease.
5. Fruit Dropping: The dropping of fruit is often used when either the crop is seen to be too big for the vines, or there was an inconsistent fruit set and the grape bunches are very variable in their level of ripeness. For Blue Poles in years like 2006 and 2009 where a wet and cool spring upset the flowering process, many bunches of much less ripe fruit were throughout the vines and they could be easily removed during the end of veraison to ensure fruit quality. However in good years like 2007 and 2008, fruit thinning was done only sporadically as the evenness of the fruit set meant that all grapes will reach optimal ripeness. For vineyards that are carrying a large crop due to a mechanical process, much of the fruit thinning is done just prior to harvest and this implies that the fruit is not going to be as ripe or flavorsome as it could have been, regardless of the fruit dropping.
Thinning in the Cabernet Franc
Pruning methods and trellising also play an important role in fruit quality – but I will leave that for a later date as you may need to be woken up after your head has fallen onto the computer monitor if I start burbling on about that as well J So as you can see we place the importance of fruit quality at the highest rung as without it you simply cannot make the best wine you can – throw in the vagaries of vintage and the winemaking process and you will always be striving towards something when making boutique wine.
Other jobs completed during the month have included some sprays as well as slashing all the mid rows and putting all that growth back into the soil. I have quickly done some recordings of growth within the mulched rows and the un-mulched rows, and there is a slight increase in growth in the mulched vines for both cane length and internode spacing, as well as the period in which they are growing – all good stuff and providing more support to me in harnessing the potential of our site.
Looking back over this report it does appear that my life has become a touch obsessive! Well it is not quite as bad as all that, we did have a lovely Xmas break and a touch too much food and wine was consumed as well as some lazy days down on the beach with a book and a radio tuned into the cricket. All our family managed to make it home for Xmas dinner and I realize now that as each year passes this is to become less and less likely, a strange feeling for Gail and I after having the children with us for the past two decades – time moves on while you are not looking.
Blue Pole Wines – Status Report
Some of you may have a bottle or two of Blue Poles wine stacked away in a cellar somewhere and are quietly rubbing your hands together at the thought of cracking it open at a later date. But how are they travelling right now? Fortunately for me I get to try our wines on a regular basis and I’ll provide a run down below on the wines we have released such that you can see what’s going on with them:
2004 Merlot / Cabernet Franc – Acid is still out of whack with this wine, though it is coming together in a slow and steady process. Decant for two hours prior to drinking is the best. A good 5 years away from showing a more balanced wine.
2005 Merlot / Cabernet Franc – This is drinking really well at the moment, lovely spicy elements overlie some red fruits and smoky oak. A good hour in the decanter still helps open it out that little bit more. Great drinking and still with 5-8 years in it at this stage.
2006 Allouran – What a surprise, smooth from the get go and a lovely length to go with the balanced palate. I am always surprised by this wine; it is a great claret look alike and has a character that really pleases me. Give it a whirl in a decanter for 2-3 hours to pick up some tobacco notes from the oak (I like them!). 5-8 years in the cellar to go, at least.
2007 Allouran – Rich, fat and lovely BUT you must be patient as it only really opens up after 4-5 hours in the decanter. It feels like it may be approaching a bit of a “dull” phase – so if you open a bottle later this year and it seems a little “mmmkay”, put the cap back on a wait a day or two and you’ll be rewarded. A good 10-15 years of life in this one.
2007 Reserve Merlot – At this phase in its life you could say it is being recalcitrant. The puppy fat has moved on and it is a bit backwards when first opened. For those with an ability to keep an open bottle on the bench for a day or two – do this and you will be richly rewarded. Clues to where this wine is going are in the open bottle, and it is good, very good. Give it years and years (15-20), if you can.
2007 “Hopping Stone” Tempranillo – If you have some of this you have done very well. A super smelling wine from the first pour – all the hesitancy seen in the past has lifted from this wine and it is now drinking well straight away. Rich and savory, with a nice sweet length. Not a long keeper (3-5 years), so do enjoy over the next few years.
2007 Viognier – Well we have so little of this left, the single bottle with Xmas dinner was a real treat. Totally in balance now, touch of oak holds against the nectarine and ginger highlights – very memorable. You’ve got 2-3 years by my reckoning, but if you have some treat yourself to some fresh prawns and a garlic sauce and sit down, awesome.
2009 Viognier – Much fresher and lighter than the 2007. A tangerine note sits over the core of stone fruit and this leads into a refreshing palate. The balance is becoming more complete and this means the flavor is becoming more pronounced. An everyday white, but with a touch of complexity which isn’t seen every day. Drink up over the next 2-3 years.
All of the 2008’s are now in bottle and we’ll leak out some information on them as the wine settles in to its new housing. We are very happy with the 2008 vintage and were able to make a further Reserve wine, which is of the quality of our first, a very pleasing result. Please note that all our wines are fine poured straight from the bottle, but like any parent with their children, we do like to see them in their best light and often a little bit of airing can really make these wines sing and give the greatest pleasure. Any comments on any wines of ours that you’d like to make please contact us – we’d love to hear how you drank them, where and with whom!
Summer has commenced...
Little rainfall has fallen this month, ensuring cap-fall and flowering went as smoothly as possible and setting a good healthy crop of grapes. It has been windy, but this is not unusual with the temperatures being a bit higher ensuring the sea breeze can fire up each afternoon. Only one spray went out this month and it was fortunately put out in a minor lull in the breeze during the middle of the month.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
December 2009: Avg Maximum Temp 24.9oC (Daily Max recorded 33.6oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 11.7oC (Daily Min recorded 5.8oC)
The temperature ranges continue to be quite a bit warmer this year which has continued to bring the vines on evenly and with the low level of rainfall during the month growth is now slowed up with the lowering ground water levels. Both months had a very low level of rainfall which is common for December in the South West of WA.
December 2008: Avg Maximum Temp 23.1oC (Daily Max recorded 30.3oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 11.1oC (Daily Min recorded 6.2oC)
I did manage to contact David Lloyd from Eldridge Estate in the Mornington Peninsula and he passed on some succinct notes with regards to vintage for them. They have had warm spells interspersed with heavy rain falls on a fortnightly basis and this has played a bit of havoc with both vegetative growth and flowering. With flowering a bit disrupted a lot of “hen and chicken” fruit set has occurred in all the varieties implying that tonnages will be down but there will be lots of intense flavor and also good deep colors in the reds. David and Wendy have a fantastic little estate and if you can get to taste their wines you couldn’t be disappointed.
Roll on 2010 …
Finishing off all the jobs I did not get to complete in December seems to be the go for the start of this month – all is looking great so with this last tidy up we can then get to putting some nets out on the whites at the end of the month and start the nervous wait for vintage to commence. It has been a great vintage to date for us, as good or better than 2007 and a lot more effort put into the vines from that early vintage has us hoping that all can be put to ferment in tip top condition. Gail and one of the girls is off to Sydney to attend her father’s 70th birthday party (Happy Birthday Rod!), and I may be required to travel for work later in the month – so a little bit of a break may come our way as well.
Thus another year has come to an end – an eventful one for us with the release of many new wines and the development of more markets both here and overseas. Unfortunately we can’t rest as the desire to keep making and selling exceptional wine drives us on and we hope you all get the opportunity to share some wine with us in the coming year. As always if you have any queries do not hesitate to contact us either by email or www.twitter.com/bluepoles and we will do our very best to answer any question.
Finally congratulations to Chris Browne, the winner of the prize for completing the Questionnaire on wine samples. A three pack is on its way to you. Sincere thanks to all who completed the questionnaire, it is all very useful in helping get our wine to you in the best possible way!
Blue Poles Vineyard