Blue Poles Vineyard

January 2010

 

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The heat is on …

 

When I woke up on 17 January I must admit to a degree of happiness. The entire vineyard had been thinned and final wire lifts in place, the irrigation programs were running smoothly and my wife and daughter were due home from a holiday in Sydney.  All looked well and there was even a small southerly breeze, so I assumed the hot day promised will not be too bad – alas my weather forecasting was to be proved very wrong.  By 1pm a strong hot northerly wind rolled in and temperatures rose to 38oC, and checking the vines all looked well, but by 5pm the wind had dropped but the heat was huge and around 40oC in the shade.  With the sun now beating down on the grapes that we have painstakingly exposed, many of the western bunches got sun burnt and we suffered losses throughout the vineyard

 

You can not do anything about this, it is part of growing grapes and the trials and tribulations you face each vintage, but it is disappointing.  The worst affected was the Cabernet Franc with about 25% loss, and the rest of the vineyard has about 10-5% loss overall – and that is the frustration in a nut shell as the amount of work put into the Cabernet Franc this year has been significant and we were on target for some wonderful fruit.  But we can not dwell on this set back, as we still have had a sensational vintage to date and we are on target to make exceptional flavorsome wines in 2010.

 

Sunburnt Shiraz

 

The month has been a relatively quiet month in the vines with just the last of the thinning and wirelifting getting finished, as well as the midrows  slashed again so as to keep the mulch in the midrows as much as possible so as to keep the soil healthy.  Thus I have had the opportunity to build a fence around the back of the house and knock off some paving – this should tidy up around the house and tick off some jobs that have been awaiting completion for over a year now.

 

A new fence around the house at Blue Poles

 

Also completed the wine barrel purchases for the coming vintage, and like a fat kid in a chocolate shop I have had fun selecting new barrels to match in with our wines.  Trialing new oak coopers is an ongoing task as a high portion of the wines complexity comes from the oak used in storage (and ferment when it comes to the Viognier), and we continue to store all our reds in barrel as we feel that the wine is more complete when aged this way.  Also there is nothing more pleasing than the coopers excited to have our wine in their barrels and offering incentives to do so – making top class wine does have some privileges.

 

I have also managed to complete some very basic research work on the local weather in Margaret River as I was keen to see if global warming is altering the weather in the region and how this will affect the current plantings as well as our selection for the final 2½ hectares of vines that we have plans for in the next few years.

 

 

 

… but is man-made global warming to blame?

 

I was always getting in trouble when I was little. It was not because I was deliberately naughty, I was too worried of the consequences for that, but it was because I could not help but question everything that was told to me.  Some of my most early memories was going to the “Echlins” store in town on Friday night and if I “did not touch anything” I would get a present (often a little jigsaw puzzle or the like), and to meet this requirement was painstakingly difficult for me as I could not help but ask what was behind the magazine shelf? What makes the postcard rack spin round? Would the toy puppy bark if I shook it? … as you can see my mother was at times driven to distraction with my inquisitiveness and the generation of my own little language. But funnily enough, throughout the years perhaps my biggest asset has been my enquiring mind and it has done me well with academic success and career success along the way.

 

But – being a “natural born skeptic” does lead one into going against the flow as I would always seek proof over opinion and independence over dependence, thus the Man-Made Global Warming issue.

 

Simple concepts in science very often point to a larger truth, and these connections are often treated with awe.  Perhaps the most famous is Natural Selection as defined by Charles Darwin in the “Origin of Species” – a beautifully simple concept that has passed the test of time, and with the greater understanding of genetics has continued to be enhanced and underpins all life on this planet.  For geology, a field I studied and work in, Wegener’s papers and book on Plate Tectonics changed geology forever (though not until after his death unfortunately, when the overwhelming weight of knowledge finally proved Wegener’s genius, fantastic guy and a true hero).  Without insights from these and many other very intelligent scientists we would never have moved forward in any field of human endeavour.

 

Thus we come to a simple pertinent fact that has created one of the purported biggest issues to ever face mankind – increasing CO2 levels caused by burning fossil fuels is causing climate change, and if it continues may cause climate catastrophe.  Now, as a scientist who has a bit of knowledge in this field, the presence of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (CH4,SO2 etc) keeping the suns heat trapped within the atmosphere long enough to warm the planet is a well understood and essential aspect of life on this planet. Without the presence of greenhouse gases, much of the suns radiant heat would be lost from the atmosphere and we would freeze.

 

On the flip side of this there is also occasions when the upper atmosphere gets overloaded by dust or debris (large volcanic eruption such as Mt Pinatubo, or an asteroid hitting the earth throwing up a huge volume of dust), and the sunlight entering the lower atmosphere is “filtered”.  This lowers the amount of radiant heat to be trapped and again we get a touch cool and if large enough we would freeze (just ask the dinosaurs, they did not take to a cold dark world at all well).  In fact many do not know how precarious life on earth has been over the 2,000 million year record of life, and at times it could be said that all multi-cellular life could easily have been exterminated to start completely all over again.  It is an amazing rich tapestry of chance and opportunity that has brought us to this point, and now we feel that man’s activity via the raising of the “heat controlling” greenhouse gases is providing the next big change to our planets environment.

 

And here in lies the crux of the issue – the simple known fact that greenhouse gases keep warmth trapped in the lower atmosphere is well understood. BUT they are now being raised by the burning of fossil fuels, thus by simple logic the more greenhouse gases, the greater the heat entrapment and therefore the greater the world temperature over time.  It is simple really and according to many, totally consistent and undeniable.  Then why are there doubters and skeptics out there?  Is this another case of greedy fossil fuel industries becoming the “cigarette companies of the 1960’s” and promoting no linkages even though they have the proof in a safe in the boardroom?  Is it another right wing play for the status quo while they fill their boots with money from spiraling oil and power prices?

 

Well to be honest I was not sure, so I thought why not simply do some easily repeatable research myself and fill up some nights away from the TV and vineyard work. The questions I thought I could answer by a bit of research were these simple questions:

 

1.      What is the historic level of CO2 in the atmosphere and how much has it changed over the past 200

         years?

2.      Has the average temperature at Blue Poles Vineyard changed in the past 10 years?

3.      Has the average temperature at Margaret River changed in the past 100 years?

 

By answering these questions with no bias either way to the believers or the skeptics, I think I may have a clearer appreciation of the issue as it affects me, my family, and our vineyard.  So off I went on a “mission from God” as the Blues Brothers would say…

 

1.       CO2 levels

 

I assumed getting global atmospheric CO2 levels would be pretty straight forward, but surprisingly it is still debated and as each year is an average some authors get a bit hot under the collar about the final numbers.  It is now (mostly) agreed that the worldwide atmospheric CO2 levels are recorded at Mauna Loa, Hawaii – and the CO2 values have been collected from this site since 1958.  Prior to this the values were defined by accurately dated ice samples where the entrapped air has been analyzed and provided a value that has been added to the graph. Below is a simple graph of CO2 levels from 1832 to today:

 

 

As you can see there is a big jump in global CO2 levels from the 1940’s to today.  From 1834 to 1958 global CO2 levels went from 284ppm to 315ppm in 124 years (a jump of 31ppm or a jump of ~11% over the period of the industrial revolution to the end of all the major world wars).  But since 1958 to today (a period of 52 years) global CO2 levels have risen 71ppm which is a further 25% - which means from the start of the industrial revolution to today world CO2 levels have increased by over a third, which is very significant.  If there is a direct link with world temperatures and rising CO2 levels then it is going to be large and obvious you would assume from this information.

 

2.      Blue Poles Vineyard

 

My first review should be where I am going to be affected the most, so I decided to have a look at what has happened to the temperatures at Blue Poles Vineyard since 2000 when we first starting looking for our vineyard site, and the subsequent development in 2001.  The closest weather station with hourly temperature data is Witchcliffe, a small town south of Margaret River and affectionately known as Witchie by all the locals.  I broke down all the months to maximum and minimums and then found the average temperature and then combined each month by weighted days to get a yearly average.  Now over the past 10 years the CO2 levels have been rising quite dramatically (~14ppm in 10 years) and I was thinking that a trend was likely even within such a short time span.

 

Below is the summary graph:

 

 

I was extremely surprised, the average annual temperature is basically dead flat – no rise or fall for 10 years.  Maximums and minimums moved around a little bit more, but the trend lines on those as well were effectively flat as well, if not slightly negative.  Now I did not expect this, and it gave me pause as during the Copenhagen summit there were DIRECT links between the world’s CO2 levels (e.g. if the CO2 levels rose a further 50ppm then we would have a global temperature rise of 3.5oC etc) – what were they going on about?  As a rise of >25% of 50ppm in fact made no change at all.

 

The only logical explanation was that the sample set must be far too constrained and the bigger picture would be required.  So I needed to find out what has happened over the past 100 years in the Margaret River region, and the only way to do that is to go back to the historic weather records of the local lighthouse.

 

3.      Cape Leeuwin

 

We live on a fantastic piece of the Australian coastline, but for sea farers in the 18th and 19th Century this was not an opinion that they shared.  The global currents and the prevailing winds in the southern Indian ocean meant ships travelling from Cape of Good Hope to the Indies or the Pacific headed south, caught the following winds and they hooped across the Indian Ocean until they either encountered Western Australia or Tasmania – it was quick, and when you encountered Western Australia the prevailing wind was a southerly and this took you to the East Indies and all the natural products that abounded there.  Unfortunately if you happened to misjudge your bearings a bit you tended to thud into an extremely remote and harsh coastline and you were pretty much goners.  Due to the problem of loss of lives etc, a major point on the map which needed to be lit up was Cape Leeuwin at the SW tip of WA and this lighthouse was built and commissioned in 1897 and has been operating ever since (as well as its northern twin at Cape Naturaliste which was up and running in 1904).

 

So it was simply a matter of determining the temperatures carefully recorded at the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse for the past 110 years to see if there has been any significant rise in temperatures which would match the sympathetic rise in CO2 levels. Below is the graph:

 

 

 

This graph has given me real pause for thought, as by simply looking at it you see only minor variance over a century and it even appears that we are moving towards a cooling trend in the future.  Over 110 years the average temperature has risen by the trend lines about 0.4oC (~2%), yet CO2 levels have risen from ~300ppm to 386ppm (>28%).  Even more interesting is that the trend now is downwards, and we have a similar climate to that encountered in the period 1908 – 1918, 100 years ago!  Basically, there appears to be no support for man-made global warming, so what is going on?

 

By looking at the graph closely you can begin to see how you could manipulate things to help out a global warming argument.  Around 1968 there was a quite cool period and if we were to commence data comparisons from this point then you would see a dramatic jump in temperatures and the flattening out of the past 10 years would look like a simple aberration.  The reason for commencing the data at this point matches with the take-off of CO2 levels, and it would provide a justification for the deceit.  The start of a trend line should represent all that was before it and by commencing your graph at a cool point – the viewer assumes that it was ALWAYS as cool as that beforehand.  I have found this to be a disingenuous presentation and one that the scientists presenting data in many websites and journals I read would have been more than aware of.

 

How would the local population feel if they were told that actually the weather in SW Western Australia is nearly identical to a period in the 1910’s?  Is anyone aware of this?  Would you be prepared to pay for carbon emissions based on what you see in this simple series of graphs?  If I could knock up these simple examples in a few days to provide a level of understanding of greenhouse gas impact on my surrounding climate, anyone else could, and if you have the time and capacity, do the same thing for yourselves in your region.  A quick email to the Bureau of Meteorology should give you access to the data for a weather station near you and you could quickly knock out a simple graph – prove it to yourself, do not just believe me.

 

4.      What to do?

 

Well in my mind the linkage between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is tenuous at best and not there at all at worst.  Does this mean we should go out and build more coal power stations, drive bigger hummers and put in 500W bulbs through the house?  That would be a big fat no, and the simple reason for this is that the world is most probably moving towards an energy crisis more than a climate crisis, as our current rate of consumption of many fossil fuels is simply too great considering the reserves we have in the world (and the potential reserves).  The Emissions Trading Scheme, carbon tax / credits etc etc are all a bit of a smoke screen for the bigger issue of the cost and availability of energy.

 

Sustainable energy is a critical path for all nations of the earth – responsible use of their and our resources is the key path forward.  The inability of our state government to develop a simple wind farm in the south west of WA is a case in point – and some of the biggest opponents are green activists.  How does this happen?  A wood waste power plant was proposed in Manjimup, halted on the back of green activists again – this wood will now be burnt in situ with no benefit to anyone.  I built our house to be as power efficient as possible, I have a car that is very fuel efficient, and we use only water that is captured from our roof – it is only a little bit, but as time goes on we will move towards other forms of energy capture and hopefully this would lead to an efficient and sustainable energy system for us here at Blue Poles.

 

My apologies for the size of this discussion but it would be less clear and probably more confusing if I did not present all the information I had.  If you want to discuss this further with me, or feel there is gaps in the logic please feel free to contact me – this is not a peer reviewed piece of work but rather my opinion based on the data that I have collated in the past few weeks.

 

Hot for a day, otherwise fine...

 

As discussed at the start of this report, the weather was very hot on 17 January for 4-5 hours which damaged some of our grapes, but otherwise the constant early sea breeze has meant a fine and dry month in January.

 

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

 

January 2010:             Avg Maximum Temp           26.9oC                (Daily Max recorded 39.3oC)

                                    Avg Minimum Temp            13.2oC                (Daily Min recorded    7.2oC)

 

                                    Rainfall:                               1.2mm

 

The temperature range is very similar with it being slightly hotter this year, but the minimums caused by significant sea breezes blowing late into the evening (if not through the night) has kept the minimums lower this year.  Both months had a very low level of rainfall which is common for January in the South West of WA.

 

January 2009:            Avg Maximum Temp           26.7oC                (Daily Max recorded 37.8oC)

                                    Avg Minimum Temp           14.5oC                (Daily Min recorded   8.1oC)

 

                                    Rainfall:                              2.4mm

 

 

What will this month bring? …

 

I dare not get too in front of myself much anymore, but this is the start of vintage proper as the grapes go through veraison and begin to build up their sugar content and flavors.  It is an exciting and stressful time as you are in the lap of the gods for so many aspects of the end of season.  Nets will begin to go out in a few days time, and then it will just be a case of monitoring and hoping.

 

Thanks to those who have sent us a photo of our wine being drunk around Australia and the world (keep them coming) – we may need to generate a photo album page on the website so as to record these moments in time.  As always if you have any queries do not hesitate to contact us either by email or www.twitter.com/bluepoles and we’ll do our very best to answer any question.

 

 

Blue Poles Allouran at the Mornington Peninsula, sent in By Simon

 

 

Cheers

 

 

 

Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

 

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