Blue Poles Vineyard
I’m a travelling man…
This month was a month of two halves – the first one in the Philippines working away on my geological stuff over there, and the second in the eastern states of Australia presenting our wines in Canberra and Wollongong. Both were good fun and extremely different in every way – and yes there was a hiatus on the pruning front to be rectified in July.
I will not bore you with my tales from the Philippines, but I will chat about our trip through Canberra and Wollongong. My wife and I had planned to go across to Sydney to catch up with her sister and family, and while we were there we would have a tour about. Two dinners were organized over the past few months, with one being at the Burbury Hotel in Canberra and the second a wine dinner sponsored by Tosti Cellars in Wollongong.
Canberra is located in a very uninspiring spot. Denuded hills and sparse paddocks are the entry point from Goulburn (the “2nd settlement of Australia”, why they went there rather than further down the coast remains a mystery to all who travel the M5), and when you arrive in our country’s capital you feel like you have just rolled into a big university campus. Walking around Barton in the centre of town feels a bit surreal, lots of houses and apartments, though you feel every one of them is empty. Even the shops across the lake have the feeling that they are in a campus, with a migratory feel to all those that walked around.
We arrived as the change of leadership was underway – you would have thought the hotel bar would be buzzing. Ahhhh, no. Very quiet with two guys reading a paper and a lady on her phone. The wine dinner was organized by the very efficient Peter Bell in the stunning Burbury Terrace Restaurant with panoramic views over the parliament while we went through the wines and the courses. A keen crowd and quite into their wines – pretty knowledgeable as well which gave me an insight into their perception of fine wine and their expectations. The team at Realm also took some super photos which they kindly allowed us to reproduce below. Lovely meal which meant we slept well.
Blue Poles wines ready to go at the Burbury Terrace
Mark and Gail winding down after a great dinner at Burbury Hotel
Off to Wollongong with a rental car full of bags and wine. We had hoped to head across to Batesman Bay on the coast and then “cruise” up the New South Wales southern shoreline spotting whales and dropping in on cafés. Alas as we approached the last 50km to Batesman Bay, we were advised there was a detour, a detour of 200km to get to there, my goodness me that must be a record of some kind. The detour took us in the direction of Wollongong so off we went through the bush and wilds to find the ‘Gong. Arriving in town you roll past all the major industrial areas to the south in Port Kembla and as you hit town proper you find a massive football stadium adjacent to the golf course, and on the radio was Bruce Springsteen which set the scene perfectly.
The dinner and tasting was a great night. The crowd was the professional fraternity of town and they have a great wine guide in Simon Hurford who runs these events for them. It was a crowd that knew their likes and dislikes and this meant the opinions on the wines varied as they expressed opinions more on the wines they “like” rather than they “admire”. Good on them. It is much harder to tack against the wind than follow the prevailing breeze and I appreciated their candor. Our Teroldego was very well received and may find a new home in Wollongong.
The two dinners also gave me an opportunity to meet many of our Blue Poles “family” who have bought our wines over the years, and it was great to put names to faces after posting off their wines. Quite a few have the whole “set” of Blue Poles wines and the dinners were an opportunity to see how they were going. We had a great time travelling about and it was enlightening to hear the responses to the wines and heartening to hear the supportive comments. And even though I could not sell an ice block in the Sahara, I am quite looking forward to doing this again at some point in the future.
The “science” of wine tasting…
Just a short topic this month as I do not want to go down this rabbit hole too far. There has been over the past few years a series of “exposés” from a Californian winery, where wines have been sent to numerous wine shows and their scores monitored over all of these events. The exposé revolves around the range of scores that have been given to the wines and how inconsistent the scores were from show to show.
Tim Atkin did not as much as take umbrage from the story which was “sensationalized” in a British paper, but argued as we do not know who the tasters were and where they were from it was a bit fanciful to bag the system (of which he is heavily involved in with the International Wine Challenge in London, as well as one of the guys managing the Masters of Wine course). He is right of course, but he is also wrong to a degree as it is assumed by the public that any group of wine “experts” should be able to replicate results, regardless of who they are, but they do not.
I guess this is where I am quite interested as everyone sees and tastes wine differently and from the humble drinker to the most eloquent wine critic we are affected by our own taste. The experience of drinking 100’s of wines does not guarantee you the skill in having good taste – it provides you with a memory placement of a very fickle duo to remember – smell and taste. Some have great memory skills which can place a wine against many others, and others can look at a wine with clear thoughts and not overprint what they taste by what they are “meant” to taste. It is easy to lead anyone in a tasting, by discussing specific flavors which may or may not be there brings a degree of acceptance by the taster and as such he’s led. For example, if I was showing our Merlot blind, and I kept on repeating how “I can smell blackcurrant, can you smell blackcurrant?” Followed by asking what the taster thought the wine variety was, 90% would say Cabernet Sauvignon as their overpowering memory is Blackcurrant=Cab Sauv, and this clouds what they are tasting in front of them.
You can therefore argue that wines that are more of “type”, i.e. those that smell and taste of the typical descriptors are going to do well and be more highly regarded. I have a feeling this is why Bordeaux wines are regarded as the world’s better wines because they are so distinctive and a lot of hoopla is made about the subtleties of the wine regions. It could also be argued that the distinctive Barossa and McLaren Vale red wines also fit the bill as so distinctive the region overprints the varieties in many occasions and the “style” guarantees the following and the giddiness in the virtual memory.
Of all of our senses, the sense of smell and taste are the most inconsistent. Your mood, your health, your age, your experience, your desire; every one of these factors play a role on any given day at any given time in regards to your appreciation of wine. Some wine tasters are extremely “skilled” and through training (sorry, copious drinking), they have become quite consistent with their appreciation of wine – spotting varieties and regions, sometimes even vintages. But they are educated guesses, and for the best wine critics these educated guesses of wine quality are what the public wants to know – with their definitive score providing the connection between the two.
Thus the crux of the issue. By the use of definitive scores, has the critical component of the wine industry painted themselves into a corner? As our Californian winemaker at the top indicates, there is no consistency with scores “statistically” thus what is there value? There is no science that can support the score – it is basically a feeling or a perception, nothing more. I am not a fan of the show system – I may have mentioned this in the past – but I do think there is a role for good wine critics providing unbiased opinions and scores for wines. They are valuable and they provide any reader with a starting point upon which a purchasing decision can be made if unable to taste the wine before buying.
BUT. All wine critics should be able to discuss the method they went through in which they obtained the wine’s score and description, such that the public have the opportunity to decide if that methodology was appropriate. Currently we have no standards in Australia in this area, and there should be. It would appropriate that free dinners and flights etc be mentioned if a wine score is printed by any wine critic, as this, in a portion of the public’s mind, may have affected the score. Also conversely, if a wine is tasted amongst 100’s of others in a tasting room, with the scores being presented and notes defined from this “sniff and spit” affair, that too should be mentioned. Simple really.
Sun setting at the Burbury Terrace
We know wine tasting is an imprecise skill, we know taste changes with mood and setting (let alone age and health), but we recognize the skills and talents of many in the industry and their advice and opinions are important. So let us move forward by having some standards within which the wine tasting community could adhere to, and make the process that much more open and fair for all involved.
As always winter begins more by being cold than being wet, and this was the case this year as well. After such a wet May, a normal rainfall pattern came into effect for the lower south west of WA and we had average rainfall with much of that from a single event in late June. It should be noted that Perth – 220km north of us as the crow flies – has had <50mm of rain this month and is very dry. Temperatures were a little cooler with a few more clear nights, and we’ve even got the heater on at night now.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
June 2013: Avg Maximum Temp 17.9oC (Daily Max recorded 19.7oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 7.9oC (Daily Min recorded 2.4oC)
The maximum temperature average is a little higher than last year, with the minimum quite a bit lower. These variations relate to the clear sunny skies at the start of June in 2013 whereas in 2012 it was a stormy old month. Rainfall is lower than in 2012, but about average for June going from our records over the past 13 years.
June 2012: Avg Maximum Temp 17.4oC (Daily Max recorded 20.2oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 10.3oC (Daily Min recorded 4.4oC)
Only one word …
So I’d 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 or www.twitter.com/bluepoles and we will do our very best to answer any question.
Blue Poles Vineyard