Blue Poles Vineyard
There are some things which just make you uncomfortable and you can’t ever be sure why. Sometimes it is a town center that just feels spooky, or a dog in a yard as you walk by, but for me it is rain from the east. Crazy, huh. Having lived in the Margaret River region since 1988, the one wind direction that is extremely rare is from the east, and when it brings rain it feels like the world has turned upside down – and this month we had this happen on the 15th and I felt a bit discombobulated all day. It also brings to mind that great tune from the Go-Betweens, which always brings a smile to my dial:
Dressed in a white shirt with my hair combed straight
Here in my black shoes and me without a date
Me without hindsight, me without
When will change come, just like spring rain
Falling down like sheets (falling down like sheets)
Coming down like love (coming down like love)
Falling at my feet (falling just like)
In fact we have had a couple of big days of rain in the middle and at the end of the month and this has provided some blessed relief for the vines as it has also been a very warm month after having a coolish start to the season. The heat arrived early in the month and never really left, which has meant the ground has dried out at a much faster rate than I’d expected and I’d even given the irrigation a turn over to keep the topsoil with some moisture during the start of flowering.
The rainfall on the 15th was an inch in the old scale (~25mm), and it was infused with a large amount of nitrogen as the sky fizzed and crackled with thunder and lightning for most of the day. You can smell the tropics when these rain events occur and you look out on a landscape which almost instantly greens upon recognizing the water’s source. Well it sure did make the roses happy at the head of the rows and they have had a new lease of life with the start of irrigating and some good downpours.
The vineyard is looking very healthy, the Cabernet Franc and Merlot have really sped on and have both been wire lifted into shape. The Shiraz has breathed a sigh of relief with the rainfall and is now kicking on with new vigor, and the same can be said of the Teroldego. Another round of mowing is due, and I still need to clean all the base of vines and excess growth once more – this is the painting of the harbor bridge job, it never really ends. It all looks nice and clean out there so I can’t complain.
I am typing this report out on a Sunday in Manila as I await another round of meetings and flights next week in and about the Philippines Archipelago. I would personally like to thank all of those who took the opportunity to purchase our wines in support of the fund raising initiative. Thanks also to Ben Thomas who ran a little article on the fund raising initiative in Melbourne's Weekly Review. I am currently finalizing where the money will be spent as there is a large contingent of charities now working out of the country and it is a moving feast of what is actually going on in the affected regions. I hope to have this sorted out very soon and the funds placed where they can do the most good – I will be in touch.
A strange industry…
I will try to get some thoughts down here, as over the past few months I have had a lot of introspection about this industry I have found myself (and put my friends and family) in. This little piece is really my thoughts with regards to a request from a group of Wine Business students who are seeking my views on marketing (bless them). They are students of Evelyn Resnick who is compiling a worldwide review of the wine industry and we were randomly found and I had an interview with her one sunny afternoon over a few glasses of wine. I am sure we are the smallest end member of the case studies, and I feel totally baffled at times why she has continued to follow our story.
So here goes…
Looking from the outside in to the Australian wine industry, you get the feeling of an idyllic lifestyle for those boutique labels and one of technical rigor for those larger labels that fill the shelves in supermarket outlets and their liquor stores. It also looks like there is room for all, and the never ending stream of positive comments about one wine or another gives you the feeling that it is always on the up.
I must admit to having had a similar take in 1999 – assumed good wine would always be rewarded, poor wine relegated, and the big boys played in their field of bigger labels and lower price points as well as their super-premiums.
I was wrong, very very wrong.
The making of good, if not great wine is not the start of anything in particular if you can’t get that wine out and presented to the public in a variety of fronts. The big boys play in all areas of the market place and rule the roost in regards to shelf space and publicity through large marketing budgets and scheduled events. Combine this with a large wave of new wineries and wines in the past 10 years which has doubled the amount of labels put in front of the consumer – to be heard in the clamor is amazingly difficult.
Though Margaret River is a new region on the wine-scape really (mid 1960’s were the first vines planted), the area has already classified the wineries by their respective age of plantings or their respective grandeur of cellar door. If you do not have either you really are battling to break through in this area without either a lot of money to promote, or a very unique product to sell and promote (ceaselessly). It could be said that over half the wineries in the region only exist due to the patronage of their owners – if this was a group of publicly listed companies it would have been all over for most wine labels in the wine region 10 years or more ago (and that includes many of the bigger named wineries I can assure you).
Don’t get too worried about this, because I could say the same thing about most agricultural pursuits in Australia – if it wasn’t for the fact that most farms are owned with minimal debt and with farmers who are retiree aged but haven’t yet retired, then you could find that half of your beef and sheep supplies would not be from here. There is little money in agriculture as it has been as globalized as manufacturing and that is the way of the world. So why do they/we do it? Lifestyle may be the only actual realistic answer. We, they, all of us in this little world of vanishing profitability really may be doing it solely for the love of it – but that can only work for so long before the edifice starts to crumble.
Gail and I wandered around the “Gourmet Escape” held at Leeuwin Estate last weekend, it is the largest regional show case of food and wine in the state and it occurs at the end of Spring each year. This event used to be the Margaret River Wine Festival, and for a long time was held at Cowaramup in the central park – it used to be a bit of fun with about 20 local wineries serving too bigger pours in the first hot days of the season (many a headache was achieved). It eventually got moved to Leeuwin Estate where it became bigger with up to 50 local wine labels filling the tents on the lawn, and for the past two years it has become a “Gourmet” event with the star attractions being chefs from around the globe with wine now a secondary component. In fact the wineries attending came from the whole of Western Australia and I guess ~20 out of 30-40 wineries were from Margaret River with some presenting their food rather than their wine. The wine association you could say has just given away our one local public event without a blink – hard to believe but true. But don’t blame them, the event was dying on the vine, so to speak, as numbers were dropping year on year and it was just a matter of time before there was no event anyway.
The Margaret River Gourmet Escape at Leeuwin Estate
Why discuss the Gourmet Escape in regards to the wine industry itself? Because it is symptomatic of what is happening right now, and an example of how the industry is in a bind that makes it very difficult to grow and prosper in. Bigger and bigger with an in-built fame component is currently the new black – and this is not good for small wine labels in a sea of others. The Gourmet Escape will unfortunately go the way of the wine festival, where diminishing numbers will reduce the capacity to attract draw cards and the sponsorship from the government and regional tourist bodies will dry up. Then what? Well, it will go back to where it all began one would have as a guess, a simple affair with some hot dogs and candy floss for the kids while the mums and dads drink a bit more than they should in a relaxed and simple atmosphere. The wineries present will be the small “survivors” one would guess of the next few years and they will step back up to the plate as being relevant again.
And we are starting to see the small becoming beautiful in the guise of such events at the natural wine festival in Sydney and various other collaborations between winemakers in specific regions. But there is just so much “noise” out there it is so hard to be heard even when you are yelling into the megaphone. The public is becoming a fickle lot, and we do so much to please them, massage them, cajole them, that they appear to have lost the desire to care anymore – it is about the moment, the place, the feel. Is it about supporting an industry, a winery, or a family? No – that’s a nice back story and could justify a purchase when at the wine counter (be it a bar or a cellar) or the computer screen – but really it’s about the now.
Robert Joseph who writes many articles on the selling and marketing of wine always provides an interesting read. He does so because he looks at the trends and “tells” the wineries within the industry from France to Portugal to South Africa etc, you need to change, you need to step up and do A, B, C, and D. And often he has a point, simple things like make family friendly cellar doors, be more pro-active on the internet such as keeping web pages updated, make a greater range of wine – but he does seem to miss the target when he discusses the sale of wine as those little things lead to some sales but not enough to keep afloat, and for those who are not internet savvy then it may in fact cost a lot more than any forthcoming sales. Out also comes the “change” your wines to meet market demands, and alas that is a disaster in a bucket as generating wine takes more than a season and often by the time the commitment is made the moment is lost. There is no magic bullet and it appears that you need to find the extremely finely balanced combination of prestige, innovation, publicity, and desirability to make a winery a profitable venture.
I must admit to a level of genuine bafflement when it comes to the marketing and selling of wine. I was told by a lovely guy the other day that one winemaker had told him that it wasn’t the soils in Australia (or possibly other physical characteristics of the site) that mattered for the making of great wine, but rather the “sky” – this winemaker sells a lot of wine. If anyone who is reading this knows me, then you can understand just how baffled I am!
The development of the “story” is now so all-encompassing that one winery owner was quite distraught at having to use wine “clichés” to describe her winery – the problem was everything else she tried to write also sounded as clichéd as the accepted verbiage. She did receive some help in the form of a slogan “Our wine. Our way.” from a fellow friend on twitter. But will this be enough to describe you and present you in such a way as to be sought? I’m not sure, and I’m thinking the winery owner is still scribbling out summaries of her winery story.
It is a strange industry. We are a part of it but not a part of it, if that makes sense. We have made some lovely wines however, and I would love to share more of it with you all – it is just that tricky task of finding you and getting that glass full of goodness into your hand. I am hoping that when the Wine Business students have a read through this they have a think and illuminate the way forward – I’d be very grateful :)
Sunshine shining through...
A warm month with the start of summer just around the corner was what was required. Some very warm days were recorded and this was mixed with quite warm minimums as some tropical weather made its way south during November (which is a little unusual).
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
November 2013: Avg Maximum Temp 25.0oC (Daily Max recorded 34.4oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 11.6oC (Daily Min recorded 6.6oC)
The maximum temperature average is well above last years, with the minimum’s average also higher. Rainfall is about the same as in 2012 but both years are above the average for November for this part of the world.
November 2012: Avg Maximum Temp 22.5oC (Daily Max recorded 28.9oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 10.0oC (Daily Min recorded 5.1oC)
Summer is upon us …
The growing season finishes pretty much at the end of December with flowering also out of the way and grapes starting to appear. Sprays will continue to keep the vines and grapes nice and clean as we approach the Christmas break. I will be back from the Philippines mid-month to have a relaxing Christmas and New Year’s break. One of my daughters will be in Europe this Christmas and New Year freezing her butt off which I am sure will be great fun. From all of us here at Blue Poles, keep safe everyone during this festive season and we will see you in the New Year all perky and ready to go another round.
As always if you have any queries about what’s 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