Blue Poles Vineyard
May is just so cold after the summer months have eased out of the memory. I am safely at home after a very busy month travelling and working and right now I am freezing in my office tapping away. Even the heaters are having a hard time getting the chill out of my bones today – starting to feel my age one could say. After April, May has that dreamy feel that you should be doing something but you are not really sure what, and then you look outside and see the drizzle and the wind and you think “cup of tea?” – Why not!
All the wines from this vintage are now safely in barrel and I went through them all just last week to see how they are settling in and by all accounts very very well. I may have been a little hasty with tasting them as the wines were not quite through malo, but as I am used to seeing the wines at all stages of their lives I really wanted to see how they were carrying their “weight”. I need not have worried; the wines are looking especially dense and flavorsome, with the Merlot so strong and stern to go with its plummy goodness and the Cabernet Franc extremely exciting. In fact the Cabernet Franc feels so pitch perfect it was just thrilling to know that the learning curve of the past two years has paid such a dividend – perfectly ripe fresh fruit, not a hint of green, and the natural acidity to hold the shape. Almost certain that a lucky few will be able to get a bottle of this as a Reserve one day – there will noy be much, but what there is will be magnificent I am sure.
Barrel Hall – May 2014
Also this month has been a fair amount of preparation for the release of the 2011 Reserve Merlot – coming out in June. We have waited a fair while for this wine – having run out of 2010 a few months ago I had hoped to get this to the market quicker, but alas it was just finishing its nervousness in bottle and only recently has it fully relaxed. Such a strong wine for the vintage – it may not have the prettiness of the 2010, or the soft come hither aromas of the 2007, but it has something about it that makes me feel it is almost indestructible.
2011 was a warm vintage and the Merlot vines were under a bit of stress. The area with the shallower clay was holding up well, but the section closer to the Cabernet Franc was looking sad. I waited as long as I could to resolve the tannins, and then picked off half of the grapes in one tranche, and then about a week later picked off the other half. Surprisingly the sugar and acid was pretty similar from both batches, and they were made separately so as to be able to follow their evolution. When the blends were made in late 2012 it became apparent that both batches had come back to the Blue Poles taste, but with the better aromatics from the first pick, and the better depth of flavor in the second. After much juggling a total of 5 barrels were selected for the blend, and they comprised of 3 from the early pick and 2 from the latter.
The resulting wine is excellent. Perhaps the longest and most persistent length of any of the wines we have made to date – it just feels so solid. The nose is aromatic, but not of any single aroma, with the oak coming across as spice (5 spice / aniseed) and smoke, and the palate a bit more than mid-weight this year. Tannins smooth and resolved and very Blue Poles; and this assures us of years and years of capacity in the bottle. The vintage was meant to be a warm one, bringing the wines into the soft and cuddly zone – but with the ever increasing vine age, and our low yields and low irrigation rates it is not really a soft wine at all – it is a strong willed wine that looks back at you.
Am I pleased? Is this a good follow up to the all-conquering 2010? Yes it is a good follow up to the 2010, but may be not for the reasons you are thinking. The reason for my self-satisfaction is that when I am standing up in a room of wine folk in 30 years (if I can still stand of course!), this wine will simply be out-living me. Drinking this wine now will be a pleasure – maybe not as easy going as the previous vintages of the Reserve, but it will be lovely. BUT, this is the wine that in decades to come will say to all and sundry, the site at Blue Poles was not a flash in the pan but something for the ages. And yes, I am pleased.
You know you have been made a fool of when there is a campaign on social media to ridicule your extreme importance. This is the reason why many on Twitter are now Sirs, Dames, Marquis and Dukes – so as to mock the silliness of bringing back titles into modern Australia. And right now the hash tag #seriousconsequences has become the millstone around Wine Australia’s neck due to its stance on “orange” wine. But let’s take one step back and see where this all began.
All of us wine producers in this large wide brown country of ours have had the ever encroaching world of “natural” wines pushing up alongside us. It is a movement with many many followers and it relates to minimal handling of the wines and generally organic, or preferably biodynamic, growing methods being practiced in the vineyard. All wineries have a choice to make – do you wish to go down this pathway and become a natural wine producer or do you want to keep on doing what you are doing? It is a whole new world of opportunity, but also a whole new world of risk, as these wines are difficult to stabilize, are difficult to promote if you do not know the “jargon” or have a well-trimmed beard, and they do not generally go well in the harsh glare of the critical mass.
Margaret River has a few “natural” wine makers and they are generally doing very well – from the old guard of Cullen, through to the new boys on the block Si Vintners, Blind Corner, and Cloudburst. The new boys and girls, apart from being very talented wine makers in all of their wineries, they also know the balancing act they undertake and heavily promote their wines in the natural wine fairs around the country (and abroad). Most wineries in the region would not feel comfortable or have little interest in this realm.
Cult status very quickly! Prices for this excellent Cabernet $250-270 per bottle
[As an aside, we do not go down this pathway as I feel we are making world class wines within our current approach which is basically organic in the vineyard, and minimal handling in the winery – we do not promote this as much as others as we want the wines to do the talking and not the listening.]
To get an idea on how popular natural wines have become you need only go on a wine bar crawl around Sydney and Melbourne to note the influence of these wines on the “high expendable income” crowd of both cities. One in two wine bars would promote a list that is rich in natural wines and this makes for a real change in cultural perception on what you are drinking. To know the grape varieties is not as valuable now as knowing the ferment vessel and the biodynamic status of the grapes. I must admit it does irk me a little bit, as having tried 100’s of “natural” wines from France and here, and many just taste similar with little positive flavor or complexity – with the whites perhaps being the most boring with the ever present smell of cider (either pear or apple) dominating every wine from every region. They are not great wines to show “terroir” as they just have such similar profiles – but they have the romanticism of “terroir” and in a way that is much more powerful than a technical poo pooing of them.
And with my yawn about natural white wines, there is however an interesting sub-section of these wines which have extended skin contact. During their fermentation the extended skin contact extracts some colour and due to this they are referred to as “orange” or “amber” wines. This is no modern method but rather has been done for thousands of years in Europe – so it is not new, it is just a simple way of making wine without the initial pressing of the skins and pips off. The extended time on skins gives the wine a more complex flavor, drags out some phenols (the things that make your mouth pucker like tannins on a red wine), colours it up, and makes it “textural”, for a word.
So finally I get to the point.
Wine Australia, our august and esteemed industry peak body, passed out an edict saying that the use of the term “orange wine” (as in the style of the wine), in Australia is to cease. As we have in Australia a wine growing region called “Orange”, and as such this will cause confusion and undermine the Orange GI that is fighting hard for its market place share. To use the term will bring on “serious consequences” – hence the mocking on Twitter and other social media sites. Well you can only imagine the outcry from the owners and sommeliers of half of the wine bars throughout Australia, as they have lists and lists of “orange” wines and they feel they are quite unique and easily identified away from “Orange” wines.
Now you would have as a guess that nothing in Wine Australia would be done if it was not for someone else doing it, and I would believe that the Wine Association from Orange had lobbied Wine Australia to put out this edict. They have made noises in the past that it was unfair and undermines their little place in the world, and unfortunately they were mocked a bit by a number of commentators. Hence their aggrieved position they would have sold to Wine Australia, as well as the possible example of a wine or two labels which could have led to confusion. But the clanger here really was that Wine Australia with its faux leadership team, failed to address the other side of the coin and seek opinion from the natural wine world. So much so that even their “serious consequences” edict had to be modified within a day or two of release due to their lack of understanding of what an “orange” wine actually was.
Now the obvious solution was immediately mooted. Capital O Orange equals wine from Orange, and little o orange equals white wines made with extended skin contact. But come on, let’s be honest, that is crap, as little b bordeaux really is taking the mickey out of capital B Bordeaux. The average punter out there would not know the difference, and if Orange were to start promoting their region in Sydney and Melbourne etc, it may in fact be detrimental to them. So the simple solution is really to name Australian “orange” style wines, “amber” wines if they wish to use this form of definition. And having a quick look through the literature they are used pretty much equally around the traps (“amber” wines have more common usage in eastern Europe, “orange” in western Europe), but they represent the same thing. The Australian “natural” wine makers would I think accept this if it was put to them nicely and examples highlighted of the common use of the term, and they may yet come to this conclusion themselves in the months ahead.
A Georgian “Amber” Wine
It appears to someone watching this from the outside that if Wine Australia had actually “communicated” with the industry it is apparently meant to represent, AS A WHOLE, then this storm in an egg shaped fermenter could have so easily been avoided. But they probably didn't...as far as I know. And now they will be chasing their tails trying to herd the cats back into the corral. As a peak body, Wine Australia and its highly paid executive appears so out of touch with modern Australia; with this small example highlighting their lack of understanding and foresight, which is itself symptomatic of the bigger problem of lack of vision and desire to aid the industry. We need tax reform before tax reform is foisted upon us, we need regional recognition and support with targeted marketing and placement, we need a simple and cheap export system, we need strong measures to control the spread of Phylloxera and we need an executive that knows what an orange...sorry...amber wine is and why that differs from a wine from Orange.
You feel that May is the month where you locate all of your old rugby jumpers, woolen bed sheets and thick socks and put them on high rotation. It always comes as a bit of a shock as it had been so pleasant for months and months and then it just flips. No days over 22oC, and very weak watery sunlight washing through when the clouds do separate between fronts. Lots of clouds and rain this month to kick off the season, with a 1000 tractors planting seeds from the mid-west of WA to the south-east this month.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
May 2014: Avg Maximum Temp 19.4oC (Daily Max recorded 21.8oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 12.0oC (Daily Min recorded 6.7oC)
The maximum temperature average very similar to last years, indicating a change of the seasons, but the minimum was quite a bit higher with the consistent cloud cover from the start of the month. Rainfall is also lower this year, but last year was amazing as we had some huge rainfall events, providing 25% of last year’s rainfall in that single month.
May 2013: Avg Maximum Temp 19.2oC (Daily Max recorded 21.9oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 8.8oC (Daily Min recorded 3.9oC)
Pruning awaits …
Like the elephant in the room – but as if you were eating one, you still do it one bite at a time. Also new secateurs for me – after 13 years my old faithful have given up the ghost – much sadness at my loss. The 2011 Reserve Merlot makes its debut and we have a wine dinner in Melbourne on 8 June 2014 (Moreton’s in Carlton – enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon eating excellent food and drinking all current and most back vintages of our wines...for $65 all up!). Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to come along.
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’ll do our very best to answer any question.
Blue Poles Vineyard