Blue Poles Vineyard
Milestones and Opportunity…
I turned 50 this month – very hard to believe, but there it is. And to be honest I have no idea of really what it means, if it means anything at all. I know I am getting older as I am getting aches and pains from completing my exercise on my little torture machine, and spending all day in the vineyard is not quite as easy to recover from as would have been the case 10 years ago. But I have been exceedingly lucky health wise, and all of the crazy plans and dreams are still there with some realized and some to be realized – so much to do still that I am not going to be able to rest for a few more years yet, if ever!
This birthday was a bit odd as I spent it flying back from work in Africa – it became a 36 hour birthday as the night before became a rolling party with colleagues, before jumping on a plane after a shocking 5 hour drive to the airport in Conakry. But what made it memorable wasn’t the Emirates crew singing Happy Birthday (what a multicultural bunch they are), but rather a monument I saw in Dakar while waiting for the plane to refuel and board with passengers from the terminal. As you fly into Dakar, Senegal, you see the usual North African flat topped square houses, shanties, and by the coast some rather flash establishments, but what dominates them all is the “Monument of African Renaissance” which towers over the whole city. I assumed it had been carved from stone, as it is over 50m tall perched on a small hill, but no it is made completely of bronze, built in North Korea at the cost of $27 million and looks as African as Sushi being served in a British Fish and Chip shop.
It is simply bizarre and it shows no matter how old you get you can always be surprised, with this monument perhaps being the most glorious waste of money I may ever see. I asked a cleaner in my shocking French on what she thought of it, and the word “merde” was perhaps the most printable comment of many she gave. I was also very lucky to get out of West Africa as the Ebola Virus is now becoming a pandemic and this is terrible news for these poor and under resourced countries.
Enough of me and my greying hair, back to the important stuff, which is what is happening in the vineyard. Well it is pruning, pruning, pruning with the kick off really being this month and we are slowly getting through it. I will have a team come through in August to complete the spur pruning, but the cane pruning is always a labor of quiet contemplation and it is a personal thing so I do that myself. Already thoughts are in front of me in regards to barrels and spraying regimes, and they tend to be evening jobs with me and my notebook.
And the winner is…
How do we go about picking winners? In most cases it is a simple physical check of who finished first, that makes it easy and from Usain Bolt to Vincenzo Nibali, a photograph and a stop watch gives you the answer unequivocally. In games such as most organized sports there is a scoring system and rules, and we all know who the winner is once the time expires or the winning point is struck. But we do have those grey areas where to be honest, it is just perception and experience that can score a contest and announce a winner.
I went down to the Margaret River Pro surfing championship earlier on in the year and sat on the hill looking at the surf break and two tiny dots surfing the final. To be completely honest, I had no idea who had won and at the end of it all I only found out because the guy next to me told me. But, according to this bloke, the winner had scored really well in two rides and that was enough for him to claim the victory – I am sure the judges were surfing experts and the winner was easily determined and no-one felt aggrieved. The fact I know beggar all about surfing does not diminish the result – and as all of us know, during an Olympics we can get pretty good at guessing a result for gymnastics and equestrian dressage yet have no idea on what we are actually scoring.
Which brings us to the topic of scoring wines; a wonderful world of mystery and miracle.
Unlike organized sports, or events with rules and regulations through the ages the evolution of scoring wines has been haphazard to say the least. Wine has the habit of demanding to be ranked, as the makers of the said wines can charge more against an agreed public ranking. The two most famous examples of this is the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux wines (Medoc wines mainly), and the grading of vineyard sites throughout Burgundy. These two systems appear to have passed the test of time with only minor alterations, and pricing can be directly linked to their position, with only a few wines being able to break the bonds through continual excellence ahead of their “ranking”.
As a winery, scores actually play quite a big role in how we are perceived by the general public. We wish that this was not the case, but the simple fact of life is that busy people really do not want to wade through long descriptive phrases, attend tastings around the country, or continually search for an answer. They want a simple number, something to hang their hat on, something that will provide comfort and assurance, and they just want to know that an “expert” has assured them of their choice.
This month is the release of the Wine Companion – which by all accounts is the most important set of “scores” in the Australian wine industry. For those with little interest in wine generally, it may be the only time this year where they do sit up and take notice of high scoring wines. So for the past week, many many wineries have been shouting out their scores – as this is the great drive by of public interest one could say.
But. And it is a big but. Many other wine critics are now beginning to note that a greater proportion of wines are scoring higher scores as each year passes. From a wineries perspective that is fine, but we all note that the scoring system is “running out of runway” so to speak. I will give you the breakdown of the Wine Companion scores as quoted on Winefront by a subscriber below:
Point Range 2012: Wines Reviewed 9296 2015: Wines Reviewed 8680
(0.26%) 3 (0.03%)
80-83: 355 (3.82%) 68 (0.78%)
84-86: 1161 (12.49%) 801 (9.23%)
87-89: 2434 (26.18%) 1668 (19.22%)
90-93: 3154 (33.93%) 3024 (34.84%)
94-100: 2168 (23.32%) 3116 (35.90%)
96: 255 (2.74%), 566 (6.52%)
97: 44 (0.47%), 186 (2.14%)
98: 4 (0.04%), 34 (0.39%)
99: 0 (0%), 7 (0.08%)
100: 2 (0.02%) 1 (0.01%)
Within three years there has been a massive change, especially in the 94-100 point bracket (2,168 in 2012 or 23% vs. 3,116 in 2015 or 36%). Note that the vintages being reviewed in each companion are similar in quality (2009/10 for the reds in 2012 WC – 2012/13 for the reds in 2015 WC). So what do you think has happened here - has the wine quality improved dramatically or has there been a shift in the scoring? We cannot judge this by the scores our own wines have received as we decided some years ago not to forward our wines to the Wine Companion. But we do forward them to numerous other wine writers and critics, and to date we have had a number of very positive reviews and a lot of real support for our wines and our style. But now when we receive a 93, 94 or 95 from any one of the group we forward them too, will anyone take notice? And for the wine critics, is this now an arms race where they may be forced to raise their respective targets a little higher to get heard? And if so would this mean some critics may have to start to bring back their scores over time to match in with the general perception of a wines quality?
There have been many arguments put that Australian wines ARE the equivalent of the world’s best and as such have we been underscoring them for many years? But going through wine critic websites where they taste all wines side by side, the best of the world class wines still sit above our best efforts which is not a criticism, just a simple statement of fact.
I must admit to a bit of a chuckle when the erudite Gary Walsh of Winefront did message me in Social Media and stated that he is about to score our 2011 Reserve Merlot 98 points – how do I feel? Well I would feel ecstatic of course, but you see it is not in the world scale of wine actually able to garner such a high score, and he was prompting me to admit as much…which I did.
We in the wine game actually do have a good appreciation on where we sit within the ranking of the world. For every $25 winner of the International Wine Show in London there is a very happy but internally very sheepish winemaker or winery owner. It is only by hard work, the right location, and a deft touch in the vineyard and the winery can you make a world class wine on a consistent basis. It is hard to score this and it is hard to appreciate lineage and potential when tasting a glass in front of you over an hour or even a day. Wine critics and reviewers can be generous or stingy, that is their prerogative, but it is best that they also consider where their point system is leading themselves as much as the consumer.
Below is a photo of some of the wine we had to celebrate my 50th at my house prior to my departure to Africa. All were brought as individual bottles and all had been carefully selected by the attendees such that everyone could enjoy the wine. They were all drunk over an afternoon and evening with a huge amount of food and laughter – and were scores mentioned at any point of the event? Nope not once and I do not think we were harmed in any way by this glaring omission.
Wines fit for a 50th Birthday bash
And finally an answer to the title of this piece, the winner is…. me. As this is my birthday monthly report (to be possibly repeated in 10 years’ time), I am grateful for all of those who have made my life an extremely enjoyable, though frantic, trip so far. Salut!!
I type this to a beautiful clear winter’s day outside, but for the majority of the month it has been wet and wetter. The dam overflowed on 4 July which was very early for us, and there has been some significant rainfall events which have caused some erosion to our driveway and surrounds. But overall this is typical south west of WA winter weather and we are grateful for it.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
June 2014: Avg Maximum Temp 16.4oC (Daily Max recorded 21.0oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 9.4oC (Daily Min recorded 1.2oC)
The maximum temperature average is identical to last years, but the minimum was a bit higher with the consistent cloud cover from the start of the month. Rainfall is slightly higher to last year, which is positive as it brings the regional groundwater levels up and protects the vines in late spring during flowering from water stress..
July 2013: Avg Maximum Temp 16.4oC (Daily Max recorded 20.3oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 7.7oC (Daily Min recorded 0.9oC)
Pruning ends …
A busy month of getting the vineyard pruned and ready for the onset of Spring on 1 September. I am off abroad once more which means I will be working day and night for a while to keep everything in line on all fronts. We will have the 2011 Reserve Merlot available through our website to all in a few days, though we have very little left after what our beloved Mailing List have taken between then (please join up – it assures you of all of our wines prior to any general release and you can get great discounts every now and again as well).
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