Blue Poles Vineyard
Last day of the month and it is pouring with rain outside, Jackson will not get out of his bed and I am just putting on a cup of tea so as to knock out this report. The pruning is “nearly there” but I do not mind pushing the pruning completion date out as this pushes the bud burst out a few days extra and that helps us with the hotter vintages that we have been seeing over the past few years. A quiet month for me as much of it was spent abroad working on my Philippines project, but the past week has been great with a few days pruning in glorious late winter weather and the completion of the 2014 blending and barrel selections.
It is always exciting when you do the selections for the Reserve wines and the blending for the Allouran. It is strange that wine put into an identical barrel in regards to age, cooper and oak can taste quite uniquely different after 16 months in barrel. These subtle differences in such wine components as structure, fruit and tannin can make a huge difference when putting together small barrel lots such as the Blue Poles Reserve wines and it never fails to amaze me that when combined they “add” flavors not noted individually. The concept of Reserve wines being “bigger and oakier” is utter silliness as my aim is to make the best varietal wine possible from all the barrels in the vintage from each particular grape. Merlot has had that capacity for a number of years, and our reputation has been built of on the success of many of these wines – but – we have never made a Reserve from any other variety. Until now...
Clive Otto helping out with the barrel Selections from the 2014 vintage.
The 2014 Reserve Cabernet Franc is simply exceptional. It has the strength and character of a Cabernet, but this is counter balanced by the most graceful and floral character within a compote of fresh fruit on the palate. We knew we had the potential during vintage 2014 to make a great Cabernet Franc as the fruit was in wonderful shape and the climate of the vintage suited it to a tee. It is a wine that will show the capacity of our site and provide the missing part of the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Allouran triptych. Yes, I am a little excited – and not just for this wine but also for the Reserve Merlot and Allouran from 2014, which are also a pair of beautiful wines and worthy of a few paragraphs of support. As with 2010 and 2011 where I completed the barrel selections and blending well in advance of the wines eventual release, I now have to be patient and let the wines be bottled, settle, and relax before I can show you all what a treat we have in store. The wait will be worth it comrades….
It was interesting that in a thread on WineFront discussing a lovely Chardonnay from Flametree in Margaret River that the discussion moved around to “Classification” of Margaret River wines and the ranking of the producers. We were delighted to have our name brought up in dispatches, but I am always wary of such lists and rankings (except when we are rated top and then it is all forgiven and accepted without debate). The reason for my skepticism? Most rankings of things such as wine or restaurants or anything which is not quantifiable is actually a highlight of a prejudice and as such is only relevant to the reader looking in when he understands the prejudice that formed the list.
At this point you could rightly point out the wide and wonderful world of Michelin Stars, Wine Annuals, Good Food Guides etc etc etc. But are they for all time? Emphatically not, they move with every year and are continually being modified to accommodate fashion and the authors themselves. Most rankings that have survived the long haul are basically flukes of history and may have noted an obvious truth by chance and that continues through to the modern day. Examples of these are the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and the Appellation classification of many sites in Burgundy and Rhone. I put it to you that the first was dumb luck, and the second was just assumed and by chance it has proved to have a level of validity. Humans have a hard wired habit of ranking everything they see and do – it is essential for your survival when you break it down and that will not change anytime soon. This list building is a spin off from this and it will always be there, so I enjoy the discussion but recognize the folly.
[Unless someone ranks Blue Poles as #1 of course, and then I am converted for ever and ever….]
A ramble of rhetoric…
I will admit it, I am a bit of a groupie when it comes to the writing of Philip White. He is one of the few wine scribes out there that actually “gets” it, and you know this because between the well-chosen words is the simple fact. He understands. It is not a book knowledge, a story at the bar knowledge, or even an “I did it once” knowledge – it is that he knows how the pieces fit together in this industry of ours.
The knowledge appears to be driven by a well of history in this country’s wine archives that it overflows between the pores in his writing – it cannot be contained and it makes for me the modern usurper to this industry an addict to the prose. I have referred to it much before – table wine in Australia is a relatively modern phenomenon, and Philip has ridden this pony from winning post to winning post since the 1960’s. By having the pad and pencil while the industry was a series of sheds in various states, he has seen the pages turn and the industry grow, and he has witnessed the splendor, deceit, greed, avarice, incompetence, greatness and every shade of human ambition in between.
I had the pleasure of sitting down and reading through one of Philip’s post on his blog Drinkster last month and I must admit I was not sure which way to look. It is a compelling piece on the arranged marriage between wine journalists and the wineries themselves and the eventual outcome being the horrific offspring of regional self-aggrandizement through the modern media. You can read it HERE and this will give you the clues to decipher my dawdlings below.
The industry in which Philip has spent most of his working life is in the printed press as a wine journalist. There is no training for the task – you got selected or you pressed your case, and in the early days I am sure the hotchpotch of journos/writers that made the choice to write about booze in enlightening terms did so with a sense of simple process. We all forget, and it is so easy to do, but Philip reminds us that there were but a “few hundred of them” winemakers and wineries around back in the 60’s and 70’s and most of them were farmers with a background in footy and pubs. What was been presented in the papers and magazines in regards to wine selections and winery favorites was a genuine service to all – many wines were utter shite and this is simply because no-one really knew much better. The scribes of the day literally had to spit through the dross to find the gems and it would have been almost excruciating at times one could well imagine.
Today there are 1000’s of us if not tens of 1000’s of us peddling our wines. The wines have improved to such a degree that it is not the undrinkable the wine scribes sift through but the incredibly bland, the monotonous and the dull. The present day wine writers and critics are of so many colors and variants that it is hard to know half of them even by name let alone by reputation. But the big change is that we have altered the rules on who makes the print in regards to “who” is being represented. Of the peddlers (like ourselves) relying on this free ride from the wine writing fraternity, we have moved away from every salty crusted calloused cocky, they are hidden now, with their role seen as a “grower” to provide the background panorama. The winemakers are the hired guns that can play the role of winery front man and some suit the scene – many do not. With the owners filling the last role and on many occasions these bit players do not know where to stand on stage and what lines need reciting. Thus the whole scene is a mess of hyperbole and underwhelming column which seems almost repeated ad nauseam.
Wine in all of its definitions is only to be good news stories in the press. Wine and wine regions are intrinsically linked with luxurious lifestyle and class – which suits the aspirant middle-class to a tee. We dare not as an industry criticize one another as we are seen as breaking the rules and being spiteful. Thus when we were receiving plaudits from Robert Parker for the monster alcohol and extract reds from the vales and valleys of South Australia everyone cheered on, while I for one was reaching for the bucket. When a run of un-wooded chardonnays hit the shelves in numbers to rival the NZ Sauvignon Blanc “savalanche” – who stepped up and said this was a rather horrid idea? We are all complicit, as we see negativity as the polarity that kills.
Owning a winery with its own vineyards in most parts of Australia is very very expensive – but the cost does not actually lie within the capital of land and buildings but in the very operation of such an entity. To make wine in commercial volumes costs a bomb – thus the selling of said product becomes all-consuming, and though wine is fermented but once, the bills are ever growing and you need to promote, promote, promote. Wine is not available at every corner store, and when it is within supermarkets or their outlets (which forms >80% of sales in this country), you are dealing with the "ColesWorth" duopoly which sets the rules on who can enter into their hallowed shelves. After we have made our direct sales, a few thousand of us go out to fight over the few independent wine sellers out there, and the restaurant / wine bar trade that take up the balance. Every sell is a hand-sell and that does not account for the delayed payments, the lack of follow up orders, and the lack of the new a few weeks after a release.
It is crazy.
But what is even more crazy is now the concept of regional wine promotion based on a fake world of their own making. Watching the VALO video embedded in Philip’s article makes one wonder – is this what McLaren Vale actually believes it is? What they are? Do not worry, I unfortunately do get the attempt at humour embedded in this “life of the bold and beautiful” but really? Is it now the ambition of wine regions to try and attract the billionaires like spruikers for Macau Casinos? I do not get it …. and neither does Philip as he states:
“If this is not a good sharp picture of who these McLaren Vale winemakers think they are, or how they prefer to be regarded, then somebody has lost quite a lot of money.”
We have all lost our way. The wineries, the scribes, the regions and even I dare say it the drinkers. The days of “educating” the masses has almost passed us by and by using the precious little paper column inches talking about simple things like varieties and swirling a glass of wine is just mortifying. As for wineries that spruik a boring old story with some attached hyperbole is also just as death defyingly silly, you will be ridiculed or worse, ignored. Regions now believe in the mystical, but forget the practical (trust me Margaret River has as many silly ideas as the Mclaren Vale I am sure). Advertorial is the only assured method of getting everyone singing off the same hymn sheet, but the expense provides no assurance of sales in most cases.
I am not saying we are ungrateful for the wine writers’ support we hvea had – and we have had some fantastic articles about our wines in print –we are in fact extremely humbled to be written up in any of the papers and wine magazines. With these promotions coming off the back of very little in the way of pressing our case, and never in the way of paid inches. However, we still languish as a “hidden” winery as we choose not to partake in the great Halliday annual, and we are not referenced when discussions about our wine styles or region is brought up in “listicles” in magazines and papers which is all the rage. A lack of a cellar door also keep us under the radar and this is something we will need to address in the future.
Solution? No idea.
Our sole aim is to make great wine, and if possible some of the best wine made in this country. Lofty ambitions, probably outrageous, but at the end of the day by attempting to make something that will rival some of the best wines in the world, you give yourself the target. I am not aiming for little things; life’s too short for that malarkey. If we can make wine consistently that is excellent then we will be found by more than our current crop of Blue Poles comrades, and then it will be self-sustaining and that is enough for me and Tim. We will take that.
Winter keeps its promise...
It has been a funny old month to close out winter with the weather being cool and wet, but the rain has been patchy and inconsistent causing a relatively modest rain total for the month and for winter. The groundwater reserves around us have just managed to be topped up, but there is not much excess run off into the river systems and this means we will draw down on this reserve quite quickly as the warmer months start rolling by. But the coolness of the month has meant winter has kept its promise of putting the vines into recess so for that we are pleased. No bud burst action as yet so all good at the Blue Poles estate.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
August 2015: Avg Maximum Temp 17.1oC (Daily Max recorded 22.7oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 7.6oC (Daily Min recorded 2.7oC)
The maximum and minimum temperature averages were quite different with a much cooler 2015 and this may have been due to the extended rainfall in 2014 providing more air from the North West pushing down and bringing in those rains. Rainfall is lower again due to simply the lack of further strong frontal weather that brings the rain this time of year – it continues to be frustrating watching these features slip to the south of the state.
Noted on the Bureau of Meteorology site is that we continue to have low rainfall totals for the South West corner of WA and this may be now the new normal which requires us to think and re-think our water usage in the region and in the vineyard. To not be aware of the changing climate in the wine making game is to you and your wines detriment – it also helps as a conversation starter when at the Rosa Brook Hall.
August 2014: Avg Maximum Temp 18.4oC (Daily Max recorded 21.6oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 9.3oC (Daily Min recorded 1.7oC)
Spring into action…
September is when the cycle of life begins all over again with the vineyard. We have the pruning to knock off (not too much to go – patience is a virtue), mulching of the cuttings, spraying undervine, tidying up the roses, checking of the irrigation lines, and putting down the wires to name but a few jobs to tidy up. It is all part of the big rotation of tasks that makes a vineyard tick and with the warming weather it is always really enjoyable being amongst the vines on those beautiful spring days.
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