Blue Poles Vineyard
The end of autumn and the quietest month in the vineyard, May is a sleepy month amongst the vines. It is a bit of an upside-down picture though as the energy put up into the canopy is now moving back down into the root system as it is now going through a growing spurt to prepare for the season to come. As we are all rather obsessed with the fruiting component of a vine’s life, we tend to overlook the subtle year on year process of growth and nutrient storage under the topsoil and this may be one of the critical pathways for healthy, tasty, and rich grapes – and the making of excellent wine. The root mass in any vineyard is always very impressive, I believe in Bordeaux the root systems have extended >20m depth into the deep gravels of the Medoc – and that is mighty impressive considering the vines rarely exceed 30-40 years of age before replacement.
Jackson and I on our morning strolls have also encountered some blackberries returning years and years on from where they were ripped out, as well as some new sprouts from what appears to be bird droppings (they are under the wooden posts only, the bird resting posts). I do not like spraying herbicides but we do not have many options here – hopefully it is sorted out on a small hand spray program and we can have it under control once more.
May Sunrise – from a combination of smoke from late Autumn burn offs and rain approaching
Thus a quiet month for us with only a bottling being organized for June (2016 Blue Poles Shiraz – something really exciting has happened this vintage), and the movement of a few barrels around as we organize our oak and plan forward into the 2018 vintage. The use of oak has come up a few times month so I will have a chat about this next.
The Mystery of the Good Oak…
Rosa Brook community is a close-knit sort of place. On a Saturday night, a couple of weeks back, there was a fund raiser for a family whose mother had been involved in a car accident and they needed some support to get backwards and forwards to Perth as well as take time off work etc. From a very small country town community about 80 people turned up and had a curry night, played some games, and entered some raffles with a few thousand put into the kitty. During the night, I sat next to a local winery owner who was trying to get his wines more known. He was enthusiastic, bigly, but within that enthusiasm he had this problem that many non-winemaker types do – he did not “know” what he actually was doing. And this showed with this single comment he had made during our shared opinions on wine making and wine makers:
“I have no idea what oak barrels I have, we just get in the ones we’ve always bought apparently. The oak’s great though, as our wines are fantastic!”
It is always an eye opener when you hear this. I am an oak fanatic, I want to know as much as I can about the oaks used and added to all wines that interest me as the best oak added to a wine is often not even noted – like the frame around a masterpiece. We did leave with a bottle of his wine and we had it a few days later and you guessed it, the wine was disjointed and possibly due to the oak as much as the winemaking.
In many regions around the world, the use of new oak is seen as madness and often indicating rich foolishness rather than added quality – areas like Piedmont with the Barolos and Barbarescos attract high prices for their exceptional quality, but the use of new oak is often frowned upon because of the highly tannic wines that need little support. Oak to a wine not only adds a flavor dimension, it adds oak tannins as well – obviously a lot more with new barrels, but even a 5-7 year old barrel imparts some tannin into the wine.
Though we store all our wines in barrels, this is not as common as it once was. Tanks of red wine with planks are common, as well as adding oak tannins and flavorings to newly pressed red wines to give it a bit more oomph for an early release. There are also a myriad of oak chips, oak chains, oak staves in stainless steel barrels, and others that I am not even aware of to give wines that head start in life.
And we have not even gotten started yet with the types of oak and the various options you have on tonnellerie (maker), seasoning (age of the dried oak), forest, grain size, volume of the barrels, type of bending of the staves (steam or fire), and toasting. I would imagine that any winemaker has over 10,000 options for adding oak to their wines and for the wine’s storage.
When we started making wines in 2005, I bought second hand barrels from Voyager Estate, which at that time was fascinated by new oak and as such had many many barrels that they were moving on at 1-2 years of age. I got 10 different French oak barrel types and put the Merlot and Cabernet Franc in a wide selection of them. I then managed to start a selection process that culminated in the new oak purchases for the 2007 vintage which ended up making our first Reserve wines and the rest is history.
We all love the romanticism of wine is made in the vineyard, and we buy into this as well. I do everything I can to pick grapes on the right day, in the most perfect condition and with the most flavor that we can extract. Thus the wine making process can be limited and travel from vineyard to bottle with little manipulation – but the oak usage and storage is one of those critical factors that can make a good wine very good, or conversely very bad. So much so, that many wine makers actually are willing to hand over responsibility of oak selections to the sales reps of the barrels that they buy as often they have a wide breadth of knowledge in regards to what works and what does not.
Through either bravado or foolishness, I have selected all of the oak barrels that have been used in Blue Poles wines. Since 2005 I have kept a record of every barrel of wine we have used from date of purchase and tasted them all individually every year, making notes and comments. The outcome of this is that I think that our wines have a beautiful frame around the compote of red wine that forms the painting. What is more, it is an especially pleasing thing that I have done and it makes me feel that it is not just knowing the vines, the resultant grapes, having great winemakers such as Clive and Kate involved, and having that magic location; but it is my little addition that dots the I’s and crosses the T’s.
And once an oak barrel has imparted its last flavor into a wine what then? Well an ingenious couple Phil and Fiona who stayed with us this past summer have made something very special for us outside of our tasting room in the form of some “hanging barrels”. Apart from their ingenuity, I like the reminder when I am sitting down tasting wines with visitors that there is a beautiful aesthetic added by oak in a wine and this can be seen in Phil and Fiona’s sculptures adding to our view.
Our hanging “exploded barrels” outside the tasting room – Blue Poles
It has been an awkward start to the growing season this year with the rain and frontal systems coming through, but without much rain and conviction to make us believe the wet is upon us. The weather has fluctuated between lovely clear days to short sharp punches of storms and winds that lash down for a few hours or so. Grass is growing and the hills are green, but the lack of consistent rains brings a frown to many of the local farmers who continue to feed hay due to the slowness of the grasses growth.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 19.4oC (Daily Max recorded 25.0oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 9.7oC (Daily Min recorded 4.4oC)
As with last month, the maximum temperature average this month was a little higher than last years, with the minimum average being lower with the clear skies. The rainfall total was much lower than last year, with the true break of season now stretching out even further.
Avg Maximum Temp 18.7oC (Daily Max recorded 22.6oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 10.3oC (Daily Min recorded 3.9oC)
One more month of recess…
The vineyard may be quiet, but other aspects of my life is not. So, I will get out there and sort out that aspect this June before coming back to commence pruning in July. The Shiraz bottling was delayed by a few weeks, but it will be done soon and we will start the process of organizing the release of the 2015 Reserve wines. Life is busy, but a bottle of excellent wine at the end of the day with dinner while the weather and night closes in makes up for the rush rush of it all.
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