Blue Poles Vineyard
The weather during June has been very unsettling for a number of reasons – one is that it has not really cooled down much considering the lateness of the season, and two it simply refuses to rain with any intensity. Shower after shower has skiffed through without leaving much more than a trace in the rain gauge. What does this lend itself too? Well pruning is not top of the list, the vines are only a warm day away from a fake budburst, thus pruning now could dramatically reduce crop for next vintage, and it should be noted that pruning now would also risk an early budburst anyway – which doubles up on a number of risks during the start of vintage.
Thus, cooling our heels has been the priority. The use of an activated biochar is currently being made for us and some lime sand will be delivered, but in all real effects the vineyard continues to chillax as we start to lengthen our days once more. Short and to the point this month – one cannot gild the lily too much one could say.
Even fall has been a longtime coming – Mitchell Maple, Blue Poles June 2017
All quiet on the topics front, I seemed to have circled this little wine topic like a great white in the Great Australian Bight – waiting for a morsel seems my raison d'être. So, I am going to head off line and discuss my city – even though I have never lived there more than a few months, Perth, which for every Western Australian is as comforting as homemade chicken soup.
We arrived in October 1988 – the international airport at that point was 3 gates, and there was no aircon as you stepped off the plane. My first real relationship with Perth was the smell of dust and the dryness of its warmth – and I loved it immediately. Leaving the airport, we drove down Horrie Miller Drive – a sand bowl and the feeling that you were on the edge of a desert, and arriving in central Perth it was without the hustle and bustle of any city I had been in before. Having the mystique of a “cowboy” town with the mining industry driving an entrepreneurial class (read Alan Bond), it felt awfully quiet.
Being a geologist, I immediately applied for work and I had landed at an unfortunate time – the industry was winding back and did not really recover until 2005. I did some contract work in Southern Cross, flew out for interviews in Laverton and Meekatharra, and eventually got a job down south in the Margaret River region at Christmas and never left the area – but Perth is our support structure for every Western Australian and we universally love the place.
There is nothing special about the place to be totally honest. There is no harbor (we have a river front but that’s an aside), no central train station, no night life, no exotic lifeforms, no parochial foolhardiness, and no major hang ups. But it does provide two essential elements that I have NEVER felt anywhere else – it gives you the sense of freedom and space. You notice the sky in Perth. When I arrived, I used to walk to my appointments and interviews, and I felt like my arms were outstretched. When I flew into Laverton that first time, the landscape was flat and red, broken by shrubs and spinifex, but the sky was the same – an acetylene blue that INXS duly described – and I loved it.
Perth Sunset – Brighton Beach 2017 (Source: sundaysunset.com)
You can be alone in Perth. You can step in and out of life as you wish – you have options that come from a people used to this freedom. Extremes are frowned upon, and when seen or heard they are roundly criticized. My first encounter with an assumed racist element of the town was the presence of Asian Out posters in 1988 around South Perth where we were living at the time. It was a small group of right wing nut jobs, and it faded out as quickly as it began – 20 blokes getting off on themselves does not a movement make and we see this throughout Australia still today. This aspect of racism is a sad and continuing aspect of Australia as a whole – in Perth it comes more from loneliness and ignorance and has no real dedicated core.
There is a great divide of wealth in the city – to the west with the coastal beaches and riverfront estates you can see fantastic affluence. Go east to the foothills near Armadale and Midland and you see the poorer suburbs, the split is dramatic, but it is a divide that links communities to themselves and in effect makes the city encircled by a staggered series of social statuses. That series of wealth divisions has not been a mental impediment to the city, it seems to hide this within the large space in which it sits – you never drive through town noting haves and have nots, and it is not a point of discussion or elephant in the room, it is just the overprint of living. Boom and bust cycles have come through with the mining industry encroaching into the low end of town and making “bogan riche” a real thing – this has once more passed and the city continues with its sly divide.
The politics of Perth is beige – not driven by any form of ideology but rather simple plans of expansion. Every state government of either Liberal or Labor moves only to create legacy, such that what is wasted can be seen and often driven on. Perth may be one of the few major cities in the world where there is not a single toll road – and there is a fantastic road network even if they do whine about five minute delays in the morning or evening. Personalities and plans drive the political spectrum, there is an element of “time’s up” with most state governments, not a demand for social equity or tax reduction etiquette.
The trains run on time mostly, the buses are clean, and taxi ranks often have taxis. When in town I use the buses a lot and they are excellent. I appreciate that everyone moves to the back, are generally quiet, help out new travelers with regards to stops etc, and when you alight you say thank you to the driver. If you drive, parking is easy and apart from avoiding roadworks, getting around is a breeze. Is it starting to sound a bit dream like? Well it is to a degree as you are most often looking in, not actively participating.
Perth is also beautiful – view a sunset, wander through Kings Park looking down across the city, take the ferry to South Perth for coffee, have a beer in the harbor in Fremantle. But be aware, the beauty is yours to behold – it is not dependent on others to make the scene, it is not a tapas bar in Barcelona, a patisserie in Paris, a snug in London town which all requires extras. This is the self-made town and I love it for it, it makes those who make their own fun and makes those who will take risks.
The Margaret River wine industry is built upon the fortitude and ambition of three medicos from the western suburbs of Perth. They were not buying a vineyard/ winery, they were starting from scratch in an area with no wine industry in place. This I doubt any other big city doctors from anywhere in the world would have done, but for those from Perth. Those weekend trips south for year on year to eventually make some of the best wines in Australia today is testament to them and their families, but also a little bit down to the city of Perth and this “state of mind” great opportunity of a state.
View across Perth City from Kings Park - 2017 (Source: lukeaustinphotography.com)
To dislike Perth from my perspective is more about you than the city. Perth is made of sky and access – if you need enclosure of others and the security of support then Perth will not touch upon you, it will just not care. Perth and Western Australia is my homemade chicken soup – I could never feel quite right without access to the frame of mind that they give me. Mine is a view of someone who likes space and freedom both literally and metaphorically – that is what I often crave most.
Like the aspect of “terroir” where a wine is made up of all the influences that interact upon it, something as omnipotent and regional as space and freedom must fill some corner of our wine’s DNA. Flying in to that broad sand plain, and you can already “feel” the sky widening and the air thinning. You can never hide that dry heat or the smell of desert dust before the “Fremantle Doctor” comes off the ocean, or even that opportunity which is now right in front of you...
So where are we at with this break in the season in Margaret River? Well actually not very far, the maximums have not dropped significantly, the rainfall is well below average and the minimums are not ensuring the vines are in true recess. With the continuing lack of rainfall it is going to be harder for the regional water table to be topped up this season and that could lead to an early budburst. Little bits of information like this has brought the pruning to a halt as we do not wish to expose the vines to a potential wet and windy flowering, reducing crop even more for the vintage to come.
The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:
Avg Maximum Temp 18.3oC (Daily Max recorded 21.6oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 8.3oC (Daily Min recorded 3.4oC)
As with last month, the maximum temperature average this month was a lot higher than last years, with the minimum average being lower with the clear skies. The rainfall total was much less than last year, with the true break of season now stretching out even further and further.
Avg Maximum Temp 16.7oC (Daily Max recorded 20.3oC)
Avg Minimum Temp 9.0oC (Daily Min recorded 1.4oC)
Let’s get started…
July will be a month to kick start the vineyard once more – with the first heavy rains to come through, pruning will begin and should continue for a few weeks. We will spread some biochar and lime and at the same time do a bit of vineyard maintenance with many of the steels at the end of their life (16 years in one should expect these things). I am abroad a little bit, but I will be back to some quiet in the vines soon enough.
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