Blue Poles Vineyard

July 2018

 

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Pruning Paradigm…

 

The start and end of pruning our vineyard always begins and finishes with a sigh.  Cutting out the first row (usually Shiraz Row 2) on that first morning takes about 30 minutes, and upon completing it I look down at the 56 other rows of Shiraz, the hectares of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as well as the other bits and pieces and you sort of just slump a little and exhaust that little sigh.  The job then starts in earnest, weather is often of little consequence unless it is really teaming it down, and you just put your head down and work while the sun moves on its low arc across the sky.  Hussaini and his team rolled in one weekend to complete my spur pruning with me, and I had a couple of backpackers come through and pull out and wrap down some vines with me on a few week days – and before you know it, it’s done.  You sort of look up at all the empty space where canes arched only days before and you then realize it is over and hence the second sigh.

 

Shiraz all pruned and ready for another vintage – July 2018

 

The vineyard is extremely wet this year as well, with the dam overflowing in June and the groundwater levels causing the wet sections around the property to start flowing early as well.  The saturation of the soils is also a way of ensuring budburst is delayed until Spring proper, but unusually throughout the Margaret River region (and even as far away as Mount Barker judging by correspondence from Galafrey winery), budburst has occurred on some early ripening varieties and especially the Chardonnay vines.  This is not good, as there is no way these new shoots can continue to grow through the following months without damage and stunted flowering.  Looking at the weather data from the wine regions in the south west of Western Australia it appears that the cool minimums have not been as low as in previous years, and possibly in drier blocks this may have sparked the growth.  Global warming via the higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere playing a role as well?  Impossible to know totally, and here is hoping this is an anomaly not a new normal as it will potentially reduce quality and yields dramatically for certain varieties in years to come.

 

The soon to be released 2016 Reserve Cabernet Franc

 

A bit of “test work” was also undertaken on the 2016 Reserve wines that are due for release later this year.  The 2016 vintage was absolutely normal in the sense of picking dates, and the fruit came in with excellent flavor, balance and concentration.  This made an exceptional run of 3 years in a row for us at Blue Poles.  The normal scenario is that one or the other of the Merlot and Cabernet Franc would be the stronger wine in any vintage (Cabernet in 2014 and Merlot in 2015 was my appreciation of how the cards fell), yet this does not appear to be the case in 2016 with both wines having strong arguments with regards to which is the better wine – and this has not just made a cracking pair of Reserve wines, but also a super Allouran which waits in the wings for a further year of settling down.

 

The two 2016 Reserves are excellent.  The Merlot has a fineness to the tannins to match in with a strong fresh fruit palate which creates a beautifully balanced wine.  The Cabernet Franc is so aromatic and floral, with a rich cabernet core holding this wine together.  Both as always in the Blue Poles tradition are built for aging, but both were surprisingly delicious and accessible upon opening with a good swirl in a decanter.  We will be giving the Mailing List the head’s up on these wines in the next month or so, with release date depending on both Tim and my movements (yes, we still do everything ourselves, it is part of our charm!).

 

The beliefs of a belief system…

 

This may seem as if I am simply being contrary – having written a topic a couple of month’s back throwing doubt on the ambitions of Randall Grahm and his “Great American Wine” I am now about to embark on a review of Lisa Perrotti-Brown (LPB) and her article The Big Parkerization Lie – and again I ask that you read the article yourselves before heading down for my thoughts.

 

Now this article from LPB, published on the Robert Parker Wine Journal site, is scary not only in its revisionism but how it seems to be matching in with the world in which we now live – populist and abandoned reasoning.  On first reading I was a bit shocked, by the second and third I was angry, and by the fourth and fifth simply saddened. The only reason this article was written at all appears to be an attempt to rewrite the history of wine to possibly impress Robert Parker Jnr (RPJ) and to implore that he was not an influencer, but simply the fact that wineries and wine critics alike simply did not understand – people preferred the wines RPJ liked.

 

To be honest I do not know exactly how to tackle this article.  LPB admits her biases and her connections early on in the piece and quotes Winston Churchill and his memoirs as somehow a form of proof that what she is doing is accepted practice “…perhaps Churchill can be forgiven for writing his own account of the war he won.”  This is not a proof positive of the views she is about to propose, but rather trying to justify a hopeful segue from opinion into some sort of fact.  But the lack of examples, the lack of detail and most of all the lack of content from RPJ himself makes this a tenuous link at best.

 

So, what is LPB’s thrust from the outset?  Her article implores that only the insiders at Robert Parker Wine Journal knew what went on, and the balance of critical condemnation of RPJ is nothing more than petty jealousies and “…carefully crafted versions of events, often forged by compromised authors.”  And she goes further with LPB noting that critics of RPJ are predominantly self-serving.  Their writings misinformed.  Their assumptions dismissed as “gossip” it appears as LPB notes, that like Churchill, she was on the inside and what she saw bore no comparison to this maelstrom of “baseless, compromised views”.  And from here LPB jumps straight in to the core of her article:

 

“…I’d pretty much written off Parkerization as a concept now universally known to be a myth, …”

 

Universally known, no less.  A great big myth.  My goodness gracious me.  Wow.

 

A simple description of Parkerization is this.  RPJ preferred large, fruit forward, dense wines – these wines often had low acid with lashings of oak treatments to harness the extreme ripeness of the grapes that went into making the wine.  Often higher in alcohol due to the late picking of the vintage, these wines were not common in many “classic” wine growing areas around the world as the risk in making them revolved around the extended time grapes spent on the vine and the disease and the possible losses that this often entailed.  But upon recognizing the preference RPJ showed by highly scoring these wines, many wineries (and in some cases regions) started making this style of wines deliberately to suit his taste – hence the term Parkerization.

 

Now as we move into the article, it begins with a huge “Whataboutism” which relates to Émile Peynaud – the so-called father of modern winemaking.  Peynaud from his oenological position in the University of Bordeaux went about improving the standards of wine making throughout France and eventually the world.  He was NOT asking for a change of grapes, style, or direction away from the AOC of any French winery or growing region he simply asked that grapes that were rotten or underripe not be picked, fermentation temperatures be monitored and reduced where possible, that malolactic fermentation for reds went through to completion, and that general cleanliness standards be met within the winery.  His proposals were accepted over time because the wines made under those controlling aims tasted superior to the other wines.  What does this have to do with wine criticism?  Actually naff all, as he was a scientist completing research in an area of wine quality – he did not go around rating the vineyard regions and wineries, he went around aiding the French wine industry.  France and the world of beautiful wines we have today owe a debt to Peynaud and his recognition of these issues.

 

Thus, to compare “Parkerization” and the term “Peynaudization” is apples and oranges.  To also compare the two men as equivalents is a quite a long bow.

 

The history of RPJ’s early days as a wine critic is briefly set out and it implies that there was almost a socialist zeal, as the major wine writers of the day were often associated with the trade, and to break that corporate tie in seemed a better way to review fairly and squarely.  RPJ became known almost solely on the back of the Bordeaux 1982 vintage in which the wines were richer and rounder from a warm growing season, were lower in acidity and more “plush” for a word – in 1983 he recommended that the vintage be bought and his followers came on board and apparently proof positive was in 1984 where the wines were released and were universally recommended.  Now the funny thing about all of this – nothing in fact was shown to be “proven” as it would take decades for this to be shown to be correct or not and having had a few 1982’s myself generally the wines have fallen over, yet some of the 1985’s I have had have been superb (apparently from a slightly lesser vintage).  Who knows – but RPJ hit a grounder to first, and the history books seem to be referring to it as being out of the park.

 

The next few paragraphs LPB attempts to explain the sweet tooth of America and how this would have meant that the “average” drinker would have preferred a “sweeter” wine.  [NB: I have always thought this a crazy argument – is beer sweet in America?  Is their thick brewed coffee sweet in America?]  All novices to wine start in the area of sweeter wines and move towards more complex drier styles, LPB spells this out on her own journey through wine, and then fails to join the obvious dots:

 

Novice Wine Drinking Country / Person – Sweeter Wines ……

 

……  Advanced Wine Drinking Country / Person – Drier Wines

 

From this potted history of LPB moving up through the wine world and eventually attaining her Masters of Wine (MW), we then note the only quote from RPJ in the whole article which vindicates him from the baseless and compromised views of the “outsiders” and in it he states “Oh.  That is disappointing” as he walks away from a clearly mortified LPB after informing him that she likes Sauvignon Blanc.  Holy cow.  That is something else.

 

And now we get to the nitty gritty – the reasons why “Parkerization as a concept is now universally known to be a myth” and it becomes very murky and selective in its reasoning.  Let me break it out in a few ways:

 

  1. Parker “knew” what his subscribers liked, he did their bidding.

 

This one is a ripper.  It is the argument that Parker was simply the tool by which his buyers could access the wines that they knew that they would like.  Like a backroom board, they must have told RPJ this is the aim – go find this for us.  And he did, without fear or favor, but somehow, he is the independent voice of the industry?  

 

He could see his readers embracing the same ripe, concentrated styles that he loved.”

 

Think about this for a minute.  All of the ripe concentrated style of wines were scored highly and his readers embraced these high scoring wines ahead of the low scoring wines – and thus this circle of confirmation is complete.  The wines HE highly recommended, were the wines that THEY sought out, thus he was following THEIR lead?  It is a strange argument to put forward.

 

  1. Wineries were only making these wines to meet the demands of the consumer

 

I do not know about you, but this comes across as a major problem for LPB and her credibility.  I will quote the article below and ask you a few questions once you have read it and see if you can see the elephant in the toilet cubicle here:

 

Wineries throughout the world wanted a piece of the action and developed styles that fit the trend, but it was not Parker who created the trend.  Consumers did.

 

 

As a wine lover who has been in Australia since 1988, I witnessed first hand the impact of Parkerization on the wine industry here.  RPJ loved the big Shiraz’s out of South Australia and lavished huge scores on wines that met his syrupy standard.  Fortunes were made by the wineries and importers in the US as they were highly sought after by consumers that ONLY knew these wines due to the scores given, having never tasted, and often never seen these wines before.  Are the consumers still flocking for these wines?  Nope.  Were these wines in any way made specifically to suit one man’s taste?  Yep.  Are many of these wines still around today?  Nope.  Could this be possibly called “Parkerization” from which LPB has declared a myth?

 

The righteousness which finishes off the article is breathtaking in its audacity.  It stumbles from RPJ has some disclaimer that you need to taste the wines yourself, that wine “royalty” has had their feathers ruffled, sour grapes that RPJ saw the consumer trend first, and finally the jealousy of others.

 

A wealthy novice wine country in America, follows the lead of a wine critic who, like them, has a fascination with the sweet and syrupy world of wine.  This critic scores accordingly and spreads this style around the world as a form of bringing these wines into the American market place.  Wineries seeking short term fame make wine for this critic, therefore achieving access to a lucrative market.  The critic fades away with age and a more aware wine consumer in America has come into the picture.  His legacy lives on, but as an aside and not as the lead.  Wineries revert to styles and wines that are shown to be more complex, developed and in many cases food and consumer friendly.

 

Parkerization was real.  It dominated an industry that wanted access to the biggest market in the world – America.  RPJ was the conduit that nearly all wines had to pass through for over 20 years.  It has now nearly passed, and the world of wine is now expanding to many corners that a Parkerized straightjacket would find difficult to accept.  Parkerization we can now look back at and recognize it as a major footnote of our wine history.  Be it glorious or inglorious is irrelevant, it simply was and to not see this is to not see the world clearly and the avarice “that hides within plain sight” within our industry.

 

Winter Weather...

 

Yes, this is how you would expect winter to be in the south west of Western Australia – continuing rain and showers as cold front after cold front of weather rises up from the Indian Ocean.  Power cuts with the storms as they lashed the region were common and every day there was a rainfall total to record.  Not particularly great for getting out and about, or even standing in the vineyard pruning, but in its own way there is a beauty to it all and seeing the coastline of Margaret River jagged and frothing is pretty awe inspiring.

 

The numbers for the month and last year’s figures are provided below:

 

July 2018:                   

Avg Maximum Temp  17.0oC              (Daily Max recorded  19.6oC)

Avg Minimum Temp   10.2oC             (Daily Min recorded    5.0oC)

 

Rainfall:                                               197.3mm

 

The maximum and minimum temperature averages for this month were a little higher than last year, and also noted many of the previous years.  The rainfall total for July 2018 is normal for this time of year, often forming about 20% of the annual total rainfall for the region.

 

July 2017:                   

Avg Maximum Temp  16.0oC              (Daily Max recorded  19.0oC)

Avg Minimum Temp     9.0oC             (Daily Min recorded    4.7oC)

 

Rainfall:                                               226.3mm

 

Maintaining the Momentum…

 

My other work will see me outside of the country for the first half of August, but when I return Tim and I will crack on together with several maintenance tasks.  The big one is replacing 100’s of steels that hold up the wires in the vineyard, after 17 years many are starting to fail and to replace them is important.  Wires are also up for a clean up and put down in preparation for another growing season, as well as mulching of canes and spreading of fertilisers and a bit of weed killing.  All round busy month as always, and to cap it off we may be releasing those 2016 Reserves, so keep an eye out for that.

 

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.

 

Cheers

 

 

Mark Gifford

Blue Poles Vineyard

 

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