Looking back at July, August and September 2023

As I write, our harvest finished a week ago on October 12. First impressions are that it’s the kind of year I love: unpretentious, neither easy nor especially challenging, but just enough to ask questions of us and stamp its character. It’s clearly not particularly concentrated, but there’s plenty of straightforward, clear fruit, with good balancing acidity. Time will tell.

On September 16 we brought in a very small quantity of certified organic Rolle (Vermentino) that was just perfect for a new wine, which I’ve wanted to try for a while, an Orange made without added sulfites or anything else added, or taken. The malo has completed, I’m going to leave it to settle where it fermented, in enamel tank, and bottle it in January.

In the vines

It’s the end to yet another season defined by drought but that ended well despite a couple of tricky heatwaves.

To date we’ve had around 280mm of rain this year. Our historical average is 750mm. Wd can only hope that the deficit is made up in the remaining months of the year and early next. The drought shows up everywhere, from curling, dried-out brown leaves on vines everywhere (ours not so much), on public green spaces now dusty brown spaces, on roadside trees browning and declining.

Last year’s rainfall in November and December, 350mm in total, appears to have bailed us out this harvest.

On the other hand, we didn’t get the sustained summer heat that our Mediterranean neighbours in Spain, Italy and Greece suffered.

Summer temperatures were a comfortable 28 to 32º with nights reasonably fresh. However a heat spike from August 7 to 24 saw daytime temperatures exceed 34ºC for 14 days and reach 37-39º on August 10 and 11. This blocked maturity. And caused some perspiration while harvesting early-ripening Muscat. Somehow the fruit made it through not least due to 20mm of rain on August 24 when temperatures also dropped by 10ºC.

We benefitted from 50mm rainfall spread out over 4 days in September, just right for juicing up the fruit, without negative impact on the harvest.

Otherwise, we enjoyed an Indian summer with daytime temperatures 25 to 28ºC and nighttime 12-14ºC for most of September (and into October to date), perfect for ambient temperatures in the cellar.

The wines

I’ve got a bit left of earlier vintages Rosé 2021 and Rouge 2020. They keep on giving. I love the juicy minerality of the Rosé and how the Rouge has developed a thread of more vegetal fruit and firmed up.

The Orange 2022 has been even more popular than expected. Dr Jamie Goode gave it a great video review on Instagram here (I think) on October 9, with very positive words for the whole of the range. Thanks Dr Jamie! By the way, his new book The New Viticulture well worth a read.

I’ve just started selling the Blanc 2022 which has benefitted from nearly 6 months in bottle. It’s super fresh and lively with that dash of Rolle lending spice and zip to the Clairette and Grenache Blanc.

Apart from the new Bio Orange sans sulfites, I’m working on a certified organic “chilled red” style – more on that next time – and the usual range: Blanc, Orange, Rosé, Rouge.

Music

Another vintage quarter! There were some great releases and re-releases. Mojo magazine continues to do the best job at rounding them all up every month. Following are the albums I’ve kept coming back to.

New music

Blur: The Ballad of Darren. A surprise release because I’d thought the members were all happy doing their own thing. Great craft and bandsmanship. Some of the music is languid and gorgeously melancholic, some of it sounds like a Bowie outtake from Scary Monsters, some joyous electro-pop. More a Saturday morning type of album than a Friday night.

Gabriels: Angels and Queens. Fantastic blend of classic, timeless funk soul, with gospel, disco and rock influences, brilliant production, tons of hooks. LA-based. Definitely one for Friday night.

William J Healey: Bunny. A Brit updates a late 70’s soul and funk vibe with a touch of George Harrison thrown in. Anytime over the weekend!

The Coral: Sea of Mirrors. Another fine Brit effort, gentle, melodic pop with a marvellous cinematic / western vibe.

Freya Ridings: Blood Orange. Pure dance pop with great hooks. Insanely catchy. Definitely for Friday and Saturday night.

Eloise: Drunk on a Flight. Antidote to the high energy of Freya Ridings, Eloise sings intimate vignettes with an electro soul bossa feel.

Old Music

Pep Laguarda & Tapineria: Brossa d’ahir (1977). Appears to have been a one-off by Catalan duo inspired by Brazilian Caetano Veloso’s chilled out MPB of the same era and recorded in and suiting to the Ibiza Formentera vibe perfectly. This is for Sunday morning…

Neil Young: Chrome Dreams (recorded 1974-77, released 2023). Though never a huge Neil Young fan (there’s so much to digest), it’s amazing that such strong songs as these could remain unreleased from such a huge artist. Here are gorgeous hypnotic ballads and gripping rock-out squalls. The production values are uneven due to multiple recording dates and venues but doesn’t detract.

The Band: Northern Lights-Southern Cross (1975) and Music from Big Pink (1968). Songwriter Robbie Robertson died which led me to explore their music for the first time in my life. These two albums are standouts. Classic. Soulful, country southern rock – albeit by a nucleus of Canadians.

Can: Future Days (1973). Quite unclassifiable. Ambient? Techno? Krautrock? Jazz? Very slinky and hypnotic.

Dorothy Ashby: Afro-Harping (1968). Among the many jazz gems re-discovered was this unusual soul-jazz album by harpist Ashby. She turned up most famously on If It’s Magic on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.

Bettye LaVette: I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise (2005). So many fine albums by this veteran soul singer, native of Michigan, totally overlooked during her youth in the 1960’s and 70’s now enjoying a renaissance in her 70’s. She keeps it gritty and stripped down and contemporary all at once. Her latest is helmed by now Rolling Stones drummer Steve Jordan.