Harvest Report 2023

Dry, dry, wet, wet, dry.

Another crazy meteorological ride this year – it really seems more and more that each year is truly a unique expression of place and time, and more often nowadays, marked by extremes.

We averaged a measly 10mm of rain a month for the first four months of the year, when we hope to bank a good volume of rain before the heat arrives and the growing starts. And then were hit with 100mm of rain in each of May (second half – so didn’t interfere with flowering at Unang apart from a little in the late Clairette in the valley) and June. We can get wet Mays but very rarely a wet June – and never both. The vines were enjoying this (brief) excess of water and the grape load was looking very healthy. Yet the damp and warm conditions meant that mildew was looking to attack.

As a result of the rain, even in July the southern Rhone was looking lush and verdant, a very rare sight. But later in the year there was an odd statistic for France: the first 20 days in September were hotter than the first 20 days in either July or August. And October wasn’t too far behind either.

Those who were doing no treatments quickly found the mildew was rife and the leaf canopy compromised – worse still, the fruit hit. Our plan of maintaining light treatments saw some mildew on the leaves but not the grapes, and as a result we took no leaves off later in the year to compensate. We usually take lower leaves off in August to increase airflow around the bunches – a key benefit of leaving them on this year was that the fruit was shaded from the burning sun, the threat of which continued into October.

Then after the rain at the end of June not a drop for two months… our big crop then just got smaller and smaller as the rest of the year played out in drought conditions. We had one rain event in each of August and September that exceeded 10mm, these very slightly paused the shrinking bunches but meaningful rain only came at the end of October – after harvest was over.

The rain in May/June did give just about enough moisture for the vines to get through the season, but more would have been better. Particularly as we had our (now normal) burst of 40°C heat at the end of August. The clearest sign of stress was in the Roussanne where the bunches exposed to the sun partly shrivelled over a period of 4 days during a hot week at the start of September – which cost us about 20% of that crop.

The water in May and June also freed up the available nitrogen in the soil which is often unobtainable for the roots in June due to dry conditions. That meant that the fermentations were rapid as the yeasts (which devour nitrogen) feasted on this extra nutrition. Also, the ambient temperatures during harvest were high – this forced us even in October to only pick in the mornings to avoid bringing grapes at 30°C+. Again fruit (or the sugar) at this temperature would ferment aggressively. Fermentations (the sugar turning to alcohol) produce CO2 and heat (the fruit gaining about 15°C in the tanks during the process), but the yeast ceases to work at about 34°C, so we couldn’t start at a high temperature as the subsequent increase in heat would kill off the yeast, so blocking the fermentation.

The hot harvest meant shorter days and picking more days to avoid bringing in hot fruit and over- heating pickers. Tragically, one very hot week in early September saw the deaths of 4 pickers in France (in the Champagne region). That is not something I have heard of previously. There were also the few deaths of winemakers falling into tanks during fermentations and suffocating with the CO2 – very sadly, this does happen each year.

Our new wine of last year, a 100% Cinsault – the label, a picture done by our artist son when he was at school – proved popular and we’ll make it again in 2023. This wine has a finesse and joyfulness which is different to our classic wines, and uses a variety that naturally has a lower alcohol level. Changes in the vineyard have included actions that will hopefully make the vines more resilient in general, and to water stress in particular. This year we started biodynamic treatments (manure and silicone) in the vineyard. We look forward to seeing what change that brings. And secondly, we planted more leguminous plants (peas and clover mainly) in the rows between the vines to improve soil health, organic matter, moisture retention, lower temperatures and increase available nitrogen in the soil. The work to further improve soil health and its carbon sequestration will continue.

Glass – again, bottles were a nightmare to get hold of. It seems that white glass is the hardest to source and we used lighter bottles as they were all we could find. For the rosé we’ll probably continue with this. We have already stopped using heavier bottles for our smarter red wines as glass makes up such an outsized element of the domaine’s total carbon footprint (almost half! I know, it’s mad – who would have thought it?).



In the cave the last few grams of sugar from the pressed grapes are still fermenting, and the secondary malo-lactic fermentation is starting on the red wines. At this early stage (we finished picking the second week of October – which is fairly classic for us) our Grenache, our main variety, is looking particularly good. Next week we shall start the olive harvest. It turned out that 2023 was an exceptional year – the best we have seen thus far – for pomegranates at Unang. The ongoing heat and lack of late season rain meant they ripened but crucially didn’t split. At times we do feel we are in the land of plenty.

We have now had well over 100mm of rain since the end of harvest, most of it gentle rather than violent storms (where the water mainly runs off), so nature is feeling refreshed and generally happier with its lot. Let’s hope there is much more to come over the winter as the aquifers remain at historically low levels.


Joanna & I visited Morocco briefly in June (very hot) to see Mohammed, who worked for most of his life at Unang, including an impressive 42 harvests. It was excellent to see him at home, meet his family, and be shown the workings of his own farm there after hearing so much about it.

JK 15.11.23



  1. Terje Totland says

    Thanks for the nice update about this year’s season. I understand that you have faced grate challenges. Anyway, I have great faith that this year’s production will also be very good, and I look forward to tasting it. Unfortunately the nearest dealer is in Kolding, Denmark, a long way from Oslo. Hopefully it will be possible to shop your products in Norway in not too far future.
    Good luck with the production !

    • Dear Terje
      Thank you for your kind words – I hope that you are right! We are excited to see the results of the more regenerative approach that we are taking to improve the organic matter in the soil – and how it will help to deal with the extremes of climate change and in the taste of the wine. if we have a new importer in Norway I will keep you posted.

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