by PHILIP WHITE
Spring’s here. Well and truly. Just like spring in the ’sixties: gusty and dousing one minute; sunny and warming the next, and lots of wind. But that was spring. You know, September, October, November. This is August.
Until now, it’s been rain, rain, rain. Perfect. The creeks suddenly began to flow on July 10th; within a week the dams were brimming. And today the wind has quit and we have sunshine so scrubbed and settled it seems to fill all the space of the yard with a dense brick of perfectly transparent matter. The almonds are in full bloom. Arum lilies have suddenly appeared along the water courses. Mick the Pre-Cambrian ram is looking around for all his old girlfriends, all those thousands of ’em, who no doubt went into the mutton pot long before I was born; the foal still within the bursting balloon belly of the mare in the horse paddock next door is kicking so much you can see the lumps moving around in the mother’s stomach. The sedges are alive with baby wood ducks. That’s early. The flats swarm with calm ibis, studiously poking those long black beaks into the sod. Yesterday the blackbird performed his opening cadenza for the sunshine oratorio that feels fit to burst the season wide open any minute now.
As Michael O’Donohoe said the other night in The Exeter: “if you don’t spray poison, your insects won’t get sick. No sick insects, your birds won’t get sick. No sick birds, no slugs or snails”. Since it cut back on the spraying, and sorting out its creeklines with native vegetation in place of the cluttered European species that went malignant, the whole of McLaren Vale is crawling with birdlife that simply wasn’t here five or six years ago. When we were working on the Trott’s View photography in 2000-2001, there was almost no birdlife available to be photographed. Now every time a person tries to get a clean photograph of a cloud, friggin’ wee berrudies fly in the way.
Budburst hit the bellwether vineyard opposite The Salopian Inn on August 1st.. Last vintage, I reckon it was the 15th.. And look what happened then. One of the earliest vintages ever, starting out cool in every sense of the word, then suddenly coming over all hellfire and brimstone when the record fortnight of heat hit. And now, although it came excruciatingly late: six weeks of steady soaking rain. The escarpment ground is making water, right down the fault line. If it rains on into the official spring this season, we may well end up with another half a million tonnes of surplus. And a vintage rocking in a fortnight earlier than the last freak.
As Penfolds’ chief winemaker, Peter Gago, said back in April, “In the last fifteen vintages, no two have been alike ...We have to keep modulating our definition of extreme. What’ll come next?”
Bluegrass music, probably. That’s how springy it is. The Dillards. Although I’ve been plastering my ears around The Felice Brothers new’un for a week solid. They’re not bluegrass. They must be sick of being likened to The Band, but it’s probably good for business. And they do come from Woodstock, NY. Raucous, rollicking and brassy like Rock of Ages, sure, and sometimes as if they’re in an empty hall; other times woodsy in that smoky barn sort of way, but they sometimes sound like The Band produced by Lanois, and they get really spooky. Then I sniff hints of Dixie Chicken blue-eyed baptist Billy Payne piano funk. More puce and big crimson than pink, if you get my drift. It will be a delight to follow them. The Band has kept me buzzing for forty years, so a first reserve will be nice.
As there’s nuthin’ new under the Sun, Fleet Foxes drags me back, too. Syrupy pre-Eagles vocals. Like Crosby’s spaced-out solo If I Could Only Remember My Name (with Nash and Young, the Dead, J. Airplane and Joni Mitchell), with splashes of Harry Nilsson and the Beach Boys. Now they’ve learned to sing, I’d love to see them ROCK.
Which there’s absolutely no shortage of in the stunning Large Number 12s, which Mick Wordley just unveiled for me. I can’t believe ’em. He recorded their live opening blast, Every Sunday at The Pint On Punt pub in St Kilda four years ago (it’s on his Mixmaster label – check www.mixmasters.com.au/ ). Mick’s just finished polishing the follow-up, which is studio live and sizzlin’. It’ll be out in a fortnight or so: GO BUY. They sound like Dwight Twilley; 10cc; Rockpile; Thunderclap Newman; The Records; et al, with the Les Paul/Strat interchange of Mick Robbins and the Rev. Charlie Owen always dazzling up the front. Great writing, too. Which is nothing at all to do with wine, other than it makes me very, very thirsty.