There’s a lot of extra energy in the industry at vintage time. The sound of gas guns firing in the distance; the eagerness of grapegrowers comparing Baumes; the sight of both old Bedfords and brand new B Doubles loaded with grapes; meeting purple-stained cellarhands at the local servo and finding out how many tonnes were crushed this week. Nathan Gogoll shares his excitement.
Even before it begins, there’s a ritual build-up. Grapegrowers start to hear from winery reps, sometimes they even get visitors from the winery to check on the progress. New pieces of equipment are unloaded and admired for how big and shiny they are compared to what was used last year. Vintage casuals get inducted. Deliveries of new barrels (and the invoices that go with them) remind people how much money is invested in getting the most out of each vintage season. Then somebody remembers one of the settings on the bag press stopped working last year. And there are last minute phone calls to be made.
Then the picking crews start doing their thing and the whole process comes alive, literally. You can see it and hear it – you can even smell it. And there are a lot of people who get to feel it as well – whether the feeling is sticky grape-picking fingers, wet boots and socks from washdowns, sore quads from climbing catwalks, or just the fatigue from working long hours.But it aint all glamorous. There are some people who stare out of the same tractor window for a few weeks, or stand at the crusher controls for tonne after tonne after tonne after tonne.
And it isn’t always easy. There is bound to be a downpour of rain somewhere at a completely unwanted moment; a bearing on a harvester will give up in the dead of night; or somebody will misjudge the space available for the forklift and clip a tap on a full tank and send a neat spray of bright purple across the winery floor (wait, that was me in 2014).
Then there are grumpy vineyard managers and winemakers to contend with – and that goes for both the crew in the vineyard or winery as well as the families at home!
Even though there’s a lot of physical work to be done, it seems that everybody gets the required kick of adrenalin or moment of inspiration to keep them going. The broad smile of a grapegrower proudly making a delivery from his best block could cheer up the team unloading and weighing the fruit; a parcel of unexpected bakery treats that arrives for morning tea might break the monotony; and sharing a cold beer at the end of the day can relieve a lot of tension.
These days it is easy to keep up-to-speed with the progress of vintage across the country (even across the world) as people post their vintage updates via social media. And that certainly makes it a bit easier for people like me who ride out the busiest time of the year from an office desk.
I love being able to see when veraison starts in different varieties from different regions. I enjoy seeing the diversity of the industry in action – from people handpicking grapes into a single half-tonne Nally bin, through to reports of how many tonnes per hour the machine harvester managed overnight. And it’s great to see winemakers get excited about the flavours and aromas coming from their first press of the season.
You can also guarantee that somewhere out there, somebody will be claiming 2016 will be the best vintage ever. Just like every other year!
I hope this vintage runs as smoothly as possible for everyone this year. But I do feel for those who will have a bumpy ride this season. Whatever part of vintage you are involved with, and whatever this harvest delivers for you, please stay safe.
Nathan Gogoll wrote this article as an introduction to the February 2016 edition of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine (those boots in the photo are actually his Blundstones, wet from hot-washing barrels).
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