Saturday, April 19, 2014

And the Australian Wine Harvest of 2014 begins...

For those of you who may just be joining us on our journey, we have not yet discovered a Money Tree, so we are currently in the midst of the "annual fund raising" portion of our journey. We are working in a winery in Australia, making wine during the harvest season, and saving every dollar we earn, earmarking it for a future adventure. But in the meantime... we wanted to share with you how we make our travels around the world "work." And, of course, have a little fun in the process :)

The sun rising over Tyrrell's Long White Flat Vineyard on the first day of Vintage 2014
We figured we were just arriving in the Hunter Valley a week early so that we could secure the “best” room (i.e. the one with the best aircon), the “best” mattress and get ourselves organized before the start of vintage. However, knowing that we were around and keen to work, the winery asked us to come in and give a hand with processing the grape samples they were beginning to collect, so they could gauge how far off the first pick of harvest would be. We were ecstatic to begin: the energy around harvest is very exciting and it spreads throughout the winery and the vineyards, with everyone oddly looking forward to long, hard days, that will, with a little cooperation from Mother Nature, yield excellent wines as a result. 

When to harvest any given block (particular segment) of a vineyard is based on the sugar, acid, pH levels and flavor of the various samples that are collected from that block. Throughout our morning back at work, different growers arrived, bags of grapes in hand, for
All hands on deck: Roel and I got out of the winery
 and helped out with picking on the first day of Harvest 2014.
A nice change despite the pre-dawn alarm bells :)
Roel and I to crush and suss. By the end of the day, with high sugar levels and fairly good acid, it was clear that harvest was actually upon us, and the first pick was scheduled for the very next morning. 

And so harvest has begun and has kept right on going. For the past two years, harvesting has been primarily determined by the weather, with some blocks being picked too early in an effort to get
those grapes off of the vine before a big rain and some blocks being picked too late, after a series of rainfalls and subsequent days of high humidity where mold spread throughout the grapes before harvesters were able to get into the vineyard to get them off. However, this vintage, there has been hardly any rain and so grapes have come off of the vines and into the winery in a very organized, well-planned and civilized fashion. Of course harvest wasn’t without dramas… i.e., mechanical harvesters breaking down in the middle of vineyards and poor mechanics being called out in the middle of the night to get them back up and running. Nature waits for no one… 

How small batches of premium hand-picked fruit are crushed
Overall, the fruit has looked beautiful and tasted brilliant. Very high sugar levels, but good acid and very, very clean bunches with hardly any disease. 
A Praying Mantis (background) surveying his prey (ladybug in foreground) in a picking pin full of grapes about to be crushed... just before I grabbed his hind legs and rescued him from certain death in the crusher :)
Additionally, although most of the premium fruit is hand-picked, we usually have to “save” a lot of critters from bins of grapes that arrive via mechanical harvesters… think of whatever you would
A lucky Bearded Dragon, plucked out of a bin of grapes,
just in the nick of time!
find in a vineyard on any given day… snakes, lizards, mice, insects, etc. As the mechanical harvester collects bunches of grapes, it also collects whatever happens to be sitting (or sleeping) on any given bunch of grapes. But this year, we’ve hardly had to rescue any animals from becoming part of the wine. Only a few...

Next up… We’ll take you into the winery to show you our version of "How It's Made": Grape Juice ->-> Wine.