Harvest has begun.
It’s our second year at this grape farming thing. It’s harvest again. It’s a busy thing, this farming, and making your own product, and having a store, and selling and being successful at a business. It’s already been a winding road to get to where we have from where we began, and plenty of people have no idea what goes into our days and love to hear the stories when they visit. More often than not, we hear “I had no idea it was so much work!”. I know, right??
So here I sit, as the juice press runs and we wait a bit for the next round, taking the time to tell you the story of a day of harvest here.
Day One: Siegerrebe
We started our day at 6am. It’s 10 degrees outside, so we put on some layers that will come off later, when the day warms , or should I say if it stops raining. We’ve taken today because the rain has slowed from a down pour to a drizzle and we can work in a drizzle. It’s a day earlier than we had planned, so we have to call in some extra hands and hope they can come a day early too.
But before the grapes – the chickens. Oh yes, chickens. We haul out food and water for chickens, tidy coops, feed the growers and collect eggs from the layers. Let the dogs out, let them run, feed them too. So while I tend to animals, Kevin’s already at the winery prepping bins, and cleaning buckets. He’s setting tanks and fermenting bins and testing equipment.
I whipped up a fast but filling breakfast and make sure we have full bellies for the day. There’s a good chance it will be a while before lunch. I eat quickly, tidy the kitchen, and take Kevin his breakfast outside to the winery. And so it begins… eight of us at eight in the morning, hand picking rows and rows and rows of Siegerrebe grapes. I’ve put out coffee and water, but no one breaks. We slurp water tossed between us down the rows, dropping grapes into buckets, and full buckets into bins at the end of the rows. We combat wasps, we hide from the sun, we sit on overturned buckets to save aching backs, but now we have aching asses. We chat amongst ourselves, only rows apart, laughing and telling stories. Kevin and I smile, and are so grateful for our friends that have come out to help.
There’s a honking at the winery. Customers. I zip over from picking grapes, clean up best I can, and yes, pop open the store for customers passing through. I beg forgiveness for the mud and my appearance. I promise I don’t normally look like this in the tasting room. We laugh and lovely customers taste their way through wine and leave smiling and happy. I wave goodbye and head back out. Lather, rinse, repeat throughout the day.
By three in the afternoon, we are done one varietal of grape on the vineyard. We have six varietals here to get through before we are done. Our production has nearly tripled since our first year. The hard work is apparent. We gather our crew and share in a crock pot lunch of chilli and buns and salad and toast each other in satisfaction.
Did you think we were done? Hahahahhaaaa… No. It’s four in the afternoon now, and the grapes need to be processed. Every bin of grapes is shovelled into a de-stemmer where they are separated stems from grapes. The grapes move down a hose into a press where the juice is pressed out from the seeds and skins. We have a dozen bins to get through and it’s already five pm. By 8:30 that evening, we’ve combated a failed press, taking us down to one. We still have seven bins of unprocessed grapes. We are sticky, covered in grape juice and defeated. It’s time to call it a day and carry on tomorrow.
Done? No. You can’t just leave sticky, grape juice filled equipment out in bear country. Cleaning is necessary. We start with pressure washers and hoses and clean buckets and bins, and haul waste and garbage, wash crush pads and stack bins of unprocessed grapes. The moon is filling the night with light, which is nice. It’s warm enough that we aren’t freezing despite being soaked in grape juice, and now water.
Nine thirty. I’ve succumbed to a hot shower and three advil. Supper? Nah. I’ll eat tomorrow.
It’s been a sixteen hour day before we pull the covers over our head. Tomorrow we start again.
Day Two: Ortega
We allow ourselves an extra hour of sleep and lay till 7am. Breakfast, chickens, eggs, dogs. Coffee…
My desk, office and admin work from this and my other job is severely neglected. Oh, did you think I just worked in the vineyard? Hahhahaahaa! No. I answer a handful of emails. I print off some orders to go out.
Fill orders, package orders, label and prep paperwork for the delivery company, arrange pickup. Check.
By nine am, I am picking grapes with four others, making five of us, up and down rows of Ortega, hand picking bunches, dropping them into buckets, and hauling filled buckets to bins. Too busy to stop, we order pizza. In another twenty five minutes at 12:30, I am given reprieve from the grapes and drive into town to pick up the food. I swing by and pick up mail and packages to spare another trip, and head back to my crew that has taken shelter in the winery from a bit of a rain shower. We eat. We are all exhausted. Back to the grind, and by four o’clock we are spent. There are two more rows to get through, and we trudge another couple hours to see them finished. Haul full buckets, cover bins. Kevin moves the bins into the shop, we wash buckets and prep equipment for processing tomorrow. By seven, I’ve retreated to the house while Kevin finishes at the winery. I grill chicken, and make pasta, throw together a casserole, eat out the dish and hand Kevin a fork as he walks into the house at eight. He too, eats out of the dish.
Shower, comfortable warm clothes, lots of water to rehydrate, feet up. It’s 9pm. We stare blankly at a tv till ten, but our eyes are both closed. We concede and go to bed.
Day three: Processing.
With fourteen bins of grapes to be processed and more to come, there’s no time to rest.
7am. Breakfast, chickens, dogs. Emails. New label proofs have to be reviewed and signed and sent back to the printers. Done. More emails and spreadsheets and invoices. More statements and orders.
Bins are shovelled and de-stemmed, and pressed. Wasps are abundant. There’s a pump running constantly moving juice into a fermenting tank. Three people can smoothly run this process. I have done what I can to help this morning and returned to my office – where, truthfully I am supposed to be catching up on accounting and admin for two full time businesses, but here I sit, clacking away so I can post on our website for all of customers. You’re welcome. Update website, update social media. The rest of my day will be prepping for a market this weekend. The store will be open, and the wine rack needs refilling. Kevin and two workers will continue processing grapes. Somewhere before the weekend I need to fit in grocery shopping. I haven’t been to the gym but once in two weeks. There’s a project outback that sits unfinished. I need to get out to the garden and bring in the herbs for drying.
And four more varietals of grapes to go. The store closes September 30 for the season, but we’ve already got special bookings and events planned. Oktoberfest and autumn markets fill most of October, with pruning, vineyard cleanup and the continued harvest until the end. Christmas Markets start Mid November with a cheese festival as filler because we didn’t have enough to do. Vines and Spines will carry us all through winter.
Is that all we have to do? No. That’s just what’s on our plates today. Many of you ask – how much staff do you have? Well, normally, it’s just Kevin and I. We are lucky to have a couple here this summer staying and working with us. We have friends and family that help with harvest, and some bottling. Our parents are gems and their visits here are filled with help. We are a small boutique winery. We are family owned and operated. We work all the days, usually even on the one day off we give ourselves from the store. We try to schedule our lives the best we can around business, and harvest, and customers and markets. It is, alas, just us, doing the best we can. I think we’ve done a pretty great job so far, and you loving our wine the way you do, tells us we’re right.
To our amazing customers that visit us, and love our wine, and hold us up, we can’t thank you enough. To our customers that understand when our door is locked and life happens, and promise to come back tomorrow, you are the reason we do what we do. For the love of the customers, for the love of the community, for your love of our wine, thank you, all of you, for supporting us in this journey.