Winemakers in the Making – Maybe

Our New Zealand work permits expire in November. We’re on a plane home August 1st. This doesn’t add up until you add wine. Then it becomes a perfect plan. Remember we worked at a winery during the Southern Hemisphere autumn. We put in long hours at a large winery as truck after truck delivered tons and tons of grapes. No real ah ha moment but a sweet experience for sure.

Sweet enough for us to apply to one wine job at one winery in California. More winery work was not the plan but I was in a restless mood after vintage wrapped up in Gisborne. I saw the job online. I thought, “Oh why not? It is California wine country after all, a smaller winery, that could be nice, see what happens.” A few weeks later we were accepting wine jobs in the Russian River Valley for the North American crush, start date September 1.

We dig the winemaking world. Lets be clear Steve and I are far from calling ourselves winemakers, we’re cellar rats, the seasonally hired hands that are the key to wineries making it through harvest. Someday we may be winemakers. For now it is too soon to tell if this is a new career or simply an adventure not yet finished.

Cheers!

Yes, that is bubbly with fish and chips. Getcha some.

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Champagne Chores

There are few times in modern life where one learns how much work goes into something that is not part of their day to day life. Parents know how much work goes into raising kids. Steve knows how much work goes into converting a cargo van into a campervan. But for the most part we live in a specialized world. We know the effort that goes into our particular pursuit or job but beyond that we are often disconnected from how other things come to be. Like how does Champagne get to the shelf, looking flash as can be, ready to be scooped up for a celebration, a brunch or really any ‘ole reason?

The WWOOF program continues to provide sneak peaks into hidden processes. The last stop put us in the middle of the long chain that gets bubbly to the wine store shelf. We were lucky to get in with Geoff & Nicola Wright. They along with their two year old and newborn make up Wrights Vineyard & Winery. Most of the Wrights wines are certified organic. They take great care to produce a very natural wine, choosing to not add heaps of sugar or do things that might make it more appealing off the shelf but in the long run not necessary for good wine.

The Wrights are currently the only folks making champagne in Gisborne with Gisborne grapes. Technically, in the mind’s of the French, Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France.  Wine making regions all over the world respect this and call their equally yummy stuff bubbly or sparkling wine. Often these wines are made following the traditional methods used for Champagne and therefore the bottle is labeled Methode Champenoise.

Our stop along the champagne production chain was at degorgement (sounds dirty, I know) along with topping up and bottling. The degorgement involves freezing the neck of the upside down bottles, then opening the bottles, allowing the settled yeast to pop out, you loose a bit here so next you top up with more wine, then off to corking, bottle washing and sealing. There is heaps more in the process so I send the curious to the wine doctor.

One of my chores was to pull the bottles out of the chiller and score, or open, them. I opened the bottle by putting it in a little box that had a built in but regular bottle opener. Open, the spent yeast pops out and then as I move bottle to table for topping up fizz runs all over me. As the day warmed the wine became fizzier. Soon clothes, hands, arms, legs and shoes collected not a soaking but a thorough dampness of bubbly. While all this happened, I was also running into the shipping container cellar, retrieving more bottles to put in the chiller, keeping up a supply of bottles with the necks frozen.

Geoff topped up the bottles and corked them all while trying to keep his rookie help on track. Nic helped resupply the cooler all while keeping an eye on their toddler and with infant on board in a Baby Bjorn.

Steve manned a machine that puts the wire cage, or Muselet, on the bottle. All caged up he would then pop them in the bottle washer, giving the bottles a nice bath before they get dressed up with foil seal and head off to a separate facility for labeling.

Too many of my travel experiences go by in a blur of long days and anxious choices. Our day of Champagne Chores was long and a bit anxious but certainly not a blur. It owns a firm spot in my memory.  From the anxiety of carrying cold wine bottles, upside down one in each hand, to the vintage Italian winery machines, to sips of bubbly at morning tea, to the intensity of the yeast cork popping out, with a little boy’s sand pile situated nicely beside the whole operation, this was a day of chores that dreams are made of.