Passionate about wine? Restless of sitting at a desk all day? If you answered yes, then this may be the golden ticket you have been searching for.
It is like working in a lolly factory, but it is a winery – basically the same thing. From sticky hands and yeast in your hair to watching the sun rise and fall. It would have to be one of the most exhausting, but most satisfying experiences I have ever done, and man did the body hurt afterwards.
I was lucky enough to enjoy and experience my first ever harvest at Saint Clair Family Estate. Going into it I had no idea what I was going to be doing or had any harvest experience apart from the knowledge of knowing what wine I like to drink. Although many wineries look for candidates that either have previous harvest experience or have studied a degree related to winemaking, a lot of places select their interns purely based on interest and passion. If wine excites you and you show the desire to learn then you have a good chance of finding a vintage position somewhere.
Over a two-week period, the tasks that I was doing were completely varied. Some were monotonous and some were diverse and changed all the time. This included things such as adding additives (such as yeast) to the wine, transfers of wine from one tank to another, sampling, plunging, tank cleaning, barrel preparation, barrel filling, warming and inoculations.
Racking was a process that I became quickly familiar with – that was…… my first racking was a complete failure. Racking is the process of moving wine from one vessel (FROM tank) to another (TO Tank) using gravity with the purpose of removing the sediment and lees. This step is completed to help clarify the wine. You would rack from the top valve of the FROM tank to the TO tank bottom valve. The reason for using the top valve is that the sediment is normally sitting below this, so my failure was that I connected to the bottom valve of the FROM tank and transferred all the sediment and lees that we did not want so we had to wait a week for it to resettle to rack again. You learn fast when you make a mistake.
Another job I quickly got familiar with was plunging – Once fermentation of the grape juice begins in the red wine tanks, the carbon dioxide that is normally produced lifts the skins and forces them to the top of the tank. These lifted skins are called the cap. Hand plunging is the process of forcing the skins back down into the tanks to ensure that all their colour and tannin are infused into the wine. This is achieved with a long pole with a metal disc on the end. With the help of a machine called Pulsair, this builds powerful large bubbles from the bottom of the tank which helps break the cap to make it easier to plunge the skins back down into the tank.
This was a physical challenge. The body really ‘burns’ and the muscles become fatigued from the effort. Instructions to plunge tanks were written across one to two pages each day. The physical exertion means you get to eat a lot of lollies!
Vintage for Saint Clair winery started on the 17th of February.
We started with our first lot of grapes coming into the winery, Pinot Noir for the Dawn Methode Traditionnelle. This was handpicked from the vineyard at the Saint Clair Vineyard Kitchen and Cellar Door on Wednesday 17th February 2021. The fruit was welcomed with the ringing of the bell and a “cheers” with the team and a glass of Saint Clair Dawn Methode Traditionnelle. The movement to the winery operating 24 hours a day quickly approached and kicked into gear on Thursday 11th of March.
Harvest in the world of wine is simply the time of the year when wine grapes are harvested/picked and brought to the winery to start making wine.
Weather plays a huge role in the readiness of the grapes and can either speed up or delay picking times. Marlborough was lucky for the 2021 vintage with the beautiful sunny days we had during harvest.
Honestly, this was a life-changing experience – definitely not boring. It is tough to know exactly what to expect because every year is different. One common thread amongst all of them, however, is that its hard work. You will receive your badge of honour (wine-stained hands, smell of yeast and lees) and your tired body will love every bit of rest that it gets.
Aside from the long hours, you can expect to make lifelong friends, drink your fair share of beer (responsibly), learn a lot, do plenty of blind wine tastings and make the most incredible memories.
For anyone that loves wine and is wanting to really immerse themselves in the world of wine, working a harvest should be on the top of your list.
You will come out of it with so much knowledge and a newfound appreciation for the art of winemaking.