By Fergal Gleeson
“Vintage is a very exciting time” says Leonard Russell, Viticulturalist with Watershed Wines. “The years’ work is coming to an end. You are picking the grapes at the time when they are going to be the best they will ever be. The winery runs 24-7 during vintage. We work 12 hour shifts. People then have 12 hours break to get some sleep and food.”
“Vintage is a magic time of year. Margaret River is a hive of activity during this time. There are trucks taking grapes to the wineries in the mornings. There’ll be harvesters and chaser tractors. You’re going at it hammer and tongs.”
Ryan Aggiss, Chief Winemaker at Aravina Estate echoes this. “The smell of the fresh grapes and pulp in the winery. The heady aromas of yeast. There is high pressure. Your logistical and organisational skills need to be en pointe.”
“The machinery all needs to work optimally. He emphasizes the importance of good diet and getting some snatches of sleep to get through it.
Janice McDonald, Winemaker Howard Park Wines picks up the same theme “The adrenalin starts flowing and everyone is really pumped for vintage“. She jokes that they send the coffee machine in for a pre vintage service each year because everyone is drinking lots of it, come harvest time.
“Harvesting in our Margaret River Vineyards is typically from Mid-February to late March. It starts later in Great Southern. Depending on conditions at midnight sometimes it’s too warm to start. In early season, it’s hard to plan.”
“For a small block we’d start at 3 or 4 am for a bigger block we’d start earlier. We look closely at the temperatures and if it’s a hot night in late summer we’ll cancel it. It’s very much a day by day schedule. We have our own harvester, which means that we have more control around start times and have more flexibility.“
And when Vintage is all over?
Leonard says “It all stops with the last block and the last row. It’s the end of the year from a viticultural point of view. Everyone pauses to take a breath. You’re fried. It’s like after your last exam at Uni.”
Ryan summarises by saying “Vintage is physically and mentally very demanding but it’s rewarding. I couldn’t give the same intensity and tenacity to another career.”
The next time you’re sipping on a crisp, refreshing Semillon Sauvignon blend or a Rose spare a thought for the vineyard workers who’ve done weeks of nightshifts so that your wine dances in the glass.
This feature originally appeared in the summer issue of Your Margaret River Region Magazine