By Fergal Gleeson
Vintage time is a white knuckle ride for winemakers. Vintage (or harvest) is the culmination of the year’s work when a weather event such as a hail storm or a gale can decimate the crop. Then there are the last minute, helter skelter logistics of getting the grapes off the vines at optimum ripeness and into the winery. I spoke Ryan Aggiss Winemaker at Aravina Estate and Cameron Murphy from Cape Mentelle about this make or break time of year.
“We have three long term employees who work with me in the vineyard,” says Ryan. “Pete is a veteran and provides a level head at a high octane time of year! He manages the tractor at 3am in the morning when we’ve machine harvesting. You’ve got be very careful because you’ve got people and machines in the vineyard at the same time. He takes time and makes sure the bins aren’t overfilled which would crush the fruit. Then we’ve got the two ‘young roosters’ as I call them. They’re two young guys who can lift heavy things and who want to take their shirts off all the time! They go above and beyond and have tenacity and focus.”
While some grapes are machine harvested, grapes for the Reserve Chenin Blanc, Wildwood Chardonnay and Cabernet, sparkling wines and some Shiraz are handpicked. These make up about 30% of Aravina’s total harvest. They typically hire up to 30 pickers, who after an induction start work at about 5am. They are briefed about how to handle the fruit and most importantly “not cutting fingers”. The picks can go to 10am when the West Australian sun calls time. Ryan and his crew make sure the pickers are hydrated and sun protected though out. The pickers (many are backpackers) come from all around the world. There are often up to ten nationalities working in the vineyard.
“Where are the Australians?” I ask.
Ryan laughs “Well you know Aussies don’t like to work too hard! Some supervise and drive harvesters. Afterwards the pickers will sit down and have a bite to eat and maybe have a glass of wine. Some will head along to the Cellar Door afterwards to taste the wine. We like to treat people well so they have positive memories.”
One of the differences for Aravina Estate’s vintage this year is that the fruit will be processed on site. Previously they had used a contract facility. There has been extensive investment in fermenters press and conveyor belts. Ryan can now have more control at harvest time. So not only is all their wine estate grown, Aravina can also now make the wine on site.
What are some of the wines to watch out for?
“The 2016 Reserve Chenin Blanc and Wildwood Ridge Reserve Chardonnay are becoming benchmark wines,” says Ryan. “They are made in small quantities. They sell out quickly and showcase ripe and balanced flavours. The Wildwood Ridge Reserve Cabernet 2016 will be coming out in December. We also have a vegan Tempranillo on release because we want to be inclusive for everyone who comes to the Estate for lunch.”
From the summer edition of Your Margaret River Region Magazine