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Anne Krebiehl: Sixth blog from New Zealand harvest

Published:  28 April, 2009

Excitement: the first day of picking! After the night frost I am dressed in layers of clothes. I was told to be ready for pick-up at 07.45 and Bruce, an athletic Englishman who made New Zealand his home and works for Felton Road full-time arrives promptly.

We drive to the Cornish Point Vineyard on Lake Dunstan and bit by bit various pickers arrive. As of yet they are nameless, but we are well-mixed in age and origin. We try and stay warm in the early morning and smile tentatively at each other, some of the older hands clearly know each other and we strangers laugh at their familiar banter.

The frost protection propellers, or windmills as some call them, are going everywhere in an attempt to dispel the cold and the mallow leaves on the dusty ground have an attractive rim of frost.

Everyone gets assigned a 'snip', i.e. secateurs, and we get a little health'n'safety lecture from Gareth King, viticulturist and mastermind of the entire harvest: cuts (those snips are very sharp!), accidents, sunscreen.... He introduces his full-time viticultural team consisting of Sarah, Sam and Nick. Gareth and his team are of hardy Kiwi stock and turn up in shorts!

Then we get going: we are told what to cut out, what to look out for and which bunches to discard. Small plastic crates have been placed throughout the rows and we pickers work in a long belt, side by side we move together from row to row, making sure that all fruit is picked and that what goes into the crate is of high quality. Simple rule: into the basket what you would eat, what looks, smells, tastes inedible goes to the ground. Yes, this is truly sensual work. This kind of attention during picking - where everyone is paid by the hour rather than by weight picked - ensures quality and does away with the need for a sorting table at the winery - which especially for white grapes, saves valuable time.

Our fingers are icy from touching the cold fruit but we work surprisingly quickly. As we leave the crates to go to the next row, they get picked up and taken away. That is the hardest job: being on the back of the quad-bike and heaving the full boxes up on the bike to be taken to the trailer.

The sun comes slowly up as we re-assemble in order to drive in convoy to the Calvert vineyard back in Bannockburn. Tea, coffee and buttered buns with jam await us there - and what a boon that hot drink is! We get to work on the Chardonnay first and this is very fast picking: hardly a grape needs to be discarded and whole, beautiful bunches quickly fill the crates. With every minute the sunrays are getting stronger, the hands warmer and the toes start de-frosting in the brilliant Central Otago sunshine. By midday, we can all work in our t-shirts.

It is this diurnal temperature swing that explains such a lot about the flavours of these wines: if the vines just had the sunlight and high temperatures all the time, nothing much besides the high potential alcohol levels would be there (and there is plenty of that) but the cold nights and cooling winds delay the ripening so flavours and aromas can develop.

Being an organic, biodynamic vineyard, I spot a lot of wildlife: earwigs, beneficial insects that feast on other predators, the odd ladybird and many, many spiders seem to live very happily in the vines. And it is delicious to be able to taste the sweet, ripe grapes as we go along knowing that they have not been sprayed beyond all possible life. Oh for the joys of a sugar-stupor!

Visiting other non-organic/biodynamic vineyards in the region is an eye-opener; they seem almost sterile by comparison. We have spider webs and weeds but at least the only things staining my fingers are grape juice and some dust, all rather harmless. Once the Chardonnay is all picked we break and have our packed lunches after washing our sticky, sugary secateurs and hands in a bucket of hot water. Then it's the Riesling's turn: the bunches are very tight and heavy and hardly have a blemish on them.

Again we can work very fast. Naturally, a lot of chattering is going on, we learn each other's names, stories and quirks and time flies. Before I know it, our first day of picking is over. Happiness and satisfaction.

Anne Krebiehl, April 2009


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