By: Nicole Campbell
What a difference a week makes.
Most importantly, I most certainly have had a beer or two and maybe a glass of Riesling before writing this weekly report. Having spent more and more time with cellar hands, I could hardly speak for the lot if my blood alcohol level was any lower on a Friday night during harvest.
Speaking of which, crush has begun at Mitchell and completely changed the daily duties and feel of the place. Last week I spent cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, making a couple thousand boxes, and cleaning some more. To put it lightly, I was bored stupid and lamenting days of yore where I could roam twitter – no cell service for a gen-y is physically painful; “BUT I MUST INSTAGRAM THIS NOW!” is a verbal twitch I am working with a local therapist to break.
As soon as grapes arrived, the winery was charged with energy.
No longer were we cleaning just to clean, we were cleaning for the grapes that we could see, touch and taste.
With pace at the winery now nudged to full and the controller broken for the next 2 months, it’s fair to say I have learned a heap of skills this week- and I’d hope so with 12 hour days becoming the norm.
First up was cleaning & scrubbing 101, each morning commencing with 2 to 2.5 hours of cleaning pumps, pipes, the crusher, and anything else that contacts the grapes. This cleaning process is done in three parts first pumping through a caustic solution to remove grime, a citric solution to neutralize pH and a dash of sulphur to kill any lurking bacteria, plus a lot of water in between.
I’ve heard the expression “it takes a lot of water to make good wine” before, but it really takes a lot of water. A LOT OF WATER. Taps are constantly spraying and soaking, and if I am the one doing the spraying that soaking may include a fellow employee or two. Oops!… again.
After everything is squeaky clean- literally the pumps that help to clean our hoses squeak incessantly- the grapes hit the crusher.
How do those grapes hit the crusher? I’m so glad you asked!
Over the past five days I have a new accreditation to my name: Nicole Emma Campbell the IV, Bachelor of Visual Arts, Forklifing.
To those of you who grew up on a farm or work with forklifts my obsession and obscene excitement over forking about grapes and skins is ridiculous. I gleefully skip to the machine never more excited to dump compost into a rusting truck.
After the grapes are (lovingly) dumped by forklift they head to the destemmer, before being chilled through a set of hoses ending in a press. Once pressed, the Riesling grapes make their way to stainless steel tanks where they will ferment.
Along with pressing, each day also includes trips to the surrounding vineyards where a random sample of bunches are cut. Bunches are then crushed by hand- so that’s where my hand bruises came from!- before being tested in the lab for sugar, acid and pH. Results, along with taste and the weather report, determine which blocks will be picked when.
Although the days are (disturbingly) long, I am finding the winery full of small joys. The first being the speakers wired throughout the facility, through which I inflict my music on all. The second being the all-powerful shaman, the espresso machine.
Next week will be the start of reds, beckoning in a whole new set of tasks and their associated wine stains.
Nicole Campbell is a wine blogger and all around worker bee for Lifford Wine Agency, Ontario’s largest supplier of wine to the hospitality industry and VINTAGES. Currently living in Clare Valley, South Australia working her first harvest at Mitchell Wines. Follow her on twitter @liffordnicole.