16 December 2012

December in the Vineyard

Getting stuck on a packed tram in hot weather or having to run home from the tram stop if you forget your umbrella is annoying, but working outside day after day gives weather observation a completely different meaning.  The weather over the last month has been crazy.  One day I had to run for shelter when a sudden thunderstorm hit the vineyard (standing in an open paddock holding onto trellis wire is probably not a very healthy option in such conditions!) soon followed by hail, then a couple of days later we were sweltering in 35 degrees, and everything in between has been thrown at us.  
Good weather for ducks as they say...!

I've spent days walking around with wet feet (really need to re-waterproof my Blundstones!) and other days of struggling to make sure that I'm adequately protected from the sun.  Sun protection is one issue that I'd been vaguely aware that farmers must deal with, but the reality that the job of a farmer involves long hours outside over summer doesn't really sink in until you do it day after day.  We are bombarded by advice not to go out in the sun during the main part of the day, yet avoiding that isn't really possible for most tasks.  So I've covered up and slathered on the sunscreen, but I've still got quite a suntan, even through long-sleeve shirts and gloves.  I wonder how farmers who've been working for years manage it?

One exciting event last week that will help was the delivery of the eagerly awaited new tractor to replace one of the old ones.  With a cabin, air conditioning AND a radio, there could be fights over the coming months of hot weather about who gets to do the tasks using that tractor!

This type of weather is potentially lethal in the vineyard as it can lead to mildew which could devastate the vines.  So the spraying of protective layers continues, and I've quickly learnt what to look out for on the leaves that can signal the start of something nasty.  The weather also means massive growth spurts, and we've been busy putting the wires of the trellises up another notch and finalising the second round of de-budding that I described last month.  Across most of the vineyard the wires are now as high as they can go, so the next step will be to attach a hedger to the (new!) tractor to trim back the growth above the trellis to prevent the canes snapping off under their own weight.  And you can see from the picture at the top of the page how quickly the fruit has developed in the last month.  Trimming the vines will ensure that it gets full sunlight and air to enable it to develop fully.

One task that we've been working on that can be done under cover and is guaranteed to keep everyone cool is the disgorging of the sparkling wine.  This is part of the overall process and is one of the coldest, messiest jobs you could imagine, especially for the "disgorger"!  The wine has been sitting in its bottle, fermenting away quietly for the past few years.   Just before completion of the process, all sediment from the fermentation process must be removed from the bottle.  This is done by sitting the bottle in a rack, angled downwards, for several weeks, and being given a quarter turn every day. This gathers all the sediment in the neck of the bottle, ready for removal.  The bottles are then carefully placed upside-down in dry ice which quickly freezes the wine in the neck, capturing the sediment.  They are then taken out and the crown seal removed which releases a massive pressure behind the iced up neck, shooting the icy plug of sediment and a bit of the wine out in a big, cold, fizzy explosion.  The bottle is quickly topped up and then a new crown seal is put on before too much wine is lost.  We have been doing this in a production line of one disgorger, two topper-upperers and one resealer.  I had never seen this process undertaken until the first time we did it, and didn't immediately understand why the winemaker came out dressed in full wet-weather and protective gear, like a deep-sea fisherman, until we started to take the bottle tops off.  Even doing it under a table to reduce the extent of spray, there was still ice and sparkling wine going everywhere!  Once that process is complete the bottles are cleaned up and labelled and ready for the celebrations that go along with this time of year.

And finally, to wrap up this month, a couple of pictures of the locals...
A road blockade!
An echidna helping out with pest control
in the vineyard


  1. I don't think I've ever heard of the disgorging process before. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun. :-)

    I hope your summer calms down and you have the exact right weather to make the next fine vintage.

    1. It was a lot more fun the second time we did it when it was warm. The first time it was a cold day and everyone was freezing! It's certainly an interesting process.

  2. I never knew making sparkling wine was so labour intensive - I will be more forgiving of price tags in future.

    1. Yes actually I've been thinking about that too. I now realise that buying a decent bottle of wine from a small vineyard is incredibly good value, whatever it costs!