Crushing grapes, makin’ wine… Through a labour of love with more than occasional hardship, harvest is formed through a path of genius we create involving art, science, experimentation and passion.
I am currently in Arizona completing a harvest, based at a winery and vineyard near the hick town of Willcox, about 70 miles east of Tucson.
How much have I learned during my six weeks of harvest so far?
Heaps. More than I ever thought possible.
The reason? As well as the obvious; learning huge amounts about making wine in the wild west desert, a major learning curve has also been about working at a winery absent of features I have until now taken as a given.
Here at New Zealand Wineries, features such as insulated stainless steel tanks wrapped with glycol, a flick of a switch for temperature settings, presses with automatic closing doors, forklifts that always work, solid water pressure, regular deliveries of dry goods and dry ice, are ones which I have always taken for granted.
This isn’t so much the case here in Arizona’s Cochise County, where I’m an intern at Pillsbury Wine Company, making wine with James Callahan who is the client winemaker for Sam Pillsbury’s label, and he also makes his own label here, Rune.
Before I arrived they described it was a ‘Mad Max’ winery, where innovation and ingenuity replaced most hi-tech and state of the art wine technology.
That was a correct description.
It’s been six weeks of working with plastic tanks, insulated covered trailers acting as cooling and warming facilities, a lack of decent drains, a forklift which usually works most of the time, heavy press doors which have to be lugged and down by hand, water pressure that drops significantly when the grapes or vegetable garden are being irrigated, a 140 mile round trip to Tucson to purchase dry ice and dry goods, and battling 35-40 degree Celsius days during the height of harvest alongside regular monsoon rain.
But the bottom line in all of this is that harvest and winemaking is about passion, hard work, and knowing your product, Equipment is secondary.
At NZW for the past two and a half years I’ve been lucky to work with a great team of winemakers, cellar hands, lab crew and management. We are all passionate about what we do, we strive to do our best, and we love to share this knowledge and ideas with others.
I experience this here in the desert also, where it’s through love and dedication that quality wine is made.
Mother nature asks more questions when there is less control from the hands of the cellar. Through patience and experience we come up with answers to questions soaring temperature ask us, solutions for what to do when a monsoon is due to slam us but the fruit is not quite ready to pick, or a simple fix to get the old press working again when it decides to have a slow day.
The last of the Mourvedre and Symphony was picked off the quality vines at the weekend, so it’s the downward slope now as we’re busy pressing the reds and monitoring the whites which are fermenting in barrel.
It doesn’t matter where harvest takes you, nor does it really matter how many ‘bells and whistles’ there are at the winery.
What matters is quality fruit being handled by those who are mad about winemaking.