I heard a standup comedian on the radio the other day. His shtick was essentially based on the notion that men are always flat out busy whilst women just get things done. I doubt his career is going to rocket along, as comedy it was quite unfunny and if it was a snivelling attempt to curry favour with women he’s forgotten that in the new snivellisation it’s at least a micro-aggression to suggest a gender difference.
But let me tell you, I have been flat out busy.
It was the vintage. Time to pick the grapes. The family gathers, the sun shines, the pretty girls ply the workers with their choice of chocolates or fruit, old uncle Joe plays his accordion, a glass of a previous vintage waits at the end of every row. Perfect bunches of fruit bursting with the elixir of life itself drop almost effortlessly into baskets that fill quickly without ever seeming to get heavier. Ah, the romance.
The reality may be a little different. The infinite number of people who will help you drink the wine haven’t turned up for work. You start the day early in the prolonged cold, wet, intimate embrace of dew laden foliage. You cradle a bunch in one hand cut the stalk (occasionally a finger) with secateurs wielded by the other hand, drop the fruit in your bucket and search for the next bunch. Your back is bent for most bunches, you’re on your knees for the low ones.
By 10 am it’s drying out and warming up. That’s when the European wasps arrive. Those bunches that you cradle may now be armed and dangerous. You carry your full buckets to the end of the row where band aids and empty buckets await, samples of previous vintages are nowhere in sight.
At the end of the day the fruit goes through the crusher-destemmer and into the vat. It’s funny how your windscreen wipers only pack up in the rain and your crusher-destemmer only refuses to work when you harvest. The day was extended by the time it took to take it apart, find that the drive chain was rusty, get that cleaned up, freed up and reassembled.
Then the grapes go in the hopper, most of the stems are ejected to one side, the grapes and their juice go through into the vat. A days picking goes through in a couple of minutes.
It was a productive year. It’s the second year that we’ve netted the ripening crop to keep the birds from eating it all. I was dubious but the lovely Gayle insisted and she has been proven right. She gets things done.
We have some white grapes too but my attempts at white wine have been disappointing so we just leave them for the birds. With the nets we can leave the grapes longer to develop a bit more sugar. By the time that they were ready to pick a vine without a net on was a vine without a grape on.
Yeast is added and fermentation begins. The liquid, now called must, ferments on the skins for a week. This will be red wine in due course and that’s how it gets its colour. The berries float on top and need to be pushed into the liquid four or five times a day, a process known as punching the cap.
Then it’s time to transfer the liquid to a variable capacity stainless steel vat and press the skins to get the last few litres.
Nature now takes its course. Time for a few days break at the seaside.