I’ve been able to watch the progression of this vintage in South Australia from the early stages. Meeting all the different characters who contribute to the final product has illustrated how much work goes into producing one bottle of fine table wine. Certainly, the physical labor in the production loop is one of the most vital elements.
Once the winemakers decide the fruit is ripe enough to be picked, the liason calls it in to the grower on his mobile. Everyone talks non stop on their mobile phones this time of the year. Information is so important. If it’s a special lot of grapes, either for quality, size or on a steep piece of land, the machine harvester is left in the garage, and the fruit is picked by hand by actual human beings.
I spent some time picking grapes and hanging out with some of the them. Adrian Hoffmann, their employer and a 5th generation Barossa grower, threw a bbq for us this afternoon. We were all hot and thirsty. The dirt blows all over the place, and everyone was coated in it. They’re a colorful crew, the pickers, coming from Europe, Korea, Australia, and SE Asia. They live in the caravan park in town. The younger kids look at the job as an adventure, since they are travelling abroad and will be touring around Australia and elsewhere.
Not everyone is doing this for travel, however.
I met a semi-retired couple, Jim and Bec, who come down from Coff’s Bay near Brisbane. They work the strawberry harvest next back up North. You get to sit down while you pick stawberries, Jim told me, “and wheel yourself over the rows like you’re pedaling a big wheel, it’s much easier than this”. The grape harvest here normally lasts 12 weeks, but this year due to the drought, it will last merely 6. Judy, a seasonal laborer from Beechworth, Victoria, is disappointed by the short work load, but happily joked about her ankle tan line and how her friends will tease her. The pickers don’t all socialize together, which means many of them only see each other at the vineyards. So when Judy took her sunglasses off for a photo, Jim exclaimed, “I didnt know you had eyes!”