Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why dream of vineyards?

It looks like my dream house has sold.
I drove past there on the weekend and the “for sale” sign had gone. I hope the purchaser is able to maintain the property and make it productive.
I’d hate to drive by one day and see the vines have been ripped out.

I’m not sure why I find vineyards appealing. I’ve done some vineyard work and some of it was far from pleasant. The very first job I had after my move to the country was netting several blocks of vines. It took four full days and was the most physically demanding work I’ve ever done.

Rolls of bird-netting were attached to the back of a tractor with the netting threaded through a tall T-shaped frame. The tractor was driven between two rows of vines and the net was manually pulled across three rows of vines at a time, one man on either side. The job required the net to be pulled while keeping up with the tractor. The netting was very dusty after being stored away for a year, and along with the dust came a year-old shower of dried leaves and twigs that had been caught up when the nets had last been removed.

Over the years it had been found that gloves were too much of a hindrance, with every known type being tried and found inefficient. Therefore the work was done bare handed, subjecting the fingers to the roughness of nylon netting. It was not surprising that if gloves didn’t last long with this work, the skin on fingers wouldn’t fare any better. It wasn’t long before my hands and fingers were bloody and very sore.

After the first couple of days I was determined not to return, but fortunately the Australia day public holiday came in the middle of the four days and I had time to get over the shock. Surprisingly the last two days seemed much easier. The reason for that later became obvious. Firstly I’d been able to gain a little fitness in the earlier days so found it less difficult to keep up. Secondly, the last two days were on flatter ground. In his wisdom the vineyard manager had started us on the steepest section. Not only did we have to jog along while pulling a heavy bunch of netting, we had to do most of it uphill.

About a month later I was called back to that vineyard to remove the netting. That was far easier. The tractor did most of the work this time, winching the net back into a roll. All I had to do was to keep up with the tractor and anticipate and prevent any snagging of the net on vines and posts. This job took half of the time and the vines were soon ready for the pickers to get started.

My third vineyard job was therefore grape picking and I was paid by the lug (a plastic box with a volume of approx 30-40 litres). I worked continually throughout the day with no breaks. For ten full hours I earned $70. It was a year of drought and the grapes were so tiny that it took many more bunches than usual to fill the lug. Some people picked twice as much as I did, and it wasn’t until the following year that I learned their secret. Where I had been picking everything I came across, some people didn’t bother picking the smaller stuff; they went straight for the biggest grapes and left the rest. Considering it takes the same amount of time to pick a small bunch as it does to pick a large one, it was much more profitable for themselves to get the grapes that filled the lug more quickly and leave everything else unpicked.

While the drought and the resulting small grapes weren’t very profitable for me, it didn’t harm the wine at all. The winery recently won an international award for the Shiraz produced from that crop.

The last work I did in a vineyard was about two and a half years ago. I was hired to thin out the grapes in another local vineyard. That meant removing bunches of late ripening grapes which if left would reduce the sugar content of the crop.
In this job I encountered what is probably a common hazard: large spiders with webs stretching from one row of vines to the next. Most of the webs weren’t noticed until it was too late because we were concentrating on the grapes instead of where we were walking. It was unpleasant enough to walk into a vacant web, but when a spider was still in residence at face height, it was much more than unpleasant.

No comments: