Thursday, 26 April 2012

Vintage is full on... and almost over

Vintage has been going for over two weeks now, and after harvesting over 2000 tons of grapes we're almost done. Tonight is my last night shift and then the 24/7 cycle will be over. The juice is still fermenting, but there will be no more fruit coming in.

Being on night shift means working every day from 6pm till 6am, and sleeping most of the day. It doesn't suck, as you may think, although seeing hardly any daylight for three weeks is rather unsettling. On the other hand, nights are nice around here, the sky full of stars, during Easter there was an incredible full moon, and I get to see a fantastic sunrise every morning. It looks like one of those pictures advertising fantastic holidays in the tropics (only the palm bit is missing). It always starts with what I call the "northern light" - a thin white strip of light on the northern horizon, between the sky and the hills, and a bit later, before you even realize it, the eastern horizon will be on fire - a strong orange light going lighter and yellowish, until it changes into various shades of blue. This magnificent view is topped up by the stars and the moon still clearly visible high up in the sky. The house I'm living in is west of the winery, and as I cycle home each morning, I see this show of lights and colours in my mirror, while in front of me the day is still dark. Incredible, breathtaking.

But back to work. Working at night is easier, since it's not hot and the omnipresent grapes, fruit skins and juice doesn't dry and bake in so quickly. This year's vintage is very quiet, because the cold and wet summer caused a low outcrop and there simply aren't enough grapes to be busy. My job is to stand on the crush pad, coordinate the hopper, the crusher and must pump so that the fruit gets crushed and pumped into the presses, without overflowing the must pump and spilling product on the floor. After each truckload I have to connect the pump to the next press, which means I have to use a huge spanner to disconnect a big, heavy bastard 4-inch hose full of must and drag it around to the next press.
I also clean the presses. When the pressing cycle ends, we start rotating the press with the door open and many tons of skins start falling out. This this the hardest part of the job, as the person emptying the press must manage to spread the load evenly on the tractor trailer parked underneath, preventing it from spilling to the ground (otherwise they have to clean it). You wouldn't believe how hard it is to spread ten tons of skins with a rake, ten times per night. Anyway, once the press is relatively empty, I climb (or crawl) inside with a broomstick and get rid of whatever is left. I don't recommend this job to anyone suffering from claustrophobia...

After the hard part, there comes the treat - driving the tractor to the dumping pad behind the winery, tip the load, drive back and park the trailer under the next press. I never drove a tractor before, let alone with a trailer, and I can't get enough. My current performance indicates that I'm unlikely a natural at reversing with a trailer, but after a fortnight of daily (nightly) practice, I can't complain about the results. I haven't had any accidents and even if it takes a bit longer, I always manage to squeeze in.
The last tractor ride of the shift is the treat of the treats. Driving behind the main building, where there are no lights, and watching the sunrise, is absolutely stunning. More than once I happily worked longer just to enjoy that last ride.

I'm really enjoying this writing, but unfortunately I have ten minutes to get ready and go to work, so I'll have to continue another time. I took plenty of pictures, too, but they'll also have to wait. My last night shift is nigh.

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