Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday five: organic winery WWOOFing... yeah, it really sucks to be us sometimes.

Around this time last year we were in the Czech Republic helping Richard and his family with their fall grape harvest.  We had a great time there and knew we wanted to understand more about the different types of seasonal vineyard work.  What better opportunity than Australia or New Zealand's spring and summer months for a little more vineyard WWOOFing?

While we were in Bangkok we ran across a March 2013 blog post that exactly summed up why we have had such a great time WWOOFing over the past 18 months.  Duncan's vineyard coincidentally happened to be just outside of Perth, our first Australian stop, and spring down under is the new autumn.  The Universe was speaking - so once again we listened, reached out to Duncan, and arranged a two-week stay at Harris Organic Wines in October. 

our view for 14 days

Duncan's approach to winemaking turned out to be similar to Richard's (totally organic, hands-on, quality-driven, and a bit mad-scientisty) but more suited to larger-scale production.  While we worked he patiently explained each step of the process and filled in the gaps on steps that went on behind the scenes. 

behind the scenes science experiment:
adding acid makes flat French wine taste better

We enjoyed all the work but we especially liked the peaceful, sunny days we spent weaving up and down rows of vines amongst roaming chickens and playful cats.  (And pesky flies.  Sooooo many pesky flies!)  Finishing a row of vine maintenance always took longer than we expected, but it provided such a sense of accomplishment.

Duncan's little helpers

Here are five things we learned, in no particular order and in our own very-uneducated-about-winemaking words... 

1.  Air flow is key.  We spent a few days clearing the trunks of stray growth and thinning the vines of large leaves that might restrict air flow and enable moisture buildup near the fruit. (Moisture = BAD.)

one row for us: about an hour
one row for Duncan: 15 minutes

before thinning

after thinning

2.  Wires are a vintner's friend.  Wire trellises keep the vines growing in an upward motion.  This keeps the rows clear, allowing the tractor easy access to plow weeds and spray organic materials like sulphur and copper which reduce the risk of mildew on the fruit.

managing the stragglers

before wire maintenance

after wire maintenance

3.  Trunks should be straight. Proper training of the vines helps create balance for the plant and eases the burden of hand-harvesting for the pickers.  Training vines is like training tomatoes - tie them to a stick and make sure they keep growing up, instead of out.

stronger than they look
(the trunks, not the guys)

makes a lovely view from the winery roof

4.  Grafting is really cool.  Take a hearty root stock, add your favorite grape variety, and viola!  (Well, it's probably not that simple, but it's simpler than we thought.)

splice ...

... tape ...

... a bandage and a few "Hail Mary"s ...

... and hope Wendy the Chook keeps the cutworms away

5.  Bottling, corking and capping is much easier when assisted by heavy machinery.  Not to say there's not value in traditional methods - it was just great to be able to experience both sides of the coin.

at Richard's

at Duncan's

the filtration setup

getting the measurements just right

manning the screw cap machine
(an exception for this batch -
usually organic cork is used)

500 bottles later, "ta-da!"

the finished product

Duncan and Deborah were warm, welcoming and generous with their stories, their delicious food - especially Duncan's tasty wood-fired pizza and Deborah's awesome desserts - and of course, their amazing wines.  During our stay we also enjoyed the company of their friends and a fun Quiz Night with the local Toastmasters group.  (We didn't know any of the answers to the questions about Australia but apparently our Canada knowledge knows no bounds...  Go figure, eh?)

shop talk after work one day

2004 - a very good year

The Harris menagerie were just as friendly and we definitely enjoyed some quality time with them too...

playful Rosie

quiet Arthur

bosslady Lola

rambunctious KC

sweet Shep

little Lucy

The main thing we learned during our short stay is that we have a lot more to learn.  Two weeks isn't enough time to learn much about anything, but with everything we want to see in this giant country it's all we could do under the constraints of our 90-day visa.  Suffice to say our interest in trying this at home (on a very small scale to start) has definitely increased... especially because after tasting so much great wine it will be hard to go back to Three Buck Chuck.

People interested in wine usually head south to Margaret River.  We're glad we stayed in Swan Valley instead and we highly recommend this area for anyone visiting Perth.  (If you go, be sure to stop by Duncan's for a case of the only organic wine in the Valley!)

Thank you, Duncan and Deborah, for a memorable two weeks!  We look forward to seeing what the season and the coming years bring for Harris Organic Wines, and we hope to see you in Portland someday for a tour of the Willamette Valley.  Who knows, we may even have a few vines of our own by that time...


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Eco-friendly WWOOFing at Chittering Acres.

When you know, you know. Pretty much right away, Patrick and I knew. The same was true for our first Australian WWOOF hosts, Andrew and Gina.

carved into the steps of the mud brick studio - 
aren't they adorable? 

Over the past few years Andrew and Gina have made a very happy home on Andrew's beautiful family farm in the Chittering Valley, and they are now eager to share their space with like-minded folks. A big part of this is their mud brick art studio currently in progress, which you can read about here.

But their vision is about so much more than that.

It's about their recycled pallet WWOOFer camp that will double as eco-friendly housing for folks who take classes at the art studio, or who attend a music festival at the farm, or who visit again a few years after their WWOOF gig to see how much the farm has changed (hint, hint).  We spent many a morning pulling pallets apart and removing nails, and Patrick helped build lumber shelves to neatly store all the wood.

collect free pallets 

use Andrew's homemade lever to pry them apart,
then pull out the nails 

turn the pallets into this lumber yard 

and stack it all here 

(We hear that the WWOOFer camp's communal kitchen/bathroom facilities - made from an old water tank, of course - are already underway and now that the wood is sorted and stored, we're sure that the camp will be finished in no time.)

It's about their organic vegetable garden and orange orchard that they generously share with their guests. 

best with peanut butter on sandwiches! 
don't forget the capsicum! 

best for mashed "potatoes" and ridiculous photo ops!

coming soon - bok choi! 
best for eating! 

best for homemade marmalade!

It's about the eco-stay that they've envisioned, where you will be able to watch the sheep meander across your lawn in the morning, take an art class at the studio in the afternoon, and enjoy a glass of wine with the beautiful sunset or moonrise in the evenings.

we'd pay for this view - wouldn't you? 

we'd pay for this view too 

It's about their creativity, in general and especially as it applies to reuse. Farmers are notorious for keeping things FOR.EV.ER. (And for good reason - we've seen many situations where a farmer pulled wire from 1978 out of their tool shed to magically fix a fence.) Gina brought a steampunk and sometimes kitschy eye to Andrew's eco-friendly hand-built farmhouse and surroundings, and the two approaches have melded spectacularly. In addition to the pallet bungalows and mud brick art studio, Andrew and Gina's creativity includes...

... repurposing caravans into guest housing 
(the next one will be tiki themed) 

... welding bits of metal into a beautiful, functional fence 
(panels slide out for easy rearranging 
and occasionally moving ginormous compost bins into the garden) 

... transforming old farm machinery into utensil holders 

... creating easy-to-recognize hats 
when picking up WWOOFers at the train station 

... turning used dishes into flower aht 

And so much more.

Most importantly, it's about their positive energy. Andrew and Gina welcomed us with open arms. They appreciated our efforts.  They were hilarious - the 12-14 hours we spent with them each day flew by. They listened to our stories and our ideas and shared theirs in return. They asked us what we wanted to learn and made sure we got the opportunity to learn it. They respected our choice to participate (or not) in their "pasture to plate" approach with a few of their sheep, and they treated the sheep incredibly humanely during this activity. Their approach to "home" and life in general was really an inspiration and they have given us countless ideas for our next life back in Oregon.

Andrew's mom Ann lives about a half kilometer away on the property and she epitomized the same positive attitude - sharing stories and meals while we helped her bottle feed her rescued joeys, prune her hydroponic tomatoes, shear the sheep... and set things on fire. (What IS IT with farmers and their fires?) We hope we have her spirit when we are 78.


30 minutes of raking aisles 
more than makes up for no weeding 

the wrangling is the hardest part 

after 30 years of shaving, Patrick's a natural 

WWOOFer Shannon: "um... LITTLE HELP HERE??" 

The Universe speaks in mysterious ways, and it's always right - you just have to be willing to listen. Our intro to Oz was initially supposed to be a 5-day camping trip with a couchsurfer host and his friends which sounded awesome.  But like many of our couchsurfing attempts over the past 18 months, this fell through about a week before our flight.

We spent our last few days in Nepal frantically searching for a WWOOF opportunity near our pre-arranged mid-October WWOOF gig in the Swan Valley just outside of Perth. Gina replied to our email inquiry the same day, saying "as it happens we do have a space, right in the dates you have asked for. Great eh?"

"Great eh?" has officially become the understatement of the year.

Andrew, Gina, Patrick and Jen 

Jen, Ann and Patrick 

good ol' Patch 

Thank you Andrew, Gina and Ann! Good luck with your future projects and we'll see you again someday, somewhere in the world!