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...



  1. let's see some "before and after thinning" photos of Patrick!

    1. Amazing how manual labor makes up for years of sitting in a cube eating everyone's zucchini bread and Voodoo donuts, eh? We also have a "Patrick's hair from 0 to 450 days" series of photos somewhere...