First off, I would like to thank you for reading my very first blog post! I've never written a blog before, but I hope to share my winemaking experiences with you though this blog and I hope you find it enjoyable!
I'm a small town California girl and I'm still finding it hard to believe that I'm currently in the Yarra Valley of Victoria, Australia. At first I was really against doing a harvest in Australia for a few reasons now I think are silly... 1. Australia is too much like America, very modernized and New World winemaking styles. 2. I would probably have to work for a larger winery and get stuck doing a monotonous job for the entirety of harvest 3. The wines from Australia weren’t that good.
After just being in Australia for less than two days, I realize how wrong I was about my assumptions. Australia is very different than The States (what Australians call the US). There are lots of similarities yes, but I notice more differences every day. One of the biggest difference is the driving. They drive on the opposite side of the road. Even the steering wheel is on the other side! And they're also on the metric system. It's about 13 degrees Celsius here currently. I'll let you google the conversion. And also their lingo or terms for things is strange. Even in the winery it can be difficult to understand the winemaker and it takes me a second to translate to Californian. I'll start a quick dictionary for you.
California Winery vs Australia Winery
•Rubber boots = gum boots or gummies
•Pomace = marc. The remains after pressing grapes.
•US scale vs metric system. Also in US terms a gallon is 3.785 liters, but according the English a gallon is 4.5 liters. So even some of the conversions don't match properly.
•KMBS = PMS. They are just using the initials of potassium metabisulfite, where Americans use the elemental K to abbreviate for potassium
• Shrimp on the BBQ = Prawns on the Barbie. They say prawns not shrimp, the phrase "shrimp on the Barbie" is an American stereotype of Australians.
•I think you should = I reckon you should
Trash can = rubbish bin
I'm sure I'll encounter some more.
I've really been blessed with this opportunity to travel here. I applied to this job on a whim. I didn't have a full time job at the time, and thought I would apply to New Zealand wineries for the heck of it. New Zealand seemed like a beautiful place, and somewhere other than Australia for a southern hemisphere for harvest. I started to really job hunt and applied to some Australian wineries as well. Most of the ones I applied for were for large producers. On Facebook there is this group called Traveling Winemakers, and a winemaker posted that someone had dropped out last minute and looking for someone to work vintage. I emailed him and attached my resume, thinking nothing of it. At first I wasn't really serious about traveling abroad, but wanted to see what responses I would get from other wineries. I was surprised at the handful of job offers I received (I had low expectations actually). And the winemaker who posted the job on Facebook responded to my email asking if I was still interested in the position.
My reaction was "oh shit, what am I doing, am I really interested? hmmmm sure!" And sure enough the job I found on Facebook was an offer I couldn't turn down. They were a small producer in the Yarra Valley (about 200 tons), producing many different varietals (even Italian varietals which are some of my favorite wines), they were going to provide housing free of charge, and paying 1.5x more than all the other job offers. I really had to take some time to think about it. I wasn't sure I wanted to leave San Luis Obispo for another 3 months (I was previously gone Sept-Nov in Portland, OR for a harvest there. I loved it but it was really hard at the same time to be away from family and friends.) But my boyfriend Robby told me that I shouldn't pass up an opportunity if I was going to regret not taking it. As much as I love him and my life in San Luis Obispo, I knew that if I turned down this perfect job opportunity, and a chance to travel, I would regret it later.
And so far, Australia has been absolutely amazing. Briefly drove through the city, and once we entered the country side, I immediately felt at home. Narrow roads with rolling hills, scattered trees, cattle grazing in fields, and plenty of vineyards. And with all this traveling and information I’m learning, I figured I would share it with my family and friends who would like to know what I’ve been up to! Also disclaimer: I can’t divulge trade secrets and may sometimes be vague when describing some of the winemaking. But for my non-wino friends, I’ll try to explain things in lament terms to hopefully make it easier to understand what goes on in a winery.
Day 0, February 13th, 2016– Flying out of The States
I originally thought I was flying out of Sacramento Airport. Easy access and it’s close to my boyfriend’s hometown, which he planning on going home after he dropped me off at the airport. Then when I forwarded my flight information to my parents, my dad points out that I’m actually flying out of San Francisco. Whoops. I booked the wrong airport and didn’t realize it until the day before I fly out. All is well, but good thing we realized what airport I’m actually flying out of.
My flight out of SF leaves at 7:30pm. And Robby dropped me off at around 3pm. A little early to the airport and I was really reluctant to get out of the car. Both of us were quite the whole ride up to SF, knowing the next three months were going to be tough. It was a sad but quick goodbye, and I really wanted to cry as I watched him drive off into the San Francisco airport traffic. But I had to suck it up and look like a normal person as I was checking in my bags. My one checked bag was 0.5 lbs over the 50 lb limit. Crap. Now I have to open my bag in front of all these people and find something that weighs half a pound. Luckily all I had to do was take out a book and then stash it in my carry-on. Then it was a perfect 50 lbs.
After checking bags, I had to wait in line through customs security. It was a relatively long line but people watching kept me entertained. There was a family in front of me, two young girls playing with yo-yos. I commented that she was really good, and then she started to tell me about all the yo-yo’s she had at home and how hers got scratched at school. I wondered where they were going, but didn’t want to pry. I wondered where all these other people were going. And reminded myself that I’m going to Australia! Ahhhhhh.
Finally passed through customs and then found a chair to sit. My flight didn’t have a gate number yet, so I just had to hurry up and wait. I walked around a little, exchanged money to Australian dollars, and grabbed a sandwich to eat. Once my flight updated its gate number I walked over and found a yoga room! I had 30 minutes till I boarded my flight so I decided to take a peak. Two people were lying on the ground sleeping. It was a small room, but found a spot on the floor and decided to stretch. A peaceful moment with myself is exactly what I needed.
Boarded my first plane, which was small and I had a window seat. The two people who sat next me were two hippies in their late 20’s. We started talking, about where we were traveling and where we were actually from. They were actually traveling to Honduras! And spending about 40 days there on vacation at a friend’s house. They were originally from Vermont. I told them I was going to Australia to make wine, and then they started asking me all these winemaking questions. They were actually really cool! And we talked the whole hour and a half flight to LA. Talking to them made the flight a little easier as it was incredibly turbulent. There was one moment where I felt my stomach drop and thought the plane was going down. When we landed we walked together through the LA airport to our next terminals and then said our goodbyes. Meeting them made me feel better – this was a good start to my travels.
My flight out of LA straight to Melbourne was prompted to leave around 10:40pm. I could hear all the people at the gate talking in their Australian accents. I boarded the plane almost last, my seat was in the back. But I didn’t realize that it was actually in the last row of the plane. I sat down next to a man probably in his 30’s. He was really friendly and we started to talk again the basics, where are you from/where are you going. He was originally from Mexico, went to college (somewhere I can’t remember), met his wife and then moved to Australia (that’s where she’s from). And he’s a visual effects graphic designer in Melbourne. I told him my story of where I’m from and that I’m heading to Yarra Valley to make wine. Again he starts asking me all these winemaking questions. Honestly I could talk about wine for days, so I didn’t mind. He was on my left, I was in the middle, and then a girl about my age sat on my right. She didn’t speak English very well. Once the plane was moving, she moved to an empty seat. She said she wanted more room to sleep. Which was fine because then I moved into her seat giving me and the other gentleman more room.
The flight estimate was 15 hours and 45 minutes. The plane was actually really nice! We each had our own TV that included movies, tv shows, audio books, and games. All for free too! And they handed out free earphones. I came prepared with my own movies and books and headphones just in case. This plane was really turbulent as well and I was a little uneasy. They fed us dinner at around 1am, I had turkey meatloaf with mashed sweet potatoes. I was surprised how good it was! They then walked down the isles with ice cream. It was about 3ish am Cali time when I figured that I might as well try to fall asleep. My wonderful boyfriend got me one of those neck pillows and some ear plugs to make sleep a little easier. It’s actually incredibly difficult, at least for me, to sleep sitting straight up. I tried different ways – legs crossed, leaning more to one side, slouching in my chair. But ended up falling asleep face down in my tray with an airplane pillow. I felt like I was back in school falling asleep on the desk. Not the most comfortable, but I think I got a few hours of sleep. But I did wake up to drool all over my face and on the pillow. Hopefully they wash those between flights. They fed us breakfast at about 6am Australian time. The whole time change during the flight was really confusing. For breakfast I had French toast and fruit, again really good! This almost 16 hour flight was taking a toll on my back so I walked up and down the isles for a little bit just to stretch.
I even got to see the sunrise over the clouds. It was absolutely beautiful. Once we started to see land, the gentleman asked if we wanted to change places so I could look out the window. Of course I said yes, and it was my first sight of Australia. Rolling green hills (the outback?) and just land that goes on for miles. I was trying to imagine all the kangaroos that must be down there. When we started to see Melbourne, it was BIG. The gentleman said that Melbourne is about 4 million people. I haven’t fact checked yet, but I believe him. The city looked huge.
And when we landed I was relieved, as I made it one piece. And that hold crap I'm in Australia! I arrived at 8:45 am Australia time on February 15th.