First day off

     I finally get a day off on Sunday February 28th. It came as such a relief. All of us at the winery were starting to feel overworked and exhausted. We all needed a break. Even though there’s still so much to do… we just need one day off. The winemaker decides that we’ll do an alternating schedule and either get Sunday or Monday off. I didn’t particularly care which day, but I got Sunday.  

     Even though it was a day off, I still had to get a few priorities done. I needed to do laundry, clean the kitchen, organize my room etc. I wasn’t really sure what else to do the rest of the day. I don’t have a car or a bike, and living on a vineyard. We are close to a small town called Yarra Glen, but it’s still the middle of nowhere. On Google maps, the grocery store was only 1.7 miles from the house. Not too bad. Maybe I could grab a burger somewhere. Also I needed to activate my bank card so I could start using it. So I decide to walk to town! Just after I left the house, I realize it’s Sunday. The bank won’t be open on Sunday. Oh well. A burger still sounds good.

     Finally got to town and walked up and down the street. It’s basically a one street town, but it’s cute. There’s a bank, café, bakery, pharmacy (they call them chemists), a small brewery, The Grand Hotel, a few restaurants, grocery store, and a park. Out of all the places, The Grand Hotel was the busiest. So I decide to go eat there. Sat outside, ordered a burger, and a cup of beer. Both were really good! And then walked home. It was a pretty good day off, and something other than winery work.


Second week of Australia

For the second week of work, we start at 8am everyday. I’ve been stuck with pumpovers. Which isn’t bad. It's a chance to see and taste all the fermentations as they progress. Checking sugars, does the fermentation smell good, checking the temperature, if you start to smell sulfides then giving it air. Lately with all the fermentations we have going, it takes me the full 8 hours to complete them. And that doesn’t include all my side tasks. Cleaning tanks, or look that tank is overflowing so we need to find a place to fit some juice, or make up all the additions, or rehydrating yeast to inoculate a tank. And then next think you know, it's already 6 pm. I’m tired. Covered in grape juice/wine. And when we actually are all done cleaning up from the day. It’s 8 pm. These long and busy days are pretty typical during harvest. It's what I expected, but it doesn't make it any less tiring.

Even though I'm doing pumpovers, we are still receiving and processing fruit. This week I think we processed more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Viognier. Besides our vineyard at Sunshine Creek, we get fruit from other vineyards as well.

And after a long day, Simon and I still have to walk home. It's just a short walk, but on the way home it's slightly uphill. Sometimes it’s still light outside. And some days it’s dark and we have to walk by the light of our cell phones. Kangaroos come out at night. And when we're walking home in the dark, you can hear all the kangaroos hopping around us and through the vineyard.

One of these nights walking home, Simon tells me about drop bears. That apparently they hide in the trees at night, they're as big as a bear, but swift like a panther. And that they kill hundreds of people every year. He's pretty convincing. And immediately I start looking at all the trees, actually a little worried. There's deadly snakes and spiders, so sure there's deadly drop bears too. I start asking all these questions like "OMG, are they around here, have you ever seen one?!" And he just starts laughing... apparently they're a made up creature to scare away tourists. I googled drop bears and there's hilarious pictures of koalas with fangs.

At the end of this week, I have worked 12 days straight. Working probably around 65-70 hours a week. When the boss said that I get to have Sunday off....THANK GOD.

Days 4, 5, 6 ... 7

So initially I thought that I was going to be able to write a blog entry on each day. But starting to realize that I don't have time for that...or that some days will be just about the same as others. So I'll just keep it short and sweet and probably just summarize a few days together.

For days 4-7 that's Thursday thru Sunday. Basically all the days start to meld together, working really long hours, and there's so much that needs to be done in one day. It's hard to remember it all. So at the start of harvest, they have me doing pumpovers. A pumpover is when you need to homogenize your fermentation vessel. And with red wine fermentations, since you ferment on the skins and seeds, all those skins and seeds float to the top of the tank and can create a cap. This is created from all the CO2 that is being produced by the yeast, pushing everything to the top. Yeast is what converts your grape sugars to alcohol, and ta-dah you have wine! That's basic winemaking 101 for ya. Anyways, back to pumpovers. You don't really want to let the cap sit on top of too long. Because skins can get dried out and create pockets in the wine that can make it hard for yeast to ferment in certain areas. So we homogenize the fermentation vessel by basically sucking up juice from the bottom of the tank and pumping it over the cap, in hopes that your mixing the tank and wetting the cap. You usually pump a tank over for 5-10 minutes. And at the beginning of harvest, we maybe had 3 tanks that needed to be pumped over. Sure, one hour of pumpovers, and I'm done. But as more fruit came in from the vineyard, and more tanks start to ferment, it's now taking me almost the full day to complete these pumpovers.

The first fruit we received from the vineyard is Pinot Noir. (But before I got there, they received some Heathcote Syrah. Heathcote is a slightly northern grape growing area.) And we received some Pinot Noir clones I've worked with before, and am familiar with their characteristics. We get Pommard (Pom) and 777. Pom is probably one of my favorite Pinot clones, it's usually a fruit forward clone with tasty bright red fruit characteristics that really coat your mouth with delicate tannins and a good body. But then we started to received some clones I haven't heard of. Like MV6, 916, and a few others.

Then we started to received Chardonnay. And then more Pinot, and well I can't really remember the order of the fruit we received.

It's my first weekend here in Australia, and I worked. Which is what I figured, days off are rare during harvest and are usually extended hours. So I wasn't really expecting a day off. More pumpovers to do!

Day 3 - Second day at work

               So there’s a few more things to do today! I like it when it's busy at work. It makes the day go by faster. And today I started by cleaning two dirty tanks that look like that haven’t been cleaned since last year. They still had stuck on dried grapes and lees. After cleaning the tanks, I got to do a wine transfer! The wine transfer is a little more exciting that cleaning tanks.

               They wanted me to transfer some wine from a 1,000 Liter VC tank to an oak cask. (For reference 1,000 liters is about 264 gallons.) For my non winery friends a VC tank means it’s a variable capacity tank. This tank is basically a cylindrical can with a movable lid. It allows you to put whatever amount of wine you have (as long as it fits in the tank) with a floating lid that sits on top of the wine. This allows for no headspace or room for oxygen to interact with the wine. Too much oxygen interaction with a finished wine can cause oxidation, which is considered as a wine fault.  

               Anyways, back to the wine transfer. The winery has these pumps I’ve never used before. They're relatively large pumps, at least in comparison to the ones I'm used to. And these new pumps have a clear covering on the side, so you can see the mechanism turning. It's called a Peristaltic pump. It'd basically a big roller moves the wine through the lines. Simon described it to me like squeezing toothpaste out. Wikipedia has a better visual description "A peristaltic pump is a type of positive displacement pump used for pumping a variety of fluids. The fluid is contained within a flexible tube fitted inside a circular pump casing. A rotor with a number of "rollers", "shoes", "wipers", or "lobes" attached to the external circumference of the rotor compresses the flexible tube. As the rotor turns, the part of the tube under compression is pinched closed thus forcing the fluid to be pumped to move through the tube." I'll have to take a video of it running so you can really see how it works. I've never used or have seen these pumps before, but they're really gentle on the wine. Other pumps use compressed air or paddles which isn't necessarily the most gentle when transferring wine. Simon gave me a quick overview on how to work the pump. It was a little strange at first, and my biggest fear is blowing up a pump or lines. So I always try to be cautious when using pumps.

               I fill the cask as much as possible and then there only a small amount of wine left in the VC, I’m told just to drain what’s left into a bucket and pour the rest into the top of the cask. The cask is basically an extra large barrel. It has a door and valves on the side and bottom. But on top is just a 2” opening for the bung. So I drain what's left in the VC tank into buckets and start to pour the wine into a funnel at the top of the cask. The cask is quite full, but I’m always a bad judgement at how much wine it’ll actually take to fill barrels/casks. So as I’m pourig wine into this cask. It’s suddently full and all the wine I just poured into the funnel, is just pouring all over the side of the cask. And onto the ground. Shit. It was only about a gallon or so.. but still. I hate spilling or wasting wine. Stuff like this happens all the time in a winery. But just hoping it didn't make me look to bad on only my second day at work.


Day 2 - First day at work

               So it’s my first day of work at Sunshine Creek! I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. I’ve come to realize that all winemakers are different, and each has their quirks about how they run a cellar. And also on sanitation, some winemakers will want you to sanitize everything and there’s others who are more relaxed on sanitation. So basically it’s just easier to act dumb and listen to what they say on how they do things in the cellar. I don’t want to step on any toes on my first day.

               My first day was relatively uneventful. They had already received fruit and processed it, but it was still in its cold soak stage, so no pump-overs just yet. The main tasks I was given was cleaning. Which is the usual at a winery. There’s this saying that “Winemaking is only 10% making wine, 90% cleaning things”. And I was stuck on cleaning the drains for most of the day. Drain duty isn’t one of the most glamorous jobs. It’s one of those jobs that has to be done, but nobody wants to do it. Usually winemakers will stick this job with the new interns. And well, that new intern is me. Luckily for me they weren’t too disgusting yet. This was a newly built winery with no grapes and gunk clogging up the drains yet, but just dirt and rocks and pieces of plastic leftover from construction. The winemaker also gave me a broom to make sure I got all the pieces of dirt and rocks. Again like I said, not glamourous, but just one of those jobs that has to be done.  

               Okay enough about drains, but that’s really all I remember doing that day. Cleaning drains. And then for dinner that night, you guessed it, leftover Pasta!


Day 1 – First day in Australia

NOTE: I flew out on Feb 13th, took a 16 hour flight and then arrived on the 15th. I crossed over the international date line. Which coming to Australia makes you jump a day. So I skipped February 14th (Valentine’s Day) entirely.

     My friend Nick had given me a SIM card with an Australian number and said he has some left over minutes on it. I put it in my phone, but it didn’t work. I had no service. I thought oh well. It took probably an hour and a half to get my bags and then wait in line to walk out of customs. They scan your passport and then you have to look into a camera, to verify it’s you. I was expecting to get a stamp in my passport, but I was bummed. No stamp! And then you walk out of these big automatic doors… and then your bombarded with hundreds of people. Lots of people with signs, taxi drivers, family members etc.

     The person who was picking me up at the airport was named Simon, he was the other Cellar Hand to work vintage at Sunshine Creek. When I arrived I checked my email on the airport wifi and Simon sent me an email saying he’d be waiting outside of customs for me. I only knew what he looked like from a few Instagram photos. But initially I didn’t see him. So I went and stood in a corner of the airport. Phone still didn’t have any cell service and the airport wifi was really slow. I waited a little bit and still didn’t see anyone I recognize, or at least anyone with a sign with my name on it. I was starting to get a little concerned so I finally sent out an email to Simon saying that I’m standing by the currency exchange. I instantly recognized Simon when he walked through the airport doors. I mostly recognized his wine-stained work clothes and winery work boots. That had to be him. I called out to him and yup it was him! He helped me carry my bags to the car and I told him about my flight over. When we got to the car I was instantly confused because the steering wheel appeared to be on the passenger’s side. And I was sitting on the driver’s side. I just thought that they drove on the wrong side of the road, but their cars are designed differently too! As we were leaving the city, it felt so weird to be on the wrong side of the car and road. It almost made me dizzy. It took us a while to get out of city traffic but when we finally got to the outskirts I immediately felt at home. Rolling hills with dry grass and trees scattered everywhere. But instead of oak trees, they were eucalyptus. On the drive over, Simon and I were just talking about the usual where he/I grew up and life in Australia/The States. I started to realize the language difference. Sure they speak in English, but many of the normal sayings are different. They say “I reckon” and “G’day mate” and everything is in kilometers.

     We pull up to the winery and I am just in awe of the building. It’s all new and the doors to the building are huge. The main building is a huge concrete rectangle and then there are 3 above ground tunnels in the back that attach to the winery. Only one of the tunnels is complete, they keep their barrels in there. Another tunnel will be for cold storage (cases, fruit etc) and I can’t remember what the third tunnel will be for. On the left side of the building are all the tanks, probably about 50 tanks or so. Their biggest tanks are 10,000 L and the smallest are about 3,000 L, equilivant to about a 10 ton tank and a 3 ton tank. On the right is the construction crew. They are putting up huge windows and building offices. I met the two winemakers, Mario and Chris. It’s just a brief meeting as they have work to do and I won’t officially start until the next day.

     So Simon drives me to the nearest town, about 2 miles away and I set up an Australian bank account. It was easy and just looking out the bank windows, the town looks so small and cute. Finally get all that set up and then Simon takes me to the guest house where we both will be staying. The house is on the vineyard/winery property and we drive through a small orchard, rose garden, horse pastures (with horses in them!) and finally pull up to this brick house. We walk in and I’m just in shock how nice this place is and that this will be the place we are staying. Simon gives me a quick tour of the house: kitchen, 3 bedrooms each with their own bathroom, laundry room, and the large porch/BBQ area. I pick my room and set my stuff inside. Simon leaves me as he has to go back to work and I would see him later.

     When he leaves I walk around and check out the property. It actually quite hot but the view is just breath taking. When I walk back to the front door, I hear something rustling around in the gutter. I look and see the nose of a large reptile. On no…here it starts. I just hear everyone’s voice in my head, “Watch out for all those deadly snakes and huge spiders!” But I mean this thing is huge. I can’t see all of it, but it’s nose is huge. Freaked out I go to my room and start to assess what’s here. There bedding, towels, soap…and WHAT THE HELL IS THE ON THE DOOR! On the bathroom door is a huge brown spider, about the size of my palm. I’m officially freaked out. And then I start to notice all the spider webs everywhere…. Oh no.

     I decide to go on a cleaning spree and use the shop vacuum that’s in the laundry room to suck up all the spiders and spider webs. I do the kitchen, laundry room, my room/closet, and then the bathroom. I decide to squash the bugger with my shoe. But this spider is almost as wide as my shoe. (Okay I might be exaggerating, but this spider is huge. I have pictures as proof and plan to post those later.) After a few minutes of prepping myself, I finally smash him and then suck him up with the vacuum.

     Then unpacking. I only brought one large suitcase, a small carry-on and my backpack. A relatively small amount of clothes and items with me to live somewhere for 3 months. At least for me. I honestly feel like I’ve been living by my suitcase for the past 6 months. (I was in Portland, then moved back to SLO and now I just moved to Australia).

     Then laundry. I wanted to wash the sheets and blanket that were currently on my bed. Quickly I realized there was a washer…but no dryer. A little worried at first, but then realized that its blazing hot outside and there’s a clothes rack. No problem! Drying my clothes outside. I know my grandma used to do it all the time, so why can’t I? everything dried within 30 minutes. That’s faster than a normal dryer haha, I don’t know what I was worried about.

     By late evening, I was relatively settled in. Everything unpacked, washed, de-bugged. My co-worker/new roommate got home around 7pm. And we went to the grocery store. The town closest to us is called Yarra Glen. It’s a really small town with one grocery store called IGA (Independent Grocers of Australia). Bought all the essentials and food for snacks and easy (and large meals). The first meal I made was a large pot of pasta. Rigatoni with a tomato and ground beef sauce. Really basic. But I made a lot. (That meal went on to serve me for 4 days haha.)

     And then sleep. I tried to go to bed early, not knowing how tomorrow would be and how I would actually sleep. And well, first day of Australia complete. I was still a little weirded out by all the bugs and potential snake that is living outside, but I did get some sleep.


First Blog Post - Day 0, February 13th, 2016

Hello Everyone!

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.