Saturday, March 31, 2012

Go confiently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined." - Thoreau

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Shit Australians Say #6

Regarding the timeliness and service standards of Western Australia:

"Good ol' Wait Awhile WA."


Agrizoophobia – fear of wild animals
Chiroptophobia – fear of bats
Entomophobia – fear/dislike of insects
Ergophobia – fear of work or functioning
Mottephobia – fear/dislike of butterflies and/or moths
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia - fear of long words
ok, that one is just ridiculous, Wikipedia. 

I don't even think I have words for this blog post, but I just had to share what I found in my bucket of picked grapes this morning. I have shared the difference between hand picking and mechanical picking in terms of what we have to pick through and remove once the grapes are brought back to the winery. And I have explained how the bug and mice pickings are slim with handpicking, but I haven't described what you have to go through while hand picking to make that work back at the winery easier. Sure, the earwigs are crouched inside the snug bunches of grapes but generally you can grab the stem and not touch them. Yeah, there are spider webs but very rarely have I seen a spider (knock on wood). Of course I know what's potentially in the vines from seeing what is brought in, but this. 
I don't even know. 
As the grape picking goes, you have your clippers and move down the rows of vines with someone else on the other side picking the grapes on that side. It's a bit of companionship to get you through the work, keeps up the steady pace, and also makes the work easier as each person has better access to the grape stems depending on the direction they are growing off the vine.  Sometimes the grape bunches are completely entwined amongst the vine and having two people trying to find the stem is just a bit less burdensome on you and the grapes. You clip as quickly as you can, trying not to puncture the grapes so they don't oxidize, and cusp the bunch as you snip to gently throw into the bucket at your feet. As the bucket fills up, you push it into the vine so that the tractor comes along and can pick it up and move on to the next empty bucket waiting to be filled. 
So, today, as we just happened to be chatting about snakes, I look down at my nearly-full bucket and see something spotted and grey fluttering beneath a bunch of grapes. I bend down to look a little closer - I don't want any leaves or anythings to make my work back in the winery any harder - and slowly back off with hands on my hips as though to retain them from reaching into the bucket. I stare curiously wide-eyed at the pulsating bunches in the bucket. Luckily, we were in the middle of the row where the pickers coming from the other end met us. Andy sees my face and looks in my bucket. "It looks like a moth,"he says as he reaches in to brush aside the grapes so it can escape. "It looks like a Very Big moth." I'm slowly backing further away. He lifts it out, and it is absolutely humongous. I have never seen such an animal. I am not convinced it is a moth, although it looks like one, but it is the size of a bat.  

He places it onto the vine and it doesn't fly away.
Seriously, what is that thing.

"I've done my 5 hours, I'm outta here." - me

The wings span is incredible and the artwork is spectacular. But still, I'm freaked out about the size, the species, and how it got into my bucket........Did I touch it? don'

The body is like a pine cone. 

I guess all I can say is that - all jokes aside he didn't eat me alive and he didn't carry me away - this Thing is lucky that I spotted it's fluttering and he didn't end up in the de-stemmer machine. But please, I don't want to see you again; as I had just texted Dad before I left to the vineyard, I quite like the grape picking; there is no room for fear in this line of work. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another Sky Post.

Sometimes the sunsets aren't private or shared with Felix. Sometimes, those little creatures like a little bit of the show as well. And sometimes, when you're trying to get wi fi from the one spot outside of the winery to talk to your family at a decent 12-hour-difference time, it is necessary to make some sacrifices, suck it up, and not be afraid of the spider that is hanging out above you, while the sun slowly sets and you are left alone in the dark with it. 
"oh, hello."

 Surprisingly not afraid to get a bit close to take a picture...
And still the view, the sunset, the familiar conversation half way around the world, and the somewhat satisfaction of a non-freak-out is all worth it. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“At night the stars wheel ever westward. Mostly they’re just texture. But sometimes he stares so hard and attains such crisp focus that he seems them as the places and bodies they are. They lie there in sheets, before and beyond each other, interleaved in their bronze, gold, silver, pink, blue facets, in mosaic overlaps like the scales of a fish. At moments the like these the sky has an awful depth of field, an inwardness that makes him afraid that he’s falling out into it, about to be inhaled like a dust mote.” Dirt Music

The Sky.

On a March Wednesday, after the first day the red Merlot and Shiraz grapes were picked, I was lucky enough to witness a spectacular sight. I had gone home after work full of grape juice stickiness and earwig and mouse itchiness to have a hot wash-away shower. I went back to the winery to use the Internet, but with a frustratingly low connection, I left with a worth-while experience. 

Check out this sunset.
Is this for real? yes.

Just minutes passed as I walked by before the deliciously vibrant flavors of the sky were licked up and swallowed by the sunset. I could not be luckier.
Then I got home and took off my sweater, and still found an earwig attached to the shoulder of my shirt. Hmmm. Still worth-while. 
I don’t know if I have said this before, and if I have it is to bewildered, unconvinced eyes, but I think that in another life I have and/or would like to study the sky and clouds. There is something about it that constantly finds my feet slowly coming to a halt, my eyes peering up wide-eyed, and my mind in a silent awe. I don’t think I could ever be an astrologist though, as the unfathomable expanse of the universe and beyond somewhat terrifies me. I can’t visual it so I can’t comprehend it. I don’t get it and I don't understand why we don't know more about it.
I don’t know how many pictures have been unrelentingly taken of the sunsets putting the Piscataqua River to sleep while waking up the nightlife of downtown Portsmouth. The early jet-lagged morning sunrises over the Dunfanaghy Golf Course bringing eastern promises of rain or sun to the Northwest coast of Ireland. The bike rides around Colorno that were stopped to absorb the sight of the clouds sweeping the culatello-weathered smell of Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano across Emilia Romagna. The runs to the Indian Ocean timed perfectly as the heat of the sun disappeared into the water with the sun. The northern, very westerly clouds leaving Monkey Mia smeared like FunFetti vanilla frosting against the baby-blue sky that sweetly reminded me of skinny days of scooping spoonfuls directly out of the tub as an afternoon snack. 
If it's not the people or the food, it is the sky that will remain in my memories. 

Recently, as in since I've been at Frankland Estate for the last month (a month!), I have caught myself noticing they sky more than a couple times a day. At four in the morning when the moon is still lighting the night’s sky with the still-present stars, it confuses the sleepy hour of having to start work. Then later the sun starts to rise over the vineyard warming the grapes awake from the cool night. No picture I have taken has yet to capture the colors that make the early morning work hours worthwhile. Then, during the day as I walk to and from the winery along the dirt road and in between the vines, I twirl in place searching for a cloud amongst the blanketing blue sky above and around me. Not a cloud in sight. I envision a satellite or spaceship over me, looking down and having clear access to be able to see the remote, isolated Frankland River region with pristine precision. Me, barely a speck. Or when I'm standing in The Spot of mobile reception talking to John and Sheelagh, I look up at the sky in the dawn light or dusk sky and wonder what the sky looks like where they are, 12 hours behind. And if the timing is just right when I leave the winery after my dose of Internet communication with civilization or after a beer with the guys, I get my own sunset each night to marvel at as I walk home. This private show usually lasts the duration of my walk home, gradually disappearing behind the vines and stealing one last glimpse of the fading color specturm through the trees for myself before I step inside. Other times I share this with Felix as we sit on the couch that we moved out onto the veranda, watching the sheep chew their way across the field in front of us, the wind blowing a cool night breeze, the sound mice scampering across the wooden boards, and the spiders lurking somewhere. We have the best front row seat to watch the array of colors slowly blend into a single black backdrop of Jackson Pollocked-stars, so crystal clear they pierce not only the sky like sprawled sparkling diamonds on a black velvet tray in a jeweler’s shop, but sharpen your utter disbelief that you are witnessing such a sight. I'm not exaggerating, people. 

Ok ONE MORE I swear!
I heard in the Outback you can see the sun setting in one direction, and then you turn around to the east at that same moment and can see the moon, the night sky, and the stars already out for their nocturnal postings. I can't wait for that.

If it weren’t for the prickly dry grass and the looming presence of night critters, I would totally go out and lie in the field and stare up into the sky until the sun rose again. But, unfortunately, that sheer fear of creepy crawlies will keep me safely on the veranda, home to it’s own zoo of Western Australian creatures. 

You're searching...
For things that don't exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings - there are no such things.
There are only middles.
~Robert Frost

Secondary Fermentation of Chardonnay

There is a room here just for Chardonnay. To access it from inside the winery, you have to sideways-walk between tall stainless steel tanks and then bend over to reach through the little door, watching your step in. When the white grapes come in and we pick out all the wildlife bits, the juice is racked (aka pumped) into these wooden barrels. With patience and precision, the winemaker can time exactly how long it takes to fill a barrel to the right level without overflowing.

The little science experiment turning this juice into wine causes airlock gauges to gurgle, filling the whole wooden room with a curiously calming and soothing sound - it's almost like quietly walking into a room with a baby monitor where you can hear the infant happily burble, babble, and drool in its dreams.
The fermentation lock on top is needed so that oxygen doesn't enter, but the carbon dioxide can escape; the pressure inside is pushing the gas up and out causing the bubbles in the airlock. When the bubbles stop, it is a clear sign to the wine maker that the (here, wild) yeast has eaten all the sugar. 
When you run out of such contraptions however, you can brilliantly use a bag of sand that is still malleable enough to yield to the carbon dioxide pushing it's way out. I'm pretty sure the spilled minor-explosion of juice on the barrel in the picture above is not a very good sign, but the soon-to-be-wine can easily be transferred to less-full barrels and the sticky juice wiped off. 

It's most likely the worst 25 second video you've ever seen. And the noise in the background is probably less of the fascinating fermentation and more of the bird-scarer outside (yes, there is such a noise and unfortunately is not silent to humans like a dog whistle. #birdpeckfree #goodwinesacrifices). But walking into the room full of bubbling barrels turning the grape juice into wine in front of you is really quite impressive. dramatic. miraculous.wonderful.
At least adjective-worthy enough for me to try to capture it with a dinky video. 
No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth.  ~Robert Southey

What I Miss #9

PBR's at the Press Room.
Just Kidding
Ok, well maybe a little miss.
miss it's company.

Third Weekend: Third Great Southern Roadtrip

 I don’t know if I would call it a routine, but for the third weekend in a row, we have spent a lazy Saturday enjoying the backyard sun, reading, cleaning, and nursing a Rocky Gully Pub’s ginormous-burger-calorie-ridden lean-over: there’s nothing lean about it. For the third weekend in a row, Sunday, the day of rest, has been our day of action. This Sunday we decided to be a bit more touristy and visit the Valley of the Giants outside of Walpole along the coast of the Southern Ocean. We drove to Denmark for our obligatory $100 shopping trip – we’ve almost come to terms with the fact that we just can’t get away with spending any less – and then on further another 50 kilometers or so to the Valley of the Giants Road which winds through the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. According to the books, Valley of the Giants is Western Australia’s most visited spot. Its 600m tree-top walk is multi-award-winning: of course it is.

We were cautiously advised to be prepared with appropriate hiking gear (sneakers: check. Water bottle: check. Sunscreen: check. Australian pie as a snack: check) and to allow 40-60 minutes for the walk.
We were done in 10, maybe15 minutes and could have worn thongs (aka flip flops). 
Looking down wasn't bad. It was the shaking that made me hold on.
In less than an hour, we even walked the Ancient Empire Boardwalk, a boardwalk to protect the fragile wildlife through the karri and tingle tree forest, as well as, stopped to eat our Australian pie snacks on a bench, visited the gift shop, rest rooms, and had a smoke-o. So much for the warnings and so much for the $12.50 we forked over for our less-than physical less-than-anticipated-full afternoon.
Reached the highest point!
We followed the signs to the tree-top walk and up we went. A slow incline on a slightly-shaking metal pathway led us up to the highest point of 40 meters above the 400 year old trees in the forest. The heights weren’t as scary as I thought; it was really just the swaying and bouncing of the walkway that was a bit nerve-wrecking. There were posted signs warning of maximum capacity of people on the walkway, which probably means that during high-season it can be quite busy, therefore taking 40 minutes not 10. There were only 3 elderly people in front of us. 

looking down 40 meters.
The weather was cloudless and warm but the canopy of the tall trees kept us cool. We probably took more pictures than number of minutes spent on the walk – actually that probably is a definitely – and so we wandered on to the Ancient Empire Walk, the walk below the tree-top walk. 
see the people?
From the base of the eucalyptus forest, we could see the hollowed out red tingle trees. These tremendous trees can grow up to 75m high and 20m in girth. The hollowness is caused by fire, fungal diseases, and attacking insects. The karri trees are the tallest tree species in Western Australia. They can be identified from their slim posture, a smooth shedding bark, and contrasting surface colors on the different sides of the leaves.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we went. It felt accomplished, almost, to cross off one of the remote region’s hot spots. I think we were anticipating more of an intense hike, more impressive views, more feelings of anxiety over the tree-top heights, but what we got were more shots of trees than we’ll ever need to look at again and more than anyone will ever be interested in looking at – “you had to be there!” So yeah, you can’t describe the heights, the pictures don’t capture it, so you will just have to go for yourself and cross it off your Western Australia sight-seeing check list.

What made the day of driving worthwhile was, not only this picture, but a stop at Peaceful Bay. .

We decided that despite the tourist spots, the places we really appreciate are the places we’ve been recommended to by locals. Peaceful Bay wasn’t exactly that peaceful, the wind was quite rambunctious as it was caught in the bay, but sitting on the sifted-soft floury sand that would make any baker want to dig his hands in and start making bread out of it, was receptive enough for us. We commented on how spoiled we actually were being able to see the ocean once a week on our day off. It may take about an hour to get there, but it’s always appreciated and can always be broken up with a stop to a local brewery with a view.
The Denmark Brewery – I’m not sure if it’s actually a brewery – has spectacular views over looking neighboring farms and the blue ocean breaking up the contrast between the rolling-green fields and the sun-setting sky. Sitting there, absorbing the view, imagining what life would be like there, planning our post-vintage self-indulgences, and sipping on a cold brewed beer: now That, was peaceful. 

And yes, I do have a ton more pictures of trees, more so than anyone will ever want to see or are worth framing for myself to see again, but just serve as a reminder of the futile attempt to capture the feeling felt by the height of the trees and the forest surrounding us. You will just have to go see it yourself. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shit Australians Say #5


You may hear:

Guy: Can you please bring me my thongs?

Girl: Is it ok to wear thongs to the restaurant?

Thongs mean Flip Flops. 
This last posting was actually quite appropriate for this day, two years ago (wow), as I think the first time we all got together in Colorno at The Pub was on St Paddy's Day 2010!  And everyone knows friendships are made over a couple Guinness, teaching others how to properly chug Irish Car Bombs, funny Italian bartenders, and free French Oysters. 

What I Miss #8

This Post is for UNISGers...

I've been meaning to post recently about a recent anniversary – I’m about a week late - the one-year mark of our graduation from UNISG. This time last year we were finishing our thesis papers, returning from our internships, reuniting in The Pub of itsy-bitsy Colorno, and preparing to say our tearful goodbye’s. Mum had arrived and we traveled, ate, and drank our way around Milan, Verona, Bologna, Modena, Osteria Francescana, and Colorno. Then all of a sudden we were in Ireland. I think, sometimes more than other things, it marks a time when I have to stop saying, "I recently graduated from..." Not so recently. It's kinda like wanting to say I'm 26, two years too late.

The year of UNISG was over and Real Life began.

A lot has happened since then. I lived in Ireland. I worked in a pub. I witnessed and participated in lambing and ewe culling. I went to Holland. My brother got married. I got a new sister in-law. We celebrated our Bucknell 5-year reunion back in the cornfields of Lewisburg, PA. I was in a considerable yet injury-free car crash. I decided to stay in America. My dad turned sixty. I worked for a farm. My friends got engaged. My friends got married. Mum and I went on a road trip. It snowed in October. I decided to move to Australia. Made the most expensive purchase of my life. Smoked hookah with my family. Moved back to Ireland. Celebrated Christmas and New Years as well as charades, pub music, and intense wind in Ireland.  I turned 28. Went to Dublin. Went to London. Cheers-ed life, friendship, and old age with Arina. Ate at adored Ottolenghi. Visited Singapore for 13 hours. Moved to Australia. Spent a month in summery Perth. Moved to the middle of nowhere 5 hours south.

Cried. Laughed. Anticipated. Realized. Expected. Lived. Repeat. My, how time passes. 

As March imminently approached, I thought back to the year in Italy, as I often do, often as in on a daily basis, and where we all are now, one year later. Many of us are back in our countries of home; many of us are making new homes in new countries. Some of us have figured out what to do with our lives with a relevant or not-so-relevant Masters degree; some of us have an idea or two thousand; and some of us are still trying to figure it all out. No matter what though, I know that we are all continuing our paths toward greatness. And I know I, and we, regardless of how caught up with it we may get, have no doubt about that greatness.

Coincidental or not given the relative time frame, I have received many inspiring emails, quotes, and texts that deepen my love and appreciation for the year abroad at UNISG in Italy. When people ask me about the course academically, I have to rationalize the "Italian" way of things and decipher the expansive level of education we had, given the length of a year and varieties of visiting worldly professors. But when I express the other side of it, once we realized how to take advantage of this so-frustrating-it’s laughable learning system, but also how beneficial it was to master life from each other outside of the classroom, that's when my face starts to glow and I could go on and on, telling story upon story.

Despite our “amusement” over the frustration we initially felt, we learned a lot within the year; looking back, it is more than we probably can comprehend. Regardless of the nutritional facts we could rattle off, the debates we could argue about today's food systems, what a wine wheel is, the descriptions that cheese ob-lig-ator-iall-y smells, the obvious facts of the existence of terroir against NYU protestations, the way the leaves of olive trees glistening in the sun, the slow-painful-ways of food technology, the adorable enjoyments of cocktail class, how to smell tinned asparagus in white wine even if you’ve never eaten such a thing, the quick identification of wafting cured meat in the air, the warmth of that-morning-milked sheep’s milk, what mussel farming looks like, describing the palate of Illy coffee, the long history of pasta, the taste of just-made cheese, the difficulties of organics and food policies, how the body feels after tasting a 3-hour-class-worth of cured meats/cheese/chocolates/wines/honeys/beers/olive oils, how to make cured meat/cheese/coffee/balsamic vinegar/sherry/olive oil/beer/butcher meat/Spanish cookies/corks/champagne/jarred red peppers/pasta, the right way to “tap that” wheel of Parmigiano, how to style and photograph food correctly, the absurd amounts of out-of-season and far-away food from ALMA, or even the way dancing on the tables at the pub is supposed to be done while serving American-Thanskgiving turkey.....despite all that, the real lessons we learned, the real memories we will keep, are from each other, like: how to properly sing karaoke on a bus, the real meaning of banana tsunami, how to dumpster dive before going on a stage, that wine isn’t made from California grapes, the fact that you won’t die or get sick from sharing a spoonful with 26 other people, the smug satisfaction of seeing 25 other cameras pointing at food on a table, how to breath without an inhaler when having an asthma attack, the importance of cooking as a class and celebrating Fourth of July and Canada Day abroad, how to determine who you’re going to marry by sticking seeds on your face, how to speak Spanish in Italy and Italian in Spain, how to win over professors by inviting them to dinner, how to survive intense Italian summer heat, and even the way dancing on the tables at the pub is supposed to be done on a Thursday afternoon. And that’s just SOME of what we learned, in and out of the UNISG classroom.

One of the first times I realized that I was too genuinely happy to take pictures (and everyone knows I love to capture moments and take laborious notes) was in Friuli, in the mountains, as we walked down the hills of the little cheese-making farm through the wild flowers. Flowers necklaced my head like a Christmas tree. Our heads in a circle trying to fit everyone in the picture as the warm northern sun squinted our eyes as we smiled. It could not be captured enough, except in our memories.

A year was enough. A year was not enough. 

Even as we (luckily) meet up post-graduation, we continue to have the same-themed talks and conversations we had when we were studying together. (studying? hmmm, that needs to be re-phrased). We had high hopes and endless aspirations, we were unstoppable, we dreamt the impossible. But for us, at those moments, it was not a dream, the world was ours, and we were going to save it. Then we part, and we go on, with the same optimistic goals, the same knowledge, the same perseverance, but without the same in-person encouragement, same I’m-with-you confidence, same unbaiting ability without each other.

“It may not seem to you this way, yet, but these steps are leading you to greatness. Just have faith in yourself. Each day is one step closer to that. You are taking big risks to live and enjoy an unconventional life; big risks = big gains. "

I have received a couple quotes from UNISG friends that I have posted, and other emails that I have forwarded to share with my family to show them that I am not the only one who has graduated with a Masters degree, spent a year in Italy hoping that it will lead me in some direction, but yet still feels a bit lost even though I am living with conviction that I will find my way. I may be a bit odd, but I am sure of myself. Sometimes, my UNISG classmates (re: friends) have similar thoughts about life and about ourselves and these lead us to follow similar paths and actions. It's absolute SYNCRONICITY. But I think, even after just one year, this shows where we came from, what we were looking for, what UNISG offered us, where it took us, where it left us, and where we are now. From these relationships made over a year and post-graduation reassurances that we are not alone, I think that UNISG left us all with a special bond, connection, and spirit that we understand in each other.  We often feel as though we have to validate this feeling to ourselves and/or to others, whether it is just thinking out-loud to prove or verify it to ourselves, or actually trying to rationalize and describe it to others. But, for us, we just get it. We get each other. There’s no attesting or justification. Regardless of how much I learned, regardless of how much it cost, regardless of the lack of textbooks, regardless of what we left behind at home to try to figure it out abroad, what makes the year in Italy so worthwhile is the friendships that I have in my life right now from that experience. It's nice to know that I am not the only one feeling as I do: post-graduation, one year later. It's nice to know that even though we may be on different paths of sorts, despite our geographical locations and mind-boggling time zones of communication, that we have each other. We get it. And when we are reunited in person, these inspirational chitchats will resume, the laughter and familiarity will fill the room, and that one year, or however long it will be next, will feel as though we are back in Colorno – in the freezing classroom of the Napolean's Maria Louisa's Reggia or drinking prosecco outside on a bench at The Pub.  

And really, let's be honest. The truth of the matter is, no matter how much we really love to really talk about food, we * sometimes * talk about other things too. Feelings. Life. Reality. Gossip.

Because when it comes down to it, it’s all about the Top Ten Quality Control.

So, what everyone needs to do, a forceful recommendation from one of the best and not just to me, but wiseful advice to everyone is: stand in the middle of an open, peaceful spot, close your eyes and just listen to your surroundings. Send a heartfelt message up to the sky, and then start running as fast as you can for a moment and jump as high as you can. It is sure to leave you smiling :) – RR

I miss you guys, and I thank you, and I love you, and I wish you all the greatness in the world. Until next time…    

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

“Follow your heart, minute by minute and day by day. Let the course of the river run as it will, instead of tying yourself up in fears that you may never realize”  R.A Salvatore

Thanks Catherine!
Cheers Spritz ;)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"What's brown and sticky? A stick." - 4 yr old Digby.

To determine whether or not grapes are ready to be picked, a few bunches are picked from a couple different locations within the block. Their total weight is divided by the number of bunches and then they are squished by hand into juice. The baume (sugar/density), pH, and acid levels are all tested from this grape juice to evaluate the development of the ripening grapes. 
When the grapes are ripe, depending on the test mentioned above, the variety, and the weather forecast they are ready to be picked! A lot of the vineyard blocks so far have been mechanically picked during the night when the moonlit air is cool and the machine is able to shine light upon the rows of vines. The importance of the quality of the air temperature is to ensure that the grapes are still cool when they are brought into the winery and they are not over-ripened by the heat of the day. Hand-picking is a much slower process that requires sunlight and more people to expedite the work that could take hours. However, light and visibility are not the only variables that factor into the choice between mechanically picked and hand picked. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. As can be seen in the morning-shot photos below, this block is quite close to the winery so the grapes have less distance to travel after being picked and speed of the mechanical pick means they stay out in the heat.
The machine goes through one row while a tractor in the adjacent row follows with a trail of bins for the grapes to be dumped into off an overhanging conveyor belt. 
Maybe "dump" sounds a bit aggressive.

Me standing above the grapes!

The machine gently vibrates the vines as it passes, dropping everything on the vines into it. "Everything" not only includes the bunches of grapes but also fallen leaves, snapped sticks, yanked twigs, doomed mice, pinched spiders, wangled earwigs, nesting birds, more seized spiders, gathered cockroaches, broken branches, and captured moths. This is called MOG: "material other than grapes." 
All of this is passed onto a conveyor belt that goes over the picked-vines and into the bins following the tracker in the other row. It's quite effective in terms of being faster than hand picking, covering many more rows and collecting more grapes (and MOG). It also requires less labour which is cheaper than paying the hourly rate for the manual labor (my ride up and down the row was free.)
The other option, hand picking, has it's own advantages as the picker goes through each row, vine by vine, and snips off the bunches of grapes from the stem with clippers. Usually you work with another person on the other side so that you can both move down the line, removing grapes on both sides rather than trying to reach through the tangled leafy vines. By hand picking, the picker also does not include (or technically, should not include) big vine stems or leaves, no one is adding mice to the little bins and can cut around bad bunches of grapes. It's laborious and requires swift skills to snip quickly as often the bunches have grown around the vines and finding the stem deserves crafty maneuvering. Hand picking can also be the way to go if the vines are young or if there are obstacles like power lines positioned through a row that the machine can not pass through with it's overhanging conveyor belt.

The buckets are filled down the row until they are filled to the top and pushed to one side so that the tractor with the trailing bins drives along with another person following who dumps the grapes into the bins. Ok, maybe "dumps" is more aggressive here because hand picking is definitely more gentle on the grapes rather than being vibrated off the vine by machine, often causing a bit of squishing or skin tear, which could cause oxidation or not work for "whole-bunch" pressings.
It's hard to see when you can't cut the leaves.
Sometimes down on your knees.
 Sometimes getting up under and in the vines to see.
Sometimes the little bits of dried grass against the shin cause frantic thoughts of spiders.
But always a nice little sugary snack to keep you going.
After the picking is completed, we meet these compiled bins in the winery and then have to sort through the grapes on another conveyor belt to get rid of any MOG. Not every winery does this next step, but we sort through both mechanically and hand picked grapes. The mechanically picked grapes obviously have many more MOG particles, bits and pieces than the hand picked selection and really makes a difference on the scale of fear-factor nervous-anticipation during work. Our job of sorting through the pickings is not only important to prevent the damage a chunky stick could do to the press and other machinery, but the removal of the MOG makes a substantial difference in the quality of the wine you want to make. Every load is different though. Sometimes there are lots of bugs, sometimes there are just lots of leaves. 

One day, as we were sorting through the clusters of Poison Hill Riesling grapes, (one of our favorites out of the 3 of 4 Rieslings of theirs we have tasted) it was particularly full of large sticks, thick twigs, and entire leaves still attached to the branch, yet remarkably lacking a legion of insects.  Reaching into the grape juice to pull out the MOG for a long amount of time quickly covers your fingers and hand in a sugary syrup. (I had hopefully thought the juice would be full of grape antioxidants and act as an anti-wrinkle-grandma-hand-remedy, but instead the constant wetness and stickiness dries out my fingers, causing them to crack. More band-aides.) We were pulling out abounding sticks and twigs whizzing by on the conveyor belt that we couldn't believe the size or amount of, and as I looked down at my hands covered in viscous grape juice with little bits of crushed green grapes sticking to them, I said to Felix, "This is especially sticky today." He laughed and said, "Yeah, in a double meaning of the word."



I get it. 
And I'm even the native English speaker. 

A bit later, in between the sticks, twigs, and branches, we saw only two spiders but both of unbelievable staggering size and astonishing color that I made some sort of squealing noise causing everyone to look at me as I convulsed in absolute sheer horror, waving my soggy hands in disgust as I nearly fell off the box crate. I wanted to puke, then faint, then run away, but could only laugh at myself. 

Two ill-fated birds with their grey feathers drenched and matted also passed by in a heavy-hearted horror. 

Felix goes, "Now you know why Poison Hill tastes so good."

Shit Australians Say #3


as in "What are you doing this arvo?" or "What did you do yesterday arvo?"

arvo means afternoon.

Australians must think I'm a bit slow sometimes as it takes a while for me to not only process their accents but to interpret what they are saying. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Shit Australians Say #2

"How you going?"

This means, how are you? I find it irritable and befuddling. 

March 8

It was a Thursday and winery work started at 5am to meet the night-picked Riesling grapes. Walking out of the house at 4:50am, the early moonlit morning seemed quite bright as the cloudless sky exposed it's illuminating stars - it never ceases to amaze and impress me. I knocked my head back, mouth silently gasped open, and I smiled as I realized I could appreciate being awake so early to witness such a simple sight yet of such a profound infinity. The moon was high in the sky and full. Right after I snapped the picture, I turned around just in time to see a shooting star fall above the dark shadowed line of the trees. And I thought, today is going to be a good day. Grinning in the dark, I whispered, Happy Birthday Jessypoo!
I admit. I was a bit emotional.