Welcome to the Barossa

2 Feb
2010
BAROSSA VALLEY
I arrived here not even a week after landing back in the country after completing a vintage in Bolgheri, Italy. What am I here for? Henschke winery up in Keyneton. I’ve got a vintage placement here while there’s work to be done so will make the most of the opportunity and work as hard as I can. Considering the ‘work’ I did in Italy was so ridiculously easy in terms of workload and hours, I am really looking forward to getting down to some dirty work, earning some money, learning heaps from these guys and just having a ball!
WORK

It is only my second day working and my hands are already stained a dark colour from working with barrels…Lordy Lord, help me!
The work crew in the winery are a lovely bunch. There is the head boss and figure head Stephen and Prue Henschke who are so small, so cute, and incredibly nice people. Well-spoken and really interesting. Then I’d go onto my winemaking boss Paul Hampton who is really cool, funny, full of information, youngish and just great, so am really looking forward to working with him when he’s around. The assistant winemaker is Josh, a young, tall guy who’s really cruisy but really passionate. His family have a winery which he will take over one day so he’s in a great place to practice! There’s also the jovial Jack, the baby of the Henschke team, at the young 21 years old. He’s studying the same Wine Science degree that I did and seems older than his actual years say but is easy to work with and gives good direction. There are a whole bunch more of people of course but the main character would be Harry. My housemate warned me about Harry saying his language could be foul (if every second word turns out to be ‘bugger’ or ‘shit’ or ‘bloody hell’ then that’s what she was referring to), and he will tell you like it is. Turns out, I really like Harry so far! He explains things clearly and in a quintessentially male manner he knows everything about alloys, pumps, and stuff…most of the time I get the gist of what he is on about and other times I don’t…hey, I can’t be a full man here, can I!?
The winery is old, creaky, and quaint to say the least! So different from all the ubiquitous modern wineries around so it’s a great change and funny at times to see an ancient pump whirling around that’s been there since the 60’s or something. The floor where we empty/fill barrels is a purply colour at this stage because of the wine-tainted spit we cover it with. At least here they are pedantic about quality control and we taste every barrel that we come across. Thank god! There is Triple J radio playing in the background, not so loud so that you can hear the shouts for when the tank is almost full from across the other side of the winery. Sweat drips down your forehead as you careen the forklift in to pick up four barrels on the side – not a normal situation but Harry says you can fit more barrels into a warehouse this way. The sweat is because you’re dealing with quite the expensive product here, especially when one barrel can contain 225 litres of wine, you times that by how many bottles you’d get at 750mL, then by the retail price of each bottle…so if you drop it….shit.
At least my second day finished in true winemaking fashion: we all went upstairs to the lab where there were samples of the 2009 Henschke Hill of Grace from about 20 barrels. They would eventually make up the final blend and each was interesting with slightly different flavours, tannins, texture, length, depending on the cooper, the barrel (American or French), the forest the oak is from, the vineyards of course, whether the vines were 150 years old or 20 years old, the type of soil, the aspect of the vineyard…so many variables so it was really great to do with all of us there.
I also gave them my box of seven wines from Shadowfax winery that Matt Harrop had given me. Initially my housemate Monica who works in production told me that they don’t drink alcohol during work hours so no wine will be drunk she thought apart from beers on a Friday afternoon. But after chatting with winemaker Paul he told me once it’s vintage and we’re working long hours, we’ll have dinner here us six at the winery and they’ll usually go down to the ‘tunnel’ (the old wine storage area like the caves of Portugal) and select a mystery wine for everyone so we’ll get to drink some interesting stuff there he said. Yessssssssss!

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