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Photo update and tales

21 Mar

Ooo if you look carefully I was trying to capture the Disney on Ice-style magic of the floor with the smoke wafting over. It’s actually just me at the dry ice machine and I thought it looked cool
The winemakers had pressed off a whole bunch of Frontignac grapes and were going to dump everything else even though the grapes were still reasonably juicy (because you start getting more phenolics which you don’t want in the juice). Harry saw what they were doing and suggested we make for ourselves (not for sale) a bin of Frontignac white port. This is the bin the next day. The grapes went through a chiller so they were about 7C at this stage and my legs were freezing!

I asked Harry if we should plunge it down, but considering this bin is full of grape skins and not juice, it would be like trying to plunge concrete. He suggested the best thing would be to get in there…something I was all for and so offered my legs each morning over the weekend to plunge in the acid and yeast I’d inoculated it with. Don’t be grossed out, you won’t be drinking it, and it needs this contact to make sure I’m getting the yeast through everything before it really starts fermenting and then we need to fortify it with spirit!
The Eden Valley at dawn

Gazza smashes F7!

15 Mar

You’d think the guys have never seen a chick in the cellar before!

This morning Stephen Henschke told the press guy Pete that it was my turn to do a fermenter and they’d set aside a ‘small’ 4.5 tonne red fermenter for me to shovel out of the rectangular concrete vats. They’re about as tall as I am, and you have to dig around yourself and shovel skins high above your head into a pump. FRICKEN HARD WORK!
I got in there in my jeans, gumboots and singlet and all of a sudden ALL THE GUYS come up the stairs and climb up to the red fermenters or stand by the side and yell at me, ‘GO GAZZA!’, and Stephen Henschke’s there with his digital camera snapping a gazillion shots away, then five minutes later returns with a photo he’s printed off and sticks it on the front of the press with the words, “GAZZA SMASHES F7” (fermenter no. 7). Boys!
Gazza smashing Fermenter 7…notice the red hands
I suppose I did ‘smash’ into it well after the first 10 minutes of dodgy shovelling. Then Pete gave me a 5-minute breather while I rested my wrist, then I hopped back in and finished it all off. What an effort! It added 4 points to my Gazza tally on the board. I’m behind the boys, but what can you do?
Some of the office ladies saw me and yelled, “GO GIRL!” as they passed which was motivating. Towards the end you’re in the swing of things and you can see that the end is nigh…and your arms are bulging with pain but you’ve JUST GOTTA KEEP GOING! Show the men you’re man enough! haha.
My boots got grape skins in them from the start so for the rest of the day I had one purple painted jean leg and then people patting me on the back as I passed afterwards. What a bloody workout!

Widow Beater and Monkey Men

14 Mar
This weekend we worked all of it, Saturday and Sunday, such is vintage hours.
This morning I helped out Jacky boy by plunging the Pinot Noir open fermenter tanks. I had to put my plank of wood across it, climb up with my plunging tool and start pushing down the hardish cap of skins. Obviously it’s hot work so I took my long-sleeved top off and had my black Bonds singlet top underneath.
Just so happens that as I start getting into it, Fella and Josh come up to the red cellar, see me atop the tank and start hooting comments, “Muscles from Brussels!’, ‘Look at them guns!’, ‘She’s got the widow beater on!‘ (instead of wife beater, it’s widow beater because it’s black). They left me alone after 3 minutes then once I thought I had peace to myself, they’d sent Stephen Henschke up to check out the scene that they relayed as ‘Gazza’s up plunging in the widow beater go check out her guns!’ All in good fun. Bloody men.
The Monkey Men business related to another story. We have forklifts that are capable of taking 3 tonnes worth of stuff around. Sometimes though we’re bordering on the forklift’s capacity when they need to move the open fermenters full of grapes from one area to another. The fact that the landscape at Henschke is up and down and hills everywhere provides for a dangerous terrain. In other words, you need to really think about which direction you’re going and with what load and how it’s going to impact on if the forklift is going to tip one way or the other. A lot of the time there are scrapings across the road now because if you lift the open fermenters more than a few centimetres, the load is so heavy that it lifts the back tyres of the forklift right off the ground! To combat this what do we do? We monkey it!
The story goes like this. I was in the cellar minding my own business when Fella comes running in, ‘Gazza, come on, we need another one!’ That’s all the information I get before he bolts out of the side door. I hurry after him and see two boys, Disco Stu and Jacky, already sitting atop the back of the forklift hanging off the top railings like monkeys. I arrive and Fella and I hop on the limited space left and the four of us act to create a more balanced load in the back against the large load of grapes in the front. Hey it works! Totally dodgy in an OH&S way but Stephen had a good laugh when he saw all four of us squatting and hanging off the back of the forklift making monkey sounds 😛

Just call me GAZZAAAAAA!

13 Mar
No don’t, seriously.
I have been boganised here at Henschke and they have nicknamed me Gazza. Short for Gazzo. They could say my last name correctly too with the Italian accent and everything. Then one day, Fella (my winemaker boss Paul) swung his rolling chair out of the upstairs office, poking his head out onto the catwalk and down to the wine cellar where I was somewhere working and yelled in an ocker voice, ‘OI GAZZA!’ to which I responded from somewhere, ‘WHHHAAAAATTT!?’
Since then, everybody, even the big boss Stephen, refers to me as Gazza. They also love to not only say it, but say it in the ockerest accent they can adopt. It makes me feel like this dude:
He looks more like a Gazza than I do!

Interesting ‘actions’ in the winery

10 Mar

My oh my what a day! It was definitely not as busy as usual which was a nice break from the craziness of it all but there was fun to be had in the winery today!

OK so I didn’t start off the day amazingly well. Harry cracked it at me because I put a 1500L tank accidentally on top of a hose…hence we had a very squashed wine hose. Five hours later Harry got around to heating the hose up and stretching it back out again. But he wasn’t initially very proud of me…a bit of swearing got thrown around, but that’s Harry.
In the afternoon after redeeming myself by completing most of my work I went on the white ferment Baume round with assistant winemaker Josh. We had a good look at everything, having a whiff of the ferments, tasting them, recording the temperature’s and sugar levels, then noticed the Pinot Gris tank 54’s level was really high. We knew it was probably filled too much in the first place (thanks Stuart), but were hoping it wouldn’t crack along too quickly for it to overflow. The temperature was getting in the 19C area so we decided to ‘ultracool’ the ferment.
Anyway, I’m waffling. I want to get to my interesting ‘actions’ story! Yes, I know all your dirty minds want to hear it too!
So I’d finished up my area and was going to go up to the lab and see if the winemakers had anything going on for me. Paul my boss was up there and didn’t but we had a good chat working things out about how the reds are all going to fit in when they’re coming in, then he asked me to hang around while they crush this last Shiraz fruit that just arrived and I can see how they set up the open fermenters.
Basically, the main area of the Henschke red fermentation lot is made up of 10 rectangular concrete waxed pits that hold about 4.5 t of fruit each. They use wooden boards over the top short way, then two longer boards the length way then little wooden blockers to keep the skins submerged under the liquid. They call them ‘heading-down boards’. I told Paul I was a heading-down board putterinerer virgin as I’d never worked in a winery where they were used before. Him and I climbed up to the fermenters and precariously made our way around the edge of the pits and began slotting the boards in. At one stage while I was grabbing boards off the guys below I had my belly resting on the concrete edge with my legs dangling over one bubbling pit of shiraz wine and the other body resting over the shiraz juice where I was trying to place the boards. Fun fun fun!
Anyway, we got one lot in then had to squash the lot down to fit in the wooden blocks which keep the whole thing down and are under a lot of pressure. The best way to do it is to get the weight of people behind you and sort of jump up and down (without really jumping) to wiggling the block in. I don’t know if I’m writing this well to create a picture in your head but I will hopefully get a picture in here one day.
So I was on one side, and Stuart climbed up and was in the corner with his back facing Paul who was behind him. They sort of had their arms in front of them and were moving up and down forward and back at the same time trying to work up enough of a see-saw movement to squash the load down with their weight. It would have been more helpful if I was over there putting my weight on it too but at the time all I could do was crack up laughing because of the angle I was at meant that the two boys looked like they were going at it Mardi Gras-style on top of a bunch of grapes. Paul got wind of what it must look like and before we knew it him and I were both keeling over laughing, wishing we had a camera to YouTube Henschke to fame…in a totally unorthodox way!

Too busy to type, so here’s photos

7 Mar

Glenelg Beach

The barrel hall (aka Air Force One) where I spent my first week climbing these racks and filling them up again. In the far corner is all the Hill of Grace barrels

Adelaide city graffiti

Relaxed Sunday breakfast at the Company Kitchen

My machine in a time-warp…or just on the main street of Tanunda

Doing a ripper white juice racking off the solids on some Riesling

Sunset on the way to Greenock pub…warning to self not to drive and take photos at the same time in the future

Fringe Festival ‘Zeitgeist’ show: Naked woman surrounded by naked bodies

The drive from work

The drive to work

Sunrise near Air Force One

The trees in Coultard Reserve Park

Sunset in the park

Me shifting barrels on the forklift

Young Jack (aka Slick Slackety) measuring the red ferments

Cellar Update

28 Feb

Work has been dandy the last week. I am finally out of the barrel hall where I spent a week sulphuring then topping all the wine. It was a long process not facilitated by the fact I had to wait occasionally for the laboratory to keep up with my red wine samples. Nevertheless, it was all done to a T in the end and I am sure the winemakers are pretty happy with my efforts as it’s usually ‘one of those jobs’ and I did it with a big smile on my face and a radio blaring Adelaide FM’s hits whilst down there on my own.

Since I haven’t been in the barrel room anymore I have instead been in the cellar where the rest of the gang are and where the action is really happening. I was a little rusty I will admit on my first full day in the cellar. I work with young Jacky boy and the poor guy has to put up with some of my blonde comments to which he just shakes his head to. He thinks I am funny though…possibly in a sad way, but we get a long well and he is pretty easy going to we’re making for a good team so far. Stuart from uni has been up in the top cellar processing the fruit that comes in. I do not have to deal with the crusher or presses as they have two people assigned to that job. Though the other day I came up there to check out the Riesling fruit and Stuart let me dump the rest of the bins in the big hopper so that was fun.
In the cellar my work days usually involve lots of different tasks, from racking white juices of Riesling, Semillon, Gewurtztraminer or Chardonnay from one tank to another to get the clear juice, then heating them up with another pump, then inoculating them…or ‘knocking them up’ as we say. Normally it is the responsibility of the assistant winemaker Josh to do all the yeasting but I had a chat with him and let him know I feel comfortable doing it and know what I’m doing so he has handed over all the yeasty beasty duties to me which leaves him free to go to the vineyards with head winemaker Paul to sample fruit. It’s more important for him to see that side of things knowing that I’ve got control on my side here, and I like smelling like a bakery so we both win 🙂
We don’t stop for much of a lunch usually. I will grab my food and munch on the go or grab a tea and leave it in the cellar to go cold when I forget about it. You want to get the job done so no fluffing around. In the afternoon is usually when the fruit that they have pressed is ready to be taken ‘off the floor’ (out of the old waxed underground tanks where they’ve gotten a volume) to the stainless steel tanks in the white cellar. Things are starting to get a little sticky, especially in my area and with all the work I’m doing with juice…so I’m hoping not to adopt the nickname ‘sticky fingers’ or something. They’ve already labelled Stuart ‘Frosty’ because he is a bit of an aficionado with the use of dry ice.
This week coming we start getting some red grapes in so that will start making life busier for the boys up top, but it’s welcome as that will give me more peace down below.

Gazza’s MuscRat fortified

23 Feb

That’s right, I said MustRat! It’s our kid name for the Muscat that today was to be fortified.

This morning I got into the skins with my feet again, discerned the detectable rise in heat, grabbed a sample and rushed back up to the lab to check the sugar level (Baume) and alcohol already produced on it. We don’t want it to drop too far, around about a 2% v/v alcohol drop would be perfect. The reading on the machine said that around 1.8 % v/v alcohol was present, which was a good thing, because it meant that Harry and I had to shift our arses into gear, get this thing cooled and pressed off then fortify it up!
But fortify it with what? SVR 96% v/v spirit of course!
Fortunately for us, the TARAC distillery is only 20 minutes away so we were able to receive some by 14:30 today. In the meantime, I got the mini-press out and loaded it up by bucketing in the two bins worth of Muscat fermenting skins and juice in, getting that going, then ending up with 250L more of juice than what we had originally anticipated! Awesome! More to go around!
The two winemakers and Stephen came around while I was working and Harry quizzed him about Gazza’s Undie Parade over the weekend to which Stephen commented that his glasses had fogged up upon entering the shed the first time, but gave me kudo’s for my spunky legs. Haha! Thanks!
Once that was ready it was a matter of waiting for the spirit to arrive then Harry and I added some sulfur, then dumped in like 80L of almost pure ethanol whilst mixing the tank.
That should kill those yeasties (shakes fist in the air)!
Stephen came and found me an hour later, telling me he’d gone to taste it. I was worried it might taste like jet fuel because it takes a while before the spirit and juice will be integrated, but he was impressed and said it is looking good. At least we didn’t overshoot how much we added. We considered a safety factor of around 10% because well, you can always add more, but once it’s in you can’t go back! So tomorrow we shall have a look and work out how far off we were then go from there. It tastes a little like fortified apricot marmalade at the moment! How about spreading that on your toast! What a shame…you can’t 😦

Worthy of writing about!

18 Feb

Bucatini pasta with good extra virgin olive oil cooked to infuse with garlic, mixed with chilli, parsley and anchovies

Glass of 2005 Henschke Hill of Grace

Fricken awesome

Cellar work at last

11 Feb

Summing up how the next few weeks should pan out, my winemaker boss Paul told me today I will be focused in the bottom cellar during vintage, looking after all the white tanks and all that other general stuff. Probably be yeast queen again too maybe. I don’t mind smelling like a bakery at work so if they gave me that role occasionally I wouldn’t complain! The other boys will be up in the top cellar where all the red ferments get going. I told them as long as I get to dig out (with a shovel over the top of the concrete fermenters) a few of the red ferments I will be happy.

I had my first real day doing proper work in the cellar to commence all that work: doing four wine rackings* of white juice and keeping the chilling on so it doesn’t commence fermenting prior to the weekend (Paul would like to have Sunday free before the craziness starts!)…fair enough!
racking: taking the clear liquid off the solids that have settled down the bottom

I knocked that on the head before lunch with the help of Stuart then got some more barrels sulphured, cleaned up my stations, cleaned some open fermenters, took grapes off trucks with my amazingly improved forklifting skills, then in the lab at the end of the day we were chatting with Prue & Stephen and he brought a ’62 Hill of Grace up to check it wasn’t corked before taking it to a tasting tonight, leaving us a glassful to take a whiff off and sample. Held up surprisingly well!

Is she a drug dealer?

10 Feb

I thought that getting up at 6:30 in the morning when I was over in Italy to go for a walk before work was bad…here at Henschke I am starting at 6am…that’s right, you heard me: START WORK at 6am! Hence I wake up at 5:05am (that five minutes makes a difference, I swear!), dress myself, try and look presentable, have breakfast, grab my pre-made lunch from the night before, and head out the door by 5:30am, making it to work on time. Talk about keen to work!

This week has been warm and humid with rain starting to come in. It makes for hard work in the afternoon and we’re usually all wrecked by the late afternoon from the mugginess draining your energy. We’re working through getting barrels sulphured and stacked, I have been sulphuring up the Hill of Grace, the Hill of Roses, the Mt Edelstone, the Tappa’s Pass and the Cyril. They’re names of some of the red wines belonging to Henschke here. I was so proud of myself yesterday because I managed to manipulate the barrels racks to get one I wanted several rows in from the side with the forklift which is bloody tricky, but clearly do-able if someone like me who doubts themselves can do it!
Today I was lucky to be inside so topped up the barrels with wine from one barrel, so that was nice to be by myself and have some alone time in the back shed they call ‘Air Force One’. After lunch crazy Harry found me and got me to simulate the life of a drug dealer by measuring accurately 100g of a suspicious white powder into small plastic bags for the vineyard crew. Sounds dodgy hey, but really I’m just being a smart-arse and I was getting measured bags of potassium metabisulphite (PMS) sulphur powder for the vineyard to be able to throw over the fruit bins easily. I did about 160 bags going through 16kg of sulphur. That stuff is potent!

We drink a drink a drink a drink

6 Feb
The other cellarhand at Henschke, my old mate Stuart and I got ourselves organised and ventured on up to Angaston for a fulfilling breakfast on this Saturday morning at the Blonde Cafe on the main street. After lining our stomachs we set off to our first destination on what was to be a day of wine tasting in the Barossa Valley. Stuart was driving, so like my brother David would say, ‘You can get smashed‘, but considering I’m not the type to get ‘smashed’ per say, I knew that most of my day would be spitting these palatable libations.
Yalumba called upon us from just outside of Angaston and here we sampled their extensive range, finally finding myself reaching for the wallet and purchasing two bottles of Riesling: 09 Pewsey Vale Riesling & 09 Heggies Vineyard Riesling. Moving along we stopped at the Taste of Eden wine bar in the main street and sampled a range of amazing Rieslings on offer from tiny producers in the Eden Valley, here I bought a Radford 09 Riesling that will be put down for a while I reckon. Can you tell I’ve got a thing for Rieslings yet?
Following on we walked up the road to the small producer Small Fry where we got talking for a while to the wife of the winemaker and ex-viticultural manager of Penfolds vineyards. She was fascinating and they had some really good wines. I ended up buying their food-friendly 09 Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mataro Carignan Cinsault blend from the Vine Vale sub-region of the Barossa Valley. Should look good in two years.
We stopped at Kaesler’s where my ex-boss Matt Harrop suggested we go as they have good wines and they crush Shadowfax’s Sauvignon Blanc the last two years. When we arrived there was a large tour bus of old people gradually leaving and buying up big on sweet white port and telling me ‘this one’s lovely, make sure you buy some too’….ahh….no thanks 🙂 The list on the cellar door was customised for the tour bus so at first I thought they had a pretty dodgy offering, until they realised that the two young un’s here weren’t with the old foggies and gave us the proper list and we went through and tried some ripper reds ‘Old Vine Shiraz’ and ‘Old Bastard’ were favourites of mine, and their McLaren Vale Nashwauk range was really interesting too.
By this stage our stomach’s were getting a little peckish so we winded our way first to Torbreck’s and were served by one surfy and totally ‘tubular surf man‘ free-lovin’ dude behind the cellar door and another who offered to take us down to Adelaide Hills sometime when we’re free. They also whipped out from behind the back a bottle opened up from a dinner the night before of their new 2005 Laird wine to be released sometime this year that will retail for $750 or something. It was an incredible wine…I will never buy it…but I’ve tried it and I can testify that it’s a bloody awesome full-bodied red. In an Arnold Schwartzenegger kind of accent I would say it had ‘the power’.

Welcome to the Barossa

2 Feb
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!

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!