In the cool autumn air of New Zealand’s Northland wine country the Omata Estate Pinot Gris grapes have reached a perfect sugar content of 23° Brix. It is time to harvest. Sailors from the Russell community, and international vagabonds such as the crew of Flying Fish, have been invited to help with the harvest. Considering the amount of wine that sailors consume, this is not hardship duty.
At 7:30 AM, Vineyard Manager Sarah Cashmore summons the group of about 18 pickers and dispenses essential tools of the trade–razor sharp cutting shears and a large box of “plasters”, known in America as Band-Aids. “We’ll take a break in a couple of hours for tea and cakes,” she says, “and then a vineyard meal will be served after the harvest.” Our cadre of grape pickers include backpackers and grandparents. We are now all officially Woofers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms), or laborers who are happy to work for their supper.
Omata Estate is a small family vineyard producing about 8,000 bottles annually from harvests of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. The vines are nurtured by the sea breezes off the Bay of Islands and long hours of New Zealand sunshine. Each of the varieties has been planted in carefully selected sites within the vineyard to maximize the individual microclimates. All of the vines are carefully tended by hand and the resulting wines are full-bodied and stunning. The grapes we pick today will be blended to make Omata Estate’s delicious Rosé and Sparkling wines.
After the last clusters of Pinot Gris grapes are clipped and put into the harvesting baskets we Woofers amble up to Omata’s outdoor kitchen with its spectacular views overlooking vineyard and bay. Gourmet food including local produce platters, artisanal cheeses, and wood-fired pizza overflow the tables of the outdoor kitchen. Sarah announces that our Pinot Gris harvest is 4.5 metric tonnes, a record for Omata Estate. She then stacks the tables with bottles of the vineyard’s finest vintages. We are happy Woofers and with our nipped fingers taped in bright blue plasters we toast a job well done.
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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019
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