What an amazing experience! I just returned from New Zealand where I spent the spring (well, autumn there) harvesting grapes, and couldn’t wait to share my experience with you. Participating in a harvest in a different region has been my dream for quite a while now, it is an incredible way to gain understandings that make a more well-rounded winemaker. It’s one thing to read about different varieties, winemaking styles, and viticultural practices, but seeing them live in action is another matter entirely.
This spring, I decided to finally dive in and took a position working for New Zealand’s largest winery, Indevin. This winery is a sheer 1,000 times the size of Pedernales Cellars, something that I couldn’t entirely conceptualize until I arrived. It was massive! To paint you a picture, Indevin refers to its tank rooms (some of which were outdoors and a whopping 50 meters tall) as “tank farms.” These areas were so large that they were divided into North, East, South, and West sections. According to my Fit Bit, I walked 8 to 11 miles a day at work – half of which I probably did walking to and from the breakroom! Kidding. Sort of.
For the two months I was there, I worked in the “Red Cellar” where the winery’s Pinot Noir was processed as well as some small batch specialty white wines, like Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay for boutique clients. Because the red program was smaller and other wineries that did co-op worked out of this space, I had pretty regular contact with winemakers from places like New Zealand, Mexico, Spain, and Italy. Indevin was a very diverse place to work, and the diverse atmosphere probably one of my favorite things about being there. I not only learned about winemaking in New Zealand, but I was also able to talk about wine with a myriad of foreign winemakers from, well, everywhere. The Czech Republic, Chile, Argentina, China, Canada, Germany, France…pretty much every major wine region was represented. It was amazing.
Aside from the experience of collaborating with winemakers and cellar staff from different regions, I had a lot of fun playing with all the cool “toys” at a winery of that size has to offer. For example, we used a revolutionary machine called Pulsair for red wine cap management. We poked the Pulsair (which closely resembles a 10-foot metal tube) into the cap of a fermenting red wine and injected compressed air through it. The result looks like a wine volcano but is a relatively gentle way to break up the grape skins. Working with Pinot Noir is quite different from what we do in Texas with any of our grape varietals (at least at Pedernales), so it was interesting to see the processes and learn about why winemakers were implementing them. There are definitely some tricks I hope to try for our own 2019 vintage. While we might not need the same set of equipment as a winery that can process 30,000 tons of grapes, it gave me ideas for ways we might alter some of our practices with the equipment we have.
I know this might sound corny, but one of the biggest lessons for me has been a reminder of how lucky I am to make wine at Pedernales Cellars. While it was eye-opening to see how wine is made in another region of the world, I am grateful for the opportunity to work so closely with growers, fellow staff members, and grapes through every step of the process at a smaller winery in Texas. When I first started working at Pedernales Cellars, I was touched by how many dedicated hands were involved in producing the wine we make. Now, I feel this now more than ever. I love the connections that are formed through making and sharing wine – between farmers, producers, consumers and everyone in between. It’s truly special to be able to share this process and the wine with folks directly, and it’s something you simply don’t get to do on a larger scale. As amazing as it was to be working abroad, I am more excited than ever to be in Texas and can’t wait to get vintage 2019 underway!