There’s a global melting pot of skilled labour at Cape Jaffa Wines (CJW) this vintage and with eyelash batting and stolen glances rife under clear, star filled skies a little bit of ‘World Peace’ may just be bottled with every 2016 wine…
From backgrounds as diverse as professional beer brewing to chemical engineering they followed their nose and travelled to the very edge of the Limestone Coast, South Australia to work with Derek and Anna Hooper. Some read an article and became intrigued about biodynamic processes, some were referred by six degrees of ‘Pip’ separation, some just answered a job vacancy advertisement online. A gypsy-like approach to travelling the world, chasing vintage work and a love of great food and even better wine resonating with them all.
“This region of the world is unique”, Scotty (England) says, rather than competing with each other (the Mount Benson wineries) are working together to promote the region as a whole, it’s a refreshing change in a highly competitive industry”. After being told there was ‘no relocation package’ Chris (New Zealand) finished University and drove his car the length of New Zealand to be able to get it home and catch his flight to Australia, arriving at CJW and being thrown into an earlier than normal start to Vintage. “I think Cape Jaffa is unique in that you can learn about conventional, organic and biodynamic techniques all in the same place”, he says, “there’s a lot more to learn, a lot more to understand”. Pip (New Zealand) agrees, “I’ve been here for two seasons now, we get to experiment. Anna loves fresh thinking. Pretty much any idea that’s remotely valid is OK, in fact the crazier the better. Nothing is out of the ball park, if the idea fails then we all learn something”.
Paul (New Zealand) says “I’d worked with Pip seasonally in New Zealand for sex (six) years. I thought I was coming to Cape Jaffa Wines to drive a little fork lift around, she didn’t mention that it was actually seven and a half tonnes. Now that the season is finished I’ve nearly got the hang of it!” The joke is not lost on the group, they all agree that if you are going to chase vintage work the only expectation you should have is to have no expectations. Scotty says “Paul and myself were picked up from Naracoorte by Anna and within half an hour of arriving at Cape Jaffa we had dropped our bags off, got changed and were scraping out tanks!”
Tom (New South Wales) agrees with the surprise factor. “I was used to a fairly structured working day at the Brewery, and from the moment I arrived that was completely blown out of the water. Long shifts back to back, I had no idea what was going on for the first couple of weeks, so for me it really has been quite the experience, there’s a lot to learn”.
Petra (Finland) met Pip at a harvest in Bordeaux, France last year. With a masters in Chemical Engineering she is still perplexed by the Australian ‘small town’ syndrome. “Everyone knows everyone”, she smirks, “it’s strange but as long as it’s not a shit job, then I’m happy to keep working out here”. So what constitutes a ‘shit’ job for Petra? “If I don’t like it then it’s a shit job”…simple, honest and a masters, this young lady is one to look out for.
To employers looking to jump onto the ‘global influx of vintage staff wagon’ the answer to one final question may surprise you. We asked them all, ‘Do you plan to hang around after vintage?’. Chorus like, their answer was not related to better conditions, higher pay or promotional possibilities it was much, much simpler than that. They will stay as long as they continue to learn, once there is no more to learn they will look for the next mentor. With Derek and Anna Hooper at the helm this group of travellers certainly have a plethora of possibilities available to them. As a group of young, good looking, well-travelled, food and wine loving adults they also have plenty in common to keep the sparks flying for a little while yet.
I’ll remember 2016 as the year that Mother Nature gave us our best crop in 10 years and then came back and took it away. At home we had 30 mLs rain at the critical stage and another 20mLs a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately the rains did not magically drain directly into our rainwater tanks; instead it covered the land as is the natural order of things. The effect was loss of berries from split, particularly in the better sections where berries were riper at the time. Tough skinned varieties like Cabernet were less affected than Shiraz.
Early bud burst (there were traces in June!!), early flowering and early veraison provided unheeded clues about when harvest would start. Despite many of the vintage staff being yet to arrive, we ended up having almost finished processing whites before end of February - and yes I know we had an extra day, but still….
Further inland, the Limestone Coast regions such as Wrattonbully missed out on the rain that fell across much of this state and enjoyed an excellent vintage. Shiraz’s looks particularly nice and flavours are well balanced in spite of the warmer season. Yields were on the low side which contributed to the excellent quality, particularly with reds.
On the coast, crop levels weren’t quite what we were initially hoping for either. And, quality-wise 2016 was not the cracking vintage that 2015 was, but it was still very much above average. The young wines display bright and elegant characters reminiscent of a cooler growing season with very nice intensity and colour.
So, the 2016 vintage again reminds us that we are but simple farmers. We are at the mercy of Mother nature, of the tide, the wind, the sun and the unpredictability of life here out on the edge. We have no choice but to embrace each season, after all, as Chuck Tanner once wrote ‘you can have money piled to the ceiling but the size of your funeral will still depend on the weather’.