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It’s a grape way to lend a hand

I don’t always make my best decisions after having a few too many drinks. But I made one of my better calls a few months ago when, at the end of a very entertaining evening, I casually mentioned to some people I had just met that I would happily be involved in the next harvest of grapes.

I was in Martinborough, doing my best to round up some family members who had journeyed to mark an old friend’s 60th birthday and were, frankly, overly refreshed. Having tried, but failed to get them into a taxi, I gave up and joined the celebrations. The hosts have a boutique vineyard and call on family, neighbours, and new-found friends to lend a hand around this time of year.

It hasn’t been the easiest of times in the viticulture sector.

Covid made it near impossible to find enough hands to help with the harvest last year, and many kilos of grapes were left to rot on the vine or on the ground, breaking the hearts of wine producers and wine lovers alike.

The so-called summer this year looked more like last year’s winter and dumped large amounts of rain quickly, wiping out some crops and badly damaging many others. Mother Nature can be both cruel and indiscriminate.

Some vines in Martinborough came through the drenchings and Cyclone Gabrielle almost unscathed, while some vineyards, only a matter of minutes away, lost the lot.

So, when a text came through last week with a friendly reminder about the upcoming harvest, I replied in the affirmative. Shortly after putting my hand up came the realisation that I knew precisely nothing about picking grapes. I know as much as the next person about eating grapes, but that’s where the familiarity ends.

No problem. It turned out I was one of a dozen people with no experience but with two ears and a willingness to take instruction and follow the lead of someone who had a few harvests under their belt.

It wasn’t a doddle, but you couldn’t fault the enthusiasm. Admittedly, at one point, I wished I was closer to the ground, a bit like one of the many dogs racing around sniffing out any pesky rabbits, but we got the job done in pretty good time.

The total haul for the day was down a case or two on last season, but given the plight of others nearby, the vintners were philosophical and taking at a glass-half-full view of the world as we all sat down for a post-harvest lunch.

During the lunch, I listened to first-hand accounts about the past few seasons and how growers had been quick to lend a hand to other growers – a long-held tradition in Wairarapa. After all, next season could be just as unpredictable, and those lending a hand this season may very well be in need of some help in 2024.

Before then, if you fancy getting involved in a uniquely Wairarapa experience, I’m sure there are some vineyards not too far away that would appreciate an extra pair of hands for the harvest.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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