The Onkaparinga Valley, where I live, is a rich valley of fertile land that, since it’s “appropriation” from the traditional owners, had been home to herds of dairy cattle and vast orchards of apples, pears and cherries. In more recent times the herds of equable dairy cows have been moved on and many of the orchards have been replaced with extensive vineyard plantations – for this cool climate is the ideal home for South Australia’s sauvignon blanc grapes.
This time of year is one of the busiest in our neighbourhood as it is vintage time – a fact that I had cause to ruminate upon at four this morning as I listened to the low hum of the not-so-distant mechanical grape harvesters. Vintage impacts on nearly all the locals in the area to varying degrees. We have no vines so it is mostly peripheral to us and simply means that we have to be more aware of the extra heavy traffic on the roads. With two teenagers who have recently become P plate drivers, my concern is that they be very aware of the fact that the large trucks carrying great big bins of grapes from the vineyards to the waiting winemakers are generally in a hurry, while the enormous, futuristic looking, slow moving picking machines that they will encounter as they round a bend in the road are not! Add to this van-loads of itinerate hand-pickers who are unfamiliar with the local roads and you will understand why I’m aging so very fast!
The vignerons and winemakers have been fortunate this year as the weather has been kinder. While we have had some extreme weather, the last few weeks have been mild and the grapes have come on at a steady pace. The buzz word at this time of the year is “Baume”, which is the scale by which the sugar in the grapes is measured. The sugar feeds the yeast in fermentation which, in turn, affects the alcohol level of the finished product. The Baume is read at regular intervals and when it is at the optimum reading for the particular type of wine grape, it is time for the grapes to be picked. This means co-ordinating either crews of contracted hand pickers or the sharing of a mechanical picker and the trucks to take the grapes, as quickly as possible, from the vineyards to the winemakers. Because of the weather, last year all the grapes in our area were ready for picking at once, meaning that there was an enormous rush for the pickers and the trucks as everyone needed them at once. This resulted in some delays at the wineries as the winemakers tried to crush bin after bin of precious wine grapes. According to my neighbour, a sauvignon blanc grower, it made for some very testy times!
The process is more measured this year, but still very busy and I can look out of my kitchen windows at any hour of the night and see the lights blazing at the nearby wineries as they get on with the business of providing me with my preferred tipple.
I do find it slightly comforting to know that I am not the only person awake in the valley.