Get handy in the cellar

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This post by Annabelle Latz was entered as part of the 2013 guest bloggers' program sponsored by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

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We flick the calendar page over to the month of March, harvest time rolls around in Marlborough, and a unique atmosphere encompasses the region.

Cellar hands gather from all over the world, thriving on the fact they are part of this buzz. Together they form a piece of the puzzle producing some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, and more recently, notably Pinot Noir.

Marlborough, as one of the participating regions in the Christchurch/South Island membership of the Great Wine Capitals, has formed my first true experience of wine tourism, and it is truly a special one.

It was in a back to front fashion how I learned about the wine which thousands of tourists who visit this region every year swirl, smell and taste at winery cellar doors and restaurants.

I am a cellar hand at New Zealand Wineries in Riverlands, just south of Blenheim.

As a wine processing facility we saw more than 11,000 tonnes of fruit fill our tanks during harvest this year.

Predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but also Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewurtzraminer, and a touch of Syrah was all put through its paces with the large winemaking team.

The first bottles of Sauvignon Blanc have now been filled, and the many containers have been shipped to destinations far away.

As far as wine tourism goes, my role as a cellar hand has enhanced the satisfaction I experience when pouring a glass of this year’s wine.

My mind flicks back to the winemaking processes I have learned about this year; the press and transfer stage, the punch downs with the red wine, the fermentation and the lees, the racking, the additions and the filteration, the dispatch preparation, and all the wonderful barrel work.

Harvest was just the best fun ever. For three weeks straight, 24 hours a day, the winery was transformed into a haven of buzz and activity, with more than 60 cellar staff.

Vintage is all about learning together, especially about 'rack and returns' with the red wine!

(Photo credit:  Cleighten Cornelius)

I loved listening to cellar mates swapping tales of their homeland and individual winemaking experiences. From California to Israel, every story was fascinating.

I began my role as a cellar hand in March, just prior to harvest. During harvest, I learned a lot very quickly. My niche in the winery was in the oak team. Every day I filled barrels, labelled barrels, cleaned barrels, and emptied the occasional one too. Then I’d jump across to the team who were working with the white wine, and lend a hand transferring and racking tens of thousands of litres of what started off as juice, that was later to become wine.

We all worked incredibly hard, had a lot of fun, and learned heaps.

All along, the international cellar staff were making the most of this region. At every opportunity these young wine enthusiasts were visiting cellar doors, asking questions about different winemaking processes, and sharing their stories.

I loved working in the oak team during the harvest, and when I stick my nose in a barrel now, it takes me right back!

(Photo credit:  Kate Cameron)

The social moments during harvest were cherished.

We’d love it when the growers would gather us together so we could talk about their vineyard blocks, discuss different harvests and seasons and what variation this brought to the bottle.

Marlborough’s valleys and plains create micro climates for grape growing which means varying soils and temperatures keeps grape growing and winemaking interesting.

We’d organise dinners amongst ourselves, gathering at local restaurants and ordering local wine and talk about what we were drinking. Comments about what we had chosen would be swapped, perhaps comparing a flavour with another local wine sampled recently at a neighbouring winery.

We’d laugh and chat, share stories about the hectic day we’d just had, and all agree we were having a blast.

Every year at every harvest this region is injected with passion and excitement. It is addictive and contagious, as foreigners will head back to their homeland, or onto other harvests, with tales of the wonderful wine growing region of Marlborough.

They will often return for another harvest.

On the same token, New Zealand cellar staff will head over to harvests abroad, taking with them stories of Marlborough, and bringing back with them ideas and stories from their experiences amongst other members of the Global Wine Network.

When I drive or jog past other wineries, I can’t help but visualise a day in their cellar, wondering how their processes may both be similar and different from ours.

I invite anyone with a love for wine and great people to experience a harvest in Marlborough. They will not only be producing some of the best wine in the world, but will add to the colour of wine tourism here, and help create the journey that gets the grape from the vine to the glass.