For several days Matthew's job was to tend to the wires that surrounded the grape vines in the vineyard. For hours on end he would tighten the straps, check the irrigation system and ensure each wire was exactly where it should be. On a few occasions I helped as well, getting the smallest taste of grape farming.
One day at lunch Chris explained the difference between a table grape vineyard and a winery vineyard. Theirs was a table grape vineyard and I had been wondering the difference for a while. Apparently winery grapes need cooler weather than table grapes. She also explained that table grapes require a lot more attention towards disease control, as their focus is round, healthy, good-looking grapes, where as wineries kind of thrive off of disease and use that towards the wine making.
Matthew asked how the process of grape picking goes and so Chris continued to give information. She explained that 6-8 pickers are brought through an agent. The pickers would arrive in late September to pick the grapes from the vines. The whole process of picking is very strategic. The handling of grapes is very fragile work because if the grapes get bruised or bumped too hard the outer film will bust, making a less eye-appealing grape. Pickers have to learn quick and be quick, for they get paid by the box. If the pickers don't catch on to the system of things within the first week, they are often released from work.
Each picker fills a wooden box full of grapes as they work through the vineyard. As the boxes are brought in to the shed, Chris and a couple of other helpers weigh the boxes and record which picker picked which box. She then periodically does quality checks to make sure the pickers are accurately handling the grapes. After going through the appropriate checks, the grapes are put upon pallets that go into a cold room, where the temperature of the grapes drops to 4 degrees Celsius. This stops the ripening and seals the grapes. From there a truck will pick up the palettes once a day and take them to a distributor in Melbourne or Sydney.
I found the whole process fascinating. The only thing I could compare it to was wheat harvest back home, except this harvest was done mostly by hand and ours mostly by machine. I'd never been around much other types of harvesting but it seemed to be the same concept only different specifics.
Just before the harvesting the grapes will undergo very strategic monitoring. They will be sprayed every other day and each spray will be intelligently recorded for industry standards. Matthew sprayed the grapes several times during our stay but not nearly as often as every other day. While it would be interesting to see the actual harvest, we will be long gone by then.