Vintage is the key period in a Winemaker’s year when many long term relationships and friendships are born and on rare occasions left in tatters. In the harvest period there are long hours with people and logistics pressures. Shift work with days often 12-16 hours long and double shifts – when grapes are ripe they need to be harvested. Every Winemaker will have their own way of doing things and it’s often “their way or the highway”.
My advice to anyone wishing to work in the wine industry is “to do a vintage” and if possible do two in the same year with the second in a new country and get out of your comfort zone. There are many different personalities from varied backgrounds and different parts of the world – it’s certainly not a time for big egos – it’s a team environment where the job needs to get done to high standards and within specific time frames. As Kevin Sheedy (AFL Coach) would say it’s the “decision making” and “hard ball gets”, the “five percenters” that win a footy game and it’s the same with a vintage. Picking decisions, vintage variations (extreme heat/rain/grower pressures) and of course staffing and “calmness under pressure” all play a key role in the success of a vintage.
July 2017 saw the night shift vintage team of 1986 from the Hunter Valley all meet in Hawaii – yep x 31 years later! We had all kept in touch, some a little greyer and rounder, all have gone down many and varied paths, yet all of us have stayed in the wine industry. Todd and Chris (two Americans) now working in Winemaking and Sales/Marketing at Frank Family Vineyards in Napa Valley, Kim Crawford from NZ, now owner of The Love Block Wine Co and Wayne Dutschke of the Barossa Valley winery Dutschke Wines. Then of course myself of Rob Dolan Wines Yarra Valley.
It has been a journey for all of us with many “ups and downs – some good decisions and some not so good” but the most important thing is that we are still kicking and it was still like yesterday to meet and catch up with one another and enjoy a few wines and many laughs. It is also great to see that our children are also starting their journey with Rory (Kim’s son), Ben (my son) and Kristy (Ben’s partner) doing the 2017 Napa vintage with Todd and Chris at Frank Family Vineyards.
I’m not sure we should wait another 31 years for our next reunion and have suggested we make it at least every 5 years from now on. Any suggestions for the next destination would be greatly appreciated!