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Posts from the ‘Harvest’ Category

Bob’s Your Uncle

We are currently in the thick of the vintage, familiar territory for us after 3 previous harvests. We have become accustomed to the winemaking techniques that set Australia apart from other wine regions and have even picked up some new Aussie phrases such as, “Bob’s your Uncle” which we are still trying to decipher the meaning of. As far as we can tell it’s something equivalent to, “oh well, that’s the way it goes”, but even after asking, we’re still not 100% positive.

We are excited to be working with some different varietals this time around, including some white wines and fortified wines. For those new to wine, one of the big differences between white and red wines is that white wines are pressed immediately, prior to fermentation, and red wines are left to ferment on their skins in order to exptract color and tannin. Our first few weeks of crushing consisted purely of white varietals including Chardonnay, Semillon and Reisling. When these wines started fermenting, the tank farm was transformed into an olfactory play land , filled with the amazing aromas of tropical fruit and blossoming flowers.

We now have the addition of some red varietals including Shiraz (Barossa’s signature grape), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This harvest is expected to be one of the earliest and shortest on account of the hot, dry conditions. Grape counts are down throughout the Barossa but the quality remains high. When the Grenache comes in, it usually signifies the end of the harvest. We’re hoping not to see those grapes for a while longer!

Here is a mash up of pictures from our last few weeks. Cheers!

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If you are in the area, here is a line up of wineries we’ve recently enjoyed tasting at:

Yalumba: Oldest family owned winery in the Barossa. They do everything onsite, even make some of their own barrels! Beautiful grounds and some really nice bottles! Probably our all around favorite tasting in the area. We even walked in on the filming of the next season of Master Chef Professionals Australia!

TeAro Estate: Small family owned operation. Gorgeous little tasting room. We enjoyed their Grenaches and their hospitality.

Two Hands: They enjoy a loyal following in the States and it’s easy to see why. Not a bad bottle in the line up. If you are itching to see what the big, kick-you-in-the-teeth Australian Shiraz’s are all about, you can find those here as well as a mix of milder versions. Your tasting fee is donated to charity.

Torbreck: Really nice wines. Some of our favorite wines next to Yalumba. In the affordable price range we liked The Steading, a GSM or Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro blend. We would know it in the States as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Shaw & Smith: The tasting here comes with a $15 fee (most in the area are free or applied to a purchase) and a pairing of local cheeses. We enjoyed both the cheeses and the wines. We went home with a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc.


Santa’s Workshop for Wine Lovers

It was an exciting week for us in Bordeaux, which included a tour of the Sylvain Tonnellerie (barrel-making factory). Sylvain is one of the world’s premier tonnelleries and their barrels can be found in wineries around the world. In their warehouse, we saw barrels tagged for delivery to Chateau Angelus (France), Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (Napa Valley, California), and other wineries in Australia, Italy, and around the world. Sylvain produces approximately 120 barrels per day, or 33,000 per year, which represents about 10% of the total French Oak barrel production.

Our Chilean born, trilingual tour guide explained how the entire wood buying and barrel making process works. Each year France’s national forest service selects and releases a catalogue of mature oak trees (of two varieties) to be sold from their forests. The trees are in the neighborhood of 250-350 years old. The barrel makers are given time so that their inspectors can visit the different forests and then the trees go up for sale. These trees are not planted but grow naturally. As the older, taller trees are cleared each year, the younger trees gain access to more sunlight, which aids in their growth. Several months after the sale, when the weather cools and the sap runs into the roots of the tree, the winning buyers go back the forests to collect their wood.

Sylvain purchases trees exclusively from three forests in eastern, central, and western France. When they arrive at the Sylvain factory, the trees are split, shaped into staves, seasoned (air dried for 24-36 months), then bent and formed into barrels. Sylvain takes extreme care in every step of the process. On average, only 20% of the wood from each tree is suitable for barrel making and the rest is used for furniture and other items. Each piece of wood is inspected for knots, worm/insect damage, and splits, and the wood is sorted according the width of each ring. The trees with the tightest/smallest rings are the most prized and are used in the premium barrels.

One of the highlights of the tour was seeing the toasting of the barrels. While many of the workers in the tonnellerie switch positions from day to day, the “toast masters” are specialists and practice the same craft each day. Technology has certainly made certain parts of the barrel making process easier, but the toasting is still done by hand, the old fashioned way.

It was a great tour and a really interesting process to see. France produces the lion’s share of the world’s wine barrels so it is great to see that they have found a way to do it sustainably. Of course, ending the tour at Sylvain’s winery with a tasting and lunch didn’t hurt our opinion of them either.

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Working at Iuli is our second “harvest” experience, but our first experience actually harvesting grapes –  i.e.. the clipping and picking of fruit.  The labor was intensive, the heat oppressive, and the work – incredibly rewarding. Meghan and I agreed that this would count as our workout for the day. We started around 10AM, after the dew had dried from the vines and worked in the vineyards until around 4PM. It doesn’t sound like much from that description, but out in the sun, bent over at weird angles, hauling heavy baskets up; down; & across steep slopes, the hours add up quick. After bringing the Pinot Noir grapes in from the vines, we put the clusters through the crusher/destemmer and into tanks in the comfort and cool of the Iuli Cellar.

I can understand why wineries would choose to harvest with machinery rather than by hand, but I for one am glad that Iuli still does it the old fashioned way. It’s certainly better for the grapes, soil, vines, and wine, but also – for some primitive reason, as long as my body allows, I’ll always take a certain amount of pleasure from a hard day’s work.

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The Art of…

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting our dear friend Artur Podniesinski, well – we sincerely hope you do someday. He’s a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable character who has been both a huge inspiration and a great help as we’ve transitioned into the wine industry. Starting out by working at his parents’ wine shop in Long Island, Art has since launched his own line of incredible wines called “The Intern.” And when we began this crazy adventure, he was one of only a handful of “wine insiders” that we knew. More than just sharing ideas and providing advice, Art actually put us in touch with Summer and Fabrizio of Iuli Winery where we’re currently working, so THANK YOU ART!

And what an experience it’s shaping up to be! With the relatively small production, we’re really able to participate in every stage of the winemaking process. In just two short weeks, we’ve helped with the actual harvest, crushing/de-stemming, and have even bottled some previous vintages. On top of getting all this production experience, we’ve also had the opportunity to taste a number of extraordinary wines from Summer and Fabrizio’s personal cellar. Cheers to you Art, we wouldn’t be here without you!

Hittin’ the road!

It’s been about two months since our last post. During our time away we caught up with friends and family, attended a wedding in Canada, went to Washington for our anniversary to do some wine tasting, I got a new camera, we climbed two 14er’s in Colorado, traveled to Copenhagen to visit really good friends, visited post-apocolympic London, and hung out with another set of good friends in Ireland’s countryside. Now we are in Italy for the harvest in Piedmont and really excited to be back in action. We have a soft spot for Italy as we spent our honeymoon here and, let’s be honest, what’s not to like? The people are friendly, the food is out of this world and the wine is divine. Not to mention the beautiful countryside and rich history.

We are working at a small organic winery called Iuli in Montaldo di Cerrina, Italy. I am in love with this winery already and we’ve only been here for 5 days. When Matt and I open a winery, Iuli is what I want to model it after. The winemaker Fabrizio Iuli and his fiancé Summer Wolff, founder of Indie Wineries, are so passionate about what they are doing. They are supporting the small farmer and farming organically not because it’s en vogue, but because it’s what they truly believe in.

Working at this winery will be a much different experience than our time spent in Chile at Lapostolle. Because it’s a smaller scale production, we will have the opportunity to be involved with everything from picking the grapes, to cellar work, to bottling wine from past vintages. Here Fabrizio doesn’t use a laboratory to test when the wine has completed a specific stage of fermentation, he judges based on the taste. We will also be working directly with the winemaker, which is fortunate for us at this stage of our “wine education”.

If you are looking to try a new wine, check out Indie Wineries. Summer and her crew have a great philosophy and support unique, small production wine makers in the States and Europe. You are sure to get a bottle that someone poured their heart into, although I will say that they sell out quickly based on high quality and smaller quantity. Iuli is on the Indie Wineries list and we found it in Colorado at a great price. Look on the list of National Distributors on the Indie Wineries web page to see if your state carries these wines. Then call up your local wine shop and ask if they carry the distributor’s wines from your state (for example, in Colorado Indie Wines are distributed by Natural Wine Company) and if they don’t, ask them why not?

We are only going to be here for about 3 weeks before we head to Bordeaux for a harvest at a different winery. Even though our time here is short I have a feeling we will be leaving with a wealth of knowledge. We feel very fortunate to be doing what we love and to be learning by doing.

In future posts we will try to introduce you to some other winemakers in this region, tell you about our connection to Iuli and Indie Wineries and touch on organic farming. I’m also going to try to throw in a short tutorial with tips on packing light. I can’t say we’ve mastered this concept, but we’ve come a long way since our last trip. Salute!!

Winos crossing borders…

Yesterday was our final day of work at Lapostolle. We had an amazing experience and a fantastic initiation into the wine industry here that we won’t soon forget. After we said our farewells to all of our friends at work and had one last party with the roomies (thanks roomies!) we were off to Argentina early this morning via bus. The purpose of our trip was twofold: one, to visit Mendoza where Malbec reigns supreme and two, to avoid becoming illegal aliens. That’s right, we aren’t working in Chile any longer so our visas will expire today. We only really need to step foot over the border to be allowed back into the country but as long as we’re there, why not have some fun?

So we have a scenic 6 hour bus ride through the Andes to contemplate the rest of our stay in Chile and our next harvest. After an awesome discussion about living life to the fullest with our roommates Roberto, Alejandra and Evelyn last night, a trip to Peru for a hike up Machu Picchu is now definitely on our radar. I mean, we left our other jobs to do this, we had better make the most of it, right?

And our prospects for the harvest in Europe include an amazing winery in Bordeaux and possibly an early harvest in either northern Italy or Slovenia, which happens to be the motherland of my grandfather’s family. As I learned in my previous job, nothing is final until it’s on paper so we don’t consider anything 100% confirmed yet. However, as David Bowie put it (replace the ‘I’s with ‘we’s), “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” Enough said.

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Harvest Part Deux

It’s hard to believe the harvest is nearly over. Slowly but surely all the tanks (or cubas) are being drained of their juice, the grape skins are being pressed, and the wine is being moved into barrels for aging. The winery will soon be transformed from the controlled chaos that accompanies the fermentation process to a sleepy retirement community where wine goes to rest until bottling.

With one harvest under our belts we are now shifting our focus onto the northern hemisphere’s 2012 harvest. Following the harvest from North to South around the world isn’t a new idea. In fact, all six of our assistant winemaker roommates at the winery have worked harvests in at least one other country if not multiple. For Matt and I, coming into the game a bit later in our professional careers and without a formal wine education, gaining worldly knowledge of the wine industry becomes that much more important. As our good friend and winemaker/brand representative at Lapostolle, Diego Urra wisely said, “The world will be your classroom.”

We are focusing on wineries in France and Italy first and then considering Spain, Germany, Slovenia, Portugal, and a few other interesting wine areas close by. We are looking forward to the harvest wherever it might be! The possibilities are endless and very exciting to consider. It certainly feels as though the world is our oyster!

I’ve attached a video of Matt emptying a tank of grape skins for the press, a process called descubar. There is the lovely sound of a barrel being fitting in the background and a fan running over the tank so feel free to turn the sound off. You won’t miss much. Enjoy!

Descubar (finally, after a brief lesson in video conversion, here it is)