Men (and Women!) At Work – The 2019 Australian Vintage Begins
While those in the northern hemisphere are freezing their toes off in polar temperatures, in the southern hemisphere, summer is abating and the annual vintage cycle begins in earnest.
Arguably the most stressful time of the year, this week we check in with a bunch of Australian winemakers to hear what is in their tool-box to help cope with the manic months that are “vintage.”
Keeping it together as a wine professional doesn’t need to be abstinence and silence. Sometimes it’s rocking it out on a pump-over, playing air guitar with a marc shovel or getting a tank seeded while grooving to Deee-Lite.
Here is how many winemakers “Down Under” cope with the exhaustion and stress of vintage:
Yarra Valley, VIC
At Giant Steps Winery in the Yarra Valley, it’s all about music. Chief winemaker Steve Flamsteed and his vintage crew all have Spotify installed on their phones. The app links to a central hub that plays constant tunes through the cellar during vintage and if someone’s choice is getting a little arduous, you can take over the channel. How democratic.
For Flamsteed, it’s old school 90s grunge and indie music, with the Beastie Boys and Kanye West making an appearance at clean-up time, but overall it’s Flamsteed’s “19 vintage playlist” that is the vibe. From the Kinks and Triffids to TRX and Kevin Morby, there’s no wonder there’s some edge and class to the wines that the Giant Steps team produces.
Want to channel some Giant Steps tunes? Check out Steve’s playlist here.
Tamar Valley, TAS
Heading to the Tamar Valley in Tasmania, Beautiful Isle Founder and Winemaker Cynthea Semmens takes a far more mellow approach. In a winemaking region where “we put nets on just to take them off, and are still bottling when [new vintage] grapes arrive,” Semmens is in a constant rush of adrenaline.
So when vintage arrives? “I’m basically a monk for three months and sleep when I’m not making wine. Coffee is reduced and so too is alcohol on most days.”
Semmens prepares for vintage with healthy cook-ups of soups, grains and beans, freezing some portions for quick and wholesome meals later. But it’s not all lentils and kale. “I do smash a beer at the end of the day and hope to maintain [hosting] yoga [classes] at the winery through vintage. My body is in love with the stretching. Fingers crossed.”
Semmens is a fan of classical music or opera in the morning for punch-downs and old school rock and roll for the afternoon clean-up. “Plus lots of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and a bit of Florence and the Machine or PINK if the boys are not around.”
Barossa Valley, SA
Back to the mainland, in the Barossa Valley, Soul Growers co-founder and arguably the funniest man in wine, veteran winemaker Stuart Bourne keeps it classic for his creature comforts during these mad months.
“Music, pizza and BBQs at the winery get me through vintage. Pizza is made fresh on site and cooked in our pizza oven and served up piping hot to all the crew for lunch. BBQs are when we don't eat pizza for lunch. Stop and have a stretch and a glass of wine and a snag on the barby. Noice.”
The cellar playlist primarily comprises 80s music that “makes you want to dance like no-one is watching.” Here Michael Bolton, Bananarama and Rick Astley mix up with The Clash, INXS, Midnight Oil and The Sex Pistols for one heck of a dance party.
“That’s what makes vintage so cool every year – playing the tunes that meant so much to you back in high school and uni. Singing at the top of your lungs whilst you’re doing pump overs. Dancing the groove whilst mixing up yeast cultures. Living the f***ing dream!!“
Coonawarra and McLaren Vale, SA
Penley Estate chief winemaker and Goodman Wines founder Kate Goodman finds calm in the madness of harvest with a combination of pre-vintage preparation, afternoon cups of tea, and a clean winery!
Most interestingly, Goodman finds sanity walking vineyards, choosing specific music genres for walking specific grape variety rows: “For classic Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon it’s Nick Cave or Mercury Rev. For McLaren Vale Grenache – a more modern style - David Bowie or Milky Chance are the tunes of choice.”
Producing wines from two regions that are 390 kilometres (243 miles) apart means endless hours of time on the road so podcasts are sanity-restoring. She’s currently listening to the Dumbo Feather , and Mind Body Green podcasts to pass the hours of driving.
Margaret River, WA
Situated between the windswept Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste in Western Australia, StellaBella Chief Winemaker Luke Joliffe makes the ocean and music part of every Margaret River vintage. “Sanity for me is a swim in the glorious Indian ocean. The stress on the body and mind just washes away from the moment you submerge your head under water.”
His playlist rotates from De La Soul, Nas and The Roots to Chemical Brothers, Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age. And the “Grandfather of Grunge”, Neil Young to keep things real.
Living on a staple diet of local coffee, cheese, bread and beer, Joliffe also implores a great breakfast to keep him on track. “Don’t forget natural yoghurt with brekky… My lord, gut fermentation from too many grapes is the WORST.”
So for those winemakers, cellar staff, forklift drivers and weigh bridge dwellers who may be reading this on bleary-eyed mornings, or late-night breaks, we’d love to hear how you keep it together, and what you have on your playlist.
Next post, we will go across the ditch to New Zealand to see how they prepare for vintage. May the Aussie vs Kiwi battle continue.
Meet the Tribe!
Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.
Nate Slingsby, Associate Vice President, IBG Wine
Duck Pond Cellars, Great Oregon Wine Company, Rascal, Replica, LifeVine, Clean Label Project (USA)
Years In Industry:
After years of earning my stripes in restaurant hospitality, I ventured into sales with distributors in the Denver and Boulder markets. I’ve been wholesaling wine for 15 years. I moved on to importing and the wonderful city of San Francisco when I got into the supplier side, representing small family-owned Old World producers.
I assumed my current role as VP of the Western US for IBG after spearheading a project with a Napa producer to establish distributor relationships and rebrand and re-launch their Super Premium line.
My Biggest Challenge To Wellness:
Excuses. It’s real easy to tell myself "I’m too tired," "too busy," "too stressed." When it comes down to it, my wellness has a very direct effect on my productivity. I only realized that a few years ago. I have to make the time.
How I Keep It Together To Stay Well:
Making time for self-care is a priority. I set aside solid time to unplug from work…no emails, no calls, no texts, no calendaring for at least one day. Maybe just an evening if that’s all I can afford. I try to be mindful of my alcohol intake. A day off, or even a day with a limited amount goes a long way. I have a personal goal to get exercise 5 to 6 days a week. It’s not always easy, but when I make time to sweat it out, spend time on my mat or even just clear my head, I find myself to be less stressed. Knowing this makes getting it done more feasible.
I see a psychologist regularly. And I work with a life-coach to be held accountable to my personal and professional goals. I’ve found that making efforts to foster relationships outside the industry is important. This all helps me keep perspective.
I'm work in progress…make no mistake. But, I have certainly found these measures help me get more done. Happiness and productivity run hand-in-hand in my world.
What We’re Reading:
There's no shortage of wine stories and media inundating our IN Boxes. Here's what has piqued our interest this week.
Promise Me You’ll Fail – Hannah Brencher for Urban Southern
A company philosophy that challenges you to be okay to fail – will you sign the contract?
Michael Mosley on Drinking in Moderation – The Guardian
“There seems to be benefit from drinking wine with a meal, as opposed to on its own. Part of this is down to conviviality.”
My Restaurant Was the Greatest Show Of Excess You’d Ever Seen – and It Nearly Killed Me – David McMillan for Bonappetit.com
When the chefs of Joe Beef in Montreal gave up alcohol, their whole restaurant changed.
Let's Meet Up!
As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you.
· Presenter at Wonder Women of Wine in Austin, March 2 and 3 (Cathy)
· Presenter at the British Columbia Wine Insight Conference, March 12 (Cathy)
· Presenter at the International Institute for Analytics conference in Portland, March 13 (Cathy)
· Speaker at Women in Wine - The Bâtonnage Discussion Series, in Oakland, March 17 (Rebecca)
· Attendee at ProWein in Düsseldorf, March 17 to 19 (Cathy)
· Guest Lecturer at the University of Bologna, April 2 to 4 (Cathy)
· Attendees at Vinitaly in Verona, April 7 – 10 (Rebecca and Cathy)
· Presenter at the London Wine Fair, May 20 to 22 (Cathy)
· Attendee at MUST: Fermenting Ideas in Cascais, Portugal, June 26 to 28 (Cathy)
· Attendee at Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines in Bordeaux, July 4 to 6 (Cathy)