POST BY HANNAH CROSSLEY
Working in Queenstown gives you certain privileges, one of which is this enthusiasm of the wineries seeking help from local hospitality staff for vintage. In exchange for your help with harvest for as little or as long as you like, they give you an incredible chef prepared lunch with every style of wine they have to offer for you to quaff leisurely as you make friends and network. The offer of free wine can go either way though with hospo staff, you can definitely tell the difference between those who are working the night shift to those on their day off.
My Manager Maryann was invited to ‘The Big Day Out’ held by Domaine Thomson and to my delight she asked me to join her. This trip was a large affair, staff from restaurants around Queenstown and nearby Arrowtown boarded a coach headed for Cromwell, the centre of the winemaking region in Central Otago.
Domaine Thomson are famed for their Pinot Noir, so much so they don’t grow anything else. Their Explorer, Surveyor Thomson and TSS Earnslaw Pinots all benefit from the care and love of biodynamic farming headed by the beautifully boho Su Hoskin. I envied that she looked so comfortable in the vineyard wearing a long flowing skirt, where she made the rest of us look overprepared and out of place in our walking boots and puffer jackets.
Su showed us to her shed that overlooks the stunning vineyard down towards Lake Dunstan where she conducted all her biodynamic voodoo. With moon charts and astrology signs marked upon walls, barrels and hatches to hidden chambers underground it was overwhelming to see the lengths that are taken to create a biodynamic farm, these guys aren’t even fully certified yet! Not long till they are though.
Yet, the three stars of the vineyard were the long haired highland cattle named Mathilda, Artemis and Mimolette. As they watched over our demonstration we were charmed to discover that their poo comes in good handy, but not in its raw form…the poo goes under a vital ‘massage’ process before it is transferred back to the land. Yes, the cow’s shit is massaged by hand to remove all the hay and larger ‘items’ whilst activating the vital chemicals and organisms so that only pure goodness is returned to the earth.
To add to the experience Su and Domaine’s Marketing Manager Claudio Haye arranged a ‘blind’ blind tasting with an outstanding lunch created by The Rees’ Ben Battenbury. Recognising that our senses are heightened when one is restricted, they provided scarves to cover our eyes and it really does allow you to taste wine better. Or it makes you oblivious to how ridiculous you look sniffing into the depths of your glass while wearing a silk scarf. Give it a try, nothing better than drinking in the dark!
Amisfield was next on the event calendar and they definitely wanted us to get our hands dirty. First port of call was the Pinot Gris which was quickly being stripped from the vines and our legion of hospo staff were sent down the rows to help. From one side of the vineyard to the other we were delivered on a custom trailer of the back of a tractor with the dogs running alongside, it was like Disneyland for winos.
We saw every aspect of the winemaking process from picking, to destemming, to tank, to plunging, to barrel aging. Tasting ferments is always fun and jarring for anyone who has never tasted a semi-fermented wine before – it doesn’t taste great! Even tasting wines from the barrel can be slightly disappointing. The wines are really tight and often high in acidity, but once they have been filtered and fined and bottled for a period we are talking about a completely different animal. After all, we want to be as relaxed as the wine when we drink it.
Again, the food was amazing only made better with the accompanying vast selection of wines that we all made our way through – sadly this time I was on the night shift! Didn’t stop me tasting though.
All these experiences are valuable for anyone who works with wine in any shape or form. It’s a complex creature and knowing even a little of how its crafted it wildly rewarding, and kind of makes you sound really smart when you can reel off a load of information about the wine. We all win!!