Dozens of backpackers from across the globe are converging on Coonawarra as the 2019 vintage season gets underway.
Seasonal workers are a key part of the vintage process and take part in handpicking some of the region’s finest fruit for its top-shelf wines.
With the season in its early stages, Coonawarra Employment Agency general manager and vigneron Steven Raidis said the influx of workers was vital to the region. ‘This time of year we have up 120 backpackers out in the vineyards handpicking grapes for some of our premium wines,” he said. ‘It’s so important to have these people traveling to the region to take part in vintage.
‘They come from almost every country you can think of to participate in the seasonal worker program and without them we simply would not have the manpower to pick the amount of grapes we do.”
On Friday, the workers started handpicking some of the first vineyards in the region, starting with Wynns Coonawarra Estate’s V and A Lane block.
The vineyard is a special part of the Wynns brand and is home to the grapes that eventually become the V and A Lane Shiraz.
Wynns senior winemaker Sue Hodder said the particular block was picked earlier than the brand’s other vines. ‘We handpick this wine and start a little bit earlier than we would on our other vineyards,” she said. It goes into a fermenter with some whole berries and some whole bunches and we start it off that way. ‘It’s a very traditional technique but is different from what we normally do, which makes it pretty special to us. ‘These workers who pick for us are an invaluable part of the process.
‘It’s so important t have them coming to the region each year and making their mark during vintage.”
Although handpicking results in the highest quality grapes, it is impossible to handpick every vineyard, with the majority of grapes in Coonawarra picked by machine.
Mr Raidis said this is what sets the handpicked wines apart from the others. ‘We would love to be able to hand pick everything, but we would probably need 10,000 workers to do that,” he said.
‘Unfortunately its just not mathematically possible, so the wines we do handpick in Coonawarra are the real cream of the crop products.”
The influx of workers into the region is also incredibly important to the greater Limestone Coast according to Mr Raidis. ‘It’s a great little economic boost for the area as a whole,” he said. ‘The workers are here for around a month, they buy groceries every day, head to our cafes and pubs, they need places to stay, it all benefits the region.
‘Plus once vintage is over, many of them spend time exploring the Limestone Coast which overall benefits the tourism industry.”
Article Source: The Border Watch, Katie Jackson