Harvest 2021 - A Picker's Tale


Author: Derek Walklate

Harvest 2021

This year was my third harvest and whilst the harvest is very much business as usual there is still an air of anticipation especially with the virgin pickers who arrive on the first morning. I remember my first time in 2019 and how different it was to the mental images I had beforehand of young bohemians working in the hot sun before a long lunch of chunky homemade bread, cheese and red wine. In reality, it was a mix of geeky students and pensioners working in cold and wet conditions before eating a cheese and pickle sandwich. The first year took two weeks to complete which included a few non-picking rainy days whilst last year was a sultry 30 degrees and was done in half the time. Whilst last year was great with regards to the weather, it was a poor harvest due to a late frost in May. It would be interesting to see how this year’s harvest compares, as the summer of 2021 was an odd one with plenty of early rain, fairly mild but with little sunshine. 

This years’ team was very much an in-house group which included a number of the Tour Guides (Lydia, Kerry, Roger and Phil) who were all keen to help and no doubt include the experience as part of their tours. Kate, our popular and knowledgeable Shop and Wine bar assistant also picked up a pair of secateurs for the first time too. In fact the only non-Stanlake harvester this year was Martin whose son Joe helped out last year. Joe was unavailable this year due to his drumming commitments with the fabulous band The Amazon's (make sure you check them out).  As well as being a great picker, Martin also made up for our lack of a radio as he could talk incessantly but was great fun to be with and had wonderful banter. 

Nico, the Italian wine guru and winemaker led the team which also included myself and new recruit Jack, fresh from Plumpton College. Our General Manager Natalia who wasn't studying for wine exams this year (having gained a distinction last year) also showed us her prowess with secateurs working with great speed. At the end of the harvest we were joined by Tina (‘Sunday Girl’) and Nick who was joining us as a cellar assistant and his first day coincided with the final day of harvest. Nick is from Sydney and had just finished grape picking in Sicily.

Phase one of the harvest involved the white grapes only and the team picked a reasonable harvest of Gewurztraminer, Reichensteiner and Optima. We had mixed fortunes with the weather ranging from 22C (sunny) to 13C (drizzle). We had to abandon picking one afternoon when the heavy rain arrived otherwise the grape juice would have been diluted. Phase two involved picking our pink Schonburger before heading to the Triomphe on the upper vineyard. All was going well so far with regards to the harvest and the weather.

Another day arrives and Nico directs us to the Pinot Noir. All I can say here is wow!!! These grapes were huge and growing in abundance in large bunches.  They were so much better than anything I’d picked here in previous harvests and one single bunch weighed a mighty 860gms. As soon as the pinot noir was picked it went straight into the de-stemmer and then directly into the tank where it will be punched down to increase the skin to juice contact. 

After a few quiet days we continued picking in the upper vineyard working through until the rain arrived early afternoon. It was another huge haul of grapes, thus we had to walk back to base as the tractor trailer was full. We then continued picking the Dornfelder grapes in the Cricket Pitch vineyard, hence the name of last year’s Cricket Grove wine which was certainly my favourite red wine. 

Our final day of harvest arrived and our largest team assembled ready to pick the final 8 (very) long rows of pinot noir to complete the harvest. It was another bumper day with huge quantities of grapes which were processed through the de-stemmer and directly into a tank again. The hardest part of the harvest is the loading and unloading of the 30KG crates of grapes on and off the trailer and onto the conveyor belt into the de-stemmer. However, it’s definitely worth all the effort and I’m so looking forward to trying these wines, especially with Nico at the helm. It’s going to be a very good year for Stanlake Wine. 

The grand traditional finale of the harvest is the opening of a few bottles of sparkling wine to celebrate which is a lovely touch by Nico and Natalia and very much appreciated by all the pickers. Cheers everyone, until next year.

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