A good question to ask and the answer is yes. A fair indication of the increase in the workload during vintage is the need to triple our staff numbers in the cellars and vineyards over the annual harvest period and also work longer shifts to boot.
In early September Tahbilk winemaker Brendan Freeman starts the process of recruiting cellar hands from Australia and around the world, and by the time the first grapes hit the crushing pit it’s a veritable United Nations of accents. It’s great to meet a whole new bunch of interesting people who have worked in wine regions old and new, as well as seeing some of our regular vintage casuals return for another harvest.
During vintage we can have people from all corners of the globe – South Africa, US, a Kiwi or two who keep coming back in between doing vintages in the northern hemisphere, plus a mix of Aussies and locals!
We learn from them and their experiences, and they tell us they learn a lot from being part of the winemaking process at Tahbilk.
In Tahbilk’s early days work at the Winery would start at 4 in the morning, stoking the wood-fuelled boiler into life and firing up the steam engine (which is still in place beside the Tower in the Cellar Yard), and then continue until dark and all the work was done. Up to the late 1980’s our cellar staff did similar, working a single day shift starting at 6am, and finishing 12 to 14 hours later albeit into the evening with the benefit of electric light!
The purchase of a mechanical harvester allowed us to do the same with our vineyard staff so that we could pick our whites during the cooler hours of the night.
The Winery and Vineyard now runs 24 hours a day during vintage with two 12 hour shifts, dayshift starting at 7am and nightshift at 7pm. A split roster over the weekend gives everyone a day off on Saturday or Sunday – essential to recharge the batteries and to re-connect with family and friends.
It’s a time when we appreciate the joy of small things – a simple sleep in, being home in time to share a meal with the family or going out for the day.