However many wineries you visit, and however many videos you watch of the harvest – you don’t really get a good idea of how harvest and the process of winemaking works until you actually get to do it. Taking a sabbatical or a month long holiday to skip off to a wine region as a 'cellar rat' isn’t a luxury most can afford – most people simply don’t have the time. With The Vines' Wine Camp though, I had an opportunity to get a full experience of harvesting and winemaking all in one day!
Last month as the first of the Malbec was starting to be pulled off the vines, I got to spend the day with other happy campers experiencing a hands-on harvesting and winemaking day. It wasn’t a bad start at the brand new resort and hotel in Uco Valley watching the sunrise and light up the mountains with a warm cup of coffee in hand, and then as dawn was fully broken we met by the swimming pool for some breakfast and to get kitted out for the day. Wearing baseball style T-shirts and caps, we certainly looked the part and it was time for Team Vines Wine Camp to get in the vineyards and show our worth tearing at bunches between the vines.
A couple bucketloads was enough to get a real flavor of harvesting, but not laborious enough to actually feel like work, and then with a glass of bubbly we took a hay bail ride back to the winery. As we arrived onsite, we got to taste different grapes outside and work out the brix levels with some clever machinery. Our guide Jeff took us into the medium sized custom-crush winery where we sorted through the bunches picking the very best and taking out all the stalks and leaves. As the machine expertly de-stemmed them, we moved onto the most fun part: stomping the grapes with our bare feet. The sensation of a bucketload of Malbec grapes between your toes is certainly something to remember and we all relished in it!
We had a little spray down and a reassuring reminder that we wouldn’t actually be drinking our foot-squashed grapes, and instead we moved into the winery to try out our first punch down. Jeff expertly explained every step of the way, and we got to learn a lot about the process asking all our questions of whichever level. Then we moved onto tasting wines. We sat outside of the winery looking onto the vineyards and mountain backdrop as we got to taste some fermenting juice and compare it with the grapes to get an idea of how the juice begins its transformation into wine.
After a not-so-tough day taking a journey with the wine from the vines to leaving it to do its thing in tanks, we jumped back on the tractor to head to the middle of the vines for an asado-style lunch. Getting to taste the finished product, we delighted in Torrontes and Malbec as we nibbled on round after round of irrresistable empanadas, a circus of barbequed meat and bowls full of fresh salads.
With a sense of comradarie in the air, good times and wine flowed and we all finished off a great day getting to grips with the vines and enjoying the resulting wines. Expert winemakers in a day!
Amanda Barnes is a British journalist living in Mendoza and enjoying playing winemaking and harvest worker for just about long enough to work up a good appetite for another glass of wine.