My first pre-harvest did not start out quite as expected! I found myself stuck on a dam; trusty quad-bike not so trusty anymore and in fact quite dead in the battery department! This moment doesn’t really fill me with nostalgia or much inflection as I was busy kicking and screaming at the quad-bike, but it seems like the kind of moment that should, so I shall use it to open a reflection on the harvest, and my first harvest.

The quad-bike is good place to start, as I spend much of pre-harvest cutting through the vineyards, dust in my wake, like a knight galloping through his lands. That was, until I had to stop and count a thousand bunches to predict yields – not so knightly, really more like ‘peasant’ work. Peasant or knight, it doesn’t matter this work grinds the wheel, moves everything and delivers the harvest. As I would learn in the following weeks, the grind would get much harder in the vineyards under the blanket of the South African sun. On my second day of bunch dropping, to great embarrassment, I vomited in the vineyards – a combination of sun stroke and stomach virus – and couldn’t move for much of the next day. It was a rough entry, but one that highlighted the intensity of the work of the forgotten troops on the viticultural front lines. Though replaceable person for person, the importance of viticultural staff is unparalleled and must be given it’s due respect.

In the cellar obstacles presented themselves in similar volume, but in different shape. I learned to form a twisted friendship with the pump, a friend I both love and fear. The sound of a pump running dry will forever hold a special place in my heart, a chokehold specifically, as I can feel my years chipping away as soon as that awful chugging noise fills the room. I found better acquaintance among the other tools, the greatest of all being the waterproof ankle-boot.

For three years of tertiary education the hype surrounding harvest had built up lecture by lecture, and now the much anticipated time had finally come. It came quite pleasantly and is now sorely missed. Due to some impressive organisation and the blind unpredictability of grape genetics there was never an overload, no mechanical or mental breakdowns and not a workday past midnight. Having spent many years training myself in unintended sleep deprivation it is a pity I couldn’t use this near useless skill. I guess I should do some part time long distance truck driving if I want to justify having ‘Ability to work through the night’ on my CV.

Days fly by … just like the grapes on the conveyer, and like the scent of rotundone or thiols on the air … everything seems slightly like a fairy tale. Alas, the romance lasts but a few days as you find yourself slowly burning out. Few other things could make you push yourself as the excitement of harvest might.

In conclusion, to avoid excessive sentimentality and also to go out in a more dignified style than my opening tantrum on a quad-bike, I’ll say this – my first harvest took me in gently and I await the challenge of many more.