Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

A Week on a Vineyard

This week I checked another item off my New Zealand bucket list – harvest grapes on a vineyard.

Now, you may be thinking “wow, what a pretentious thing to have on your bucket list,” but let me tell you, it was not glamorous.

I’m pretty interested in the winemaking process, and recently I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about it. Watching documentaries, reading books, making wine in my kitchen, going to wine tastings (for educational purposes only, I swear), and taking an ‘Introduction to Wine Science’ “class” at the University of Auckland. But I wanted to see a real vineyard in action.

For one week of our mid-semester break I lived on a vineyard in Central Otago, harvesting Pinot Noir grapes for next year’s vintage. For some reason, in my head the idea of a harvest on a vineyard sounds almost blissfully romantic, something that only happens when the sun is shining and doves are cooing and the vineyard dog is frolicking around the rosebushes. Unsurprisingly, that was not the case.

During the three days of actual harvesting, our boots were on by 7:30 and we were in the trenches by 7:45. And then we literally spent hours on our hands and knees, snipping grapes off vines. No cooing doves, no rosebushes, and not even an old Italian winemaker shouting encouragement from the back porch. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting.

And yes, it was a bit rough at times (namely the one morning we woke up to rainy, 40-degree Fahrenheit weather), but it was also one of my favorite study abroad experiences so far and I wouldn’t trade it for the warmest, sandiest beach in the Pacific.

My hosts, Paul and Sue, were essentially the couple that everyone (me) aspires to be. After living all around the world for Paul’s work, he lost his corporate job. So naturally, they decided to move back to New Zealand and buy a small vineyard. Because that’s just how life goes.

How did I find Paul and Sue, you ask? Well, before I came to New Zealand I became a member of WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), which is a program that connects hosts with people who are willing to work for a few hours a day in exchange for all their food and accommodation needs (hello, cheap travel). Turns out, there are plenty of vineyards around New Zealand looking for extra hands.

Three other Wwoofers were also staying to help out for the week – a French couple who were taking a year off work to travel around the world together and who exclusively ate pasta and cheese, and another American girl who was spending six months exploring New Zealand before she had to go home and actually get a job. They were all kind, happy, hard-working people. As it turned out, snipping grapes for 8 hours a day gives you plenty of time for conversation, and I very much enjoyed getting to know them.

So the wine life is far from the romantic retirement that some of us may imagine, but the harvest was certainly a memorable and gratifying experience. Until next time, I think I’ll continue my training at a few more wine tastings. Cheers.


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