Saturday, September 18, 2010

Toes Squishing, Grapes Squashing

Waking up to the sun creeping up from behind the mountain, you can practically taste the fresh dew covering the green grass. As you unzip your tent the fresh, cold air greets you with a dose of adrenalin as you feel the excitement building up inside you.

Today is the day I get to experience the thrill and accomplishment of making my own bottle of wine, something I wouldn’t traditionally see myself doing, but yet something that has sparked an interest. Friends have come to join me as we tackle this new adventure, some complain about the early morning, but once some coffee was pumped into their veins they were just as wired as the rest of us.

As we head to Excelsior Wine Estate, I get to show off my home town, Robertson. Robertson is where I grew up, where I got to experience freedom like no city child will ever understand. I consider myself fortunate for the upbringing this quaint, little town offered me, the adventures I got to experience and life’s lessons I was taught. Today my friends will get to share in my passion for this valley of wine, roses and race horses as we make our own bottle of wine from scratch.

On arrival at the Excelsior Wine Estate, we each get handed our own set of shears and a crate and head off to the vineyards to hand-pick our own grapes. We had fun trying to determine which grapes would make the best juice, all of us completely clueless but enjoying the ‘game’. With crates filled, we head towards the cellar where half barrels are set up for us to use. This is where things get squishy as we pour the grapes into our individual barrels, roll up our pants, remove socks and shoes and start plucking up some courage for what comes next. Everyone’s standing around, waiting nervously to see who will go first, who will take the plunge and lead the way.
Eventually, one by one we all take the plunge and get into the barrels, feeling the cold grapes squashing between our toes. Some of the crunching sounds are a few of the unlucky snails that got thrown in with the grapes, but we were told it adds to the flavour so we continue stomping our grapes. Once I got over the initial sensations, I actually started enjoying it. It felt good on my feet and my stomach muscles got a good workout from all the laughing.

I took loads of pictures to capture this memory. It’s time to drain off the juice and bottle our own canteen of grape juice. This turned out to be a bit tricky but we quickly learned a handy trick using the grape stalks as a filter which helped the juice flow more freely with less pulp.

All the effort worked up quite an appetite, which was perfect timing as the tables were laid with a variety of farm-style treats for visitors to enjoy while soaking up the warm sun on the lush green lawns near the farm dam. Taking a breather was just what we needed to recharge the batteries before moving on to the next part, bottling our own bottle of wine.

Moving to the wine tasting room we each get handed a test tube with a set of instructions letting us test various options of red wine blends. We each pour the blends according to the percentages given, taste our creations and then compare to other blends. It took us a while to select our favourite blends and I had some difficulty since I don’t drink wine, but that didn’t take away from the immense fun I was having. I decided to not trust my own judgement but rather follow the decision of the masses.

With the decision made, I move over to the barrels, select my empty bottle and start pouring my blend. I had to pour with a steady hand to ensure the blend was not ruined and moved on to corking the bottle myself. After that, I was the proud owner of wine bottled and corked by yours truly. All that was left for us to do was to ‘dress’ the bottle and package it by melting the seal onto the neck of the bottle, labelling and boxing the bottle.

The hard, but tremendously fun work was done for the day and it was time to head back to our camping site where the fire was lit, a bottle of wine opened and stories shared as we enjoy the smells of our ‘potjie’ cooking on the flames.

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