A year of winemaking

When one plans a year of travel, getting stuck a day after leaving home isn’t usually on the cards. And yet here I am in the Thora Valley, cut off from the Pacific Highway by several metres of violently flowing river, unable to reach the Hunter Valley. It’s at Lake’s Folly in the Hunter I will start this year of adventure, though the rain has reached it too and picking is delayed.

I’m still surprised to find myself in this position and, in retrospect, I blame a mixup with an exam paper. Around August of 2012, I was ready to sit the final exam of my Masters, primed to smash through it, looking forward to the elation of accomplishment and the reward of junk food. Bathetically, it turned out my exam had been misplaced, and I sat idle in the exam room, exchanging embarrassed glances with the invigilator, for the half hour it took to find my paper.

While I waited, my mind started to wander past a December graduation into the land of “what next?”. I have a good, challenging day job that keeps me busy (as well as fed and watered), but without the structured engagement of University, I had no idea how I’d keep learning about wine growing, aside from simply drinking the finished product. I could always take a year off and follow the harvest around the world, but that would be ridiculous, impractical, not to mention financially ruinous…

And here I am, en route to the Hunter, without income, trapped momentarily by nature, but very much on my way to a year of helping to make wine. So far, the little idea hatched over a misplaced exam paper will take me to Tasmania, the McLaren Vale, Central Otago, Western Australia, California and Germany, perhaps by way of some work in France or thereabouts. I’ll go from a very theoretical view of winemaking to a messily hands-on one, helping a bunch of talented winemakers make lots of different wines in lots of different ways, starting to learn all the things one can’t from books alone.

My wonderful friends wonder if I’ll chuck in the corporate towel and make wine my life once the year is up. I wonder something more essential: how a year of doing this will change my relationship to the drink. For a writer whose currency is a subjective, aesthetic reaction to wine, an immersion in the practicalities of winemaking risks robbing the drink of its mystery. I’m also a scientist by training, though, and know the natural world becomes even more compelling and beautiful with knowledge of how it works. Perhaps the same will happen with wine; as always, I’ll record these experiences and the wine I encounter on Full Pour.

I hope you will keep me company while I find out.