Grape harvest start a treat
A 6am start and "decapitating" bottles of sparkling wine with a sabre is all part of the excitement of the first day of grape harvest in California's North Coast.
Marlborough grape growers Roger and Linda Randall had the good fortune to experience the buzz and tradition of Californian winery Mumm Napa's harvest 2012 during their five-week fishing holiday in Canada and United States.
They were visiting friends Alex and Sharon Vyborny, who spend a few weeks each year in Marlborough, where they have a 28 hectare vineyard.
The trip highlights included salmon fishing in the glacier-fed rivers of Alaska, and fishing for halibut weighing up to 27kg near San Francisco.
But the end of their trip has left a lasting impression on the couple, when on August 8 they were part of the first day of the grape harvest for the year in the Napa Valley in California.
Mr Randall, who has been involved in the Marlborough wine industry since he started working for Montana Estate in 1976, was chuffed to work alongside the 30 vineyard workers from Mexico.
"I've never seen such enthusiasm, they were all hooting and hollering and whistling and singing . . . we all had a pretty good time."
The workers handpicked 18.2 tonnes of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes in four hours, and were finished by 10am to beat the scorching 37 degrees Celsius heat in the valley basin.
The fruit was picked several weeks earlier than other grapes because it was destined to be sparkling wine, so have lower brix (sugar) levels.
Following the morning's work, the workers gathered at the winery where the winemaker made a speech thanking the workers for their important role in the production process.
He then used a sabre and took the top off a bottle of premium sparkling wine and poured it over the first two bins of grapes picked.
Everyone else followed suit, albeit with miniature bottles of sparkling wine and created a fountain of bubbles.
Mrs Randall, who had retired from her job of 17 years at Barry Gainford Eyecare one week before they left on their trip, said it was a huge privilege to be part of the occasion.
Mr Randall thought the relaxed approach was very different to New Zealand's attitude of "the sooner we get started the sooner we get finished". "But I'd be more inclined to drink the wine rather than pour it on the ground."
- The Marlborough Express