Working under pressure in the Marlborough grape harvest

Whitehaven Wines grape press crew, from left, Rex Goncalves from Argentina, Kiwi Souzie Boerema, Sophian Tahar of ...
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Whitehaven Wines grape press crew, from left, Rex Goncalves from Argentina, Kiwi Souzie Boerema, Sophian Tahar of France, supervisor Tomos Gillan, Jemma Cunliffe from the UK and Mariano Benoit of Argentina.

When Tom Gillan finished his last shift of harvest he went home, got in bed and slept for two days.

It's hardly surprising considering he and his five-man crew at the Whitehaven Wines grape press had been working 12-hour night shifts, seven days a week for some six weeks.

They formed just a small cog in the mammoth machine that is the Marlborough grape harvest, but the pressure never let up.

Talking to Tom in a quiet Blenheim coffee shop one gets the feeling he wouldn't have harvest any other way.

READ MORE: Vineyard techniques help save fruit in sodden Marlborough grape harvest

"It's pretty intense; you are always running around and always busy. Once you start you don't really stop," he says.

Whitehaven Wines grape press supervisor Tom Gillan loves the pressure of harvest.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Whitehaven Wines grape press supervisor Tom Gillan loves the pressure of harvest.

Working the night shift is tougher and requires a different attitude, Tom says. The workers are exposed to the elements, which in Marlborough can mean chilly nights.

This year that also meant a fair amount of rain.

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It was the unseasonable rain which added pressure to the operation, he says. 

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"This year was harder. There was a lot of pressure because there were a lot of growers trying to get their fruit off the vines at the same time."

Working nights meant the veteran of some 18 harvests started just before 8pm and didn't head home until 8am.

"It takes a week or so to get used to switch over [to the new sleeping patern]. I've always done night shifts though. I like the night shift."

Tom has worked harvests in Australia, Spain and France, but considers New Zealand harvests the most full-on.

"Australia is probably also pretty full-on, but it seems more laid back overseas in places like France. I suppose it also depends on the volume the winery is doing."

Most of his crew are from overseas, with two Argentinians, a Brit and a Frenchman along with Tom and just one other Kiwi.

"When you are hopped up on coffee the language barrier can become a bit of a problem, so we use a bit of sign language," he laughs.

Tom, who usually works in the Whitehaven Wines sales and marketing department, has deep roots in the Marlborough wine industry.

His parents Toni and Terry Gillan helped set up Grove Mill winery.

Harvest is tough, Tom says. It's intense, exhausting but very satisfying too. 

"There is such a great feeling of achievement at the end."

 - The Marlborough Express

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