Stanlake Park Harvest 2022
Author: Derek Walklate
Another year flies by as our thoughts turn to harvest time. Due to an amazing summer we start almost a month earlier than previous years and I was surprised when the message arrived saying we start picking on the 5th September. We start with the Siegerrebe grapes in the Stallion Vineyard.
Last year Nico made 1000 bottles of Orange wine with these grapes. It’s called orange wine as the grapes are kept in contact with the skins for a few days which gives the wine a greater intensity with aromas of orange zest, melon and peach. Don’t be fooled by the name though as it is a white wine but gets its name from the skin-contact method used to make it. This year Nico expects to make 2000 bottles of orange wine as there is an abundance of grapes and also an improvement in quality due to the prolonged warmth and brightness of the long summer days.
We also pick the Walled Garden grapes as well as a few rows of the Optima grapes growing in the Cricket Field Vineyard. Today is the core team of Nico, Will, Ryan and myself with Tina and Yvonne helping for part of the day too. We continue picking all day until 8pm when we finally down tools and join the pre-planned staff meeting. Despite working a 13 hour day, Nico also managed to cook pasta for the 16 people attending the meeting, unbelievable!
As the white wine ferments with the skins we take a break from picking for a week which unfortunately means I miss one days harvest this year due to a short break in Madeira. It’s no coincidence that it’s the Madeira Festival of Wine and I take full advantage of the numerous wine producers on show. In between the picking days we hear the sad news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II which made us all reflect on the sad passing of Martin Emmett a few months prior. Martin helped out at last year’s harvest and was a larger than life character and fun to be around. Our thoughts went out to his son Joe and family. Joe worked briefly as a tour guide here a couple of years ago before hitting the road with The Amazons once again.
We continue picking over the next couple of weeks with varying size teams. Apart from the core pickers we manage to get 12 pickers one day including our local wine expert, Abbie Bennington, who organises our Virtual Tastings. We made great progress these days picking the Schönburger and Reichensteiner up at the Ruscombe Vineyard which is used to make our Regatta wine. I was surprised to see our Retail Assistant – Joan, join us again the following day having said it was far harder than she expected and was in desperate need to put her feet up. It can be hard work and long days, but it’s also very rewarding when you see the grapes picked and know that at some point in the future, you will have had a hand in making the wine. Luckily this year, we didn’t actually get a ‘hand’ in the wine although I did cut myself 3 times on the first day closely followed by Natalia and Kate who managed to cut themselves on the second day! Those new secateurs were very sharp.
The final picking days loom when we start picking the wonderful Pinot Noir grapes in the Cricket Field Vineyard. These grapes are everyone’s favourite and Nico picks one bunch that weighs a whopping 1.2kg, a truly beautiful sight. Apart from a couple of light showers the weather has been mostly kind during harvest this year. There is certainly an autumnal feel and the vines are changing colour from green to a stunning red. Due to the volume of grapes each row is taking well over 2 hours for 2 people to pick and we end the penultimate day with just 6 rows left.
Obviously, the harvest is about the grapes but for the pickers, it’s also about the people. It’s great spending time with people you’ve never met before and people you hardly know as well as those you see day in day out. Our newly appointed Retail Assistant, Richard, likened the process to speed-dating where you work and chat to different people upon completion of each row which is a fairly accurate view of picking. Special mention here to our Retail Assistant Eddie who wins the chatterbox of the year award, there’s never a quiet moment if you’re working with Eddie who usually spends most of his time in the Wine Bar kitchen when he’s not studying Biology and French (he is also a lovely guy to chat with).
Nico’s willing and able core team of Will and Ryan worked tirelessly picking and processing the grapes as soon as the tractor trailer became full. Will has been a reliable regular at Stanlake Park for well over a year and spends more time at Stanlake than at home (when he’s not on holiday!) whilst Ryan is relatively new to the wine industry. Ryan arrived here recently from Malawi and one thing I’ll take away this year is a new saying from Ryan who said at one point that the weather was a ‘Monkey’s Wedding’ which in Malawi means the weather is very changeable from sun to rain etc.. I’m now using that saying as much as possible. I haven’t mentioned all the pickers who turned up as there are too many but well done to Lydia (Tour Guide) who lived her dream by driving the tractor one day!
On the final day (4th October) the rows seemed even longer than usual and the 6 rows took the team 5 hours to complete. Tamsin (Tour Guide) was adamant that she needed to leave at 1pm but was determined to see the job done and ended up staying an extra hour to completion, just the spirit we need for harvest. In true harvest tradition, we sat in the garden as Nico and Natalia opened a couple of bottles of delicious Stanlake Brut to celebrate another harvest completed. Nico’s broad smile said it all, the quality and quantity of the grapes this year were way above previous years, let’s hope for something similar next year.