Herd it through the grapevine

B: Our next wwoofing adventure took us to an organic and biodynamic vineyard just south of Auckland. The Allen family – Wayne and Mandy along with their kids Sarah (21), Laura (19) and John (17) – own the Turanga Creek Winery and run the Wine Bar on-site. Margi is the farm manager and responsible for maintaining the precious grapes that get sent off seasonally for wine making.

When we arrived, there were three other girls living and working there already – Anya and Ellen from the US, and Marie from Germany. Our accommodations were in a small house directly next to the Allen’s home and about 1.5kms from the actual vineyard. We got right to work the very next day starting at 8am. The typical schedule had us working 8-10:30am, break, 11-1:30pm, lunch, and 2-4:30pm. We would work like that three days per week plus one half-day (stopping after lunch), the idea being we worked half a day for each day we stayed at the vineyard.

G: The land was beautiful with endless rows of manicured grape vines blanketing the hillside. There were about 100 sheep roaming the different sections at any given time. Some mornings we became sheep herders, which can be rather difficult. But Blake got it down pretty quickly. Jess is their new pup and being trained to herd the sheep.

Margi gave us a recap of the basics of biodynamic farming that we learned at Kahumana Farm in Hawaii. Biodynamic agriculture is an exceptional version of organic farming in that takes into account the sun, the moon, planets, and their forces in relationship with the soil, plants and animals. It emphasizes the use of manure and composts, planting based on the lunar calendar, as well as herbal and mineral preparations, all of which are meant to enliven the soil and promote optimal growth. I won’t go into too much detail, but check out schupdesign.com for more info. Chris was our farm-mate/creative-collaborator/photographer and built an amazing website, including a showcase of the Kahumana experience.

Back in Hawaii, I would devote mornings to mixing up preparations with love and spraying them while singing to our crops. At the vineyard, everything was at such a large scale that Margi had a machine mixing up the preps and a tractor spraying the vines. Instead, we did a lot of tucking, which means to tuck the vines under metal wiring to ensure they grow straight up. We also spent hours leaf-plucking and bud-rubbing, which is something the sheep usually do by eating the lowest leaves on the tree. We didn’t eat the leaves (much) but tediously removed them so as to have optimal air-flow and to make harvesting easier. Though it was too early in the season, we tried a couple of grapes and indeed they were sour. It would be nice to go back in March when it’s harvest time, but apparently there are many wwoofers (up to 12) and LOTS of work. I think we’ll pass this time.

B: In addition to the biodynamics, we learned about the different types of grapes to make the different varieties of wine. Unfortunately, at this stage in the season they all look small and green, but entire blocks were organized around a particular type. Whenever we switched working from one block to another, we had to change our gloves to prevent the possibility of disease spreading among the varieties. This was especially crucial because they are organic growers and can’t simply spray pesticide whenever an issue pops up (although there are natural alternatives). The most common illness is powdery mildew, which is why the sheep to eat the bottom leaves and allow the moisture to dry from the grapes after a good rain. It’s important to keep those things under control when you’re relying on your grapes to produce 40,000 bottles of wine per season!

While we were there, we had the pleasure of spending the holidays on a vineyard with Anya, Marie, and Ellen. The Allen family was nice enough to buy us plenty of food, a small present to open Christmas morning (spoiler alert: it’s a keychain), and even a tree! They went out of town as a family, but we spent the day cooking and baking delicious pecan pie and Christmas cookies. The wine helped our creativity. 😉 It was certainly different to be away from home for each of us for the first time, but we spent the day in good company making new Christmas traditions.

G: We also had a great time ringing in the New Year with the family present this time. Another opportunity for wine tasting! Wayne taught us the proper way to taste a wine, which involves letting in a bit of air as you sip to open up your taste buds.

B: I usually just chug it!

G: Anyways…a few days into the new year my best friend from back home, Carrie, came to visit and we embarked on a real journey to see what New Zealand has to offer!

B and G, sittin in a tree...

B and G, sittin in a tree…