Competition – Ed Verrill

Ed Verrill writes, ‘Having spent a few years working in London wine bars while simultaneously working towards my WSET Diploma, I decided to look into the steps that lead to getting the liquid in the bottle. After a few furtive emails flung out across the world, an application to as a cellar hand was successful and just a few months later I found myself on a plane to Australia. Having been blown away by life in a winery I’m now looking to study winemaking either here in Australia or somewhere closer to home.’ His (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition follows. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste wines that have blown my mind. I’ve sipped the stuff in some of the stunning locations in which it has been grown. I’ve toured wineries that are mind-blowingly meticulous in that eye for detail and above all quality. through all of this I’ve witnessed that magical sense of the puzzle pieces of place, people and process fitting seamlessly together, the lightbulb moment that strikes you with awe, enchanted by the combination of sunlight and soil in a glass, but it was the simplest moment of relief during which I fell to the fathomless depths of infatuation with it.

“Ah mate! Sarah’s done such a good job of this..”

We were both crouched on our knees inspecting the inside of the press by iPhone light. It was the first time I’d been inside a press, but judging by the amount of matter I expected to pass through it over the next couple of months, I too, was pretty sure that Sarah had indeed done a good job.

And so to the other press... “dude this one’s immaculate...” damn she was good. And so to the de-stemmer, the hoppers, the fermenters and so on and so forth.

I’d never met Sarah but the impression I was fast building up was of a glinting golden child of the winery. Maybe slightly bookish, no doubt more clued in on the gaps where my knowledge was lacking, clearly with a practical side judging by the impression she had made as my predecessor, and, without a shadow of a doubt a keen eye for cleaning.

I had arrived just days before to The Mornington Peninsula, brand-spanking new, un tarnished, box-fresh, creaseless work boots, a sure fire sign of an unbroken rookie, fresh off a last-minute.com booked forklift training course (where said boots and an English accent didn’t do wonders for my fruitless attempts to blend into the group of assembled tradies). I’d been yelled instructions by Dave, our hi-vis clad instructor through a hacked cough and half lit roll-up about keeping my load even and travelling at safe speeds (a week later I was to drop half a tonne of freshly picked top notch Pinot off a forklift onto a winery floor – I, sadly like many others only learn from my own mistakes) and now I was of maximum use (or so I thought) to the winery at which I’d been so dying to work, that I’d downed tools in the UK for, and for which I’d subsequently boarded a one way flight to Australia.

Jump to first week in the winery where everything Sarah had touched had turned to gold.. and, as if teleported back school with the teachers pet, hand raised to the the sky and waiving at me from the year before with that know it all urgency, she started to grate on me.

A few vineyards sampled and raising levels of ripeness heralded in picking dates, and in what felt like no time, brimming bins of juicy clustered grapes had started to arrive. For three weeks it didn’t stop. Our winery team of three was stretched. Trucks arrived, laden with stacks of beautifully plucked bunches kicking up dust on the yard as one turned another rocked up with yet more work. These weeks passed in a daze of processing, pressing, pumping then hosing down and starting again the next day.

The arrival of reds brought with it a Sisyphan punch down routine, twice a day submerging a cap that would miraculously return to its caky dried starting point perfectly in time for my next visit. This was to be fitted in each day around the processing of yet more fruit. Then, with whites in barrel, came digging out fermenters and pressing reds to tank and then barrel.

Claims that: “we’ve never seen a harvest like this” did little to ease the onslaught of activity in the winery and I’d long dispelled notions of lunches in the vines, bung cricket and other mythical winery hijinx. Then finally as an olive branch through the flood. The last fruit bin was mercifully tipped into the destemmer. We held off on the full clean down in case there was “a too-good-to-refuse offer of more fruit” – please no! No more fruit! – but there wasn’t, and within a couple of weeks we’d pressed out all of the reds. The pace of the winery had slowly returned to pre-harvest serenity. No trucks spinning up dust, no whirring press compressors, just the occasional beeping of the forklift putting bits and pieces in their rightful resting place.

Time to clean down. And this is where it hit me, never, until now, had the beauty and intricacy of wine hit me so hard as cleaning down a winery.

Anyone who has done so will know the fantastic ability of grape gunk to find its way to any surface possible. This was painstakingly hosed down and wiped off every day and then there are the seeds. They.. get.. EVERYWHERE! The final piece of kit, and my personal Everest was the destemmer. The most amount of moving parts, nooks and crannies home to all manner of detritus and there was no corner left unscanned. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken so much pride in my work ever. And that was it for me.. that eureka moment.

It was the culmination of weeks of doing, of seeing and watching and learning. Of finally gaining a glimpse behind the curtain. Being backstage and seeing all the moving parts that make the performance in the bottle. And finally, with a cocktail stick in hand I started picking out the most stubborn seeds lodged into the tightest gaps, I considered the moment before harvest when all of this kit had been pulled, pristine from the shed and dusted off ready for action, as I stood in similarly spotless condition. Now I stood there, nackered, dirty, but utterly rapt. With any luck, next year it will be me who admires that deft cleaning handiwork but if it isn’t, I hope they look at it with the same, slightly nervous eyes as I did.

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