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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Beginning Vintage

My second week working in Gisborne felt a bit more comfortable, and I was beginning to truly prepare for vintage. Since the winery produces such a large quantity of wine, there are five full-time winemakers employed at the facility. Each winemaker is in charge of specific brands or programs at the facility. For vintage, I have been employed to manage the inoculation programs and coordinate with each winemaker to ensure that proper specifications of each lot of grapes are met. After reading and studying all the information provided and receiving some training from the other winemakers, I felt relatively well prepared once the first grapes of vintage arrived on Thursday the 19th. The winery received just under a 100 tonnes of Chardonnay, and was able to assess its new grape reception setup in action. After working at two other facilities, I was quite interested to see Montana's equipment and how it compared to what I've been accustomed to operating.Above shows the container and auger used to feed the newly received grapes into the destemmer/crusher. The first picture shows the reception container, which has a capacity of approximately 10 tons, before its hydraulic arms rotate it upwards to evenly distribute the grapes into the auger at the top of the container. The second picture shows this movement and how it feeds into the destemmer/crusher on the left side of the picture. From there, the grapes travel through the must lines into one of six bladder presses. The first picture below shows all six presses, while the second shows one of the two new Della Toffola presses and the conveyor that transfers pomace (skins and seeds left after pressing off the juice) over the wall to the dumpsite. From there, the pomace is taken to off-site for composting before it is returned to the vineyards. A meeting on Friday declared that harvest would begin in earnest Tuesday the 24th, giving most employees their last weekend off for several weeks. Since the first lot of grapes needed to be inoculated on Saturday, several people still had to come in to work. Since I'm in charge of inoculations, I decided I should work Saturday morning to ensure all went well. I also wanted to see the yeast hydrator, shown below, in action. The yeast hydrator basically replaces the need for hand-preparation of yeast and start nutrients in buckets by automatically adding nutrients and yeast as dictated by settings entered by the operator. It also measures and regulates the set temperatures required for rehydration and inoculation.After a few hours of preparing for the following week, I headed home to try and catch some surf and enjoy my last weekend off. Thanks for all the e-mails and comments sent, please stay in touch and stay well.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Arriving in Gisborne

I landed in Gisborne around noon time on Sunday the 8th after getting maybe 2 hours of sleep in 30 hours. I was met by the winery's senior winemaker, Brent, who had kindly offered to let me stay at his house until I found a place of my own. We threw my bags in his car and took a short tour of the area. Gisborne is a relatively small town and reminds me quite a bit of home in San Luis Obispo. We drove past the winery, a couple of beaches, and up the main street in town, Gladstone Road. Then, we headed Northeast on Highway 2 to the Ormond area, where Brent's house is located. Slowly winding out of town took us straight through several vineyards, orchards, and farms. Abutting Brent's home is a Gewurztraminer vineyard held by James Milton, a well-known winemaker in the region.The center of town is built adjacent to the confluence of the Taruheru, the Turanganui, and the Waimata Rivers, which feed into Gisborne Harbor. The town spreads out from here across the alluvial plains, which has led to the thriving agricultural industry. Gisborne is home to several different crops, including avocadoes, tomatoes, stone fruits, apples, various vegetables, and of course, wine grapes.
I awoke early on the 9th for my first day of work. Brent and I arrived around 8 and I was introduced to the winemaking team and given a tour of the facility. Montana's Gisborne winery is really three facilities operating together, with one slowly being decommissioned. After all the introductions, the tour, and a broad discussion of the overall production process of the winery, I was setup at my computer to begin familiarizing myself with the software programs needed to properly complete my job. Quickly, the other winemakers had covered my desk with papers, covering all the production process but focusing on my position as the yeast winemaker. By the end of my first week, I had become relatively comfortable with how the winery operates and was excited for vintage to begin. During my first week, Brent's family was more than accommodating, and I enjoyed spending my evenings with him, his wife Amanda, and their two children, Neo and Bick. Still, I didn't want to overstay my welcome.Despite it's typical negate connotation, I moved into my new home on Friday the 13th (shown above). The house is situated in the small community of Okitu just East of town about 7 kilometers (4.4 miles). I spent the weekend getting situated and getting to know my new flatmates, Peter and Mark. Peter is a real estate agent in town and the house's owner, while Mark is a personal chef for a wealthy family. After a week of poor surf and lots of work, I was finally able to paddle out on Saturday for my first surf since my arrival. The waves weren't the best, but I could see the potential. One benefit of my new home is the proximity to the beach. Directly across the street lies one of the better surf spots in town, Pines (the picture below was taken from my front porch and shows the spot's namesake), and several other well-known spots, including Makarori Point and Stock Route, are just around the corner.


I awoke early Thursday morning frothing for more waves, and was pleasantly surprised when I took a step outside to find the swell had picked up a bit, with head and half to double overhead high waves rolling through. I rousted Russell and Alex, and we made the paddle out to Jire’s since Peter wasn't around to drive us. There were already five surfers in the lineup, but there were plenty of waves for everybody. I was glad that I'd brought my 6'4" out since it was pretty heavy. The five others were all Australians and were staying at Maninoa Surf Camp, what seems to be an overpriced and overcrowded option. We chatted with them about the surf and everybody was stoked, getting lots of waves. They decided they'd been out long enough and that the tide was getting too low for comfort, so they headed for their boat and left the three of us to ourselves. A few minutes later, I found myself sitting pretty deep when one of the bigger sets came. I thought I'd taken off too deep but I decided to just pull in and drive for the shoulder. The wave spit me out maybe five feet from the dry reef on the inside. I paddled out and watched Alex and Russell both get good ones as well. An hour or so later, I found myself in a similar position. I dropped in and started driving for the shoulder, but got slammed by the lip. I came up in the impact zone with three feet of board attached to my leash. Bummed.

I started the fifteen minute paddle to shore, hugging along the reef inside the break to see if I could find the rest of my board. After a few minutes, I finally spotted it floating 300 meters inside the break and up the other side of the lagoon. I paddled over and grabbed my boar'ds nose and proceeded the rest of the way in. Coming back up the beach, all the kids lined the beach to watch me walk past. After a late breakfast, the winds came up rather fiercely and blew out the surf. We spent the rest of the day relaxing, snorkeling, and exploring up the coast West of Sina PJ's.

Friday the 7th saw surf similar to Wednesday. Russell and I paddled out early (I was on my 5'10") and found even more surfers from Maninoa (maybe 12?) Luckily, they only stayed out for a half hour or so before they left us to ourselves. We were able to get some great surf and stayed out for several hours before the tide got too low. After a late breakfast, we made our way to Togitogiga Falls, located in the Pupu-Pue National Park just a few kilometers from Tafitoala.

We made our way out to the river and soon found two waterfalls connecting large pools of cool fresh water. We were surprised to find that no one else was there, but we weren't disappointed spending the afternoon jumping off the rocks, swimming, and relaxing. It was a nice way to cool down in the hot, humid midday sun. We met the taxi, which delivered us back to Sina PJ's just in time for the evening glass-off. We all paddled back out to Jire's (Peter didn't want to drive us out, again) were we found a handful of Maninoa surfers in similar conditions to the morning. We surfed until it was too dark to see, getting some great waves. We tentatively made our way back to shore by the moonlight and I enjoyed my last night in Samoa with a great meal.Since I had to leave for the airport at 130 in the morning, I packed and stayed up through the night to meet the taxi, which arrived closer to 2. I made it through the airport with no problems and got on the plane for the four hour flight to Auckland, where I waited a few hours before I caught my flight to Gisborne, my final destination. Check back for the next post on New Zealand coming soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Off to Samoa

Leaving San Luis Obispo behind was harder than I expected. Over the four and a half years I've lived there, so much has changed that I know a lot will be different when I return. I packed my belongings and said my goodbyes (sorry to those of you I didn't get a chance to see) and was on my way to San Diego to spend a few days with friends and family there before I took off. Before I knew it, I was on the way to the airport ready to begin my journey.

My first stop was only for a few hours in Los Angeles before I boarded my plane for Samoa. I found myself sitting next to very friendly but very large Samoan woman for my eleven hour flight. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most comfortable flight I’ve been on since about five or six inches of my seat were not available. I arrived in Samoa on the 4th of February at bout five in the morning. The warm, humid air smelled sweet as I exited the plane. I found my surfboards and bag relatively quickly and was on my way out the door before I was grabbed by a security guard. He guided me through the airport to a separate area where he told me the dogs liked my bag and asked me if I liked rocks. After spreading all my clothes and belongings out on the table, including pulling my surfboards out of my boardbag, he was satisfied and showed me to a taxi. After a bit of negotiation, we were off for Tafitoala to Sina PJ’s Beach Fales. The hour long drive winded around the eastern coast and I got my first glimpse of the beautiful countryside of Samoa. I was surprised by the amount of stray dogs roaming alongside the small, two-lane street that was lined with trash. For some reason, most Samoans don't seem to care much about litering, even in such a pristine place. When I arrived at Sina PJ's, I was greeted by Malae, Natina, and several of their children (Sina and PJ are two of the five).

Malae is the village chief and has spent his whole life in the small village. The fales are located right on the beach, with water lapping up the shore less than twenty feet from the fales' porches (above is my fale and below is the view from its porch). After settling in a bit, I strolled up and down the beach for a bit before I met the other two guests, Alex and Russell, two Australians from Sydney (hey guys). They said the surf had been pretty good the last few days directly out in front of the fales at an unnamed reef, which I dubbed Jire’s (after Malae’s third child). Most of the breaks in Samoa, particularly on the south coast of Upolu, are outer reef breaks which take either a significant paddle or a boat ride to reach (thus no surf pictures on here). Most surfers who travel here opt to stay at one of several surf camps, which I believe are all run by Australians or Americans, because they have boats and surf guides. I found it odd that many of the surfers ended up at the same surf break that we did.After breakfast, the three of us were shuttled out to Jire’s by Peter, an ex-pat Kiwi (New Zealander) who now lives in the small village. We were greeted by head high waves with offshore winds and no one out. I was the first in the water. Stoked! We surfed for almost three hours before we were joined by two other surfers from a commercialized surf camp, and shortly after by four more. After we surfed for an hour or so longer, we decided we’d had enough and caught the boat back to shore. The rest of the day was spent snorkeling right out in front of the fales in the deep water channel, which was teeming with sealife including at least ten different types of corral and dozens of tropical fish. We headed in to have a delicious dinner prepared by Natina before we settled down to enjoy a few Vailima Samoan Lager beers. Natina prepared three meals a day for us, including taro, chicken, and fresh caught tuna. Every meal had delicious fresh fruit accompanying it, and usually some sort of coconut cream sauce.