You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Visiting vineyards and wineries is part of that understanding, while taking part in the harvest drills down another layer in that knowledge.
Gareth King, viticulturist at Felton Road Wines, has badgered me for a few years to come up and join in with harvest. Earlier this year, a window of opportunity finally presented itself, and with the scoreline ''sore backs 1-Mark 0'' flashing through my mind, I set off for a few days' honest toil.
For the uninitiated, the numbers of people involved may come as a surprise, with Felton Road Wines having increased the number of pickers to more effectively target its picking windows; however, it's the workings of the whole that combine to form a well-oiled team.
Having been instructed by Gareth, the picking crew go out into the rows, picking into small grape bins. They are the first line in quality control, discarding any substandard bunches affected by bird peck or botrytis.
Behind them come two pairs of gator and trailer; the driver and lifter alternating roles as one drives along the picked rows, the second stacking the grape bins on to the trailer. The grapes are taken to a staging area where large bins are waiting on a trailer.
The grapes are tipped on to screens, two experienced pickers sorting and discarding substandard or under-ripe second-set bunches overlooked by the pickers. The empty bins are returned to the rows ahead of the pickers.
Simultaneously, random picking bins are weighed and bunch numbers counted, in order to give average bunch weights for each grape variety, clone and vineyard block. This information, collected over many years, is looking at the impact that each year's climate and viticultural decisions have on the final crop.
The full grape bins are then taken to the winery, the forklift loading them on to another large grape screen, where a final quality check is made before they drop into the destemmer/crusher, the juice running into fermentation vessels.
Behind all this, tractor drivers are moving equipment around the vineyard, others prepare morning and afternoon teas to keep the team well fuelled and the ''water boy'' (yours truly did a stint) does runs along the rows to keep the pickers hydrated.
Finally, with picking done for the day, the pickers head home, but for the permanent crew there is still work to be done. All the picking bins need to be hosed down and cleaned, with the small bins taken back out to the vineyard for the following morning's pick.
Equipment is cleaned and checked, pruners sharpened and a myriad of other jobs ticked off. Finally, as FRW is a biodynamic producer, the grape marc (skins, stalks, pips, etc) is taken away to be composted, after which the marc is returned to its own vineyard and the compost returned to the soil in the future.
With the darkness gathering, there may be a cleansing ale, or a wine options game, before everyone heads home, ready to start it all again the next day.
Here are some rieslings from one of FRW's near neighbours.
Rating: Very good to excellent
An intriguing sweet and sour note leads, moving to smokers lollies, musk herbs and dried hay/wet wool. Bracing palate, real zing highlighting grapefruit, mandarin and honey, flowing to a racy finish that’s drier than you might expect.
This fattens up with aeration, fruit sweet yet just off dry: an intense counterpoint between the honeyed richness and acidity, and really grows on me.
Rating: Very good to excellent
Subtly attractive nose; delicacy here with hints of flowers, apple citrus and wax. Driven by powerful acidity, the palate offers up Granny Smith apple, citrus and a minerally note like water running over river stones, the flavours carrying nicely to the close. Youthful and definitely dry with a sweet and sour zestiness.
This one doesn’t flash its charms but is quietly beguiling.
Rating: Excellent to outstanding
Smoke, musk and honey, herb and citrus with time. Luscious texturally yet with a brightness too. Apple, honey and citrus notes, shifting from lemon to lime with straw also. Delightful purity and length; for all its richness there is lightness too, the acidity giving real vigour and liveliness. Not at all super sweet. Spot on with balance and integration.