From picking to stomping to eating and drinking, Picking Day at Glandore Estate in the Hunter Valley gives you a fascinating insight into what it’s like to work a vintage at a winery. Here’s what happens in the vines.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to jump in a barrel of wine grapes and stomp them into juice? To feel those little rotund globes full of wine potential pop beneath your toes?
It’s just one little part of the most vital day of the year in the winemaking world. It’s a day that makes vintners simultaneously shudder with worry and blush with glee.
Pick the grapes too soon, they’re under-ripe. Pick them too late and they’re too sweet or they’ve spoiled.
Then there’s the weather. Too hot, too cold, too rainy, too dry… it all matters around vintage time.
And never say the word ‘hail’ in earshot of a winemaker.
But the possible outcomes of a good vintage create the driving force that keep winemakers going.
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about these elements. We are, after all, mere humble pickers.
All we have to worry about is finding the grapes, filling our buckets and not taking a finger off with each bunch of Chardonnay we harvest.
Picking Day at Glandore Estate, Hunter Valley
I’m not going to lie, it’s an early start. Even though we’re staying at the Chateau Elan – only a 10-minute drive away – it’s a slog to get to Glandore’s cellar door for the 6.30am kickoff.
But it’s an incentivised start.
We arrive to good coffee, even better bacon rolls and a welcoming registration where we collect our commemorative picker’s shirt for the vintage and a team name (more about that later).
There’s a sparkle in every sleepy eye of our fellow pickers as they mingle at the winery cellar door. The morning air is full of excited energy.
Picking the grapes
This year, our 120-strong crew of eager well-caffeinated pickers is harvesting Chardonnay grapes for Glandore’s blanc de blanc sparkling wine, but this changes every vintage.
This is because the owner-winemakers Duane Roy and Nick Flanagan have to choose a day quite a way in advance so their Cellarhand Wine Club members can book their tickets early.
There’s no way of knowing which grapes will be ready on that day until the last minute.
But we all march cheerful yet earnest into the vines, snippers and white buckets in hand, ready to hunt out every grape we can find.
Working our way down the rows, we soon realise it’s not a care-free flitting amongst the vines kind of occasion. Everyone’s working steadfast up to their shoulders in vines, clambering into the greenery, wrestling great juicy bundles of grapes and filling their buckets like they’re bailing out a sinking ship.
Runners heave pails piled high with grapes down to the waiting tractor and pitch a steady flow of Chardonnay into the trailer.
The sun climbs higher along with the mercury.
We’re now hardened pickers; feet planted firmly, backs bent and snippers rapacious. Bunch after bunch fill our white tubs and the surprise at finding a huge boon of grapes in just one spot is a surprise no longer.
We can almost sense where the next grape-rich vein will be in the vines.
The winery dogs – Nutmeg, Oreo, Sunny and lovely three-legged Phoebe – once busy bounding around, weaving between us and enjoying the day, have now sought shade in the heavy foliage. Smart move.
But soon it’s all over, and with the shouts of ‘bucket!’ still ringing in our ears, we leave the vineyards and make our way back to the homestead.
Morning tea and fun
Waiting for us is a spread of delicious refreshments—from chicken wraps to hot cross buns to jam tarts and watermelon. And of course a glass of Glandore sparkling.
Meanwhile, the grapes are scooped and shovelled into presses, where they’re squeezed and crushed ready for their new life as wine.
But not all of them.
Some are still in their containers from the vineyards, and we take it in turns to leap in (after a foot wash) and stomp those little green orbs until the juice squirts between our toes. It’s a unique sensation.
After everyone’s had a go at stomping, we make our way round the back of the barn to Glandore’s ranch-style bar and bocce course. It’s time for those team names to come into play.
Beer and wine flow freely, and the shiny metal bocce balls fly high. It’s a knock-out competition, where the winning team of two takes home a dozen bottles. We make it into the third round then let others have a go.
Yes, fine. That means we lost. More time for wine!
Lunch is served
The day culminates in a remarkable four-course banquette amongst the barrels in the wine shed surrounded by huge steel fermenters and racks of wooden barrels.
Down long tables, first one course then another covers the runners.
Fresh sourdough and soft, salty butter, Mooloolaba king prawns with tahini yoghurt, pomegranate and sumak, terrines of quail, duck and pickled walnut, buffalo mozzarella and fresh white anchovies… it’s delicious.
And served with as much of Glandore’s Black Label Semillon and their Regional Series Nebbiolo as you want.
But next comes the extraordinary slow-roast suckling pig with a fig relish. Sides of roast pumpkin, caramelly red onion, crunchy chat potatoes, and a honey and hazelnut praline.
It’s a magnificent course, paired perfectly with Black Label DPJ Chardonnay and the winery’s Regional Hunter Valley Shiraz.
Finally, the cheese platter arrives, stacked with smoked cheddar, aged manchego and a gooey Binnorie brie with plenty of lavosh crackers, quince and, of course, grapes.
With this final round of food, we’re treated to the Black Label Hamish Shiraz and the Ginger Rose Shiraz Viognier.
What a feast for tired pickers!
This experience is the event of the season and something truly unique to do. It’s family-friendly, though make sure you’re ready to work. There’s no room for slackers in the picking crew!
And while it’s an event that’s open to all, Glandore Cellarhands Wine Club members get discounted early-bird tickets to the Picking Day. So sign up here so you don’t miss out.
As a Cellarhand member, you also get first dibs and special prices on tickets to the Burning of the Barrel event at the annual Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival at the end of June as well as all sorts of great wine deals.
But you also come away from the picking day with a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment. It’s a remarkable thing, and sure reason why members come back for vintage at Glandore year after year.