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The real vineyard work lowdown
Having worked for 2 years towards coming to New Zealand, I thought I had enough money to last me a couple of months before I had to look for work. I was very wrong! When my friend and I arrived in Auckland, we were disappointed. Not that Auckland is a horrible city, but we’d just been (more than) slightly delusional to think that all of New Zealand would be like a spread from a National Geographic “Real Natural Beauty” edition. And it wasn’t; it was just a city like anywhere else. We had both completely underestimated the jetlag, I don’t think either of us realised until two weeks or so after landing, just what an effect it had had on us. We decided after a couple of days roaming the streets of Auckland to head up to the Bay of Islands. Sadly, we’d booked for 2 weeks at Base Auckland, and could only get Base vouchers for their other hostels. Paihia was nice, overhyped but nice and pretty and we happily frittered our money away on fudge and ice creams and sky dives (Definitely recommended, although try not to pass out like I did!) Two weeks later, we returned to Auckland, nearly penniless and desperate for work. By chance we saw an advertisement online for vineyard work in Blenheim. This was Friday, we contacted the man (Swampy, owner of Swampy’s Backpackers, Spring Creek) who said we had to be there by Sunday at the latest. We jumped on a 12 hour bus to Wellington the next morning and were in Spring Creek but mid morning on Sunday. There were various people starting on Monday with us, and all the information we could find was “It’s very hard!” Informative. The real blow came when we learnt we were starting at 6am! 6am! I hadn’t even had to get up for school at 6am! But we bit the bullet, and at 5.15am the alarm woke us, bleary eyed and dreading what was to come. It was raining! Pelting, soaking rain! But our little posse, (us two Brits, 3 Czechs and a German) braved the storm and drove to the railway station where we were told to meet our employer. He was there in his truck, waiting to tell us to “Go home, we’ll try again in a couple of hours when it’s not raining.” Brilliant! By the time we were back in our warm beds, he text to say the rain had stopped, time for work! It wasn’t that bad. We were wire lifting; As self explanatory as it sounds. Involving lifting metal wires along rows to raise the vines so that the grapes have room to grow. Some people are paid per post (anything from 3c to 12c a post) but we were on hourly, around $13.80. Which wasn’t brilliant but at least we could potter along at our own pace, and as it was nearly always sweltering, that was a definite bonus! Although we started at 6am, we finished between 2 and 3 pm, so we were back at the hostel before anyone else took over the kitchen and it gave us a lot more time to relax and do washing etc. Now wire lifting was fairly easy, but bud rubbing nearly broke us. 10 of us spent 2 days on one block, doing the dreaded bud rubbing. If you’re on contract it’s supposed to be easier, as you’re more motivated to move forward. Hourly, we must have looked ridiculous. Bud rubbing involved rubbing off the lower growth on the vines, which means being bent double the entire time. By morning break (10am) we were like old hags, groaning and aching. The following morning I felt surprisingly good, until I jumped out of bed and my legs buckled beneath me! After a month working for those contractors, we felt we had enough money and they had run out of work so we were jobless, but wealthy! However, we stayed at Swampy’s for 3 weeks over Christmas, that was 3 weeks of rent ($130 p/w) boozing and Christmas based cooking and presents! We were poor again! Having vowed never to work on a vineyard again we were forced to go back. This time for different contractors; wire lifting was finished by now so we were “ripping and tucking” – pulling off low hanging canes on the vines or tucking them under the wires if they had grapes on them; “second setting” – cutting off the second set of grapes which don’t ripen on time for the harvest and make the wine sour; “fruit thinning” – taking off excess bunches of grapes so that they ripen on time and the vineyard doesn’t go over it’s quota for that variety of grape; “colour thinning” – removing still green, unripened grapes from the ripened ones and “net clipping” – fastening long black or white nets around the vines with tiny plastic clips to prevent the birds eating the fruit. All in all, not very exciting work, we varied from contract for the ripping and tucking, and hourly for the rest ($13 p/h after tax) some days go quickly, when it’s not to hot and the work’s quite fast, other days when it’s sticky and sweltering and you take 3 hours to do a row make a day feel a week long. There’s something rewarding about it though, in the end. I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I feel proud that I managed to work for such long hours for 3 months in total. However, I’m still in New Zealand, and I’m still dog poor, so the vineyards may be calling again…
Submitted by: Holly Snowden, Wales UK Date submitted: 11/03/2011 9:46:29 p.m.