Saturday, February 24, 2007

Welcome to Marlborough Count(r)y

Picking up somewhere after the car accident… I arrived in Blenheim – population 24,000 – and was taken to our house. It’s not a bad place; completely furnished, near town center. I’ve got two roommates. Gielie is a South African, married, and very tidy. Alister is Mexican-English, no where near married and likes to throw things at Gielie. They’re both about 30, and they’re both better than most of my past roommates.

east side of Blenheim; vines

I’m working at a winery in Marlborough County, which is the northeast corner of the south island. Our wine is widely available in the states, so if you’re interested in a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, give it a try. The winery is incredible. It’s basically the opposite of where I worked in France – clean, efficient and enormous. There’s a labyrinth of stainless steel pipes that run for miles connecting our hundreds of tanks – the largest of which are about 43,000 gallons (we have 60 of those).

Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, has his personal aviation museum just outside of town. We’re about 10 miles from Cook Strait, which separates the north and south islands. I can see the north island from the hills south of town. Those hills remind me a lot of the front range of Colorado – brown, dry and grassy, eventually rising into the Southern Alps. To the north lie the coastal ranges – verdant, wet, tropical. Trees are farmed and the “forest” grows in rows. These mountains are the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds, a string of islands that look a lot like southeast Alaska. I live between the two sets of mountains, down with the grapes.

My first full weekend in town coincided with the largest event of the year in Marlborough, the Wine and Food Festival. On that Saturday morning, a few guys from work had a champagne breakfast before the festival. We grilled bacon, eggs and scallops and drank cheap champagne before leaving for the festival. Many wineries in the area were present and the live music kept everyone awake.

43,000 gallon tanks

It’s really nice to not live where I work, and to work for someone I trust. There’s also a sense of security that comes with understanding the language and being an employee of a large corporation. They helped me get a bank account, and I’ve already received my first paycheck. Right now there’re about 20 of us working in the cellar. In the next 3 weeks, that number will grow to 50 in anticipation of the harvest. During that time, we’ll work 12-hour shifts 6 or 7 days a week. The winery will operate 24 hours a day. Midway through the harvest, we’ll switch shifts; from night to day and vice versa. But right now, we work a 45-hour week, Monday through Friday.

Yes, there are a lot of sheep (11:4, sheep:people). They’re in the parks in Auckland, they’re in the hills near Blenheim. They walk on the roads, they poop in the parks. Last week on a run, I actually had to help one that got stuck in a fence (not really).

the "press gallery" (above and below)

No where to go from there, so I’ll wait for something more exciting to happen before another post…


Jon Boy said...

Looks like the brewery in FoCo. What are those 1500 gallon tanks?

You'll have to help me set up my own back yard winery if/when you ever get back to the states.

Mike Flick said...

I would totally quit my job when you get back to start a winery! That sounds way more exciting and interesting than the crap I'm doing now!