Over breakfast with my daughter Imogen, I had to explain that I was not seeing ‘Bindi the Jungle Girl’ but my friend Michael Dhillon, the wine-maker and owner of Bindi Wines who has been having me up there for the last four years to tinker with him in the vineyard and winery.
So off I headed up the Calder Highway, and thankfully towards clearing skies in the west. As I pulled up to the winery, I could not help noticing that the bottling plant, a portable plant, was somewhat bigger this time around. And it was! Not only were we bottling the wine today, but we were also labelling and packaging in one hit.
It is around August each year that Bindi bottle their premium wines. Now this is not a slight on the other Bindi labels are not premium, just these bad-boys spend a little longer in barrels to eek that ‘something special’ out of them.
In previous years, Michael had enlisted family and friends to perform quite a laboured task. With about eight people, we would swap from dropping bottles in to a rinse carousel, transferring them on to a little production line and watch them get filled with wine (most of the time!) and finally hand them over to the bin stackers. Thrilling stuff, hey?
This year Michael contracted a new outfit, three guys with a great big shiny rig with all the flashy bits on it; don’t ask me what they were, they were just flashy OK. And instead of the eightish helpers, there were only five of us, plus Michael’s dad Bill and Wendy his wife.
The morning unfolded without as much as a broken bottle (to come just before the end) and the pallets were steadily filling up. I was swapping with another fellow, Jason, in stacking the pallets and slapping stickers on to boxes so as not to confuse any of the wines; so this is why I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Viticulture. Yet as we had completed another pallet followed quickly by another and another it was becoming starkly apparent that we were going to knock this off in super quick time.
Like I said, everything was going along honky-dory like, and it was while moving another pallet in to the winery that something hit me, this whoft that smacked me right in the chops, and it was gorgeous – musk, perfume and damp earth; the Block 5 Pinot Noir was being bottled. Sexy stuff this one.
Before we knew it there were about 250 dozen neatly stacked bottles of wine all snug in their boxes ready for pick up in the coming weeks. And looking at all of this wine heaped in the winery, a real sense of achievement was shared by all who helped out.
But alas, there was a touch of sadness in all this. One of the chores I looked forward to when I was up to Bindi were the days spent in the winery labelling and packaging the wines when it was either too hot or cold in the vineyard and giggling along to ‘Tenacious D’ singing about naughty stuff – it’s a Kodak moment OK. These days are gone with the wine sitting in quiet idle already.So looking at the pallets stacked up, there was only one thing left – lunch. This year Wendy whipped up a great big pot of meat balls in a tomatoee-olive sauce with some creamy scallop potatoes. This was washed down with a few of the day’s wines with some other vintages thrown in for comparison (and just because they were there, really). It is such a privilege when you can sit there sipping some of Australia’s best wine and listen to people like Stuart Anderson and Michael Dhillon give their impressions on what we are drinking, only to have them ask you what you think of it (I also learnt not to use the descriptor ‘meaty’ when analysing wine, cos there are lots of meat out there). I seriously did not want to head back down the highway.
And so the day came to an end and for my services I was sent off with a bottle each of Block 5 Pinot Noir and Quartz Chardonnay. That is why I finished my degree in Viticulture I guess!