Blog written by Natalie Roos
© Tails of a Mermaid Friday 1st February 2013

I knew that being invited to Avondale’s first day of harvest was a special honour, but I couldn’t have know just how special it would be…

At 04h30 on the morning Friday the 1st of February my alarm woke me for the drive out to Paarl. It was still dark out when we left Cape Town and the sky was just getting light when we drove through the gates of the farm. It was almost eerily quiet as we stretched and yawned after the long drive.

We were in the vineyards just after 6am and the farm was starting to wake up. Friends and neighbours of the farm joined the family and farm workers for the ceremonious morning. Hanging back slightly I, the outsider, was handed a pair of sheers of my own and treated just like the rest of the hands and told not to get any leaves in with the grapes.

The sun was throwing gorgeous purple hues onto the surrounding mountains and tinting the little clouds above us bright pink and orange and all this beauty made it hard to concentrate, but I was adamant that I would be the most helpful harvester of the morning- I was already hoping to be invited back for the special occasion next year.

Echoes of the snip, snip, snipping of the sheers mingled with the voices of the visiting harvesters and created an atmosphere of serene reverie. The smoke from the previous week’s savage fires in the valley still hung low around us and I could tell that everyone felt particularly grateful that there were Chardonnay grapes to harvest at all.

The flashes of red of the Avondale uniforms and the crates of grapes between the stunning bright green of the vines made for gorgeous photographing and I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand for long before I had to snap another picture.

Just after 8am the sun finally rose above the mountains and shot rays of bright yellow through the green all around us. Leaves caught at the right angle were a beautiful, luminous yellow and the heat was rolling in with a surprising heaviness. Lucky for us most of the work had been done and by the time I started to feel too hot the tractors were chugging through us, loading up the crates we’d loaded with grapes.

My arms were sticky up to my elbows and I was regretting allowing my friend Roxanne to talk me into wearing slip slops, but my soul was happy. I suppose that’s what nature does to you. Being out there is the valley with the green and the mountains and the goodwill of everyone who had arrived at the farm to hang out had lifted a bit of the weight that the city can sometimes load onto you.

We all made our way up to the cellar for the blessing of the grapes. The family priest looked regal is his white gown and an air of respect descended upon the congregation as we bowed our heads for the blessing. Embarrassed by the emotion that threatened to spill over, I shut my eyes tighter and bowed my head deeper. The priests words we beautiful and I got so caught up in his blessings of the farm, the family and especially the dedicated farm workers who had tirelessly helped to protect the vines from the fires that I felt blessed too.

After the blessing it was time to load the press. Crate after crate was loaded into the huge metal cylinder and we all chatted while anxiously waiting for the first, beautiful juice to run from the spout. A waterfall of cloudy grape juice came from the press and we each had a turn to hold our little tasting glasses under the flow of juice and taste the fruits of the farm’s labour.

After a breakfast feast with the family and staff, it was time to head back to The Mountain. On the drive back to the city I thought about the challenges of Jonathan’s biodynamic farming practice, and what a noble practice it is. I also thought about the difference in flavour, mouth feel and of course the experience of drinking something like an Avodale Armilla compared to a mass-produced artificially-carbonated bottle of bubbly. And I felt blessed. Not just by the priest, but by the experience. My soul felt lighter as I drove back into the city.