It’s mid morning when I arrive at 919 Wines cellar door and vineyard in Glossop. Pickers from the Berri Zion Lutheran Church have been collecting this seasons muscat since sunrise. Not growing up in the Riverland, I haven’t experienced or made ‘harvest’ memories that many locals have. Today I am going to change that, as I am ready to pick my first ever grapes off vines, even if it is a dismal amount compared to my fellow harvesters.
I am met by Jenny, one part of the 919 wines equation, and led into the vineyard to get a crash course in picking muscat. The juicy and plump bunches of grapes are perfect for their delicious rose coloured fortified but there are a few bunches that couldn’t beat the heat and are a bit sunburnt and dried. These ones are better suited to a cheese plate, or to be popped straight into the mouth while moving along the vines.
While gently squeezing bunches of muscat (and occasionally popping a sunburnt grape in my mouth) I learn more about the wine I enjoy to drink and the cellar door I love to visit. Jenny and Eric Semmler strive to produce wines that reflect and represent the Riverland and the uniqueness of our climate and soil. This respect for the land and desire to produce honest and sustainable wines has lead them to become a certified organic vineyard and winery.
I chatter away with Jenny and the other morning pickers, we move along the rows quickly, many hands making light work. A little blue tractor chugs down the rows picking up the full buckets of muscat we have left behind, waiting patiently to go to the crusher.
In the orchard only the sounds of the morning breeze, magpie families having a turf war, and the faint sound of the grape crusher causing some early morning headaches can be heard. Jenny takes me over to the cellar door, my harvesting stint over for now, to see what happens to the muscat grapes shortly after they are plucked from their vines.
Eric is busy investigating the cause of the crushers clunks and bumps and I peer into a large barrel where a mountain burst muscat grapes and their juice sit. Spat out from the crusher’s elephant trunk like hose, ready to begin fermentation.
Jenny offers me a tasting of the freshly crushed muscat juice and I expect a dry savoury flavour. I have a feint memory of trying a shiraz grape off the vine and it not being overly pleasant. I lift the glass to my nose, not much aroma to this juice, probably should have gone straight in for the swig. When I do, I am surprised by the sweet taste of a juice that I would have with my morning breakfast!
Jenny tells me that this is in fact used in grape juice you see in the shops. Well I’ll be!
I get the grand tour of the little cellar door that is constructed out of hay bales which helps keep the temperature stable. Out the back is a dark room where the sweet scent of fortifieds seeps from their barrels. There is a mad scientists lab, or should I say “mad-ly in love with the complexities of wine” scientists bench.In the main tasting room the barrels of wine are stacked to the ceiling, all marked with and identifying code, creating conversation, enabling Eric and Jenny to interact wholly with their guests.
In between preparing morning tea for the pickers, Jenny runs me through my own private tasting where I am surprised for the second time that month by the bold and unique flavours of a Riverland Petit Manseng. If I was blindfolded while tasting, which could be rather messy, I would have guessed it as a Chardonnay.
My wine adventurism has grown in the last six months, from having a “I won’t try that weirdly named wine” to “I’ll try anything with a name I can’t pronounce” type of attitude. You know what, they have all tasted great, the Riverland is producing fantastic varieties that are made for our region!
It’s as Missy Higgins sung it in her 2004 hit “Scar”
A triangle trying to squeeze through a circle, He tried to cut me so I’d fit
These “alternative” varieties are so well suited to our region, maybe it’s time for Riverland wine to be known for more than just wine in a box and become well know for producing the best Mediterranean varieties in the State. Maybe we are already on that path and I just don’t know it!
I continue to taste the wonderfully exotic named wines in the 919 range as Jenny waits patiently to see what bogan term comes out of my wine vocabulary next. I use “earthy and buttery” to describe how my tongue responds to the Touriga, a variety from Portugal. Jenny uses savoury and spicy, just as eloquent descriptors as mine, but neither is a wrong answer.
Jenny doesn’t have a favourite wine, that they are all like children. Her taste in wine changing with the seasons, a bit like mine does. She likes to let the taster go on their own journey, discovering wine, there is no judgement in the humble cellar door, just lovers of wine and good conversation.
I think 919 Wines cellar door is a must visit when in the Riverland. This is because you have the chance to learn more about wine, the Riverland and the passion behind the brand- the people. How many cellar doors have you been to where you get that personal experience? At 919 Wines you can genuinely connect with your fellow tasters and the people guiding you through the mine field of strange wine names and tasting notes.
As I pull away from the cellar door, the heat of the day beginning to rise, I am excited to share a bottle of Touriga with my friends over the weekend. To me, it is not just another bottle of wine, it is a wine that holds a story about the soil, water, blood, sweat and tears. A reminder of an experience where I have connected with other passionate Riverlanders who are striving to raise the underdog wine region up to where all can see.