Our Rent-A-Row experience started in 2013 with only a handful of Citizens learning how to make wine. It grew to 17 groups in 2016; then came articles in The Age, Weekly Times and Broadsheet in May 2016. Our Citizens grew to over 90 groups for the 2017 harvest, including a number of returning Citizens. Harvest started almost a full month later than last year, with the first groups arriving on Labour Day weekend.
What changed with growing to 17 groups in 2016 was that harvest became an extremely social activity, with an infectious culture around the winemaking where participants and their friends laughed, learnt and helped each other in making their own batches of wine. This trend continued in 2017 with a wide mix of participants, each bringing their friends & family to help with the winemaking and to share the experience. With increased numbers and a great atmosphere, we were able to organise lunch on all weekends (involving sausage sizzles and tacos). It was great to see so many citizens returning for their second vintage, a testament to the quality of our Rent-A-Row wines. This years Rent-A-Row has exceeded even our own expectations and we look forward to seeing the rest of the year unfold and building towards another great harvest for Rent-A-Row in 2018.
“Everybody helps everybody else as we learn what we are doing and at the end of the day it really does feel like a group of strangers did turn into a real community of winemakers.” – Lexi, one of our citizens writing on her blog, No Eyed Deer
After a cuppa and a chat, our Citizens departed to the vineyard. Some groups took a tractor with a trailer on the back, some were able to use our old Bedford. President Brian directed everyone on the best way to cut the bunches (keeping fingers out of the way!), and explained the details of growing great grapes: micro-drip irrigation, vertical shoot positioning, why small berries are best, the effect of a cooler summer. We maintain that good wine starts from the vineyard and our Citizens experience this first hand(-picked).
After ensuring no one lost any fingers, Brian brought the Citizens back to the Cellar Door for lunch. We had a variety of different lunch options over harvest, including traditional sausage sizzles and food trucks. After bellies were full and wine and beer were sampled, it was time to head to the Crush Pad. President-Elect Spencer & Secretary of State Janet took over to guide everyone through using the crusher-destemmer to begin their winemaking. The hand-cranked machines turned the freshly picked bunches of grapes into a juice & grape skin mixture called must. Then the traditional stomping of the grapes provided a lot of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities. Spencer explained how the acidic nature of the must reduces the chance of bacteria growth, especially those added from the stomping!
A week after the Citizens picked and crushed their grapes, they came back to press off using a basket press. We all tasted the partially fermented free run wine and compared it to the wine from the pressings, blending the two styles into the Citizen’s demijohns.
Behind The Scenes
Spencer and Janet were busy after the Citizens went home. From hand plunging the fermented wines three times daily; to adding potassium metabisulphite and pectin enzyme the first day, inoculated yeast the second day, testing the pH levels and adjusting with tartaric acid where necessary and finally adding malolactic bacteria before pressing to start the secondary fermentation.
Over the four weekends we had a couple of hundred Citizens through our winery & cellar door. It was a great community atmosphere, and we’re looking forward to having everyone back in June. The next step will start Queen’s Birthday Weekend during Heathcote On Show and continuing throughout June and July. We’ll rack (transfer) the wines into another demijohn, leaving the lees (dead yeast sediment), taste the wine, add oak and prune the vines. For Heathcote on Show we will have American, live music, 5 craft beer taps over 2 bars (a pop-up bar in the Beer Garden) and the launch of our 2015 Shiraz.
Keep your eye out for news from the Shiraz Republic and have a look at the photos in the gallery below.
Interested in a Rent-A-Row Winemaking Package? It makes a great gift for a birthday, anniversary or Christmas present or buy it for yourself and experience the fun of the vineyard, without the hard work. Learn more.