Monthly Archives: February 2013

Life At A Vineyard

Image of grapevines

Yesterday was picking day! Alistair and I woke up before the sun at 6:00 AM to get things ready for the troop of backpackers who would help clip beautiful fruit off the vine. The vines are all covered in white netting to protect the grapes from birds and from a distance it looks like a sea of giant spiderwebs. The early morning dew was thick so we got soaked removing the netting. Once the backpackers arrived, each was given a pair of pruning shears and a bucket and told “Put grapes in here”. Pretty simple. I spent most of the time removing row after row of netting but did a little picking as well. Unfortunately we got rained out and weren’t able to pick the whole lot of red grapes which, incidentally, are going to be turned into white wine (Pinot Gris, one of Blue Gables’ best sellers).

I learned from Alistair that different styles of grapes have to picked at just the right time, or, more accurately, just the right sugar level. He has some contraption that measures the level based on a sample. I was naive and assumed that anyone trying to grow something out of the ground would want as much rain as possible (Al mentioned that it hadn’t rained here since Dec. 8th) but vineyard owners really want control of the water more than quantity. Apparently rain dilutes the sugar content of the grapes so we have to wait a few days to harvest the rest of the Pinot Gris. I also learned the difference between a vineyard and a winery. A vineyard, like Blue Gables, grows the grapes and harvests them at the right time, but doesn’t make the actual wine. A winery does the pressing, fermenting, etc, to make the final product, with input from Al on how it should taste.

The one thing that I’ll remember most out about yesterday is not the dewy, early-morning sunrise, or the lovely purple fruit, or the rain that put and end to our pick. No, I’ll remember the flies. Way back in Sydney I noticed that the flies in Australia are relentless. They’re not like the polite, southern flies we have in Kentucky. These little bastards will not leave you alone, and for some reason they love ears. If you don’t shoo it away immediately it will try to head straight down your ear canal. Walking through a field is an exercise in swatting, slapping, and cursing. I HATE every last one of them!

So that was yesterday. Today I was back on label duty. 😦 I guess my skills are improving because today I did 44 cases in less time than it took me to do 35 cases the other day. That’s 948 bottles total. If I never label another bottle of wine I will die a happy man.

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Week 4 Costs

Week 4 comin’ atcha! A few days in Melbourne with a host found on Airbnb followed by a short HelpX stay.

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Week 3 Costs

I’ve gotten a bit behind on these weekly cost breakdowns. I gotta step up my game.

Week 3 will be a bit different than the previous weeks because I spent half of it with a HelpX host and the other half being a tourist. I also threw in an ER visit just for fun.

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Good People, Good Wine, and Kids With Lots of Energy

It feels like forever since I’ve updated this blog. A lot has been going on and internet access isn’t quite as easy to come by as back home. Where I am, in the eastern part of the state of Victoria, it seems that a lot of people rely on 3G cellphone service for internet access. It works fine, but caps out at 8GB per month, which gets used up pretty quickly. I try to be respectful and not overdo it.

So this week I’m staying with a family of five who run a vineyard called Blue Gables. But before I get to that, let me wrap up my time in Melbourne. I had about four days to fill between the end my Airbnb stay and coming to the vineyard and was lucky enough to find a very cool couple named Simon and Haley on HelpX. They run a native plant nursery about an hour south of where I am now. Simon and Haley were going to be in Melbourne on my last day so it worked out perfectly for me to hitch a ride with them and avoid a $25 train fare. A French traveler named Doris was staying with them so they brought her into the city and she and I explored for most of Wednesday. I really enjoyed having someone else to bum around with, since I’ve been traveling alone this entire time.

I’ve already mentioned a bit about the nursery and Simon’s racetrack. I did get behind the wheel! I was waaaaay slower than Simon but it was still a blast. Shifting a manual transmission with your opposite hand wasn’t bad at all, but I had a few other things (like avoiding trees and ponds) on my mind. I took some cool cockpit videos of Simon driving which I’ll share with you guys when I get back home.

I stayed with Simon and Haley for four days, two of which were on the weekend, so I only worked two days. The work wasn’t exciting but was what needed to get done. Doris and I mainly weeded some “pods” (little tubes of dirt that hold one plant each) and transferred soil from dead plants to a garden bed. The real benefit of staying with HelpX families is being integrated into their lives and meeting friends and family. These experiences, to me, are the reason why you travel. I was fortunate enough to meet wonderful friends of Simon and Haley, Robert and Tony, who are incredibly well-traveled and have great stories to tell. I also met Simon’s parents, who were warm and welcoming and made me feel like part of the family. All of this from complete strangers I found on an internet work exchange website who just ask for a bit of help.

Sunday I got a free ride from Simon and Haley up to Blue Gables vineyard. I knew from the start that this would be a very different experience from the others. For starters, they have three very polite, but very energetic, children; two girls and boy. The kitchen will be spotless before dinner and afterwards it looks like a plague of locusts just came through. It’s quite different than my bachelor life at home! Did you know that some people run the dishwasher every single night? God bless the mom, Catherine.

My hosts at the vineyard require six hours per day, six days per week, which is a fair bit more than I’m used to. My first day consisted of using a benchtop labeling machine to apply labels to wine that was recently bottled. In six hours I labeled 35 cases of wine. That’s 420 bottles. I have achieved expert status at wine bottle labeling.

My view for most of Monday:


Today my work consisted of tinkering with the Blue Gables website, which is more my speed. I spent almost 14 years working in IT but haven’t thought much about my old life in the past six weeks or so. It felt good to sit behind a computer again. You can have a look at their website here. I hope to do some more web work this week and may add a gallery to the site. It’s looking like we’ll harvest grapes early tomorrow to beat the rain so that’ll be an interesting side of things that I’ve never seen. Alistair mentioned that on picking days they recruit up to 10 paid helpers from the local backpackers hostel, which could be a way to meet some cool people from all over the world.

Ok, well the kids are dying for me to play Wii so I’m off!

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“I’m not dead” post

The wifi connection with my current HelpX host seems a bit flaky and I only have 100 MB left on my cellphone data plan so I probably won’t be updating much in the next few days.

I spent four days in Melbourne being a tourist and punching bag and am now way out in the middle of nowhere at a native plant nursery in Victoria, about two hours east of Melbourne. I’m only here until Sunday, when I’m supposed to join a family who run a winery about an hour north.

I don’t know why anyone would make their living in this area based on a product that needs a lot of water because everything is dry and brown. Apparently they recently came out of a 10-year drought. This house is completely off the grid with solar for electricity and a 55,000 liter container of water for all bathing, cooking, etc., which is 100% rainwater (filtered, I guess?).

It has me thinking about how feasible some of these ideas might be in the states but I don’t think the financial benefit is enough to drive it. Simon, my current host, told me that he and his wife used to pay $1000 for three months of electricity, and his solar setup cost $7000. In the states my electric bill would be $450 over three months in the hottest part of summer. Electricity is generated from coal here and there’s tons of it, but the power companies just gouge their customers.

Simon has 50 acres and I get the impression that he’s kind of a big kid. He has a winding, one-car-width dirt road all around his property that’s intended to help with fire control in the bush but mainly gets used as his personal racetrack. He took me for a lap in his 1981 Toyota Celica, which he flogged the hell out of. I’m hoping to get a chance behind the wheel before I leave!

I have lots of pictures to share from the end of my stay in Bellingen and some from downtown Melbourne but those will have to wait until I get a speedier connection. For now, text will have to do!

A little edit to my original post… This is a Google maps aerial view of where I’m staying. Most of the path that you can see is the “racetrack”. 🙂



Welcome to Melbourne?

You take the good,
You take the bad,
You take ’em both and there you have…
…a trip to Australia.

Saturday was, by far, the worst day of my trip. I left the company of my wonderful hosts in Fernmount and got a free ride to the Urunga airport. It was raining like cats and dogs, which didn’t bother me because it makes the area so lush (contrasted to Melbourne, which appeared entirely brown from above). My flight was scheduled to arrive in Melbs around 4:15 PM and I was excited to check out a free outdoor music concert in the city at 7:00. The airport in Urunga was the smallest I have ever seen, yet Virgin and Qantas fly out of it so it’s great for the locals. You could literally stand in one spot, do a 360 panorama, and see the entire place, including both terminals. Easiest airport experience I’ve ever had, except for the 3-hour flight delay, which put me in Melbs after 7:00 so no concert.

After getting settled in with my Airbnb host I decided around 9:00 to head out, explore the area, and find a bite to eat. It’s not a shady neighborhood and there were plenty of people milling about on what seemed to be a popular street lined with shops and cafes. As I came to a T intersection a guy who I assumed to be homeless asked me for change. After replying “Sorry, I don’t have any change” and continuing on my way he asked, in a normal, conversational tone, “Hey, where are you from?” Since I’ve had lots of chats with strangers on this trip I stopped, faced him, and said “I’m from America.” I noticed he was approaching me in a non-threatening way so I continued “I’ve been in Australia for about three weeks…”. The next thing I remember is lying on my back, realizing that I had just been sucker-punched. No provocation, no shouting, no shoving, just a fist to my jaw.

Immediately after experiencing the worst of Australia I experienced the best of Australia. A group of 20-somethings nearby scared the guy off, attended to me, helped me get cleaned up, hailed a cab, and even paid the fare for my trip to the ER. They repeatedly said things like “Please don’t let that wanker ruin your impression of Australians. We’re not all like that.” Three hours and $415 later, with three stitches in my lower lip, I was on my way back to where I was staying.

So I had an unfortunate run-in with an asshole in Australia, but I guess that happens sometimes. The sore jaw, stitches, scraped up elbow, 400 bucks, and blood-stained clothes bother me, but the worst part is the hyper-aware feelings I now have of my surroundings. I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy who takes things in stride and keeps a pretty positive attitude. I hate to admit that this experience has taken away a bit of my “spark”. I hope that continuing to meet good people and having great experiences will restore the old Scott.

Note: I have disabled comments on this post because I want it to be the last word on the subject.

This was one of my favorite t-shirts…


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Sunday Jam Sessions & A Tear-Jerker

A great benefit of getting along well with your work exchange hosts is becoming part of their lives and socializing with their friends. I’ve enjoyed nice conversations over dinner, played legos with a brilliant and charming 10-year-old boy, and even sat in on a ukulele/guitar jam session.

One of my hosts, Larry, is a budding uke player (as am I), and he told me about an active uke scene in Bellingen. Every Sunday at a house up the street musicians bring whatever instrument they like and sit on the porch playing and singing songs, telling stories, having tea, and just enjoying one another’s company. Larry suggested that we check it out last Sunday and I was definitely down!

While hanging out on the porch I was reminded of a passage from Daniel J. Levitin’s book “This Is Your Brain On Music“:

A couple of generations ago, before television, many families would sit around and play music together for entertainment. Nowadays there is a great emphasis on technique and skill, and whether a musician is “good enough” to play for others. Music making has become a somewhat reserved activity in our culture, and the rest of us listen.

I really enjoyed the vibe of the people sitting on that porch. I get around pretty well on a guitar but I only know about five chords on a uke and I always forget the names of the ones I do know. Even so, everyone was very encouraging and inclusive.

Ready for the tear-jerker part?

The little house up the street is owned by Jenny and her late husband Chris. Chris was an avid musician with an impressive instrument collection, a home recording studio, and was apparently at one point an editor for Rolling Stone magazine. The musical couple loved having friends over on Sunday afternoons for casual jam sessions on the porch. Sadly, about five years ago Chris developed cancer. He received treatment but eventually it was determined that his cancer was terminal and, not wanting to spend his last days in a hospital, he chose to return home. As the story was told to me, Chris passed away in the arms of his wife, on that porch, with friends nearby and the sounds of music in the air. Jenny, who is on the right in the video above, continues the Sunday afternoon tradition in Chris’s honor.

Today is my last full day in Fernmount. I’ll miss this little shire. There are wonderful and interesting people in the world; you just have to get out there and meet them.

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Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day but everyone I love is 10,000 miles away. It’s OK though, my new friend Ella has plenty of kisses to give.


I hope you and your sweetie have a great day!

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Week 2 Costs

Week 2, 2/4 – 2/10 Work exchange in Bellingen
Transportation $70 Train from Sydney to Urunga, about 315 miles (
Dining $0
Groceries $20 Mostly chocolate
Entertainment $0
Lodging $0
Shopping $0
Week 1 Total $671
Week 2 Total $90
Airfare $1943 SLC -> LAX -> SYD
Trip Total $2704

Quite a bit different from week 1, huh? It’s almost enough to make a person consider traveling around the world for a year meeting all kinds of interesting people and doing all kinds of interesting things…


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Bellingen & Fernmount

Well I intended to spend a week in the little town of Fernmount but its quaint charm has sucked me in and I’ve decided to stay for nearly two weeks. I’ll be flying to Melbourne on Saturday. I think the balance between big, cosmopolitan cities and work exchange in rural areas will be a great way to experience Australia.

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