Travelling Harvest, Hunter Valley, NSW. AUSTRALIA.

January – February, 2014 – The best thing about the days of being a full time cellar hand, was being able to scoot off overseas for stints of harvests. A case of same same but different; grapes, familiar processes, but so different at the same time. Different people, different cultures, but as for the passion for the ancient drop – well this is always in abundance. Yay.
Working with Jim Chatto and Adrian Sparks at Mount Pleasant in the Hunter Valley was just so great; continuously learning, continuously laughing.
In this particular travelling harvest I also had the added bonus of catching up with a dear friend from Ireland, and going to see Bruce Springsteen and his epic E Street Band. Totally rad.
Here’s my first blog from January 15, soon after I stepped foot in the beaut quaint spot of Mount Pleasant winery.
For a few more bits of banter, click into link below.

Wednesday, January 15
The first promise of the Hunter Valley has been delivered;
Yes. It is hot here.
Really hot. So hot yesterday in fact that the newly pressed and barrelled Chardonnay was fizzing with bungs popping all over the place today.
I am in my third day of vintage at McWilliam’s Winery, Mt Pleasant, nestled in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales.
This year’s vintage is early, both here and back home in New Zealand.  That was another promise I was delivered.
It’s like having a couple of days of revision; DAP additions, yeast additions, measuring sugar levels.
Which leads me into my first of a couple of new things I have learned this week. Well actually I have learned loads already, but I just want to mention a few.
In New Zealand we talk about brix levels when measuring the concentration of sugar levels in unfermented juice. (Discovered by Adolf Brix.) New Zealand works with new age wine techniques, commonly aligned with cooler climates.
Here in the Hunter Valley we measure sugar levels in baume, a method discovered by Antoine Baume, to indicate the potential alcohol level in unfermented juice. Thus, for wine a level of 12 is often ideal.
I was stumped for a minute yesterday when I was asked to measure the baume of some Pinot Noir picked last week, close to fermeting. This is the beauty of working a vintage at another winery in another country – constantly learning new ways and methods of producing the product we all love to enjoy.
It really was quite a sight this week, watching the Chardonnay barrels ‘wake up’ after yeast was added to them. It seemed like an infectious sneeze, one by one they started to make noise and fizz away. It seemed the yeast was getting ‘stressed’ therefore letting off an undesirable smell, as Hydrogen Sulphide was being released. A yeast additive is put into the barrels to counteract this, and the barrels are quickly put in the cool barrel hall. The climate really is against us at a time like this though, when it’s climbing towards 40 degrees outside.
Yeast really is the smell of harvest, and in a valley setting it’s hard to escape. I was enjoying an early morning run yesterday, and as I made my way around one bend in the road the whoft of yeast reached my nostrils. Delicious. Either the morning’s bread was being created, or there was some big time fermenting going on at one of the neighbouring wineries.
The wine history around here is amazing, and I can’t wait to learn more. This week I have been preparing and assessing maturity samples of semillon grapes. I wonder what age the oldest vines today are, considering McWilliam’s Winery first made its mark in the area in the 1880’s…

And some little quirks….
QUICK FUNNY STORY….Went for a cycle up the valley after work this evening, (dodging the potholes…) and came across this auld fella, who hollered at me from across the other side of the road, asking how far I was going and where I was going to… I crossed the road for a wee banter, his part of the conversation went somewhat like this….”Yea, I like to bike every second day, about 30km or 40km each time…. I’m 80 next month so I like to keep fit…. I used to ride endurance horses when I was about 60, in my younger days… got bored of that so I took up ocean swimming, about 5km races we got up to….yea, I just love my biking though…” Wow, I want to be just like him when I grow up and old. The funniest bit was when he said he was 79, and I was speechless (for once..) and said “F……. Far out, you don’t look that old!” and he replied…”you were going to swear just then, weren’t you?” “Actually no,” I said,(for once) I really was going to say Far Out, because I was. Truly. It’s rude to swear in front of old people, even when they are athletes. Like this guy. And then he told me to get some front lights. Because the sun was going down. Yes Grandad. THE END. xxxxxx

TRADE IT…I was escorted out of the supermarket the other day by a security guard. Not for something I was illegally taking out, but because I took my bike IN. I’d lost my bike lock, but chanced a quick whip around anyway, bike in tow beside my trolley – far too many wheels… Making it all the way to the chilled section of the supermarket, I thought I was home and hosed. But no.
“Excuse me, you can’t have that bike in here,” said Mr Security Guard, strolling over.
While walking out of the supermarket together, the Security Guard agreed to look after it while I finished my shopping. He was chuffed when I handed him a chocolate bar for his bike minding skills. So chuffed in fact, he decided to exchange it for a history lesson. His side of the conversation went something like this…
“Over here on holiday?…Oh, vintage, McWilliam’s Mt Pleasant eh?…Yea I know the place….I can tell you a bit about those old vineyard blocks next to the winery….you ever noticed any basalt rock lying around the place?… No? Yea, the really hard dark rock…. yea it does come from volcanoes, and yea you’re right there aren’t any volcanoes around here….. the rock came from all over Australia…..the Aborigines traded for it years and years ago… to make axe heads with it, ….there’s some still lying on the ground among the vines where you are, I’ve found the odd axe head…..yea, they traded all sorts of things for their basalt…. livestock, grain…..even wives…..yea, you could trade your wife for a good amount of basalt rock back in those days……”
Needless to say, I was quite relieved a bit of basalt rock didn’t come his way while he was minding my bike. Learning about the rock wife swap trade of historical Australia was worth losing my bike lock for, which I did in fact find again. No trade needed, it was under a pile of clothes.

Travelling Harvest, NAMIBIA

DECEMBER 2019/JANUARY 2020 – So you can pretty much fry an egg on most parts of Namibia at the moment. Which means it’s not a place very conducive to hiking canyons or climbing mountains right now. So I googled ‘winemaking Namibia,’ and discovered Thonninggii Wine Cellars and Der Katholischer Wines in central northern Namibia near the Etosha National Park. I emailed them, in a nutshell said I’m a kiwi who has made a bit of wine in some off-the-beaten-track places like Zimbabwe and Arizona, and would they mind if I tried my hand at winemaking with them? The response; ‘Great, let us know your dates, see you soon.’ So here I am! It’s been a long couple of days getting here. From the Okavango Delta it took a boat ride, a short Cessna plane ride, a stop over in Maun, a taxi ride, a bus ride jam packed with people and various possessions, a hot and dusty walk, a stop over near the border town of Shakawe, a taxi ride, a border crossing, a lift to a nearby town with a Botswanan guy called Jay Jay (who finds it quicker to pass through Namibia to get from one end of Botswana to the other),  another three taxi rides, some sitting around and waiting. A lot of sitting around and waiting – Africa Time at its best – to eventually get my to my new ‘home town’ of Otavi. And then of course the final pick up by Gilmar, whose home, vineyards and winery is nestled in the mountains. A little bit fabulous… Note: the term ‘taxi’ is used loosely in Namibia, and much of Africa, when referring to the cars not the vans. It’s generally a group of guys hanging around their cars at a gas station, looking real casual. It’s a bit like they just had some spare time and thought they’d make an extra bob or two. (There’s even a selfie with one car load.) You ‘hike’ taxis in Namibia, which means you get dropped at a spot where taxis regularly frequent, to sort out a lift. Thank goodness, I had a few hundred kilometres to cover today, hiking would have been less than ideal. The lyrics cracking from the speakers of my first taxi ride were ‘If you wanna stay alive…. listen to your cultures…’ Yes, staying alive was the plan. Now it’s time to make some wine, Namibia styles. Yay. 🍇🍷❤️#winemaking #namibia #roadtripafrica  @ Namibia


‘Baboon watching’ everyday means you’re making wine in Namibia. Der Katholischer Winery (The Red Catholic) is a skip and a hop from Otavi, near Etosha National Park in central north Namibia, not too far from Angola. Nestled in the dolomite cave-riddled mountains, Gilmar Boshoff says “Making wine is about having the connection between the earth and the vines, and not being too lazy or useless to f*ck it up before you put it into bottle,” with a grin of a hard working, challenging and rewarding way of life. Next door is his parents’ property, Thonninggii Wine Cellar, (Thonninggii being the local fig tree). The clay brick cellar door boasts hearty farm lunches; home-produced meat, fresh dairy products, on-site produced marula schnapps, grappa, and port. This Namibian harvest is in full swing now;  picking the white and red varieties; crushing, pressing, generally having a lot of fun. Overcast days are very hot. Some drizzle, thunder and lightening, blue skies too. Seven dogs, (including Ana the ridgeback who really should be wearing pearls and have painted nails) at least two cats, and one pet sheep who always likes to be FULLY involved in all parts of harvest. Frogs croak, sable, springbok, sheep and cattle graze, chickens, cuckoos and weavers play, guinea fowls and pheasants trot. The Damara are the local people of this part of Namibia, whose dialect (Khoekhoe) involves many clicking sounds, so nice to hear every day. Namibia; a country of just 2.8 million people so plenty of space, where nothing less than 800 hectares is considered a farm, it’s a plasie (a small farm, a plot). Life slows down just a little bit here – the early morning coffee ritual, Norma Jean the bull terrier snoozing at our feet . Speed then picks up for a day of all things winemaking, and constantly reminding pet sheep Kolletjies (dots in Afrikaans) to stop eating the grapes or sneaking inside the house to eat the loo paper. Morning runs along the train tracks because ‘trains only use it about once a week..’ Sipping home made bubbles on Christmas Day after a morning grafting in the winery, eating a potjie pot of home produced oxtail – ‘well ain’t that just Christmas.’ 🍷🍇❤👌 #derkatholischerwinery #thonninggiiwinecellar


The Boshoff family do what they love, and love what they do. Gilmar Tamara Boshoff… With hard work, focus and determination, many things are possible. Like making wine in Nambia? Well at Der Katholischer Winery and Thonninggii Wine Cellar – yes most definitely. Thanks so much for having me along for some of your journey, it was one big treat. 🍇🍷❤️#winemakingnamibia #derkatholischerwinery #thonninggiiwinecellar  @ Namibia

With Belles On – backyard winemaking. Marlborough, NEW ZEALAND

To set the record straight, I am not a winemaker.

But I do love to be a cellar hand and drag hoses all day. A true blue ‘cellar rat,’ up to my eyeballs in grape skins and muck, dragging hoses flat out and hooning around the winery – especially at harvest time.

So, I decided to have a dabble at making my own drops for a few years. A special thanks to all my industry friends who have put up with all my questions and annoyingness.

Here in this section you’ll see vintages of 2014, 2015 and 2016, each with their own story.

2017… well let’s ‘just pretend that one never happened…’ and well, 2018 is actually still in the fridge, chilling out, because the brix were so high I  think its still fermenting – watch this space!!!

I mean, it’s an ancient drop that’s been made for thousands of years… What could possibly go wrong?

In true With Belles On fashion, I will continue to make my own drop, and hoping for the best.


And, for a few additional words about me and my wine journey, you may want to check out

Hempies du Toit, Annandale Winery. Cape Region, SOUTH AFRICA

October 6, 2019.

Where patience meets passion.

Annandale Wine Estate, a stone’s throw from Stellenbosch where the mountains and rugged ridge lines rule, and where Hempies du Toit lives, the man behind the liquid gold in the Annandale bottles that epitomize what can happen when art, confidence and love weave together.

Hempies was once a Springbok front rower, with a story or two to tell about life on the pitch, in particular the 1981 tournament to New Zealand where they chucked the oval ball around against the All Blacks. Being pre-professional days, on this tour these giant-sized Boks reaped a nightly rest or two on camp stretchers – which were barely long enough to reach their knees. Rugby life may be a far cry from vines and winery life, but what they do share is true grit and passion.

“I love life and if I’m not passionate about something I’ll pass it by.”

Hempies casually lined up a few bottles on the table for us today, in the tasting room that was once the hub of the Annandale riding school. These were his current releases; a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2005 Shiraz, a 2004 Merlot…. to name a few.

“I just leave the barrels alone, I hardly touch them.”

The oak barrels will house these wines for a number of years before Hempies bottles them. Well wine can look after itself when the soils the vines live in are in such good nik; the land was once commercially used for broccoli and melons. Hempies wild ferments too, and this method has never let him down.

“I love sharing my passion with special people.”

The health out in the vineyards rings loud in our glasses as we whole heartedly stick our noses in, swirl and sip.

He rattles off his stand-out vintages off the top of his head, his ‘uitskieter’ (stand out) years – this guy is proudly Afrikaans. 

Hempies knew my enthusiasm for this ancient drop, and nailed it when he said “this is like your walk in the clouds.” So cheers Hempies, thanks heaps for your generosity, tales, and such a rad memorable morning. You’re a super cool dude. And all the best for the Rugby World Cup… 🍷🍇🤣🏉


Travelling Harvest, ZIMBABWE

January – March 2019 – These words are a reflection thorough the eyes of a Kiwi eager for Africa. A gigantic thank you to everyone at Bushman Rock for making me feel so at home. My dad has told me many tales about exploring the mighty Zimbabwean bush, now I’ve had my turn too….


Landing at Harare Airport mid-January, the immigration desk was almost up to my chin. Maybe they’re only used to normal-height adults. Bumping down the pot holed dusty road to Bushman Rock on my first day, a touch after 5am, the sun began to creep above the granite rock outcrops. My heart pumped fast as I took in the lights and sounds of Bushman Rock Safaris, my new home for a wee while. Sometimes I wouldn’t go in a car for a fortnight. 40km South East of Harare, in the Mashonaland.

 Winery life: Grapes hand harvested into bins, loaded onto a rickety trailer on a rickety tractor. Clothes of all colours and styles, footwear the same, including football boots. Organized chaos and lots of volume as the grapes were crushed, pressed, juice drained, ferments starting. Bees. Munching on corn cobs. Yelling in Shona. Lots of banter. “You takey the hose…” “Eish…. I don’t know…” “We go now now….” Huge smiles. Long days. Sunrises. Sunsets. Hot work. Rewarding work. Tired bodies. Beautiful smells as the wines develop. Red hands. Sticky skin.


Life on the land: 6.30am starts every day. Morning Shona greetings exchanged across vineyards, lawns, gardens, yards.  Smiles. Laughter. Injections of disorganized panic. Chickens, horses, reptiles, birds, bees, dogs, cats, hustle  and bustle as everyone takes their work spots for the day; house gardens to the market garden with giant aubergines, huge asparagus stalks and produce of vibrant colour, to houses to vineyards to the winery to the stables to the lodges and restaurant. Soft morning light is replaced by the intense African sun, and a spot or downpour of rain. Claps of thunder and bolts of lightening sometimes too. Down tools for ‘tea’ mid morning, then another one as the midday heat seeks havoc on the labouring body. More hustle and bustle in the afternoon, then the light softening again. Early sunsets, the ball of yellow dips as the moon appears again. Stars soon sparkle, the sky has many dimensions. Baboons sometimes heard hollering in the distance.

Horses: Morning trots around the game farm; wilderbeests and zebras taking particular interest. In the stables for breakfast, daily grooming them for ghastly ticks. Then out to the paddocks to roam near the vines or one of the dams, or staying in for more exercise. Back in for lunch, afternoon rides for some, then dinner as the sun goes down. A wonderful life for a horse at Bushman Rock, managed by a superb team of grooms who laugh and joke and sparkle with energy as they take massive pride in their work with the four legged friends. My absolute favourite place to hang out, the kiwi ‘Bushman musikana,’ sometimes we’d all be laughing so hard we’d have tears streaming and barely able to stand up straight, holding onto stable doors. And let’s not forget Bongo the stable cat.

Game farm: I was the luckiest runner ever to be training for a marathon in a game farm every day! Giraffes roam throughout the night, lucky enough to spot as the sun begins to rise. Zebras and wilderbeests hang out together, and combine forces to give the horses a scare on during the morning trot. Eland, impala, sable, the list goes on. Massive bird life. Ostrich and buffalo are out in the back blocks. Together they make up the pocket of Bushman Rock where one can visit, whether it be by foot, horse or vehicle, to sit and observe with the eyes and ears, and let the mind wander. The mood forever changes depending on the weather and the time of day, dictating who is out and about, what sounds are made, and what the light is doing. But no matter what, it is aways a treat. And a fabulous place to walk the dogs as the sun sets, letting them kick up dust and rough and tumble in the dusty paths.

Family life: The Passaportis family started their life at Bushman Rock in the late 1990’s. In two decades they have moulded this spot of land into their own haven; replanting grapes, planting asparagus, creating an extensive market garden, building dams, pouring time and love into the lodges and restaurant, upgrading the winery, the list goes on. The younger generation has taken over; Jono and Justine and their two young sprongs Mila and Theo, alongside their two Great Danes Leo and Maggie, and the willful cat Vida, and don’t forget the 20 or more tortoises, chickens, guinea pigs, the occasional rescued bush baby, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something or someone. Life under brick and mortar would not be the same without the loving helping hands from Tabi, Tete and Sadu who help maintain the haven.


Now, my eight week adventure amongst the majestical Zimbabwean bush life at Bushman Rock is done n’ dusted. And what majestical and beautiful dust it was. Not sure if I can blame the dust in my eyes for the tears that trickled down my cheeks the day I left though…  The grapes are off the vines, the ferments are bubbling away. Polo season is just cranking up now, ponies as fit as beans and buzzing to get started..  Done and busted, these boots will forever remain in the dust n’ dirt at Bushman Rock, gathering plenty more colourful Zimbabwean bush life tales of winemaking, horses, and superb people. Life at Bushman Rock Safaris, a memory to behold.


A few quick snippet Facebook posts:

You know you’re living the thick of the Zimbabwean bush life when; you’re on a pre sunrise run this morning up in the back trails and hear animal noises that sounds like barking. ‘Bloody hell did the dogs get out?’ you think to yourself. Listen again… ‘Oh phew, it’s just baboons.’  👣

Polo life in the thick of the Zimbabwean bush… I was hanging out with the grooms inbetween chukkas today, and snapped this pic. ‘Hey Steve’ I said to the groom next to me; ‘Do you think it matters that I’ve chopped off the top of the horse’s ear?    ‘Ah no,’ he replied with a straight face; ‘it’s okay, people will still know it’s a horse.’ The Shona people’s humour and way of thinking- absolutely brilliant. 🐴😂

 You know you’re living amongst the thick of Zimbabwean bush life winemaking when; your cellar mate takes your hands this morning, puts them next to his, and says with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye, ‘Now our skin, same same.’ Bushman Rock Safaris

 You know you’re living the thick of Zimbabwean bush life when: You’re schooling one of the polo ponies in the game farm this morning, when all of a sudden he comes to a screaming halt as there’s a rustling in the trees. “For goodness sake Leonard, (words to that effect) just relax, it’s only a few zebras!” (Just like you but wearing pyjamas.) Bushman Rock Safaris


Travelling Harvest, WA. AUSTRALIA

January 2018 – Managed to escape corporate wine office life for three weeks and get my harvest hands back – this time with Houghton Wines in Swan Valley, Western Australia. I learned my way around some excellent chardonnay, and had the treat of visiting vineyards a few hours down the road towards Margaret River. Shiraz and Semillon too; the last time I’d dabbled with these in Australia had been cellar-ratting at Mount Pleasant in the Hunter Valley, NSW in 2014. That’s the very cool thing about winemaking; forever changing. A fun few weeks where I learned lots and got to see a few roos.