On Monday 23rd March, as we were handpicking our first Sauvignon Blanc grapes at Meadowbank Vineyard, we heard the news that New Zealand was heading into lockdown for a month in two day’s time. Thankfully the New Zealand government announced that the wine industry would be considered an essential service and harvest could continue so long as all workers met strict criteria.
Vineyard and winery crews, who were already practicing social distancing, scrambled to ensure they had practices in place to meet the stringent requirements to continue working.
In the winery, workers split into different shifts and were restricted to different areas of the winery to keep in separate bubbles. New online systems were introduced for job notes and instructions between winemakers and cellar staff to further avoid contact. At the change of each shift, fruit processing stopped for an hour to allow all surfaces to be cleaned down thoroughly.
In the vineyards, all the hand harvest crews were in their own harvesting bubble meaning that once they finished their day’s picking they were basically holed up in their accommodation. The contractor did all their shopping for food and any medical supplies, so they had no contact with outsiders. Growers and winemakers also had to keep their distance from the teams in the vineyards so as not to break the bubble.
The machine harvesting crews also needed to ensure vehicles were well cleaned between changes of shift so there were longer periods of downtime and staff all needed separate vehicles to get to each vineyard if they were in different bubbles.