Making Wine during a Global Pandemic

2020: The Covid Harvest, in the words of our winemakers.

Jen Parr, Valli Winemaker

I understand the world will regard this vintage as the “Covid Harvest,” and it will be remembered for the global pandemic that enveloped us as we were about to hit “go” with picking grapes here in Central Otago.

The day before the first fruit descended upon the Valli winery, I responded to a query from the New Zealand Editor for the American Publication Wine Spectator with these sentiments: “Our minds are on things other than grapes as we commence harvest. Our minds are on our families, many of whom live regions, if not oceans away. They are on each other and keeping each other safe. Now more than ever, we must have a bond of trust. No hugs or handshakes but a solidarity that is bound by the love we have for our profession."

"Our hearts are with our nation as we unite in an unprecedented way. We think about the world, the planet, about people we have never thought about before, feeling a connection to them. I approach this harvest knowing that nature has set us up to do our job and there is never a real hope of putting up a fight with Mother Nature. Maybe this will make us better winemakers as we have no choice but to let nature write our playbook; particularly as there is only one game to win: bringing in nature’s bounty without spreading Covid-19.”

Once harvest kicked in and we worked in our winery bubble, our minds were quickly absorbed by the task at hand, for our gate was locked and we had few distractions. We had more time than ever to contemplate each parcel of fruit and its destiny. It was a relatively small harvest born of a cool growing season and the intensity and exuberance of the fruit was a great contrast to the situation outside the winery.

I will never think of 2020 wines as “Covid Wines,” defined by the pandemic they were produced in. They are exceptional wines in their own right and they will still be giving us pleasure and connection for years to come. They are a symbol of sacrifice, resilience and hope. For my team, it was a privilege to succeed in creating something meaningful in such a difficult time. -Jen Parr

Karl Coombes, Valli Assistant Winemaker

As we got the winery and equipment prepared to receive and process grapes for vintage 2020, the country went into full lockdown. After a day or so of not knowing if we would even be able to harvest this year, we were given the okay and then got busy working out all the new protocols which needed to be in place before we could pick, process, and ferment, all the while avoiding the virus and its spread. We felt privileged to be able to make wine this year – the new protocols were taken very seriously.

As we got into the swing of things, the routine for our tight little bubble of four in the winery was to spend the next two months doing nothing but going to work, going home, and occasionally the supermarket – which is much the same as a normal harvest. But things within that routine weren’t normal – no shaking hands, no hugging, and definitely no sharing glasses.

Sanitation, distancing, and more sanitation were the most important things in the day to day running of the winery. Everyone had the driest of hands from the near-constant washing. We learned to wear gloves more, and I discovered the value of hand moisturiser.

There were Covid check-in meetings and the occasional squeal of alarm if we accidentally got close to walking through a door at the same time as someone coming from the other side. Luckily our interns were both quite rambunctious, so you could generally hear them coming. There was a lot more shouting too, a necessity for communicating in the vicinity of a noisy press or destemmer while still keeping two metres apart.

But on top of all of that, there was so much care shown by everyone. Not just for the wines, made under challenging circumstances, but especially for each other – how we were feeling, mentally as well as physically, and the remarkable way that people stand up and face tough situations together, (metaphorically) arm in arm. -Karl Coombes


If you would like to hear Grant Taylor's perspective, check out his posts:

Harvesting Grapes during a Global Pandemic

2020 Vintage Report: a Harvest to be Remembered Among the Best