Netting in Nelson- Working on a Vineyard

Hightailing it into Nelson, we buzzed straight to the Urgent Care. After a bit of a wait, we met with an excellent doctor who looked over Barbara and diagnosed her with a severe sinus infection. She figured that it had probably been looking for about a month, and had really started to fester. She prescribed an aggressive dose of steroids and antibiotic. We headed over to the pharmacy and picked up all the get-better pills we could get our hands on.

Happily, no more than 12 hours later (most of it asleep), Barbara seemed to make a rather miraculous recovery. It is pretty amazing what a bit of modern medicine can do for the human body. I was very happy to have my smiling wife back. Being in so much pain really puts a damper of travelling and it really stinks to see someone in so much misery.


We headed to our next work-for-stay location, just 10 minutes outside of Nelson near the small town of Richmond. Barbara and I pulled into the Cumpstone’s vineyard and were quickly greeted by Leah and Hux, their awesome dog. Kris, our new boss-man, was still out working away, so we settled into our new accomodation in the loft- a fratboy-esque fort built above a couple of parking spaces not too far from the main house. The new digs were a bit rougher than the bed and breakfast room of our last work-for-stay, but they certainly got the job done.


Kris came in around 7pm, and quickly roped us into doing a couple hours of work. The task was easy enough, perhaps just a bit mindless and repetitive. The vineyard has 4 sections of grapes that have 41 rows each. Wandering up and down the rows we tucked low hanging branches into the wires that support the main vines. A few days later, Kris would add some sheep to this section. They come along and eat all the leaves that surround the grapes, leaving the fruit untouched. But the leaves act as solar panels for the grapes, so it is best to keep as many of them around as possible. We finished up around 9.


As we got to know Kris, we found him to be a super nice guy, with a crazy work ethic. He heads out to work at his day job running another vineyard. Then when he gets home at 5, he heads straight out into his organic fields- tending them until 10 on many nights. We often found oursleves working with him underneath a beautiful setting sun, and rising full moon. It actually was quite nice to work in the evening, as the temperatures were much more tolerable.


One day we took off first thing in the morning and made our way to Abel Tasman National Park. This incredible chunk of coastline has amazingly blue waters and super flat calm seas. The tide goes wayyyyy out here, leaving many sailboats resting on their hulls at every low tide. Wishing we had more time to explore, we pushed on further North, as we had to pick up Noelia (the gal who lent us her car while she was walking the Heaphy track). We still had some extra time as we came close to the turn off for the trailhead, we continued another hour north to Farewell Spit, the most northern point on the south island. Farewell Spit is a narrow strip of sand dune that juts off the mainland way out into the Tasman Sea, creating the Golden Bay. We did a quick day hike here, visit both sides of the spit. The north beach is really stunning, and worth the walk.


At exactly 3, we rolled up to the trailhead to pick up Noelia. She had a great time on the Heaphy, and highly recommended it to anyone who is considering it. She was going to work at a festival in a town that was about an hour and half from our work-for-stay, but she kindly drove us all the way back to the farm so that we didnt have to hitch!


After our short, sweet ‘vacation’ from our work-for-stay, we got right back to work after dinner. Tonights task was netting the vines. The birds do serious damage to the growing grapes, so Kris has to cover his crop with a nylon net to keep them out. To spread these huge nets, Kris would drive the tractor at a slow speed, feeding the net out of a giant bag and up through a boom arm above the vines. Barbara and I would walk on either side of a row, behind the tractor, catching/pulling/spreading the net. It sounds a whole lot easier than it is. At least for us. Eventually we would get into a groove and just as things would be going along smoothly, the net would end, and we would have to stop, add a new net, and restart the whole process. Up and down the 41 until all of the section was covered.


Just laying the nets over the vines is certainly not enough to keep the pesky birds out of the fruit, so our task for the next few days was to clip the bottoms of the net together. This is a relatively easy job, but it is quite mindless. Each row would take about 45 minutes to clip. Eventually, we started working together on a row, leapfrogging each other, to break up the task a bit.


Who knew so much manual labor was involved to create a bottle of wine? We certainly wont be looking at bottles of vino the same way anymore.

Outside of our flexible work hours, we found ourselves riding rickety old mountain bikes into the town of Richmond to visit the library. The internet at the vineyard took us back to the days of dial up, where each page takes 10 minutes to load. The library here had free high speed, and we took full advantage of it. One of the reasons we chose to do the work-for-stays was that we wanted to have some time to work on our plans for when we return to the states. Barbara and I are trying to start our own business when we get back, so we put in some hours getting the website up and going. We are looking to start a specialty travel agency organizing treks up Kilimanjaro and safaris in Tanzania. We will give you some more details down the road when the website is ready. We are super excited about it!
After too many hours of mindless clipping, we started to grow a bit bored, and certainly our minds began to wander. We planned to stay on the vineyard until it was time for us to leave New Zealand. But both of us were a bit bummed out that we were going to leave without ever getting to do one of the Great Walks that New Zealand is known for. These are very popular, stunning trails through the most beautiful parts of the country. I popped the idea to Barbara as we were clipping one day:

“what if we leave here early and hitch down to the Routeburn before we leave?”
she quickly replied “are you being serious?”


A quick nod of the head, and it was decided – a last minute change to our itinerary had just been made…

Check out all the photos here:


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