Dancing through the graveyard shift at Rijk's night harvest

Harvest at Rijk's Wine Estate & Hotel kicked off at the end of January, in Tulbagh, a valley known for scorching summer temperatures. With very few South African wineries opting for night harvesting, I wanted to see how it's done.

I set out to meet the team in the vineyard at 22h00 on a Monday evening, harvesting grapes for their Touch Chenin Blanc. I was met with 30 headlamps moving through the vineyard rows, picking with near perfection. With 30+ degree temperatures for the afternoon, the cool evening air was a welcome refreshment.

"We've always harvested at night. It's better for our people and better for our grapes", explains Tiger Dorrington, who was born and raised on the farm bought by his father in 1996. Picking through the night is a question of mind over matter. It takes a few days for the team to adjust and get used to their new routine for the harvest period, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

I tried to be useful and busied myself picking a few bunches of grapes, soon realising that I wasn't going to impress anyone by working at a snail's pace. I thought I would redeem myself by emptying the full crates into the bins on the tractor, but after nearly launching myself into the bin along with a crate, I left it to the professionals and watched the team at work. Their eyes are sharp and their hands skilled. 

Picking can be a race against time, rushing to get grapes into the cellar as cool as possible to preserve the purity of the fruit. Rijk's has simply made it less of a race. They try to farm as closely with nature as possible and take great care of the vineyards all-year-round, so they have eliminated some of the risk of spoiling their hard work in the last stretch to get the grapes into the cellar.