The most prized wine grapes on the South Coast began being picked on Friday

Picking a winner: Lea Guegelmeyer, of Germany, is one of hundreds of grape pickers working on the harvest on Shoalhaven vineyards this month. Picture: Greg Ellis.
Picking a winner: Lea Guegelmeyer, of Germany, is one of hundreds of grape pickers working on the harvest on Shoalhaven vineyards this month. Picture: Greg Ellis.

The day of the year the South Coast’s pioneering vigneron always looks forward to happened on Friday when Coolangatta Gold was harvested at Shoalhaven Heads.

The Semillon grown at Coolangatta Estate for 20 years now is one of the most awarded wines in Australia. Two blocks of the variety have won more wine show gold than most vineyards could even dream of. But with that comes great pressure. Which is why industry pioneer Greg Bishop and son-in-law Ben Wallis were so relieved to get fine weather to harvest the first block and they hope it holds for the second Semillon pick next week.

But weather is not the greatest concern. Lorikeets are causing a big headache.

“They started attacking green fruit in early December which is hugely unusual. They have been relentless. They are coming here because there is no food elsewhere. And bats have started as well,”  Mr Wallis said.

Another growing problem the Bishop family has is that wine produced at Coolangatta is now considered nationwide to be of such a high standard that the winemakers at Tyrrells are encouraging them to leave fruiy on the vine as long as possible But that creates a risk of a really hot day, heavy rain, hail and humidity ruining the crop if they wait a little too long.

Mr Wallis said the recent really hot weather only caused minor sunburn damage but they needed to get the first block of Semillon off on Friday as rain was forecast leading into the weekend. He said the quantity of grapes is down on recent bumper harvest years but the quality is high.

“The fruit is looking really good,” Mr Bishop said.

Both men are particularly happy how good the Semillon grapes appeared coming off the vine on Friday. And they have no doubt the winemakers in the Hunter will be very pleased.

The annual harvest creates casual employment for hundreds of people in the region including a few international visitors each year.

Among them for the 2017 harvest is Lea Guegelmeyer, of Germany, who is three months into a year long visit to Australia.

She recently traveled from Adelaide to Shoalhaven Heads just in time to pick some of the most precious grapes in the nation.

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