If you, like me, always imagined that making wine meant stomping around barefoot in a bucket full of grapes crushing them then you’ve been sorely mistaken! A recent chat with third year students Ethan Ng and Javin Chia as well as Mr Tan Hsien Wei, Course Manager and Assistant Director/Temasek Culinary Academy from the Diploma in Culinary and Catering Management (CCM) has enlightened me about the intricate process that’s winemaking.
(From left to right: Ethan Ng, Javin Chia, Ms Mark Fong Kim and Randall Foo)
On 20th March this year, the two very lucky students set off on a 10-day trip to Margaret River to partake in the wine grape harvest and to try their hand at winemaking in Moss Wood located in the Margaret River Wine Region of Western Australia. This exclusive harvest, open only to working travellers and students on study trips, was met with enthusiasm by Ethan and Javin, both of whom were pursuing a module on Wine and Beverage. They were joined by recent CCM graduate Randall Foo and Ms Mark Fong Kim, Section Head, Diploma in Culinary and Catering Management.
A typical day at Moss Wood usually started way before the sun came out! Rising as early as 5am, the boys would wake up to prepare themselves breakfast before hitting the road for a short drive to the nearby Moss Wood winery. The harvest at Moss Wood, unlike other wineries, is not done mechanically. Going through rows and rows of vines with secateurs (pruning shears), groups of pickers would pick the harvested grapes by hand.
Besides picking grapes, Ethan, Javin and Randall were tasked with putting out the buckets along the vines for the pickers, collecting buckets of grapes as well as the back-breaking task of tipping the buckets full of grapes into the pallets at the back of the tractors! This was all done before the sun came out while the weather was still cool as the sun’s heat would affect the freshness of the grapes which in turn would affect the taste of the wine.
After the picking of grapes, came the arduous task of plunging the open-topped vats so as to ensure all the bits of grapes were mixed with the wine fermenting at the bottom. “This was especially hard and required of lot of arm strength and effort” said Ethan. “It’s no wonder all the guys who performed this task at Moss Wood were so buff!” quipped Javin with a wide grin.
The boys were also involved in laboratory work where they observed tests, examined the pH values of wine as well as sampled the juice of the grapes to decide if they were ready to be picked. “This process involved a lot of analysis, quite the opposite of the other tasks on the vineyard,” remarked Javin. In fact, these tests are taken very seriously at Moss Wood. The dates for harvesting the grapes are determined to a weeks’ accuracy during which the harvest has to be completed. “Rain is the enemy as it dilutes the quality of the wine, while the grapes will be plump and juicy from absorbing the rainwater, the wine will be flat” said Mr Tan. “The dates for the trip were selected based on the harvest season and as expected it poured after the last day of the harvest” added Ethan. Talk about planning to the tee!
The workday usually ended with a wash down of all the equipment and machines. Everything is sanitized and cleaned ready to be used the next day. The boys would then head back to the house they stayed at in Moss Wood’s Ribbon Vale Vineyard where they would wind down.
One of the highlights of the trip included a dinner party hosted by the CCM team to thank the Moss Wood crew for their warmth and hospitality. A day and a half was set aside to prepare for this feast which consisted of a Singaporean spread of Sambal Seafood, Thai Grilled Chicken, Chicken Curry, Bak Kut Teh and a Vegetable Stir-fry. Ms Mark also prepared Teh Tarik and served Bak Kua as a sweet end to the meal. All this food talk is making my mouth water! The meal was met with equal excitement from the kind folks at Moss Wood who not only brought along crates of wine to complement each dish, but also brought along vintage wines which were made the same year Ethan, Javin and Randall were born!
Moss Wood also arranged for the boys to visit other wineries in the Margaret River region where they received tutored wine tasting. This experience allowed them to savour the depth and breadth of the wines and gave them a deeper understanding of the different wines in the region. The boys were also both amazed and impressed that the owners and staff at the different wineries had such an amicable relationship despite being competitors. Besides visiting wineries, they also went to some of the restaurants in the area to enjoy the local fare.
Ethan and Javin agreed that their experience in Margaret River and Moss Wood was both an enriching and invigorating prelude to their foray into the culinary industry. “I would love to eventually bring some of Margaret River’s farm-to-table culture to Singapore in the near future” concluded Javin. We sure hope you do Javin, if the pictures are anything to go by then it sure looks delightful!
Moss Wood, Hai Choo Wines & Spirits and Temasek Polytechnic Collaboration
The students were picked for this trip through a rigorous selection process which included writing a wine-related essay, a blind tasting of wines and an interview. Two CCM students and one staff member have been making this trip since 2008 and this was made possible through the kind sponsorship of Hai Choo Wines & Spirits (Singapore) and the Moss Wood Winery of Margaret River, Western Australia. Hai Choo Wines & Spirits (Singapore) are the exclusive distributors of Moss Wood wines in Singapore. This is one way that TP tries to work with industry partners to “Bring Education to Life and Life to Education” for our students.