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Marlborough Madness

The English language has no antonym for halcyon days.

It's been a slow whirlwind since I arrived in Blenheim eight weeks ago. Friends and enemies, piƱatas and poverty and the Spanish civil war all rolled into one.

I arrived in the middle of June. Friday the 13th, actually. Surely this was a sign. Over the next few days another twenty five people crammed in to Koanui, our tired old hostel, and we prepared to start work in the vineyards. Blenheim is the center of the Marlborough region, world renowned for its wine - Sauvignon Blanc in particular. The problem with Marlborough wine now is that it isn't exactly cheap and in a global recession people aren't really buying the expensive stuff. So the wine isn't selling, the vineyards aren't making much money, and the workers aren't being paid well. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here.

We started work a week after we arrived, all of us at Koanui working for the same contractor at the same vineyard - Yealands Estate in Seddon. Seddon is about 30 kilometers southeast of Blenheim, sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean. It's beautiful and as winter has progressed we've been watching the mountains get whiter and whiter. We don't see any snow though, we're too low. Mostly isn't sunny and clear, freezing of below in the mornings but quite warm after the sun comes out, although we do occasionally get rained out of the fields. Cause for celebration...

My job is pruning each massive tangle of canes that make up the grapevine. Leave the best two or four or six and strip out the rest. The stripping is the hard part, it's very physical and occasionally quite painful. That is, when you strip out the vines and get whipped in the back of clobbered in the face. I haven't drawn blood yet but plenty of others have.

Dawn over Yealands Estate in Seddon.

West from Yealands towards Tapuae-o-Uenuku/Mount Tapuaenuku, the highest peak in the Kaikoura Ranges at 2880 meters.

East from Yealands to the Pacific Ocean.

This is how the vines ought to look when the pruners are through with them.

Ah, it's such a beautiful place to work!

Living with the same group of people for eight weeks you get to know them pretty well, and I can honestly say the kids I live with are the greatest thing about this place. From the first day everybody got on really well, sharing stories and sharing food, commiserating over hard days at work and homesickness. These days we get up early, eat breakfast and head out. Work, lunch, work and then we head home to make dinner and lunch for the next day, read a book (the Blenheim library has a larger-than-expected collection of books on the Spanish civil war, but right now I'm enjoying Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest") or watch a movie or hang out around the table and head to bed by ten o'clock to do it all over again. Once a week you gotta make sure they paid you what they owe you. Eight hours a day, six days a week for three months. The routine is already old but I'll say this, it's hard to stay in a bad mood when you're always hanging out with your best friends.

Playing MC and at Mexican Night with the Koanui Crew.

Koanui Crew, hands down my favorite thing about Blenheim. I love these kids.

The English language has no antonym for halcyon days. These are not the days that we'll look back on with any sort of overwhelming fondness. These are not the days we'll wish we could go back to live again. These are the days that make us wish to move on and not look back, the days that make us hate New Zealand for doing this to us, and the days that make us homesick for our friends. My days pass by full of pruning and daydreaming, they pile up and make me wish I were in Portland. I miss all my friends back home, I'll see you soon.

Posted by axcordion 02:53 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new vineyard lodge zealand estate marlborough blenheim yealands koanui

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