It’s a beautiful autumn day at Shedley Wines Vineyard in Bridgetown; the sun is shining, there’s a slight chill in the air and four companions snip bunches of grapes into crates amongst the vineyard rows and a gentle murmur of good-natured chatter. Chris Shedley, the winemaker, walks around casually proffering a snippet of advice or a story.
Though one of the party declares he was lured on false pretences with promises of scones and a tea lady, it’s clear everyone is not only in good spirits, but has a genuine interest in winemaking. Ejner, spent some time travelling around South Australia picking grapes in the Barossa Valley, Paul has made wine in his backyard in Perth and Chris discovered that he was a descendent of the Jacobs brothers after whom Jacob’s Creek, the famous Australian wine label, is named.
Chris relishes this connection and has grape growers on both sides of his family, but he is endearingly understated about both his wine making pedigree and his craft. When pushed he says the secret is not to overthink - it’s the grapes that make the wine, as long as you care for them and preserve their quality through the winemaking, you’ll be assured of success.
The pickers put down their secateurs and as Chris drives down the row, they dart about stacking the crates in the back of the ute in preparation for the next stage – crushing. Crushing grapes conjures up images of sun-kissed, young women demurely holding up their skirts and giggling as they stomp the grapes, barefooted in large vats to the delight of their macho grape-picking counterparts. The modern version of this ancient technique is a little less enchanting, but equally fascinating and probably more effective.
The crates are unceremoniously dumped into the mouth of the grape crushing machine prompting a furious clamour of whizzing and rattling as the fruit is compressed into a pulpy, purple goodness that oozes its way down a pipe and into the vat, leaving the stems behind. In amongst all the activity is the ubiquitous, farm dog, Frida, dashing in and out of the hoses trying to bite the water as the crates get sprayed. The contraption seems less like a serious piece of winemaking equipment and more ‘Ghostbusters’ in its design, but it only adds to the unruly excitement of the moment.
At this point the pickers retire to their nearby campsite for a tea and bickie break and a young backpacker wanders in to plunge the wine. The accurate word is ‘pigeage’, which is French for ‘punching down’. Cultivated yeast is added to the crushed juice, which converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide causes the grape skins to rise to the surface of the vat, so, in order to ensure that the flavours and colours in the skins are transferred to the wine, someone has to push down the skins three times a day.
That someone is currently Selina, a delightful, young, German woman who backpacked her way through the eastern states before ending up in Margaret River. She picked for several estates there, but was looking for the authentic experience of a smaller vineyard where she could learn more about the process. She loves Shedley’s “little hideaway” as she calls it.
In between all this another young, smiling person appears – Jane has come from Perth to collect a ute-load of wine that Chris has pressed for her family. They chat like old friends and I only find out later that he’s never met her personally though he knows her parents well.
“I’m interested in developing relationships rather than selling one bottle of wine,” Chris says and its clearly evident from the friends picking grapes, to the little stream of backpackers and visitors that the whole experience is about the community. Chris keeps his Cellar Door by appointment and encourages people to give him a call, come out and get involved, “Mainly because I like the company…and there are always interesting people showing up.”
I was just leaving when Selina shyly asked if she could add something. “I am really amazed at the love Chris puts into his work and he has taught me that the most important thing is that you put love into your wine.” Chris is clearly moved as he quotes the poet Khalil Gibran, “Work is love made visible.” I’m not sure that there’s anything I can add to this testimony that would inspire you to visit Shedley Wines Cellar Door, so it seems fitting to end with Gibran:
“And in winter, when you draw the wine, let there be in your heart a song for each cup;
And let there be in the song a remembrance for the autumn days, and for the vineyard, and for the winepress.”
Address: 251 Dalmore Road, Winnejup, WA, 6255
Phone: 9761 7512 / 0467 054 503