Grape Harvesting in Swan Valley: from scam to happiness.

The fear of many backpackers in Australia is the search for (especially, never finding!) work... Lack of money, poor English, little working experience in life or in the search for employment, no resourcefulness; the reasons to panic are numerous for those seeking. How many times have we read that Australia is no longer the Eldorado that it was; that it is very hard, sometimes impossible in some places to find a job; that the Australians never call back when you leave your number...

When luck is smiling at us!

vendanges-grape picking-little river-swan valley


As Matt noticed, many of these complaints emanate from French who do not really speak English (not to say at all...). On the American side, all who seek find.

And if it is certain that speaking English is an advantage, we know two Frenchmen who spoke English like Spanish cows that found a job almost directly in Melbourne; and who, in three months, have earned good money.


On our side, after two weeks and a car bought, we felt the need to earn a few dollars before getting on the road. On Monday, we headed to a brewery-cafe (yes, in our sweet dreams, Matt was going to make beer and Lucile waitressing...). Obviously, that did not happen. We ended up spending $70 on salads and beer, and not really looking for a job. We then wanted to stop in the various wineries around there to ask if they needed help for the harvest.


Again, we did not follow our plan: not inspiring, too dispersed, closed on Monday, the "chateaux" had let us down.


So we worked out our neurons, got back into our host family and Matt picked up the phone. Within 5 calls, he had picked up a job in the vines for Friday. And had left our number to an old gentleman who was to call us back.

On Wednesday, he kept his word and contacted us again. He wanted to meet with us personally to see if we would suit him. This Wednesday was also the day when the nail in our tire decided to make himself known, by deflating the tire by 10 psi. Ready for the battle. As we could not decently drive 1 hour a day with a limp tire, an order was made for 4 Yokohama All-Terrain tires at Bob Jane's Tires.


Our first day of work


On Thursday, we took Chocolatine again to the doctor... Tire Upgrade Baby, yeaaah (Matt was stoked)! During the makeover, we bought hats and gloves, and it was with those $835 of surgery that we happily went to meet the old vintner a half hour away. 5 minutes later, we were hired for the following Monday. Yes, all this driving for that, it was a bit upsetting, but we have nothing for nothing!


On Friday, trumpets from the alarm clock at 4:15 am for a departure at 5:10 am and an arrival at 5:45 am, and already 26 degrees Celsius. On the spot, we are alone with two Germans. The boss, who does not introduce himself, gives us two pruning shears, asks us if we have already done this before, tells us once again that we will be paid by the bucket ($3.5 per bucket), and that we can start when we want. He adds that tomorrow the pick will be finished and we will be paid. All with a disdainful and haughty air and with funny accent that Lucile suspected then French or German.


Surprised but motivated, we started to rush. 1h, 3h, 6h30 passed. No boss on the horizon, 4 new pickers arrived in the meantime, it is 12:30, we start to get hungry and very hot (39 degrees Celsius...). We did not fill as many buckets as we had hoped. The vine, very badly maintained, is a real mess with very few bunches in most places. Lucile being bitten by a spider at the elbow (with strong pain that went up to the wrist and skin that goosebumped around), we slowed down the pace to better inspect the branches.


At 12:30, the boss finally arrives, to talk only to two pickers. Then they come to tell us that it's time to stop. And we had to pass the message to the following. 36 buckets later, without money, we go back home, exhausted by the heat.

A second day as hard but with a surprise!


Saturday, same again. Waking up early, harvesting until 11:30. We then return to the car, determined to claim our money, when the boss, who had not shown up in the morning, arrives and hails us. His two employees for loading and unloading the grapes got wasted the evening before and did not show up in the morning. He offers us $20 an hour each for 3 additional hours of work.


After only 66 buckets in total over two days and almost nothing on the pay slip, we accept heartily. Here we are, loading the buckets on his ute, then unloading them in his cellar. We put them in a grinder and get rid of the bare bunches. The old fashion way. In this cellar that does not look fancy at all and to which is attached the cafe.


We then clean all the equipment and the floor, and there, our boss finally began smiling a little. A little. Do not ask too much from a French Count who came to Australia 25 years ago and whose family has famous castles in the Entre-Deux-Mers and Saint-Estèphe... Yes, we just met Bruno de Tastes, who knows Carcans. What were the odds of such a meeting in such a large country? M. de Tastes is more than satisfied with our work, he pays us $371 with enthusiasm (pardon, $370, because the $1 coin he held in his hand and slipped into his pocket discreetly...) and proposes us to come back as soon as the harvest resumes, within a week or two.


If we want to, we have a job well paid for 3 weeks in...we do not know how long... If we are delighted with the three hours that we spent in the cellar and we earned well, we also understand that to be paid by the bucket was being screwed and that we will not renew the experience.


Our second job in Australia, pur happiness!

vendanges-grape picking-mannwinery-swan valley-bucket-sitting-beforework

Step two, see how this happens in the other "castle", where we will be paid $20 an hour for the harvest.


On Monday, the two zombies that we are get up at 4:15 am. Starting the harvest at 6 am, with the old gentleman, Durham Mann, his daughter, two French (Camille and Anthony) and two Germans.


Apart from New Zealand, harvesting grapes has never been so pleasant! A calm rhythm, seated on crates not to kill our backs, we harvested their sauvignon blanc which they will turn into "champagne" (an exclusivity as they hold the patent for this variety, they alone have the right to do so here!). The hours pass, and around 10:30 we stop harvesting. The heat rises, we have to put the grapes on the trailer of the tractor and go eat...


4h30 of work to cut the grapes that we did not see pass because the father and daughter are charming, interesting and interested, full of stories and anecdotes! We then spend 1 hour loading the grapes, then we were treated to a king brunch, with tea, coffee, bacon and cheese croissants, marbled chocolate brioche... Two lovely bosses who want to see us again on Thursday. We hurried to accept...


We then visited three other cellars and were hired for the same Thursday for the harvest in another "castle". So, as soon as we finished with the Manns, we will go for a ride to see the Edgecombe brothers...


Anyways, in the matter of 4 days of work, we will be able to put about AU $ 900 aside for the two of us, perfect to hit the road before trying the harvests further south, in Margaret River.


So, within a week, we found three jobs. Do not hesitate to try, to call, to move, to insist. There is work. But do not be afraid to get your hands dirty...or to speak English!!


Our eternal thanks!

And if we can set aside as much without spending anything, there is a reason. We must thank our Cliff family with all of our hearts for allowing us to stay at their home as much as we wanted, working or not.


As long as we do our work at home, they want us to have the best amount of work. It is not everyone who would be so open and generous, and we need to emphasize that. Few guests would accept such a deal. So thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!


To go ask for a job or simply to find them and have a little tasting, here are the Facebook pages and the websites of the two wineries we worked at:


- Little River Winery



- Mann's Winery


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