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FT-Nov16 39 MARLBORO UGH MAN unforgiving, howling winds that seemed to penetrate every layer of clothing. Then the school holidays arrived, and still more workers vanished. By the middle of September, we had gone from about ninety workers to a core group of about a dozen. But what surprised us all the most was that twelve of us could do better, faster work than ninety people. As the weather warmed and kinks in the processes were ironed out, we practically flew through row after row. We were suddenly planting hundreds of vines per hour, and by the time spring finally set in, the dirty dozen of us had finished the planting at all three vineyards. The next major issue to untangle was just how the hell we were going to get water to these thousands of new plants. The managers seemed to be putting a plan together over the next several weeks, with more equipment, trucks and large tanks arriving at each of the three properties. As this continued, Jim asked me to take a ride with him in his car, a Ford Falcon. We drove from Fairhall to Brancott, Jim taking those ten minutes or so to explain that Montana would be looking for more blocks of land. This meant he would be spending most of his time identifying and surveying properties, as well as organising people and equipment. Therefore, he would need someone to run a crew and, in particular, manage the watering of the new plantings while he was otherwise engaged. He needed someone to organise the disorganised – and he wanted me to be a leading hand. Any pride I might have felt evaporated the instant he dropped me off at Brancott, where all of the workers were having a water fight in the warm, spring sun. One guy was wearing a wetsuit, splashing around the inside of a massive plastic water tank. There’s nothing worse than being one of the gang, and then suddenly you’re the boss. The Brancott, Fairhall and Renwick properties were still nothing more than large plots of brown dirt with sticks protruding from the dry earth every metre or so. Although I had kept quiet up until now and had simply followed instructions, I figured it was time to start asking questions, and take the extra steps I had taken when I was a shearer to get things done better, faster and smarter. The only problem, of course, is that grapevines are far more temperamental, finicky and unpredictable than even the moodiest sheep – which is just one of many things that would conspire to slow progress over the next few years. accidental wine-industry trailblazer This excerpt is reproduced courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers. Marlborough Man is available now at all booksellers for $44.99. what else up in Gisborne, then packed into containers marked with strange words such as ‘Muller-Thurgau’, ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ and ‘Pinot Noir’. About eighty of us took part in the planting. We were each given a bucket full of cuttings, and told to stand in a long line. A cable, about 400 metres long and marked at 1.8-metre intervals, was stretched in front of us; one end of the cable was attached to a peg in the ground, the other to a tractor. A guy at one end, with a rifle and a scope, would look through and give hand signals to a few people in the line, who would move the cable in response to the signals until the cable appeared straight through the scope. A flag would go up from the signaller, and everyone standing in the line would kneel down, push a cutting into the hard ground next to their mark on the cable, then step forward 3 metres and wait for the cable to move again. We did this all day, every day, for weeks. As improvised and ridiculous as the system was, the rows were surprisingly straight. The problem, however, was that we were slow, never mind that we were planting sticks. “This is crazy,” Jim (Hamilton, then Brancott manager) would say to Frank Yukich multiple times during the planting. “These things are never going to grow.” Frank would brush him off, telling him not to worry, and that Wayne (Thomas) would find a solution for any problems that arose. Clive Drummond remembers an even bigger problem: communication. When so many people are trying to work together, relatively little gets done. It seems logical that the more people you throw at a task, the faster it will move towards completion. In the vineyard, however, it was the exact opposite. ‘How many vines did you plant?” Clive recalls one worker asking another. “Fifteen.” “Really? Wow, I only did ten.” With each person planting only two vines per hour at most, it was going to take us years to finish. After the first few weeks, workers began disappearing due to the cold, Lucky readers Lee Watson and Anny Dentener have won copies of the book in time for Christmas. Eventually, many thousands of cones covered the newly planted vines.

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