Tuesday, 26 October 2021 16:30

Postcard: Letters from abroad

Written by  Matt Thomson
Matt Thomson in Soave, northeast Italy. Matt Thomson in Soave, northeast Italy.

Ciao Ragazzi!

I've just started my 58th harvest following 29 years of continuous northern and southern hemisphere harvests. I haven't missed one, but the last two years have been quite challenging with the complexity of international travel. Usually, I travel to Europe four times and South America twice a year. For the last two years I've been down to one European trip for around seven weeks, with additional weeks in MIQ. I've been asked many times by colleagues when I'm going to stop travelling and I've always answered, "when the negatives outweigh the positives". The restaurants are pretty good over here, but during the last two years there has been a significant increase in the negatives!

Last year felt scary. I left my family (who normally travel with me for the longer harvest trip) in New Zealand, where it felt relatively safe from the frightening effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. I was leaving all that I loved to venture off, facing the risk of contracting Covid without the security of our New Zealand health system. I worried about catching it and being denied a return home, stranded sick and alone overseas. It felt pretty raw as I said goodbye in the darkness of Blenheim airport’s set-down area. At that time the airport was closed to all but passengers, a change that had occurred overnight, which was a very unwelcome surprise.

Why would I take that risk? This is a 23-year-old project, launched by David Gleave MW (whom I had also worked with on a prior separate project). He was my best man at our wedding and is godfather of my eldest daughter Gianna. You can’t send samples during vintage. You need to make immediate calls and fermentations don’t sample well. Not going would have undermined the entire project, that we have spent half a lifetime building together to what it is now.

This year feels different. I’ve been vaccinated. Most of Europe has been vaccinated and all the reports from my friends over here were that life was getting back to normal. I’m based in Verona, which is about 80km from Italy’s deadliest epicentre from the first wave that hit in early 2020. Unfortunately, but predictably, the Delta variant found its way to New Zealand - this news breaking 36 hours before my departure. Auckland Airport was back to being a very unusual and very tense place to be as I passed through. Once on the long-haul flight it all changed. The staff were a lot more relaxed than the year before. They are all vaccinated. Gone are the full body coverings and face visors, and back is the friendly service and conversations.

On the way to Dubai, I shared the plane with 80 New Zealand Defence Force personnel travelling to Kabul to do their best to extract the Kiwis there. I got talking to one of the officers who was planning the mission and sitting beside me. I contemplated the nervousness about where I was going in the context of their mission. Paris versus Kabul? It takes a very special person to put themselves in that kind of danger, and we all owe them our gratitude for being ready to do that for us.

Eventually I touched down in Paris CDG and entered the end of summer holidays chaos. After a visit to check on last year’s wines and assess the vineyards in Pomerols near Montpellier, I drove across to Verona, Italy, where I’m based now. We’ve harvested some of the best Pinot Grigio I think I’ve made over here at the three wineries we work with in the Veneto. Alana McGettigan joined me here yesterday. Alana and I have worked together on this project since 2005, and we are harvesting in Friuli on Thursday. We might call in to Venice for lunch if we get it all in early enough. Life could be worse over here, I guess.

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