Facing My Fears: Working On A Vineyard In Australia

This post is part of a new feature on Pack Your Passport called Facing My Fears where I’m going to open up about how travel has pushed me to face some of my fears, live life to the full and get out of my comfort zone.  This post is the second in the series but you can find the first one here.

Out in the relatively unpolluted sky of Country Victoria away from the city, the nights are so dark that you can literally see every star in the sky and on a clear night the moon is so bright you wonder if it’s even real. Every night without fail, as Mark and I made our way back from the main house to our caravan next to the winery, we would spot stars and marvel at the night sky. 

We were working on a vineyard to get our Second Working Visa in Australia having just left a wwoofing farm on a whim in New South Wales and unlike our wwoofing hosts Barbara welcomed us with open arms, wine and a home-cooked meal.

On that first night we’d already agreed that Mark and I would sleep in the caravan next to the winery and so, knowing that we had an early start for grape picking the next morning, we helped clean up and then headed out into the dark towards what would be our sleeping quarters for the next few weeks.

The sounds of nature and animals in the night were completely unfamiliar to us and, not used to being so far out into the country, our feelings of isolation were hightened by the complete blackness that surrounded the vineyard for miles.

We had no idea what to expect the next day but we shut ourselves in the caravan and tried to make ourselves at home.  Ok the caravan was old and slightly worse for wear, but we knew that it wasn’t forever and tried to make the best of it.

The caravan we slept in on the vineyard!

Sometimes it’s good to step out of your comfort zone and just get on with whatever life throws at you – I knew that in the coming weeks there would be many times when this would be the case.

But when we were greeted by a huge, hairy Huntsman spider under the covers of the bed we were about to climb into, I already felt like I’d been pushed over the edge.
That night we decided to sleep up at the house just for one night, feeling embaressed for making a fuss and wondering what we’d let ourselves in for. Laying in those twin beds in the spare room, I suddenly felt very very far away from home.

The next morning, having hardly slept, we rose in the dark and before we knew it we were heading out to the vineyard in the cold morning and picking Reisling grapes with Barbara’s two sons and some friends and family of theirs who had all come to help.

Amazing views on the vineyard!

As the sun rose, we got our first glimpse of the rows and rows of grapevines surrounding us, the mist lifted to reveal fields of green and yellow. The views were beautiful and, quickly working my way along the vines as instructed with my picking partner opposite, I started to think that maybe we could do this.

In the next few weeks we did a lot less grape picking and a lot more leaf-plucking. This stops the rain sitting on the leaves next to the grapes and making them rot.  At first it seemed like an easy job: work your way down every vine and pluck all of the biggest leaves off. Soon though, our legs and arms would ache and having to stay alert for golden-orb spiders on the vines soon got draining.

Golden Orb Spider, Australia

I tried to keep our spirits up though, knowing that we were here for a reason. Knowing that this would be an experience of a lifetime and that we could stay for another year in Australia.
Food was also a massive part of life on the vineyard and, wanting to help out as much as possible, I asked Barbara to teach me to cook. She happily (and patiently, I’m the worst pupil!) taught me how to chop garlic and dice onions properly and how to make tzatsiki and risotto.

One weekend John, a chef and a friend of our host’s family, insisted on cooking us all a fabulous meal and, sitting outside with him afterwards, we got to talking about desserts. Minutes later he was rattling off a detailed recipe for a chocolate orange cheesecake which Mark frantically typed into his phone.

A week later, enjoying the fully equipped kitchen which made me feel like I was back at my Mum’s house, I made a chocolate orange cheesecake for the first time.  I was so proud of myself and it tasted amazing!

Believe it or not I made this cheesecake! Next stop: Masterchef!

Early mornings and long days were something we had to get used to but I enjoyed the physical labour more than I thought I would. For once it was nice to not be sat at a desk or worrying about what I looked like. Pulling on old cargos and not wearing any make-up became second nature.

Picking grapes into buckets, loading them onto the tractor, putting them through the de-stemmer and washing the buckets out became our daily routine.

When we weren’t picking grapes or leaf plucking we were doing property maintenance and gardening; I got stuck in and did the best that I could. It was hard and sometimes my body ached so much in the morning that I didn’t want to get up but I pushed through knowing a days work would be followed by a home-cooked dinner and a beautiful glass of wine.

Sampling the wine was a big plus to working on a vineyard and there was always a bottle or two opened at dinner time. Barbara’s generosity was something I never took for granted and she made us feel so at home.

Unfortunately the bad experiences we had with Australian wildlife wasn’t limited to spiders in our beds!  One sunny Sunday, one our day off, Mark and I decided to take Toby the Beagle for a walk up to the top vineyard where we knew the views of the valley below were amazing.

Toby playing dead!

Up at the top though Toby began sniffing around the grasses and acting strange.  We thought he’d just sniffed out rabbit though and kept on walking.

It wasn’t until Mark had 1 metre of Eastern Brown Snake circling his feet that we realised anything was wrong!

I did what all the Australian guidebooks tell you not to do: I ran. Mark stayed calm but was a bit shaken up and, after dragging Toby away from the scene so he didn’t get bitten, we headed back to the house, knees trembling and realising that even though we’d begun to feel more safe and secure at the vineyard, there would always be situations we’d be in that would be completely alien to us.

Our time on the vineyard wasn’t just limited to grape picking. After a long day of working in the rain one day, we were roped into hopping over the neighbour’s fence into an orchard near the top vineyard because Barbara’s son wanted to make cider.  We found ourselves wearing huge apple sacks which when full were so heavy that they were almost impossible to walk with, and spending a couple of hours picking apples and pears.

It was such hard work that I remember thinking “I wonder how many calories I’m burning doing this?!”

And, when Easter weekend came, we spent a day working on a pizza stall in the next town’s (Castlemain) Easter Festival and had a party in the winery afterwards where, just a couple of weeks before, I’d been standing in a vat of grapes stomping them with my feet!

All of these things are things I never would have got to do had we not been so intent on staying in Australia for another year. After the experience we had at the farm in NSW we were close to sacking off the idea of doing the work alltogether.

Yes, there were hard times; we sometimes felt isolated and lonely. Sometimes, I could think of nothing I wanted to do less than get up in the cold caravan and go and work in the vineyard.

Mark and I with our hosts on our last day

Sometimes, standing between the vines day after day, tears of frustration would fill my eyes.

But these things were more than made up for by the generosity of our hosts, the beautiful scenery and knowing that not everyone gets the opportunity to work on a vineyard in Australia.

And to all those wondering…..we did get our Second Working Visa and have now been in Australia 18 months in total, leaving June 2012.  It was all worth it, and I’d probably do it all over again!

Have you done fruit picking, farmwork or worked on a vineyard?

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  1. Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com says

    I could NEVER do that. Spiders and snakes… UGH….. hard physical labour… UGH ! I sure couldn't do what you guys did!

  2. girlandtheworld says

    What an inspiring story. So lovely to read about how you overcame your fears (spiders scare the hell out of me too so I totally sympathize with you!) and it really sounds like you got a lot out of the experience. I really love the idea for your series, and I can't wait to read more!

    Natalie x

  3. Toni says

    I'm all for facing my fears hun but what other jobs can I do in Oz to get me my 2nd year because I'm not doing that! lol Well done to you and Mark =)

  4. Sandra in Sweden says

    Good for you for surviving! I remember that on my first trip to Australia, I kept encountering things that would kill me. It's a different world, but gorgeous. I'll make my 10th visit there in January!

  5. Dan says

    Great post, and well done! Takes me back to last year when I did my time on a herb farm in Tasmania. Spiders, snakes, mice and rats. Such a beautiful location and really rewarding hard work. Wouldn't change it and one more year in Australia. Hurrah!

  6. Anonymous says

    Great post! I'm heading to Australia next month and am hoping to work on a vineyard for a few months to save money, get my hours in for a 2nd year visa, and drink wine! What websites can I use to find similar job openings?

  7. Lynn says

    Hi Beverley!
    Thanks for sharing that exciting experience!
    I wonder if you also found that job on gumtree? or is there any particular websites solely for vinegary jobs?

    Much appreciated,

    • says

      Hi Lynn! I actually found the job through a friend – one her family’s friends owns the vineyard I worked on. I think there are some good sites for finding farmwork in Australia though. Try Gumtree or Jobaroo :)

  8. Lucy says

    Hi There, I am looking to do exactly this and work on a vineyard to get my second year visa in Australia. Please could we exchange email addresses so I can find out more about your experience and maybe even contact Barbara?

    • says

      Hi Lucy. The place I worked no longer takes on backpackers so unfortunately I can’t help you. Hope you find something.

  9. Alice says

    This sounds great! Good for you and it’s something I would quite like to do myself, can I ask how you get such a job?

    • says

      I got it through a friend of a friend, although there are usually job ads in hostels or in the backpacker magazines. You could also try Gumtree and Joberoo.