The vineyard at Pipers Brook is covered with netting to keep the birds from eating the grapes.Aurora Coria-Day / Special to the Statesman Journal
Aurora Coria-Day, winemaker at Coria Estates in South Salem, spent three months working at a winery in Tasmania, Australia.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
Often, the interns would head to the beach to relax after a hard day of work.Aurora Coria-Day / Special to the Statesman Journal
The barrel room at Pipers Brook Vineyard.Aurora Coria-Day / Special to the Statesman Journal
Battling spiders and scorpions on the way to the bathroom wasn’t exactly the way Aurora Coria-Day, a 29-year-old winemaker from South Salem with a sparkling personality, imagined she would start her days during her work-abroad experience.
Neither was having to avoid wallabies, kangaroos and other nocturnal marsupials that were drawn to the headlights of her car when she was driving.
But then she wasn’t working in France, Italy or Germany like most winemakers in the Willamette Valley do when they go abroad for experience. She was working in Tasmania, home of the infamous Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial found only on the island of Tasmania way on the other side of the globe at the southern tip of Australia.
“I had some friends tell me about the giant spiders and snakes, and basically everything in Australia can kill you. Getting there the time of year that I did, in the fall, all of the spiders were rampant. You had to go outside to get to the bathroom, so we would quite literally open the door and have to battle the spiders to go to the bathroom. And the scorpions were in the shower every morning. It kept me on my toes. The snakes weren’t too bad, but the horror stories were sort of true,” Aurora said.
So how does a mother feel about her daughter heading to the deadly isle of Tasmania?
“As a mother, I was just worried about her going off on her own. And then everyone that I would run into who knew she was going there would tell me about all of those deadly creatures there,” Janice Coria, co-owner of Coria Estates winery, said laughing. “When she told me that she had to kill a big spider with a shovel, I thought: Get on a plane back here,” laughing harder.
“But seriously, we were just happy for her to get that experience. When you start in an industry like this, you don’t realize how important it is to go get experiences like this. I think her biggest lesson was realizing how much she had to learn.”
Aurora, winemaker at Coria Estates, had been yearning for a work-abroad experience, and an opportunity presented itself through an agricultural industry program.
“I’ve always dreamed of going to France or Italy. France because it’s the home of pinot noir,” Aurora said. “I really wanted to travel and learn different styles of wine-making from somewhere abroad, but I didn’t want to be gone during our harvest. I wanted to be gone during our slow months. Australia is the opposite of us as far as seasons go.”
She almost missed the exchange program’s deadline but was encouraged to go through with the application process. And it turned out that Pipers Brook Vineyard in Tasmania had one spot left, and she got it. Pipers Brook produces chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines.
During her research, she discovered Tasmania had a similar climate to the Willamette Valley and similar volcanic soil.
“So it was great to go somewhere else in the world where their winemaing style was similar to ours,” Aurora said.
And she had never worked with sparkling wines and was looking forward to that experience.
Aurora left at the beginning of March and didn’t return until the end of June. It was spring in the Willamette Valley. When she got to Tazmania, half a world away and in the southern hemisphere, it was fall there, and harvest was beginning.
The days during harvest were long and hard, 15 to 16 hours, she said. And she missed home during the beginning.
“It was shocking to be that far away. It was really hard in the beginning because I was over there by myself. The people were amazing and became family very quickly. But it was really hard to find the time to communicate with home.”
Besides the 17-hour time difference, she was on the other side of the international date line.
“I’d be getting up in the morning. If it was Tuesday for me, it was Monday back at home. We were literally a day apart. It was hard to find the right time to talk to each other. I was getting up, and they were going to bed,” Aurora said.
The four other people in the program at Pipers Brook were going through similar experiences in the beginning.
“All of us were missing home,” Aurora said. “We shared that bond of lonesomeness. That helped us through on the really bad days.”
Of the five interns there, two were from the U.S., two were from New Zealand and one was from Greece.
The five interns lived in cottages on the winery property, about a three- or four-minute walk away from the winery.
“They were rustic cabins with a couple of bedrooms, kitchens and couches. We paid rent and supplied our own groceries,” she said.
To keep in touch with her husband, Brandon Day, her mom and dad and sister, she did a lot of emailing, texting and Skyping. But her Internet service wasn’t very reliable, plus it was only at the winery, so after work and the tasting room closed, all of the interns would head down to use the wifi and clog the bandwidth. The Skyping got spotty at best, and she finally just got a pay-as-you-go cell phone and called home every week or 10 days.
“I obviously missed Rori (Aurora’s nickname) so much, but I was completely supportive of her benefiting from such an awesome experience,” said Aurora’s husband, Brandon.
“It was a really diverse experience working in the winery,” said Aurora who worked as an assistant in the winery’s lab. “Our days were so filled.”
Fruit samples were brought to the lab to be analyzed for sugar levels, PH and total acidity.
“We were doing panel analysis and giving it to the winemaker,” Aurora said. “I learned a lot about his processes and his ability to document everything that we did and numbers we had.”
It was a new process for the winery. They were trying to get a handle for what the numbers looked like coming out of the vineyard and what the wines were like coming out of the winery to make a quantitative correlation.
“I learned a lot of lab techniques. It was probably my first experience working hands-on in a lab. They’ve given up on cork there; they’re big screw-cap users. They did a lot of tests on long-term use of screw caps. They looked at oxidation, PH levels and did a torque test on the screw caps to see how well the capsule was been placed and to see if it was loosening.”
While she was there, Aurora also picked up a valuable tip that she says she’ll examine how to use in her own winemaking: holding juice in a tank.
“That was an interesting concept to me,” Aurora said.
The winemaker’s idea was that he would hold juice in tanks and not ferment it right away because he wanted to make sure the juice was stable and the flavor profile was perfect before going into fermentation, like preparing a child for going through school. It was interesting having many tanks full of juice kept at a cool temperature, with sulfur added to preserve it,” she said. “You can take your time and have more control. I thought their wines were very aromatic and very open and expressive, and you could see a direct relationship,” she said.
Aurora and the lab manager were responsible for inoculating all of the white grape juice with yeast to begin the fermentation process.
“I learned a lot about inoculating and yeasts and recipes,” she said.
“It was interesting learning from different winemakers. I went to Tasmania to learn wine, making from an Australian winemaker, but I worked with winemakers from all over the world who were there, so it was really something that you can only get from traveling abroad that way.”
But it wasn’t all work during her internship. Because the winery was so close to the ocean, about 5 minutes away, on many days, the interns and others would head to the beach after work.
“One of them was a diver and would go diving for abalone, and we would build a fire and cook them on the beach and enjoy them with wine,” she said.
During her internship, Aurora also was able to see her husband as well as other parts of Australia.
“We had a two-week reunion in Queensland; it was awesome,” Brandon said. “It was a very special time, and as you might imagine, getting to see the Barrier Reef together, hiking, visiting many of the wineries in Melbourne, etc., was such a wonderful time that we will never forget.”
Victor Panichkul is food, wine and beer columnist for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at (503) 399-6704, Vpanichkul@StatesmanJournal.com, follow at Facebook.com/WillametteValleyFoodWine and on Twitter @TasteofOregon.
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