Welcome to Coonawarra: The Homeless Grapes Project
By Eliza Gower
I woke to a deafening crack. Wind and rain whipped the tent rhythmically, a lullaby if not for its unsettling force. It was pitch black still, maybe 4am, on the morning of the final Homeless Grapes pick in Coonawarra.
I peeked out of the tent at first light. The rain was horizontal, the eucalypts a deep curtsy against mother nature’s wrath. It looked as bad as it sounded.
We ran from the tents and gathered by the fire inside Sue’s winery at Bellwether. An old sheep station filled with fermenting grapes, and a menagerie of collectables, crockery, barrels and bottles. A place of magic. The kitchen was still heavy with last night’s roast pork and quince as we discussed the day ahead.
We stood and laughed helplessly for a moment, at the apocalyptic ferocity of it all. How tempting it was to stay in this beautiful little haven and cancel the pick. The winemaker on Sue’s property actually strongly advised we did just that. The grapes would be swollen, the vines a mess.
“No one picks in weather like this.”
We called Emma of Raidis Wines, where the event was soon to start and suggested we call it off. Her response was pretty straight up: “it’ll clear”.
Looking outside that seemed farcical, but you have to trust a woman who spends her life at the whim of the weather.
Then she added something much more powerful, a thought that humbled us into action.
“Anyway, surely we can manage a few hours picking in the rain. Let’s remember why we’re doing this. Two hours of cold is nothing compared with a lifetime of homelessness.”
The Homeless Grapes Project was born of a desire to effect change. To help, to house, to bring comfort to those who have nothing. To remember people so often marginalised, walked past, left to sleep in the rain, people perhaps not so dissimilar to you and me.
Four years ago, we chose to pick grapes that would otherwise have gone to waste, and used them to make a wine, that we could sell, and drink and love. And we we were able to give every cent of profit from that wine to this cause that seems so inherently solvable. We picked those grapes so we could help bring people in from the cold.
So we rolled up our sleeves and went to Raidis, knowing it may just be the four of us out there picking.
But the scene we arrived to was quite different. We were met with cars pulling up and people pouring into the winery, wrapped in scarves and rain jackets. Gumboots on, snips in hand. The beautiful Coonawarra community gathered, to offer their time, their help, their warmth. Without question, without complaint.
We shared the story of Homeless Grapes, how it came to be, while rain pelted the flimsy tin roof that was momentarily sparing us discomfort. As the speech came to an end and we turned to enter the vineyard, the rain and wind suddenly subsided, and a defiant few rays of sun pierced the grey. It was something. Goosebumps rushed my skin.
We were to pick at three vineyards that day, and the weather held. Every vineyard was visited, every grape collected. But as we returned, pink-faced, to the safety of the barrel room at Hollick to celebrate, the storm unleashed her fury once more.
The universe really conspired to make something beautiful happen. Not for us, but for this project that seems to grow and move our hearts a thousand times every day.
The same lesson keeps being hammered home - it may seem hard, and awkward, and maybe even frightening, to stop, to fumble for change, to say hello, to ask if you can help. But it’s nowhere near as hard for us to offer those few moments of discomfort as it is for those experiencing homelessness to get through each and every day.
As Emma Raidis so aptly reminded us - we need to choose what is right, even if it’s hard. We need to choose to pick the grapes, to walk headlong into the storm. To endure a little discomfort for the sake of another.
And have faith that the world will conspire to make some magic in return.
A special thank you to the Coonawarra community, the volunteers who donated their time and helping hands, and of course the following wineries for their enthusiasm and support for this very special project: Raidis Estate, Hollick Estate, Redman Wines, Patrick of Coonawarra, Penley Estate and Jim Brand Wines.
Show your support for the Homeless Grapes Project by pre-ordering a case of Coonawarra cabernet 2018 here. Every cent will go to AC Care, an amazing frontline charity who seek to enhance the wellbeing of rural people through positive social change. AC Care was started by country people and now serves the Limestone Coast, Murraylands and Riverland communities in South Australia. Help us make a difference and pre-order your case today.