After yet another clambering ascent to the top of the tallest tank on the winery, I decided to afford myself a good few minutes to catch my breath.
My supervisor was no doubt twitching as to my whereabouts below, but the sight that was splaying itself across the vista before me was one of those moments that are simply too precious to miss.
The sun was sliding gracefully down the sky, bleaching the powder-puff clouds with a brilliant, blazing orange; the horizon, full of luscious, tumbling green, was awaiting it with open arms; and the stench of sweet earth and berries filled my nostrils.
In the distance, I could hear the faint hum of machinery, waning slightly as its work for the day petered out along with the fading light.
If ever I was to feel some sort of cosmic alignment with my own tiny, insignificant life, this was it; someone, somewhere, seemed intent on reminding me – in the most grandiose way possible – that my time in the Barossa was coming to a sure-fire end.
It’s been three months since I arrived here, and only a couple of weeks until I depart, but the legacy of my experience here will stretch on for far longer than I could have imagined.
Back then, when my hands were free of the stain of red wine, I thought of the Barossa only as a word, as a label, as something stuck onto bottles to indicate some sort of authenticity.
How wrong I was.
It isn’t just a word that marks (quite literally at times) the dizzyingly good wine, it’s so much more than that; it’s a word that has come to represent to me the very definition of community and pride.
Almost every morning before my shift begins, I’ve sought refuge in one of the many coffee shops that line the streets of Nuriootpa and Tanunda, working away on my novel, and allowing the teeming streams of local gossip to wash over my grateful ears.
I have never been greeted with anything less than a beaming smile, an act of overt generosity, or a genuine interest in the life of an outsider.
It has been as refreshing, infectious, and welcome a break from the gloom of the London underground as I’m ever likely to find.
It can be so easy to become complacent in the place that you’ve been brought up.
I myself am guilty of it back home in Cambridge, where I rely on Far Eastern tourists, clambering to gobble up the majesty of King’s college on their new Nikon cameras, to remind me to take off the blinkers and appreciate the beauty I’m surrounded by.
But no such reminder is needed here; the pride of the Barossa is as ever present as the smell of yeast and grapes that hangs in the air.
It radiates in every wink of the eye, every smile its people affords; towards the rolling land, the sprawling vineyards; for those who slave away picking the grapes, for those who crush them; for those that make something of them, to those who just drink them- even those who don’t like the stuff; the pride is still there for all to see.
It may be a small bubble of a place, but the sense of community here in the Barossa is not only a lesson to all those back home who too often entertain only the gripes of reality’s break with Utopia: it is also one of my greatest privileges to date that I have been allowed so willingly to become a part of it.
So thank you, people of the Barossa, you’ll leave me with far more than just my blackened hands.