November 29, 2016
These days button pushing coopers use one finger to make a barrel.
Big machines. One finger.
Shaun Gibson uses 9.5 fingers. He lost the tip of his index finger while swinging a big hammer and talking to his mate about Saturday night. At the same time.
He's not a button pusher.
Nor is his red-headed offsider Corey Roehr.
Corey's 30 and he’ll probably have to serve another 30 years before he finishes his cooperage apprenticeship. He wears a quizzical grin and gets all of Shaun's cast off jobs.
Lighting the fire with oak chips on aching Angaston winter mornings. Fetching him a cup of black Amgoorie shearer's tea...if he's lucky.
Shaun lives for the timber. Selecting a stave – closing one eye and looking along its edge, smelling its aroma, like wine.
"It's an art," he says. "Barrels are made from nature. You have to look at the grain, run your hand over it before you start. Get the feel of it."
Corey loves that part of it too.
"I reckon I could make just about anything out of timber now. Coopering gives you a good grounding."
They're proud of their contribution. Small they call it, as the winery whizzes and whirrs around them.
But this is ground zero at Yalumba. It's the place where the placentas are created – the time capsules.
Red wine lives in these vessels for months, years, sometimes decades. Sleeping, maturing, growing up to be beauties.
Down here in the cooperage, surrounded by tools that could be medieval weapons of torture, worn to a bronze patina by time, these blokes are the last of a breed.
"There were five men here when I started. Now there's just the two of us. It's all gone to the button pushers," Shaun says.
But not here.
Double fired, medium toasted, subtle smokiness. The winemaker will still wander down and pick his or her barrel. Like they've done every vintage. Every year. Forever.