There are many in the wine industry prepared to go to great lengths for the chance to work on a harvest, but few would perhaps go quite as far as Giles Cooke MW. For not only has he flown to Australia in the middle of lockdown, he is now holed up in a hotel room in Adelaide for the next couple of weeks serving his quarantine before he is released to go out and work the harvest on his own wines for Thistledown Wines and Alliance Wine in the McLaren Vale. Here’s the first of the diaries he is planning on writing to help him through his confinement.
The Quarantine Diaries: Day 3. Just what it is like being confined to a hotel room for 10 days, by Giles Cooke MW.
As the UK begins, somewhat belatedly, hotel quarantine for some international travellers, I have headed in the other direction and, on Sunday February 14, I entered South Australia. It’s a journey that I would ordinarily do, as MD of Alliance Wine Australia and winemaker for Thistledown Wines, three or four times a year.
I’m very lucky to be here. I’m conscious of the fact that there are Australian citizens still stranded in various parts of the world, their path back to their home blocked by high flight costs and reduced caps on international flights. And, in 12 days from now, I will be able to go about my business, running vintage for Thistledown, in freedoms that are unimaginable in the UK at present. But, there is no doubt, that what lies ahead is far from normal.
The run-in to vintage is always a little jittery. Bush fires and extreme weather are the general complications but the excitement mingled with unease that accompanies my preparations to leave the UK were compounded this year by the shear uncertainty of whether I’d get to Australia at all.
Though I had an exemption to travel from the Australian government – I was deemed more of an asset than a risk – and had booked flights last October, the constant evolution of government policies, virus mutations and the risk of catching covid were difficult to cope with. Not not only for me, but for my family who didn’t know whether to prepare to wave me off, or have a rather frustrated me working strange hours while I tried to run vintage on zoom.
Flying in lockdown
As it was, the actual journey was relatively smooth. Airports were as empty and disconcerting as a Johnson reassurance, vacant concourses, chairs stacked on tables, small groups of people furtively eating or drinking coffee, unsure as to why it is that you can’t catch covid while consuming food.
I was fully expecting (and was well prepared for) an interrogation about why I was travelling, but it never came. Of the 50 or so people on the flight from Edinburgh to Doha, many were not essential travellers. As ever, the UK appears to do just enough to cripple various industries, but not quite enough to control the virus.
One of the benefits of flying right now is that airlines are not printing out those little menus, instead adopting the approach of just telling you what delights they have on-board as they serve them. The combination of social distancing and numerous layers of masks means that it is nigh on impossible to hear what it is that is on offer. So it really is a bit of lucky dip as to what you get, a delightful extra frisson until you realise that you are eating spicy tofu and rice for breakfast.
Quarantine – Australian-style
Australia has been doing the hotel quarantine thing for a year and, though they’ve had a few issues, it is pretty well run. International passengers are segregated at all times, everyone has their temperature taken and has a health questionnaire. Negative PCR test checked, you join the queue for the magical mystery bus that will take you, escorted by police, to your hotel home.
Once there, service is brisk and is conducted by a mix of health and police officials. A brief warning about not leaving your room and you’re shown to your room and the door slams behind you.
Which hotel you are allocated is random. In my case, my hopes for any outside space were dashed, but I do have a window that opens approx. 3cms. The room is reasonably comfortable, but it is a 10mx5m space that will be all I know for the next 15 days.
Settling my circadian rhythms always takes time though I often find that jump starting them with a few beers and some Sichuan food does the trick – but that is not an option this time. Waking at 4am to go fruit sampling is something that I get excited about, waking at 4am knowing that all that awaits is a day in this room…not so much.
Food and wine rations
You can order in food but as it is included in the price of my stay, I’m going to see how I fare before venturing off-piste. Alcohol is allowed but is rationed to six beers or one bottle of wine per day – a condition no doubt informed by the desire to help people maintain good mental and physical health while quarantining.
There’s a certain novelty about it still. The first night there was no hot food, just a bag with sandwiches and fruit left, yesterday three hot (ish) meals – all of which you are alerted to by a knock at the door after which you are instructed to wait 10 seconds to allow staff to get a safe distance away. Given how difficult it will be to burn off the calories, the food is quite generous.
I’ve calculated that if I do 500 lengths of my room per day then I’ll have run 5km. I take a scenic route – leaving the door, I pass by my bed, slip through the gap between armchair and desk (trying not to bang my hip on the corner of the desk) before reaching the window that overlooks the South Australia Parliament building. A journey of approximately two to three seconds which just needs to be repeated, and repeated, and repeated…
I have plenty to do. Some of our early fruit (Clare Riesling) was picked yesterday and there are various other samplings and picking logistics to put in place. There is an AGM to organise and I have a big book of Spanish verbs to conjugate for some light relief. I’ll be fine. O al menos espero estar bien…
I didn’t give quarantine much thought before I left. I love having a project, being busy and being in control and I didn’t really want to think about what it would be like to not have any of them. It’s one thing to have spent a lot of time in hotels but when you know that you cannot leave, it is rather different.
Outside it is sunny and warm, there are people protesting on the steps of parliament, maskless. I can see venues where I know that people will be sat, an ice cold beer before them, talking to groups of friends. I can sense that the Adelaide Fringe is about to begin, where a multitude of shows will barely be impinged on by a little social distancing. I’m yearning to be out there but more so, I’m yearning for a time when we can all be out there.
- Giles Cooke MW will be updating us on how he is getting on in the next few days. In the meantime you can keep his spirits up by messaging him on Twitter at @gilescooke and on Instagram at @thistledownwines.