The wine industry was never Stuart Dudley’s first career choice. The viticulturist for Villa Maria Wines in Marlborough had his mindset on research or forensics, having completed a degree in Genetics and Biochemistry.
Their medal-winning wine, a 2014 Syrah, was made from grapes donated by C J Pask and grown by company viticulturist Danny van Selm. One of 43 Syrahs entered in the awards, it was judged alongside commercial entries and was one of five golds in its class.
Tom Carpenter and classmates Maddie Crozier, Eleisha George and Stephen McGowan harvested the grapes on Good Friday last year after rain.
"Given all the heavy rain, we had to be pretty selective as the fruit had taken a bit of a battering," Stephen recalls. "We had to get it off skins pretty quickly, but we knew the flavours were there."
The students picked enough from the Gimblett Gravels vineyard to fill a four-year-old French oak barrel. Wine science and viticulture lecturer Tim Creagh opened up the winery on campus – "he spent most of his day off with us," says Eleisha.
Six months in and feeling the maturing wine was coming along nicely but in need of a little extra oak, the group added barrel staves.
Tom says there was an ongoing interchange involving the four classmates. The process was so cordial, it inspired the wine's name, Harmony.
"We did it by the book, with blending and fining trials," says Stephen, "setting up bench trials for everything."
Mike Compton says this year was a first for a non-commercial wine to have won gold during his time as awards director, since 1998.