Sunday, 14 April 2024 13:25

Weather Watcher: Victoria Raw

Written by  Emma Timewell
Victoria Raw Victoria Raw

A one-year Erasmus Programme in France in year three of an agricultural degree introduced Victoria Raw to the wine industry, and changed her life.

“I had to choose an elective and was told about oenology. I had no idea what it was and had to have it explained to me,” says the Research Associate at Plant & Food Research. “Winemaking seemed like a good idea. I had engaging teachers and great classmates. We got into visiting vineyards and tasting wine. Agriculture became quite fun and I realised I wanted to take it further.”

Her career was now destined to change direction. “I became interested in vines and their growth, rather than the end product, rather than the selling and marketing. A doorway had opened and I thought it might be an interesting field to work in.” Victoria returned to Edinburgh to work in a wine shop for a year but the science of growing held her attention. “I knew that if I wanted to take wine and vines seriously, I’d need to focus on viticulture.”

A worldwide search for the right programme led her to Adelaide, where she completed a graduate diploma in viticulture in 1999. A short plane ride across the Tasman in 2000 brought her to Corbans Wines, where she worked directly in the vineyards and the nursery. Victoria then moved into more research and development as the viticultural technician, which brought her into contact with Plant & Food Research (then HortResearch) and the team using the vineyards for research.

In 2006, Victoria moved to Plant & Food Research. “My interest has always focused on the research, delving into the deep, asking questions and not always getting the answers, and being surrounded by other people with the same interests.” She also describes herself as a bit of a weather junkie, which makes sense when you think about New Zealand and the United Kingdom: islands that experience a lot of interesting weather. HortResearch helpfully brought together Victoria’s interests in research and weather when she was introduced to Rob Agnew (see facing page). VineFax, as it was first called, began in 1997, going out to subscribers in Marlborough using data from 10 HortResearch weather stations and two others, with a focus on Sauvignon Blanc. In 2014, it found a new home with New Zealand Winegrowers. Coverage extended to vineyards and climate in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, North Canterbury and Central Otago, and then to Nelson, creating a key tool for growers in those areas. Today, it covers a range of topics, from disease management through to flowering and year-on-year comparisons for Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc across 31 monitored blocks.

Victoria has worked on VineFacts alongside Rob for the past 18 years, collating and writing for the regular Friday dispatch. “We are growing exponentially. We began as a subscriber service; now we’re on a website. We were Marlborough-only, now we’re across seven regions.” This growth has created an invaluable data resource. “We now have 20 years of Marlborough data and 10 years for those other areas. We can compare seasons; we can see how the season is tracking in different parts of New Zealand for different grapes. Growers can look at the data and work out how they’re tracking, are they late or early with flowering, when did harvesting begin?”

Where to from here? Victoria says she’s not taking over from Rob Agnew, who is retiring from Plant & Food. She is simply continuing what he started, and looking at where technology such as an app might take them.

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