Friday, 15 October 2021 15:30

Wine School: Pandemic propels School of Winegrowing

Written by  Sophie Preece
Spencer Hill Estate. Photo by Chocolate Dog Studio Spencer Hill Estate. Photo by Chocolate Dog Studio

A taste of vintage has fuelled the career plans of a group of Marlborough college students, keen to rapidly return to the cellar floor.

"There was a passion and light in their eyes when they came back," says Rebecca Kane, head of the New Zealand School of Winegrowing. "They are so focussed and adamant now that that's where they are going."

"It was amazing", says 17-year-old Marlborough Boys' College student Jack Fransen, who worked a full vintage at Wither Hills winery thie year. "It opened my eyes to the fact that this is what I really want to do. It really confirmed everything for me," says Jack, admitting that he was reluctant to return to school after the work, because "it was that much fun". But with plans to become a winemaker, he'll be back at college next year, doing his full curriculum of study through the wine school, including time spent studying cellar operations at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), pruning in a working vineyard, and working the pumps and lines at a winery through vintage. "I'll hopefully be at a bigger winery again," he says, keen on his harvest lasting as long as possible.

The wine school was established in 2018 as a collaboration between the Marlborough Girls' and Marlborough Boys' Colleges, New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW), Wine Marlborough and several Marlborough businesses, vineyards and wineries. This year it received an additional $25,000 in sponsorship from NZW, as well as financial support from Cloudy Bay winery, says Rebecca, who has seen the wine school go from strength to strength over the past four years. Industry has been "amazingly supportive", she says. "If I need anything, everyone is happy to help out, with knowledge, time and experience." That means the students got hands-on with pruning in a local vineyard this winter, where they cut up a vine to look at trunk disease, and learned first-hand how pruning impacts plant health and yields. It also means that when it comes time to make and package their own wines, a wine company ensures they have grapes.

A strengthening relationship with NMIT means some students visit the tertiary provider once a week, to undertake the Level 3 New Zealand Certificate in Cellar Operations, with those student numbers well up on expectation, says Rebecca. The wine school was previously a full-time programme for students, and they would undertake all their classes via the course, from maths and science to English and accounting. But this year they adapted the programme to be more inclusive, allowing students to take a few papers through the wine school as part of their standard year, which has resulted in a leap in student numbers.

Rebecca says there'll be more students than ever wanting to tackle vintage work in 2022, and more opportunities as well, due to the labour constraints while borders are closed. Some, like Jack, will work full-time, while others will do part-time vintage work alongside studies, or choose to remain in the classroom throughout vintage.

Cloudy Bay Wine Communications Manager Kat Mason says the company wants to support the local community and play a role in showing Marlborough students the array of career pathways in the industry, from winemaking, and viticulture to marketing and hospitality. "It's something that could offer a real future for them." She says in the past the wine industry may have been perceived as an industry that sourced its people from outside of the region, "but that's been a default setting rather than a desired setting".

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