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Tuesday, 24 August 2021 17:00

At the top of their field

Written by  Staff Reporters
Albie Feary Albie Feary

In the lead up to the Corteva Young Viticulturist of the Year National Final 2021, we get to know a bit about the regional finalists from around the country.

Albie Feary, Machinery and Vineyard Operator at Ata Rangi, Wairarapa.

What brought you to viticulture?

I was drawn to viticulture because of my love of plants and the changing seasons, as well as the intrigue that winemaking held for me. I wanted a life that was connected to growing something from the soil, and the grapevine is an incredible perennial that so clearly shows what a place is capable of.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I love my field of work because it's incredibly gratifying, dynamic and connecting. I am lucky to have a hand in the soil (or in my case often the tractor wheel) and a hand in the fermenter. Having balance between vineyard and winery is important to me, and learning from the greats here at Ata Rangi is a real privilege. We have a lot of fun and the community vibes are solid here.

What are the most exciting developments in your field? And the most exciting developments in your region's wine industry?

Being a dynamic industry, the exciting developments in the Wairarapa are closely linked to treading lightly on our piece of dirt and how in turn we can grow better quality grapes for a better economic outcome. More and more, the conversations around soil health and vine health are being discussed and acted upon. It's great to see how we are moving away from the macro and delving into the micro as to how each particular soil site needs different care. This is particularly true in terms of precious resource as well as cover crops planted between rows for fostering tiny microbial livestock beneath the ground. There's also a movement of 'soft pruning' techniques regarding important pruning decisions that are sympathetic to sap flow which are helping to prolong vine life and reduce spray and labour inputs.

Sum up a career in viticulture in 10 words or fewer.

A lifelong learning experience surrounded by good people and good wine.

Courtney Sang, Assistant Winemaker and Vineyard Supervisor at Obsidian Wines, Waiheke Island.

Courtney Sang

What brought you to viticulture?

I began my career as a chemical engineer, but after a quarter-life crisis I decided to join the wine industry and so completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Wine Science from the University of Auckland. I haven't looked back and have loved being around vines and wines ever since.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I love working in an industry where everyone is so passionate. Having a joint passion with the people around you is inspiring, it keeps you motivated and the challenges that we experience become a problem shared. The wine industry is an amazing industry that connects people from around the world.

What are the most exciting developments in your field?

The amount of new technology that is being developed for viticulture is incredibly exciting. Anything that makes looking after our vines easier, more efficient, and more successful is a welcome prospect. Being able to scale these technologies and developments for smaller grape growers, like us here on Waiheke Island, where our biggest vineyards are just a few hectares and we have a particularly challenging environment to grow grapes, would be of particular interest to me.

Sum up a career in viticulture in 10 words or fewer.

The vine is always right.

Jess Wilson, Viticulturist at Whitehaven Wines, Marlborough.

Jess Wilson

What brought you to viticulture?

I loved science at school but didn't want to be stuck in an office, so I went to Lincoln University to have a look and the Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology caught my attention because of the combination of science and practical outdoor work.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I think my job is the perfect combination of science, outdoors, practical knowledge and people. No two seasons are the same, so each year provides a new challenge.

What are the most exciting developments in your field?

As an industry I feel that we are always looking to the future and towards new innovations. For me personally, we are working on a development where we are trialling Eco Trellis, Future Posts and subsurface irrigation. It will be a site we can learn from for the future of our company.

And the most exciting developments in your region's wine industry?

As a region Marlborough is slowly running out of land so we are having to come up with ways to farm smarter, be more sustainable and really invest in the future health of the land. They aren't 'new' concepts, but there is more investment in what is referred to as regenerative viticulture. This last year, driving around you see so many more vineyards experimenting with cover crops and fenceline plantings; the biodiversity of our region will definitely benefit.

Sum up a career in viticulture in 10 words or fewer.

Viticulture is challenging, diverse, exciting and innovative.

Katrina Jackson, Assistant Vineyard Manager at Chard Farm, Central Otago.

Katrina Jackson

What brought you to viticulture?

I had always had an interest in wine from when I was young; originally I wanted to become a winemaker. I went to Lincoln University and moved down to Central Otago for a vintage, but I fell in love working the vineyards in Central Otago.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

love being outdoors, getting fresh air, but mostly I love the variation in the job; one day can be one job and then off to the next another day. Working with people from all over the world is such an exciting part of this industry too.

What are the most exciting developments in your field?</em

Over the last few years we have had more and more success with our regenerative viticulture trials. Increasing the biodiversity of the vineyard and improving the vineyard soil, whilst trying to reduce sprays and fertiliser applications.

And the most excited developments in your region’s wine industry?

Seeing how the industry grows, introducing more wine varieties and styles to our already growing repertoire of brilliant wines.

Sum up a career in viticulture in 10 words or fewer.

Always changing, always interesting, always producing delicious wines.

Sam Bain, Springhill Vineyard Manager at Villa Maria Estate, Hawke's Bay.

Sam Bain

What brought you to viticulture?

I was studying a different career path and decided I needed a change. I had worked summer breaks in the vineyards and had enjoyed the experience, so decided to give it a go and see what happens.

What do you enjoy most about your work?</em

The ability to work outdoors and be a part of growing and producing a high-end product that can be enjoyed with your family and friends.

What are the most exciting developments in your field?

The use of technology to help map, track and record data to provide to the wider team who manage the vineyards, which in turn helps produce the best wines we possibly can.

And the most exciting developments in your region’s wine industry?

Extensive trials and research have been put into undervine plantings that are beneficial to the vineyard ecosystem but do not compete with the vine for nutrients and minerals. The ability to reduce and/or remove glyphosate from the vineyard is an ongoing conversation which aligns with sustainability. To be able to trial new native species and see the results is a move in the right direction.

Sum up a career in viticulture in 10 words or fewer.

Exciting, fast paced, where no day is ever the same.

Tristan van Schalkwyk, Assistant Viticultural Technician at The Bone Line, North Canterbury.

Tristan van Schalkwyk

What brought you to viticulture?

I was deciding whether I wanted to move to Lincoln to study viticulture or stay in Auckland. I worked a day in a vineyard with a friend, really enjoyed it, and decided that this is what I wanted to do. So I started my degree and have enjoyed where it’s taken me so far.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The aspect I love most about working where I do is the views. The Bone Line is in my mind one of the most scenic spots in New Zealand, and working in the dramatic landscape and seeing some incredible sunrises make the job extra special.

What are the most exciting developments in your field?

The development of machinery and equipment is very exciting. As the technology for machinery becomes more and more developed and implemented within vineyards, there is some pretty exciting equipment out there for use.

And the most exciting development in your region’s wine industry?

The most exciting development in the region is the coming together of a sense of community within the industry. As North Canterbury has been developing as a wine industry, the sense of community between vineyards has also grown and is still growing. I am excited to see a continual development in growing relations between the vineyards.

Sum up a career in viticulture in 10 words or fewer.

Challenging, demanding, evolving and rewarding with its exciting opportunities.

More like this

Corteva Young Viticulturist

Regional competitions for the 2021 Corteva Young Viticulturist of the Year will be held over the next two months, with the national final in Marlborough at the end of August.