Young gun winemakers

Jaimee Whitehead, Treasury Wines Estates and Paul Robinson, Villa Maria.

Jaimee Whitehead, Treasury Wines Estates and Paul Robinson, Villa Maria.

Of course they're young and hungry – that cliche applies to every new generation in every field. But a number of things set the new breed of Kiwi vigneron apart from many of their predecessors, not least their professionalism.

"They've arrived into a mature industry that offers defined career paths," says Emma Taylor, national coordinator of the Young Viticulturist Competition (and herself a previous winner). "Typically they've trained here in New Zealand, rather than Australia, as many pioneers did. Wine production isn't something they've fallen into as a lifestyle option – they've focused on it right from the start. They've got business sense, they're technologically savvy and they want respect."

And many of them have made viticulture, rather than winemaking, their chosen pathway. This is a far cry from 15 to 20 years ago, when the word viticulturist was seldom heard. Back then, the importance of work in the vineyard simply didn't receive the emphasis it enjoys today. 

Frances Hutt & Anna Riederer, Carrick and Mount Edward

Frances Hutt & Anna Riederer, Carrick and Mount Edward

Here's what some of this new breed has to say about working in the wine industry today.


Viticulture vs Winemaking
The production of wine has two distinct parts: viticulture and winemaking. The first of these involves the growing and nurturing of grapes in the vineyard and is the responsibility of a viticulturist. As soon as the ripe grapes arrive at the winery, the winemaking begins, overseen by a – you guessed it – winemaker. In larger wineries, these are specialist roles, but in smaller ones, the viticulturist and the winemaker can be the same person.


Jaimee Whitehead, 24
Treasury Wine Estates

When Jaimee Whitehead (left) told her family she'd decided to become a career viticulturist, they looked blank. 

"They didn't have a clue – I had a lot of explaining to do," says the 24-year-old, who grew up in Taranaki and was recently poached from Delegat's by Treasury Wine Estates to become one of the company's technical viticulture supervisors in Marlborough.

Whitehead knew from the first day of study at Hawke's Bay's EIT that viticulture was what she wanted to do. "I realised I could spend every daylight hour in the vineyard, and I didn't have the same enthusiasm for the winery. I just love it… I'm always learning new things. Have you heard of the Awatere weta? Nor had I until recently. It's only been around for a year or two. It climbs the vines and loves munching the new buds, so now we're putting plastic weta guards on all our Awatere Valley vines."

Ahead Whitehead envisages experience overseas, which would be something of a wrench, as she professes to a deep love for Marlborough. She has no dream job or winery in mind. "As long as I have a voice, I don't mind where I go. I just want my opinions valued."

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Paul Robinson, 27
Villa Maria

Paul Robinson's opinions on water management in Hawke's Bay's Gimblett Gravels wine district so impressed a national judging panel that he won this year's New Zealand Young Viticulturist of the Year title. He chose that water management as the subject of his topical speech, the final hurdle after a series of practical skills tests. Robinson (above) has been with Villa Maria for seven years and is the assistant vineyard manager for two Hawke's Bay vineyards. 

"It's a very young-people-friendly industry," states Robinson, above. "I started as a viticulture cadet and have been steadily promoted. I hope to be a vineyard manager in three to five years. Taking on board and rewarding youthful energy and ideas are features of the wine industry."

Robinson's favourite time of year is the harvest, when all the effort of the previous eight months come to fruition. It's also a time when the ever-present banter between viticulturists and winemakers rises in intensity. "In bad years, we cop it from the winemakers about lack of ripeness, and in good years we say to them, 'These grapes are perfect – don't go and stuff them up.'"

Robinson says he aspires to owning his own vineyard. "I think that's the dream of most people in the industry. Though with land prices the way they are, that won't be happening in the next little while."


Francis Hutt, 31 & Anna Riederer, 33
Carrick and Mount Edward

You would have thought there would be no shortage of banter happening between young winemaking power couple Francis Hutt and Anna Riederer (above). They each oversee the winemaking of a different Central Otago label – Carrick (his) and Mount Edward (hers). But both say that when they do talk shop at home (which isn't that often), it's nearly always consultative rather than competitive.

"I don't have an assistant at Carrick," says Hutt. "If I'm having trouble with something, I either take it home or ask Anna to drop by to help me solve it. We complement each other well. She has a passion for whites like riesling, which is cool, and I'm more pinot noir and chardonnay. Actually, she does love chardonnay as well – she'd fight me on that one."

Hutt and Riederer only onced worked at the same winery. It was at Martinborough Vineyard, where they met in 2008. (Riederer: "He was my boss… pretty grumpy, but he must have won me over somehow.") Following that they each gained vintage experience in various countries, before meeting up again in Central Otago. They married in 2011. 

What the two Lincoln graduates both believe in is a more natural, less interventionist approach to winemaking. 

"I think that's a difference between the younger people in the industry and many of the older ones," says Riederer. "We've brought more focus on sustainability, organics… doing everything more naturally. Here at Mount Edward, Duncan [Forsyth, the winery's owner] was practising that as well, but I'm taking it to the next level. What Mount Edward has taught me is to be chilled out – being Swiss, I'm sometimes too organised."

Hutt adds: "The older winemakers had more technical knowledge – they know the names of all those compounds! I think our generation has been putting that into language that everyone can understand."

Unlike the pioneers, who bought the land they planted (often for a song) and built their own wineries, ownership is beyond the reach for many members of wine's new wave.

Like Robinson, the pair would like to own a vineyard one day, but are in no hurry. "There's a lot of stress owning your own place. Maybe if the right place came along, but we're not actively looking or planning for it." 
 

This article first featured in the November 2014 issue of Cuisine. For more like this, visit cuisine.co.nz or subscribe at mags4gifts.co.nz.

 - Cuisine

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