Matt Duggan bags third Young Viticulturist of the Year award

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Anthony Walsh spits into a bucket in the Horty Sport challenge, as part of the Young Viticulturist of the Year Marlborough final.

Young Viticulturist of the Year Marlborough finalists, from left, Matt Duggan, Anthony Walsh, Brenton O'Riley, Kurtis Robinson, Nick Kininmonth, Tyler McComb.

Kurtis Robinson has a go matching branches to leaf types during the Horty Sports challenge.

Tyler McComb does his best to keep the hula hoop up during Marlborough Bayer Viticulturist of the Year Horty Sports challenge.

Matt Duggan analyses vines in the grading challenge at the Wine Research Centre.

Reigning regional champion Brenton O'Riley works out a way to keep the hula hoop up during the Horty Sports Challenge.

Kurtis Robinson lobs a horseshoe onto a target for the Horty Sports challenge.

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A Blenheim man has eyes on the national title of the Young Viticulturist of the Year award after winning the Marlborough crown for the third time.

Cloudy Bay viticulturist Matt Duggan, 29, beat five other Marlborough finalists on Friday in a day-long competition of theory tests and physical challenges thrown at the young entrants.

It was the fifth time Duggan entered the competition, and the last before he reaches the cut-off age of 30.

With two wins, and a second and third place behind him, it was his last chance at winning the national competition held in August.

In 2013, he lost that competition by a point, he said.

"It was hard to lose by one point, so this was my last crack at winning."

The standard of competition was the highest it had been since he began competing in 2011, Duggan said.

Finalists were - reigning Marlborough champion Brenton O'Riley, Tyler McComb, Kurt Robinson, Anthony Walsh and Nick Kininmonth. 

The day began with practical challenges in the morning - trellising, irrigation, machinery and pruning, then theory tests in the afternoon such as budgeting, a pest and disease module and a human resources module.

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said over the years, the calibre of those vying for the title had risen - and so had the expectations from judges. 

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"Competitors really understand what they have to deliver. They prize pool has gotten larger, the expectations are larger. But the opportunities really are immense if you get into the industry."

From drinking sauvignon blanc with L&P in his student days, Walsh, 27, had learnt a lot about the sacred grape over recent years.

"Now I buy good wines and like to discuss them with my partner. I want to start branching out into world wines."

Walsh, a former Palmerston North man, got his foot into the cellar door as a machine operator, then moved his way through the ranks. He has just celebrated a promotion from assistant block manager to block manager at Constellation Brands.

"I moved here after a degree in horticulture and grape growing, but I had no horticultural experience at all when I came down here. I started stacking containers for ships..."

He aspires to own his own vineyard one day but will focus on learning the financial side of the business in the meantime.

Regional finals were held in Hawke's Bay and Otago earlier in July, while the Martinborough regional final is on July 28. Regional finalists will compete in the national final from August 27-30 in Hawke's Bay.

 - Stuff

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