Marlborough wine industry supportive of New Zealand School of Wine: Marlborough proposal
Marlborough college students could soon be learning to make wine, tend to vines and the ins and outs of the commercial side of the industry that put the region on the map.
The proposed New Zealand School of Wine: Marlborough has widespread support from the wine sector, but the industry body wants to see more detailed plans before stumping up funding.
The school would be open to year 12 and year 13 students at any secondary school in Marlborough, and would focus on wine production, viticultural practices and wine business.
Students that signed up to the school would still be able to take extracurricular activities with their original schools, but would take unit standards that tied in with industry expectations and skills.
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Marlborough Boys' College assistant principal James Ryan, who first proposed the idea in 2015, described the New Zealand School of Wine: Marlborough as a school within a school.
He said kickstarter funding was needed from the wine industry to get the school up and running - the intention was for it to start in 2018 - something he was optimistic about securing.
Ryan said he had been in discussions with the industry to establish what skills they required, and asked other people to contact him if they had ideas about what the school should offer.
"I hope to have everything nailed down in the next six weeks so we can say we have a comprehensive programme in place to teach the students," he said.
"There's issues around funding but they're slowly falling into place. We just need to go out there and sit down with the sector to show them the business plan is reasonable."
The original plan for the school was to have it located at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, which would help streamline students into further tertiary options in the industry.
However, Ryan said it could be located at the new co-located college site, although it would have to be up and running before that was designed so as to be included in the new build.
"It's a chicken and egg situation, we need it to be happening beforehand so it can be part of the education brief that goes to the Ministry of Education for the combined colleges," he said.
While the school required initial funding from the industry to get it off the ground, Ryan hoped it would become financially sustainable once it became more established.
One way of doing this was for the school to get a peppercorn lease through a wine company to cultivate their own vines, make wine and sell it on to fund the course the following year, he said.
The wine industry was widely supportive of the idea, as it would help train students and fill skill shortages that were becoming more acute due to the continual expansion of the vineyard space.
Marlborough Grape Producers Co-operative, a group of about 75 grapegrowers from the region, had already put up funding to help develop a business case for the wine school.
General manager Craig Howard said finding skilled staff to work in the vineyards, such as machine operators or supervisors, was always a challenge and he thought the school would help.
"The school of wine is targeted at kids that might fulfil these jobs into the future, which is why we thought it was a good idea and why we continue to think it's a good idea," he said.
"It's to make sure there's a little bit of robustness in local labour supply that gives us the workers that we need in our industry.
Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said Wine Marlborough and national body New Zealand Winegrowers were looking at funding, but wanted to see more detail first.
"We're just waiting on the business plan that really outlines to us what it is, how it would work, and who it will be targeting, that's what we need to commit any funding," Pickens said.
Yealands Wine Group chief operating officer Michael Wentworth said there was a real lack of skilled workers across a wide range of jobs in the industry.
"When we're recruiting for machine operators or viticulturists, right across the industry, it's hugely challenging to find the right number of staff and right skill sets," he said.
Wentworth said it was too early to say if Yealands would provide any funding for the school, but did say the company was supportive and there was general support across the sector.
"Anything we can do to keep talent in Marlborough is a good thing. It's no secret we've got an aging population, so anything we can do that attracts and keeps people here is positive," he said.
- The Marlborough Express