Young winemakers flourish in age-old industry, drivers of change

Lauren Swift was the inaugural winner of the Young Winemaker of the Year award in 2015.
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Lauren Swift was the inaugural winner of the Young Winemaker of the Year award in 2015.

In a world dominated by the older generation, young winemakers are striving to prove they are the future of an industry steeped in tradition.

Lauren Swift, head winemaker at Ash Ridge Winery, near Hastings, says while she has a lot of respect for those who have been in the world of wine for many years, it is necessary to think ahead.

"Young winemakers are the future of our wine industry.

Young, successful winemakers are continuing to push boundaries
DEREK FLYNN/STUFF

Young, successful winemakers are continuing to push boundaries

"[But] I do not think you can re-invent the wheel, so there is merit in looking back on the old world history to look forward for New Zealand."

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The 28-year-old grew up in Marlborough, which is where her interest in wine began.

Jordan Hogg, of Seresin Estate, won last year's competition.
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Jordan Hogg, of Seresin Estate, won last year's competition.

She quickly moved to Hawke's Bay to begin her winemaking studies and, from there, landed a job at Ash Ridge Winery.

After only a few months, Swift was made head winemaker, and has been leading the charge for the past five years.

"I was thinking I have no idea what I'm going to be doing and I don't know if I know how to do all these things.

"I used to worry about others and what they may have been thinking, but now I feel I am doing a pretty good job."

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A lot of winemakers did not speak to her when she first arrived on the scene, she said.

"I've been here for nearly five years now and people are just starting to acknowledge me and go, 'Ok, well, she's obviously going to stay here in the industry for a while, so maybe we should be nice and get to know her.'

"Hawke's Bay is very traditional, so they are not too into change."

Swift was part of a growing number of young, successful winemakers who were pushing boundaries and "thinking about things in their own way and doing things in a unique way", she said.

"The wine industry is a forever changing beast."

The younger generations also helped break down barriers between winemakers and viticulturists, who would often argue over where the wine was made, she said.

"I think we could definitely be the face of the new age of wine coming through."

Jordan Hogg, 31, who is the assistant winemaker at Seresin Estate in Marlborough, said there was a "second wave" of winemakers coming through to build on what the "old guard winemakers" established.

"They established wines like Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Hawke's Bay syrah, Central Otago pinot [noir], so it's our job – with the evolution of the industry – to continue pushing those boundaries.

"I'm very appreciative of all the winemakers I have worked with over the years...You pick up little bits and pieces along the way, and then you develop and put your own spin on things so you can have your own winemaking ideas, and not just follow what has been, but keep pushing forward and experimenting."

Hogg was named Young Winemaker of the Year last year, while Swift was given the inaugural title in 2015.

Swift said the competition was important for young winemakers as it shone light on talent which otherwise may not have been expressed. 

It also gave young winemakers a chance to take control of their own brand and profile, she said.

"Because, otherwise, what are you? The best kept secret?"

This year's national competition is being be held in Auckland on September 20, where two winners from the North Island competition (being held in Hawkes Bay on August 18), and two from the South Island competition (being held in Marlborough on August 25), will compete for the title.

 - Stuff

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