Central Otago trio head to home of pinot noir to help with harvest

Alex Easton, of Grape Vision, Leslie Johnston, of Rippon and Ben Holt, of Carrick Wines, are off to France as part of ...
Jo McKenzie-McLean

Alex Easton, of Grape Vision, Leslie Johnston, of Rippon and Ben Holt, of Carrick Wines, are off to France as part of the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange.

Grape harvest is over for Central Otago viticulturists and winemakers but for three it is about to start all over again - in France.

Ben Holt, of Carrick Wines, Alex Easton, of Grape Vision and Leslie Johnston, of Rippon are off to France this week as part of the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange.

The exchange, in its 11th year, involves the trio spending the first week at a technical college - Centre de Formation Professionnelle et de Promotion Agricole de Beaune, then three weeks at a host vineyard.

Johnston, a cellar door manager who works for one of the co-founders of the exchange Nick Mills, said she was "super stoked" to be accepted and hoped to get practical, hands-on experience.

"I'm one of the few sales people rather than viticultural or winemaking people to ever be invited or accepted. We get thousands of visitors and we talk about France every day. I want to get a better, practical hands-on understanding of  Burgundy, their culture, their history, how they make wine, how they grow wine . . . I talk about it every day and to be able to experience it is something I can't believe I'm actually going to be able to do."

Easton said he had been at Grape Vision, a vineyard management company, for six months and had heard a lot of positive feedback about the exchange.

"It's quiet at the moment so I jumped at the opportunity. Central Otago has that pinot noir connection with Burgundy. Burgundy is the most famous for pinot in the world and (Central Otago) are trying to claim second. We are doing pretty well."

COWA Executive Officer Natalie Wilson said the over the 11 years, 80 students had been through the education and cultural exchange.

She said, quoting exchange co-founder Nick Mills, it was "clear from the beginning the two regions had much to offer each other".

"(Central Otago students) gain insight from from the centuries of attention to specific vineyard sites and how they have been codified and the enormous history and respect for tradition is something a person from a very young country like New Zealand cannot fully appreciate until fully emersed amongst it. Conversely, (Burgundy students) come to Central Otago and find a place that does not have the detail or geographical and political overlays so is free of the sort of constraints they have grown used to. The exposure to these aspects is evident in the approach the returning interns from both sides now take to their craft." 

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The exchange was maintained by four key partners: Central Otago Wine Growers Association (COWA), the region's industry body; Otago Polytechnic (OP), the leading technical institute based in Cromwell; Centre de Formation Professionelle et de Promotion Agricole (CFPPA) de Beaune, a technical college in Côte d'Or which specialises in wine - its production and commercialisation; and Mosaic Bourgogne Internationale (MBI) - established in 2010 as an independent exchange-focused winegrower organisation which also acts as COWA's industry counterpart in Burgundy.

This year, Promote Dunstan had come on board to donate funds from the Clyde Harvest Wine and Food Festival to help the students, she said.

Promote Dunstan president Rory Butler said the group decided last year to donate money for the exchange as it was an "ideal fit".

"Promote Dunstan has always tried to donate money to local scholarships for youth leadership and viticulture and we have always had trouble finding suitable recipients. Suddenly the opportunity was there to provide some money to COWA on this annual Burgundy exchange and it was ideal. This is the first allocation of those funds. Wine is at the centre of Central Otago and we run the annual Clyde Harvest Wine and Food Festival and wine is a major integral part of that so we would like to give something back to the wine industry and this is a small way we can do that."


 - Stuff


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