Now in its eleventh year and completely sponsor-funded, the Bayer Young Viticulturist of the Year competition is about to crown its 2016 winner. The National Final is set to take place in Marlborough on August 23-25, in conjunction with the Bragato Conference, and five regional finalists will be vying for the coveted title.
These are their stories.
MARK LANGLANDS (WAIRARAPA)
A former professional road cyclist in France, USA and Canada, 29-year-old Langlands became involved in the winemaking industry in 2011 and hasn’t left since. Perseverance is his bigger strength—something he has learnt through the years spent cycling overseas. “Cycling can be lonely at times. Sometimes you spend six hours on the bike by yourself, in the middle of nowhere. This has taught me to be a self-motivated person: if I wanted to succeed, I needed to do the hard work because it would pay off later,” he said.
This, of course, is valid for winemaking too. “Being able to produce something as complex and diverse as wine, and tasting that hard work and long hours in one, three, five years later, makes it worthwhile.”
Langlands is currently studying towards his degree in Wine Science, and his ultimate goal is to own a vineyard, winery and café offering wine and food pairings. “I enjoy cooking and baking, and see this as an experience that would allow people to appreciate the wine more, maybe even wines that haven’t been recognised in New Zealand yet.”
MIKE WINTER (CENTRAL OTAGO)
Winter, 30, is a veteran of this competition, having taken the title of Central Otago Young Viticulturist of the Year for three years in a row; in 2014 he even placed second the National final. Born and bred in Christchurch, Winter is the youngest of five boys and also a twin. He met his wife Kate when they were 16 and finally married her last January. Together they hope to start a family and their own business within the next couple of years.
“We have a few ideas up our sleeves,” he said. “I believe there are some opportunities in packaging and marketing of wine, much of which is based on traditional European approaches and may be due for a shake-up.”
Working around the weather, he said, is the hardest part of his job, with frost management being particularly challenging in Central Otago. He sees a very strong future for the NZ wine industry as a whole, driven by an innovative approach that’s based on quality, sustainability and promising, new varieties. “We are still a small producer on the international stage, but with an enthusiastic crop of industry leaders coming through, we will likely see growth and changes that we have not yet dreamt of.”
CAMERON PRICE (HAWKE’S BAY)
This will be Price’s first-ever national final to date, an achievement he is truly proud of. Coming from a family of plumbers, Cameron Price didn’t have wine in his blood, but this has certainly not prevented him from starting a rewarding career at Villa Maria. To achieve this result, he has had some peculiar role models.
“As a typical Kiwi boy growing up you can’t go past Christian Cullen or Sean Fitzpatrick, who always seem to have encouraged young men never to give up on their dreams or goals.”
In winemaking, despite all the science, climatic variables still dictate the outcome. “We can read weather maps and forecasts as much as we want, but it is Mother Nature we are dealing with on a day to day basis,” he said. “She has that way of giving us a cold spring for budburst and flowering followed by that dreaded rain at fruit set.”
As for the industry, Price sees sustainability as a key driver of international competitiveness. “We need to make sure we are aiming for quality over quantity because we know we can’t compete with the wine-producing countries that have the ability to produce bulk wine at half the cost.”
TIM ADAMS (AUCKLAND)
Adams, 29, grew up in Hamilton with two younger sisters and is now married with two kids. Besides having a good attitude towards learning and a strong initiative, he has also acquired a solid scientific training with a BSc in Physiology, a PGDipSci in Neuroscience and another in Wine Science. In fact, before starting to work in vineyards across New Zealand and Australia, he had been employed in a Biomedical Lab as a haematological tech. As you have probably figured out by now, that strong desire to keep learning and apply this knowledge in the vineyard is one of his greatest strengths. As part of this, Adams looks forward to starting a Masters in Viticulture.
“In the future, I would like to take on greater viticulture roles and contribute meaningfully to the New Zealand wine industry, and also be the best husband and dad I can be,” he said.
As for the future of the wine sector, Adams believes that worldwide climate change will affect NZ’s grapes, which may result in new regions being established and older ones being abandoned.
BRENTON O’RILEY - MARLBOROUGH
Happily married and living in Marlborough with his wife Laura, 28-year-old O’Riley grew up in the Manawatu on a dairy farm. After a degree in Viticulture and a degree in Wine Science, he’s now working towards a post-graduate diploma in Business Administration.
“My passion is continually growing,” O’Riley said. “I am often known as an ‘ideas man’, thinking of different approaches to some very traditional techniques. I am always interested in exploring a new way of thinking and how we can develop technology to support or make our job more efficient.”
Training and good attitude, however, would not have been enough without the support of his wife, who has always encouraged him to get out of his comfort zones and take risks.
Twenty years from now, O’Riley sees himself owning a vineyard and helping the next young generation of viticulturists come through into the industry. “The future of the wine sector is looking extremely favourable. We must continue to be competitive internationally, while keeping in mind what got us to where we are now—quality.”