Synlait chief executive Leon Clement still hopes to open the company’s new Pokeno milk powder plant on time.
They are all members of the first class of the New Zealand School of Winegrowing.
The five year-12 students from Marlborough Boys and Marlborough Girls Colleges are pioneering educational opportunities, as they take part in the year-long course. While the wine industry and all aspects of it are the backbone for the course, the students are also gaining NCEA credits in other core subjects over the year.
For two of the students, Katie Bruce and Kris Godsall, it has been an eye opener, that has cemented their decision to consider the wine industry as a career.
For Katie, who has grown up on a vineyard, the highlight of the first term was taking part in Vintage 18. Working at Saint Clair’s winery she expected to be a spectator. Instead she found herself launched into the heart of the vintage, undertaking a number of 12-hour shifts, just like any other vintage worker.
“I expected to be learning behind the scenes but we were put straight into it and it was more hands on than I had expected,” she says. “It was an incredible experience and it cemented my initial thoughts that this is what I want to do. It has excited me, because I realised during that time that I really enjoyed it.”
While Kris didn’t get as many days in the winery as he would have liked (due to rowing commitments at Maadi Cup) his experience at Kim Crawford Wines confirmed he had made the right choice to sign up for the course.
“I definitely enjoyed it, especially now I know what it involves. It has put in place that this is what I want to do.”
The New Zealand School of Winegrowing is a first in New Zealand, with the idea being mooted by Marlborough Boys’ College Assistant Principal James Ryan back in 2015. He says it was obvious that Marlborough offered a large number of opportunities to young people in terms of employment within the wine industry, yet many within the school system couldn’t see past the jobs of pruning and wire lifting.
“They drive past vineyards on a cold, frosty morning and see big gangs of RSE workers and think; ‘I am not going to do that, because it’s minimum wage’. We need to shatter the perception that it is just picking, pruning and lifting. They can’t see that there are tractor drivers, harvest drivers, vineyard managers, cellar hands and so many other jobs available to them, if they have the suitable skills.”
Both Katie and Kris agree with Ryan’s thoughts, saying the course has taught them so much more about the industry than they had envisaged. Being hands on is a major bonus for them.
“In the first few weeks we went out to Indevin’s Seddon vineyard Toi Downs,” Katie says, “so instead of just being in a classroom not knowing anything, we got to see first-hand what it was about. They showed us how things work, talked about driving tractors and forklifts and other machinery. It was awesome.”
Practical courses are only part of the course. The students also had to compile a report on primary industries in New Zealand as part of gaining English credits.
“Our report was writing about the effects of viticulture on the New Zealand economy,” Kris says.
“We wrote about how many people it affects and the job opportunities.”
“Not just within the wine industry,” Katie explains, “but also the employment opportunities required to deal with the influx of workers.”
This coming term, science credits will be gained via learning about the growth cycle of wines over the seasons. Plus the students have had the chance to make their own small batches of wine, from parcels of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes, which will offer chemistry credits.
Katie and Kris are keen to do a second year if the course is offered in 2019, and both are already talking about taking their studies further once they leave school.
The New Zealand School of Winegrowing has been funded by New Zealand Winegrowers and Wine Marlborough, and has been supported by Babich Wines, Villa Maria, Constellation, Yealands and Saint Clair.
More industry funding will be required for the school to continue after 2018, which given the enthusiasm of the current students, will hopefully come through.