Tuesday, 19 October 2021 16:30

Lab Life

Written by  Rebecca Wilson
Rebecca Allen Rebecca Allen

In six years, Rebecca Allen has transitioned from being a lab technician to director and owner of Pacific Rim Oenology Services Ltd.

And while adjusting to her new role, she also pushed the company from a testing lab into an ISO accredited service.

Pacific Rim Oenology Services has been in the wine industry since 1992 and next February will celebrate its 30th birthday, but there are plenty of other milestones to celebrate, with the company having gained their ISO 17025 and Wine Export accreditation from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) in the last two years.

Rebecca worked in the Pacific Rim laboratory for 10 years before buying the business in January 2018. Having achieved a Diploma in Science from Otago Polytechnic in 1998, Rebecca's original calling was microbiology, and her career started in a meat processing plant. She moved on to water testing at Dunedin's sewage treatment plan and then to the Cawthron Institute in Nelson. When Cawthron opened a lab in Blenheim in 2004, they asked Rebecca to set it up.

"I managed the lab for a couple of years, and was planning to go back to Dunedin and finish my degree, but a short-term harvest testing contract had me stay here a little longer." As it turned out, it was just long enough for her to meet her husband. The return to Dunedin was postponed, and Rebecca embarked on her Pacific Rim Oenology journey. Being in the lab for a decade, getting to grips with the industry, she also helped out in 2016 by doing a stint as general manager, and then months later had the opportunity to purchase the company.

"While I'd been in the industry for 10 years, it was a big step for me to be running the business. It was a real eye opener, needing completely different skills from those needed as a lab tech. I realised pretty quickly that management didn't sit in their offices twiddling their thumbs."

The steepest learning curves were to do with finance, budgets and people management, Rebecca says. A timely scholarship from Assets Insurance Brokers saw her tackling the Icehouse Leadership Development Programme. "I've struggled at times along the way, and certainly made mistakes, but I've learnt from those too."

One of the first things Rebecca did as owner was to respond to customers' requests for the lab to be an internationally recognised laboratory, accredited either for the British Retail Consortium Global Standards or ISO 17025. "This required a lot of blood, sweat and tears from me and the staff. We had to shift from the way the lab was running - testing - to having the systems and processes in place for a global standard. We were always good at what we did, but proving it was a challenging process. And it doesn't stop, there is an ongoing requirement for staff training and equipment required. We finally achieved that accreditation in 2019 and in the last eight months we were approved by MPI to do wine export analysis." Rebecca says it has been a period of growth and development. "Now we are taking a breath to consolidate the changes while we look towards getting accreditation in other markets."

The company now offers analyis of grapes and wine, wine microbiology and fermentation, blending and wine adjustments, troubleshooting and wine quality improvements.

"We really have become a one stop shop for analysis," Rebecca says. "We are also distributors for Enologica Vason and Chr. Hansen. These two companies are perfectly matched to what we do, providing our customrs with a comprehensive range of products for general winemaking as well as troubleshooting."

Rebecca now prefers her business role as a key part of the wine industry, but still appreciates the solid basis of her science background. "I still enjoy going into the lab and getting on the bench, making a mess. It's what I love doing."

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