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Wednesday, 29 December 2021 16:30

New vintage: Holly West

Written by  Sarah Rowley Adams
Holly West. Photo by Richard Brimer. Holly West. Photo by Richard Brimer.

"As soon as I entered this industry, I felt like I belonged," says Holly West, who started working weekends at Matua's cellar door during her final year of high school.

"I always knew that I wasn't going to get a corporate or desk job; I wanted a job with purpose that I was passionate about."

These days Holly is a cellar hand in a tight-knit team at Te Kairanga in the Wairarapa, while studying an oenology degree part-time through the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Her teenage self would be proud to know her today, she adds. "The people are great, the wine is delicious, and the sights are beautiful - it's when I used to dream about when I was 18 and working in Auckland."

Growing up in KumeĆ«, Auckland, Holly felt pressure from teachers because she didn't have a clear career path in mind. Soon after starting at Matua, she realised the cellar door was an opening to multiple opportunities in the wine industry. She was enamoured with the theory side of winemaking and keen to get stuck into the physical work around it, so Holly volunteered to work in the laboratory on her days off and do a couple of days in the winery. This gave her a chance to get a feel for the work and gain some experience.

In 2016, the Matua site was due to shut down, so Holly decided to explore other wine regions of New Zealand. She landed a cellar hand role at Craggy Range in Hawke's Bay, where she tried and fell for the company's Te Muna Pinot Noir. "This was my first real introduction into Martinborough wine, and I was hooked." It's important to Holly to be immersed in the region she's making wine from - "for me, this connection couldn't be formed from a distance" - so she moved from Hawke's Bay to Martinborough. That was "the best decision that I have ever made", she says. "I feel very at home working here."

She loves working at Te Kairanga for the unique terroir that is clearly reflected in the region's wines. "For me it's all about honouring the land we're taking from." She is just as passionate about protecting the environment that gives New Zealand wines their character. Holly hopes the New Zealand wine industry will be carbon negative in future. "It's a big ask, but we're taking from the earth, so we have a responsibility to give back and respect our regions." She explains that while the wine industry emits relatively low carbon emissions compared to others, it doesn't mean it shouldn't be doing more. "We're at the point where we can't just consider, we need to act to sustain our industry (and history) for the future generations."

So far, Covid has held Holly back from travelling internationally for vintages, but she plans to work in Burgundy for harvest 2022, and then travel to Alsace and Germany once her degree is finished. Although she's keen to travel, she appreciated the support she has found in the New Zealand wine industry. "I am very privileged to have two winemakers, John Kavanagh and Paul Mason, who are both generous with time and knowledge."

Holly believes that without the innovation and risk our pioneering winemakers took over the last 50 years, the New Zealand wine industry wouldn't be where it is today. "The hard work has already been done by those before us. The founders and current generation of winemakers have told and continue to tell their stories from their time, place, and perspective. Now I'm getting ready to share mine."