Italian and New Zealand Bragato scholarship winners Christopher Bonifacio and Ben Tombs found plenty of common ground when they recently met in Hawke's Bay.
On a month-long tour of New Zealand's wine regions, Christopher, like Ben, most enjoys making and tasting wine.
And Ben, who heads off on his four-week trip to Italy early next year, shares Christopher's enthusiasm for rugby. Last year, he transferred his playing skills from Blenheim to Hawke's Bay where he moved to study EIT's Bachelor of Viticulture and Bachelor of Wine Science concurrent degree.
While Ben plays centre for Napier Pirates, Christopher switches between flanker and lock playing for his club side in Italy.
Learning about one another's culture is what the annually awarded Bragato scholarship is about.
Established 11 years ago, it fosters the link between Italy's famed Scuola Enologica di Conegliano and the Eastern Institute of Technology's School of Viticulture and Wine Science.
The scholarship also celebrates the legendary Romeo Bragato, who attended the school in the northeast of Italy and, as a viticulturist appointed by the New Zealand Government, recognised New Zealand's potential for growing grapes more than a century ago.
Every year, the Bragato exchange programme provides a high-achieving EIT viticulture or wine science degree student with a month in Italy to visit wine regions and visit the school in Conegliano. Similarly, a student from Italy's premier viticultural training institution spends four weeks in New Zealand, learning about the wine regions, attending the Bragato Conference and visiting EIT.
A little less than two weeks into his trip, Christopher had gained a favourable impression of the respect Zealanders showed towards their environment.
"It's a young country still, so I hope that continues and you don't make the same mistakes as Italy and other European countries. New Zealand has to be careful to maintain healthy soils."
Christopher's father owns hillside vineyards where he grows Glera for prosecco. While the 19-year-old says many villages making much of Italy's wine often lack the necessary equipment, he finds NZ producers balance tradition with better technology.
Working at Wither Hills has nurtured Ben's interest in the wine industry. He was employed by the Marlborough winery as a cellar hand in 2011 and pursued tertiary studies two years later. He returned south to work at Wither Hills over his last summer break.
This year, Ben was awarded a Constellation Wines scholarship, which is helping to fund his studies and also provides him with part-time and holiday work.
He's looking forward to exploring Italy next year.