Hawke's Bay's big wine week kicked off yesterday with the first stages of the Young Viticulturist of the Year competition.

The three-day competition, featuring four regional finalists, is being held at Te Awa Winery near Hastings and coincides with the 21st New Zealand Winegrowers Romeo Bragato Conference, which opens today in Pettigrew Green Arena, Taradale. It also lasts three days.

The Young Viticulturist of the Year will be named after all four contestants speak at the conference dinner and wine awards tomorrow night.

The winner will become the sector's representative in the New Zealand Horticulturist of the Year finals in November.

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Meanwhile, the conference, last held in Hawke's Bay six years ago, has attracted over 400 registrations and a top line-up of speakers from as far as France, South Africa, and the United States.

They include Olivier Yobregat, of the French Vine and Wine Institute based in the southwest of France; University of Pretoria Extraordinary Professor Gerhgard Pietersen; University of California Napa Valley farm adviser viticulture Dr Monica Cooper; Dr. Mark Krasnow, who has taught viticulture in both California and in Hawke's Bay and currently teaches with the Culinary Institute of America; and UK-based Melanie Brown, of the New Zealand Cellar online store.

The awards night will be presented by TV journalist Mike McRoberts.