EIT student Lucas Percy recently added wine judging to the experiences he hopes will shape a stellar career.
As 2015's Hawke's Bay A & P Bayleys Wine Awards "Young Vintner", Mr Percy was invited to be an associate judge for this year's regional awards. Chairman of judges Warren Gibson sees that as setting a likely precedent for future awards.
A judge had to be able to physically taste a great number and range of wine styles to start with, Mr Gibson, Trinity Hill's chief winemaker, said. "It's a particular skill."
In the final year of study for bachelor degrees in viticulture and wine science, Mr Percy wasn't fazed by the enormity of the challenge.
He joined 10 other judges who, in two panels, appraised nearly 400 entries that encompassed a wide range of grape varieties and wine styles and had to be made with at least 85 per cent Hawke's Bay-grown fruit.
The 21-year-old judged alongside such industry notables as Dr Sue Bastian, a researcher and lecturer in oenology and sensory studies at the University of Adelaide, and American Patrick Comiskey, who writes for the Los Angeles Times and Wine and Spirits magazine.
Other panellists included Master of Wine Emma Jenkins from Taupo, Dog Point winemaker Murray Cook, local winemakers Ant MacKenzie and Rod Easthope and Hawke's Bay Today wine columnist Yvonne Lorkin.
"It was a good mix of industry people, wine writers and educators," Mr Gibson, who selected the judges, said. "Lucas will have learnt a lot."
While he found the judging "a big involvement", Mr Percy says he was happy to have had the opportunity and rated it a "fantastic" experience.
"I was very happy with the consistency of my scoring across the board. Even if it's not a favourite wine style, a judge will look for the best examples of its kind. Everything has its place."
Mr Gibson said the awards play an important part in promoting the excellence of Hawke's Bay wines.
"We are the region yelling from the roof tops that we are the biggest in New Zealand for the cellaring ability of our wines. This year we introduced a new provenance class, rewarding wines that reflect the region, lineage and longevity."
From the Wairarapa, Mr Percy moved to Hawke's Bay to study at EIT and has found it a great learning experience.
"EIT is a world-class wine institute," he says. "My skills have been honed by the experience of the lecturers.
"Hawke's Bay is a leading New Zealand wine region and a lot of varieties grow happily here. So the expertise is there to learn about how to work best with these varieties."
His mother Karyn formerly worked in the wine industry, "so as a young boy I was exploring vineyards and this helped spark my love for wine at a young age."
Looking ahead, Mr Percy is drawn to the travel possibilities available to young winemakers and sees viticulture as "a key part of the winemaker's skill set".
Working part time at Clearview Estate's cellar door, he has worked a vintage at Craggy Range and the Hawke's Bay A & P Society, as sponsors of the Young Vintner award, is helping with his study fees.
Summer will be spent working in Australia's Hunter Valley, and Mr Percy will follow that with another vintage back here in Hawke's Bay.