FROM the corridors of law to the vines of the wine industry, it is fair to say the change in Melisa Beight's career path has been a fairly marked one.

Seven weeks ago she stepped into the role of Hawke's Bay Winegrowers Association executive officer which was vacated by James Medina who left to take up a role at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

"I absolutely love my role," she said. "The wine industry is something I have long wanted to move into."

That was despite a fall in salary and having grown up in Auckland and Christchurch, moving to a region she was not familiar with.

Advertisement

Within a few days of taking on the role, Ms Beight found herself involved in sometimes five meetings a day and the Google maps app got a fine old workover as she began finding her way around the region.

A region she has fallen in love with.

"Hawke's Bay is a beautiful region and there is a real buzz about it. I am going to be here long term."

Born in Auckland on the North Shore, her parents shifted house to Christchurch where she wrapped up her education at Heaton Intermediate and Christchurch Girls High School before heading for Canterbury University.

She pursued a career in law.

For 14 years she worked in the often challenging landscape of commercial litigation.
She also spent slightly more than three years in the UK working in the legal industry before heading back to Auckland and the legal world there.

However, she said while living in London she used to have dreams where she was looking out her window and saw vines out there.

The world of wine had long intrigued and fascinated her and, as it would eventually transpire, it attracted her.

Ms Beight appreciated the links between land and climate and the passion of winemaking.
"I'd love to grow my own grapes one day and I thought about being a winemaker for a while," she said.

While engaged in her legal work, which she had not been feeling completely positive about, she would read books about the industry and looked closely at the workings of several key wineries and winemakers.

For a time she considered merging her legal skills with her passion for the wine industry and looked at working in wine law, but a colleague said that was unlikely to suit her.

"I wasn't sure where I wanted to go; into marketing, winemaking or a general management role."

Then, about 15 months ago, she heard through friends about a marketing manager position going at Whitehaven Winery in Marlborough.

She got in touch and that was that, with her clear management skills honed through her legal work and her passion for the wine industry strongly emerging.

So the move was made, and the reaction from her colleagues in the legal industry were mixed, although what one said stuck with her.

"You've followed your dreams," Ms Beight said.

One of the first things she encountered after taking the role on was the unique collaboration within the industry.

"Everyone is so passionate about it and they work so hard, and they are so collaborative.
"I saw winemakers sharing ideas and in the legal fraternity they would not do that."

Talking to the winemakers and soaking up the atmosphere of a colourful and expanding industry was exactly what she thought and hoped it would be.

And then, after about a year in that role, her partner came across the position, on-line, which had been vacated by Mr Medina up in Hawke's Bay.

It was a role she had heard a lot about and had coveted it before.

The Hawke's Bay Winegrowers Association, which was formed in 2006, has more than 70 winery members and 145 grower members.

The diversity of the roles within the association, rather than simply marketing (although she is still heavily involved in that facet) was too good not to pursue.

Seven weeks ago she stepped into her Hawke's Bay office and on that first day, which she said was "the most amazing day", she lunched at Te Awa Estate and met many of the leading lights in the region's winemaking.

It was basically a "wow" moment and then the hard work began as she began to embrace a role which in the Marlborough industry has three people steering it.

"It is really busy but it is what I thought it would be and I'm loving it.

"This is my industry. This is what I want and I'll give it 200 per cent," she said, adding she would never go back to the legal world now.

With a smile she recalled asking Mr Medina if he had been pretty well on the go all day, through the weekends, and often into the evenings, and he replied that "yeah, it got pretty crazy".

The role is multi-faceted.

As well as pursuing the marketing front to increase recognition for the region's wines, and the region itself, she is involved in the corporate governance side and is company secretary to the Hawke's Bay Wines and Marketing boards.

There are compliance issues such as resource managements, water allocations and the geographical indicators for the region.

Ms Beight is also engaged in running a major China marketing programme and is on the Hawke's Bay Wine Auction committee.

There is also the upcoming Young Winemaker of the Year event on July 1 which she is involved in steering.

And she has some strong visions for the region she now calls home, and hopes to start seeing a little more of when she can find a bit more down time .

She would like to create a national advertising campaign for the region and would like to extend the overseas focus; strongly targeting another country like the United States, the UK or Australia.

The Hawke's Bay industry is well staked out in the important Chinese market and that would continue.

"Yes, there is a lot of work to do," she said. "I'm a lot busier than I anticipated but it's what I want to do," Ms Beight said, adding that dipping out a little on the salary front compared to how she had fared in the legal industry was not an issue because that was made up for by the passion so deeply embedded across the wine industry.

On top of that, Hawke's Bay is the award-winning production heart of her favourite wines.
"I love chardonnays, syrahs and Bordeaux blends."

Yes, the days can be long and the meetings and incoming emails seemingly endless but at the end of the day there's always a fine chardonnay there to relax with.