There were raised glasses at Ash Ridge Wines at Bridge Pa this week as the crew toasted Lauren Swift who has taken out the inaugural Hawke's Bay Young Winemaker of the Year title - although she was pretty relaxed about what was coming next.

By taking the title, from five other young winemakers she described as "really top people", she will now take part in the New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year competition set to be staged as part of the 2015 Romeo Bragato conference being held at the Pettigrew Green Arena later this month.

"I haven't thought about that too much at this stage - I've got too much to do at work," she said.

There is bottling to be done and there are thousands of reds to "rack and return" and she is also preparing to journey to France in five weeks for more experience in the fine art of winemaking. "But I am formulating a bit of a plan," she said, adding that the experience of taking part in the regional competition last Friday had been invaluable.


Being overly confident was not in her nature, she said, adding that her five fellow competitors were all on an even playing field as they took part in everything from blending, fault finding, cellar competency and marketing. "I was fortunate enough to have some friends who saw the competition in Blenheim and they told me what happened there - everyone pretty well had an idea of what was going to happen."

It had been a challenging competition. "We were given just 35 minutes to make a blend so the pressure was really on - it brought out the creativity of winemaking."

Her passion for winemaking began in one of the country's other leading wine regions. She grew up in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough - the region renowned for sauvignon blanc - although she's not a big fan of that variety. "I like chardonnay," she said.

Her parents had an apple orchard in the valley but saw more of a future in wine, so out came the trees and in went the vines. She came to Hawke's Bay six years ago and began pursuing a Bachelor of Wine Science and Diploma of Wine Marketing at the EIT. After graduating in 2012 she began working at Ash Ridge - "vineyard and cellar door stuff".

After winery founder Chris Wilcock announced he was building a new winery he also announced that he wanted Ms Swift to run it. So while it was being built she travelled off to Sonoma in California to take part in the harvest there, then returned and stepped into her new role in the new vineyard. "This is a real passion for me - it's very cool," she said.