Young grape-growers from Kerikeri have won the two top spots in the Northern Young Viticulturist of the Year competition.
Pietro Aloisi, of Ake Ake Vineyard, took out first place in the contest while Jake Dromgool, of The Landing, came second.
In a curious twist the rivals — who are best mates when they're not competing in the vineyard — will have to switch places for the national final because Aloisi will be overseas honing his vineyard skills in Corsica.
The contest, held earlier this month at Marsden Estate in Kerikeri, is open to viticulturists aged under 30 in Northland and Auckland.
The five competitors were tested on pruning, trellising, pest and disease management, soil nutrition, wine appreciation, accounting and budgeting. They also competed in a ''hortisports'' challenge and had to make a speech during the awards dinner.
Aloisi, who grew up in Italy but is now a New Zealand resident, has worked in the Northland wine industry for three years. As well as working at Ake Ake on Waimate North Rd, he has recently planted his own Chambourcin vines.
It was his second tilt at the regional title and this time he put in a huge amount of study.
Competition co-ordinator Nicky Grandorge said Aloisi's preparation paid off.
''It really showed. Pietro was strong in all categories, practical and theoretical, and he was on fire during the quick-fire buzzer round and the hortisports race,'' she said.
Aloisi won $1000 cash, an artwork by Kerikeri's Lester Hall, and a magnum of wine.
Second-placed Dromgool works at The Landing on Purerua Peninsula, grows his own grapes in the Waipapa area, and has his own label called 144 Islands.
He won the regional contest last year so will know what to expect when he takes Aloisi's place at the national finals in Hawke's Bay on August 26.
The other contestants were Tahryn Mason from Villa Maria, Matt Dixon from Te Motu and Monty Petrie from Man o War, all in the Auckland region.
The Young Viticulturist of the Year competition aims to identify and develop future leaders of New Zealand's viticultural industry.