It was a case of all hands to the vines for a group of determined young people at Te Awa Winery on Monday.

As well as all hands to a diverse range of other tasks linked to the fine art of viticulture, as the six got into competitive mode in pursuit of the title of Bayer Young Viticulturist of the Year.

It is the 14th running of the competition which was sparked to create an opportunity for "vits" who are 30 years or younger to upskill, grow their confidence levels, widen their networking within the industry and, above all, make a name for themselves.

The six finalists who arrived at the picturesque winery off State Highway 50 had each taken out regional titles in competitions staged a couple of months ago.


Ben Richards, from Indevin, represented Marlborough, Zoe Marychurch, of Pegasus Bay, represented North Canterbury, Simon Gourley, of Domain Thomson, represented Central Otago, Jake Dromol from, The Landing, represented Northland, George Bunnett, of Craggy Range, represented Wairarapa and, on the local front, Villa Maria's Nick Putt represented Hawke's Bay.

Apart from gusting winds, conditions were as good as they could be with warmth in the air and a bright sun in the clear, blue sky — perfect Hawke's Bay conditions which may also have been a very good omen for the 2020 vintage, given the 2019 has been described as an absolute classic.

"The wind caused a few problems — we had to move a couple of tents," New Zealand Wines communications manager Nicky Grandorge said.

The competition is a mix of a wide range of practical tasks, knowledge skills as well as a quick-fire quiz, an interview process and delivering a speech at the New Zealand Winegrowers Romeo Bragato National Conference awards dinner which will be staged at McLean Park in Napier on Thursday.

In the sunshine of Te Awa's well-vined landscape the six got stuck into pruning, trellising and netting, as well as carrying out mechanical tasks and the viticultural demands of dealing with pests and diseases, budgeting, nutrition and general wine knowledge across the board.

And there was also the always enlightening and entertaining BioStart Hortisports race where the hard-toiling half dozen took on a series of challenges including
reversing ATV bikes and trailers, quickfire vine pruning, some dilution mixing and noting, wire-clipping and netting placement and building a planter box.

Standard sort of vineyard fare, although there was the lighter task of squeezing eight oranges into a funnel and into a bottle.

It was the final event in the tough 30-minute race schedule so the timing was good — each heavily puffing competitor had a refreshing drink.


The race was won by Ben Richards from Marlborough, and local lad Nick Putt charged to a fast-finishing third.

It was then up to the judges to check what they had done for each part and tot up the scores — which will be known later in the week, along with scores from the other disciplines.

Putt said he felt pretty good with how he had been going, although was disappointed not to complete the earlier irrigation and frost protection task in the allotted 40 minutes.

"But it's gone okay. I'm happy with it because each section you go to comes up with a little more."

In the wire work section the job which needed to be done was usually a 90-minute one.
"But here you've got 40 minutes so you have to go for it."

The judges had plenty to take in and consider, and the marking is now well under way, with the 2019 Bayer Young Viticulturist of the Year set to be announced on Thursday night at the Romeo Bragato Conference dinner.