Michael Henley's journey in the wine industry has seen him exposed to everything from $10 million private collections to the biggest fraudster in the history of wine.
After 25 years working in the industry, the well-known Hawke's Bay resident and winemaker has been honoured with the title of Master of Wine.
Every year, the London-based Institute of Masters of Wine honours a small number of people across the globe with the prestigious title.
There are currently only 419 Masters of Wine worldwide with 16 of those in New Zealand.
To receive the title you must be nominated then go through a rigorous process which involves tasting and theory exams over a period of two years and - if you manage to pass those exams - a 10,000 word research project.
Last Friday, Henley, the former CEO of Trinity Hill Wines in Fernhill and Aotearoa NZ Fine Wine Estates, received a call from the institute congratulating him on receiving the top honour.
"It was just an amazing feeling of relief," Henley said.
"It has been a very long process."
He said his journey in the industry started in a humble bottle shop in Canterbury in the 1990s.
"I needed a job while at university.
"Where I was living I was right next to a Super Liquor store."
He said it was a quiet store and he would stock the wine shelves each night.
"I started buying bottles of wine every week - under $20 of course because I was a student - and I started to build a cellar and by the end fo the year I had built up a cellar of about 40 bottles.
"Funnily enough it got stolen when my house got robbed, but working in that bottle store lifted my interest in wine."
The rest is history, he went on to study a post-graduate course in winemaking in 1995, which allowed him to travel around the world working in wineries and auction houses.
That included South Africa, Australia, the US, and the UK before returning home to New Zealand.
"While in London, I really got in with wine because I was working for Christie's Auction House in their wine department," he said.
"I was like a kid in a candy shop working with these pre-auction bottles of wine that I would never get exposed to then or now."
He said during that time he would value some people's private cellars at around $10 million.
While working for the same business in the US he also worked with a client named Rudy Kurniawan, later exposed to be the biggest fraudster in the history of the wine industry.
"He was one of my clients," Henley said, who sold Kurniawan wine about a decade prior to his imprisonment for counterfeiting and trading fake wine.
Henley even features in one scene in the 2016 film about Kurniawan, called Sour Grapes.
Henley moved to Hawke's Bay in 2009, where he has been an advocate for the wine industry in the region and has worked for Craggy Range Winery and as CEO of Trinity Hill Winery.
More recently, he has run Aotearoa NZ Fine Wine Estates based out of Havelock North but left that position at the start of 2021 to focus on completing his Master of Wine qualification.
Henley, whose favourite wine is chardonnay, said Hawke's Bay wines were world class.
"Now we are really hitting our straps. Hawke's Bay wines now are just insanely good - they are world class.
"The chardonnays and red wines we make are absolutely world class," he said.
"I would happily put Hawke's Bay wines on a table beside any wine anywhere around the world and say 'I think these are as good as what you will find anywhere'."
Henley was nominated for the Master of Wine by another local Master of Wine, Steve Smith from Craggy Range Winery.
Henley was tight lipped about his next project but said he had something in the pipeline.
"I am looking to start my own project," he said.
"I am actually keeping that close to my chest at the moment because it is early days, but I would like to continue to work with the great wineries of New Zealand and help them tell their stories."
Henley sits on a number of boards including the Hawke's Bay Winegrowers Board, the NZ Winegrowers Board, and Hawkes' Bay Tourism.