TRACY WHIT­MEY meets the star of New Zealand’s young wine­mak­ing ta­lent.

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Tracy Whit­mey meets a young wine­maker mak­ing his mark

A LAY­MAN MIGHT imag­ine the life of a wine­maker to be an idyl­lic round of wan­der­ing through vines pluck­ing the oc­ca­sional grape, a bu­colic pe­riod of har­vest­ing and a lot of slurp­ing, swill­ing and spit­ting. Greg Lane laughs, “Mak­ing wine is only part of what we do. Other as­pects are slightly less glam­orous, but just as im­por­tant.”

In­deed Greg has demon­strated his in-depth grasp of all as­pects of the wine­maker’s role in tak­ing the ti­tle of 2018 Ton­nel­lerie de Mer­curey New Zealand Young Wine­maker of the Year. Nick En­twistle, or­gan­iser and one of the judges of the com­pe­ti­tion, ex­plains that the com­pe­ti­tion is de­signed to test the com­peti­tors’ depth of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence, and their abil­ity to think log­i­cally un­der pres­sure. The chal­lenges at both the re­gional and na­tional com­pe­ti­tion level rep­re­sent many of the tasks that wine­mak­ers un­der­take in their day-to-day roles, so to suc­ceed com­peti­tors need to have a broad range of skills and demon­strate the abil­ity to work ac­cu­rately and ef­fi­ciently un­der sig­nif­i­cant time pres­sure.

So over the course of seven hours in one day, four fi­nal­ists – Greg Lane from Grove Mill in Marl­bor­ough, Kate Franklin of Sa­cred Hill Wines in Hawke’s Bay, Kelly Stu­art of Cloudy Bay Vine­yards in Marl­bor­ough and Haidee John­son from Villa Maria in Hawke’s Bay – forged through a var­ied range of tasks in­clud­ing lab­o­ra­tory anal­y­sis, fault find­ing, mar­ket­ing, pub­lic speak­ing and cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture and bud­get­ing, in ad­di­tion to more prac­ti­cal chal­lenges such as wine judg­ing, blend­ing, pro­duc­tion plan­ning and fork­lift driv­ing.

At the end of that ex­haust­ing day Greg came out on top. “Greg showed great con­sis­tency across all chal­lenges, and was equally as com­pe­tent in the lab­o­ra­tory as he was on the fork­lift,” com­mented Nick En­twistle. “His depth of knowl­edge and skill was ev­i­dent through­out the com­pe­ti­tion, demon­strat­ing a strong un­der­stand­ing of wine­mak­ing and an out­stand­ing abil­ity to re­main calm un­der pres­sure. Greg’s abil­ity to cap­ti­vate the au­di­ence dur­ing the pub­lic speak­ing sec­tions of the com­pe­ti­tion made him stand out, and en­sures he has a bright fu­ture as the lat­est am­bas­sador for New Zealand’s young wine­mak­ing ta­lent.”

Prizes in­clude a funded study trip to France to the Ton­nel­lerie de Mer­curey cooper­age, which Greg hopes to fit in after vin­tage next year and a wine al­lowance from Glen­garry. Not one to rest on his lau­rels, he also plans to use a study al­lowance from NZSVO to en­roll in a WSET (Wine & Spirit Ed­u­ca­tion Trust) course for 6-12 months, and to par­tic­i­pate as a guest judge in an up­com­ing wine tast­ing for Cui­sine.

Of his win Greg says, “The award is unique, in that I’m not aware of any other world wine in­dus­tries that recog­nise young ta­lent and po­ten­tial and bench­mark their knowl­edge and their craft of wine­mak­ing. It’s a fun op­por­tu­nity but also it’s a nice bit of val­i­da­tion, and gives me con­fi­dence in my own abil­ity. I get a boost know­ing that I’m go­ing down the right track and that’s a mo­men­tum kick that I will carry into my cur­rent role.”

That role is brand wine­maker for Grove Mill in Marl­bor­ough. He landed there after com­plet­ing a Bach­e­lor of Oenol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Ade­laide, then un­der­tak­ing vin­tages in Italy, USA, France and New Zealand, and a spell at Shaw + Smith in the Ade­laide Hills. But it was New Zealand’s cool-cli­mate wines that cap­tured his at­ten­tion. “Cool-cli­mate wine­mak­ing is what I find most in­ter­est­ing and cool-cli­mate wine is what I like to drink,” says Greg. “I like be­ing able to taste where a wine comes from and how it’s made – cool­er­cli­mate wines give you that. I have a pas­sion for pinot noir and chardon­nay; they speak clearly of where they come from and how they’re made.

“I like try­ing new things to push and progress my style. You have to have the ex­pe­ri­ence to know when to take your hands off and when to in­ter­vene. My style is to only in­ter­vene when nec­es­sary, to let the wine do its thing

Wine­mak­ing is the chance to pro­duce some­thing out of my own ideas, then see the re­sults of all the hard work in a bot­tle.

and take its course. The best wine­mak­ers let the vine­yard and fruit speak for them­selves through their style.”

Greg picks out for­mer boss, Adam Wade­witz, se­nior wine­maker at Shaw + Smith as hav­ing had a par­tic­u­lar in­flu­ence on his ca­reer. “Adam taught me about recog­nis­ing qual­ity and how to get there in wine­mak­ing, us­ing feel and in­tu­ition – that comes from ex­pe­ri­ence. Wine­mak­ing is an ex­pe­ri­ence-based oc­cu­pa­tion. You only get one shot at it per year, so you need a pretty good body of ex­pe­ri­ence to draw on.”

Lucky to have had good men­tors through­out his ca­reer so far, Greg sees great value in help­ing oth­ers com­ing into the in­dus­try. He’s happy to spend time with young staff at the winery, ex­plain­ing both the the­ory of what they are do­ing, and why he’s made cer­tain choices and de­ci­sions, as well as show­ing prac­ti­cal skills. “It also makes me think about what I’m do­ing, and what I know. I en­joy the tac­tile, cre­ative as­pect of wine­mak­ing. It’s the chance to pro­duce some­thing out of my own ideas, then see the re­sults of all the hard work in a bot­tle.”

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