The country's best and brightest young viticulturists are swatting up their theory books, practicing their machinery handling, and honing their skills in anticipation of the first regional Markhams Young Viticulturist of the Year competition, starting in Hawke's Bay on Friday (22 June). Central Otago will hold their regional competition later in the month, with Marlborough's happening in mid-July.
In each regional competition, a group of around seven viticulturists under the age of 30 will do battle in a range of practical and technical tasks, and be tested on a variety of topics such as budgeting, irrigation, pest control and machinery knowledge. In addition, contestants will compete in a timed eight activity 'horti- sports' contest, pitting themselves against each other and the clock.
Later that evening, the contestants will change out of their overalls into their suits and continue the competition and awards presentation. There they will compete in a quick fire buzzer general knowledge quiz and present a speech on a topic only revealed to them days earlier.
The winner of each regional competition goes on to compete for the national Markhams Young Viticulturist of the Year title. This year the final is being held in Marlborough on 22 August as part of the 2012 Romeo Bragato wine industry conference. The winner not only takes away the prestigious trophy, but receives an impressive bounty of prizes including $2000 cash, a $5000 travel fund to a viticulture region of their choice in the world, a $3000 Leadership Programme and cash towards attending the Young Horticulturist of the Year grand final in Auckland in November.
Since its inception in 2006, the Markhams Young Viticulturist of the Year competition has attracted a high calibre of entrants from throughout the country and is recognised within the industry as being a leading accomplishment for young viticulturists to aspire to and achieve.
Graeme Rhodes, spokesperson for principal sponsor Markhams chartered accountants, believes the group's support of the competition is a tangible way of supporting the industry by helping develop the next 'crop' of viticulturists.
"These competitors bring much skill, passion and knowledge to the industry and often, such as in the case of Hawke's Bay's Caine Thompson, they go on to become leaders and role models in the wine industry," says Mr Rhodes.
For last year's national winner, Peregrine Wines vineyard manager Nick Paulin, entering the Central Otago regional competition was one of the best things he could have done for his career.
"It can open up so many doors for you, especially if you win it and go on to represent your region in the national competition," says Mr Paulin. And he should know - he had entered the competition five times before finally winning it last year.
And to add to the pressure of the competition, contestants in all the regions have a legacy of previous winners to live up to. Hawke's Bay has taken the title twice with viticulturists Emma Taylor in 2007 and Caine Thompson in 2009, and Marlborough viticulturists Simon Bishell and Stuart Dudley won in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
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