Cellar qualifications could transform NZ wine industry says graduate

05 December 2017

Formally recognising the skills of winery employees will strengthen the industry in New Zealand says James Pritchard, cellar and bottling manager at The Hunting Lodge in Auckland.

“People who work in wineries are generally very skilled and have a lot of technical knowledge but not everyone wants to study or go to university. They love doing their jobs and just want to work. So these new qualifications are an opportunity to recognise the contribution of those people.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the industry for 20 years or two weeks, just sign up and enjoy it.”    

James is the first person to graduate with a New Zealand Certificate in Cellar Operations Level 4, one of three qualifications available to winery staff across the country.

They have been developed by leading New Zealand winemakers and cellar managers to equip staff with the skills and knowledge to process grapes once they are picked and produce wine to the highest quality standards ready for bottling.

The qualifications start at Level 3, providing a basic understand of the wine industry, knowledge about legislation such as food safety and health and safety, team work and regular cellar operations. Level 4 and Level 5 cover wine analysis, technical elements, grape processing and vintage operations, through to the potential to lead others and provide technical support into commercial cellar operations. Each level takes around 12 months to complete.

“It gives people in the industry a clear pathway to develop,” James says. “Companies have the opportunity to invest in their people and recognise their skills at each level, which is so important.”

James oversees production and bottling at The Hunting Lodge in Waimauku, which opened in July 2016 after Matua sold its Auckland operation and moved everything to the South Island. James was one of several former Matua employees who stayed on to develop the site under new owners.

“Everyone was mucking in at the start, working on the grounds, in the cellar and in the vineyard, but we’ve grown rapidly since then.”

There are now close to 60 staff on site working across the cellar, bottling plant, event spaces, cellar door and a most recently the restaurant which opened in November.

“We’re big enough that we can process large volumes of wine but small enough that we can do small volumes too,” James says. “Reds, whites, rosés – we get to see a whole lot of different wines pass through. That’s one thing I love about the industry, you get to play with really cool little parcels of fruit and get to be involved in large-scale operations as well.”

James chose a career in the wine industry early on, starting out on the vineyard at Stoney Batter Estate on Waiheke Island, now operating as Man O’ War. From there he moved to Goldwater Estate where he worked under the winemaker and vineyard manager, gaining skills and knowledge across the business. In 2009 he took up a vintage role at Matua and stayed on for seven years, working his way from team leader to cellar manager.

He has also gained experience in wine regions overseas, with three vintages in Napa Valley in California at Flora Springs and Beringer, and one in Bordeaux, France.

 “That’s what I love about the wine industry – you get to travel, spend time in really nice parts of the world and work on all sorts of interesting wines. It’s an industry full of passionate people who enjoy what they’re doing.”

New Zealand Certificates in Cellar Operations

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