Designing the perfect career in wine

14 Jan 2021
Arabella Waghorn

Arabella Waghorn was four when her family moved to Marlborough, and father Simon became winemaker at Whitehaven Wines. A year after they arrived, he and her mother Jane started Astrolabe as a side project, and by 2009 it was a full-time business.

Despite growing up among the cellar, tanks and forklifts, Arabella studied at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, having decided that following her passions would steer her in the right direction.

“If you do what you like, you will be able to find a job that contains it.”

Although she specialised in printmaking, the arts degree was interdisciplinary, so she learned other skills like photography and product design as well. Graduation coincided with the opening of a marketing position at Astrolabe, and the timing couldn’t have been better - Arabella and her partner Finn farewelled their mouldy flat in Grafton and moved to Marlborough, where they “haven’t looked back”.

They were able to purchase a house not long after returning and, with Finn a keen gardener, began building a food forest. “It’s a very different experience to my friends who are still in Auckland with their indoor plants,” she jokes.

The fine arts degree has given her many advantages in her role as brand manager at Astrolabe, including vineyard photography and designing the company’s new Durvillea label. “We can do most things in-house,” she says. 

Wine marketers’ roles are diverse, and it is unique to have her wide range of skills.

During the 2019 vintage, Arabella worked alongside Simon to finesse her understanding of the company’s vineyard sites and stylistic vision. It’s an “old-school” process akin to European wine traditions, where families pass down philosophy and knowledge, says Arabella.

She worked alongside him every day, learning when to harvest each site based on Simon’s taste. “It’s not something that someone new could easily do. Flavour memory is a difficult thing to pass on. But we all like the same flavours as a family and I’m learning.”

It’s a role that will see her eventually move into winemaking, and the creativity is something she enjoys, as well as watching the wine going from the vine to blending and bottling. “It’s a very satisfying process.” 

The line between her art, wine and marketing work became blurred with Arabella’s new wine label, Print & Press, with the 2020 vintage set to be its first release. She designed the labels herself using woodblocks, and is currently printing them manually on a restored washing mangle in her garage. The brand is small and it’s a labour of love, she says. “It’s both parts of my life coming together.”

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