Words by Joelle Thomson.
“Working with the seasons always provides challenge and variety, some particular vintages more than others,” says Claire. And not just because of the incredibly challenging weather this year. “In a good vintage it’s easy to think you have your job sorted and then when the climate challenges you, you can call on all your resources and still come off second best,” she says. “It’s just the nature of working alongside nature.”
“Working with the seasons always provides challenge and variety, some particular vintages more than others.”
The Pernod Ricard viticulturist finished a Bachelor of Science at the University of Otago and returned to Hawke’s Bay to study a Bachelor of Wine Science at the Eastern Institute of Technology in 2003. It was an easy career choice because she always knew she preferred working outdoors. “Working with the seasons always provides challenge and variety, some particular vintages more than others. The biggest crossover with production is the lead in to vintage. It’s great to collaborate with the winery at this time by getting across all of the vineyard blocks to sample and taste daily, working with winemakers to give the grapes their best shot at glory.”
Claire says her experience of the wine industry is that the majority of positions are held by men. “There are some fantastic women in the industry, but it’s definitely far more likely that anything I do on a daily basis or as a part of a committee or wider industry event will be heavily male dominated.” Fortunately, she feels she has been treated well. “I have had to deal with very little discrimination and maybe in years to come there will be a female majority. Anything is possible.”
“I’m practically orientated and have always loved food and wine, so I was excited to find a career that combined these aspects together.
The practical aspect of working with wine was a big drawcard to Claire. “I’m practically orientated and have always loved food and wine, so I was excited to find a career that combined these aspects together. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work in some of the most beautiful vineyards and wineries in Hawke’s Bay as well as North Otago and California. When we get the chance to travel, we’ll always make a point of hunting down and finding great wine producers wherever we are.”
Collaborating with people across the industry is also close to her heart and has become a strong focus in Hawke’s Bay since Cyclone Gabrielle. “Our focus shifted to people, their families and the community first and foremost after the cyclone. As we move to the recovery phase, we are turning our focus to harvest, but conditions remain challenging with continued wet weather, which is hampering recovery efforts and harvest,” she says.
“This is a real team effort. Whilst there is no doubt that it is a challenging environment, we have come together as one team and are doing our best to make the most of what we have got to work with. As in any season, we’re prioritising the harvest of fragile blocks whilst keeping a close eye on the blocks that have the potential to push a little harder and achieve our desired style.”
This article was first published in New Zealand Winegrower magazine issue 139 and is republished with permission.