From that point on, Ellie was sold on the wine industry. "I just loved the variety of work, from the bottling line to the lab work - it all appealed," she says. In 2015, she headed to Lincoln University and graduated in 2018 with her Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology degree, and 18 weeks work experience already under her belt, thanks to summer holidays spent in Yealands’ Marlborough vineyards. “I was doing young vine training and yield estimation and just loved it,” she says. “I loved being outside.”
After graduating, Ellie worked for Matua in Marlborough for seven months, during which she met her boyfriend and the couple decided to head overseas. They ended up in Languedoc-Roussillon for harvest, where “everything was so much smaller”, from vineyard to winery, and “every day was 30 degrees”, she says.
The winery processed many different varieties of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and some interesting French varieties – predominantly reds. “We handpicked everything – from 7am until 3pm and then we’d go into the cellar and start processing. It was super hands-on. I’d spent years telling people that no one squishes grapes with their feet – and there I was doing exactly that.”
Ellie embraced the French lifestyle, putting the language she’d studied at high school to good use. “We’d have espresso coffee and croissants in the morning and I insisted the winemaker speak to me in French, even though he did speak a bit of English.”
The old-world wine experience was fascinating for Ellie, who enjoyed the small scale of the winery. The following year the couple headed to Western Australia where she did a vintage as assistant winemaker at Franklin River – a “tiny town in the middle of nowhere”. There was on a more commercial scale, with machine harvesting and a huge range of grapes including Malbec, Tempranillo, Chardonnay and Riesling.
“I’d spent years telling people that no one squishes grapes with their feet – and there I was doing exactly that.”
Back in Marlborough, Ellie applied for a job at Wairau River, where she has now worked as a cellar hand and lab assistant since the end of 2019. Her laboratory role involves doing pre-bottling analysis as well as microbiology checks post-bottling, to make sure nothing is growing in the bottles. She also helps on the bottling line when needed.
As a cellar hand, she is involved in everything from tank cleaning to transferring wines. “We are a small team so everyone does everything.” Having made the choice to go down the cellar hand and winemaking road, Ellie firmly has her eye on a winemaking position. “Two years ago, I set myself a five-year goal to be a winemaker and I feel I’m tracking towards that.”
This article was published in Issue 316 (April 2021) of Winepress Magazine and is republished with their permission.