Blending wine, finding faults, conducting trials, rolling barrels, peeling grapes and spitting water across a wide stretch of lawn were just some of the challenges Emily Gaspard-Clark took in her stride to become the Tonnellerie de Mercurey Marlborough Young Winemaker of the Year 2019 last month.
But the 28-year-old Spy Valley assistant winemaker says none of the day’s tasks were as daunting as judging wines under the gaze of some of the region’s top winemakers. “It’s always really hard when you are tasting alongside people who have been in the industry for so long, to say what you think.”
It’s something she’ll get used to pretty quickly though because the prize package includes a place as an associate judge at this month’s QuayConnect Marlborough Wine Show, where she’ll have three days assessing the region’s wines. “It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Emily says, planning to “take some cues” from Spy’s new chief winemaker – and seasoned wine judge – Wendy Stuckey.
The show makes it a busy month for Emily, who will compete in the national Young Winemaker Competition just a week before the judging begins. In the meantime, she’ll be honing her knowledge and quizzing former competitors, although she knows it’s a hard event to prepare for. “You’ll study one area and it won’t show up.”
Regardless of the outcome, Emily says the regional competition, which she entered in for the first time last year, has been a boost to her confidence and a chance to asses what she does and doesn’t know.
Emily’s entry to the wine industry “happened by chance” when she visited a Lincoln University stand at a careers evening, offering information on its viticulture and oenology course. She’s already decided to study food science and wasn’t much of a wine drinker but was caught by the prospect of a job that balanced science and function. “I loved the practical side of it, with a product you could see at the end.”
She went to Lincoln and spent her summers working in vineyards around the country, relishing the active roles and the ability to follow a product from start to finish. Her first job on graduation was at Delegat, before years of travelling for harvest, interspersing her New Zealand vintages with ones in the Barossa, Canada and France.
When she decided it was time to settle down, Emily worked for two years in Australia, before joining Spy Valley in spring 2017. Emily loves to make aromatics but says since she has been back in Marlborough she has “learned to love Sauv again” with recognition that “there is a lot more you can put into it.”
She says it’s a great industry and region to work in, with collegiality that has survived its growth. “You can call someone down the road and catch up for a chat. Everyone is involved and knows each other, which is great.”
This article was originally published in Winepress Issue No. 297 and is reproduced with their permission.