Jeremy began working in the wine industry after finishing school and taking a gap year doing various agricultural jobs in 1990.
“My mum gave me the “what are you doing with your life” speech and handed me a newspaper clipping for a wine industry certificate course at Tairawhiti Polytech in Gisborne. With Phil Parker as head tutor, we couldn’t help but have a lot of fun exploring all aspects of the industry.”
Simon Waghorn was his night tutor at the Polytech and offered Jeremy a job for the following vintage at Corbans Wines. Jeremy took him up on it, and for next two years, helped Corban’s viticulturalist Ivan Marinovich during the vintage months. “Ivan kindly passed on a lifetime of knowledge and experiences in the industry.” Jeremy then spent the remainder of the year working in the cellar or for one of the business’s contract growers. He was promoted to Assistant Viticulturalist and began extramural studies at Charles Sturt University in Australia.
1996 was his first vintage in charge of all viticultural aspects at the Corbans winery in Gisborne. “We had a young passionate team that had a lot of fun whilst making some amazing wines.”
He entered the industry in a time of growth, transitioning from “artisans born into the industry” to the wide range of skilled professionals there are these days. “This placed me in the privileged position to work alongside and rub shoulders with some of the true pioneers of New Zealand viticulture.”
In fact, his favourite aspect of working in the wine industry is the people.
“There can’t be another industry where people are so willing to share. We are all learning as we go, and we experiment and glean from one another’s successes and failures.”
He also loves the diversity of people you meet within our industry. “From Queen St farmers to country hicks, businesspeople to vineyard workers from all parts of the world, I have formed so many lifelong friendships and had a ball celebrating our successes together.”
Perhaps this diversity is what led him to champion pruners and the RSE workers, those he considers the backbone of the viticulture industry.
The Silver Secateurs competition was established to increase the quality of pruning and recognise the people out in the winter months doing the important job of setting the foundation of our vineyards.
“At this time of year, they are at work on freezing mornings, while most wine company staff are still in bed. That's hard enough for someone used to a New Zealand winter, but for the Pacific Island seasonal workers in Marlborough through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, it can be a pretty tough adjustment.”
Jeremy’s involvement started as a judge for the regional and national events for the inaugural competitions in 1995. His dedication shows through the fact, he has only missed one national event since then.
“From judging I moved into regional and national co-ordinator roles, devising and revising judging criteria and implementing new events.” After the national event was stopped, he and James Jones, along with support from Wine Marlborough, got the Marlborough event back up and running.
“This event has grown in recent years with the support of contractors, Wine Marlborough and a dedicated group of committee members. The RSE workers have really embraced it.”
“The RSE scheme has been fantastic for the wine industry and, as a result, for the Marlborough community at large, and it's important that the industry and the community welcome and appreciate these people. They are here away from their families and in a culture so different from their own.”
And it’s a great competition to watch. "It is therapeutic to be a part of such a colourful and joyful day culminating in the evening prize giving with incredible entertainment put on by the contestants and peers.”
“I liken it to the Golden Shears where people can turn what some would say is a hard-daily chore into an art form that is beautiful to watch. You need to come along to fully appreciate the skills of these people."
This year’s competition will be held on the 25 August at Yealands Estate Vineyard in Grovetown.
What is the vintage that stands out most to you?
Each vintage is special for different reasons but one that stands out is with Kim Crawford Wines 2007. It wasn’t the best of quality but from Gisborne to Central Otago everything clicked with a diverse team of people doing their own jobs to perfection and together exceeding logic in the wine quality.
Who has been your greatest mentor?
I was incredibly fortunate to have two wonderful mentors during the early stages of my career. Ivan Marinovich (mentioned above), and Peter Benson, an amazing grower in the Ormond Valley, remains the most observant and in tune with his vines like no one else I have come across. He taught me all the practical side of viticulture.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.