From teacher to winemaker

21 Jul 2020

Thirteen years ago, German born Kathrin Jankowiec landed in New Zealand during a round-the world-trip and never left. Coming from a very different career background, the EIT graduate diploma student has climbed the ladder in the wine industry, and is now the production winemaker at Villa Maria in Marlborough.

Originally from Germany, Kathrin Jankowiec has discovered her passion for wine in New Zealand.

Her debut in the wine industry was pretty much a coincidence and born of financial necessity. “I had no money left so I knocked at the cellar door of Saint Clair in Blenheim and asked for a job,” Kathrin remembers.

“That’s how I slid into the wine industry. I did my first harvest and it was awesome fun. Every day, I felt excited to go to work.” Kathrin also fell in love with the region. “Marlborough is the land of milk and honey, one big adventure park,” she says.

She soon decided that the wine industry would be the avenue she wanted to pursue. She said goodbye to her career as a teacher and hasn’t looked back since. Kathrin learned everything from the ground up.

In 2009, Kathrin completed a wine certificate at EIT which gave her a better understanding of the science behind her everyday tasks in the vineyard and winery.

Last year, Kathrin enrolled in EIT’s Graduate Diploma in Oenology. Kathrin opted for the part-time distance programme with annual residential classes at EIT’s Hawke’s Bay campus.

Building on her industry experience, Kathrin is delving into subject areas such as sensory science, wine microbiology and wine chemistry. She says that the qualification digs down to the “nitty-gritty” stuff and provides her with science skills that help her solve problems.

With a sense of bewilderment she looks back at this year’s vintage which was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like so many other businesses, Villa Maria didn’t have the time to prepare for the emergency scenario. Within a couple of days, they had to reorganise their whole business.

We had 60 winemakers from all over the world coming for the harvest when all of a sudden we found ourselves at level 4.

"All these people weren’t allowed to stay where they had planned to stay. We had to build bubbles so we organised 70 campervans and moved everyone on site, even some of the managers and engineers. We set up a commercial kitchen in a container and flew the chefs from our Auckland cellar door down to Marlborough. The place turned into a proper campsite, with a toilet and shower block, laundry and Wi-Fi. It was super challenging and mentally draining but the team spirit was on an all-time high. Everyone just knew what was at stake and hung in there.”

“Despite these crazy challenges, the 2020 vintage is one of the best in a very long time,” smiles Kathrin. While working 12-hour-shifts, studying had to take a back seat, Kathrin says. “In the evening I simply didn’t have the energy to bury myself in books and binge-watched Tiger King instead,” she quips. Luckily it’s all back to normal now and Kathrin can crack on with completing her diploma.


Written by Kathrin Siller for Eastern Institute of Technology. View their viticulture and wine science programmes

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