Anika Willner

Winemaker | Coal Pit Wine | Central Otago


Anika grew up in Ohio, USA, far from any wine region in the United States. She always enjoyed wine, and while studying for an undergraduate degree at The Ohio State University, she started a wine club with a friend called "The Ohio State Wine Club". At first small, she received funding from the university, and they grew to 400 members by the time she left university.

The club involved social fundraisers, making wine, tastings with sommeliers, and educational industry speakers, and through these various activities she was exposed to people in the sales and trade side of wine in the Columbus area. It was these introductions that encouraged her to continue exploring her interest post-graduation, and she decided to work a harvest.

Anika Willner
Anika Willner

So, tell us about your move to New Zealand, your career, and what got you to where you are today?

Following my graduation, I set my sights on South Africa. I was able to get a job and a 3-month work visa and worked my first vintage in Stellenbosch. It was very challenging as I was so green, but it also solidified my strong and innate passion for wine and from that point, I knew I wanted to turn it into a career. 

Following South Africa, I worked a vintage in New Zealand in 2016 where I met my partner, Ben. Over the next few years, we continued to work vintages all over the world gaining experience in Germany, Mainland Australia as well as Tasmania, Oregon, Central Otago, and Burgundy. In 2017 my partner took a permanent role as assistant winemaker in Central Otago, so I decided to go back to school. I enrolled in the Lincoln Post Grad V&O Programme. During my last few months of study, I was offered the winemaker role at Coal Pit in Gibbston, Central Otago. I’ve now been living and working on-site for the past 4 years with my partner Ben and our dog.

Favourite place in New Zealand to visit and why?

I love the West Coast, the nature is so wild and untamed. There is so much incredible isolated beauty. 

What made you want to become part of the wine industry?

I think the initial excitement of vintage as an intern is what made me want to become part of the wine industry, but growing and making wine is so much more than the vintage period. Being a part of the wine industry is a lifestyle that I love, and my work is so much more than a job to me. 

What is your favourite wine variety?

I live and die by Pinot Noir! I've always been drawn to cool-climate varieties as I'm a bit of an acid hound, but particularly Pinot Noir. I find the balance of delicacy and power unmatched in any other variety. 

What do you love most about your job?

I love the diversity my job offers me. Coal Pit is a single 7-hectare vineyard and on-site winery and I am involved in every aspect of the succeeding wines that come from this site - from pruning to the bottle. There is no monotony as I am involved in so many different tasks every single day. 

To you, what makes the New Zealand wine industry special / unique?

Technology and education improve every year and are implemented quickly. There is a sense of liberation here in terms of viticulture and wine production as the industry is not bound by tradition that can sometimes be so inhibiting to change in old-world regions. 

"The New Zealand wine industry is dynamic and innovative."

What would you like to see more of in the New Zealand wine industry?


What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

The extreme climatic shifts from season to season in Gibbston can be challenging. There have been years where we are fighting frost during most of the growing season and throughout the harvest period. We are making wine on the edge! 

Do you think there are gender-specific challenges in winemaking? Do women have a harder time becoming successful/being taken seriously, or is that a thing of the past?

Yes, sadly this still rings true to me. However, Coal Pit Wines is female-owned and female-run (owner, marketing, administrator, and winemaker/vineyard manager). I feel very grateful and inspired by the women around me, but realise what a unique and unusual situation this is.

What would you say to women considering a career in wine?

Go for it! 


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