A love of winemaking

Image: Pfeiffer Wines’ wine intern Zoe O’Neill-Pugh is working towards her career as a winemaker.
By Coral Cooksley

A young wine intern in Wahgunyah was among a number of prospective students at Wangaratta’s GOTAFE online information session two weeks ago which explored diplomas in Viticulture and Wine Technology offered within the local region.

Melbourne University graduate with an agricultural science degree, Zoe O’Neill-Pugh, who has an internship at Pfeiffer Wines, said she had been looking at courses to further her career in the wine industry.

Hailing from the southern city’s suburb of Beaumaris, the 22-year-old shifted to Wahgunyah to take up the role at the winery’s vintage in January this year, and with a love of what she is learning will be staying until the vintage around the same time next year.

“I didn’t study wine subjects in my degree except for one called ‘Vine to Wine’ and became really interested after I graduated from uni,” she said.

“The subject was a very short introduction into the wine industry, we made a Shiraz as a group in about a week, and after finishing the subject I was really into it and applied for the internship.

“I’ve been very lucky to work with Jen as a mentor who is Pfeiffer’s senior winemaker.

“I came here virtually not knowing anything when I joined at a busy time and Jen is a great teacher.

“Everyone here is a good teacher and very patient.”

Zoe said being stuck on one job like a crusher for one vintage at larger wineries could have been on the cards where at Pfeiffer’s she has been able work across all operational activities.

Tossing up between winemaking, and viticulture working in a vineyard, Zoe said winemaking is the winner.

“I enjoy winemaking a lot and the lab work as well,” she said.

“It’s nice to see Jen as female in the wine industry too that is a male dominated field.”

With a love of travel, Zoe said she planned to visit different countries in the future to gain experience working at diverse vintages and a variety of wines.

Pfeiffer Wines’ Jen Pfeiffer said learning in a small to medium sized winery gave interns exposure to many varieties of wine as well as winemaking techniques.

“Bigger wineries tend to have defined roles where interns may become really good at one part of wine making,” she said.

“Zoe gets the chance to get involved in tastings and blending sessions, learns how these wines evolve, and is exposed to bottling as well as marketing decisions.

“It’s nice to be a mentor as I’ve had mentors and know the positive impact they had on me and how significant that was for my career.”

GOTAFE communication and engagement director, Natalie Ajay, said the North East of Victoria has more than 160 years of wine making history and businesses that have traded since the 1850s.

“For job security and job diversity, you couldn’t find a better vocation,” she said.

“With five wine regions here in the North East, and over 20 across the state, it’s a huge industry with potential both here and overseas for career growth.

“This industry and these jobs aren’t one dimensional as people can work outdoors amongst the vines, learn about business and administration, make wine, work with export markets, and cover off tourism and hospitality – all in the one business.”


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