Going green never felt so good
Clean, green and a viticulture machine, 2018 is Annabel Bulk’s year to shine, having recently completed the 2018 Bayer New Zealand Young Viticulturist of the Year competition and coming out on top. However, with another competition to go and a taste for education, this assistant viticulturist is just getting started. Chloe Szentpeteri reports.
A week after placing first in the Bayer New Zealand Young Viticulturist of the Year competition, Annabel Bulk turned 30 giving her yet another reason to celebrate.
After several weeks of hitting the books, performing practical tasks, sitting examinations and undergoing gruelling interviews, her hard work paid off when she was announced the national winner on 30 August.
There are six regional competitions held in New Zealand each year comprising a small group of young, passionate professionals in the wine industry.
Each competitor must display their knowledge of the practical and theoretical aspects of the industry, which includes topics such as tractor driving and maintenance, to wine tasting and trellising.
After that comes interviews, which this year focussed on budgeting and irrigation.
Making it to the semi-finals requires individuals to have a broader understanding of the industry, and to be knowledgeable of their respected wine region.
Only then will a winner proceed to the national finals, which explores the bigger picture of New Zealand wine.
Annabel Bulk said this year’s topics included pests and diseases, pruning and trellising.
“There’s also a big project which goes towards the final, and this year the requirement was completing a comparison of different weeding options in the vineyard, which took up all the time leading to the competition.
“I have to say a huge thank you to the sponsors and supporters who have helped out and surrounded me over the many weeks of the competition. It wouldn’t happen without sponsors so that’s so important — I wouldn’t have got there without support.”
Bulk said she was grateful for the experience and for what she learned during the weeks leading up to the final — and she’s not the only one proud of her success.
Her employer, Felton Road Wines, and its team of 12 voiced their delight at her accomplishment and have expressed plans to further her education and growth at the winery.
“They know that I’m really interested in doing what Emma Taylor has done and continuing to be really involved with the competition now that I won’t compete anymore,” Bulk explained.
Emma Taylor was the 2007 Bayer New Zealand Young Viticulturist of the Year, and continues working with the competition as a judge and mentor.
“They’re very much aware that I love to keep learning and love to keep teaching other people as well. We had a discussion yesterday about how they were going to further me with that and making sure that I still stay up to date with research and other projects that are happening.”
Hungry for more knowledge, Bulk is also preparing for the Bayer New Zealand Young Horticulturist of the Year competition.
And having studied horticulture in the early 2000s, she is well equipped for the challenge.
Although she enjoys working in the wine industry immensely, Bulk stumbled upon viticulture rather than sought it out.
As a child, she grew up in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, with two ‘outdoorsy’ parents and a mother who loved gardening, conservation and sustainability.
Following in her footsteps, Bulk did some voluntary work for the National Department of Conservation in her youth, with one thing leading to another until she moved into nursey work, then horticulture and, finally, viticulture.
After studying horticulture, Bulk and her partner decided to focus their skills further and in 2009 entered into a Viticulture and Winemaking Degree at the University of Otago in Dunedin.
“I never really thought I’d end up in the vineyard itself,” Bulk admitted.
“After studying I had been quite into winemaking and wine science but I needed to complete a six week practical in the vineyard to finish off the degree.
“And after that I never looked back and never decided to go back into the winery.”
Bulk applied for a summer role at Felton Road Wines and after six years, she’s still there.
Now an assistant viticulturist, Bulk said there’s not a single thing she loves more than another about her role but if she had to name a few, it’s being outside in the beauty that is Central Otago.
“It’s a beautiful region here so that’s a big draw factor but every season is different so that learning and the ability to teach people and see the passion grow is such a huge part for me as well.
“We get backpackers who have never worked on vines before and they’ll start off a wee bit interested and then all of a sudden they talk about going home and finding vineyards to work on; we’ve had people who will leave here and go back to find their own vineyards,” she mused.
“And they had never thought they were going to end up in the wine industry but they’ve grown to love it and have a passion for it by the time they’ve left here so I think that’s quite amazing to be able to have such a big influence.”
On the other hand, a challenge Bulk is yet to overcome is the administration that comes with a business, namely accounting and planning.
Bulk is one of 12 permanent staff members at Felton Road, which swells to 50 during harvest to work over 32 hectares of vines. Not a day goes by, nor a season, that Bulk doesn’t enjoy her job and all that it entails.
However, on a busy day, or any given day, she doesn’t mind a glass of Chardonnay or two, sometimes paired in winter with knitting, crochet or spinning wool — an oddball hobby she admitted.
“With wine I swing from different things at different times but my favourite varietal is Chardonnay. I love the diversity you can get and very rarely I come across one that I don’t like so it’s my go-to wine. If I don’t know how I’m feeling I’ll go out and get a new Chardonnay to try!”
With a prestigious title under her belt and a supportive workplace, Bulk is well on her way to a prosperous career in viticulture.
But not without exploring new territory.
Having holidayed in Europe a few years ago, Bulk and her boyfriend travelled through French and Spanish wine regions, tasting as they went.
Next time they go overseas, Bulk said she plans to build her knowledge of the wine industry, but for the next few months, the young gun will have her hands full with more competitions.
“I’m happy where I am but I want to emphasise the growing and learning for the next stages that are coming. I feel like the competition has given me so much and I want to give so much back. I want to be really involved with the regional competitions here next year and set questions and be available for people who need or want to know more about the industry,” she said.
“That’s the next important thing for me.”
This article was originally printed in the October 2018 issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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