Big year for young viticulturalist

Award-winning viticulturist Annabel Bulk, in the vineyard at Felton Road, is preparing for a busy...
Celebrating her Young Viticulturist of the Year award earlier this year. Photo: Supplied
The hard graft of the past year has paid off with two big industry awards for Bannockburn woman Annabel Bulk. Central Otago reporter Adam Burns talks to the viticulturist about the key ingredients to her success.

A semi-rural upbringing in Dunedin’s Pine Hill kindled Annabel Bulk’s love of the outdoors.

"My mum is an avid gardener.

"We were always encouraged to grow our own veges as a kid."

That childhood introduction to horticulture is reaping rewards for Ms Bulk.

Last week the 30-year-old beat five other finalists to take out the New Zealand Young Horticulturist of the Year prize.

The award capped off a fruitful year for Ms Bulk.

She also won the Bayer Young Viticulturist of the Year award in August.

The horticulturist competition judges said she balanced a wide skill set and strong knowledge base, and noted her positivity during presentations.

Award-winning viticulturist Annabel Bulk, in the vineyard at Felton Road, is preparing for a busy...
Award-winning viticulturist Annabel Bulk, in the vineyard at Felton Road, is preparing for a busy summer ahead. Photo: Supplied
The competition included a business proposal to the judges. "I was trying to create a tool that would help people join irrigation."It’s something that I haven’t seen around. I know it’s something that I would benefit from.

Ms Bulk entered the Conservation Corps after she left Queen’s High School.

The youth development course was hosted and partly funded by the Department of Conservation.

The experience developed her interest further in the outdoors and working with plants.

"They put us through our paces with courses and a focus on self-development."

Following horticultural studies at Otago Polytechnic, Ms Bulk did further training in viticulture and winemaking in Marlborough.

Now an assistant viticulturalist, she has been at Bannockburn’s Felton Road for six years.

"I thought for quite a long time that I was going to end up on the wine side of the industry.

"The thing that really fascinated me was the biology that goes on in the plants.

"We can throw all sorts of stuff at them and they’re still continuing to grow.

"And then have this amazing fruit which we can turn into wine — it speaks to the place and tells the story."

Ms Bulk helps oversee a vineyard crew responsible for a range of field tasks.

"I’m all over the place. Among that trying to fit some tractor work, spraying, maybe some mowing — it’s very hectic and busy. No two days are the same."

Mentoring younger crew members was something she was passionate about.

She also needed to do the odd wine tasting, something she admitted she initially struggled with.

"I’m trying to get better at that.

"Often in a group setting there would be a consensus, and I would have the exact opposite view.

"It’s just training my palate."

She is the first woman to win the Young Horticulturist of the Year award since 2007.

Women remained under-represented in viticulture compared to other industries, such as gardening and forestry, she said.

The imbalance had been another driving force and was something she intended to challenge.

"We’ve got a few young females coming up through the industry. But it’s much more of the guy scene.

"I still think there is a lot of sexism to be broken down in the industry. It is an issue.

"It’s one of the challenges, but I try and stay positive about it all."

The growing season over summer will continue to keep Ms Bulk busy.

Central Otago’s hot and dry climate meant organic production was easier, she said.

Vineyards that were organically grown, such as at Felton Road, had become a hallmark of the region.

With prize packages included $12,500 in travel grants, she was looking forward to visiting overseas vineyards and expanding her knowledge.

"It is really important to have an understanding about different wines techniques of growing around the world.

"I’m hoping to spend some of my prize money in furthering that, so I can continue to learn and grow."

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