NZ Young Winemaker of the Year’s first Central winner

Peregrine Wines assistant winemaker Ben Tombs celebrates his win at the New Zealand Young...
Peregrine Wines assistant winemaker Ben Tombs celebrates his win at the New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year 2020 Award in Hawke’s Bay. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
International experience proved key to becoming the first Central Otago winner of the New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year Award.

Ben Tombs, assistant winemaker at Peregrine Wines in Gibbston Valley, fended off competition from Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay to claim the title.

He has worked at Peregrine since 2017, having previously travelled to vineyards across Australia, the US and France.

Mr Tombs (27) started out as a cellar hand in Marlborough on leaving school and said he was fortunate to be kept on.

He gradually worked his way up, learning how to detect foreign microbes in wine samples, work out capital expenditure and develop marketing strategies.

These skills were integral to winning the under-30s award, where he had to perform laboratory tasks, give a 20-minute presentation and a three-minute speech.

Mr Tombs gave judges from NZ Winegrowers his opinion on how to sustain and grow the wine industry in New Zealand, during an all-day challenge at Eastern Institute of Technology in Hawke’s Bay on Friday.

He said this relied on sustainability, accountability and transparency.

He wanted to see native plants dotted around the outskirts of vineyards, biodiversity and a commitment to "walking the talk" on sustainable and organic growing methods.

Mr Tombs has won the Central Otago young winemaker award three times in a row, but was unable to compete in the national finals last year because he was abroad researching.

"It was good to be here — Covid-19 made it happen, because with the borders shut I couldn’t do a vintage overseas."

The assistant winemaker said he tried to go away every other year in September/October to increase his knowledge.

"The more experience you have with other regions, varieties and cultures is another means to have up your sleeve to craft a wine."

He said hands-on experience was invaluable compared with just "reading a book".

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