Winemaker winner to fly Central flag

The competitors in this year's Central Otago Young Winemaker of the Year at the VinPro site in Cromwell on July 6. From left are Annalise Williams, of Domaine Thomson, second-placegetter Abby Gallagher, of Central Otago Wine Company, winner Ben Tombs, of
The competitors in this year's Central Otago Young Winemaker of the Year at the VinPro site in Cromwell on July 6. From left are Annalise Williams, of Domaine Thomson, second-placegetter Abby Gallagher, of Central Otago Wine Company, winner Ben Tombs, of Peregrine Wines, Jordan Moores, of Felton Road Wines, Tim Sutherland, of Chard Farm, Mike Liao, of Quartz Reef, and third place getter, Larissa Brombacher, of Felton Road Wines. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
At 25, this year's Central Otago Young Winemaker of the Year, Ben Tombs, has already had a long career in the winemaking industry.

He has been the assistant winemaker at Peregrine Wines, Gibston, since March 2017, but was only five or six when he tried to ferment grape juice from grapes that grew along the fence at his parents' Marlborough home.

''That made a bit of a mess,'' Mr Tombs said.

He worked in a winery after school before studying for his Bachelor of Wine Science at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) in Napier.

'I like the balance of being scientific and it is also a bit like art, creating a really unique product, from the vineyard to the wine.

''I also enjoy drinking wine, and sharing it with friends.

''It is a really amazing product.''

Mr Tombs won the competition at VinPro, Cromwell earlier this month, ahead of second place getter Abby Gallagher, of Central Otago Wine Company, and Larissa Brombacher, of Felton Road. He and Ms Gallagher will represent the region in the 2018 South Island Tonnellerie de Mercurey Young Winemaker of the Year Competition at the Marlborough Research Centre on Friday.

The winner of that event goes to Auckland to compete in the national competition.

''It is the first time I've entered the competition,'' Mr Tombs said.

''I didn't think I was going to win it.

''I wasn't expecting it and thought I would do OK, and come somewhere mid-pack.

''I'm pleased and surprised, and I am pretty humbled by it, and excited about the competition that lies ahead.''

Each of the seven competitors had to complete seven modules and then go head-to-head in a VinOlympics, completing several tasks including rolling barrels around an obstacle course.

Mr Tombs said the skills needed in the modules were what he used every day on the job.

Prior to starting work for Peregrine Wines, he had spent several months in Tain l'Hermitage, in the Rhone Valley, France and in the state of Oregon, USA.

He won the New Zealand Bragato Exchange scholarship while at EIT and spent several weeks at a winery in Italy in 2015.

Before he travels to Marlborough, he will spend some time revising and brushing up on his theory. He has been offered support and advice from his boss, winemaker Nadine Cross, as well as from the company, and thanked them for all their help.

-By Yvonne O'Hara

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