In March, the 2017 Agribusiness class were fortunate to spend three days at Mount Difficulty Winery to gain insights into the challenges of running, maintaining and growing a highly successful New Zealand agribusiness.
With the Agribusiness course up and running it was time to connect with one of our major partners, Mount Difficulty Winery, to take theoretical learning of future-proofing businesses into a real-life context. After checking into the Cromwell Top Ten Holiday Park, we met up with founder and owner Robin Dicey at the Winery where he took us on a tour of the wine-making facilities. The students had prepared questions for the staff of Mount Difficulty under a number of categories including marketing, cash flow, business plans, agricultural technologies, fermentation processes and viticulture.
The daily programme that followed alternated between practical on-farm work and classroom sessions at the Central Otago Polytechnic as the students sought to integrate theory and practice throughout. Two on-farm activities we participated in were colour thinning and net clipping (see photos). Whilst appearing a 'waste' to the untrained eye, dropping the bunches that are not up to the colour standard (an indication of a lag in development with relation to the overall crop) actually improves the quality of the harvest and hence the bottom line, profit-wise, once the product is ready for the market. The vineyard work was conducted in warm Central Otago temperatures and the students quickly realized that planting, maintaining and harvesting was hard work for the winery staff each year!
James Dicey, one of Robin's sons, and the vineyards' viticulturist, impressed with a session on the business management of the winery. James is a lawyer, accountant and a viticulturist and it soon became evident to the students and staff alike that running a business of this nature and reputation was not a stroll in the park. James uses every bit of his training in all three disciplines to ensure that Mount Difficulty maintains its reputation as a premier New Zealand agribusiness brand, and that a secure and future-proofed income is possible for years to come.
One of the student's parents, Mark and Caroline Jessop (owners of the Prime Waterfront Restaurant and Bar in Queenstown) kindly invited all students and staff to enjoy a meal at their restaurant (their 'shout'!). It was well worth the trip from Cromwell as the students were able to unwind at the Queenstown waterfront after a long and busy day that began at 6.30am in the vineyards! The return trip was somewhat quiet besides the odd sound of snoring here and there!
Zoe, the winemaker, spent time explaining the science of making wine to the students on the final day of our trip. It was evident that wine-making is both a science and an art both of which this amazing young woman had mastered. She also explained how one could become a wine-maker emphasising the mix of academic and practical qualifications needed to do the job. Many students became intrigued by this career as they heard of the many countries Zoe had travelled to in order to learn her craft.
No trip to Central is complete without ice-cream, and one of our students, Ellie Duncan, kindly offered to treat us all with ice-cream from the family's farm shop near Wedderburn (many of you have probably stayed a night or two in their well-known cottages).
It was an unforgettable trip, and provided immense resource to the students for their future studies. We extend our thanks to Robin and Margie Dicey and their boys for partnering with us to provide this incredible experience for our students. Enjoy a sumptuous meal and a glass of Roaring Meg at the Winery restaurant in Bannockburn next time you pass through, before enjoying a seafood platter and unrivalled views at Prime Waterfront Restaurant and Bar when you arrive in Queenstown for the night.