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Student Follows in Italian Viticulturist’s Footsteps

Student Follows in Italian Viticulturist’s Footsteps

A double degree student at EIT, Ben Richards will be buffing up his schoolboy Italian as he packs his bags for a Romeo Bragato exchange scholarship trip early next year.

Although he’s travelled to Australia and the USA, Ben’s never been to Europe. So the 21-year-old is very much looking forward to his month in Italy, where he will visit wineries, vineyards and the Scuola di Viticoltura e di Enologica di Conegliano in the country’s northeast.

The school is the country’s premier viticultural training institution for secondary school students and a star pupil was the visionary viticulturist Romeo Bragato.

Employed as the New Zealand Government’s viticulturist in the late 19th century, Bragato recognised the grape growing potential of regions such as Hawke’s Bay. The so-called father of New Zealand viticulture is celebrated for his significant contribution to the development of this country’s wine industry.

Ben is also drawn to a career in viticulture. Growing up on his parents’ dairy farm near Matamata, he decided he didn’t want a future that centred on the repetitive routine of milking cows.

He liked studying chemistry at St Peter’s Cambridge and, being a farm boy, enjoyed the outdoors. An uncle suggested he head himself into winemaking or beer brewing and a careers advisor’s questionnaire also threw up winemaking as a possible choice.

Meeting EIT teaching staff in the heart of Hawke’s Bay’s sunny wine country clinched Ben’s decision on where he should study.

Now in the third year of the wine science and viticulture degree programmes, he says he’s more interested in vines and soils than in the production of wine. However, he’s pleased to be studying both disciplines, appreciating that it allows him the option of switching career direction in the future.

And, as he points out, an understanding of one informs the other.

Although his taste in wine changes with the seasons and with his choice of food, Ben is a big fan of syrah and his favourite whites are aromatic varieties – gewurztraminer and gruner veltliner.

Supportive of their son’s study choice, Ben’s parents are learning more about the complexities of wine – particularly as Ben gifted them some fine examples last Christmas.

This year, there won’t be an Italian exchange scholar travelling to New Zealand. However the Italian link is to resume next year with the selection of a graduate from the Conegliano school who has progressed to studying a degree in oenology at the University of Padua.

The school and the university have a close relationship, being across the road from each other.

The brainchild of former New Zealand Grape Growers’ Association chairman Kevyn Moore, the exchange programme is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Taradale and EIT.

© Scoop Media

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