Elizabeth Albino

As the 2009 IW&FS scholar from UC--Davis, Elizabeth was able to serve her internship at Delegat’s Wine Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand.  The following is her report about her experience.

I am very grateful to The International Wine & Food Society for providing me with the incredible opportunity to experience a wine vintage in New Zealand. Because of this award, I was able to become familiar with both the winemaking practices and the culture of this beautiful country. I cherish the memories of travelling throughout the North and South Islands, and the friendships with aspiring winemakers hailing from all the major wine-producing regions of the world. This internship would not have been possible without the travel award from The International Wine & Food Society.

I would like to thank the Society for the honor of being selected for this award. As an aspiring winemaker, working abroad is the most valuable experience one can gain. I feel that my experience in New Zealand will help me approach State-side winemaking with a more worldly and informed approach. A personal thank you to Board of Governors members, Robert Muzzy (La Jolla) and John Wallis (Sacramento/San Jaoquin), for interviewing me and recommending me for this award. I would also like to thank the scholarship committee members at UC Davis, for their confidence and support.

A special thanks to Roger Boulton, with whom I spoke at length before applying to Delegat’s Wine Estate. His description of their innovative facility design inspired me to experience this style of winemaking first hand. I would also like to thank Lisa Murphy, who arranged my position and accommodation in Blenheim. Also, thank you to Barry Anderson, cellar night shift supervisor at Delegat’s, for his patience and support. Finally, I am thankful to the crew of cellar and lab staff for Vintage 2010, for good times and a fantastic work experience.

I arrived in New Zealand on March 5th, a couple of weeks prior to the beginning of work. Vintage accommodation for the 40 vintage crew members was arranged at Duncannon’s, a hostel for seasonal workers located a mile outside of Blenheim, the main town in the Marlborough region of the South Island. The summer weather was a welcome change after leaving California during the rainy season. Duncannon’s was equipped with barbeques and a movie room, not to mention a view of the sheep at the adjacent farm. 

After a week of settling in, we started training at Delegat’s. Two buses came by to transport us to the winery, located 30 minutes away in Renwick. We were greeted by the permanent production staff, and given our first look at the facility. In our first week of work, we were introduced to the winery’s history, equipment, procedures, and safety protocols. 

Delegat’s Marlborough winery is equipped to handle high volumes, processing up to 26,000 tonnes annually, with a daily processing capacity of 2,000 tonnes. At 80 percent, Sauvignon blanc accounts for the majority of production, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir accounting for the remaining balance. Delegat’s produces the Oyster Bay brand, well known for Marlborough Sauvignon blanc in the United States and is the number one white wine sold in Australia. The Marlborough winery accounts for the vast majority of production at Delegat’s. A smaller winery in Hawke’s Bay focuses on Bordeaux varietals, which are sold under the Delegat’s brand within New Zealand. All Delegat’s wine is bottled at a facility in Auckland. Delegat’s is a family run business which celebrated its 60th year in 2007. 

To end our week in training, we celebrated with a trip to Whites Bay, in the Marlborough Sounds, for a barbeque and team-building exercises, including a hunt in the sand for buried rocks corresponding to various prizes. Alas, I didn’t find one of the coveted rocks, but a good time was had by all.

Due to cooler than expected weather, harvest was delayed by a week. A number of us interns decided to take advantage of our unexpected free time by traversing the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of nine Great Walks in New Zealand. The Abel Tasman track is a 32-mile long coastal walk with breathtaking ocean views, as well as some foot suspension bridges. Afterwards, we arrived back in Blenheim, just in time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Paddy Barry’s, the local Irish pub. 

The next week, we started in with a normal schedule, 40 hours a week, with staggered days off for the crew. We eagerly awaited the announcement of shifts, day shift or night shift, since the winery operates 24 hours a day during peak. I was thrilled to hear I would be on night shift. We were given a day off to adjust our sleep schedules, then we started in with the 7PM-7AM shift. The first few days were brutal, but we were rewarded with spectacular sunrises. Three days after starting 12-hour shifts, it was announced that we would have no days off until further notice. That’s when we started to see what full-scale production at a large facility looks like. 

At Delegat’s, the equipment is scaled to match production in both size and quantity. Grapes are harvested mechanically from the vines adjacent to the winery. Incoming fruit is received in one of two hoppers, each of which can handle a truckload at a time. The fruit travels via six-inch lines to one of ten 320 hL Vaslin Bucher bladder presses. From there, the juice is continuously transferred to one of eight holding tanks.  From here, it is transferred to one or more tanks in the cellar via the “junction”, a massive manifold that allows for movement between any two points in the winery. Each holding tank is equipped with an alarm that goes off when the tank is filled at 85% capacity. At this point, a member of the harvest crew known as the “runner” is responsible for getting the juice transferred to the proper cellar tank before the holding tank overflows. As the winery spans 10,000 square feet, one can see why these team members are called runners- there’s a lot of actual running! The coordination of many juice movements often resulted in a tangle of three-inch hoses at the junction. 

Once the juice makes it way to the cellars, it cold settles for 48 hours. This was where I came in. With an operation of this size, division of labor ensures that each task is performed properly. We were divided into teams to cover the major events in the early life of a wine- processing, press operations, runners, additions, racking, RDV, and inoculation. As a member of the racking team, I was responsible for the transfer and warming of clear juice off the gross lees and into a tank, ready for inoculation. Depending upon the quality and varietal of the fruit, we would aim to ferment at a higher or lower NTU value. Generally, the higher the fruit quality, the higher target NTU value.

After transferring and warming the juice through a plate heat or tube in tube heat exchanger, we transferred the gross lees to the rotary drum vacuum or RDV, affectionately nicknamed “Pamela”. The RDV is used to remove every drop of juice from the juice solids; New Zealanders are very efficient in their juice yields. 

On the job, I learned a great deal about different pieces of cellar equipment, like the centrifugal pumps and heat exchangers we wheeled around from one area of the cellar to another. I also became familiar with New Zealand colloquialisms that everyone adopted over the course of vintage. You tighten fittings not with a wrench, but with a spinner. Break is called smoko, whether you smoke or not. The large container resembling a rolling trash bin that we use to sanitize lines is called a wheelie bin. Work boots are called gum boots, and they are always white. Occasionally the Kiwi accent caught me off guard. I was coordinating a juice movement with a coworker over the radio, and I had no idea what she meant when she started saying “Bith, Bith!” With so many international workers, radio communications were sometimes comically incomprehensible. 

Twelve-hour night shifts take their toll, but their were some perks. Every night, Delegat’s provided us with a delicious catered meal. We had unlimited access to espresso and tea. Our kindly bus driver stopped by New World, the local supermarket, three times a week for supplies. Once back at Duncannon’s, we shared a beer or glass of wine before retiring each evening. After three and a half weeks without a break, in late April our shift supervisor Barry announced the return of staggered days off. Shortly thereafter, May 15th, was our end of vintage party. Delegat’ s hosted the event at a local golf club, followed by a trip to a local pub.        

With vintage over, I began my travels throughout the country. First I headed down to Christchurch with two friends, stopping by some Waipara Valley wineries on the way. I was fortunate to spend a few days in Christchurch and see its charms before this year’s earthquake (2010).         

I left Christchurch to travel west and south, towards the glaciers. I spent a half day on Fox Glacier, which is located adjacent to a temperate rainforest. This was one of the most unique experiences of my life, and I’m so grateful I had the chance to go on a glacier walk. I then travelled up the west coast by bus, stopping at scenic outlooks along the way. Finally I reached Nelson, on the Northwest end of the South Island, where I caught a bus back to Blenheim to pick up my baggage and a fellow vintage worker Dan for travel to the North Island. 

We took the Interislander Ferry from Picton to Wellington, where we rented a car. We then spent three days touring two of New Zealand’s finest wine regions. The first visit was to Martinborough, located an hour’s drive westward from Wellington. This tiny town is home to some of New Zealand’s most renowned wineries, including Escarpment and Ata Rangi. Compared to South Island Pinot Noirs, the Pinots of Martinborough tend towards a more earthy, Burgundian style. We enjoyed these winery visits immensely. 

From Martinborough, we headed north to Hawke’s Bay, a region known for its Bordeaux varietals, as well as Syrah. Fortunately, a fellow Davis student was working at Craggy Range, a boutique Hawke’s Bay winery in the town of Havelock North, so we were treated to a barrel tasting. The Craggy barrel room reminded me of a single- stacked version of the barrel room at Ch. Margaux.        

Dan and I parted ways, and I continued up to Auckland. With a population of one million, the nation’s capital is home to a third of New Zealand’s inhabitants. After months of travel and small- town living, it was nice to experience the comforts of the city. I explored Auckland for three days, then flew back to California. Leaving was bittersweet, as I had enjoyed my time so much, but it felt great to be heading home.         

I will never forget my time in this amazing country. My work at the winery, making new friends, learning about New Zealand culture, and traveling to experience the country’s natural beauty are memories I will always cherish. To the members of The International Wine & Food Society who made this possible, thank you.

Elizabeth Albino

Best wishes to Elizabeth!