A layman might imagine the life of a winemaker to be an idyllic round of wandering through vines plucking the occasional grape, a bucolic period of harvesting and a lot of slurping, swilling and spitting. Greg Lane laughs, “Making wine is only part of what we do. Other aspects are slightly less glamorous, but just as important.”

Indeed Greg has demonstrated his in-depth grasp of all aspects of the winemaker’s role in taking the title of 2018 Tonnellerie de Mercurey New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year. Nick Entwistle, organiser and one of the judges of the competition, explains that the competition is designed to test the competitors’ depth of knowledge and experience, and their ability to think logically under pressure. The challenges at both the regional and national competition level represent many of the tasks that winemakers undertake in their day-to-day roles, so to succeed competitors need to have a broad range of skills and demonstrate the ability to work accurately and efficiently under significant time pressure.

So over the course of seven hours in one day, four finalists – Greg Lane from Grove Mill in Marlborough, Kate Franklin of Sacred Hill Wines in Hawke’s Bay, Kelly Stuart of Cloudy Bay Vineyards in Marlborough and Haidee Johnson from Villa Maria in Hawke’s Bay – forged through a varied range of tasks including laboratory analysis, fault finding, marketing, public speaking and capital expenditure and budgeting, in addition to more practical challenges such as wine judging, blending, production planning and forklift driving.

At the end of that exhausting day Greg came out on top. “Greg showed great consistency across all challenges, and was equally as competent in the laboratory as he was on the forklift,” commented Nick Entwistle. “His depth of knowledge and skill was evident throughout the competition, demonstrating a strong understanding of winemaking and an outstanding ability to remain calm under pressure. Greg’s ability to captivate the audience during the public speaking sections of the competition made him stand out, and ensures he has a bright future as the latest ambassador for New Zealand’s young winemaking talent.”

Winemaking is the chance to produce something out of my own ideas, then see the results of all the hard work in a bottle.

Prizes include a funded study trip to France to the Tonnellerie de Mercurey cooperage, which Greg hopes to fit in after vintage next year and a wine allowance from Glengarry. Not one to rest on his laurels, he also plans to use a study allowance from NZSVO to enroll in a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) course for 6-12 months, and to participate as a guest judge in an upcoming wine tasting for Cuisine.

Of his win Greg says, “The award is unique, in that I’m not aware of any other world wine industries that recognise young talent and potential and benchmark their knowledge and their craft of winemaking. It’s a fun opportunity but also it’s a nice bit of validation, and gives me confidence in my own ability. I get a boost knowing that I’m going down the right track and that’s a momentum kick that I will carry into my current role.”

That role is brand winemaker for Grove Mill in Marlborough. He landed there after completing a Bachelor of Oenology at the University of Adelaide, then undertaking vintages in Italy, USA, France and New Zealand, and a spell at Shaw + Smith in the Adelaide Hills. But it was New Zealand’s cool-climate wines that captured his attention. “Cool-climate winemaking is what I find most interesting and cool-climate wine is what I like to drink,” says Greg. “I like being able to taste where a wine comes from and how it’s made – cooler-climate wines give you that. I have a passion for pinot noir and chardonnay; they speak clearly of where they come from and how they’re made.

“I like trying new things to push and progress my style. You have to have the experience to know when to take your hands off and when to intervene. My style is to only intervene when necessary, to let the wine do its thing and take its course. The best winemakers let the vineyard and fruit speak for themselves through their style.”

Greg picks out former boss, Adam Wadewitz, senior winemaker at Shaw + Smith as having had a particular influence on his career. “Adam taught me about recognising quality and how to get there in winemaking, using feel and intuition – that comes from experience. Winemaking is an experience-based occupation. You only get one shot at it per year, so you need a pretty good body of experience to draw on.”

Lucky to have had good mentors throughout his career so far, Greg sees great value in helping others coming into the industry. He’s happy to spend time with young staff at the winery, explaining both the theory of what they are doing, and why he’s made certain choices and decisions, as well as showing practical skills. “It also makes me think about what I’m doing, and what I know. I enjoy the tactile, creative aspect of winemaking. It’s the chance to produce something out of my own ideas, then see the results of all the hard work in a bottle.”