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Region’s top young viticulturist named

Martinborough-based Annika Salenjus has claimed the title of Wairarapa Young Viticulturist of the Year for the second year in a row.

The Wairarapa competition was held at the Escarpment Winery in Martinborough on Thursday and was combined with the Auckland regional final, for which there was only one contestant.

Originally from the United States, Salenjus is undertaking a two-year vineyard cadetship at Craggy Range in Martinborough and said she is “thrilled” with her placing, especially because it is her first viticulture job.

“It was crazy … I didn’t expect it last year, and I didn’t expect it this year,” she said.

The competition day consisted of seven different tests, with budgeting as the “kicker”, she said.

Contestants were tested on their knowledge of nutrition, trellising, pests and diseases, machinery, and wine, and were interviewed by the judges.

Salenjus said Martinborough is “a great little community” and thanked her bosses and colleagues at Craggy Range, as well as other local industry leaders, for their assistance.

“Because it is such a small region, there’s a lot of opportunity here to come in and learn.”

The winner said she has been in Wairarapa for about a year and a half and aspires to work at a Northern Heritage vintage next year.

Three regional winners from Wairarapa, Auckland, and Hawke’s Bay have qualified for the national final; up next are the Marlborough, Central Otago, and North Canterbury competitions.

New Zealand Winegrowers manager Nicky Grandorge said the day was “magical” as contestants competed under rainbows among the vines.

This included a BioStart Hortisports race that attracted a “good crowd,” she said, as viticulturists competed in various challenges, such as pruning and assembling irrigation.

Craggy Range’s Te Muna Estate foreman James Sutcliffe placed second, while Leon Henson from Batch Winery in Waiheke took out third place.

Henson qualified for the title of 2024 Auckland Young Viticulturist of the Year and will compete in the national final, which will be held at the Escarpment on August 28.

The winner will be announced at the Altogether Unique 2024 industry celebration at Te Papa the following day.

The prize package this year includes a new Ford Ranger for a year, a $6000 Ecotrellis Travel Grant, and a leadership course.

A BioStart Hortisports winner will also be announced, along with other cash prizes.

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