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Fundraiser is a grape effort

Groups working in the vines at Butterworth Estate, Martinborough. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

While many growers around the nation are concerned about labour shortages affecting their upcoming harvests, a group of Wairarapa vineyards have devised a collaborative solution.

Since covid-19 forced the closure of New Zealand’s borders, vineyards that previously relied on seasonal workers and backpackers for picking season have had to adjust to their absence.

Wairarapa Winegrowers committee member and Butterworth Estate general manager Nick Hewitt noticed two problems running in parallel.

While vineyards were struggling to find enough staff, many charities, schools and organisations had cancelled their fundraising events due to covid-19.

Hewitt had a lightbulb moment: picking grapes could become a fundraising opportunity.

“We can close the gap of our labour shortage and essentially pay the charity or organisation the same amount as what we typically pay for a labour company or a bunch of paid pickers.”

He said that amounted to about $350-400 per tonne of grapes.

“With seven or eight people from a rowing team or a netball team, they can blow that off in a few hours, and that can pay for their shirts, new bibs and whatnot.”

He said the idea came about from his boss’s enthusiasm for sailing.

“They need to fundraise for new sails, ropes, and so on,” Hewitt said.

“They usually hold events at their bars and pour wine by the glass, but these bars have been closed for the last six months. There’s no money in that pool.”

Hewitt said clubs or businesses could make a weekend out of a fundraising effort, camping out on a vineyard and working a few days among the vines.

“It could be some good PR or teambuilding for those guys as well.”

He suggested two rowing teams could even pit themselves against each other, competing to see who could pick the most in the fastest time.

The idea had a precedent: Butterworth had previously called on regular groups for harvest, including a Greytown cycling crew.

“They’re mature, wine-loving, and very fit cyclists,” Hewitt said.

“When we have them here, they’re running at one and a half times the pace of some of our contract crews, and they’re talking while they do it. We usually have to dish out quite a few band-aids, but they love it.”

Wairarapa Winegrowers co-chair and Urlar Vineyard winemaker Jannine Rickards said attracting workers to Wairarapa for the harvest could be difficult. Wairarapa accounted for about one per cent of New Zealand’s total supply of wine, compared with Marlborough’s 75 per cent.

Rickards said the initiative would help local winegrowers to connect with their communities.

“It’s a great incentive for local clubs, groups, and schools to do some fundraising, and it’s going to help our local industry.”

While the scheme would be open to any members of Wairarapa Winegrowers, Rickards said it would be especially appealing to smaller vineyards that did not have as many contractors on hand as larger vineyards.

“You can get a nice morning at a small grower that only has four hectares or less. That means their fruit gets picked at the most optimum time, so they can make the best quality wine, without having to wait another week and have it go past that ideal point of ripeness.”

Hewitt said the work was also an opportunity for organisations to try something different.

“They’ll come from all walks of life – corporates even. It’s quite repetitive work, but it’s a great way to clear your head and be out amongst the vines, and 12 months later, when they see that bottle of wine on the shelf, they’ll think, ‘I helped make that’.”

  • Groups interested in fundraising events can contact Wairarapa wineies directly or send an email to [email protected]

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