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Shaping the next generation

The winning URLAR scholarship students Jacob Walker and Leah McElligott. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

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URLAR in Gladstone is hoping to encourage the next generation of winemakers through the offering of a $10,000 scholarship for viticulture students at the Eastern Institute of Technology.

Director and winegrower Kohei Koyama said the winery was proud to play its part in shaping the future of the industry.

“We just want to support the younger generation.”

He said it offered an attractive lifestyle, with the opportunity to spend a lot of time outdoors and the “romantic” appeal of making wine.

It was his love of wine which brought him to New Zealand almost 10 years ago, after a decade in investment banking in Tokyo and London.

He said alcohol was in his blood – not literally – but his family had been making sake [traditional rice wine] since 1593, spanning 26 generations.

It was that family legacy which drew him to the role at URLAR when it was bought by Nishi Sake Brewing, an eighth-generation family company.

URLAR director and winegrower Kohei Koyama with Sue Blackmore, Head of Viticulture and Wine Science at EIT.

Koyama said he was looking for commitment, motivation, and passion in the next generation of winemakers.

“They are smart, smart kids.

“It was very hard to choose just two.”

Jacob Walker and Leah McElligott were named the joint winners, splitting the $10,000 scholarship equally.

Walker, who grew up in Taradale, worked at Mission Estate throughout high school where he fell in love with wine.

“There was a day they asked us if we wanted to see the wine being bottled down at the winery,”

“I thought it was so cool seeing it go from the big tanks to being put into individual bottles and shipped out.

“I wanted to learn more about it.”

He went on to study international marketing and business at University of Auckland before moving back.

“I took a paper while I was in Auckland, just an introduction to wine, and that gave a broad picture of grape to table.”

He was also a big admirer of Koyama.

“It really resonated with me that you can change your career.

“They’re also leading the way with the biodynamic and organic side of wine making.”

Walker said he was grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to some work experience at URLAR early next year.

Growing up in Waikato, a region better known for dairying than wine production, McElligott said her parents inspired her love of wine.

“I was brought up by parents who loved wine. And they were both food technicians – my dad used to be a cheesemaker.”

She started off studying microbiology and biochemistry at Massey University before being encouraged to apply for the viticulture programme by a family friend who was a lecturer at EIT.

She said she was also grateful for the opportunity and excited to learn more about the sustainability side of wine growing.

“It’s such a cool experience to have.”

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