Ben McNab, of Matahiwi Estate near Masterton, has been named this year’s Tonnellerie de Mercurey North Island Young Winemaker of the year. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

Already preparing for the final

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

The first of three regional finalists set to face off at the Tonnellerie de Mercurey Young Winemaker of the Year competition in November has been named as Ben McNab of Matahiwi Estate, near Masterton.

The 28-year-old took out the North Island part of the competition on Friday, competing against seven other young wine producers.

Originally from Wairarapa, McNab’s love of wine came from his time working at the bottle section in Moore Wilson’s while he was studying at Victoria University in Wellington.

“We had a lot of winemakers coming through who I found inspirational,” he said. “They always had a cool story and were very passionate about their wine which encouraged me to look into the production side of things.”

He studied by distance at Eastern Institute of Technology, while working at local vineyards which allowed him to put his lessons into practice.

For the past three years he’s been based at Matahiwi Estate and this was the second year he entered the competition, which is open to all wine producers under the age of 30, including cellarhands, cellar managers, laboratory technicians, assistant winemakers and winemakers.

“When we are looking at our own wines to make better wines or fit them to a brief, we often benchmark them against other wines. This competition does exactly that.

“It benchmarks me against incredibly strong contestants and creates learning pathways for things to try and fine tune.”

McNab said this year contestants were incredibly strong, and some were good friends, like fellow Wairarapa competitor Evie Livesey from Urlar in Gladstone, which made it more difficult.

The contestants were tested on all aspects of winemaking including blending, blind tasting, fault finding, laboratory tests and delivering presentations on hot topics within the industry.

“It’s really complex,” he said. “It encompasses everything we do in our jobs but in one day.”

Though he enjoyed a nice dinner out to celebrate, McNab said he didn’t have a minute to waste and had already started preparing for the national competition to be held in Hawke’s Bay on November 6.

“It’s a lot of privilege and responsibility.”

McNab will be up against two other competitors from the Central Otago and Marlborough regional finals to be held later this month.