Growing grapes in an unknown wine region is challenging on many fronts – and not having a skilled viticulture workforce to draw from is a problem Ōhau Wines is working hard to overcome.
CEO Donna Riley says 40ha is now planted in Ōhau’s stony soil, in the sunny Horowhenua. The vineyard has quickly developed a reputation for its pinot gris in particular, picking up a number of international awards in recent years.
“Unfortunately there was no skilled viticulture labour force in Levin so we’ve had to develop and invest in our own.”
When Donna took over the reins in 2013 she asked her most dedicated and reliable casual staff if they would be keen to study viticulture through Primary ITO.
“I perceive knowledge to be very closely linked to quality. Our staff have to be autonomous and self-driven. If they have a deeper level of understanding and are aware of all the latest trends and information, our business can only benefit.”
Her staff responded with a resounding ‘yes’ but insisted that she enrol and study alongside them. “My background is in accountancy and management. I was reluctant at first but then thought ‘the knowledge of what ought to happen in the vineyard can’t do me any harm’, so four of us started training together.”
Over the past two years the Ōhau Wines team have completed dozens of Level 3 and 4 papers covering everything from health and safety to organics, irrigation, and soil nutrition. A total of six staff members are now studying through Primary ITO, and the results have been instant.
“The whole level of performance has improved dramatically,” Donna says. “Our vineyard is now more effectively and efficiently run. Every time we do an assignment we feed that knowledge back into our operating policies, and review and make changes as a result of our learning.”
One example was a quad bike and tractor training module. “We thought we were all fine and knew how to drive and hop on and off safely. But after doing the course our behaviours and awareness changed dramatically. Those safer methods are now ingrained in us.”
Donna says the support Ōhau Wines has received from Primary ITO’s training advisor has been fantastic. “Darin is constantly in touch with us and mindful of what our needs are. He’s also very flexible and accommodating when it comes to structuring our programme.”
While increased knowledge and quality improvements are obvious benefits, Donna says Primary ITO study has one key advantage that she hadn’t foreseen.
“I didn’t expect how much our team would bond, or how much our team spirit would lift, because we’re all doing this study together. We’re always discussing our papers, sourcing information and overcoming problems together. It’s really changed our company culture for the better.”