Growing up in Invercargill Simon Gourley spent his school holidays and weekends on his grandparents’ berry orchard in Central Otago, which he believes is what inspired him to work in horticulture.
“I spent a lot of time in the school holidays and weekends up there and I knew it was the path I wanted to take,” he said.
After finishing school he went to Lincoln University to do a viticulture and oenology degree.
“The skills I learned while doing the course were really valuable to what I do now.”
Gourley believes anyone wanting to make a career in wine has to stick at it and work hard to make a good name for themselves.
“I am working hard to do that now and I’m climbing the ladder.”
After leaving university he worked at Two Paddocks as assistant vineyard manager and at Central Otago Wine Company as an assistant winemaker. He also did stints as a vineyard hand in Australia, France and Papua New Guinea.
Now he works at Domaine Thomson Wines in Cromwell as a viticulturist.
“I’ve been there for 18 months and I really enjoy my job.
“I oversee all the day to day operations of the vineyards and I enjoy the challenge of it.
“It’s a growing industry. It’s really interesting to be a part of.
“All the skills you learn you can take all over the world with you.”
In August won the Bayer 2019 Young Viticulturist of the Year title.
It was his second time competing.
“I competed at nationals in 2013 and I made it a mission to come back and win it but I’d been away overseas so this year felt like a good year to give it another crack.”
Contestants had to put together a biosecurity plan for a winery.
“I went to other people in the industry and talked about what they do and what they want to do. It led me to talking about hygiene and a culture where biosecurity practices are the norm.
“I understand what people are saying about it being timely and the costs around it but doing something about biosecurity all helps. You don’t have to go and invest millions.”
His message is for people to do what they can, when they can and get biosecurity actions rolling.
His win qualified him to compete in last month’s Young Horticulturist of the Year.
“It was a massive few months preparing for regionals and nationals of Young Viticulturist of the Year then straight to Young Horticulturist of the Year.”
Gourley competed against five other finalists in practical and theory modules over two days in Auckland.
The most challenging module was the Agmardt project. Contestants had to submit a business plan for a new product they would like to develop and launch then were quizzed by a panel of judges on its viability.
“It was the most challenging for me. I spent weeks preparing for it. Doing the budgets and business plan really tested me.
“I designed a hand-held bud-rubbing tool that would hopefully take a lot of the manual labour out of job.”
Gourley is the eighth viticulturist to win the Young Horticulturist title in the 15 years it has been running. Last year’s winner, Annabel Bulk, was also a viticulturist in Central Otago.
“It was hard work and strong competition and definitely happy the award has gone to Central Otago for the second year in a row.
“It was a privilege to be involved in the Young Horticulturist competition and to represent the wine industry.
“It was definitely a career highlight winning the Young Horticulture and Young Viticulturist of the Year.”
He won a $7500 travel and accommodation package, $1000 worth of ICL specialty fertilisers, a one-year membership of Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science, a selection of Aorangi Merchant products and a $3500 travel scholarship for the practical activities award.
“I’m planning a trip to Europe next year to look at vineyards in France.
“It will be a great opportunity to take what they do over there and bring it back to New Zealand.”
Gourley believes winning both titles has helped build his name and hopes it will open doors.
“I want to go on the committee of the Central Otago wine growers and the NZ wine growers.
“I want to be able to make a difference in an industry I’m passionate about.”
He also wants a crack at growing his own wine on a small scale.
“I’d love to give it a crack to keep my finger on the pulse.”
The Young Horticulturalist second place went to Rico Mannall, of Christchurch, representing the plant producers sector and Jono Sutton representing the horticulture sector came third.