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Winegrowing Gene Plays Out For Inaugural Scholarship Winner

December 7, 2009

Eastern Institute of Technology student Katrina Allen has won the inaugural Mission Estate Wine and Viticulture Scholarship by tapping into her Croatian roots.

The Mission Estate Winery Scholarship provides $1500 towards Katrina’s final year course fees and offers her 60 days paid work experience at Mission Estate.  It also pays $1500 towards the cost of her attending the Romeo Bragato conference, held annually for New Zealand’s grape and wine industry.

Mission Estate has contributed a scholarship package worth $12,000 over four years to acknowledge the pioneering spirit of the Marist fathers who first planted vines in Hawke’s Bay.  The scholarship is aimed at supporting research work that helps promote Hawke’s Bay reputation as one of the world’s leading wine regions.

In the third year of EIT’s Concurrent Bachelor of Wine Science and Bachelor of Viticulture, Katrina was awarded the prestigious scholarship for her work investigating the benefit of laying crushed limestone under vines to promote fruit ripening.

Like other students at her level in the degree programme, Katrina was required to undertake a project involving 150 hours of research work.

“Doing something I want to know the answer to makes me more motivated,” she says of her project, centred on Syrah vines in Gimblett Gravels, west of Hastings.  Her inspiration – rocks under grapevines growing around her ancestral home in Croatia.

Having studied photographs of the vineyards, Katrina surmised the white rocks were limestone and that these might be reflecting heat absorbed from the sun back into the canopy above.

With Mission Estate’s backing, her research project got underway in mid-January, with crushed limestone laid in metre-wide strips under rows of Syrah grapes in a trial area of the company’s Mere Road vineyard.  Katrina believes the practice may bring the date of harvest back by advancing fruit ripening.

Katrina’s paternal grandmother was aged eight when her family left Vrgorac, an inland village between Dubrovnik and Split, and emigrated to New Zealand.  Although she has never returned to her homeland, the link with Croatia has remained strong, with several family members pursuing their European heritage by making their own wine.

A newcomer to Hawke’s Bay, Katrina loves that the institute is at the hub of the New Zealand wine industry.  She also enjoys EIT’s relaxed campus and the “non-pushy” study environment.

After graduation, she plans to work in the New Zealand industry for several years and to then travel to Croatia.  There she hopes to use her skills to help make the family vineyard a more viable venture and keep the younger generation on the land.