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Riesling secures EIT memorial trophy for Chinese viticulturist

December 4, 2018

The Vuletich family with the Xiangpo Li, inaugural winner of the trophy in memory of Richard Vuletich, a former EIT Viticulture and Wine school graduate, and Dr Carolyn Russell, EIT lecturer (second left).

The winner of this year’s EIT Hawke’s Bay Wine Show has come a long way from his first attempt to make wine using table grapes.

Xiangpo Li hails from China and has been studying for a Graduate Diploma in Viticulture at the School of Viticulture and Wine. He capped his year by taking out the best wine award with his Rangimarie Apatu Riesling 2018, competing against fellow viticulture but predominantly winemaking students.

In doing so, he was the inaugural winner of the Richard Vuletich EIT Wine Show Memorial trophy. This trophy replaces the previous used since the EIT Wine Award started in 2001.

It has been donated by the family of Richard Vuletich. Richy, as he was known to all, was a well-respected EIT student who graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Wine Science and a Diploma in Winemaking and Grapegrowing. He died in 2015 from cancer.

“Richy was a really good guy. He was incredibly popular with the other students. He had an infectious personality and was always smiling. He worked hard and the lecturers still speak of him fondly,” says Tim Creagh, lecturer in viticulture and wine science.

Ironically, Richy and two fellow students, Matthew Whyte and Jeffery Farrell, also took out the EIT Hawke’s Bay Wine Show best wine accolade in 2004. It was also with a Riesling – Three Goats Gruff Riesling.

For Li, who is from Beijing, China, the opportunity to study at EIT on the Hawke’s Bay campus follows time spent at University of Illinois where he graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science and Chemistry.

After graduating, the 28 year old spent time in various jobs in China, including acting as a translator. When a visiting Brit asked him to locate a bottle of Chardonnay, Li’s interest in wine was sparked.

It was then he confesses he tried his hand at making his own wine. He now fully understands why the table grapes he used proved so unsatisfactory.

During this time he completed a WSET Level 2 qualification and is partway through a Level 3.

Li says he has thoroughly enjoyed the EIT year-long programme, commenting that it is far more ‘hands on’ than his study in China and America.

Field trips including one to Marlborough have also been a highlight. He’s been impressed by the “powerful contacts system” that EIT lecturers enjoy with industry and past graduates. His viticulture summer job with Indevin was helped along by these contacts.

Looking towards the future, Li says what he has learnt at EIT has been well worth the cost, which he thanks his parents for helping him with. He’s currently thinking he could move into wine education in China as interest in wine there is growing considerably.

“With all my knowledge now I think I can explain the concepts of growing and making in a way that will help people understand much more about wine.”

Li was presented the new trophy at an end of year informal Wine School ceremony by Richy’s wife, Bex Vuletich. She and Richy’s father Mario and twin sister Maree attended the presentation and shared some recollections of Richy’s time at EIT.

“We’re so blessed that Richy has a continuing legacy and is remembered nearly a decade after his time here,” Bex Vuletich said. “Richy had an incredible sparkle about him and it speaks volumes to his beautiful soul that he should be honoured in this way.

“EIT has been amazing at keeping us all involved throughout this process. We are very humbled.”

In yet another ironical twist, Mario Vuletich was the owner of Longview Wine Estate in Whangarei for 50 years and has recently sold to Chinese owners. Maybe they’ll be looking for an award winning viticulturist?