Callum McNeil, who is in his first year of the Bachelor of Viticulture and Wine Science at EIT Te Pūkenga, has been awarded the prestigious Constellation Scholarship.
However, studying viticulture and wine science on EIT’s Hawke’s Bay Campus is a far cry from what Callum set out to do, with a career in the light engineering (fabrication) trade mapped out for him.
Originally from Waikato, the 26-year-old moved to Hawke’s Bay a year ago as his partner Courteney got a teaching job in the region so “it was a good reason to move away from the Waikato”.
“I had been in light fabrication engineering for a number of years, but I was not really enjoying it. When we moved down here, I had a quarter-life-crisis and decided to do something different.”
“My partner and I started going to wineries after we moved here. I thought I would take a punt on wine because it seemed like it would be an interesting career to work in. And I’m pretty happy I did, because I really enjoy it and it seems like it is going to be a passion.”
Being awarded the scholarship seems to have proved this. The scholarship is awarded each year to a first year viticulture and wine science student at EIT, and as the 2022 winner, Callum will receive $5,000 towards his studies and the opportunity to participate in Constellation Brand’s Hawke’s Bay vineyards over the summer and in their wineries during the 2023 vintage.
Callum says he was surprised to have been awarded the scholarship.
“I had an interview with the judges, and they must have liked me. They said they liked my passion when I spoke about my career.”
The judges were Desiree Jansen and Adam Evans from Constellation Brands. They say: “The calibre of all the scholarship applicants was very impressive. Although it was a very difficult decision, we were extremely impressed with Callum’s enthusiasm and drive, notably his courage to pursue a career in a new industry, which lead to discovering his passion for wine.”
“Callum also illustrated a strong passion for people, health and safety and workplace culture, something we at Constellation Brands value highly. We believe Callum has huge potential and will prove to be an amazing asset to the wine industry and a great future leader.”
Throwing himself into his degree at EIT, Callum is enjoying the mixture between the practical in the vineyard and making the wine. It’s science based as well with the chemistry behind the wine and the microbiology behind the grapes environment, so it’s a good balance of learning from a practical experience.”
He says that at this stage he prefers being out in the vineyard, but that may change as he progresses.
“I have a feeling that could change, and we’ll figure that one out over the summer, I’ve got work experience through the scholarship, so I think once I actually get working in the industry I’ll be better informed to the side which I like more.”
Next year Callum will also be able to draw on his experience in the light engineering trade as one of the courses in the second-year programme is wine engineering.
“They are kind of linked because my trade would build and maintain wineries, so at least I have an understanding of the mechanical knowledge behind wineries like pumps.”
Callum says he will be using the remaining years of his degree to learn as much about his new career as possible. After that he and Courtney plan to head overseas and get experience in the wine industry.
“It’s our plan to go travelling again and to get some experience in France, Italy and Spain. We would look to stay overseas for about two years and then come back to Hawke’s Bay. I quite like it here.”
Sue Blackmore, the Head of EIT’s School of Viticulture and Wine Science, says: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Callum as the Scholarship from Constellation Brands not only provides financial support and practical work opportunities but also mentoring contacts for his future career. The School is so grateful for the support of the industry to students and EIT programmes.”