www.foodtechnology.co.nz 31 And while studying for his Bachelor of Wine Science, Roper was awarded EIT’s highly-regarded Bragato exchange scholarship which gave him a month to explore Italy’s wineries and vineyards. One of three in a winemaking team headed by Paul Mooney, the 29-yearold had little exposure to the industry growing up in Hamilton. At school, he was interested in chemistry and brewed his own beer at home. It was during his gap year, teaching English in Poland, that he ventured out into other European countries and learnt more about wine. Roper started degree studies in 2007, not having previously been to Hawke’s Bay. But like many of his EIT classmates, Alex made the most of opportunities for part-time work in the region’s wineries. He gained a foothold at Mission Estate by working at the cellar door. Alex’s duties are varied and include running the lab. One of his jobs is to manage fermentations as the grapes come in. Every season, he says, there’s great satisfaction to be had in seeing the fruit transformed into quality wines. In the 2016 Air New Zealand Wine Awards, for example, Mission Estate was awarded two trophies – one for Mission Reserve Cabernet Franc 2014 and the other for Mission Reserve Syrah 2015. Vintage, of course, is the industry’s busiest time and even more so for this father of three young children. “The hours are long during vintage and it’s hard physical work with all hands on deck,” he says. “It’s the biggest challenge but it’s also exciting and my favourite time of the year.” Dubbed the aristocrat of New Zealand’s wine regions by leading commentator Michael Cooper, Hawke’s Bay has a reputation for making many wine styles well. That, Roper says, is down to the region’s many different soil types and microclimates, which range from inland hot spots and stony sites like those in the Gimblett Gravels to more fertile coastal vineyards cooled by summer’s sea breezes. This provides scope for innovative winemaking and Mission Estate exemplifies this in producing a wide range of wine styles. At the same time, Roper says the Greenmeadows winery – once the home of a Catholic seminary – has never lost its artisanal feel. Established by French missionaries in 1851, this is New Zealand’s oldest winery and the winemaking team salute that heritage in their ongoing commitment to excellence. “We use Old World traditional winemaking techniques combined with New World technology,” says Roper. A good example of the success of this approach was the trophy-winning Cabernet Franc. Topping the awards’ exhibition red class, it was up against many wine varieties and styles produced on a boutique scale – Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, Merlots and others. “It was very exciting to have it judged as the best small batch of red wine entered in New Zealand’s most prestigious wine show.” Roper is also an enthusiastic advocate for Hawke’s Bay Syrah, and he believes the region’s wineries are taking the variety to the brink of greatness. “If Hawke’s Bay wanted to focus its marketing on one strength, it would have to be our unique Syrahs. With a cooler climate, we are making elegant wines with spicy and floral aromas. It’s a variety that expresses itself very differently depending on where it is grown. “While production is still small, it’s growing. I think there’s the potential there for it to be the next big thing.” YOUNG WINEMAKER ENJOYING STELLAR SUCCESS Mission Estate assistant winemaker Alex Roper is one of the New Zealand industry’s brightest up-and-coming stars as 2016’s Hawke’s Bay Young Winemaker of the Year and runner-up in the national competition. Hawke’s Bay has a reputation for making many wine styles well. That, Roper says, is down to the region’s many different soil types and microclimates, which range from inland hot spots and stony sites like those in the Gimblett Gravels to more fertile coastal vineyards cooled by summer’s sea breezes.
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