Braden Crosby (30) is taking a trip to the wine regions of France next year, but it’ll be both work and play for the country’s most promising young wine maker. Braden, who works at Borthwick Estate in Carterton, has had a great year, nabbing the 2012 Markhams Young Viticulturist of the Year in August, and Horticulturalist of the Year in November, and placing second in the AGMARDT Innovation Award with a unique, multi-purpose frost fan.
What’s the frost fan system?
Frost fans in vineyards represent a large investment for growers and businesses, but they are only used for a short period of time each year. While the service they offer is invaluable, I was interested in developing a product that would add value to the whole system.
I focussed on the design of the blade system that could be used for both frost fighting and power generation. I researched market readiness and economic thresholds as well as the design requirement, and was able to model wind resource and blade design with computer-aided design in order to come up with potential prototypes. The whole process was very interesting and I managed to learn a lot about wind power generation.
What attracted you to viticulture when you began eight years ago?
I started working in my uncle’s restaurant in Parnell when I left secondary school. From there I developed an interest in wine, and decided I wasn’t happy just drinking the end product, but wanted to delve deeper into the understanding of the processes that went into making a bottle. At the time I had started a BA, which I promptly gave up and went on to do a Diploma in Viticulture at NMIT in Marlborough. I ended up working for my current employer, Paddy Borthwick, after a field trip to the Wairarapa. In the off season I travelled through California, Canada, France and parts of Australia, working in wineries and vineyards before coming back to set up in the Wairarapa full-time. I completed a Degree in Wine Science this year.
What attracts me the most is the challenge of growing good grapes and making good wine. There are a lot of variables thrown into the mix; climate, soils, plants, microorganisms and humans; how they interact with each other. Changing one aspect will affect the end product; the key is to manipulate all of these factors into consistently producing top grapes. This can be one of the most frustrating and rewarding aspects of the business.
What are the peculiarities of growing grapes in the Wairarapa?
I think the Wairarapa is a great place to grow grapes; we tend to have nice, dry summers, but the key for me is the stable weather patterns during the autumn. We get nice cool temperatures overnight, which help keep fungal disease at bay, and help retain good flavours and acidity in our grapes, while rainfall is generally quite low and daytime temperatures are warm.
Compared to other regions I think the weather tends to have a large effect on our crop levels. We can vary quite dramatically from year-to-year according to the weather. The valley is open to the South, so weather patterns from this area can be detrimental if they occur during flowering in December. We have also had a fair number of cool springs recently, which has had an effect on fruit yield. The flip side of this is that the fruit tends to be of high quality.
What do you do at Borthwick?
In autumn and winter I spend most of my time in the winery. Our harvest usually kicks off at the beginning of April, so from here in I am based in the winery, processing fruit, doing wine analysis, managing fermentation and our barrel programme. In winter I start getting the white wines ready for bottle while reds rest in barrel. This is also the time to reflect on the season, make plans for the upcoming year, plus go through all our audits.
Spring and summer is focussed in the vineyard, and represents the busiest time in terms of growth. Frost is always a big issue for us, so maintaining our frost system and being on frost call out can take up a lot of time. In addition to this I am monitoring growth, irrigation, pest and disease, and ensuring everybody I work with is on track with the jobs that need to be done. I am lucky as the team I work with is excellent.
Are there too many small and medium vineyards in New Zealand?
We will never have the population in New Zealand to sustain the current industry, so our only option is to export more wine and at a good price point that can offer growers and businesses a sustainable financial return. The key will be whether SMEs can find these markets. The last few years have been tough; downward price pressures have meant some have been just scraping through, or even worse. There has also been some consolidation, and some high profile sales recently, as well as some vineyard removal in some areas. I think there is room for a range of sizes and business models in the industry: they can all be profitable, but export is the key.
What are the major issues facing local horticulturalists in general?
The exchange rate has been a problem over the last few years. Another is bio-security; we have seen a few things recently that may have placed a question over our border protection. I think New Zealand needs to be proactive about its bio-security; it should have emphasis placed on it.
This story originally appeared in Primary magazine. Click here to subscribe.