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No EIT wine course in Gisborne this year disappointing

SUSPENSION of Gisborne’s wine course at EIT Tairawhiti this year, after operating for nearly three decades, has been described as “disappointing” for the region.

It is one of four courses the polytechnic did not run in 2018 because of a lack of enrolments.

The other courses are the NZ Certificate in Business (Administration and Technology), NZ Diploma in Fashion and the NZ Certificate in Forest Harvesting Operations.

EIT chief executive Chris Collins said it was regular business process for EIT not to run some programmes if they did not get sufficient enrolments.

Mr Collins said EIT was taking a “strategic pause” for this year only with removal of the wine-making course, as it worked with the industry to assess the education and training needs for 2019 and beyond.

“I would strongly emphasise that EIT would be very reluctant to withdraw fully from this area of programme delivery.

“We are the leading provider in NZ in wine and viticulture education. We need to be confident we have the right programme offering for local industry, and that industry will support the programme.”

One staff member was affected and took redundancy, the other staff member continued to operate Waimata winery.

“EIT remains committed to processing grapes for local commercial growers at the EIT-owned winery, which is used for teaching wine-making skills,” he said

The wine-making course started in 1990. It was renowned for giving students a robust introduction to the wine industry, with practical hands-on experience from vineyard to bottle.

Gisborne Winegrowers president, and Millton Vineyards and Winery co-owner, Annie Millton said pressure was being placed on EIT to put the course back together properly and advertise it properly.

“It’s very sad it has come to the point they have had to close it.”

Mrs Millton said all the equipment and infrastructure was there.

“We are working with EIT to give them information about our industry needs. The course has been a practical learning for the young people wanting to join the industry.

“It is important to teach the classic wine culture, which covers all areas of producing a product.

“It is hoped that they can reinstate this — it is very important for this region. There is no other offering of this kind in another region.”

Gisborne grape grower Doug Bell is disappointed with the course’s no-show this year.

Mr Bell remembered years ago when the course was successful and it was advertised internationally.

It was disappointing EIT had not continued to promote the course, and he suggested it had engineered it’s own failure.

“The international students were very valuable. I am surprised those sorts of things were not continued, especially since they contributed to make it so successful.”

Mr Bell said there was a general skill shortage in horticulture, of which the wine industry was certainly one.

“The beauty of this wine course was that it covered both the academic and practical skills, from growing grapes to the harvest, and making wine.”

The nature of the course and what it covered was “brilliant”, he said.

Mr Bell said it would be fair to say this year was a “tough season” for the wine industry, as a whole and in Gisborne.

“But the mark of a successful industry is when the going gets tough, that is when it needs to look at improving efficiencies, expanding sales, introducing new skills and particularly re-investing with the best skills available.

“I feel that is what is missing with this decision made by the polytechnic. When the going got a bit tough, it appeared to me the polytechnic pulled back a bit of marketing, in particular the wine course, and consequently the horticulture industry is without some of the very resources we need to get it back on its feet again.

Mr Bell hoped there would be wide industry discussion with New Zealand Winegrowers, as Gisborne was an important contributor to the national portfolio of grape growers and winemakers. It was once dubbed the Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand.

A former student of the course, Andrew Nimmo, started his wine label Hihi Wines after he graduated from the course in 2003.

“It was the only study I have done and I’ve had a successful wine-making brand since then.”

EIT's wine-making facilities had commercial contracts as a processing facilityMr Nimmo said EIT’s wine-making facilities had commercial contracts as a processing facility. The students helped with that but the instructions came from wine-makers like himself.

“I’ve been processing grapes there for the past two years and been very pleased with what they have done.

“There is currently some uncertainty about the 2019 harvest, as to whether contract wine-making facilities at EIT Tairawhiti will be available.

“It would be sad to lose a valuable facility at EIT but hopefully we won’t.”

Mr Collins said EIT had promoted the programme, as well as the wider discipline of grape-growing and wine-making, in a variety of publications and online. “This discipline is a flagship for EIT and as such there is substantial marketing spend and effort put in to progress and maintain it.

“The programmes have been promoted in the Gisborne Herald, Hawke’s Bay Today, the DomPost, NZ Herald, wine magazines including NZ Winegrower, Wine Hawke’s Bay, and Wine NZ, on radio stations including ZM and Hauraki, and online with Google Adwords and Facebook advertising and posts.

There has been a sizeable reduction in Tairawhiti's vineyard area“There has been a sizeable reduction in Tairawhiti’s vineyard area in the past few years — about 600 hectares of grapevines were pulled since the region’s peak of 2000 hectares. Perhaps by way of that, EIT has recorded falling programme numbers over the past few years. Potential students might be responding to significantly fewer opportunities available to them in the industry.

“The decision to cancel the programme only applies to 2018, and is directly related to the lack of enrolments. EIT remains committed to the needs of grape growers in the Tairawhiti region and we will consult with industry stakeholders throughout the year about their long-term training and grape processing needs, with a view to re-establishing a targeted and relevant programme to meet industry needs for 2019 and beyond.

“It’s a regular business process for EIT not to run some programmes, if we don’t get sufficient enrolments. Sometimes we might only run a programme every couple of years if the demand is not sufficient to support a programme every year.

“This is particularly the case in rural locations. This is usual practice for all tertiary providers.

“It’s a normal practice to refresh our portfolio by putting new offerings that are relevant to the community we serve.

“This sometimes means taking out those that struggle with demand. An example of some new programmes that we have started in Gisborne recently include Master of Creative Practice, Bachelor of Social Work, Bachelor of Teaching (Primary), Bachelor of Business Studies, Bachelor of Computing, and NZ Certificate in Cookery (level 4).”

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