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When Finn Horsfield suffered a serious back injury, it spelled the end of his career as a builder. The young apprentice had to shut the door on the trade, and his attention turned to a previous dream of joining the wine industry. "I had always wanted to do winemaking, but I never felt it was a viable option for me. Then after that injury I thought I was just going to do it," he says.
Finn enrolled in the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) Bachelor of Viticulture and Winemaking and traded in the city life of Auckland for the green pastures of Blenheim.
There, he's been studying and working for the best part of three years, and is now in his last semester with NMIT. Finn opted to do his last year of study online, enabling him to work full-time as a vineyard operator with Marisco Vineyards, alongside his study commitments. "I went into [this career] with a winemaking focus, but I realised it's the environments that I love… The ecology and environments and the interactions in the vineyard," Finn says. "I would like to do both, ideally, but I want to specialise in viticulture."
Moving from the bustle of the city to a semi-rural life in Marlborough was a big move, but a natural one for Finn, who grew up in the Waikato before shifting to Auckland for high school. "I always wanted that rural lifestyle and I enjoy small towns; I've never been a fan of cities or having lots of people around. I'd probably go even smaller if I could," he says.
Finn took to his winemaking and viticulture course like a duck to water. "It's been awesome, really hands-on, which is good for me, there's a lot of practical assessments… I've really enjoyed it.”
Working at Marisco Vineyards has strengthened Finn’s learning, giving him even further practical experience in the industry. He began work for the company in the vineyard on a part-time basis in 2019, and has also taken on two vintages with the team. “I’m getting the hang of everything from a winery perspective and I’m trying to learn as much as I can; I want to work in every aspect of the industry to try and get experience.”
Finn recently received a scholarship from Wine Marlborough to help with his study costs, and was also the recipient of a scholarship through NMIT which saw him helping judge the New World Wine Awards. It was an opportunity he grasped with both hands.
“I really want to prove that I’m as comfortable tasting wine in a room full of experts as I am doing hard labour in the vineyard; so that was definitely a step in the right direction… [It] was a lot of fun and I learned a lot and met a lot of interesting people throughout the competition,” he says.
Before judging the awards, Finn competed in the Marlborough Corteva Young Viticulturist of the Year competition for the first time. While he didn’t place this year, he took value from the experience and plans to try again. “Taking part in the young vit competition was huge for me and is something I intend to keep doing until I either win or can’t compete anymore,” he says.
“The competition definitely exposed some gaps in my knowledge, and that’s a good thing because it allows me to improve and learn more. I was terrified of the whole day, in all honesty, but I believe that throwing yourself into uncomfortable situations is the only way you improve, and next year I know I’ll have so much more confidence.”
It’s opportunities like these that Finn hopes will help him get ahead in his career. “I'm just going to keep looking for opportunities like these two events and yeah, keep moving forward as fast as I can.”
This article was supplied by the Wine Press magazine in Marlborough, written by Kate Duggan.