Remarkable role for well-travelled winemaker

21 January 2021 | Students News

One of Anika Willner’s favourite things about her winemaking job is working in Gibbston Valley, at the foothills of The Remarkables mountain range.

“It’s an inspiring place to be surrounded by every day.”

Passionate about Pinot Noir, she holds a Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology from Lincoln University and is currently living in the heart of the Coal Pit Wine vineyard.

Her role is varied and interesting, involving both winemaking and vineyard work.

It’s a long way from where she started as an American undergraduate in Ohio.

And since leaving her home country, she worked in South Africa, Germany, Australia, and France before landing in Central Otago.

Anika first began thinking about entering the winemaking field during undergraduate school at Ohio State University.

“I started a wine club with a friend and at first it was small, but it grew in popularity, which created the budget to do formal tastings with sommeliers, as well as social events and fundraisers,” she says.

“I was often told by people I was meeting in the wine industry that I should explore my passion and work a vintage.

“I decided I wanted to work in South Africa as soon as I graduated university and applied to a bunch of wineries before being offered a position in Stellenbosch.”

After travelling the world, she decided to extend her skills at Lincoln University with the Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology.

A qualification that has students growing their own grapes, making wine and developing wine-tasting skills, the course also covers site selection and development, plant material and vineyard management, as well as grape processing, fermentation and wine finishing.

“The diploma gave me the confidence to apply for winemaker roles that I probably would have shied away from otherwise,” she says. “Learning more about viticulture was crucial for me, because it’s important to know why things are happening in order to troubleshoot.

“Good viticulture is extremely pre-emptive and it’s important to find solutions to problems before they even begin. The Lincoln programme goes into depth as far as viticulture is concerned.”

Anika feels at home in Central Otago, where she has worked since 2018, making wines for Coal Pit. She describes the region as a benchmark for Australasian Pinot Noir and says Gibbston Valley is a truly cool climate location.

This fits well with her Lincoln education, as the university’s suite of viticulture and winemaking programmes is one of the few in the world with a cool climate focus.