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IMG 3541 rylee

August 15th, 2018

Cellarhand qualification turns a job into a career

Marlborough lab technician and cellarhand Rylee Funk is the first person to graduate with a national qualification designed to upskill workers in the Kiwi wine industry.  

Rylee, 24, works at Lawson's Dry Hills in Blenheim and has recently completed the New Zealand Certificate in Cellar Operations Level 3, one of three qualifications designed by industry training organisation Competenz to form a career pathway for cellar staff.   

Originally from Canada, Rylee was travelling New Zealand when she landed a temporary job at Lawson’s during the harvest. A few harvests later with some travel in between, she took up a permanent position in the winery.

“At first it was just a chance to do something different, and it turned into a job I really enjoyed. There’s a lot to it and I like that it’s so hands-on.”

As a lab technician and cellarhand, Rylee works across all aspects of the winemaking process – pressing, inoculating, transferring, racking, testing and bottling wine. She also supervises seasonal workers when the winery is operating at full capacity during harvest.

“Harvest is such a busy time – we’re working 12-hour days, seven days a week, but I love it.”

The Level 3 qualification provides a basic understanding of the wine industry, knowledge about legislation such as food safety and health and safety, team work and regular cellar operations. It takes about 12 months to complete, and learners choose between workbooks or online modules.

For Rylee, it was a chance to formalise her skills and knowledge.

“It helped me learn about the reasons why we do what we do. I knew that we needed to add things to the wine, and follow processes for hygiene, but by completing the bookwork I learnt a lot more theory about winemaking.”   

While she completed the majority of the work in her own time, she also learnt more about the technical side of the job with support from senior winemaker Marcus Wright. 

“We teach our staff how to do things and the qualification teaches them why they do things,” Marcus says. “This gives their learning structure and focus. It’s a great extension of the training that we do at Lawson’s and it provides more background knowledge and fills in any gaps.

“The qualifications can turn a job into a career.”

Competenz also offers New Zealand Certificates in Cellar Operations at Level 4 and Level 5, which cover wine analysis, technical elements, grape processing and vintage operations, through to the potential to lead others and provide technical support into commercial cellar operations. These also take about 12 months to complete.

Rylee’s advice to other cellarhands considering doing the qualifications is to get stuck in.

“If you love working in wine and you’re thinking about it, definitely do it. You get to learn off the winemakers and find out so much more about the industry. And you get a qualification at the end of it.”