Nick Mills, Aubert de Villaine, Lois Mills
Central Otago on the southern tip of New Zealand is the only region in the world with which Burgundy has a formal vintner exchange programme, and the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a three-day event in the heart of Burgundy in late October.
Sophie Confuron of Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron and Nick Mills of Rippon started the exchange in 2006, establishing a formal work and education programme for vintners in the two regions. Each year, between two and six vintners per region travel across the planet for a week of education about the viticulture, growing conditions and wines of their counterparts, followed by five weeks of harvest work. For vintage in the southern hemisphere, participants travel from France to Central Otago in the first half of the year, then in the second half of the year, a new set go from Central Otago to France to work harvest in the northern hemisphere. In the last 11 years more than 80 stagiaireshave participated in the exchange.
Confuron originated the idea of the exchange itself while visiting Nick Mills and his mother Lois at their home at Rippon. The two families had an ongoing friendship which formed the original connection. Confuron explains that the exchange has grown to mean more than just friendship. She says, ‘I think it is very important to go to a young producing country because they have no rules. Here [in Burgundy] it is very strict. Everything is ruled, in ways you cannot change. Over there [in Central Otago] they are totally free to experiment, and not stuck in legislation, so that is very interesting.’ As she explained, the opportunity to see a region that has such room to make wide-open decisions about winemaking and viticulture does not change the rules established in Burgundy, but does open up perspectives on how one might work with those rules differently. Additionally, she has been impressed with the level of experience and knowledge shown by those stagiaires traveling from New Zealand, saying that their know-how has helped provide another level of skill for those who host them in Burgundy.
Earlier this year, I spent harvest in Central Otago to study its unique vintage conditions and began my travels accompanying the French stagiaires during their education week. I was then able to check in on the progress of their harvest experience over the following five weeks. This year, six stagiaires from France participated in the exchange, all students early in their winemaking careers. Each student was placed individually with …
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