Written by Victoria Clark

Winemaker Trudy Sheild will never forget her first harvest job in the Hunter Valley when her workmate - an Australian named Nigel - assured her: “You don’t need to be a big, burly bloke to be good at this, you just need to know a few tricks.”

“I was given a worksheet and directed to a pump, but I was so nervous and green, I didn’t know which end of the pump sucked,” she laughs. “Nigel was the epitome of the Australian bloke, from his dusty Holden ute down to his Blundstone boots. He'd always say there’s a hard way and an easy way to do this. He generously taught me everything he knew about cellar-handing."

That season’s internship followed a year’s study at Lincoln University from where Trudy graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Oenology. She gained further experience in other vineyards in Australia, on Waiheke Island in Auckland, and at Waimea Estates in Nelson, before spending a memorable season in Italy.

“I’d made an Italian friend in the Hunter Valley who was from Tramin in Northern Italy, andhe invited me to his family winery for harvest. I stayed with his grandparents, Bruno and Bruna, who spoke no English, but Bruna and I soon realised we both loved cooking. There was a lot of arm-waving and fun had cooking together in her kitchen.”

The naming of gewürztraminer has its origins in Tramin, and was the varietal that first sparked her interest in wine, so Bruno took Trudy to the top of the village to see a sign-post which denotes all the countries in the world to where the local gewürztraminer had been exported. To Trudy’s delight, ‘Canterbury, New Zealand’ was there.

Trudy returned to Waimea Estates, where she worked for 13 years - the last seven as the vineyard’s wine-maker. During that time, she was given the opportunity to work a harvest season in Alsace.

“That experience in France absolutely confirmed my love for aromatic white wines, which also shine here in Nelson.”

Early in 2017, when the boutique vineyard, Middle-Earth, in Brightwater was ready to employ its own wine-maker, Trudy was offered the job. 

“I feel I’ve ‘got lucky’ over the years, working in some brilliant training-ground and learning from knowledgeable winemakers. They’ve been so patient, too, as I’m always asking questions!”