Vineyard Manager — Avner ben-Arieh

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There is something mystical in places that reflect nature's beauty. It can be a spot by the sea, or a snow-covered slope … or the winery, deep in the Dandenongs, where I met Avner ben-Arieh.

Amid the gentle rolling hills and lush green vegetation, oblivious to the metropolitan hustle not so far away, we surveyed the carefully manicured vines.

'It's not always like this, but I do love it', said Avner. 'I haven't been here long, but I've grown to really enjoy the peace and tranquility, and the fresh air'.

Avner manages the day-to-day care of the boutique vineyard, Gembrook Hill. As we stroll around the vines, he talks of frost-free zones, of subtle localised air flows, and the pruning and refining of the vines to produce good strong yielding grapes.

'The yield is the key … how the soil and the weather and our skill combine is critical to the quality and volume of grapes we pass on to the winemaker', he says.

'So how did you come to be here?' I asked.

'Well, I left school with no real driving ambition to be anything in particular. I already had lots of work experience and continued finding work in the hospitality industry. I traveled (Sydney and Cairns) and did part-time jobs (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Como Hotel and restaurants).

'Eventually, I found myself becoming more interested in wine. I was serving it to customers in restaurants, and found that the whole process of wine growing, producing and serving was interesting. I did summer jobs on the Mornington Peninsula and liked it. Then I was able to work part-time at Gembrook Hill, pruning and so on. After one harvest season here, I was asked to stay on permanently.

'I began a Certificate III in Viticulture at NMIT (Northern Metropolitan Institute of Technology). There, they taught us about irrigation, canopy management, trellis systems and other aspects of grape production. I'm still learning about pruning—a vital task each year. It must be completed during dormancy to minimise potential injury to the vines.

'My job here complements those studies. It gives me a chance to see and do what I've been learning about.

'Next year, I am hoping to begin a Bachelor of Science (Viticulture). This will give me the skills to be a fully qualified viticulturist. From there, it's a matter of experience. Growing grapes is an art, really.

'I can say now, at twenty-five, that I've found something that I can really get stuck into. I've been around a bit. I've been working since I was fifteen or sixteen, and I know how to commit myself to something. I like the idea of growing grapes and winemaking, and I can see a future in it'.

A few minutes later, I headed out of the vineyard, and looked back for one last farewell wave to Avner. In the distance, his frame blended easily into the surrounding scenery and outbuildings of the winery. Somehow, it seemed appropriate, because I felt I'd met a young man at peace with himself, and with his chosen profession.