When Nicole Pitman samples patches, she makes a morning of it. Literally.
As viticulturalist for Kingston Estate Wines – spanning 1500 hectares of vines across 150 blocks and 6 sites in the Riverland – she has learnt to ‘super size’ her decisions and operations.
‘I can sample up to 50 patches a day in peak times; and yield mapping might involve 1000 tonnes of fruit a day or 50-plus trucks across 6 sites’, Nicole said.
Nicole’s skill in developing and implementing systems to track and measure activities across such a vast operation was recognised in the recent Australian Women in Wine Awards (AWIWA), where she was named Viticulturist of the Year – an award sponsored by Wine Australia.
Nicole was named the Australian Women in Wine Awards Viticulturist of the Year 2018
Nicole said the biggest challenge of large-scale viticulture was making sure things are done on time and correctly.
As a result, she has become ‘Queen of the Spreadsheet’.
‘When it is spray season, for example, I have to co-ordinate spray programs across 150 plus patches – so spreadsheets are my best friend! The operation involves calculating what has been sprayed in the previous week, and then creating spray work orders for the following week. This takes attention to detail to ensure no patches are stretched past 10–14 day spray intervals, that all the tanks have the correct mix of chemicals, and that everything is calibrated correctly.’
Spring is also ‘quite busy’ when petiole samples and bunch counts need to be co-ordinated and collected.
‘We normally bunch count around October, when canopies are smaller. If a heat wave is on its way, I monitor soil moisture on our sites closely via our web-based site (remote access) to ensure the soil moisture doesn’t become too low to cause dehydration of the fruit.’
Nicole has become so adept at implementing and monitoring systems that she was recently invited by Riverland Wine to join a meeting of local ‘thinkers’ and engineers from Adelaide University for collaborative projects.
But Nicole said the ‘biggest and best’ part of her job was at the coalface, visiting vineyards and talking to staff on the ground.
’I enjoy monitoring the vines and using data gathered in the vineyard to help the business make more informed decisions. I really enjoy the challenge of how every season is different and presents different viticulture challenges.
‘I am also passionate about warm climate viticulture, as I think it presents its own challenges and opportunities viticulturally. The Riverland wine region is a great place to be, whether you are producing bulk wine, growing alternative varieties, or organic. There are many exciting opportunities to be had.’
Nicole said the Viticulturalist of the Year award was a ‘welcome surprise’.
‘It was great for a warm climate viticulturist to be recognised in a national award. I hope by receiving the award I can encourage other local young women to consider a career in the sector, as there are many opportunities to follow your passions.’
She said her dad was almost as excited as her about the award.
‘He has grown fruit in the Riverland his whole life, and was my inspiration to get into agriculture. I think he was pretty chuffed about the whole thing.’