Young winery worker turns in vintage performance

Not all heroes wear capes – Leon Henson saved the day at Heron’s Flight.

Fate seemed to be conspiring against local winery Heron’s Flight when it was time to harvest the grapes this year. While the weather gods had been uncharacteristically kind in the vineyards, owners David Hoskins and Mary Evans were less than fortunate, enduring a spate of untimely disasters and distractions just as the grapes were due to be picked.

In the space of a few days, Mary’s elderly mother, who had been living with them at their Sharp Road property, passed away after a long illness, and funeral arrangements had to be made and a memorial service organised for family and friends. At the same time, David was having to entertain and assist auditors to check the winery’s Wine Standards Management Plan, while trying to support Mary and get ready for vintage.

“It could have been the week from hell – it was like Grand Central Station here,” he said.

Then, the day after the service when picking was due to start, David got a call telling him to go to hospital the next day for a knee replacement operation.

“I’d been waiting a long time for it and was supposed to get two weeks’ notice, but they said we have a slot now, come in tomorrow, 7am. So that took me out. I was in for six days and immobile for two to three weeks.”

What all this meant was that this year’s grape harvest was left in the hands of Leon Henson, David’s young winemaking assistant, who had been working at Heron’s Flight for just a year. Although Oleg Yakutin, another local winemaker, helped occasionally, Leon was in charge

“Everything got left to Leon,” David said. “Leon was the boss, he had to make all the decisions. I couldn’t even think about it.”

Both David and Mary said he did a fantastic job, organising the harvest schedule and pickers, getting the grapes in and starting the winemaking process.

“His year with us has covered everything, but I didn’t ever imagine he would be so capable and clever at taking charge of everything,” Mary said. “The last day we picked, he turned 19.

Since then he has made the wine and pressed it out.”

Leon was unfazed by his unexpected promotion.

“I was always prepared to take a bit of responsibility this year,” he said. “I just got here early, organised the pickers, set up the bins and secateurs, figured out what we were picking and where it was going to go. I just tried to work really hard so I didn’t have to worry about not doing a good job.”

Leon, who lives at Hatfields Beach, first worked at Heron’s Flight when he was still at Orewa College, attending one day a week as part of a Gateway training course. He wanted to try something different and thought working at a winery would be interesting. Then, early last year, when he had left school and was working in hospitality, he got a call from Mary asking if he wanted a permanent job. David had injured his knee jumping off a tractor, and he needed help.

“It’s a really nice place to work,” he said. “I love working outside – 80 per cent of the work is in the vineyard – and you meet a lot of people.

“In the future, I want to go check out California and France, and just figure out how to make really good wine.”


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