Each year, hundreds of hours of work are required in Saint Clair Family Estate’s vineyards to nurture the grapes from vine to bottle.
Thankfully, the company’s viticulturists have the help of crews from Hortus to get the job done, pruning, bud rubbing, wire lifting, wire dropping, leaf plucking, shoot thinning, trimming, post replacing, mulching, fruit thinning, hand picking and harvesting, to name just a few tasks.
Hortus employs over 70 permanent New Zealand residents who work year-round in roles from machinery operators to supervisors, as well as hundreds of seasonal workers to ensure the smooth running of many Marlborough vineyards.
During winter, their peak season, the number of Hortus employees jumps to 350, including 280 RSE workers.
The RSE, or Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme, allows businesses in the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there is not enough New Zealand workers.
More than just allowing these industries to complete necessary seasonal tasks, the RSE scheme provides pacific workers with experience and the opportunity to live and work in beautiful Marlborough.
Winemaker and viticulturist Hamish Clark says Hortus is one of the top RSE employers in the country, primarily recruiting their staff from Vanuatu, but also Samoa and Tonga.
“They are very good to their staff,” Hamish says.
“The money they earn here in New Zealand and take back home supports, on average, a further 10 people within their family which underpins the value they stake on being invited and able to come back to work here.”
Hortus operates a summer gang to complete work required throughout the growing season, and a winter gang which comes in following the harvest to get the vines ready for the following year.
Each crew is made up of about 250 people, predominantly the same workers each year.
“They are happy to do the work, they work hard, and do a very good job … For us as vineyard owners we couldn’t do to be without them so that appreciation goes both ways,” Hamish says.
This year, twenty hortus staff members joined us to run the Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon, while their NiVan Band provided entertainment at one of the spectator spots on the course.
Saint Clair Family Estate owner Neal Ibbotson says Saint Clair is proud to be associated with a reputable company like Hortus.
“It’s great to be working with Hortus teams from here in Marlborough and from abroad, and to be a part of a ripple effect to help their own families and communities back home,” he says.