Grape expectations

School principal Dale Burden and students check out the vines.


The 2020 Blue Ruru Pinot Gris has a secondary link.

Secondary school, to be accurate – the grapes for the wine are grown at St Peter’s Cambridge.

The bottling of this year’s vintage, in partnership with Volcanic Hills Winery in Rotorua, marks four years of passion and community involvement to produce what’s described as a “delightfully light Rose and refreshing Pinot Gris”.

The journey began in 2015 when a student who was keen to study viticulture asked the head of agricultural and horticultural science Mike Kilgour: “why haven’t we got grapes growing here?”

Mr Kilgour took the concept to principal Dale Burden, and the project was born with vines donated by the Thorp family from Sunrise Nurseries in Gisborne, and input and guidance from Charlie and Debbie Johnson.

Choosing the varieties to grow was key, as the Waikato is not traditionally a grape growing region.

After the school settled on Cabernet Franc, Pinotage forthe reds and Chardonnay and Pinot Gris for the whites, 40 of each variety were planted on site at St Peter’s School behind the school’s playing fields.

Students from  across the curriculum and year groups have been involved in bringing this wine to reality.

Year 9 and 10 ag-hort science students have pruned the vines, chemistry students have monitoredpH and acid levels to determine the best time to pick and science classes used a refractometer to measure the sugar content in the grapes.

Design students developed the name, label and style of the Blue Ruru bottle label. Ruru is the native owl – the morepork – and nods to the St Peter’s Owl and the higher wisdom, learning and inner knowing it proudly represents.
Students and staff volunteered to harvest the 2020 crop, collectively handpicking 1.5 tonnes of grapes on a clear March morning.


Student Tayla McDonald has worked on the school’s grape growing exercise.

The bounty was delivered within two hours to Volcanic Hills Winery at the base of Mt Ngongotaha in Rotorua.

There, winemaker Brent Park set about producing the blends over the next four months.

With the very limited quantities produced, those actually enjoying a glass will be few.

“Being able to deliver an authentic learning experience for our students, from the planting of the vines through to the harvest and production, is an opportunity we are excited to offer our students,” Mr Burden said.

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