A leap of faith

Good timing and great chemistry prompted wine buffs Raffaela Dragani, from Italy, and Adam Kubrock, from America, to switch from seasonal workers to a more permanent footing.
A leap of faith

It could have gone either way, but in the end, chemistry won out.

Italian-born Raffaela Dragani and American Adam Kubrock met at a Blenheim winery, when both were debating whether to stay in New Zealand.

Marlborough’s booming wine industry meant exciting job opportunities were on offer. The bonus of a blossoming relationship was enough to make the pair decide to build a life here.

Raffaela has wine in the blood: her father is a winemaker and her family owns a small cellar in Italy. In fact, the small town she’s from is full of wineries. “Since I was a kid, I was exposed to the wine industry. It’s what I love,” she says.

Her current job at Matua Wines, as laboratory (lab) and quality manager, is the result of two promotions – a third is in the works – since she began there in 2013. Raffaela had enjoyed working in Blenheim during the vintage (when grapes are picked and wine created) of 2008, so tried her luck here again a few years later, when Italy’s economy was struggling.

She got two job offers in just three days, and took a five-month contract as a lab technician with Indevin during the vintage of 2013. Raffaela’s master’s degree in chemistry meant she came here on an essential-skills work visa, and when the chance to extend that visa arose, she grabbed it.

Adam works at Hillersden in Blenheim as a winemaker. When he first discovered a passion for wine, he pursued it by moving back to Walla Walla, a small city in Washington state, where fellow workers talked about working in New Zealand. One put him in touch with Indevin in 2011 and he got a 12-month working holiday visa. Within a few weeks he was on a plane.

Five weeks in the winery’s cellar, plus a trip around the spellbinding South Island, was enough to convince him to stay put. “The wine industry here in Marlborough has really exploded in the past few years, there has been a lot of extra production and they were keen to keep me on,” he says.

During his third vintage, Raffaela joined Indevin and the two met. They were both at a crossroads in late 2013 – should they stay or should they go? – but ended up encouraging each other to aim for promotions.

Adam landed his first job as an assistant winemaker with NZ Wineries, and Raffaela got her dream job with Matua: a permanent role as a lab supervisor, overseeing the lab’s renovations as new owners overhauled the winery’s technology.

“I had the joy of deciding how the lab was going to look and that never happens. You always start in a place that’s already there,” she says.

Coming from Italy, a country of “old churches,  old buildings” and a proud food tradition, meant making some adjustments. “At first I felt like I’m in an American TV show: everything looks so new that it kind of looks fake,” says Raffaela.

It took longer than she expected to find cheap, fresh produce and the type of cheeses and cured meats available in Italy.

“But I’m not the kind of migrant that says, ‘Okay, I’m going to New Zealand, I need to have my mozzarella.’ I try to enjoy what  I have here; when I go home, I enjoy what I have at home.”

What she gets here is experience and opportunities in a thriving industry. “The type of chances I have here, the promotions; my career would have never moved like this in Italy, ever.”

Nothing replaces family and long-time friends, though Adam says they’ve met some “incredible people” in Blenheim.

“No matter where you live, I think it is about the people around you. We have game nights, we do wine tastings, we have dinners, all that fun stuff – but there are some struggles with living in a small town as well. You do have to come up with ways to get out and about, and you do have to plan ahead to go home and visit people,” he adds.

Blenheim isn’t too far from Wellington or Christchurch, but Adam says outdoor equipment and clothing are more difficult to get here. “Bring technical gear, hiking shoes: they tend to be pretty expensive here compared to back home.”

When they submitted a joint application for residency, getting original documents of things like Raffaela’s degree was particularly difficult – but vital.

“In Italy especially, the culture is very different. You might write to somebody and you will hear back from them in five months! But things worked out the second time around,” says Adam.

Both know where they’ll be in five years’ time: right here, learning at work, building friendships, hopefully owning a home. But Raffaela cautions that migrants need to be serious about making such a big move, and understand the type of area (countryside or city) they’re moving to. Once there, it’s up to them to make it work.

“One of the reasons why I love this region is that opportunities are up for grabs if you want to work hard.”

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