Michael Collins’ background in sales and marketing provided a great entry point into the Australian wine industry, but sparked a passion for wine production that led him to enrol in Melbourne Polytechnic’s Bachelor of Viticulture and Winemaking.
Michael had worked in a variety of marketing roles in Australia and overseas, but found himself newly married and in Ireland, working at a job he didn’t really like.
“I’d had a gutful of commuting and working in an office; I’d done it in London, done it in Melbourne and then done it in Dublin. So at 30 years of age I had a career change and reassessed what I wanted to do.”
He had grown up with relatives who worked in agriculture, but the idea of working in the wine industry wasn’t something that came until he had gained a little experience in the field.
“I’d always liked agriculture and farming, I had a grandfather in New Zealand who was a farmer, and I wanted to get involved with something that was outdoors. Once I got into the wine industry I just knew it was the right thing for me; I just absolutely loved it.”
Initially, Michael enrolled in another viticulture course interstate, but found distance education a little isolating. He also found that travelling interstate twice a year and leaving his young family wasn’t ideal. At Melbourne Polytechnic, previously known as NMIT, Michael finds the weekly online lectures and discussions help to create an environment where he feels more in contact with the material and his lecturers.
“At Melbourne Polytechnic, because you get that feedback on a weekly basis, you know where you stand, and you find out right away if you’re doing something wrong or if you’re heading in the right direction. I think that’s also about having the flexibility of small class sizes and logging on once a week.”
Michael has been working as a vineyard manager in the Yarra Valley for the last six growing seasons. The close proximity of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Epping campus to such a prominent wine-growing region is obviously a great benefit to students wanting to work in viticulture, but studying the various facets of winemaking has provided Michael, as a professional already working in the industry, with a much deeper understanding of his work too.
“I’m a full-time vineyard manager so the viticulture subjects, where you learn about things that you’re doing on a day-to-day basis, were always very interesting. I’ve just done a subject, Rural Business, about the finance behind it all. I found it fascinating, from a vineyard point of view, looking at financial ratios and things like that. Close to half the subjects are science-based too, so that was a real challenge for me but the staff are absolutely brilliant. The lecturers take a real interest in your development and your success. They’re always there to answer your phone call or email.”
In 2013, Michael was awarded a study grant through Melbourne Polytechnic to travel to the USA for their national wine industry technical conference.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m quite fortunate that I was offered that opportunity. That’s something that Melbourne Polytechnic don’t have to do, but they do. It was interesting to see what their industry is like. It also gave me the chance to tour a few cellar doors and wineries too.”
Now, with five years of part-time study complete and one last year to go, Michael is thinking about the next step in his career.
“I’m involved with Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association and enjoy being involved behind the scenes in development. Technical support, development and research, is one area I wouldn’t mind looking into.”
For anyone considering returning to study or a career in the wine industry, Michael’s advice is fairly straightforward: “You have to have the passion and you’ve got to persevere, but if it’s something you want to do, by all means get into it.”
Bachelor of Viticulture and Winemaking