From soils to wine: Vanessa Burrows’ journey with


Date: 16 Nov 2022
Author: Hill Laboratories

From soils to wine: Vanessa Burrows’ journey with Hill Labs

Vanessa Burrows’ career at Hill Labs is a story of upskilling. When she began nine years ago, she was a technician in the Hamilton lab working with soils. Today, she runs the Hill Labs Blenheim site and covers so many jobs, it would be fair to call her a ‘jack of all trades.

Small beginnings

Vanessa first applied for a job at Hill Labs back in 2014. Straight out of university, she knew the company was family-owned and had a strong reputation for training their people from start to finish. It was exactly what Vanessa needed.



“I had no lab work experience when I first approached Hill Labs.Just a university degree and a desire to learn. I was told Hills trained their people from scratch and wouldn’t leave you flailing in the deep end. That was compelling, and I was grateful they took me on as a soil technician.”

Set up to succeed

Those leading the agricultural sector testing at Hills, including Fiona Calvert, were the first to take Vanessa under their wing. For two years, Vanessa was trained and encouraged to expand her skills and take on additional responsibilities. Looking back, Vanessa sees it as the perfect platform for growth. “This training set me up for branching out. I learnt more than just technical skills, with plenty of freedom to forge my own path and apply for different opportunities. I am very thankful for my agriculture sector beginnings.”

Onwards and upwards

Within three years, Vanessa had become team leader in the soil lab, then section manager when the role was vacated due to a maternity leave. While her elevation was impressive, it suddenly broadened when she was invited to join the Organics Instrument team as the team leader. The combination of skill expansion and leadership development became the catalyst for the big move south.

Moving up by moving down

Vanessa’s big career shift came in 2020. Having performed well in Hamilton, the Hills executive team felt she was the person to lead their satellite lab in Blenheim. The shift suited Vanessa and her family in a number of ways. “My partner had wanted to live in the South Island his whole life and I was ready to step into the site manager role, so the Blenheim job was perfect for our small family. “I’d never stayed in Blenheim before, but the Hills team encouraged me to visit the town and imagine life there before we moved. That was so helpful. Hills really looked after our family.”

Trained for this

When Vanessa arrived in Blenheim, the lab had already switched its testing focus to the wine industry and Marlborough drinking water. Though narrow in focus, the workload is covered by a small team of five, requiring everyone to wear several hats. “We receive samples destined for all Hill Labs sites, so our sample receptionist packs these up for distribution around the country, registers samples for our own site, answers customer queries and tends to clients dropping samples off. Meanwhile, our lab team process all our wine, water, and grape leaf roll virus samples. “Everyone on the team is really a ‘jack of all trades’; we can all conduct every test carried out at the Blenheim site and if an instrument breaks, we fix it.” 

Vanessa believes the variety of work has allowed for tremendous personal growth for everyone. “With our numbers and the demands we face, we have developed great technical skills but I’m glad we can lean on Hamilton. They give us great support and we are thriving as a team.” With its location and focus on viticultural testing, Vanessa has enjoyed learning about the wine industry, its operations, and can sense the passion behind every client. “The wine industry is always moving forward and focused on innovation, with many projects on the go, so it’s quite exciting to be a part of. We’re always thinking about what tests or processes we could develop to help our clients create their world-renowned wines.”

Life outside the lab

With a busy one and ten year old, a big garden in their backyard and native forest on their doorstep, the Burrows are often out and about. Gardening, mountain biking and trail walks often feature in their weekends, and anyone who knows Vanessa will not be surprised to learn that she’s picking up another skill. “Netball was my game growing up, but Blenheim is more of a tennis town, so I’m looking into learning to play. I’m loving life down here.”