It’s often said that good things come out of tough times but if you’d told Celia Hay that when her business was badly hit by the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011, she might not have been quite so optimistic.

Fast forward nine years and Hay has not only relocated to Auckland (a move she made swiftly, following the quake), she is about to launch a new NZQA accredited qualification and celebrate 25 years in business.

The business is the New Zealand School of Food & Wine.

I worked there as a wine tutor from 2012 to 2017 and look forward to raising a glass to toast the business’ success and, at least as significantly, to toast Celia’s personal drive and determination. Her goal has always been to inspire people to become curious about mastering cookery techniques, understanding the differences in wine styles and to enable them to gain formal qualifications in both. So it’s inspiring to see her add a new qualification this year to the already extensive raft that she provides at the school.

This March, she and her family will celebrate 25 years in business. It’s no mean feat in a country the size of New Zealand with a relatively small population and highly competitive market.

“Above all, I want to encourage people to keep going and climb the career ladder as baristas, chefs, general managers, sommeliers and also as entrepreneurs, setting up their own businesses,” says Celia, when reflecting on 25 years in business. “I felt then, as I still do today, that we need to bring more professionalism to the sector so that people have a better understanding of what and why they are doing these tasks or performing in a certain way.”

The new qualification she’s launching is an NZQA-accredited micro-credential called the Certificate in New Zealand Wine. It will give those studying an understanding of New Zealand wine and offer an opportunity for restaurant, winery cellar door, wine sales and marketing staff, as well as wine lovers to learn more.

If five published books, 25 years in business and over 20,000 students doesn’t show dedication to her goal, then I don’t know what does. Past and present students will join with others who have been involved in the school over the past two and a half decades on 14 and 15 March this year at the school in Customs Street West, in central Auckland.

So, here’s a toast to Celia Hay and the New Zealand School of Food & Wine.