Dr Alvaro Vidiella - Technical Director

Alvaro Vidiella heads up the Linnaeus laboratory, which independently tests Riversun’s source blocks and offers a commercial ELISA and PCR testing service to the viticulture industry.

Before joining us in 2015, Alvaro ran the Avocado Industry Council’s R&D programme where he was instrumental in increasing funding and focusing research on improving the national avocado industry’s productivity.

Born in Uruguay and educated throughout the Americas and Europe (his dad was a UN officer), Alvaro thinks his passion for agronomy could be hereditary. His grandfather and great-uncle immigrated from Spain and established farms and vineyards in northern and central Uruguay. In fact, his great-uncle planted the country’s first vineyard on the outskirts of Montevideo where the Folle Noire grape is known as the “Vidiella”.

Drawn to applied science as a discipline for “people looking for solutions through the development and implementation of new ideas”, the agricultural engineer has extensive experience in R&D, providing grower-focused solutions throughout Andalucía, where he studied and worked for more than 20 years.

Looking for an opportunity to move somewhere he and his wife could grow their family as well as their careers, the shortlist comprised Australia and New Zealand. Alvaro had kept in touch with an old school teacher he’d had in Ecuador, who happened to be a kiwi – and who happened to name his son Alvaro…but that’s another story – who swayed them towards New Zealand.

In addition to sharing Riversun founder Geoff’s infectious passion for excellence and sustainability, what attracted Alvaro to Linnaeus is the potential to further fine-tune improvements and increase efficiencies while delivering innovative research to address the ever-changing environment of the wine industry.

“Agriculture and horticulture is a key concern for humanity, and I am very attracted to the idea of being able contribute to feeding the world.”


0800 254 662
021 025 20412

Ruth Hughes - Commercial Manager

Commercial Manager Ruth Hughes joined Linnaeus in 2016 and is responsible for ensuring our clients receive unparalleled, efficient and tailored diagnostic services from our water, food, plant, soil and air technicians.

The world-class laboratory also delivers contract research, so clients range from vineyards and major food producers to schools and local government, giving Ruth plenty of variety and scope for identifying new opportunities and building strong relationships.

“I love challenges and the process of assessing the current landscape and then executing strategies for growth,” says Ruth.

Ruth’s career in the UK encompassed a variety of roles that gave her a strong grounding in client service and relationship management, including working for a high-end shoe retailer, the department store John Lewis, and BMW. Outside of work, Ruth is kept (very) busy with her three children.


027 538 1199
0800 254 662

Steve Donnelly - Lab Manager

Steve Donnelly, Lab Manager Linnaeus

After 35 years in the demanding public health sector and the military, Steve is enjoying the work life balance and family friendly environment Riversun has a reputation for.

With a Masters in Biomedical Science achieved during his time as a military scientist in the UK, Steve is a specialist in haematology and blood transfusions. Moving from the military to health sector, he was second in charge of haematology for the UK National Health Service (NHS) for 10 years.  In 2006 Steve migrated to New Zealand with his family to be the head of haematology and blood transfusions at Gisborne Hospital. 

Making a leap from people to plants, Steve left the health sector and was offered a permanent role as Lab Manager with Linnaeus in 2016.

As the Linnaeus Lab Manager, Steve brings a scientific methodical attitude and a comprehensive understanding of quality management. Steve oversees the Linnaeus technical and processing team and is responsible for overseeing ELISA virus testing and environment testing for food and water. He also ensures the lab’s compliance to international standards through IANZ accreditation and the New Zealand Grafted Grapevine Standard.


027 562 3288
0800 254 662

Eline van Zijll de Jong - Molecular & Micro Programme Manager

Eline van Zijll de Jong - Molecular Diagnostic Programme Manager

Eline van Zijll de Jong has joined the team at Linnaeus as Molecular Diagnostic Programme Manager. Her primary role is to lead the research, development and implementation of molecular biology diagnostic methods for detection of important pathogens in grapevines, avocado and food. In addition she will provide technical and analytical support to Linnaeus’ research programmes in plant and soil health.

Eline has a strong research background in applied plant microbiology and pathology, and the application of molecular biology methods to these areas. As part of her doctoral studies in Australia, she developed molecular genetic markers to uncover novel beneficial fungal grass endophytes. More recently Eline led a research team at Lincoln University to discover microorganisms for biological control of a pest and disease in brassicas.

Eline is looking forward to applying and advancing her skills in applied microbiology, plant pathology and molecular biology for the direct benefit of New Zealand’s grape growers.


021 269 2749
0800 254 662

Shanna Hickling - Deputy Laboratory Manager

Shanna Hickling, Senior Technical Analyst & Researcher

Shanna joined Linnaeus in 2013 after graduating with a bachelor of science in microbiology and genetics. "I finished Massey on Friday, came back home to Gisborne, and started at Riversun on Monday!"

And she hasn't looked back. In past few years Shanna has leapt from graduate to researcher to deputy laboratory manager.

Over this time Shanna has progressed from project managing the research department at Linnaeus, to learning the 'ins and outs' of the environmental testing department. Shanna is constantly looking for new challenges and with Linnaeus currently expanding its testing capabilities, she provides support to the team to deliver timely results to the horticulture industry.

She also oversees lab operations including the ELISA virus-testing programme which involves a meticulous methodology that Shanna sums up as: "Grapevine leaves or canes come into the lab, and results come out stating whether a virus is present or not detected."

Shanna says in her role she particularly enjoys the fact that “you get to see the results we deliver, directly impact the quality of horticultural products.”

Somewhere in her busy schedule she fits in her position as manager and goalie for Ngatapa Women's Hockey team - her local club just down the road from the Rere farm where she grew up. Added to that Shanna is this year competing in the 2017 Young Achiever competition and has been selected on the highly regarded 2017 Horticulture NZ Leadership programme.


0800 254 662
027 620 0001 

Verdette Vedders - Laboratory Technician

Verdette started with Linnaeus in August 2017 after 14 years as the Technologist at Gisborne Hospital Laboratory. With a background in medical technology, Verdette is enjoying the change to soil, food micro, grapevine virus and water chemistry. 

Finding problem solving an interesting challenge, Verdette was attracted to Linnaeus by the scope for research and the chance to broaden her knowledge-base.

Originally from South Africa, Verdette brought her background in micro lab, research and haematology to NZ in 1999, to work for Canterbury Health. A few years later, longing for warmer climes, Verdette was lured to Gisborne by a friend for the sun and surf.

Verdette says no two days are the same at Linnaeus and she really enjoys the diversity and ‘can-do-attitude’ of the Linnaeus team. In her spare time, Verdette enjoys travelling overseas and has taken on quite a few house renovation projects over the years.


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Yvonne Wruck - Laboratory Technician

Yvonne Wruck joined Linnaeus in 2015, bringing with her significant experience in molecular biology, the wine industry and grapevine propagation. At Linnaeus she is responsible for ELISA testing and involved in R&D.

Returning to Gisborne in 2013 after working for a Greek winery, she set her sights on Linnaeus and says that working here has given her a more complete picture of the wine industry. “The circle is slowly closing for me to have a full view of what’s necessary to make good wine – it all starts in the vineyard,” she says.

Outside of work, Yvonne is kept busy with her three daughters – with whom she enjoys the local beaches, forests and outdoors.


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Brenda Overend - Chemistry Laboratory Technician

There was never a dull moment running the chemistry lab at Hydro-Technologies, says Brenda Overend.

When Brenda joined Hydro-Technologies 13 years ago, she already had 11 years’ experience in testing including plant tissue culture, wine testing and maize testing.

“I like the focus of performing lab work, and I work hard to ensure accurate, consistent results,” says Brenda.

Brenda’s role includes testing water for pH, chlorine, oil & grease, calcium and total hardness, alkalinity, chlorides, fluoride, BOD, COD, conductivity, salinity, and solids.

With a tertiary qualification in performance music, Brenda says she mainly plays Irish flute but also plays other styles. She belongs to the Women’s Native Tree Project Trust, which grows and plants native trees in public spaces. 


021 052 9465
0800 254 662

Karen Neumegen - Microbiology Technician

Karen Neumegen started her career as a teacher after graduating with a Bachelor of Science from Massey University in 1976.

Now with ten years’ experience as a microbiology technician, in charge of water and food testing, Karen is a key technical person for IANZ for all water micro tests and selected food tests.

She analyses drinking water to New Zealand drinking water standards, and performs various microbiological tests on swimming pool water, river water, wastewater and sewage.

“I enjoy seeing the raw product come into the lab and then finding out the results of the testing and reporting back to our clients, who range from individuals to local businesses.”

When she’s not tramping or walking half-marathons, Karen maintains an interest in teaching children with special needs by working with SPELD, which provides information, assessment and tuition to individuals, families, businesses and schools.


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Dion Williams - Field Technician

Dion Williams’ life revolves around water – both at work where he is mostly out and about collecting samples from across Tairawhiti, including bores, rivers, rainfall stations and trade waste, and at play where he surfs and coaches at Wainui Surf Lifesaving Club.

Dion’s 14 years’ experience in hydrological sampling is underpinned by certifications in water sampling from Opus and river gauging from NIWA.

“I enjoy the outdoor nature of my job and the varied forms of work it comes in. I like to say I’m out and about all day, doing work that I’m really good at and enjoy.”


027 221 9419

Sophie Ovenden - R&D Technician

Every week is different for Sophie at Linnaeus – she could be collecting samples out in the field or organising the process for water sampling on a boat in the harbour to setting up R&D trials for Riversun’s baby grapevines.
Joining Linnaeus in early 2017, Sophie felt very fortunate to have found the perfect entry level job in a research field – right here in Gisborne. The team at Linnaeus were also a big drawcard with Sophie eager to work with experts in their field; often 1:1 which she says is very special.
Sophie has a Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in Psychology from Massey University. Her studies focused heavily on environmental science leading to a summer internship back home with the Gisborne District Council biosecurity team managing the ‘Check, Clean & Dry’ campaign.
At Linnaeus, Sophie is responsible for sample collections, administration and support. She particularly enjoys the R&D Grapevine trials which she has year round responsibility for - from set up to maintenance, monitoring and assessment - right up to grading and inspection of the lifted vines and entering the resulting data for the R&D Manager to collate into a report.



Liam Norman - R&D Technician