The Zeelandt Story; Craft Brewer in Hawke’s Bay

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Christopher Barber, owner and brewer at Zeelandt, is the youngest of four boys. He grew up on a vineyard in the Kumeu River area of Auckland, New Zealand, learning about wine from his older brother, Philip (of Petane Wines). He remembers already developing an interest in wine at 11 years old. He learned about food, coffee and beer too and says, “it all went from there.”

For his brother, Philip, wine became the choice, but for Christopher, it was good, traditional, local craft beer. He noticed that in New Zealand, “there was good wine selection and development but beer was lagging behind.” He loved Belgian beers and recognized that “there was something missing in New Zealand; there was a lack of choice. There were so many good beers that were all imported.” As a passionate supporter of local businesses, he “wanted beer that was locally made.”

Family is important to the Barbers, and Christopher was inspired by his Grandfather, who was an entrepreneur. From a young age, he wanted to follow in his Grandfather’s footsteps, and own a business. His great, great Grandfather had also started a brewery in New Zealand. Naturally, he ended up combining his dreams and passions to open Zeelandt.

He first had the idea in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2003 that he decided to go to the UK to work in some breweries and learn the trade. He ended up at St. Austell Brewery in Cornwall, then worked in a few different English pubs, on boats in France, and even picked grapes in the Mosel with his brother, Philip. When he returned to Auckland, a new craft brewery had opened up called Hallertau Brewery. At that time, it was still small, and Christopher got a job there as the only employee alongside the owner, Steve Plowman, where he gained 2 years of experience. He then decided to pursue formal education in the industry, and went back to the UK to complete a 6 month Brewing Diploma in Sunderlan. Christopher comments that the schooling was “really good to bring it all together,” and it added the finishing touch to his hands-on experience.

He was ready to start Zeelandt, and looked for land in Auckland, but found it was so expensive. His Dad and brother had recently expanded the Petane vineyard property and suggested Christopher put the brewery there; he agreed that Hawke’s Bay would be a great home for Zeelandt, for a few reasons. Besides being near to family and them being able to work together, Christopher recognized the growing eclectic food and wine scene in Hawke’s Bay. The weather and climate were draws, and Eskdale reminded him of his Kumeu River childhood. It was 2011 when he decided to go ahead; as Christopher was still working in Auckland, he commuted back and forth every weekend to build the business; during this time, he also met his wife. She was flatting with Sarah, who ended up marrying his brother, Philip! He made the official move and opened Zeelandt in the spring of 2012. He and Luciana married in 2014.

History and legacy is important to the Barbers, and the Zeelandt name reflects that. It honours the legacy of New Zealand, and ties in the European influence of beer that Christopher loves. Zeelandt means “sea land,” and was the original province in Holland that Able Tasman sailed from when he discovered New Zealand.

Christopher’s labels are edgy and cool, and they all reflect the history and origin of each beer style. The Good Thief, for example, is his Pilsner, and the name and art on the label tell the story of a brewer from Munich who went to Bohemia, stole some yeast, and invented Pilsner.

One thing that amazed me about Chris was that the first official brew he ever did on his own was large scale; it was the first brew Zeelandt did. He didn’t start small in his garage like people might assume. He had more of the ‘go big or go home’ mentality and used his experience at other breweries to jump in straight away. Other than a “hop volcano” explosion, which he assures me is part of the learning experience for many brewers, it’s really gone well for him!

Christopher spends his time at work doing a variety of things, as everything is done on site. Some days are spent bottling, some labeling, and some he is out delivering to his clients in the Bay, in his beautiful 1976 Kingswood ute.

As beer isn’t quite my specialty, I asked Chris to give me a basic overview of his day when he brews a beer, which he does about 5 times a month. It’s basically a full day that starts at 6:30am and entails heating mashed barley to get sugar for alcohol, which has to go through several stages, including the addition of hops for flavour, different yeasts for style and fermentation, and cooling and stabilizing over a few weeks. For the full details of a Zeelandt brew day, check out this article: A Brew Day with Christopher from Zeelandt.

By the end of the 3 to 4 week process, the beer is ready to be bottled, labeled and put in cases, all of which is done by Chris and Tom at Zeelandt.

Christopher describes brew days as “intense days,” that are “quite cool, because you’re working together and coming out at the end and hitting your targets. It’s a good feeling.” He also appreciates working with Tom, and says “with two guys you can focus on little things and get to really know the brewery.”

I was amazed at the whole process, and how complex and scientific it actually is. His brewery is quite cool, and if you visit, you can see all the equipment inside. He sources his barley largely from New Zealand, and will bring in hops from wherever he needs to in order to stay true to the style of beer he is making. The grains aren’t wasted after use either; some lucky cattle are getting the remainders!

Christopher’s mission statement for the brewery is simple. He wants to produce “full flavoured, true to style beer” for consumers “both in Hawke’s Bay and throughout New Zealand.” He also expresses how important it is for him and his company to be known as “good people,” and says, “we want to be commercially good to deal with, good in the community like my grandfather, and good environmentally. We want to do good things with what we’ve got here, because if you want to take from the trough you’ve got to put something back in.” He sees the value in being involved in the community and is part of the recently formed Esk River Care Group that protects the biodiversity of the local area, which is one reason why he’s so excited to get the new Zeelandt Beer Garden open next summer. It will double as a Cellar Door for Petane Wines, also in the family and on the same property.

Christopher says, “the Beer Garden will be our way of telling our story. We don’t want to be behind closed doors. It’s something we can use to show people the family and the story, the vineyard and the brewery.” He knows that for him, it will also “bring more fun into the work,” and he sees it as a positive change to the way they do business. “Rather than just send product out, bring people here,” he believes. Chris knows that many share his sentiment that “there’s nothing better than relaxing and having a beer,” and the Beer Garden will be a place for exactly that, and trying all the styles!

Zeelandt produces 6 beers in the core range, but also adds seasonal beers each year, because Christopher enjoys trying new ones, like “Mary,” for example, this year’s Christmas beer named after his grandmother. His core range focuses on the European classics, because they’ve been “made for centuries. They’ve got it down. There’s a reason why over hundreds of years people come back and drink them time and time again.” He’s even looking into a low-alcohol craft beer once the Beer Garden is open, which will be great for him, and the restaurants that stock his beers. I asked Christopher if he had to chose a favourite, which one it would be. His go to is the Helles Jerry Rig Lager, but it depends on the weather, and his mood too.

Challenges Christopher faces include many of those that come with running any small business. Being small, and doing everything on site, means he has to keep a lot of plates spinning at once. Thinking about brewing is the easy part for Christopher, as that’s where his passion lies. Thinking about the business side has been a learning curve. There are multiple side issues that come in as well, like health and safety, food safety, managing employees, and sales and marketing costs.

How to sell different beers in a market that sometimes just wants one mainstream style can be challenging. He says, “I thought, ‘beer sells itself. Wow, it’s going to sell itself in Hawke’s Bay.’ It does not happen that way!” He also notices that “there’s not the terroir and weather and all of that to talk about with beer,” like there is with wine. The story is different. How much to make of each new style has been something Chris has had to experiment with, because he’s running the brewery at full capacity and doesn’t want to have any particular brew sitting in a tank for long.

He made some interesting comments comparing beer and wine sales. People are looking for bargains with both, but Christopher points out that “people will spend a lot of money on wine, not necessarily beer. There’s a real price cap and bracket for beer. With wine you notice the difference between a $12 bottle and a $27 bottle. With beer do you notice between $8 and $12? Maybe not.” He also points out that “wine can age. Beer you’ve got to get it out the door and into the fridge.”

Owning a craft brewery has taught Christopher some valueable lessons. As a husband and father to two young children, Chris is still learning to balance family life with work, which so many of us can relate to. He and Luciana have Oliver, age 4, and Sofia, age 2. He admits “the business requires a lot, but you have a family,” and that family is the most important thing. He also says it’s tough to find free time for himself, but that he’s learned the importance of trying to enjoy what he’s doing and bringing enjoyment into it, and that’s another thing he knows the Beer Garden will do. “It will bring the people and the fun to us, and it will be an important part for our well being and the business.”

Is it worth it to Christopher now that he’s living the dream he’s had for so many years? “Yes, absolutely,” was his answer. He’s had his times away from the brewery doing sales when he had more employees. As soon as he was away for a while, he had a realization. “I really missed running the brewery and just loved getting back into it” as soon as he got home. He loved “getting back into the beer and the recipes and the brew house.” It really is his passion.

He also acknowledges his wife, Luciana, and his brothers and parents. “This would not happen without the family,” he knows.

Although the Beer Garden is scheduled to open next summer, the brewery is open already. Head to Zeelandt this summer in the beautiful Esk Valley, and you can try some samples and buy in bottles or flagons. Christopher is there Monday to Friday, 9.00-5.00, and he’s also open Saturday afternoons 12.00-4.00. Check out his website at zeelandt.co.nz, for more info on the beers, and follow him on Instagram @zeelandt_brewery to stay in the know for hours, new brews and special offers!

A Brew Day with Christopher from Zeelandt

I recently interviewed Christopher Barber, owner and head brewer at Zeelandt, a small, craft brewery in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. As wine is my specialty, and beer isn’t, I asked him to describe to me what a brew day entails from start to finish. Here is how he does it, in layman’s terms, for those of us just learning.

First things first – focus. Brew days are big days and they’re important days. Christopher says he has learned to focus on “getting through the day and getting the beer right.”

He’s in the brewery by 6.30am to turn on the boiler, because it takes an hour to heat up. While he waits, him and his one employee, Tom, get everything else ready in the brew house.

By 7.30am they can start mashing barley, (that they’ve milled the day prior) which provides the sugars which become alcohol. The sugars are not in the correct form though, so the purpose of the mash is to turn the barley sugars from long chain complex sugars into simple sugars that can be fermented. This happens when the barley is heated with warm water. Chris explains that the mash can be anywhere from 62°C to 72°C, and the process can take around an hour depending on the style of beer. It looks like porridge at that stage.

When that’s done, around 8.30am, they can pump the liquid from the mash into what’s called the lauter tun, where it is separated from the grains and is then referred to as “wort.” It is drained again and pumped into the kettle, where it must spend about 60 to 90 minutes, again depending on style. It will boil in the kettle for a few reasons. The boil stops the enzyme actions, sterilizes the wort, and can concentrate the beer. It also blows off “DMS,” a compound that is made in brewing but smells like corn, which is not ideal in a brew!

This stage is important, and Chris explains that “everything is about consistency. Time. Temperature. Gravity reading. That’s what leads to consistency in beer. You have to measure sugar levels so you don’t extract too much and get tannin, and you can add water if it’s too strong in the kettle and [alcohol levels] will be too high.”

Chris adds his hops, a plant that adds bitterness and flavour to beer, in a few different stages. He explains that doing it that way can “extract some nicer, and better flavours,” but that “every brew house is different and we’re finding what works best for us.” There is a science to it though, and adding at certain temperatures extracts different attributes from the hops.

After the wort is done in the kettle, it goes into the whirlpool, which separates proteins and hops from the beer. This helps with beer stability and clarity in the final product.

Finally, by 1.30pm, things are at a stage where they can be left long enough for the guys to have their first break of the day, eat some lunch, and maybe have a beer, if they’re lucky!

After lunch, it’s time to turn the wort to beer through fermentation. The hot, sterile wort is rapidly cooled through heat exchange plates on its way to the fermentation vessel. The yeast is added, as well as some oxygen. Chris explains that the “yeast consume oxygen and duplicate, and then consume sugars and create heat and CO2.” It’s not as simple as just letting it do its thing either. There are multiple settings Christopher can chose on the fermenter to determine the pressure inside, and how much CO2 to let escape. This has an effect on the ester profile, or the fruity flavours that are produced during beer fermentation. The tanks are also temperature controlled.

Fermentation will commence for 5 to 7 days for Ales, or 12 to 14 for Lagers. Christopher measures the gravity on the Plato scale to determine when it’s done. At that point, it still needs to rest in the fermenter at a warm temperature to allow unwanted flavours in beer to dissipate. After Christopher has tested it and is satisfied, he cools it for 4 or 5 days, which will allow any proteins or yeast remaining to drop to the bottom of the tank.

The beer then goes into tanks in the chiller for another week, and the flavours mellow and blend together. Carbonation can be added in the form of CO2 if needed for that style. Other styles will require bottle conditioning and re-fermentation for the carbonation.

By the end of the 3 to 4 week process, the beer is ready to be bottled, labeled and put in cases, all of which is done by Christopher and Tom at Zeelandt.

So there you have it: a full brew day, and how a refreshing Zeelandt beer is made from start to finish.

Cheers!

The Petane Story; Esk Valley Boutique Wine Producers

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Philip Barber and his wife, Sarah, are the faces behind Petane; however, it’s really a family affair. Philip is the second oldest of 4 boys in a tight knit family who was brought up making wine, and who still choose to work closely together. Philip’s father bought 17 acres of established vineyards in 1979 in the Auckland area of Kumeu, and Philip remembers growing up on the vineyard until 2000. Despite a brief dabbling in flipping houses, having grown up in the industry, Philip never really wanted to do anything else with his life. After high school he got a hospitality job at a bar called Sails, and it was there that he got to see more of the customer facing side of wine; people were buying and enjoying wine and that motivated him. He chose to do his Bob Campbell Wine Diploma, which lead him to learn of a little place called “Hawke’s Bay.”

After completing the diploma, Philip began doing vintages to learn as much as he could in the vineyard and winery. He’s got a variety of experience under his belt, like the three vintages he did in Australia. He worked in the Hunter Valley, and the Barossa Valley, at several wineries, all while living in a van and living his other passion, surfing! He returned to New Zealand to go to Tairawhiti Tech in Gisborne to learn more of the basics about wine. Once done obtaining that diploma, he accepted a vintage job in Carneros, California, making Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cab Sauv under the three year reigning American Winemaker of the year, Paul Hobbs. Philip comments that one of the great things about working there was that “it was a brand new winery; the winery was pristine.” Being a small, boutique winery, it was there that he also learned the importance of focusing on the details. While he was flying back to New Zealand, he accepted a vintage job at Nobilos (now Constellation) close to his family home, which allowed him the contrasting experience of large scale production.

One of my favourite stories about Philip’s vintages is the one when he worked in Germany. He had decided he “didn’t want to work in another factory,” and had come across a job posting at a winery in the Mosel. This place, Selbach-Oster, sounded fabulous to him; it had been running since 1663, and was still in the same family. The only problem was that he needed to be able to speak German to work in the winery. He assured the owner, Johannes Selbach, that he could speak the language by having a German acquaintance write his application letter in German, and figured if he got the job he’d learn the language before going. Sure enough, he got the job and set to trying to learn German! In realizing that the plane ride over wasn’t going to be sufficient time to gain fluency, he had put himself in a bit of a bind. Johannes’ wife picked him up from the airport and spoke only German to him the whole car ride, which Philip describes as very awkward, because she knew he didn’t understand anything she was saying! Luckily, when they showed up at the winery, Johannes turned out to be an understanding guy, who thankfully also spoke English; although he couldn’t employ Philip in the winery as planned, he allowed him to stay on in the vineyard, and later ended up allowing him two weeks in the winery, lack of German fluency aside.

Philip’s brother, Chris, also joined him in Germany to help over vintage, and the two of them used to go across the road to the brew house after work for beers; Johannes made the comment that he wished he could come too, and why didn’t the guys open some of his wine in the cellar and stay at the winery instead? So they did. He would let them pick whatever they wanted to drink. Philip remembers pulling out 1968 Riesling’s and other old vintages and Johannes saying “good choice, let’s open that,” and they did. Philip comments that “you don’t forget stuff like that.”

His experience in Germany turned out to be both educational and fun, but he headed back to New Zealand, this time to Hawke’s Bay, so he could attend EIT in the Wine Science program. He arrived in the Bay in 2006, and keen to continue his serious hobby of surfing, found a great surf spot that happened to be very near to the Esk Valley. Through his travels through the valley, he thought it would be a “cool place to grow grapes.” It so happened that some land became available in the Esk Valley the very next year. As his Dad had sold the Kumeu land in 2000, he was free to invest in the Hawke’s Bay.

Philip found what is now Petane in 2007 at 20 acres, with his Dad, during his second year at EIT. Philip describes his Dad as a visionary. The land was full of bramble, blackberries, wild bush, and some old Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay vines, but his Dad saw the potential in the place. It was also him who recognized the potential to expand when the neighbour’s land went up for sale, and in 2009, Philip and his Dad bought that as well, upping their acreage to 31 altogether. They’ve got almost 5 hectares under vine, with plans to expand to 8. Every original vine is gone; Philip has replanted it all with his Dad, exactly as they wanted it. It was 2011 when they did their first vintage.

Some may find working with family challenging, but Philip explains that the Barber boys are all close, and they all admire and respect their father. They are happy to work together and have learned how to overcome their differences because family is very important. It’s still a family operation with Philip’s dad sharing in ownership of the vineyard, and if you head out to Petane, you’ll also notice that the Zeelandt Brewery is on site. Zeelandt belongs to Chris, Philip’s youngest brother.

Even though Petane had officially started being built up, Philip continued through to complete his Wine Science and Viticulture degree. He also worked at Sacred Hill and Askerne, all while in school. He was among the few EIT students to already own his own vineyard while taking his degree!

Once the wine was being produced, naturally a name and a label were needed. Petane used to be called “Petane Station,” after what that area of Hawke’s Bay was originally called; there had been confusion with another region North of Wellington called Petone, and mail was being sent to the wrong places, so local officials ended up changing the area’s name to Eskdale and Bayview. There used to be a sheep station right on their land, so they had chosen the name to honour the history of the land, and have chosen to clean it up with the single word you see on their labels now, “Petane.”

As for the label, Philip went to Tank, a marketing office in Napier, to get something designed and was introduced to his new graphic designer. Philip remembers being “amazed by this beautiful woman” called Sarah, who later became his wife. Petane literally brought them together. Sarah now raises the kids, and does all of Petane’s graphic design and administration. She’s hand painted every label from day one, first as a contractor, and now as part of the family. She says she “knew nothing about wines or him” when she did that first label, but “this final one is a better representation of who we are.”

Philip is no stranger to hard work. He says about wine that unlike how many view it, it’s “not mystical, it’s just a lot of hard work. It’s cool to be in, but not mystical.” What is it that gets the job done? “It’s the grind, really.” He can identify with the mystical view though, and has experienced that draw when “reading about the growers and seeing the photos,” but being raised in the Kumeu River Valley, “where it wasn’t ideal growing … hard soil, vigorous, [with] huge canopy and weeds,” Philip was raised with the notion that you must work hard in the vineyard.

The main challenges Philip faces these days revolve around creating a balance between running the vineyard and raising his young family. With Sarah, his young son, James, and brand new baby girl, Ella, he can’t be out in the vineyard until dark every night anymore. He has to find new ways to spread his time between work and family, and the vineyard takes a lot of time. His typical day involves a balance between fathering and maintaining the vineyard with Helen, his “vineyard genius,” who helps him a few days a week. He quips that he also spends a lot of time “fixing stuff that breaks!” He admits “the work is endless,” but explains that he really enjoys it. “I wouldn’t do it otherwise,” he says. He also finds a lot of enjoyment from taking James around and seeing his son’s interest in what Daddy’s working on. He has learned to “enjoy nature and look outside.” He says not to “just rely on weather forecasts but look; be aware of other interactions with what’s happening out there, and don’t stress too much because you can’t control the weather, so don’t worry about it.” As far as making the wine, Philip is fully qualified and involved, yet likes the collaboration of ideas; he chooses to have Hayden Penny consult as well.

For Sarah, the main challenge is “selling and promoting. When you’re small you have to do most of it yourself. For small producers it’s costly, to afford it. Marketing costs are the same for small producers as for large producers per hour or month.” They also face a challenge that seems to be industry wide. “[We] just wish it wasn’t such a race to the bottom with prices, with what Supermarkets have done to the industry. As a kid, [wine was sold] only in bottle shops. Supermarkets have made it cut throat.” They also used to be able to travel more to promote their wines, but with a young family now, things are different. The Esk Valley also doesn’t get as many tourists coming through as other sub-regions in Hawke’s Bay, but the Barber brothers have a plan to make their site a spot to be.

They’re currently in plans to build a Beer Garden and Cellar Door. It will be a beautiful outdoor space where people can come with friends or the family to relax and enjoy gorgeous Hawke’s Bay weather. The Beer Garden will be appealing to a wide range of people, because both Zeelandt beer and Petane wines will be available, making it a great hang out spot for beer and wine enthusiasts alike. It is due to open summer of 2020/2021.

Among Philip’s many vintages was half a year at Millton in Gisborne; it was there, from James, that he gained an interest in organic and biodynamic vineyards. The goal is for Petane to eventually become organic. They are taking steps towards this process already. He doesn’t use herbicides as to not affect the natural ecosystems in the vineyard. He loves the wildlife in the vineyard, like the Hawks, Falcons, Pukeko, Wild Turkeys, and Hares to name a few. He also says he’ll “never go back” to herbicides because he didn’t like them from the start. “You spray it on and feel itchy after and your family is running around… I like it more wild! You get better fruit and smaller bunches and more intense flavour.” He also uses dry farming, so doesn’t irrigate.

He does under-vine mowing, but allows some grass to grow, as it helps reduce water uptake by the vines, especially during heavy rain events. He also has a strict “no-machine harvester” policy. Every harvest is done by hand in his vineyard, as Philip says “machines carry viruses” when they’re coming from other vineyards.

Another thing you’ll notice about Petane wines is that they’re all single vineyard. History and sense of place are extremely important to Philip. He says his wine “has to be single vineyard. It speaks of the specific terroir,” and he learned that from Hobbs. He “wants to make the best wine possible, and the best wine possible is coming from one vineyard.” He uses significant names to represent the plots as well, and sticks to history and the true story of the place for each. For example, their “Hau Hau Block” is named after an event that happened on that land in the 1800’s. “Hau Hau” is Maori for “war party,” and there is still a memorial that honours the fight that occurred there. Philip believes it is “quite spiritual,” and the way he communicates about the history of his land demonstrates just how passionate he is about not only honouring the terroir now, but keeping in mind the significant past that came before. The “Puriri Block” is named after the trees that line the block, which Philip loves because they bring in lots of native birds.

As for what Petane produces, customers will find Pinot Gris, of which the 2018 vintage won Gold at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Awards, and the 2015 took the Trophy. Petane does Chardonnay as well as Gewurtztraminer, which Philip is a fan of ever since trying a spectacular Gewurtz from Rippon in 2000. He doesn’t have reds on site but does get some grapes from the Bridge Pa to make Syrah and Merlot Franc. He does Viognier as well, and even though it’s a harder sell in Hawke’s Bay, it is a special varietal to Philip for a couple of reasons. James Millton grew it, and he is one of Philip’s heroes. Viognier was the first vines Philip planted with his Dad, and it’s also got an an underdog story. Philip regaled me with how at one time, Viognier was almost extinct, and someone took it from 12 hectares and replanted it, to save it from being lost forever. Philip has 4 barrels of it for 2019, and uses special immersion barrels made for Viognier production. He’s also insistent on not bottling until it’s ready, no matter how long he has to wait.

The most interesting wine I find Petane to do though, is the Edelzwicker. “Edelzwicker” dates back to the 1600’s in Alsace, and means “noble blend.” Philip loves it because it’s different. He had heard of the style 4 years prior to making it and wrote the name on a small scrap paper. That paper ended up getting lost in his sock drawer for 4 years, and one day he dug it up and thought, “nobody has done it. Let’s do it!” And so he did! He describes making it as “very exciting,” and wants to do another one. He’s thinking of adding a late harvest, or noble version to the Petane collection.

He works hard to promote the Edelzwicker, and says “let’s get the word out.” He is very passionate about this wine, and about making it true to the name. To be a traditional Edelzwicker, all of the grapes have to be white, picked on same day, and must be from the same vineyard. The point is that the wine represents the vineyard and that vintage specifically. They don’t need to have colour but in New Zealand, some do. Philip loves rose, so he left his on skins for a week; he describes it as “floral and beautiful.” I would encourage you to try a bottle if you’re up for something refreshing and unique. The longer I sat with Philip I could see how much he loves to be different than the other producers around him. Even his business cards are printed vertically. It’s producers like Philip, who aren’t afraid to be themselves, yet still balance out their practice to honour tradition, that add uniqueness and interest to the industry, and who are making some really special wines.

Philip comments that “wine got boring for a while. It was all same same. What we are about, is when you pick it up, I want people to know what it is. Know the variety by the smell or taste. Don’t filter or fine beyond belief. Nobody should have to tell you what it is.” He believes people should know “where it’s from,” and it should be “made by people who love what they’re doing.”

And Philip does love what he’s doing! Despite the challenges that inevitably come with any career, Philip says about running Petane, that it’s a “great industry” and “totally worth it.” He finds joy in caring for the vineyard, and “seeing it looking really good.” He also is satisfied in seeing his wine be bottled and knowing the year’s cycle has completed once again. Sarah says about Philip that “he’s super passionate about making really good wine, from our property. He’s in it for that, not the money.” Sarah mentioned when she came into the industry, she “thought it was snobby but the people that work in it are down to earth and love wine passionately. Everyone knows you don’t know everything. It’s not like that at all.” They’re grateful for the flexibility to work around their family, and to live on a beautiful property.

Philip has learned over the years to “be very humble and happy when anyone buys wine, because they don’t have to.” He has also learned what he can’t control. He tells of a time “in the early days when I was naive” and “had lots of stress.” He’s learned now that he can’t “know everything,” and is “always learning.” He has realized, “stuff happens. Try and do your best. Don’t stress, and enjoy life.”

To find Petane wines, head out to Zeelandt Brewery Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm or Saturdays 12.00pm to 4.00pm. Additional hours are available over the summer holidays.

You can also find them at The Common Room, Liquor King Onekawa, Indigo, Three Wise Birds, Bareknuckle BBQ and a few other places in Hawke’s Bay, Invisible Wines in Wellington, or JG Wines and Drinks and in Auckland. To order, book a private group tasting or to find out more places to purchase, visit http://www.petanewines.co.nz or contact through Instagram @petanewines.

Follow on Instagram to stay in the know for the opening of the new Zeelandt Beer Garden and Petane Cellar Door, scheduled for next summer.

2019 Lessons; What This Year Living Abroad Has Taught Me

We’ve lived abroad for the calendar year of 2019 and have recently returned from our first visit back to Canada. Through the trip back, I found my suspicions were confirmed. I’m the same in some ways, but I’ve really changed in others. This move has given me so many invaluable lessons, and I would easily recommend a year abroad to everyone at some point in their lives. In the spirit of entering 2020, here are 20 lessons I’ve learned this last year, addressed to myself, that I hope not to forget.

1. Remember the value of a dollar. If you work hard, you can be successful, even if you don’t make that much. Every dollar matters, so don’t waste them.

2. The biggest risks can bring the biggest rewards. On the flip side of that, not everything you try works out, but keep trying until you find a way.

3. Include and welcome people. Don’t ever forget how much it’s meant to you to be included and welcomed in so many groups and families this year. Pay it forward for the rest of your life because you never know how much you can impact someone by letting them in.

4. Be who you are no matter what others think. It’s easier said than done, but the relationships that come to you when you’re not afraid to be yourself are the best kinds of friendships.

5. Family is important, and there’s nobody quite like them. You can like them or not, and they can feel the same about you, but they’re your family. When push comes to shove, they matter in a way that can’t be replicated.

6. Take risks. Make mistakes. Learn the hard way if you have to. Experience life and chose the path you want to go down. You can always change direction later. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Lots of times they’re worth it, and for the ones that aren’t, at least you know.

7. Every place has things about it that you’ll like and things that you won’t. Nowhere is perfect, and there are compromises to make in any environment. You just have to choose which ones you’re willing to make.

8. True friendships will stand the test of time. You’ll pick up right where you left off, and it’ll be like not a day’s gone by.

9. Saying goodbye is hard, and you cry, but that’s because you love those people dearly. Having people in your life that love you too, and miss you enough to cry over your departure is something of incredible value.

10. The topic of money is a sensitive one for many people, and everyone has opinions on how you should use it. When it comes to money and relationships, it will sure show you a lot about who people are.

11. People are going to judge you and gossip about you no matter where you live in the world. It says more about who they are as people than who you are.

12. Not everyone you thought was a friend for life is. But that’s okay.

13. The world is really big, but really small at the same time!

14. Anything you thought was pure truth about the world, or people, or life, can be challenged. If you’re willing to be open minded and listen, you’ll learn of other perspectives that can add a lot of value to your life.

15. Choose to be content and happy where you are in the moment. Soak the moments in! They won’t last forever. Celebrate everything good!

16. Appreciate those around you. Show them you appreciate them.

17. Life isn’t guaranteed. Go for your dreams now and don’t let anyone “should” on you, or tell you you’re too old or too anything. You only get one life.

18. Life still has hard parts, even when you’re living a dream being realized. There’s always room to learn and grow, and to make new dreams.

19. Everyone has a story, and everyone has struggles. Nobody’s life is perfect, no matter how it seems.

20. God is taking care of you more than you’ve ever known. Trust. That’s another one that’s easier said than done, but keep trusting in God, and the whole process.

Cheers to 2020, and Happy New Year!

My First Ever Visit to My Hometown

I don’t know if Saskatoon, Saskatchewan will be my home again. But it will always be my hometown. Canada will always be my nation.

They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and it’s so true.

There are things about living in Saskatchewan that I don’t like. It’s not as warm or mountainous as New Zealand. Stuff is dead most of the year and it’s so dry my hair feels like hay and my hands bleed. It’s not lush and green, and there is no ocean. But in being away and coming back, I was able to see Saskatchewan from a new perspective.

A little distance, and living life in a different way, has allowed me to recognize some of the things that I took for granted about Saskatchewan, and Canada. A lot of them are little things, but in coming back, I appreciated them. Funny things we say. Real Starbucks. Real Ketchup. (Sorry Kiwis, it’s not the same). Walmart. Stuff being open on evenings and weekends. The fact that I can get a plastic bag at the grocery store if I forgot mine, and nobody scolds me for throwing my Starbucks cup in the trash (well, less people do anyways). But mostly, seeing our people! Our family is there. Our oldest friends are there.

There may be a lot of things I like more about living in New Zealand, but I’ve been able to appreciate Saskatchewan for what it does have, rather than only recognizing what it lacks. I have compared Saskatchewan to many other places in the world; although lots of those places are arguably more beautiful, I can choose to see the beauty that Saskatchewan has to me, because it’s got a place in my heart. It’s where my roots are. I have so many good memories of amazing summers at the lake, or camping in the forest, or visiting my family on the farm. Saskatchewan summers are awesome. There is beauty in a long expanse of wide open space, where you can see for miles with nothing to obstruct your view of the ever changing sky. I hate winter. It’s cold. I can’t feel my face. Or my feet. But winter feels like Christmas. Cold, dark, white Christmases are what us SK kids grew up with; that’s our tradition.

If I end up living in Saskatchewan again, I hope I can remember what it was like to live somewhere else, and recognize the things I can experience there that are only there – the things that are true Saskatchewan.

Living in abroad has also fostered my stronger personal pride in being Canadian. Canada is an amazing country. We have some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole world within our borders. We, as a nation, are actually incredibly polite! We have access to so many amenities and resources that I didn’t always take time to be grateful for when I lived there.

Having lived in Canada for 30 years, and being within the cultural majority and associating mostly with Canadians, I didn’t pay much thought to what the things are that define us as Canadians. Being away, and in a job where I’m interacting with people from all over the world every day, has helped me recognize some things that make us unique.

We DO have an accent and it’s thick. I used to think Canadians had the purest form of speech and the rest of the world had accents, but I roll my eyes and laugh at my ignorance now! We do make the best ice wine and maple syrup ever though. We have delicious steak, and we will BBQ it in -30°C (as long as the propane tank’s warm enough to get the BBQ going). We have Thanksgiving in October and pumpkin pie, and we eat turkey at Christmas. We have a lot of Moose, Bear and Beaver memorabilia. We have the RCMP Mounties. Hockey is a way of life. We’re the biggest and most loyal fans of our Lacrosse and Football teams too. There are Tim Horton’s coffee shops everywhere. We DO say “eh,” although most of us do NOT say “aboot” (I have to correct people on that one – that’s out East). We love big trucks – real trucks that are fricken huge and make us feel like kings of the road. We say “sorry” a lot, but it’s cause we’re polite and who doesn’t like someone that’s not afraid to apologize or let you go first? We’re a little red neck sometimes and we’re okay with it. Most of us own plaid. We actually call our money “loonies” and “toonies.” We’ll tell you to “have a good one,” cause we’re friendly. We’ll welcome you in, because we’re Canadian, and proud of it.

I’ve just visited after being away for over a year, and as I leave this time around, I find I have a newfound feeling of warmth and fondness towards the place. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada may not always be my home, (and I don’t know that I want it to be yet) but it’ll always be my hometown.

It’s where I’ve come from, it’s part of my identity, and I’m thankful for it.

Until next time, Saskatoon!

Wines by Jenny Dobson; The Story of a Legendary Wine Producer

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Jenny Dobson: winemaker, boutique wine producer, icon in the New Zealand wine industry. When I had the chance to sit down with her to hear and write her story, I was honoured, to say the least.

Jenny, a born and raised Kiwi, grew up in a time where licensed restaurants were rare in New Zealand. The wine industry was basically non-existent. Her father was English, and for her parents, wine was a regular part of any meal; they drank it, and shared it with the children as per their cultural norms. Although they chose wine mostly from South Africa and France, Jenny’s father had a special love for Chateauneuf du Pape. Jenny remembers adding McDonald wines to their table when they began gaining popularity in the 70’s.

Even as a child, Jenny had a fascination with aromas, and most of her memories are linked through scent. She can vividly remember the smell of the Rosemary bush and the Lily of the Valley at her childhood homes, along with a fascination with the diversity of smells and flavours in wines; she wanted to discover the underlying reasoning for this. She is scientific by nature, so she entered a Science programme in University, but couldn’t envision herself inside a lab full time and wanted to be part of nature. She discovered that working in wine could provide that.

Vineyard at Harvest time in 1989 – Chateau Sénéjac

With the Wine Science degree not yet established, she transferred to Food Science, where she took a course on sensory observation; she realizes now how “invaluable” that course was to her “understanding of taste and the importance” of it. With a professor passionate about wine, Jenny was able to focus her schoolwork in that direction. As an independent learner, she spent her personal time reading every book, article and study she could get her hands on about tasting or making wine. There is a book shelf in every room of her house, full of wine books, that she graciously offered to lend to me! It was at the end of her 3rd year in University, after all of her school-driven and personal research, that she knew wine was her passion, and she says “if you don’t have passion you could not work in the industry.” 

Jenny in the old cellar at Chateau Sénéjac in 1986, 6 months pregnant

She’s always excelled at science and maths, and used to think she “had no artistic bones,” but her opinion has changed.

“Fine winemaking is art. So many of the decisions are felt. They’re a sense of what is going to be right. [Winemaking] so deftly combines science and art…You need scientific rigour but artistic license and openness of thinking to push boundaries. I love the fact that wine can not be made to a chemical formula.”

As soon as she graduated, she travelled to France, motivated to learn from some of the “best and oldest” winemakers in the world. She says she was “very naive” in her move there, but was “lucky enough to get a job at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy.”

Her job at Domaine Dujac involved her living with the family, and doing everything from “babysitting, cleaning, vineyard work, cellar work,” to eating and drinking with the family. She realizes how fortunate she was to be able to “drink so widely with Jacques and Roz,” and she explains the rarity of his wine collection.

“I had a glorious introduction to wine. In most wine producing areas in France in those days you only drank the area you were in. You wouldn’t find anything else in the Supermarket. Because Jacques’s Dad was Parisian, he had started a cellar for Jacques when he was young including wines from around Europe; Jacques added to it with wines from the new world, so I had the pleasure of drinking and getting to know fine Burgundy, but also wines from around the world.”

Bottling Blanc de Sénéjac in 1988

Jenny attributes much of her wine making philosophy back to the time she worked at Domaine Dujac. From Jacques she learned the value of “reflecting vineyard vintage variety,” and that “wine is made for people to enjoy.” She also learned that she values “integrity and authenticity” in her winemaking. “It’s working hard at every stage, especially in the vineyard, not tweaking at the end,” and if you drink Jenny’s wine, you can be sure she’s taken pride in it’s authenticity at every stage.

After working at Domaine Dujac, Jenny moved to Paris to work with the famed Steven Spurrier, who started a very controversial wine school. If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’ll know his name. Steven Spurrier organized the iconic and history-making Paris Tasting in 1976, in which the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from Napa Valley won the blind tasting, to everyone’s shock, putting California on the wine map. He was instrumental in beginning to bring Californian wines into France in the 70’s. Jenny comments about Steven that he had a similar philosophy to Jacques, in that the “diversity of wine is the beauty of wine. Every bottle, every property is different.”

Jenny began working with him in 1981, and her role was enough to make any wine lover jealous! She explained that after the historical 1976 Paris Tasting, winemakers from all over the world wanted to be featured in Steven’s shop. She was part of the selection process; she tasted applicant’s wines, and helped chose those lucky few that would be fortunate enough to grace Steven’s shelves. She also worked in his wine school, and gave 2 hour courses on French wine, appropriate cheese pairings, and French regions and helped organize and participated in many tutored tastings run by L’Académie du Vin.

In Paris, Jenny expanded her world palate, had one of the best jobs any wine lover could ask for, and on top of that, met Charles, the English grandson of a wine merchant with offices in London and Bordeaux, and the love of her life. Before you think it was all sunshine and roses though, imagine her living in a flat on the 6th floor in the building’s roof, with no toilet, in which she could literally touch both walls at once with arms stretched. The toilet was on the 4th floor and was a squat toilet. There was no lift. She jokes about a huge upgrade from that place when she moved to her second flat with a toilet and a bedroom! Despite the quirky places she called home, Jenny says with fondness, “I loved living in Paris.”

Vineyard, Autumn 1988

She did miss winemaking though, so she moved to Bordeaux and got a vintage job in Graves at Chateau Rahoul, which was part owned by an Australian man and wine industry icon, Len Evens. This also happened to be in 1982, one of the most iconic vintages in Bordeaux’s history.

One evening, she went along to a magazine wine tasting, and as Charlie was in the merchant business, he was there. They met casually; she went back to Chateau Rahoul to finish her vintage job, but then moved back to Paris. She was at a wine bar one evening, when she met the owner of Chateau Sénéjac, who offered her a cellar hand job in Bordeaux. She moved again, back to Bordeaux, in Steven Spurrier’s delivery van of all things! The day she arrived in Bordeaux, she was out for lunch, and there was Charlie, at the same restaurant. Eventually they found themselves in the same social circles, and “the rest is history,” as Jenny says. They were married in 1984.

Jenny, Charles and their children in 2000 – New Zealand.

Charlie being a wine merchant has contributed to Jenny’s diverse palate. She explained how the businesses operated at that time. Bordeaux Negociants, wine merchants, would buy wine “en primeur” from the properties (Chateaux) around 6 to 8 months after harvest. The wine was then sold at a later date, sometimes before and sometimes after bottling to other merchants in and outside of Bordeaux and to private clients. This pre-purchase of wine by the Bordeaux merchants helped shoulder the cost of production for the Chateaux. The Chateaux would present barrel samples to the merchants for tasting and Charlie would bring them home at the end of the day for Jenny to evaluate as well. Jenny commented that “in retrospect, that was a huge advantage” for her, because she “got to taste the finest Bordeaux wines when young and also drink them when mature. It gave [her] a benchmark for the young wines she had in barrel at Chateau Sénéjac.”

Vineyard in Winter, 1984/85

She has also made 13 vintages of Bordeaux, and because she stayed all year long, she gained knowledge of the vineyards, what to do in the cellar, and onwards; she saw the entire process. She learned “the effects of ferments on the wine in bottle, 2 years later, 3 years later, and how the vineyard choices translated into the wine.” She realizes that is something else that has helped develop her skill in winemaking; she “had a vision of where the wine was going in years and years of time.”

We discussed not only making wine, but what it’s made for. Jenny believes that wine is made to be consumed and enjoyed, and that the industry today is pushing towards simply selling an alcoholic beverage, rather than appreciating an art form, as it was meant to be. “It’s made to sell product for people to drink and get drunk rather than educating them about wine so that it’s looked more so as an art form than a beverage.”

She shares how they had “wine every day” in France. There was “no such thing as a non-wine day. Sometimes we finished the bottle, sometimes we didn’t. It depends on your attitude. We always looked on wine with pleasure and enjoyment, not as a guilty sin… If it’s always there, there’s no compulsion.”

Jenny explains what the enjoyment of wine brings to her. “I drink wine for it’s diversity. For it’s intellectual stimulation. For it’s flavour and taste.” She explained it so beautifully, and I couldn’t help but completely agree.

Jenny and a friend, Norma, tasting Pinotage at Te Awa in 2000 – Hawke’s Bay

“It’s like music or painting, or any form of art. If you just have background music, anything can be there. If you’re actually listening and understanding then you have a greater appreciation.

Jenny believes “the more people know about wine and get excited about it, there will be less mass consumption.” These are the kinds of palates she is mindful of in her work.

Jenny and Charlie had their 3 children while in Bordeaux, but eventually decided to move to Jenny’s home country, New Zealand. When I asked why she chose Hawke’s Bay, she answered that it seemed the “logical place” because “you can ripen the Bordeaux grape varieties” that she was used to working with. She had also done a vintage in Western Australia, where she gained experience with Chardonnay and Syrah, also key varietals in Hawke’s Bay. She and Charlie visited every single wine region in the country before making their final decision, just to be sure!

When she first arrived in the Bay, Jenny began working as a wine consultant, but found it to be “isolating.” She noticed she was only getting to be involved when things went wrong with wine, and customers needed her to fix it. A job came open at Te Awa Farm, and Jenny spent a “glorious” 12 years as the winemaker there. She got to really know the vineyards and the wines; when it went through a change of ownership, she decided to move on. The consultancy she does now is hands on. (Jenny had been racking barrels all day before her interview with me.)

Jenny with a press in the new winery in 1987

New winery, 1987

With Jenny’s experience and clear appreciation of the artistic side of wine, I was curious why it took her until now to start her own label. First, Jenny believes wine starts in the vineyard, so she wasn’t ready to do something for herself if she had to be buying fruit. She has her own now, that she fell upon quite interestingly. She had a client in 2009 that had some land on Ngatarawa Road, and asked her what he should plant. She had been reading studies about the Italian grape, Fiano, and thought it would be great for the Bay, as it was interesting, and had good acitity. It was a “throw-away comment,” as she describes it, but she told him to plant Fiano. She came back a year later, and he had planted it, and said to her, “well, are you going to make it?”

She made the first Fiano in 2013 for her client, and again in 2014. The plan was for her to continue making it for him, but due to personal reasons in 2015, he asked if Jenny wanted to take it over. She agreed, and made a small batch of the first Jenny Dobson Fiano. In 2016, she realized, “it was more wine than I could drink myself!” She released it to the public in 2017. Another reason she hadn’t started her label sooner was simply because she “was getting enough enjoyment out of helping other people make their own wines,” but she has realized, “if I don’t do this now I will never do it.”

Jenny’s Fiano

In 2018, she was inspired to add a red wine to her label, but wanted a unique one. She began exploring Hawke’s Bay Merlot with the aim to give it the “appeal that people like about Pinot Noir,” like “fragrance [and] texture but lightness and freshness in the mouth.”

As she works as the winemaker for William Murdoch Wines, and adores the character of their organic vineyard, she bought some fruit from them. She wild fermented it in oak, with whole bunch Malbec and Cab Franc “for texture and fragrance.” She explains that she “didn’t know what was going to happen” and that she was “being guided by the wine.” She basket pressed it and aged it in barrel, taking it out 18 months later in mid-September. Her red wine will be called “Doris” after her grandmother; Doris was “formidable, way ahead of her time, had vision, [and] didn’t follow any conventions.” Jenny’s favorite memory of her is her purple hair, so watch for that on the label. For the wine to represent its unconventional style, Jenny is also putting it in a Burgundy bottle, not a Bordeaux bottle, like other Merlots. She doesn’t want people to “taste it as a Merlot,” but rather “a red wine.” Doris is being bottled in October, and will likely be released next Autumn, “based on how she looks.” Jenny has carried on with Doris in this past 2019 vintage, and has some ideas to expand her label in 2020. She describes her current production as “tiny” at 80 cases or less of Fiano.

Because Jenny is always reading and learning, the 2019 Fiano has some new elements in the winemaking. She had read a study about Fiano that claimed that the skins have a compound in them that can contribute additional flavours, and that soaking some skins in the juice could enhance the character of the wine. Jenny did a 4 L trial tank to test out that theory. She bottled off a small amount of the trial tank for future testing to determine what she wants to do for the 2020 vintage. She says, “even with tiny amounts, you have to always be open minded and thinking of what you can do. Can I make a better wine? A different wine?”

When I asked Jenny out of all the wines she’s made, which she’s most proud of, she answered, “all of them!” She said they’re “like my children.” Some of her favorites are from the “difficult vintages, where you come out with something so good. It’s not the standout best in a line-up, but it’s best because you know the elements and Mother Nature were against you, but you’ve worked with it to produce something so good; it makes you feel really satisfied.”

Jenny’s story is amazing, but it’s not without challenges, many of which have been related to her gender. She says that being a woman is “an extra challenge that men don’t have to factor in.” When she was working in France in the 80’s, there were “signs outside cellars saying women weren’t allowed to enter the cellar.” They had “funny ideas” like the fact that “women had funny acids in their body that turned wine to vinegar, or if a woman had her period and came into the cellar the wine would re-ferment every month.”

Jenny was the first female maitre de chai in the Medoc; being a history maker leaves an incredible legacy, but it’s never easy. “It was a male dominated business” and people wondered how women would be able to manage the home, a family, and a career in wine. “Women were shut out because the industry people knew it was all encompassing.” When she did eventually have her children, she took a few days off, and was then right back into the work. She breast fed in the vineyard, with her baby strapped to her chest. She was bottling (not milk – wine) 3 days after giving birth. She lived on site, and the kids grew up around the vineyard and the winery. She successfully accomplished being a wife, mother and a winemaker. She had to overcome being the only woman making wine in the Medoc, but she did it. How? “My wines spoke for themselves.” She proved herself to the French people. She truly is a legend.

Winemaking is also a very physically demanding job. Jenny admits that she’s tired at the end of the day, but also points out that “so is a man working in a cellar.” There are different challenges for women today than when she began her career, yet she is confident we are moving in the right direction and knows that “a woman starting today will not face the same challenges” that she had to. “It was all men but me,” Jenny says. It’s “a lot closer to equal now; we are growing up with women and men in it together now.”

She doesn’t want to be known as a “woman winemaker.” She just wants to be known as a “winemaker,” like anyone else. She makes it clear that she doesn’t think “women or men are better winemakers. There are people that are better winemakers” than other people. She is also clear to point out that she knows it’s not all men that discriminate. “There are people that discriminate, not just men.”

With her current label, there are the challenges of selling the wine. Jenny has thought to herself, “[consider] the amount of money I make on each bottle – am I crazy? Why am I doing this?” She is doing it because she is creating “wines of distinction and individuality.” This also makes them “a bit harder to sell,” especially in the small Hawke’s Bay.

When I asked Jenny if she thinks it’s worth all the challenges, she gave a resounding, “yes! I wouldn’t be starting my own label so late in life if I didn’t!”

2019 was her 40th vintage.

Patsy the Rose is coming soon too! Patsy is named after her Aunt, and unlike most Hawke’s Bay rosés, it will be Cabernet Franc dominant. Being let in on Jenny’s thought process as she described how she wants to make Patsy was very intriguing to me. Here I was, sitting with the Medoc’s first female winemaker, who selected wines for Steven Spurier’s shop, who has 40 years of experience, and she was debating back and forth on what she should do, or might do, still undecided, still exploring ideas. I commented on this, and she responded by saying that it’s important to always be willing to experiment and learn because no one can ever just know what’s coming for any vintage or any wine. Greg had made a Cab Franc Rose in 2019, so he and Jenny discussed some ideas for the next vintage. It was surreal to listen to that conversation.

Doris Merlot grapes

Jenny at Chateau Sénéjac
Emma in the vines at Franklin Estate, 1995
Chris at age 1 in the cellar
Richard finishing breakfast while the bottling truck sets up, 1992
Jenny with son, Chris, 1988
Family labeling in 1992

Jenny, 1991

Jenny has learned some beautiful lessons in her career as a winemaker that I feel can reach beyond the wine industry to inspire; I have left them in her words.

“It’s all learning. You continue learning. There was a stage when I was looking for perfection in wine. Perfection’s boring. If everything’s perfect, it’s boring. You’re striving for perfection but the goal posts keep moving.”

“The best tool a winemaker has is the palatte. You have to keep it diverse. Natural wines challenge your palette. Things that challenge are the extremes that move the middle.”

“Recipe wine making has its place, but is one of the worst things. There’s so much unknown about wine that when you formulate a recipe you can only make good wine. You can’t make great wine.”

“You can not make a wine that will please everyone or else you’re making Coca Cola. You have to be okay with some people not liking your wine, but for everyone that doesn’t like it, there will be someone that does.”

Are you that someone?

To find out, you can purchase Wines by Jenny Dobson via mail order, through Boutique Connection, @boutiqueconnection or her Instagram @jenny_dobson_wines. Several establishments stock her wines, like Liquor King, Urban Winery, restaurants around Hawkes Bay and Wellington, Regional Wines and Spirits in Wellington, Vino Fino in Christchurch, and soon, the Auckland market.

Cheers to Jenny for following her passions, making history, sharing her story and for making interesting and authentic wines of quality; cheers to you as you enjoy them!

Remember that Time we got Evicted because we Sold our Chickens?

“WTF?,” “you can’t be serious,” and “wait, you’re joking, right?” are among a few of the reactions we’ve gotten when we tell this crazy story that is all too true. “I’m still processing this,” “it’s so unjust,” and “you should put some cooked chickens on your landlady’s doorstep with the chickens’ names on them; that’ll show her,” have been pretty popular responses as well.

So how did this happen?

Well, we’re still trying to figure that out ourselves, but it’s been pretty chicken ridiculous if you ask me. (Get ready for dozens of egg-selant chicken puns.)

It all started before we got the chickens, so I can’t blame this entirely on them, but they definitely became the catalyst for us flying the coop on that place.

Our previous landlord, God bless her, is an elderly lady who lives alone, and has many passions, like American politics, Canadian politics, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, making face cream in the kitchen, teaching science, investigating conspiracy theories . . . and animals. Boy does she love ’em. She even feeds the seagulls bread every day, so while living there, we constantly heard the pitter-patter of them on our roof.

She was very helpful, and quick to respond when anything broke, or mail showed up, which we so appreciated, however, her perceived helpfulness was actually becoming invasive to us. We had begun having issues with her coming over whenever she wanted. She had figured out that if she came to our back doors (floor to ceiling glass) instead of our front door, that she could peer in, with hands next to her eyes, nose pressed to the glass, to see if we were home; once seen, we were then obligated to answer when she knocked and waited there, staring at us.

(Don’t worry, many friends suggested that Greg start being naked all the time, so we had considered that option too.)

One winter day when I was off work sick, in my pajamas, likely with a Kleenex hanging out of my nose, she came over five times. Five times, there she was, peering in the windows, wanting to talk about various things. I had communicated several times that I was sick, and trying to rest, but to no avail.

By the end of the day, Greg arrived home to find me in tears, and we decided we needed to have a conversation. For those of you that know Greg, he is the nicest, most least confrontational person I know, so you can imagine how kind and gentle the conversation went. He even gave her the old “shit sandwich,” and started and ended with positives, listing things we appreciated about her, but just asked for some privacy. Greg said she responded really well at the time . . .

She avoided us for a week.

Greg and I discussed the possibility of being evicted then, but she eventually began speaking to us in the driveway, and things seemed normal.

Fast forward to Greg deciding he wants chickens. Our landlady was all for it, and very hen-thusiastic! We got Jean and Loreen, who we lovingly named after our mothers.

As many of you witnessed in the videos, having Jean and Loreen was a learning curve to say the least, but we winged it, and eventually started enjoying the eggs, and they paid for themselves quite quickly.

They kept egg-scaping though, and we couldn’t crack the mystery.

At first, we thought the coop must just be loose, and Greg fixed it here, and tightened it there. Still, we would come home to the chickens out, and to a yard and patio area full of 💩 . Having chickens wasn’t all it was cracked up to be!

Well here, the plot chickens! We finally caught our landlady’s neighbour friend (also a single, senior, lover of animals) in our backyard, feeding them scraps and letting them out!

Not wanting to be chickens ourselves, conversation two happened shortly thereafter; Greg politely asked our landlady to please stay out of our backyard, and to have her friend also stay out; he egg-splained that we didn’t want others feeding them, and that we also didn’t want them let out. Their coop was more than twice the standard size, and a very luxurious home for them, and we wanted the backyard free of 💩 . Is walking to your clothes line in bare feet without stepping in 🐓 💩 really too much to ask? Or is having a 🐓 💩 free wine night on the patio with friends unreasonable? I should think not.

She kindly agreed to this, but we shouldn’t have counted our chickens before they’d hatched.

Still, Greg would find that the coop was being damaged every day, and there was a lot of 💩 in our backyard.

Not only that, but the chickens had started pacing by the fence and squawking every morning on the weekends, wanting to be let out, and waking us up! Now that’s not an alarm cluck we want on Saturday mornings! We couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t formed the habit of being in their coop by then; they were in there all day every day, so they should be used to it… right?

One day, I popped home in the middle of the day, and caught our landlady in our yard, with the chickens roaming free, feeding them out of a little dish. Boy, did she scramble!

Greg hatched a plan; he started setting a small item inside our fence that would move un-noticed if our gate had been opened. Sure as a chicken lays an egg, that gate was being opened daily.

She was letting them out after we left for work, and making sure to put them back before we returned. She had even purchased her own feed, that she was hiding in her house, and using to feed them while we were away.

Greg popped home two more days in the middle of the day, and found the chickens out both times. She was caught red handed! When he asked her about it, she made up egg-scuses; talk is cheep after all.

Greg doesn’t get his feathers ruffled by much, but he was over all this fowl-play. She was blatantly disrespecting us, and actually in repeated violation of several parts of the Tenancy Act.

Greg’s no spring chicken and knew from past experience that talking to her would obviously not work; he decided having the chooks was no longer worth it. They went up for sale on Trademe that Monday.

We sold them Wednesday evening.

Friday morning we got a text saying we were being evicted due to “family reasons,” which allowed her to kick us out in half the time. Well 💩, what a mother clucker of a problem for us!

We knew it was about the chickens, but had no proof. We were shocked, and moving isn’t something we planned to do, but we quickly realized we would be better off without her egging us on all the time, and decided to look at it as a blessing.

We sent her a message asking if we could use her as a reference for our new place, and that’s when she egg-sploded. I mean it was egg-saturation and egg-streme accusations all over the place.

No, she would not be a reference for us, because “the chickens disappeared out of thin air,” we are “rude, inconsiderate, have no common civility,” and she suggested that maybe one of our bosses or friends could “concoct” something nice to say about us.

Through a series of messages, both of our characters were completely slandered, and all to do with the departure of our little gems, Jean and Loreen. Apparently her and her neighbour both cried about the chickens, and decided we needed to go. Now that’s a pretty n-egg-ative mindset if you ask me!

Seems she easily forgot about how amazing of tenants we are, how clean and quiet we are, all the free wine, baking and EGGS we’ve given her, how we always pay our rent on time, or basically everything else we do as freakingly awesome tenants.

Despite what we felt like saying, we have responded graciously and respectfully to her messages and addressed that the chickens were actually ours, and we had the right to sell them, but you can’t egg-sactly be rational with an irrational person, can you?

So there you have it.

Evicted over chickens.

There we were, with a bad reference from our only New Zealand landlord, on the house hunt in the egg-streamly difficult market of Hawke’s Bay. Now that’s a pan-scrambler, to be sure!

Egg-ceptionally, crack-up, chookin’ crazy as.

God is good though, and we’re being taking care of. We have a great new home that we moved into on Saturday. We may not stay here for long, but we can if we choose, so we’ll just play it by ear and see how it goes.

Could we take our old landlady to the Tenancy Tribunal and fight this? Absolutely. 100%. As sure as a good chicken lays an egg! We have the messages proving all her lies about everything. But we didn’t egg-sactly want to stay there with her anymore anyways, with the current state of the relationship. Our wings are not clipped and we’ve escaped to a new home where we can be more free, like Jean and Loreen did.

So the moral of the story is: buy your eggs at the Supermarket.

How do you like your eggs?