The Amoise Story; “Unadulterated” Wine Producer in Hawke’s Bay

I always love a story in which wine finds someone who was truly meant to be in the industry, but just wouldn’t have thought to look there at first.

Amy Farnsworth is the owner and Winemaker of Amoise (pronounced am-was), a boutique and “unadulterated” wine label in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Amy’s story is one of passion, patience, persistence, and the pull of nature. With 17 harvests under her belt, across 6 countries, Amy truly has a vast array of personal experience to bring to her label.

Grape Harvest time at Domaine Alain Graillot – Crozes Hermitage, France 2012

Amy was raised by a Canadian father and a Kiwi mother in White Rock, a small city in the Vancouver area. She remembers childhood trips to New Zealand to visit her Mom’s side of the family, on which she grew familiar with the Kiwi country and culture. After high school, Amy decided to enter a career in Criminology, with the goal of becoming a lawyer. To help with tuition fees, like many students do, she got a hospitality job. It was while working at Uli’s Restaurant in White Rock that she had two significant experiences with wine that ultimately ended up changing the course of her life.

Uli’s employed several professional male servers that had extensive wine knowledge, and were selling “huge wines like Opus One” to the customers. A self-driven hard worker, Amy knew that if she wanted to compete with their sales, she needed to educate herself on the world of wine, and she began taking WSET courses.

She also recalls one fateful night that Uli pulled a wine out of his cellar that she will never forget. When I asked Amy about the first significant wine she remembers, she didn’t pause for a second before telling me exactly what it was, a 1971 Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Spätlese from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr (Sundial) Vineyard. “It stopped me dead in my tracks,” she says about the Riesling. She had previously loved Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cab, but the Riesling “opened up a whole new ball game” for her. “I was drinking South Australia and Napa but there’s a whole other world out there, and thank God for that. I had no idea. I’d never tried wine like that in my life.”

As Amy continued advancing in her WSET courses, she moved to Vancouver to work in fine dining. She completed her WSET Level 3, and then decided to begin her 2 year WSET Diploma; she soon realized Criminology couldn’t compete with wine, and pursued wine studies full time. She eventually lost interest in the hospitality side of the industry, and began working in fine wine stores, like Liberty Wine Merchants, and for importer Liquid Art Fine Wines in Vancouver, who had the largest biodynamic portfolio in Canada. She willingly traded in a higher income for valuable experience, and her work with Liquid Art fuelled her passion for not only wine, but specifically biodynamic and natural wine. Her WSET Diploma took a back seat when she was promoted into their office and chose to focus her energies on sales and marketing, and learning about biodynamics. She was tracking the lunar calendar, observing key differences between biodynamic and conventional winemaking and knew she was “all in” with biodynamics before she even set foot in a vineyard.

Winery work – Beaune, France 2010

In 2009, the recession hit Canada; Amy knew that her job was at risk. Her company had been importing biodynamic wine for a special New Zealand producer in Central Otago; she had actually been the author of their story and had sent it to trade customers and private clients across Canada, and had previously met the Winemaker. She contacted them on a whim to ask for employment, and thanks to her connections, was able to secure a job at their vineyard. She made the move to New Zealand to do her first Kiwi harvest at Felton Road Winery.

Working at Felton Road was “the experience of a lifetime” for Amy. She stayed on for a full year, which she highly recommends to anyone wanting to seriously enter the industry. “Anyone can do a harvest for a couple months, but the year round experience is the most important.” It was during her year at Felton Road that she explored all sides of the winemaking business, “from vineyard to Cellar Door and winery.” That year, Amy discovered in her heart that “Winemaker” was part of her identity. She remembers thinking, “this is amazing. I need to keep doing this,” and she says about Felton Road, “I feel I started at the top. The bar was set so high after working there.” Her reasons for this are because of “the Ethos, the community, and how they look after the animals and the plants.” She was already passionate about biodynamics, but after integrating into the community of Felton Road, she was captivated.

Harvest – Castiglione Falletto, Piedmont, Italy

Following Felton Road, Amy lived in Burgundy for two years where she obtained her Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology. Upon completion, she began traveling to different countries “to work the harvests and live, eat and drink through different cultures.”

Beaune, France 2010
Hand sorting Pinot Noir Grapes – Burgundy, France
Pump-over – Beaune 2010

In 2017 she returned to New Zealand for a harvest job at Paritua Winery, in Hawke’s Bay. She enjoyed the comradery with her colleagues and the Winemaker, and decided to stay on. As it so happened, a position opened up for Assistant Winemaker, and it was awarded to her. Even though she was making wine for Paritua’s two labels, Amy’s desire was to make her own.

She was ready to start Amoise, but 2017 was a difficult vintage in Hawke’s Bay. Winemakers only get one chance each year to do what they do; Amy made the painful decision to wait another year, because she knew that if she used the grapes from 2017, the wine would need intervention, and that went against everything she envisioned for her label. She was supported with advise from a wise Hawke’s Bay Winemaker and mentor, Jenny Dobson, who “truly wants the best for everyone,” and had suggested that 2017 wasn’t the strongest year to make her label’s debut. It was an extremely tough call to choose to wait, but Amy knew it was serendipity.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Hunter Valley, Australia 2017

In 2018, Amy searched tirelessly for organic fruit, and with it being so difficult to find in Hawke’s Bay, she had begun to accept the postponement of her dream for Amoise, yet again! As fate would have it, she happened to sit next to another Amy at a wine tasting, who became a great friend. Her new friend happened to be cousins with an established local winemaker, and he had some organic fruit she could purchase! It was Pinot Gris, and a small amount of Gewürztraminer. Amy recognized the opportunity in front of her and seized it.

Amoise harvest with help from friends – Hawke’s Bay 2019
Amy driving the tractor during Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

She had unfortunately had an accident that year involving a knife falling into her foot, so she was casted up and in a moon boot during the harvest season; Amy did not let that stop her from producing the wine she knew she needed to make. It was going to be a natural wine; it had to be hand harvested, and she was relentless. She literally dragged her moon boot through the vineyard to harvest the grapes, got the fruit into the winery, then hobbled around the winery until she physically couldn’t walk anymore. Her friend, Amy, was there to help her, and she couldn’t have done it without her. “Right from the get go we’ve been supporting each other and that is what community’s all about.”

Literally, through what must have felt like dream-crushing delays, freak knife disasters resulting in actual blood, sweat, and tears (and a moon boot), and thankfully, a supportive wine dream team . . . the 2018 Amoise Gris was born!

Amy released it in October of 2018, and made 70 cases (of 12). She didn’t want her wine to be similar to so many of the other Pinot Gris available on the market. Hers is a Pinot Gris, and she chose to add “a sprinkling of Gewürztraminer to spice it up,” and to make an orange wine. This means that for the one month fermentation, she chose to leave the skins of the grapes in with the juice; she also allowed both varietals to ferment together. The skins add complexity, tannin and body, and the Amoise Pinot Gris is definitely not boring or typical!

Everything is also hand bottled, and labelled, by her and her partner, Greg. The label showcases some of the essence of Hawke’s Bay in that it’s a friend Harry’s painting of Te Mata Peak and Cape Kidnappers, two significant landmarks of the region, with her signature captured from her chalk labeling on the barrels to spell “Amoise.”

As for the name, “Amoise” is Amy’s Canadian nickname. Her family still calls her by it, and that’s how she was known in her “hospo days,” the times she remembers with fondness when the love of wine found her, and she embraced it; it is fitting that her own label be called after a name with such endearment.

Amy has the 2019 Amoise Pinot Gris in the works, as well as a red wine this year, 2019 Amoise Cabernet Franc. Both are “unadulterated wines,” as Amy refers to them, and follow her strict winemaking philosophy: organic grapes, only certified bio-grow fruit, with no additions, and no sulphur.

Beautiful, hand picked Amoise Pinot Gris – Hawke’s Bay 2019
Working as a team for the Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

She avoids using the phrase “natural wine” to describe her product, because she has significant experience and research invested into the topic, and says that “natural wine has no legal definition and for almost a decade the EU can’t come to a consensus on how it should be labelled legally!” Alternatively, she chooses to label her wine with the phrase, “no additions or adulteration of any kind,” and aims to spread the word of what organic, biodynamic and natural wines actually are, and their key differences.

Amy explains that organic wine is made from organic grapes (no herbicides/pesticides/insecticide sprays). Biodynamic wine is made with organic grapes, but also by observing the lunar calendar and applying Biodynamic techniques. Natural wine is also made from organic grapes, but it uses little to no intervention, and no additions (only natural yeast, no enzymes, no sugars, no acids, no fining agents, little to no sulphur, etc.) Amy however, doesn’t even add sulphur, which is why she prefers the term “unadulterated.” Her wine is literally as pure, genuine, and naked as a wine can get.

Horse ploughing – France

Her company mandate, and number one goal, is “responsible natural winemaking.” Her mandate came from her experiences making wine in France, where she adopted the belief to never release a wine that is faulty, or that she wouldn’t drink herself. “It’s not about putting grapes in a vat and praying for good results.” She watches her wine so closely. “My intention is always to make it without intervening. Altering the temperature is the only intervention I’ll do, if needed.” She also believes that taking care of the vineyard is of utmost importance. She explains how the quality of yeast and fruit in the winery is determined in the vineyard. She embraces the French model that marries winemaking and viticulture, in which “people do everything . . . making the wine is only a snapshot of what you do.” She loves being in the vines. It really all starts there for her.

Amy and Gus – Black Estate, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Steep slopes of Cornas, Northern Rhone, France

After listening to Amy describe the attention to detail, and the purity of her wine, it’s clear to see that it’s her baby. I was quite happy to enjoy the bottle she shared with us, knowing I wasn’t putting anything in my body that didn’t come straight from nature. Amy genuinely works with the earth and nurtures the fruit as it transforms into a wine that is a pure expression of the terroir, vintage and place. There’s a snapshot of history behind every Amoise label, and her wine takes those who enjoy it back to that vineyard, that season and those moments in time, as a wine has the incredible power to do.

As with many new businesses, Amy has had an uphill battle getting Amoise off the ground. Aside from the 2017 missed start, the unpredictability of where from or if her fruit would come in 2018, plus the moon boot harvest, she has had the huge challenge of trying to educate New Zealand wine consumers on what a natural wine actually is. Educating Kiwi consumers has become a large part of not only her company mandate, but her personal one, as she is so passionate about the biodynamic process, and making wine the natural way. She aims to raise awareness in the market that there is an alternative style of wine that’s available for those that want it. Amy does many Pop-up events with food and a selection of her own and other natural wines, that set out to educate the community and spread knowledge within the industry.

Stirring water as part of Biodynamic Preparations

Aside from the educational challenge, 2018 was another delicate year, and although Amy knew she wanted Pinot Gris and the spicy Gewürzt she loves, she didn’t have control over the timing of the harvest. The grapes came in that year with some botrytis, which was a factor of nature that was beyond her control. She made the decision to honour her beliefs, and made a natural wine, with no sulphur or additions, despite the challenges with the fruit. Working full time at Paritua has also limited the time that Amy has had to spend on Amoise. Her and her partner do “Power Hour” at 6:00am where they both work on their own businesses. She sacrifices sleep before her day job so that she can dedicate time to her label.

One of Amy’s biggest lessons is that the wine industry is hard. “Nothing’s ever easy. You have to work with nature. You have to be adaptable. You have to accept Mother Nature.” They say that if your job aligns with your passion, you never work a day in your life. The more Winemakers I meet, who are truly passionate about what they do, the more I see that this is sincerely true. It is arduous work, and can appear unrewarding, but those that possess passion know they’re where they belong. Amy is one of those people. When I asked her if it was worth it, she responded with a big, “yes. There’s something about it that keeps me coming back. This is my art. This is absolutely my passion.”

Horse ploughing
Poplar Grove Winery crew at harvest – Penticton, Okanagan Valley, Canada

If there’s something Amy would like to see more of in Hawke’s Bay, besides a greater understanding of natural wine, it would be the strengthening of the wine community, and a deeper desire to learn from each other. “There’s never a point where you can go, ‘I’m fully satisfied with that.’ There’s always new info, new things to be shared.” She gives the example of Syrah ripening in Hawke’s Bay. “We’re all struggling with it. Let’s share information. Let’s learn from each other, and share the knowledge that we have.” That is why she was pleased to see the start of the HBVine group last year, that aims to share and exchange data and vineyard techniques.

To try Amoise wine, get in touch with Amy via her Instagram account @amoisewines, or visit her at one of her Pop-up events. She’ll be participating in the Hawke’s Bay FAWC (Food and Wine Classic) with free events featuring natural wine and food by Chimera restaurant on 8 and 9 November. Follow her on Instagram to stay in the know.

I encourage you to visit her events; bring your friends to experience some of the special, unique and delicious, unadulterated Amoise wines for yourself. Arrive with an open mind, an appetite, and a willingness to learn something new, and you might just be swayed towards some exciting and alternative styles of wine.

Why Friends Should Travel Together

Last month I went for a girls’ weekend in Queenstown; as I was reflecting on the weekend and sharing stories with my husband, I was reminded of how enlightening it can be to travel with someone. I had a great time, and must say it is easily on the short list of the best girls’ trips I’ve had. The reasons for that aren’t so much because of where I was, or the things I did, but because of who I was with.

This was the first time I had travelled with these girls. During a good old, classic, deep and meaningful conversation on the last night, I admitted that amongst my excitement, I’d also experienced some anxiety about the trip. I knew that when we were all put together for three days straight, we were going to get to know each other on a new level, and I wanted so badly to come out the other side thankful for what we’d learned about each other. I’ve had past girls’ trips or experiences go horribly, either because they were overflowing with drama, or because they ended up causing tears in friendships. I deeply hoped this trip could strengthen all of the friendships within this group, and prove that we could work well together and accept each other as we are, regardless of our differences. I’m pleased to report that during that last night discussion, we commented on how we had done just that.

Travelling together puts people in unique situations. It’s different to just grabbing a coffee, working a shift, or spending an evening with someone. Travel can teach us a lot about who we are as people, and that’s a big part of what being in relationship is about: knowing and understanding someone else, and being known and understood for who we are. When we’re understood and still accepted and loved, and we can do that for someone else, the relationship has the potential to become strong and rewarding.

So with that said, I believe every friendship should go through a trip, and here’s why.

  • Travelling together reveals a person’s daily habits.

How messy are they? How long does it really take to get ready? What morning and night rituals do they have? Who is a night owl? Who gets up early? Who is always ready on time and who is running late? Who is a beast without coffee? Who is obsessive about taking photos? (Total jab at myself.) Who maybe has a very serious chocolate addiction? (Also me, but I’m not alone on this one!)

It all comes out on a trip! The more we know about our friends, and they know about us, the better we can love and support each other, even in the little things (like getting coffee and chocolate … or are those big things?)

  • Travelling together can indicate how a person spends money.

In friendships, this information can be helpful to see what matters to each other. Travelling gives lots of opportunity to spend money. Food, drink, experiences, shopping, etc. all cost. Some people like to stick to a budget, and some like to splurge. You only live once, right? I believe that it’s absolutely not my place, or anyone else’s, to ever tell someone how to spend their cash; however, observing sure is a good indicator of what’s important to them, and what they like! Taking note of this can also lead to great gift ideas.

Most importantly to me though, noticing how generous people can be is always heart warming. I love groups that aren’t worried about the dimes, and that will gladly grab a drink or snack for someone else. It’s refreshing to be among people that are generous and thoughtful.

  • Travelling together shows how high or low maintenance a person is.

How much did they pack? What did they bring? What can’t they live without for a few days? (Back to the chocolate again.)

We were all told not to bring our flat irons on this trip, because one of the girls was bringing hers. All of us but one ended up bringing our own anyways, because we all had the same thought that one wouldn’t be enough for six people to share. We ended up with way more than we needed, but it was funny to see how some of us thought alike, and one listened to the instructions! We also apparently can’t travel without our flat irons. (Look at that hair though – on point.)

  • Travelling together shows you how you share a bathroom.

Six girls, one toilet, one shower. It went well. Enough said!

  • Travelling together shows how people compromise in a group setting.

Travelling is one of those things for which everyone has set aside time and money. They probably all have ideas or expectations for the trip. Some people can be flexible and compromise and others struggle with that. Some groups like to be together, and some are happy to split up for different activities.

On this particular trip, I noticed that everyone compromised so well, which definitely contributed to the enjoyment of it. We all seemed to value being together more than doing any one specific thing. We split a couple of times for a short while, but everyone was okay with it, and it worked great.

We shared food, costs and responsibilities well, and everyone stepped in to help in different ways. Some people cleaned and did dishes, and other people drove or provided treats or tea for everyone. Nobody seemed to have selfish interests, or was looking to make sure it was completely fair to them; everyone was concerned that we all got what we needed or wanted, and seemed to look out for the greater needs of the group.

  • Traveling together allows certain personality traits to really shine in people.

Leadership, independence, organizational traits, spontaneity, etc., can all be seen on a trip. Travelling can show who is a leader and a follower when it comes to making decisions about anything from where to eat, to directions in an unknown area. Travelling shows who likes their independence, and who prefers to be with others. Some people are organized super planners and others prefer more spontaneity.

On the first night of our trip, one of the girls suggested we make a list of all the places we wanted to get to the next day. As there were six of us, there were a lot of ideas. I put mine in as well, but as I listened to the rest, I realized there was no way we’d get them all done. I didn’t want to say anything at first, but later in the evening, I just had to point it out. “Im sorry, but can I just state the obvious? We’ve planned three days worth of activities for tomorrow. There’s not a chance we have time for all that stuff!” The girls realized I’d obviously been thinking about the plans, and thankfully saw the humour in my statement. “Can I just state the obvious?” became a quote for the rest of the weekend.

Trips are such great opportunities to see your friends use their strengths in new ways, and to have some good laughs at each other.

  • Travelling together shows how someone deals with stressful situations.

You’ve got to love travelling for presenting stressful situations! There is always something that comes up that has the potential for stress, whether it’s getting lost, unforeseen costs, cancelled or delayed flights, lost baggage, problems with the accommodation, etc. How someone deals with stress can really say a lot about them.

It was really encouraging to me to see how my girlfriends on this trip affirmed each other when stress hit, listened to each other, were honest but supportive, and made the best of bad situations instead of letting them ruin a day.

  • Travelling together allows for more quality time.

When you’re all living together, eating together and doing activities together, you see each other a lot! Right from morning tea in pajamas, up to brushing teeth together and chatting before bed, trips allow so much time for talking, and mutual experiences, that contribute to getting to know each other more.

All in all, travelling together really does teach people about their travel mates. I’m so thankful for the wonderful friends I got to enjoy time with down South, and would definitely travel with those ladies again. You know who you are, girls! Thank you.

The Element Wines Story; Boutique Wine Producers in Hawke’s Bay

The story of how Dom and Rachelle met is so adorable, it could be made into a movie.  The setting was their hometown, Auckland, New Zealand, and it was Tuesday, the 14th of January, 2002.  Rachelle was out for lunch, celebrating her cousin’s birthday.  Her cousin joked with the server that she should get a free drink as it was her birthday; the server told her she couldn’t, dampening the mood, so the girls decided to take their business elsewhere.  Little did she know, Rachelle was about to walk into the restaurant where her future life and wine partner worked.  The girls entered Wildfire, and took their places at the bar.  Dom casually sat down next to them, and was minding his own business; Rachelle goofily wacked the new patron next to her on the leg and told him that they had great drinks at this place, and he should try one.  He mentioned that he’d actually tried, and made, all of the drinks there, before turning to show her his work t-shirt with the Wildfire logo on it.  He took the rest of the night off, and bought dinner for the girls.  At the end of the night, he wanted Rachelle’s number.  Feeling a bit serendipitous, Rachelle told him she’d give it to him, but she wouldn’t allow him to write it down; if he could remember it, he could call her.  Thank goodness for Dom’s memory, because he did retain the number after hearing it only once, and as they say, the rest is history. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Dom and Rachelle now own and run Element Wines, a boutique vineyard and wine label in the Gimblett Gravels micro-climate of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, with their two daughters, Zoë and Zaymia, a couple of cats, Turbo and Bubbles, and one big German Pointer, Brewski, all in tow! 

So how did two Auckland-raised Kiwi’s end up in the Gimblett Gravels, running a vineyard and wine label?  The simple answer, is that they decided that life was too short not to follow their dreams.  The longer, more complicated story includes tonnes of courage, some definite ups and downs, overcoming a lot of hurdles, and binding together to spend their days creating something they love and are proud of, while enjoying their lives as a family.

A day in the life of the Smith family includes high school for the girls, and everything that comes with that, like homework, sport, friends and slumber parties. The girls have spent the last several years helping in the vineyard when they’re finished their schoolwork, and it’s definitely a family affair.  They help with everything from pruning to harvest, and have developed an impressive knowledge of wine-making for their ages.  In addition to running Element, Dom also works full time at Sacred Hill Winery as the Cellar Supervisor.  Rachelle spends her days tending to the vineyard, and running her family.  A typical weekend includes playing with the pets, sitting on their beautiful deck that overlooks their vineyard, and enjoying delicious food, once the vineyard work is done, of course.  Zoë and Zaymia make the Sunday pancakes or waffles, but Rachelle makes the best French Toast.  Dom can craft a mean, made from scratch pizza in his clay oven, or roast incredibly tender and flavourful meats, but whatever the menu, there is always a delicious wine pairing to complete the meal, along with satisfaction after a day’s hard work. 

Owning a vineyard seems romantic, and ideal, and in some respects, it can be.  Most of the time though, it’s really tiresome, and the work never ends.  There’s something to be done in every season of the year.  If it’s spring, the vines are beginning to bud, and need to be watched and protected from frost.  Summer brings growth and ripening, and lots of vineyard and machinery maintenance.  With autumn comes harvest time, unpredictable weather that could potentially destroy a whole season’s fruit, as well as the pressures of making the right decision of when to harvest. Then, the grapes need to be processed, and the wine needs to be made, and maintained, while winter requires pruning in the vineyard to set it up for a healthy spring, when the work cycle repeats. I was curious to find out how all of this became the couple’s dream.

Rachelle didn’t grow up in an industry family, but she was around wine as a child.  She has memories of her god-mother letting her try watered down wines to see what they tasted like.  She also had family and friends with wine labels or vineyards, and she would spend time at their houses; this lead to her developing a comfort and familiarity with the vineyard environment.  Dom didn’t grow up industry either, but was the son of two teachers.  Although his parents drank wine, it was Dom’s hospitality work that opened his eyes to amazing wine. He remembers feeling like he had the world at his fingertips when it came to the wines he was able to experience, both from the old and new worlds. When he used to go out with his buddies as a teen, he noticed that he was among the few whose alcohol choice for the night was a fine wine; he realized that he was actually quite fond of it.  He found satisfaction in making the perfect recommendation for guests in his restaurant, or showing them something different; he once made a recommendation to a Wine Spectator writer, without realizing it, and was thanked and acknowledged by the writer’s wife for making an exceptional pairing.  

Once Dom and Rachelle got together, wine became a big part of their dating life.  They talked about their bucket-list wines, and tried many of them together.  (Trying those bucket-list wines is still something they do today; they can both recall the specific flavours and intensities of a 2006 Dom-Perignon they shared as a celebration of overcoming vineyard hardships.)  Owning a vineyard became their “Lotto-dream.”  If they ever struck it rich, they’d buy one! Ironically, due to hard times, they were put in a position with the business they owned in Auckland where they either had to rebuild, or move on. They were at a fork in their road, and they knew it. Dom had a memorable conversation with a good neighbour friend one evening who recommended that Rachelle and Dom see this as an opportunity to follow their dreams.  They felt the same way, so they did.  

It was the 19th of November, 2012, when Element was born. 

Dom had been able to find employment at a winery in the Bay, so they began looking at Hawke’s Bay properties for their own vineyard.  They also favoured the wines that come out of the region; they love Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Dom quipped that he would rather make “not-Sauvinon Blanc and have no money, than make Sauv Blanc and have money!” He’d been commuting between his job in the Bay and his family in Auckland since that August.  The couple had hummed and hawed over which property to go with, but kept coming back to a special one in the Gimblett Gravels.  It was a 4.2 hectare property, with 2.6 hectares under vine.  The vineyard had Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and Viognier, the wines they wanted to make, not to mention gorgeous lavender that caught Rachelle’s eye. They ended up choosing the property for the vineyard, and not really caring about the specific layout or décor of the house! They got possession on that November day, and the girls still hadn’t seen the house. Rachelle took them to meet Dom to see it together, but Dom was held up at work, so they went for a drink down the road to wait. It really is a family affair! Then, all together, the family complete, Dom, Rachelle, Zoë and Zaymia walked into their new home, to begin a new life and a new adventure. 

Vineyard life didn’t exactly welcome them with rainbows and butterflies.  They had no furniture, and slept on air beds for a couple of months. The girls remember waking up that Christmas together in their half deflated air bed, that they were sharing to save on linen.  The vineyard had been damaged by frost that spring.  Dom had to learn to drive a tractor.  He had to learn to spray.  He had never done any vineyard work before.  He describes it as just having to “jump on board and figure it out.”  He tells the story of one particular night, where a storm was coming in, and he was trying to hook up some hydraulics on a machine.  It was 3.00am by the time he got it going and was able to spray.  To top it all off, he stepped on his sunglasses and broke them.  It was a long, hard night, to say the least. This wasn’t exactly the romantic dream they had envisioned!  It wasn’t all bad though.  The family has lots of fun memories of being together, all learning how to run the vineyard.  Everything was a novelty at first, even for the girls, and they enjoyed lifting wires, bud rubbing, and doing other jobs together.  Although Dom is quite certified now, in the beginning, they were largely self-taught, but they had some helpful neighbours and colleagues that supported them along the way.

After spending time with Dom and Rachelle this year, and seeing how challenging it can be to own a vineyard, I asked them why they chose that route, rather than just purchasing fruit for their label, like so many others do.  Why bother with the work?  Dom replied that it “seemed logical that you grow it and make it.”  They wanted the whole process.  Starting from the beginning, and having control over their fruit is part of their wine-making philosophy.  “Our story is that we grow everything that we make,” explains Dom.  A holistic approach is very important to them.

They strongly believe in nurturing the land, and that less is more.  “We have to tread lightly and look after the land,” Dom shares.  Although they’re not certified organic, they prefer all organic practices. They don’t use any harmful chemicals or sprays on their vineyard.  “My kids and my dog play here,” Dom says about their land.  It’s their home, and they take pride in caring for it. 

Another important company mandate to mention is that Element strives for a “true, terrior driven wine,” which is why they don’t mind to break away from popular trends and make wines that aren’t influenced by oak.  They currently use no new oak in any of their wines (even the reds) and are moving towards eliminating all oak use soon.  Many of Dom’s favourite wines from the old world haven’t touched new oak.  He remembers some specific wines from France that were made in either neutral oak or concrete, and he describes that “they get this intensity and expression from the vineyard and fruit not manipulated by anything else.”

After hearing their wine-making practices and philosophies, it made perfect sense to me why they chose their name, Element.  Their wines, born of the earth, from the vine, through the grapes, and into the bottle, truly reflect a sense of place, and are something completely unique to them. 

So where can I find this special, unique wine?  Customers can order directly from Element via their Instagram handle, @element_wines, their website, http://www.elementwines.co.nz, or see it on some wine lists throughout New Zealand. Rachelle offers tastings by appointment (021 146 8925) as well.

Options are Viognier, Cabernet Merlot blends, and Syrah from Element, as well as potentially a 2018 vintage 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although they don’t enter wine shows, their Syrah has been their most highly accoladed wine with their 2016 Syrah getting 93 points from Cameron Douglas, Master Sommelier, and 93 points with The Wine Front in Australia.  Their Cabernet Merlots have certainly been popular among customers as well, and are often quick to sell out.  Element is truly boutique, meaning they produce only around 100 cases of wine per year, so if you want to get your hands on some, do it soon!

Their Viognier is aromatic, fresh and floral, with a beautiful oiliness to it that melts in your mouth. The Syrahs have that classic pepper spice, loads of cherry and liquorice, and a flinty minerality that can only come from the soil. The Cabernet Merlots have great structure, red and dark plum and black currants, a lovely hint of cocoa and beautiful soft, round tannins.

In reflecting on their wines and their journey, Dom and Rachelle realized they’ve already overcome several challenges.  They definitely had an uphill journey, especially at the start.  They had to learn how to manage a vineyard, while running a family. This means they have to sacrifice a lot of their personal time, and days off, to ensure that the girls and the vineyard both get the dedication they require.  Trying to find a trustworthy place to make and store their wine was a challenge as well.  They don’t have a winery on site, so to find a safe place where they could make their wine that would allow them creative control was a journey, but one that has rewarded them with a currently great home for their wines, and the all important creative freedom.  Having a vineyard is a lot like farming; the weather interferes negatively sometimes, and then they’re faced with challenges of how to work around that.  “It’s hard work, and hard work has to go in, in order to get the rewards,” Rachelle says. “When you’re small, you have to do more to reap the rewards.”  Lots of others also want to have their share, and have tried to get wine for less than nothing. 

When I asked them if owning the vineyard has been worth it, they both replied in a heartbeat, with a resounding, “absolutely!”  They’ve learned a lot about themselves, and each other, their relationship and their family.  It’s taught them that they still love each other at the end of the day.  It gives Rachelle the freedom to be a stay at home parent, who can be available when the girls need their Mom.  Dom shared that they’ve learned that “wine can bring amazing people together, because it has.”  They have made amazing friends within this industry, and the friendships they’ve gained, have been “the coolest thing it’s done.”  If there are three passions that consistently come through when spending time with Dom and Rachelle, they’re family first, relationships, and of course, wine. 

Pictured left to right: Dom, Zaymia, Rachelle, Zoë

We met Dom and Rachelle in the exact way adults always warn children to never make friends – over the internet!  When Greg and I decided to move to Hawke’s Bay, I started Instagram messenging every winery in the Bay that I could find.  Instagram used to lock me out after so many, and I would have to wait 24 hours before I could send more messages.  A lot of them never replied, but Dom did.  He was the first to reply to me, actually, and explained that they were a small winery, and couldn’t offer us jobs, but that he would help in any way he could.  After conversing with Dom for a few days, he invited us to come for a wine with him and his partner when we arrived.  I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen, but I said that we would love to.  I continued to message back and forth with Dom over the last month we were in Canada, with so many random New Zealand questions.  I think I actually asked him if they had peanut butter here! He was extremely helpful the whole time.  Once we had arrived, it was Dom that I sent a picture to of the first cockroach I had killed asking what it was and if it was poisonous! (We don’t have them in Canada.)  We did end up going for a wine with Dom and Rachelle, on only our second day here, and that wine turned into a dinner, 5 hours of conversation, and the start of a great friendship.

In the time we have gotten to know Dom, Rachelle and the girls, I can clearly see their strength, resilience, perseverance and dedication.  They were so brave to leave their life, family and everything they knew in Auckland, to move to the Bay and follow their dream.  They didn’t know if it would work out or not, and they took a huge risk; I have found though, that the greatest risks in life can lead to some of the greatest rewards.  Dom and Rachelle still work incredibly hard, and they invest their hearts, souls, and pocketbooks into Element.  They love their daughters more than anything in the world, and they’re doing a great job raising the girls; Zoë and Zaymia are beautiful inside and out.  Dom and Rachelle are some of the kindest, most hospitable, generous, and down to earth people we know. We are honoured to call them our friends.

Oh, and by the way…

…they make some pretty exceptional wine!

Guess What Working in the Hospitality Industry is Teaching Me?

Spoiler alert! The answer is … hospitality. I’m learning many other valuable things, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on hospitality.

“Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.”

– Google Dictionary

I used to think I was a decently hospitable person, but I’ve realized that I was really only hospitable to those I wanted to be hospitable to. It’s not that difficult to receive or try to entertain my own, invited guests with friendliness and generosity. I’d say most people do a decent job of that.

The “strangers” part though… that can be a bit harder sometimes. Most customers are very nice, and quite friendly and happy. It’s definitely easier to be hospitable (by definition) to them.

When they’re not that nice to be around, receiving and entertaining them with generosity and friendliness – there’s the challenge; that is true hospitality.

(Https://images.app.foo.gl/ZBuMXh5gfnGhgbE79)

I had the rudest of rude customers a while back. He seemed to make it his mission to hate all the wine, and commented how much so after each taste (which basically never happens at my job – we have excellent wine and are a reputable wine brand); I even caught him making gagging faces with his finger down his throat at other customers while I was getting his next taste of wine … Real mature, sir.

(Hcareers.com)

I’ve had drunk customers cuss me out for not serving them as much alcohol as they’d like, or get cheeky with me when I can’t serve them any more at closing time.

I still feel like I’m just getting my feet wet in dealing with these types of people, but I’m watching some great mentors do it with class. Some of my colleagues know how to stick to their guns, yet still come across to angry, or drunk, or even hostile customers as hospitable; I’ve seen some interesting situations diffused calmly and quietly, when they could have easily gone the other way. It amazes me, how these colleagues can be so truly hospitable to anyone and everyone, and it’s honestly an admirable skill that I hope to pick up bits and pieces of more and more. All will come in time, as I learn.

Now that I’m in this industry, I’ve started paying even closer attention to how hospitable and welcoming others are to me when I’m visiting a place, and it’s often the smallest things that can make a huge difference. It really doesn’t take that much more effort to be helpful to someone in a small way, but it can really change the outcome of their day, or make their experience with me, our establishment, their day, or their entire holiday better.

For example, the other night at work, a lady had just ordered a glass of wine, and ended up knocking her glass and spilling half of it. Our Event’s Manager offered to fill it back up for her, at no cost. She could have just pretended she didn’t see it happen, or charged her for another glass, but she went out of her way to do something nice, to make that lady feel special; I’ll bet it went a long way.

(Quotemaster.org)

Going to other Cellar Doors and restaurants in our travels, as well as recently in New Zealand, and even visiting our own wineries on our days off, have really reminded me of what it’s like to be on the customer’s side. Those have been such beneficial learning experiences (sometimes positive and sometimes not, but beneficial either way).

The Golden Rule really comes to my mind a lot in this business.

It’s service.

It requires humility and grace.

It requires me to put another’s needs and wants above my own.

It requires selflessness, generosity, forethought and planning, or adaptability and flexibility.

It sometimes requires sacrifice.

(Pinterest.com)

It’s about putting myself in the customer’s shoes, and thinking about how I would want to be treated in any particular situation. Some days that’s easy enough, and other days, that’s hard, to say the least!

(cheezburger.com)

Despite it all, I believe hospitality can be learned through mindset and practice, if someone is motivated to learn it.

Even more importantly, I’ve become more aware of how the skill of being hospitable isn’t just useful in a hospitality job; it’s a life skill of incredible value to offer to those around me. Anyone can benefit from being more hospitable in their workplaces, communities, friendships and families. I’m thankful that I’m getting all this time to practice it.

So cheers to all of you incredible hospo people out there, who work hard and make your customers feel truly welcome and special in your care; you are amazing.

(cheeseburger.com)

Two Canadians, A Campervan and New Zealand’s South Island

It’s been over 6 months of us working in this country, and we have now earned holiday time! Vintage is done, and Air NZ started offering really affordable flights within the country. All of this meant that we could finally get to the South Island, and we were so excited to explore it!

As people heard we were going south, they all gave us their lists of the must-do’s! We appreciated all the cool, local tips, but unfortunately we didn’t have a year to actually cross them all off… New Zealand offers almost never ending exploring! So we picked the things that sounded the most intriguing to us, accounted for our budget and time allowances, and carefully planned (on my end) a jam-packed, 6 day adventure, in a campervan, of course!

We got an amazing flight deal to Christchurch, so we headed there early Wednesday morning, thankfully just missed the fog, and landed on time at 8:05am. We picked up our Campervan from Jucy, and hit the road, as we had an appointment to get to in the Waipara area of the Canturbury Wine Region.

I won’t go into too much detail about the wineries we visited on this trip, but we uprooted our entire lives, and moved to this country specifically to work in wine; clearly it was high on the priority list for this holiday, as it usually is.

Bell Hill

The wine in the South Island is very different than it is where we work in the North. We work in the warmest wine growing region in the country, with very vast and diverse soil types; the wine regions in the South Island have completely different soil from each other, and from the North; they also have their own unique climates, and therefore, produce unique versions of some of the grape varietals we have in the North, and also some completely different varietals altogether. We tried lots of Pinot Noir on this trip, some Chardonnay and bubbly wine, as well as many aromatic whites, like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir based Roses, and even a Muscat, that was dry and surprisingly enjoyable.

In Canterbury, we visited Bell Hill, and had a private tour around their biodynamic and organic boutique vineyards, on incredible slopes, with the vines showing off the beautiful autumn colours. We tried some Pinot Noirs out of barrel. We visited Pegasus Bay, which had beautiful grounds, some very nice wines, and a friendly and knowledgeable Cellar Door host.

Tasting in the Bell Hill caves
Pegasus Bay Cellar Door
Pegasus Bay

We also visited the winery with two labels that belongs to this year’s New Zealand Winemaker of the Year, Greystone and Muddy Water. The Winemaker at my workplace has won that award 2 times in the last 5 years, and we have amazing wine, so I had very high expectations for this place, which I feel is fair. If you are considered the best Winemaker in the country, your Cellar Door should support that, and the visitors that you will undoubtedly bring, and give an exceptional experience. This one, sadly, did not. The host was unfriendly, made no effort at conversation, and was actually outrightly rude to us with a couple comments. Thankfully, the Marketing Manager overheard some of our questions and came out to speak with us for a while, and he was great. If it weren’t for him, we would have had a terrible experience there.

We made our way back into Christchurch for the remainder of the afternoon, did a bit of shopping for some winter gear and groceries, and drove around to see the sights.

A highlight for me was the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial for the people who died in the 2011 earthquake. It was chilling to see, and served as a reminder that life is short and fragile, and should be valued and lived to the full. We had a quick dinner at what I describe as a funky, more upscale food court, Little High.

We visited one of Christchurch’s older and highly awarded bars, the OGB Bar, and had a great experience. One of their employees did a wine tour with me a couple months back on his holiday, and invited me to visit him there on our trip, and him and his colleagues made sure we were taken great care of!

Then, it was time for a very late dinner and wine, once we found somewhere to camp! We used the Ranker’s Campervan App to help us find everything we needed to on our trip. It showed all of the places we could park, empty our tanks, etc., with reviews, photos and prices. We searched for the free options, and found a place just outside of the city to park. I’ll elaborate on the campervan later.

We woke up early on Thursday to get a good head start on our drive to Lake Tekapo.

The Lake Tekapo famous church

The scenery was beautiful on the way, as we made our way into the mountains. We spent the afternoon in Tekapo; we got some photos with the famous church on the lake, and then took a moment to pause inside and admire the view of the lake through the windows on the back wall. What a great place to go to church! We opted to walk to the top of Mount John, which was a short, fairly easy but steady climb.

Almost to the top of Mount John
The view
Snacks at the Astro Cafe

We enjoyed views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and some coffee and dessert in the sun at the Astro Cafe, before heading back down for lunch. We parked the van alongside the lake for a gorgeous view, had a picnic and some Riesling, and then headed to the Tekapo Hot Springs.

We had a booking for 2:00, but because we picked the date and time ahead, we were able to get a great deal on a site called bookme.co.nz. We enjoyed a couple of hours there, soaking in the warm water, and soaking up that view, before heading on.

Next, we drove to Lake Pukake, and stopped for some views of Mount Cook, and then made our way through the Lindess Pass, which was beautiful at sunset, and then onto Cromwell, where we wanted to start our next day.

Classic NZ highway photo
Lindess Pass at sunset
Admiring Mount Cook and Lake Pukake

We found another free camp spot on the Ranker’s App, right next to the lake, and it was such a gorgeous spot. I can’t believe some of the amazing, free camp grounds New Zealand has! I kept saying to Greg, “why is this free…?” In Canada or the USA, those would have been costly spots.

“Pancake Saturday” was moved to Friday, as we had the time in the morning, and the lakeside spot to enjoy! As we awoke in Cromwell, we were already amongst many more great wineries we were excited to visit! This is when it really started feeling like a holiday to me; finally, we had made it to Central Otago, another world renown wine region on our bucket list!

We definitely started off with the bar high, as we visited the appointment only Cellar Door of Felton Road for a tour and tasting with the owner’s daughter. Bookings are required well in advance to get a spot. She was fantastic, as was their philosophy, place, and wine, and we loved our experience there.

Felton Road tasting set up
Felton Road Cellar Door

We followed that up with another amazing experience at Mt Difficulty. It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day, and we took in the expansive views of Central Otago on their patio in the warm sun for a delicious and generous platter, that was a special treat for me from a reward card I received at work. After we ordered, we did a complimentary tasting to help us decide what to have with lunch. By the time we finished our tasting, our food was ready for us. We enjoyed our time there so much!

Views with the platter and wine at Mt Difficulty

Other wineries we visited in the Cromwell area were Carrick, and Akarua; we had positive experiences at both of them as well. We then jumped back in the Jucy van to head for Dunedin! The drive was absolutely beautiful the entire way; we arrived around dinner time, and spent the evening with friends.

Baldwin Street

They took us for dinner at a quaint and delicious Italian place, and then drove us to the top of Signal Hill to view the city, as well as took us for a spin up and down the steepest street in the world! We parked the van outside their house that evening, and funnily enough, we weren’t the only Jucy van on the street.

In the morning, we grabbed coffees and had a visit with our friends before making our way around Dunedin to see St Clare Beach, and the famous Railway Station; as it was Saturday, we visited the Farmer’s Market where we purchased some fresh fish and produce for dinner, before making our way back to Central Otago, where we’d spend the next 3 days.

We arrived in Wanaka mid-afternoon, so we went to Rippon, another famous winery with, yet again, amazing wines and an exceptional view!

We also visited Maude Wines, where we had the perfect spot on their comfy couch with blankets in their sun room, overlooking lake Wanaka.

We each had a seated tasting flight of different wines, and then enjoyed a glass in the sun. Our host at Maude was extremely welcoming and knowledgeable, and made us feel very comfortable during our visit.

After we were done relaxing at Maude, we headed down to That Wanaka Tree, to get some sunset photos. We were amongst a group, but got some beautiful shots. I love when I get to see something in real life that I’ve been seeing on Instagram for a while!

That Wanaka Tree at sunset
That Wanaka Tree at sunrise

We checked out another cute wine bar in Wanaka called The Cork Bar. It was warm, dim, and comfortable. So many of these places remind me of small mountain towns in British Columbia, and the whole Wanaka/Queenstown area made me feel quite at home.

At The Cork Bar, I tried some Black Peak Pinot Noir, who’s Winemaker and owner had been in to work last week. We also tried some Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, that came highly recommended, and loved it.

As Wanaka is such a famous tourist spot all year long, there are no free campsites there. We were fortunate to have a friend who’s father lives in Wanaka, and allowed us to park in his driveway for the evening. We carb loaded for our upcoming hike with some pasta, and enjoyed a bottle of wine before bed. We had purchased some candles by this point, so we had our usual ambience and didn’t have to run the bright LED lights in the van!

The next morning, we were up at 6:00am to eat breakfast, grab some sunrise photos of That Wanaka Tree, and make it to the base of the Roy’s Peak Hike for daylight at shortly after 8:00am.

Roy’s Peak Ridge

We were up to the ridge by 10:00am, took our photos, and decided to go for the summit. It was pretty cold up there, but we were glad we made the extra treck to complete the hike. The views were stunning and we had the place to ourselves.

Roy’s Peak Summit, 1578m

We had lunch back down at the ridge, and started our descent just as the rain began. By the time we got to the bottom it was full on pouring, and we were drenched! Thankfully we started when we did that morning, because had we even been 1 hour later, our view would have been largely lost in the rain clouds and fog.

Very wet after finishing Roy’s Peak

Many reviews strongly suggest a high fitness level is required for this hike, and I completely agree. It’s steep, and it’s all up, sometimes at a 45° angle, with basically no plateaus, for hours. And then you have to come down…potentially in the rain or snow, depending on the season. You must wear proper clothing, shoes, and layers. It is almost 1600 meters in elevation; the conditions are considered Alpine at the ridge and upwards, and with all that uphill climbing, if you’re not wet from the rain, you’re wet from the sweat. I was so thankful to have key parts of my work uniform on; I wore my amazing Icebreaker Merino wool jersey and Merino wind proof vest, all thanks to my awesome company outfitting me for the winter. The hike was absolutely worth all the effort and sore knees; in exchange we got some of the best views we’ve ever seen in our lives, and some pretty amazing photos.

Rainbow and mountain views from Roy’s Peak Summit

We had a makeshift shower with baby wipes when we got back into the Jucy van, and were happy to get out of our completely drenched clothing. We hung it all around the van, but the van unfortunately never got warm enough to dry any of it. I got creative to dry my hair.

We headed for Arrowtown, and walked around a bit there.

We found a candy store and got some fudge, but were stiff and cold, and just wanted to sit down. We found a cool restaurant that was just about to close, The Chop Shop, but they gave us a table. Greg had a thirst quenching beer, and I had a warm coffee with Baileys and it hit the spot perfectly. We ordered a dessert, and ended up getting 3 more free because they were using them up before closing!

Do you want another dessert on the house? Yes, please.

We headed to, guess where… more wineries! Are you surprised? We fit in short visits to Peregrine, Gibbston Valley, and then had a nice long tasting at Mt Rosa.

Peregrine Cellar Door

The owners of Mount Rosa had come to do a tasting with me at my workplace in the Bay at Christmas time, and one of my good friends is heading down to help them out for several weeks this winter while they go on vacation! As the owner knew me, he had us in way past close, and gave us a very personalized tasting. We enjoyed his wine, and the cozy, warm, rustic atmosphere!

We made our way into Queenstown that evening to check it out, and then found a campsite in the area. Queenstown doesn’t have any free sites either, but we found a decent one for only $13/each. Greg cooked up a nice meal, and we relaxed in the van, as it was still pouring outside!

The next morning, after a stop at Starbucks (yes, whenever I get the chance) we traded in the Jucy van for a car, as the van specifically had to be back during certain hours, and our flight home the following day wouldn’t allow for that to work. We took the car around the area, and did our last set of wineries: Chard Farm, which has an amazing, 2km cliff side drive in, Wet Jacket and Whitestone Cheesery, which is in an old wool shed and has a super cosy atmosphere, and then Amisfield, which was closed for repairs, so I was quite disappointed to miss them.

Chard Farm’s driveway along the left
Visiting Wet Jacket with wet jackets
Wet Jacket Cellar Door
Bald Hill

The rain had stopped by then, so we ate up the rest of our groceries outside the boot of the car! We went to Bald Hill instead of Amisfield, and then it was time to check into our hotel.

We stayed right close to downtown Queenstown, which was amazing. We got straight to laundry, as our hiking gear was all still soaking wet, and we weren’t sure how we’d get it home that way! We visited with some friends from home, who also happened to be on holiday in Queenstown!

Then we walked downtown from our hotel and checked out the shops, as well as this very cool bar, The Winery.

Inside The Winery

It has many enomatic machines, that work like a Coravin, allowing small tastes of a bottle of wine to be poured from it without oxygen getting in. We were able to try several new wines, and I got that Amisfield wine after all. It was a lovely evening, and we enjoyed some cheese and crackers on the balcony of our hotel before bed, and also really enjoyed a hot shower, a real toilet, and a King size bed! As much as we loved the hotel for the last night, we really did like the Jucy van.

Our Jucy van was just what we needed for this trip.

Fuel prices

It was small enough to get good fuel mileage (which matters a lot here – fuel on the South Island was around a whopping $2.40/litre, and that’s not a typo); it was still big enough to have a functioning bathroom. We had a small living area with benches, and a table that we could set up for dinner. That same area converted to a bed for the night.

There was also a bed option up above, but with just us, we didn’t need to use that one for anything but storage. It came with a kitchenette, and all of the dishes we needed. It also had towels, and bedding. The weather was quite cold (for NZ) at this time of year, and got down to just above 0° at night, but we had 2 duvets, and were toasty warm under them – borderline hot some of the nights. I was glad we only flew with carry-on luggage though, because compared to our camper in Canada, it felt a bit tight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have any more stuff!

On another note, this was the lightest I’ve ever packed for a trip, and it was a big stretch for me! I wore the same boots the entire time, other than my runners for hiking. I didn’t bring heels. (Who am I?) I didn’t bring my blow dryer or straightener, either, and just made due with the hair situation. I knew we wouldn’t have power for them anyways. (Thankfully, I was able to shower at my friend’s in Dunedin, half way through the trip, and use her hair appliances to freshen up. Alice, you’re a life-saver!) Over all, I really embraced the campervan lifestyle. It was fine for 5 days, but by day 6, I was quite happy in our hotel room! I am still a bit “precious” as they say here, after all.

I have also realized that we’ve only been here just over half a year, and our trip was greatly enriched by the many connections we already had, because of our jobs in the industry, and friends we have made. We visited friends in Dunedin and Queenstown, and I knew people in Christchurch, and Gibbston Valley through simply meeting them at my job and spending some time getting to know them; they then returned the hospitality to us. We tried wines of people I’ve met at my job. We had a free place to stay in Wanaka, through another friend we’ve made. Most of the places we visited gave us extra special treatment when they found out we were industry people. I’m so thankful for all of these connections, and they make us feel so much more welcome in NZ.

Our trip was amazing.

Queenstown area
Queenstown
Roy’s Peak Summit
Arrowtown in Autumn

I’m so happy to have finally seen the South Island, and it is every bit as beautiful as people say. (Although, I do have to give bigger points to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.) 6 days went by so quickly, and we did a lot, but we still had moments of relaxation, and thoroughly enjoyed our first actual holiday in NZ.

Relaxing with my babe, stunning views and some Pinot at Maude

Hmm… where to next?

#nzv19

New Zealand Vintage 2019… is done.

The end of vintage brings mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s sad to say goodbye to the time of year when everything the industry people have been working towards for the rest of the year is finally realized. It’s also time for all the vintage staff to be on their way back to their home countries, or on to the Northern Hemisphere for the next vintage. Saying goodbye to a team of people who have spent more time with each other than anyone else for the last 6 to 8 weeks can be difficult, especially if it was a great team that got along well and bonded over late nights and long days.

On the other hand, for all the Cellar Hands out there, vintage is exhausting, stressful, and can be all consuming, so it’s a relief to get back to a normal schedule, start sleeping again, and get the occasional day off. The “wine widows” are happy to have their partners back too.

As promised, I’ll outline briefly what our experiences of our first vintage were, and better explain some of the photos you saw on our social media profiles in the last 2 months.


Vintage for my winery started on the 26th of February. I’ll remind you here that I work in the Cellar Door, not the winery, (which my boss had to remind me of a couple times – sorry Mitch) so any time I got to spend in the winery was really special to me. I didn’t personally have the long days, no time off, and night shifts that all the Cellar Hands did (and wow, do I admire them for their work). I certainly did clock some hours out there when the Cellar Door was slow, on my days off, and after work, to hang out with the crew and get my hands on everything I was allowed to touch.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual First Crush Ceremony, which was an unexpected honour for me. The grapes were loaded into the hopper, and before it was turned on, we had a speech with some high-ups in the company, and some of our Blanc de Noir (Champagne-style wine). Traditionally, everyone has a sip or two, and then throws the remainder of their wine into the hopper over the grapes. It’s a way of “blessing,” if you will, the next harvest with some wine from previous harvests. Ceremonies like this are practiced all over the world, and have been for years. Traditionally, the ceremony shows thanksgiving for the vineyards, the grapes, the workers, and begins the new vintage with a united team, hopeful for the vintage ahead.

My face when one of the Cellar Hands told me not to throw the entire wine glass in! 😂 Obviously.

I stuck around to watch the first crush, and tried some of the juice straight out of the press. It was a great day! I had no idea then just how many things I was actually going to experience this vintage.

The team began by bringing in Chardonnay for our bubbles, as well as some aromatic whites, like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, and then moved onto Chardonnay. Whites lasted for weeks, and I made sure to try each type of grape as they came in, and each grape juice as it was pressed out of the tanks.

During this time, I learned how the hopper, auger, crusher and presses work in a lot more detail, how to rack a tank, how the barrels are filled, and got to try my hand at some Battonage (yeast lees stirring). I also got to learn about the process of several loads of grapes arriving in both trucks and in bins, and how the winery coordinates with the vineyards, pickers and truck drivers to manage it all.

Hand harvested Sauvignon Blanc being loaded up into the press

Meanwhile, Greg was doing his own vintage at his workplace. After seeing our first crush ceremony, Greg suggested his team do one as well; they took his suggestion and involved everyone there, including the Cellar Door team, to launch the vintage with Champagne. Greg’s First Crush Ceremony was on the 14th of March, when they brought in some Merlot for Rose. For his very first crush, he mostly cleaned equipment and learned how to do a thorough job of that. He helped run pumps, move hoses, de-stem and get the juice off of the skins.

Two weeks later, Greg’s winery brought in some whites. Greg had lots of different roles; sometimes he drove the tractor from the vineyard into the winery with loads of grapes, other times he helped operate the press. As his place is an Estate winery, everything is grown on site. With their small team, they often enlisted the help of picking gangs to come harvest the grapes on the days they were ready. Greg began doing more involved jobs, like loading the press, and continuing with that all important cleaning and sanitizing. He enjoyed harvesting the Chardonnay the most, but loved the taste of the Gewertztraminer grapes the best.

I got to experience my first harvest, and Greg’s second, when Greg and I helped our friends at Saorsa wines with their Viognier. I was so slow at first, but eventually got the hang of it!

As exciting as the whites were, I was thrilled when the reds began coming in. Merlot for Rose was the first red that came into our winery on the 24th of March, and the reds continued until the end of April.

Greg’s Winery brought in their first official red, Pinotage, on the 25th of March. He enjoyed harvesting the reds more than the whites, because although the reds require a lot more work in the winery over the next several months, the harvest day process is simpler. With the reds, Greg learned to do everything from pour overs, punch downs and rummages (to continually mix the juice and skins all together while they’re fermenting) to taking and recording data of temperature and Brix (sugar) levels in the active ferments every day.

His small team lead to some extra long days, as they had to finish processing the grapes that came in before they could go home. That same small team had some benefits for me though, as I was welcomed to come participate in some of the cellar work. I loved doing punch-downs, and helping with anything they’d set me up working on.

Couples who make wine together… 🍷

Meanwhile, at my own workplace, I was still taking every chance to be out in the winery. I witnessed a few dig outs (emptying skins from the tanks after fermentation is done) and got to try everything from taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins at the top of the tanks, to testing Brix (sugar) levels in wine, rummages (blowing compressed air into the tanks to mix up the skins through the juice and regulate the temperature of the ferment), and even running the hopper (with much needed and excessive supervision)!

Rummaging the Cuves
Testing the Brix
Taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins
Learning to run the hopper with a load of red grapes

Greg and I helped our friends at Element Wines harvest their Merlot, and got another little harvest under our belts.

Greg did his first dig out on his birthday!

A big highlight for me was when Alex of Saorsa allowed me to help him foot stomp his Syrah! This had been a dream of mine for years, and it was so amazing to actually get to do it.

Greg has also had the incredible and special opportunity to make his own wines. He’s got the mentorship of his Assistant Winemaker every step of the way, to help him create the style of wine he wants, and the benefit of the winery’s fruit and equipment. He is making a “field blend,” which is a mix of any and all grape types that come from the same block; his has 8 varietals in it, and will be a red wine. He’s also making a Chardonnay, and a Rose. He is learning to be a Winemaker on his own wines, which is an amazing way to learn. We’re so excited to try the finished products.

Greg’s Chardonnay
Greg tasting his field blend in the early stages
Greg’s field blend during the first week of fermenting

All of the grapes have been brought in now, but there is still much to do to tend to the wines, as they will be in the winery for months to years before they’re ready to be bottled. Greg continues to work on those tasks, and is doing some big jobs independently now. He continues to learn new things every day, and will soon be getting into pruning the vines with his Assistant Winemaker.

I’m spending more time back in the Cellar Door, and less in the winery now, but I’m reminded that it’s where I wanted to be, and still want to be – talking to people about wine, touring them around, and educating them about this passion of mine. There’s so much Greg and I have learned, and even more we want to learn. At the end of this first vintage we’ve gotten to be part of, the whole process of growing grapes and making wine is even more alive and exciting for us than ever before.

Home

What is “home?”

I asked the question, and a lot of you gave very thoughtful responses. Here are some of them, paraphrased and summarized.

Home is where you are heard and appreciated.

Home is where you feel the most comfortable to be yourself.

Home is where love is abundant.

Home is where you are relaxed and free.

Home is that soft place to land, where your heart smiles, and your soul shouts, “yes, this is where I belong.”

Home is different for everyone, and it can change over time.

Home is somewhere you look forward to going each day.

Home is wherever you put down roots.

Home is where you are authentically yourself, and loved unconditionally by yourself and others.

You can have more than one home.

My husband’s answer to what home is, was that it is anywhere I am. Although this caused a bit of friendly teasing from some of you, many of you know that when you have a partner in life, you can choose to go almost anywhere with them and make a new home.

We’ve been living in Hawke’s Bay for 6 months today; we’ve been away from Canada for a bit longer than that, but we’ve been living in this new place for half of a year now. To some that may seem short, while to others it may seem long. To me it seems perfect, because this is exactly where I have needed to be.

So when does it become home? We’ve been proactive at choosing to make this our home, right from the start.

Canada will always be our home. Saskatoon will always be our hometown. I still feel at home every time I visit the camp I grew up attending. I feel at home when we arrive at our favourite lake in Saskatchewan. I feel at home in our camper, wherever we may park it. Hawke’s Bay also feels like home to us now.

We don’t know how long this will be home, but for now, it is home to us. So when you ask us to “come home,” or when we’ll be “coming home,” the answer is, “we’re already home.”