I added Covid-19 to my Microsoft Word dictionary today.
When 2020 began, I could not have foreseen this year becoming what it has so quickly become. And we’re just at the beginning of these next unpredictable and shaky weeks. Or months?
I’ve asked people in their 70’s if they’ve ever seen anything like this in their lifetime and they say they haven’t. No one has. Someone commented to me that the last time things were this dire was in World War II, and although that comment may be a bit extreme at this point, it’s truth may not be for long.
Isn’t it crazy how a microscopic virus can become the hugest villain this world has seen in decades?
I’m reflecting on so many things, and processing uncountable thoughts as this thing affects my life more and more daily, and the lives of those who I love; I know I’m not alone in that.
Life at work has been a lot to take in, and we’ve been dealing with the punches as they come. We had no idea on Sunday morning when we woke up that it would be our last day with cruise ships in town, and that our last tour of the season would go out. We had no idea on Monday when we woke up that we would be isolated from the winery, and many of our colleagues. I spent the majority of my day going through our calendar and regretfully cancelling booking after booking with tour groups and customers. We had no idea on Tuesday when we woke up that all of our Administration office staff would now be working from home indefinitely. Our diary has gone from very full, to completely empty in 2 days. Church Road has never seen this. Local tour operators have lost thousands of dollars of business each day at the drop of a hat. It is amazing how much our culture in NZ survives on tourism. What will happen to those businesses? Those employees? How will people pay their bills?
Living across the world has often felt like we are far from our friends and family in Canada, but this pandemic has reminded me of how small this world can be, and how connected we are to each other. We are in this together, and fighting this together, as a world community. It takes something like this sometimes, that’s attacking all of us, to unite us in our fight against it. We are one large community in many ways right now, as we realize how human and vulnerable we are, and how this life can never be taken for granted.
We like to walk through life feeling like we’re in control. We think we have a job, and we make this much, so we plan ahead for money to come in, and we buy now. We think we can book vacations and just go on them. We plan so many events, celebrations and gatherings, and we assume they’ll happen, because why wouldn’t they? But we’re never really in control, are we? We’ve never been, even when we thought we were, but going through life with that mentality is scary as all hell. We can’t have peace with that knowledge unless we believe in something that gives us a sense of grounding or faith or we have something to put our trust and hope into that it’s all going to be okay or work out as it’s meant to be.
We feel so out of control and turbulent when things like this happen, because we are faced with the reality that we can’t control the outcome. This leads to panic. The panic, I’ve found, can spread just as quick as the virus itself, or maybe quicker. Panic and fear breed more panic and more fear. Panic buying, panic conspiracies being spread verbally and over social media. Panic reactions of all kinds.
The virus may steal the health of some, but the fear is already stealing the peace of many.
It has been interesting to watch how government authorities across various countries are handling the same situation so differently. I am thankful for the precautions New Zealand is taking to “flatten the curve.” Many of us are informing ourselves as best we can, and are trying to weed through the overwhelming amount of information we’re being presented with as the situation changes hourly. We try to cope with it all as we are able, through sharing conversations (hopefully via safe social distancing), or sharing the many humorous memes and videos already going around on social media, or exercise (if our gym is still open), or maybe even with some straight up liquor and pure denial. Or by writing (how I process).
Regardless of how we’re all dealing with it, I’m impressed at so many positive elements of the human race I’m seeing come out already. We, as people, have a fight in us that is awakened when we’re challenged. We push to try and fix and solve and we don’t give up. We work together. When we unite, we support each other. It has been humbling to already witness so many groups forming to support others in the community. It is heart warming to see people who are strangers come together to help other strangers because we are all human beings. This is the basis of humanity. It’s touching to see the goodness in people’s souls, and to be reminded that it is there. We are seeing people love other people in very tangible ways. Why do we not operate like this under “normal” circumstances? This is what the communities in this world should be like!
We are at the beginning of what could be a long road ahead, that will inevitably have multiple tiers of effects that last years. Someone told me today this is the Depression of the 2020’s. The thing is, nobody knows. And we have to take this one day, and one hour and one battle at a time. We have to find ways to cope that work for us. We need to support each other; we need to have friends and family we can lean on, and that can lean on us. We need to be open to how this is affecting us and seek help if we need. When the panic and the fear and the “what if’s” set in, we have to find something that can ground us. For me, it’s my faith. For you it may be something else, but I’ll leave you with this. Maybe it can help you too.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7.
Marlborough, New Zealand. I want to paint it in lights and wave my hands through the air like a banner as I say it with grandiosity. It’s the pinnacle of wine regions in this country… isn’t it?
If we hadn’t worked in the industry here, and were living in Canada as our regular old, wine loving, WSET certified wine fan selves, and we were given the choice to pick one wine region in New Zealand to visit, we would have chosen Marlborough, all day, hands down. I’d bet that’d be the common vote across most wine fans. There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s the same reason why we want to visit Tuscany in Italy, or the Barossa in Aussie, or Mendoza in Argentina. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to New Zealand is like Rioja to Spain, or Zinfandel to California, or Chennin Blanc to South Africa. I have to pay respect to Marlborough for producing something that has grabbed the attention of internationals, because it’s given all other regions the chance to start showcasing that New Zealand is producing some exceptional wines. And if you like Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand really is the country you should be looking to, and Marlborough is the region that it mostly comes from, although I do challenge you to try Hawke’s Bay Sauv, or Central Otago, or any of the other regions as well.
Upon flying into Marlborough in our wee, 9 seater plane, we got to see it from a bird’s eye view.
It is stunningly beautiful, as is most of New Zealand; I noticed though, that it is almost fully planted in vines. There are hardly any orchards, and hardly any trees. There is hardly anything else, actually, because they’re running out of space entirely to plant vines. Sauvignon Blanc production has basically consumed Marlborough.
As we made our way around the region, we learned that there are over 40 Cellar Doors, and a lot of them are for large brands. We went to a few big producers, like Brancott Estate, who planted the first Sauvignon Blanc vines in Marlborough in 1979, and Giesen.
We visited some smaller ones, like No.1 Family Estate, a solely Methode Traditionnelle producer that is 12/13th generation from France and does exceptional champagne-style wines. We loved everything at No.1 Family Estate.
We were also guests of Hans Herzog (Swiss family making very natural style wines), Framingham (producing delicious, aromatic wines), and Fromm (using organic growing and dry farming). We were impressed with the Rieslings at Framingham, Fromm’s Pinot Noir, and the Cellar Door Exclusive Zweigelt at Brancott.
We saw the industrial side of Blenheim when we went for a tour of our sister winery, Brancott.
It’s surrounded by several other wineries that all have tanks and presses of sizes so large I could hardly wrap my mind around them. In knowing how large our presses are, I was whispering to my friend along the tour, “did she just say it has that much capacity? Did I hear that number right?”
I took a journalist for a tour/interview at work the other day, and she asked me, “if travellers only had time/money to visit one wine region in New Zealand, why should they pick yours? Why Hawke’s Bay?” I had to stop and think for a moment before I responded, because where do I even start? My answer of “obviously because it’s the best,” wouldn’t have been appropriate for a journal article, so I went into a bit more depth. I could write an entire article on just this, but I’ll try to sum up my passion for Hawke’s Bay into a single paragraph.
Hawke’s Bay, although it is the second largest wine region in New Zealand, only exports around 10% of the wine leaving the country; this means we are largely boutique and small production, ensuring more interesting wines, made by real people who strive for wines of quality. We have an extremely diverse array of over 25 different microclimates created by our soils, mountain ranges, Mediterranean climate and sea breezes. This allows us to grow a wide selection of varietals and make wines of all kinds, so like I told the journalist, if you like Bubbles, we have it, Rosé, we have it, all kinds of white wine, we have it, light to heavy red wine, we have it. We’re the only region that does it all. With over 38 Cellar Doors, there’s plenty to try, and we have so much here in addition to the exceptional wine, like orchards, capes, walks, beaches, harbours, museums, history, culture, over 2000 sunshine hours per season, and a great restaurant scene, to name a few.
As I’ve travelled to wine regions and gotten to sample local wines, I’ve noticed there are amazing wines in almost every region that are not mainstream; however, as a traveller I was mostly there to try as many producers and styles of the specific varietals I knew the places for. Since working in the industry in this country, I’ve had the opportunity to change my focus. I’ve seen first hand that there is infinitely more to a country’s wine production than what’s exported. Yes, infinitely more.
When we went back to Canada last year, we were excited to take a browse of the New Zealand isle and see what was available to our friends and families. We were disheartened to find so many mass production labels, that our wine region of New Zealand is so poorly represented, and that most regions here aren’t represented at all. Many of the labels we found aren’t real wineries. They’re brand labels made specifically for export, and although are sometimes decent examples of characters a wine from that area may exhibit, it would be hard to say they’re high quality wines. When people send me photos of Hawke’s Bay wines they’ve found and ask if we’ve been to their Cellar Door, I’m thinking, “no, that’s not a real place, but I drive past the factory where it’s made sometimes…” There is a market for that, yes, but it’s sad to see that those labels seemed to be all that was available. That being said, we really don’t have many wine factories here in the Bay to produce large enough quantities for export at cheap enough prices, unlike Marlborough.
It got me thinking about how many of the other countries of the world are this poorly represented.
What are we missing out on that’s exceptional?
Likely all countries are sending mostly or maybe exclusively mass production wines from only their widely known regions, of only their popular varietals overseas, because that’s what sells. Wine is a business, just like any other, and sales is the biggest thing that matters.
Make wine people will buy. That’s the goal.
The average consumer isn’t buying wine to appreciate the terroir, and to try something different and experience sense of place and be part of the story the weather told that year. They’re looking for an alcoholic beverage with good value, and taste consistency across vintages. To do this, you need multiple recieval bins, huge presses, huge tanks, and huge everything else too, along with some winemaking tricks. Your vintage is just as long as everyone else’s and you’ve got to make the volume happen in the same short 6 weeks, hence the larger, “factory” looking places we saw in the South.
I’ve got to say that in visiting Marlborough, I found there were lots of really nice, interesting wines, that are of quality. Some of what were my favourite wines really surprised me, because they were at a big producer’s tasting room, not the place I expected to have anything interesting. I really enjoyed doing single vineyard comparisons of two of Geisen’s Sauvignon Blancs, and three of their Pinot Noirs; I loved smelling and tasting the expression of the terroir of each vineyard. It was refreshing to see that side of the industry does exist, even in Marlborough, and even with Sauvignon Blanc, although it is a small part down there. This goes to show that even the big producers can do small production stuff that is interesting; however, most of it’s sold locally, so you’ll only find it if you actually go visit the region.
Visiting Marlborough as a wine enthusiast, and as an industry person, was worth it. Despite mixed opinions in the industry on the region and its famous wine, I believe every New Zealand industry person should experience it for themselves. I want to go back again with my husband so he can understand it personally, and I’d love to visit more of the places I unfortunately missed on this last trip. Marlborough is beautiful, iconic for the country, and wines of quality can be found at several wineries. And if you only drink Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, you’ll definitely love Marlborough.
I do challenge you though, if you’re visiting this gorgeous country to experience some interesting and quality made wines, please keep in mind that there’s so much more to New Zealand outside the borders of our famous wine region. Take the time to explore the other regions and varietals if you really want to know what this country can do. Even within Marlborough, there’s so much more than just Sauv. There are some beautiful aromatic varietals and Chardonnays, and Pinot Noirs coming out of the region, and there are great small producers making sustainable and unique Marlborough wines. Although our identity to the world is largely represented by Marlborough Sauv, and that is a part of who we are, we have a much deeper wine identity, and I suspect many other countries are the same.
On a fun, side note, Marlborough Pinot Noir is just as good for breakfast as Central Otago Pinot. Pinot Noir as a breakfast wine is surprisingly great!
Now that I’ve seen our most iconic region, I’ve been asked if I wish I had chosen to live and work in Marlborough instead of Hawke’s Bay.
Alice Rule is the face behind 3Sixty2, a boutique wine label producing small batch Marlborough wines. Along with Cooper, the dog, who has a big piece of Alice’s heart, Alice spends her free time paddle boarding, or catching up with friends.
Growing up as the oldest child in her split family, Alice knew no other life as a kid than to work hard, help her Dad around the dairy farm on which she was raised, and watch out for her younger sister. Born and raised in a rural area in the Bay of Islands, Alice and her sister would choose between who would feed the calves and who would make their lunches before racing to catch the bus to Kawakawa School. After school, she went straight back to work to help her Dad finish up anything that needed to be done on the farm. She was no where near wine then; it wasn’t a part of her upbringing.
School wasn’t a big priority to Alice as a teen, and she was kicked out of high school at the age of 17. Her parents finally had enough and told her she needed to get herself together and do something meaningful with her life. She decided that training as a chef sounded intriguing, so she enrolled in the course at the Culinary Institute of NZ. Part of her requirements was a 3 day per week job in a restaurant. As chance would have it, she came across a job at Marsden Estate, a small, family owned winery. Every day, the whole family (even Grandma, Alice notes) sat down for coffee together at 10.00am, and included the staff. One morning, a contractor called Hobo said to everyone at coffee, “why do you have Alice working in the kitchen? Do you know who her Dad is?” He recognized the farm skill and pure hard work ethic she had and moved her into the vineyard instead. Alice comments that “from there, there was no looking back. I knew wine was for me. They shipped me off to EIT to study wine.”
Once she graduated, she returned to Northland to work there; however, during her time at EIT, she worked part time for Hoggle, the Vineyard Manager of Moana Park. She asked if she could help after she was done school for the day, and he said, “I can’t pay you, but yeah.” Alice says about Hoggle that “he became a real mentor of mine, so I learned as much as I could. And he’d pay me in this wine called ‘Hog Snort’ he made himself. Hog Snort was a real luxury as a student and I had to work really hard for it cause I only got a few bottles!”
Alice has worked 10 vintages now, at a wide range of New Zealand wineries. She’s worked at some smaller places, like Marsden Estate, Omata and Fat Pig in Northland, Craggy Range and Church Road in Hawke’s Bay, as well as huge ones like Indivin and Corban’s. She’s even done 2 vintages in the same season, starting in Aussie, and finishing that same autumn at Moana Park in New Zealand. She was a Technical Viticulturist at Te Mata too, which was a great expression of her vineyard passions.
So why did she start her own label? In 2016, she realized that even with her experience and education, the vineyard she was at paid the bird scarer the same wage as they paid her.
She was over working for little to make someone else’s wine dreams come true; it was time for her to take the leap and start building towards her own dream. She called up her good friend, Phil, who is a winemaker in Marlborough to see if he would partner with her to produce the kinds of wines she wanted to make. Even as a small start up, she had her long term vision of being an international brand in mind, and knew that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was key. With a personal love for Chardonnay, she wanted to produce it as well. Phil agreed, and they were off.
With Phil and the winery Alice uses being in Marlborough, and her desire to make a Marlborough Sauv, it makes perfect sense that all her fruit comes from that region as well. She lives and works in Hawke’s Bay, because she feels it’s the place to be with its accessibility to Auckland and Wellington, the two main centres that distribute her brand. She travels to Marlborough monthly to personally check in on the wines, is there during harvest, and communicates daily with her winemaking partner, Phil.
Her day job is with a tech company out of Auckland, and she is currently working on a project for NZ Wine Growers on the Technical Advisory Committee for Sustainable Wine Growers. Sustainability is a huge passion of Alice’s, and she dedicates her heart and soul to not only the sustainability of her brand, but on creating ways to improve the sustainability of the industry across the country. She says about her job that her “hours are all over the place,” but it “gives flexibility to spend on the wine” and to work with her customers.
The 3Sixty2 name pays homage to the land where Alice is from, as well as the history of the industry in the country. She had won a Young Viticulture award when she was in EIT, and instead of a trophy she received a copy of “Chances and Visionaries” by Keith Stuart, who wrote about the history of New Zealand wine. Alice says she “always refers back to that book,” and there was the story of how James Busby brought cuttings into New Zealand and was teaching orphans to grow grapes. He had taken over 500 cuttings from Europe, but only 362 survived the journey. Alice explains that the name “pays homage to a visionary that I have great respect for.”
As well as sustainability, focusing on reducing carbon emissions, and going plastic free as much as possible, Alice’s company mandate revolves around “driving the circular economy.” She gives the example of glass to explain. “Glass is circular. It’s made out of natural products and the bottles I use are, on average, 67% recycled glass.”
She makes the point that often, conventional wines are criticized for not being as sustainable as organic ones, but with all of her research and experience in the industry, she has found that the best wines are grown with a mixture of the two. There have to be certain practices taken into account to make a wine sustainable. Alice explains, “the best vineyards I have worked in grow cover crops, reduce pesticide, use fewer chemicals, and do less passes through the vineyard. This is because the sprays are more efficient, support microbial activity in the soil, compost, and typically use less copper, which I quite firmly believe is the most toxic chemical to soil health and is less likely to cultivate.”
On the somewhat controversial topic of organics, she comments, “I think organics has taught conventional producers a great deal and is an important part of the wine-producing biosphere and how we treat our land. But I challenge the common perception that organic grape production is kinder on the soil.” She wants to bring greater awareness to sustainability in all schools of winemaking.
Many producers focus on making wine as naturally as possible, but Alice feels “the packaging the wine comes in should be as natural as the wine itself,” and therefore pays lots of attention to hers. As well as advocating for low weight bottles, she uses no cellotape, only FSA, New Zealand made boxes, and Environmark Gold certified labels from a specific producer. She has also created “362 Trees for Bees” and partners with an initiative supporting New Zealand native plantings.
Similarly, in taking responsibility and care for her environmental impact, she wants to care for those that she contracts with, and says that if she can make her wines better, she can pay her staff better. “I never want to pay anyone as little as I was paid. There’s got to be a better way.” She points out that “it’s an element of sustainability we often forget about.”
As of 2016, you’ll be able to find 3Sixty2 Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Most recently, in 2019, Alice added a red to her label, Pinot Noir. She describes it as “not delicate or floral,” and because of the smaller berries she got, she was able to give it “more concentrated skin contact.” Like Alice’s other wines, it’s unique in that it’s a “kick you in the face Pinot Noir.”
She does partial wild ferment on all of her wines, which contribute to more complex and interesting flavours. Even her Marlborough Sauv is 25% wild fermented. She “loves the character of what it brings and how it expresses the terroir.” For the rest, she prefers to inoculate with a 5-in-1 yeast that brings out more complexity.
She doesn’t like too much reduction in Chardonnay, and prefers a restrained version, similar to the styles she was helping make in Northland. She uses hand harvested fruit, presses it in whole bunches and ferments it in old oak barrels for a subtle flinty character. She has been experimenting with oak marbles from Tony Bish too. She loves some oak in a Chardonnay, but as sustainability is key, she poses the question of, “what am I going to do with all these barrels after I’m done with them?” If she can find a way to impart similar character, that’s more sustainable, that’s her number one goal.
She produced just over 3000 bottles in 2016. 2017 was around the same, but she faced the same challenges as many did in 2018 with a less than desirable vintage and decided not to produce that year. She’s had other challenges as well, like her original brand not standing out on the shelves. She was in a difficult relationship that was taking its toll when she released her first label, and admits that it didn’t get the thought it should have. She has completely rebranded since and is proud of her new branding.
Her labels showcase the honour she pays to the history of New Zealand wine. On the Chardonnay label you’ll see the pattern that was on the original, hand written treatise that Busby documented. The circle represents the official stamp on the original documents, a symbol of authority. Alice loves that her labels represent not only where wine began for her, in Northland, but where it began for the country.
In addition to overcoming the rebrand challenge, Alice explains how difficult it can be as a solo, woman founder. She is supporting herself and her brand in a region away from her family. “We work our guts off in this industry and the days are hard and expensive.” Is it worth it? Alice joked that “if you’d asked me last week, I’d have sold it to you! But this week, yeah, it’s worth it.” Her jestful response shows how difficult and emotional this industry can be. Despite that, she says, “I love 3Sixty2. I love making wines. I love being in the industry and I love making blends.” She clearly has a lot of love for what she does, and also realizes it’s her art. “I’m a creative person. I love talking with my winemaker and looking at interesting components, and next steps.” Both wines have done her proud, with the Sauv getting a Silver Medal through Bob Campbell’s Real Review, and the Chardonnay getting Bronze.
When I asked her what she’s learned being in this industry, she responded with the word “grit.” She’s realized the biggest lesson is that “you’ve just got to take the punches and carry on going.” She comments that “the business part is intimidating and sales are hard,” but she’s proactive in facing the challenge head on; she’s enrolled in a weekly business course to help her grow in those areas. Alice is determined and when she faces challenges, she chooses to “find the motivation to carry on. You’ve got to sink or swim.”
She is grateful to see that “there are good people in the industry fighting tooth and nail for their dream and it is not easy.” Alice comments that “the most magical thing” is the “good people that support your dream,” and seeing customers love her wine. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your wines loved. There’s nothing more satisfying than that.” She comments about industry people and customers alike, that “the people have made all of the challenges totally worth their while.”
You can find 3Sixty2 wines at boutique wine stores in Auckland and Wellington, as well as Milk and Honey in Hawke’s Bay. If you want to enjoy them at home, find her on Instagram @3sixty2 or order online at http://www.3sixty2.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 6thfloor 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.)
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.”
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.
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 formakinginteresting and authentic wines of quality; cheers to you as youenjoythem!