“WTF?,” “you can’t be serious,” and “wait, you’re joking, right?” are among a few of the reactions we’ve gotten when we tell this crazy story that is all too true. “I’m still processing this,” “it’s so unjust,” and “you should put some cooked chickens on your landlady’s doorstep with the chickens’ names on them; that’ll show her,” have been pretty popular responses as well.
So how did this happen?
Well, we’re still trying to figure that out ourselves, but it’s been pretty chicken ridiculous if you ask me. (Get ready for dozens of egg-selant chicken puns.)
It all started before we got the chickens, so I can’t blame this entirely on them, but they definitely became the catalyst for us flying the coop on that place.
Our previous landlord, God bless her, is an elderly lady who lives alone, and has many passions, like American politics, Canadian politics, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, making face cream in the kitchen, teaching science, investigating conspiracy theories . . . and animals. Boy does she love ’em. She even feeds the seagulls bread every day, so while living there, we constantly heard the pitter-patter of them on our roof.
She was very helpful, and quick to respond when anything broke, or mail showed up, which we so appreciated, however, her perceived helpfulness was actually becoming invasive to us. We had begun having issues with her coming over whenever she wanted. She had figured out that if she came to our back doors (floor to ceiling glass) instead of our front door, that she could peer in, with hands next to her eyes, nose pressed to the glass, to see if we were home; once seen, we were then obligated to answer when she knocked and waited there, staring at us.
(Don’t worry, many friends suggested that Greg start being naked all the time, so we had considered that option too.)
One winter day when I was off work sick, in my pajamas, likely with a Kleenex hanging out of my nose, she came over five times. Five times, there she was, peering in the windows, wanting to talk about various things. I had communicated several times that I was sick, and trying to rest, but to no avail.
By the end of the day, Greg arrived home to find me in tears, and we decided we needed to have a conversation. For those of you that know Greg, he is the nicest, most least confrontational person I know, so you can imagine how kind and gentle the conversation went. He even gave her the old “shit sandwich,” and started and ended with positives, listing things we appreciated about her, but just asked for some privacy. Greg said she responded really well at the time . . .
She avoided us for a week.
Greg and I discussed the possibility of being evicted then, but she eventually began speaking to us in the driveway, and things seemed normal.
Fast forward to Greg deciding he wants chickens. Our landlady was all for it, and very hen-thusiastic! We got Jean and Loreen, who we lovingly named after our mothers.
As many of you witnessed in the videos, having Jean and Loreen was a learning curve to say the least, but we winged it, and eventually started enjoying the eggs, and they paid for themselves quite quickly.
They kept egg-scaping though, and we couldn’t crack the mystery.
At first, we thought the coop must just be loose, and Greg fixed it here, and tightened it there. Still, we would come home to the chickens out, and to a yard and patio area full of 💩 . Having chickens wasn’t all it was cracked up to be!
Well here, the plot chickens! We finally caught our landlady’s neighbour friend (also a single, senior, lover of animals) in our backyard, feeding them scraps and letting them out!
Not wanting to be chickens ourselves, conversation two happened shortly thereafter; Greg politely asked our landlady to please stay out of our backyard, and to have her friend also stay out; he egg-splained that we didn’t want others feeding them, and that we also didn’t want them let out. Their coop was more than twice the standard size, and a very luxurious home for them, and we wanted the backyard free of 💩 . Is walking to your clothes line in bare feet without stepping in 🐓 💩 really too much to ask? Or is having a 🐓 💩 free wine night on the patio with friends unreasonable? I should think not.
She kindly agreed to this, but we shouldn’t have counted our chickens before they’d hatched.
Still, Greg would find that the coop was being damaged every day, and there was a lot of 💩 in our backyard.
Not only that, but the chickens had started pacing by the fence and squawking every morning on the weekends, wanting to be let out, and waking us up! Now that’s not an alarm cluck we want on Saturday mornings! We couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t formed the habit of being in their coop by then; they were in there all day every day, so they should be used to it… right?
One day, I popped home in the middle of the day, and caught our landlady in our yard, with the chickens roaming free, feeding them out of a little dish. Boy, did she scramble!
Greg hatched a plan; he started setting a small item inside our fence that would move un-noticed if our gate had been opened. Sure as a chicken lays an egg, that gate was being opened daily.
She was letting them out after we left for work, and making sure to put them back before we returned. She had even purchased her own feed, that she was hiding in her house, and using to feed them while we were away.
Greg popped home two more days in the middle of the day, and found the chickens out both times. She was caught red handed! When he asked her about it, she made up egg-scuses; talk is cheep after all.
Greg doesn’t get his feathers ruffled by much, but he was over all this fowl-play. She was blatantly disrespecting us, and actually in repeated violation of several parts of the Tenancy Act.
Greg’s no spring chicken and knew from past experience that talking to her would obviously not work; he decided having the chooks was no longer worth it. They went up for sale on Trademe that Monday.
We sold them Wednesday evening.
Friday morning we got a text saying we were being evicted due to “family reasons,” which allowed her to kick us out in half the time. Well 💩, what a mother clucker of a problem for us!
We knew it was about the chickens, but had no proof. We were shocked, and moving isn’t something we planned to do, but we quickly realized we would be better off without her egging us on all the time, and decided to look at it as a blessing.
We sent her a message asking if we could use her as a reference for our new place, and that’s when she egg-sploded. I mean it was egg-saturation and egg-streme accusations all over the place.
No, she would not be a reference for us, because “the chickens disappeared out of thin air,” we are “rude, inconsiderate, have no common civility,” and she suggested that maybe one of our bosses or friends could “concoct” something nice to say about us.
Through a series of messages, both of our characters were completely slandered, and all to do with the departure of our little gems, Jean and Loreen. Apparently her and her neighbour both cried about the chickens, and decided we needed to go. Now that’s a pretty n-egg-ative mindset if you ask me!
Seems she easily forgot about how amazing of tenants we are, how clean and quiet we are, all the free wine, baking and EGGS we’ve given her, how we always pay our rent on time, or basically everything else we do as freakingly awesome tenants.
Despite what we felt like saying, we have responded graciously and respectfully to her messages and addressed that the chickens were actually ours, and we had the right to sell them, but you can’t egg-sactly be rational with an irrational person, can you?
So there you have it.
Evicted over chickens.
There we were, with a bad reference from our only New Zealand landlord, on the house hunt in the egg-streamly difficult market of Hawke’s Bay. Now that’s a pan-scrambler, to be sure!
Egg-ceptionally, crack-up, chookin’ crazy as.
God is good though, and we’re being taking care of. We have a great new home that we moved into on Saturday. We may not stay here for long, but we can if we choose, so we’ll just play it by ear and see how it goes.
Could we take our old landlady to the Tenancy Tribunal and fight this? Absolutely. 100%. As sure as a good chicken lays an egg! We have the messages proving all her lies about everything. But we didn’t egg-sactly want to stay there with her anymore anyways, with the current state of the relationship. Our wings are not clipped and we’ve escaped to a new home where we can be more free, like Jean and Loreen did.
So the moral of the story is: buy your eggs at the Supermarket.
Those three words sum up what Tony and Kaye Prichard of de la terre are all about: provenance.
“Own what’s in the glass, grow your own grapes, do it yourself. That’s really important to us.” – Tony
When you pull up to Tony and Kaye’s winery, after a relaxing, beautiful drive through the winding country-side of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, you’ll instantly notice you’re somewhere special.
You will feel like you’re a visitor to an old, French country cottage. Gracie, the friendly dog, will greet you as you begin walking the path to the solid cedar double doors. You will hear the gravel crunch underneath your feet, and as you survey the hilly landscape, you’ll take in the scent of freshly cut grass, blooming flowers, and clean air. You’ll also notice the aroma of a warm loaf of Kaye’s home made bread, or a from-scratch pizza baking in the clay oven, and take note to pop over to the cafe as soon as you’re finished your tasting.
As you set foot inside the earth brick winery, you will meet Tony himself, who will take you through your selected choices from 13 of his 16 wines, kept fresh in his personally designed and home-made wine dispensing machine. He’ll explain how he has made each of the unique and distinctive wines he produces, and you’ll be amazed at the exceptional quality, depth and complexity of each of them. When you purchase your wine, you’ll notice that each bottle has been hand numbered by Kaye, just one example of the incredible detail that goes into every single element of what de la terre does.
After your degustation, you will partake in a beautiful meal or platter of Kaye’s delicious, home made food, perfectly paired with the de la terre wines of your choice. While you eat, the three-tiered pergola water feature above you (that Tony built himself) or a crackling log fire in the pizza oven will bring calm serenity to relax you before you head off . . . until next time. You already know you’ll be back.
So how did Tony and Kaye create this incredibly special place for their customers to experience?
It all began when they met each other in their early 20’s as Food Tech students at Massey University in Palmerston North. Kaye was enrolled in the product development side of the programme and Tony was enrolled in the engineering side. On their first days of school, neither Tony or Kaye thought they’d graduate from a Food Tech programme and eventually own their own winery, but low and behold, that’s what happened.
Kaye had been raised visiting the vineyards of her father’s winemaker friends, and remembers really liking a popular, sweet, sparkling wine as a young girl. Tony had also tried a sparkling in his early years at his brother’s wedding, in an old-style goblet, and remembers not liking it, yet being mesmerized by it; he was curious as to how it was made.
They give the real credit though, for the spark of their wine journey, to an influential lecturer, Malcolm Reeves, co-founder of Crossroad Winery, who used to put on wine tastings for his students on Friday’s. As you can imagine, wine tastings on Friday afternoons were very well received by the students, so Tony and Kaye began attending. Tony recalls one afternoon where Malcolm poured a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling, then put them in bags to disguise them before pouring them again, blind. Tony guessed them correctly, and thought to himself, “this winemaking stuff is easy. I can do this!”
He couldn’t picture himself as a food tech engineer, wearing a white uniform in a dairy factory somewhere for the rest of his life. He knew in his soul that he was a “maker of things,” and wanted to make wine.
Upon graduating, Tony found an advertisement in the paper for an Assistant Winemaker position at the Montana Winery in Gisborne. Many people in his class applied, but Tony was chosen for the job. When I asked him why, he said he isn’t sure, but it could have been to do with his passion. Knowing how passionate and skilled he is today, I would agree that Montana made the right choice. Tony explains that in those days, there weren’t winemaking degrees like there are now. Two of the decision makers for Montana also had Food Tech degrees, like Tony, and perhaps wanted someone without any winemaking ideas of his own, who could be trained and moulded. His Food Tech course had indeed prepared him quite well for the science of winemaking; everything else he learned on the job.
The two were married in 1983.
Tony worked as Assistant Winemaker for Montana for 3 years, doing huge volumes (for example, 15,000 tonne vintages). He was promoted to Chief Winemaker in 1986. As Tony began working at Montana, Kaye completed a Cordon Bleu Certificate Course in Auckland.
In 1989, Montana bought Church Road Winery and re-opened it, making Tony the Chief Winemaker at both the Gisborne Winery, and Church Road. Running both places in two locations was exhausting. Tony and Kaye moved to Hawke’s Bay in 1990 so Tony could focus solely on Church Road, where he spent 15 years in total.
He remembers many of the early years at Church Road with fondness. “It was family and fun in the early days,” Tony says, but unfortunately, through a couple of ownership changes, Tony eventually tired of the increasing corporate reporting and compliance in those companies; he also tired of not being able to see the wines he made into the bottle, as the bottling plant was in Auckland.
Tony and Kaye remember a specific afternoon drive they took, where through the conversation, Tony realized that he was ready to move on. He had always told his staff, “if you’re driving to work and you’re not happy, and you don’t want to be going here, you should be looking for something else.” Tony realized he needed to take his own advice; they both already knew what to do.
They had visited Burgundy in 1995, and remember it vividly.
We would be “driving through little streets, and see a small house and underground cellars and there’s a press and some barrels and a few tanks, and you go along and there’s another one, and here were people living and breathing wine, and that was their livelihood and that struck a chord. Even before that we’ve always been makers of things. Having been trained in winemaking it seemed like a logical progression to make our own.”
Tony and Kaye had previously found their property in 1992, when it was just a green paddock with nothing on it. Being the makers of things that they are, they had built their house and workshop from scratch. After Tony left Church Road in 2005, he started a successful wine consulting business, and set about designing and building the winery. Ever since Tony can remember, he’s been building and making anything from furniture to beer; he wanted to make the winery too. It took them 4 years to get the winery up, and although Tony had begun producing some wines in the meantime with some of his consulting clients’ grapes, de la terre’s first vintage in the new winery was in 2009.
The name “de la terre” doesn’t just represent the way Tony makes his wine. The principle of using what is from the earth (de la terre) is weaved throughout the whole place. The winery is built with “earth bricks” that came from a local earth brick maker, who uses highly compressed soil to make them. Tony and Kaye’s house is built in the sustainable “rammed earth” style, and is made completely of raw, natural materials. Tony built both himself, along with the wine dispensing machine he uses to serve his tasting wines.
The couple believes in doing as much as they can themselves, by hand, and not relying on other people; they wanted the control to determine how the winery was shaped, as well as how the wine turns out. Tony’s currently just finished the three-tiered water feature pergola that sits above their cafe patio, and the pizza oven that acts as centrepiece. This time though, now that the recent projects are done, he said he’ll “never build again.” Kaye just laughed and said, “I’ve heard that before!”
As for the vineyards, they took over the lease on their Hill Country Vineyard in 2013, which is 5.5 hectares in the Havelock North area, and they also lease a 0.5 hectare satellite vineyard down the road. All of their grapes come from those vineyards, and they employ a Vineyard Manager and some part time staff to ensure premium grape quality. The main vineyard is a unique terroir of very steep limestone terraces that create an individualized minerality in de la terre wines. Tony explains that “it’s less obvious in the reds, but people can pick it in the whites,” and he purposely tries to highlight the land and its minerality in the wine.
Tony and Kaye stand out in Hawke’s Bay for more than just their sustainable earth brick buildings and their terrior. Tony believes there are enough Bordeaux blends and Pinots around, and prides himself on producing unique varietals. “The last thing we need is another Merlot,” he says. He produces some really rare wines in New Zealand, like Tannat, Barbara, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and a Chablis-style Chardonnay. Although you’ll find a few Viogniers in the Bay, Tony’s is quite different. He also makes late harvest and Noble wines from Viognier grapes.
While at Church Road, Tony had the opportunity to work closely with some French winemakers, and one of the key things he learned from them is to let the wine speak for itself. He believes that provenance, representing the land on which it was grown, is the most important thing for wine, rather than trying to manipulate it into what that varietal is “supposed” to taste like. It is for that reason that Tony chooses not to enter wine shows.
Despite not entering shows, de la terre wines are still highly reviewed by the best in the business, and often receive points well into the 90’s, and 5 stars, by writers like Bob Campbell and Michael Cooper.
Tony’s also launched a relatively new series called “The Cloud Series,” that is particularly unique, and actually started as a joke in 2016, with Chardonnay. It’s made almost in complete opposition to most Chards in the Bay, being unfined, and unfiltered, with “its own personality.” To make it, he did a hard press on Reserve quality grapes, wild fermented the must, used huge amounts of fully toasted Hungarian oak from his favourite producer… and couldn’t keep it on the shelves! It was wildly popular with its rich butterscotch, and savoury burnt butter character. It reminded me of popcorn, and I loved it! He has now added a Viognier to the Cloud Series, and the name is there to remind people that if it looks a little cloudy, that’s okay.
Tony uses many traditional winemaking techniques, and he is of the opinion that most winemakers these days use too many fining ingredients. As of 2014, he also doesn’t filter any of his reds. He prefers to do the more natural process of racking his wines every few months, as it increases the intensity and mouthfeel of them. He’s even done some unfiltered whites. Tony is entirely confident in what he puts into the bottle, and pours into each glass in the Cellar Door. Kaye quipped that the wines “don’t get into the bottle unless he’s completely happy with them.”
He’s most proud of his Reserve Viognier, for a reason most wouldn’t suspect. “It doesn’t taste anything like Viognier, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing.” His Montepulciano is a pride and joy because of its “brooding black fruit, black olive” character, and its tannin structure that “isn’t over-polished, but rough with coarseness.” Bob Campbell also seemed to like it, as it was his wine of the week in early September.
Tony’s favourite wine to make though, is his Blanc de Blancs! He makes it old-school like they do in Champagne, right down to the traditional riddling racks, and even disgorges à la volée, or “on the fly,” as the French monks once did. When I asked him how long it took to get the hang of that process, he said there’s definitely a trick to it, and proceeded to show me how precise he has to be with the bottle and the tools.
Although Tony makes a wide range of wines, de la terre is still quite small in production. He makes about 2500 to 3000 cases (of 12) per year, and jokes that at Church Road, he “used to spill that much before lunch time.” Being small, Tony and Kaye find it can be a challenge to get the de la terre name out. They don’t want to sell in supermarkets, but they do have a distributor who arranges en premise, fine wine and liquor store contracts for them throughout the country. They have been known to export a few wines to China, the UK, America, and even Canada! The sales side of the business, and promoting themselves, has been one of the biggest challenges they’ve had to overcome. They never know when the next sale will be. There are other stresses that they face, like losing staff, or having people move on that they love. With such a small team, training new people, or finding those that have aligning philosophies can prove to be a challenge too.
They’ve learned some important lessons over the years, one being that despite experience, you can never be sure of exactly what’s going to happen. Tony phrased it so genuinely.
“You start as a beginner, learn some stuff, think you’re red hot…your ego goes through the roof. The lesson is on the other side. You can never know it all. There are always so many variables that you don’t know about. You can very easily convince yourselves that you’re smarter than you are. You’re not. The more you make wine, the easier you think it will get. Well it doesn’t. We’re always fine tuning techniques. I look at what’s happened in the past and if it’s not where I want to be, [I use] my best guess in my experience and push the odds. If you have a problem and you’re not sure what to do, you throw a swack of things to it and try to fix it.”
I was awed by his attitude to become humble, realize what he doesn’t know, yet stay determined and persistent, and continue to deal with what comes at him; he chooses to learn from his past experience and do the best he knows how, while never giving up. I find this to be great advice for all of us, no matter what stage of life or industry we may be in.
Tony remembers the first Monday after he resigned at Church Road, when he had a moment that so many of us have amidst a big life change: did I make a mistake? Despite any challenges, Tony and Kaye feel in their hearts that it’s all been completely worth it. “I can’t think of doing anything else,” Tony says. “We’d be a lot wealthier, but would we be happier? I can’t ever imagine going back… everything you have, every ounce, goes into it. It’s very passionate.” They are truly living their passion.
I believe it is that passion that makes visiting Tony and Kaye so much more than just any winery visit. As Tony explains, “once people drive into de la terre, it goes beyond what’s just in the glass. It’s about a winery experience.” He loves hosting people in the Cellar Door, and pouring his wines himself. It’s a beautiful, “rustic and artisan” space to be in, that he’s created with his own hands. Tony describes the Cellar Door and his winery as his “happy place.”
Tony and Kaye invite you to head out to de la terre this season to experience the many things they can offer you from the earth. They are open from 10:00am to 5:00pm, Friday’s through Sunday’s, and most public holidays, from the first weekend in October to the first weekend in June. Visit their website at delaterre.co.nz for more info on the winery, wines or special events. You can purchase wine on their website as well, or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So make the beautiful drive to experience de la terre for yourself. From the earth brick Cellar Door and restaurant, to Tony’s personalized tasting of his terroir driven wines, paired exceptionally at the cafe with Kaye’s fresh, home-made food . . . you really will experience de la terre.
Everyone has insecurities. I feel I can fairly make that statement. It’s truth.
We are all imperfect, and we usually know it. Some of us can admit where we fall short, and others of us don’t do such a great job at that, but we all have things we don’t like about ourselves. One of the things I don’t like about myself is that I care too much about how I look, not just physically but as a person.
I’m insecure about certain aspects of my physical appearance. To be completely honest, I have always struggled with that. The parts of my appearance that I’m insecure about have changed over my lifetime, but there’s always something. I’m never just perfectly happy with how I look.
From conversations I’ve had with other women, this seems to be a common thread, but I’m very aware that many men also struggle with this. People seem to be more open to discussing insecurities these days, and I think that’s good; there is something freeing about actually calling out the one thing you hoped nobody would notice about you, and having them communicate that it’s not actually as bad as you think it is. It’s interesting hearing other people say what they’re insecure about, because it’s usually something that you would never have noticed on them, or that you wouldn’t choose as something they should be concerned with. If that’s how we feel about each other, isn’t it possible that the things we are insecure about really aren’t perceived the way we think they are either?
Greg and I recently filmed an episode of a popular show on a widely viewed American channel. We applied for it, and it was our decision to go on it. I was really excited to be on the show, and looked forward to it for months before hand, but when the day actually came to start filming, I found myself becoming very aware that thousands and thousands of people were going to see our episode, and see the very things about me that I didn’t want them to see. It brought out a lot of insecurities in me, not only physically, but with how we would be portrayed on the show as people, or how our relationship would be cast.
When you choose to go on television and you sign that waiver saying the network can use anything and everything they film you doing or saying in a five day stretch, for any purpose… you realize that you’re going to be seen. All you, from any angle, with no filters, whatever you said. Yikes.
A photo is still. You can take another one, and then take another one, and change the angle, and apply as many filters as you want. You can just delete the ugly ones (unless you like posting really funny ones to your album of unfortunate shots like I do). A photo doesn’t capture the stupid thing you just said, or the incorrect grammar that you heard coming out of your mouth that was too late to stop.
A photo can bephotoshopped.
I had so many moments during filming where I nervously slurred my words, or said something embarrassing. I literally had all of these thoughts that week:
Was that even a word?
I need to google what I just said to make sure it was a word.
I hope they don’t use that.
Did I really just say that?
Ugh, I came across so stupid there.
I wonder if I seem shallow?
How will they portray me?
Our episode aired in America last week, and thousands of viewers saw it before we did! When I was notified of the air date, I found myself thinking some of those exact same thoughts again. How would we be portrayed? What would actually get shown? I wonder how obvious this or that will be on camera?
I’m a perfectionist and I expect as close to perfect from myself as I can get; this, of course, is an unrealistic expectation, and when I let my mind get stuck on my imperfections, I feel inadequate.
Most people, I think, want to be liked. We want to be accepted for who we are. We want people to think we’re pretty, and smart, and kind, and good at what we do. We want to feel needed. We want to know we have value.
One of the areas in life I wanted to learn to be better at in my thirties, and grow in during my time living abroad, was not caring what other people think of me.
I didn’t expect that I’d accomplish this goal entirely, but I hoped to move closer towards the “not caring” end of the spectrum than I had been; doing that show really pushed me to take a hard look at myself, and realize that I am who I am, and I have to own it.
I look this way.
I say stupid stuff sometimes because I don’t know everything.
I’m not 18 anymore.
My hair is a hot mess sometimes.
I don’t always speak perfectly.
I make mistakes.
I have scars.
Certain people will never accept certain things about me.
“Liberty to make honest wines without manipulation.”
“Salvation from the industry binds.”
THAT is Saorsa, and is everything Alex Hendry and Hana Montaperto-Hendry stand for.
Never have I seen one word on a wine bottle describe not only a company mandate, but a deeply rooted personal philosophy in such a beautifully succinct way.
Hana and Alex are some of the most bad-ass people I know, yet are down to earth, humble people of integrity, and great friends. Their style is so cool; when you walk up to their place you’re greeted by Sailor and Bam Bam, their Thai Ridgeback and Rhodesian Ridgeback Cross dogs. When you enter, you find Hana’s motorcycle sitting in the kitchen, and family photos and artistic, statement posters on every wall. There are beautiful antiques and vintage pieces galore, but everything is well organized. Hana’s usually got something amazing cooking for dinner, which is followed by a new dessert she’s baked from scratch. Isla and Taj, their kids, are there to welcome you into the family, and you’re served some amazing wine in a funky antique wine glass.
Alex had what many would consider to be a regular childhood. He’s from a “quiet” family of four, and grew up in Auckland with his sister and parents, attending a prestigious boarding school. He ended up in Hawke’s Bay when he decided to enrol at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) to study Wine Science and Viticulture.
Hana is one of four children, from Italian roots, born in Hawke’s Bay, who grew up “old school,” as she describes it, with a mechanic, hunting-enthusiast father, who taught her that everything can be fixed, and a nurse mother, who raised her “non-gender specific;” she show jumped horses across the country, but also raced motocross (which lead her to breaking her back not once, but twice).
Hana is tough as nails. She was a teen Mum, having had her son, Taj, at the age of 18. “Everyone said having him was going to stop me from things; Taj hasn’t stopped me from anything.” She already had her diploma in Video and Electronic Media and a great job when she gave birth, and purchased her first house shortly after, by the age of 19. Although it wasn’t easy, Hana is no stranger to hard work and perseverance.
Alex and Hana do things differently than most, which is a huge part of their charm. How they got together was different as well, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less. They met at a Rock and Roll show, held at an old youth church that had been converted into a concert venue, ironically named, “The Vineyard.” Hana was used to most guys hitting on her; Alex, however, rocking Mohawk hair, piercings and tattoos, walked past, looked at her over the fence, screamed like a punk in her face, and kept going. She thought he was “so cool.” He had her at “blaaahhhh!” Hana says “he met his match,” but agrees that she met hers as well. Alex jokes that Hana had told him “she was a well-mannered Catholic girl.”
They began meeting up as friends at rock shows around the Bay, and Hana found she was hanging out with Alex’s group at their house frequently. Even though Hana’s house was nicer, she had “nothing good to eat in the fridge!” Hana remembers a pivotal moment when she realized how amazing Alex is. She had gone through a difficult time, and he completely supported her through it. It was then that she fell in love with Alex.
It was in 2008 when they met, and when Alex graduated from EIT. They had their beautiful and spunky daughter, Isla, in 2014, and were married in January of 2015. They got engaged and found out they were expecting Isla in the same week! Alex had been having the ring designed for 3 months already, and they had been hoping for Isla, but when the timing all collided, Alex wondered if he should still go ahead with his elaborate proposal plan. He decided he didn’t care how it looked; he knew he wanted to marry Hana.
He sent her on a treasure hunt for clues around Hawke’s Bay on her Cruiser. Hana thought he had planned it as a special last ride and was preparing to tell her she couldn’t ride pregnant! Alex figured it would take her 3 hours tops, but after what became a 7 hour, 700km ride, an exhausted and newly pregnant Hana rolled up at home to find Taj beside Alex, waiting on one knee. Isla was born 8 months later, and they were married when she was 10 months old.
Wine was not a huge part of either Alex or Hana’s upbringings, so I was curious to find out how their lives revolve so much around it now.
Alex had a lot of friends choosing corporate careers after high school; he didn’t know for sure what he wanted to do, but he knew it wasn’t that world. He had been enjoying brewing his own beer, heard about winemaking, and “thought it sounded interesting,” and he’d “give it a shot and find out.” Once he got into school, he found he actually really enjoyed making wine.
Alex has currently done 13 vintages, and has full time experience in Vineyard Manager, Cellar Hand, and Assistant Winemaker positions across 4 wineries in the Bay over the last 12 years.
He remembers working for a larger company in his early industry days, and seeing “truck loads of garbage” coming in from the vineyard, and thinking, “why am I doing this? How can we do better?”
Those key questions lead Alex to start personally researching biodynamics, and to discover that everything about great wine “comes down to the vineyard.” He left that big company, and began working for Warren at La Collina, where he had creative run of a beautiful, hillside vineyard.
His passion now is the vineyard, which is so ironic, because Alex had dropped the additional year at EIT that focused on Viticulture, in order to graduate faster. He believes it’s actually “the best thing he’s done,” because he has “taught [himself] what he needs to know based on real experience working.” Although he didn’t originally plan on focusing on Viticulture, it has slowly emerged as not only his passion, but one of his main areas of expertise.
Once Alex had learned a sufficient amount about how to care for the vines, he wanted to make a quality wine that was a true representation of the place in which the grapes grew: the terroir. He wanted to make a counter-cultural wine that showed the features of when it was picked, and what the weather and fruit were like that year; he didn’t want to showcase what so many others do: winemaking.
For a wine like that, site selection is critical. Since Alex and Hana don’t own their own vineyard, they purchase fruit from growers. Alex admits that by not owning the vineyard, he does lose some control. When I asked him if he’d like to own his own one day, he said “yes and no; yes, in a whimsical world where it’s perfect, but it takes so much work and time.” Alex loves being in the vineyard, but that’s not Hana’s passion. She prefers to fabricate the wine tanks! In addition, she loves the relational side of the industry, and is in the business to support Alex’s dream; she’s also realistic to accept that they have a young family, and both work full time. Alex is confident in his ability to find amazing fruit without having the stress of a huge mortgage on a vineyard. He knows the vineyards he uses inside and out, and has personal relationships with the owners. He specifies how Saorsa’s rows are to be managed, and even does a lot of the work himself, on top of his full time day job.
The first Saorsa wine was a 2015 Viognier; however, Alex has been making his own wine at home since his last year at EIT, when he entered a student Vintage Port-Style wine competition. Alex being Alex, and anti-wine industry bullshit, he thought, “what can I do to sabotage the whole thing?” and decided to give his wine an edgy name “to take the piss,” calling it, “The Day the Wine Industry Died.” He ended up winning a Bronze Award at the Mercedes Benz Wine Awards with that wine, and having that name publicized and printed. He started producing wine under that label for the next several years, but when he and Hana decided to start selling wine, and created the business, he chose to set that label to the side. He calls it a “watch this space moment,” because when he knows what he wants to do with it, it’ll be back.
“Saorsa” is a Scottish word, and although Hana and Alex both have Scottish blood in them, they more so chose it because of what it meant, and how it completely represents what they believe in. It is also quite unique, as they are.
As for their logo, you’ll notice that it’s, again, extremely unique. The design is a collaboration between Hana, Alex and their friend, renowned photographer, Richard Wood. The logo represents Hana’s fire as an engineer, Alex’s heart for what he does, and the grapes, as well as the “massive crossover” between science and religion, and its association with wine as the blood of Christ. As they phrase it, “you can’t have religion and wine without science. You need science to create wine, but they don’t believe in each other.”
Their label is also a statement that rebels against marketing and everything industry standards promote. Rather than have any information on the front, they’ve chosen to put it all on the back, including their name. Hana explains, “I wanted a void. Wine labels are competitive and busy. You want people to look for the good, but some look for faults. If you have nothing, it’s a void.” Hana also makes the point that “people are inquisitive and want to know more.” People that are drawn to their wine are willing to pick it up and look at the back.
All you’ll see on the front of the bottle is their logo, which again, is very strategically placed. Research told them it needed to be in the top left corner, because that’s where the eye is naturally drawn. So where do you think it appears on Saorsa’s label? In the bottom right corner. It may seem as though they’ve chosen simply to thwart what society says, but in fact, every decision they’ve made has been purposeful, and depicts the kind of wine that’s in the bottle. Alex has rebelled against everything he hates about the wine industry, so why should the label not follow suit?
Hana stated it so elegantly: “If you see the beauty in what is wrong, you clearly want to drink this wine.”
It should not surprise you by now to read that Saorsa’s wine making philosophy is different than those held by many who are making the typical commercial wines on the market. As Alex has based his entire winemaking mandate on going against “wine industry bullshit,” I feel I should fill you in on what that means to him.
“There’s a romanticism about the industry . . . the whole modern process of efficiency is bullshit. We’ve taken a 10,000 year old art form and ruined it to keep up with demand and revolution. When you see industrial size wineries, you might as well work in a sweat shop or any factory. You can make any wine, any year, and adjust anything to make it taste the same. The modern world has lost the yearly aspect of it. You can manipulate wine like making Coke.” – Alex
“The pretence is something that annoys me about it. It’s not romantic; it’s hard work. Wait until he jumps in bed during vintage after a 19 hour day and he’s sticky. Your sheets will be Syrah red. I don’t have white sheets anymore.” – Hana
“We also disagree with so much of how it’s done and how much you’re lied to; consumer expectation – ‘you have to do this or no one will buy it.’ Why? We want to do it the way we want to do it.” – Hana
Alex believes in “taking it back to basics, before marketing and manipulation were involved.” They hand pick, foot crush, use wild yeast for fermentation in old oak barrels where the wines mature for at least a year and undergo natural malolactic fermentation.
Saorsa has made a 2015 Viognier, and both Syrah and Viognier in 2016, 2018 and 2019. They didn’t make wine in 2017 because the vintage wasn’t good enough. Some may assume that a new, boutique winemaker would have wanted to get his wine on the market quickly, but the 2015 Saorsa Viognier wasn’t released until 2018. Alex will only release his wines when they’re ready. He keeps tasting them, and “allows what’s there to shine.”
Alex and Hana make Viognier because they enjoy drinking it as a varietal, but also because of the amazing parcel of fruit they were given the chance to lease. As for Syrah, Alex has a “love affair” with it, because of its “wild, crazy side,” its “power and structure yet delicacy and florals,” and that it’s a “flamboyant, wild variety that’s in your face.” He loves the “histories of Hermitage,” and the “crazy wild-hills, romantic side” of Syrah, but also that it’s the variety that’s “most at home in Hawke’s Bay.” He knows it’s got a “sense of place,” and is “ideal here,” and he specifically loves the “limestone shallow soil,” at the vineyard site he uses.
Saorsa makes “honest wine,” meaning Alex is happy with their name being on the back of the bottle. Honest wine, to them, is wine without manipulation. Alex asks, “how would it have been made 100 years ago before we had additives to make everyone think they’re drinking something good, but it’s full of crap?” Alex believes in making the wine right from day one, rather than having to correct it in the winery.
Honest wine, to him, means having the wine represent the truth of where it came from and when it was made, rather than “stylistically making something.” He gives the example of Gimblett Gravels Syrah in Hawke’s Bay, and how there are characters that so obviously scream “sense of place,” but he hates that so many of them are the same from one producer to the next. Alex strives for Saorsa to be unique. “For me it’s more about not using large amounts of new oak, or any new oak, or additions or adjustments, [and] no acid adjustments. What I can pick is what I want in the bottle. If I pick too late, that’s my fault, and I won’t rely on a packet of tartaric acid [to fix it].” It makes complete sense to me after learning their philosophy that entering wine shows is of no interest to them.
As you can imagine, being a boutique wine maker on the side of your full time job, having made the decision to go against the industry grain, and make wine with no manipulation, is extremely challenging. Time is one of Alex and Hana’s biggest challenges; they both work full time to support their family, and pay for their house and rental houses. Alex is sharing his time to be Winemaker for Saorsa, along with Assistant Winemaker for his day job’s label. Hana says, “for 3 months of the year I don’t see him.” She identifies with the common nickname of “vintage widow,” and says jokingly, “don’t marry a winemaker. They earn shit money and work shit hours.”
The cost of running a small business is challenging as well, as Saorsa has to legally pay the same fees and taxes on every bottle that the bigger companies are paying. They’re very small production, making only a few barrels per year. Doing things naturally is hard too; even though it’s what Saorsa stands for, “it takes longer waiting on everything to go naturally, but that’s part of the ethos and what happens.”
After all the ups and downs of life and wine, Alex and Hana still love spending time together. That’s something the couple wants readers to know; “we actually love being together. The Instagram is real. The whole thing is real.”
They also want customers to understand that Saorsa doesn’t support them financially. They’re not “doing it for a quick buck,” they’re doing it because Alex is truly passionate about it, and Hana backs him to the end, even to the point of unloading grapes in 2014 after giving birth, and getting reprimanded by her midwife. Although balancing full time jobs with everything else sucks their time, it allows them to “stay true to it,” and to wait until they have a product that Alex is completely happy with for Saorsa. “There is no rush; it can sit as long as it needs. The integrity of the wine is never compromised by a need to release.”
As for what they’ve learned, the “good things about wine are really good.” Alex loves the “culture, people, [and] whimsical” side of the industry, and comments that “when you meet people that are really invested, you see the amazing good side of it.”
The satisfaction Alex gets from knowing people have enjoyed the wine he’s made continues to motivate him. “You see people review it, and how much they love it, and you get the warm fuzzies. It makes sense in your head. Financially no, but whimsically, yes. For the people, yes.” Hana enjoys the people, and that they can do it as a family. She, Taj and Isla have all helped harvest, foot crush, and do other jobs along the way.
Alex thrives in the practical application of his work, in that he is passionate about what he does. It’s “science and magic at the same time.” He loves being out in the vines, and that wine has been made for tens of thousands of years, but that it’s only made once a year. Winemakers get “one chance” each year to make that vintage of wine, and it “can never be repeated.”
They both agree that their whole lives have been taken over to a certain degree by wine, but they are happy. “We work for what we have, we’re all in on Saorsa. We love what we have, and our life, our partnership.”
So what is Saorsa wine actually like?
It IS honest, it IS different, and it IS amazing.
Their 2016 Viognier is one of my favourite Viogniers ever. They’re sold out of it (and I’m not opening my last bottle just yet) so I’ve currently made a couple of trips to a wine bar in town for a glass, and last I heard they were on their last bottle. Tasting notes I made were “fruity and apricoty with dried mango and the perfect amount of floral; it’s aromatic, smooth, oily and rich.”
When I asked for some key features of the wines, Hana joked, “features? Our feet. Yours included this year!” (That’s right, my feet were in the 2019 Saorsa Syrah, and Greg’s were in the Viognier.) All kidding aside, Hana does describe them by saying, “they taste like Alex. I know that sounds odd, but they taste like his passion and love.” When describing the Syrah, she notes “earthy chocolate berries and a bit of attitude mixed with gentle and humble flavours.” Both varietals are “elegant, effeminate, flamboyant.”
If you’re curious to try these incredible, counter-cultural, down to earth, honest wines, get in touch with Saorsa via Instagram by following them @saorsawines and sending them a message. Their website just launched today; you can now find them at http://www.saorsawines.co.nz.
So cheers to freedom from bullshit, to the liberty to be your honest self, and to salvation from your binds.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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 wasTuesday, the 14thof 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 inAucklandwhere 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 was3.00amby 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 fromFrancethat 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.
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 inCanada, with so many randomNew Zealandquestions.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 inCanada.)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 inAuckland, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.