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

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

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

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

Vineyard at Harvest time in 1989 – Chateau Sénéjac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottling Blanc de Sénéjac in 1988

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

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

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

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

Vineyard, Autumn 1988

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

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

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

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

Vineyard in Winter, 1984/85

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny with a press in the new winery in 1987

New winery, 1987

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

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

Jenny’s Fiano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 was her 40th vintage.

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

Doris Merlot grapes

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

Jenny, 1991

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

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

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

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

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

Are you that someone?

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

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

Our Australian Stop Over Part Two; Barossa Valley & McLaren Vale

After spending five days in Sydney, we were ready to head to Adelaide, a city many people don’t visit unless they’re heading to the surrounding wine regions. Within a short drive from Adelaide are several large and famous wine producing regions in Australia, such as the Barossa Valley, which is well known for Australian Shiraz, and several others; we visited Barossa first, the Eden Valley briefly, and spent several days in McLaren Vale.

We flew into Adelaide and picked up our rental car (after business hours); it turned out to be broken, so after a couple of hours of dealing with shuttles, returns and getting a new car from a different company, and an express and affordable dinner at “Fasta Pasta,” we were on our way to the small town of Gawler. It lies in the Barossa, where we stayed at the old courthouse, that has been converted by the owner into an Airbnb. Coming out of our Sydney Airbnb, this one was just what we needed. It was quirky and adorable, the bed was so comfortable, it was very clean, and it was fully stocked! It also had a Bluetooth speaker, and phone chargers, which was extra appreciated, seeing as ours were left in a backpack in the first rental car, and we didn’t manage to get them back for a few days.


The Barossa Valley

First things first – Penfolds! ❤️

Penfolds has two locations in the Barossa; one location is their Cellar Door in the valley, where they make the majority of their wine, and offer some interesting experiences, like the “Make Your Own Blend” tasting that we did. The other location is a heritage site in Adelaide, and is the original location of Penfolds, featuring the cottage where Dr. and Mrs. Penfolds lived when they started it in 1847. Some wine is still produced at that site, and is labelled Magill Estate.

Seeing as how I’m gaga over Penfolds, we visited both sites, and for me, they were some of the most jaw dropping, stars in my eyes, “I can’t believe I’m standing here seeing this” wineries I’ve ever been to.

The “Make Your Own Blend” experience was recommended to me by friends who had done it, and was an exceptional experience. We were dressed in lab coats, told the history of Penfolds, and given wine making tools, and three bottles to work with, of single varietals commonly blended in Australia. We got to try different percentages of our own, and come up with the ratio we preferred. Then we made a bigger batch each and bottled them; we got to take them with us!

We did a tasting downstairs afterwards, and as we happened to connect well with their Cellar Door ladies, we were there a bit longer, and were able to try a lot of “off menu” wines.

Our experience at the Magill Estate the following day was also amazing! We had a private tour of the grounds and got to see everything from Max Schubert’s personal collection of signed Grange’s, and his handwritten notes on production, to the area where he built his secret wall to hide them in the early 1950’s.

We did another tasting after the tour, and connected well with our guide again, who literally snuck us a taste of the not-included on the tour, iconic, Grange. I was speechless, and very aware of the value in my glass (pictured below).

If you’re in the Barossa, even if you don’t love Penfolds as much as I do, go to Penfolds! It is such a famous, iconic wine producer that has shaped a large part of the wine making history in Australia and is well known across the world.

Langmeil

This producer is another well known one, that has some pretty amazing history behind it. They have the record for the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, as the Barossa Valley is one of the only areas that hasn’t been affected by phylloxera, a disease in the vine that kills it. Even Europe has had to tear out many of their old vines due to this disease. We saw these beautiful vines, and were fortunate enough to try the wine they produce. When a vine is very old, it produces much less fruit, but the fruit it does produce is rich, concentrated and flavourful. The wines reflect this in their deep, intense flavours, and their complexities in varieties and layers of different flavours that come out as you smell it in the glass, in your mouth as you sip, and long after you have swallowed.

Peter Lehman, Yalumba, Wolf Blass, Jacob’s Creek

We visited several other well known producers, and were glad to get to see some of the wineries that are so well known around the world. Peter Lehman and Wolf Blass impressed us with their higher tier wines that we don’t get in Canada due to our government’s taxation and shipping laws. Yalumba (Eden Valley) has several quality wines as well, and the lady in their tasting room was a blast to spend an hour with! Tate, the company that makes Ballbuster, was also there, but only opens by appointment with people who plan to purchase, so we drove past, but didn’t visit. Jacob’s Creek was another history maker in its day, but we were disappointed with our experience there, and the taste of their wines.

Landscape and Food

The Barossa Valley in itself is quite hilly, and sunny, with lots of interesting plants and animals to look for! We ate at a restaurant called Harvest Kitchen, as it came highly recommended in my research. It had unique menu choices with made-in-house food and friendly service, plus a beautiful view.


McLaren Vale

Mollydooker Wines

We started off our visit in McLaren Vale with the best of the best, and it was really difficult to enjoy some of the other wineries after being at Mollydooker! If you’re a Mollydooker fan, save them for close to last. It was explained to us that Mollydooker is mostly known in America and China, as 85% of their product is shipped overseas. Lots of the locals haven’t heard of them. They have a unique watering formula that allows them to get large, high quantities of grapes that are concentrated in flavours, leading to high “fruit weight”‘on the tongue, meaning you can clearly taste the fruit flavours in the wines, along with secondary flavours. They also have higher alcohol wines that are very smooth and creamy in texture.

We did a tour and light lunch with Liza, who was lovely, and got to learn all about the wine making process, meet the winemaker, and enjoy a beautiful charcuterie board on their stunning patio while we tasted through their flight.

Mollydooker makes amazing quality wines that are full of flavour, boast a velvety mouthfeel, and have long finishes. If you haven’t tried their wines, I recommend you do so. Even their entry level wines are fabulous!

Coriole, Samuel’s Gorge

We fit in two more tastings after Mollydooker that I was fairly unimpressed with. Coriole had a beautiful setting, but a small Cellar Door, and basic wines. Samuel’s Gorge made great, Italian varieties, but I found our experience there to be very unprofessional. Don’t go on a Friday at the end of the day if you want your cellar door people not to be “trollied,” as they say. Greg loved it there, and was able to see past the behaviour of some of the staff; had we sat on their patio and done a seated tasting with the sober worker, I’m sure it would have been way more enjoyable for me as well.

D’Arenberg – The Cube

This place is something else! I’ll let the photos speak to their set up in there.

There was haunted house type music playing on outdoor speakers as we walked up, and the whole ground level is an artistic museum. The tasting room is on the top, and the bathrooms are on the first level.

This wasn’t my style of winery, but was worth seeing once. I’d recommend that everyone who visits McLaren Vale go take a tour, keeping in mind that all of that craziness in there distracts from their wine. They have over 70 wines and they’re aiming for 100. I’ll let you decide how many you think a place can do before the quality drops.

Hugh Hamilton

This was easily one of the most beautiful wineries and tasting rooms I’ve ever been to. They also had exceptional wine. The building is very simple and small, but it’s set up for sit down tastings that capitalize on the naturally beautiful setting that is all around them.

Wirra Wirra, Alpha Box & Dice, Chapel Hill

These were all nice enough experiences, with decent, but not spectacular wines, except at Alpha Box & Dice. It was a super cute, quirky place, that made a lot of Italian varieties, and did them well.

We quite enjoyed our experience and our wine. We even sat on their lawn and had a glass in the shade before ending our day, as they’re open later than all the other wineries.

Goodieson’s Brewery

The craft beer scene is beginning to pick up in several of the wine regions in Australia. Breweries are slowly popping up that produce locally made styles of craft beer in a wide range.

Greg enjoyed his flight at Goodieson’s very much, and as the D.D., I practiced driving on the other side of the road!

Landscape and Food

Pizzateca was the highly reviewed restaurant we chose to visit for lunch in this wine region. It is run by Italians, who make everything in house and fresh. Greg said our pizza was one of the best he’s ever had. We also enjoyed their lamb skewers, tiramisu and limoncello!

McLaren Vale was quite hilly, and unlike the Barossa, it sits right along the sea. You can see the sea from many different viewpoints as you’re driving around and at wineries. Our Airbnb was also within sight of it, and we walked or jogged down to and along the shore several times. We also visited the beach to relax in the sun a couple of times, and to watch the sun drop into the ocean at the end of the day.

We also managed to see some Kangaroos along the side of the road!


Wine Tasting in Australia

One thing we noticed, that is unique to Australia (and some wineries we’ve been to in New Zealand), is that they actually let you taste everything on the menu. In other countries, you’re asked to choose which ones you’d like to do, and given a number of how many you can try, but in Australia, they seem to like to take you through everything they have.

Many people in Australia do not use the spittoon. It was common to see people with drivers, or on group tours in vans. We, of course, both use the spittoon at all the wineries, all day (with the exception of definitely swallowing Grange!) even if we’re not the one driving. We actually want to learn, and we like to be able to pay full attention to each wine we’re tasting, even by the end of the day. Because spitting isn’t super common, some of the spittoons were a big bucket, across the room or walkway from the bar, which made it awkward for us to have to walk over with each mouthful, and sometimes bend to the floor to spit. That was a negative for me at the places that didn’t have mini spittoons at the bars.

One of the ladies at Penfolds noticed we were spitting, and commented on it. We explained how we learned a saying they have in France that “you don’t taste wine with your stomach.” She just laughed and exclaimed, “well we don’t say that in the Barossa!”

Overall, our trip to the wine regions in Australia was fabulous for wine lovers like us, and we had some really great visits, met some great Cellar Door people, and learned a lot! Hopefully I’ll get to be a Cellar Door person myself some day, and offer that experience I’ve enjoyed so many times to others.

If you’re touring wine regions in Australia, good luck, enjoy the beautiful scenery, watch for bugs and creatures, and have fun!

Our Australian Stop Over Part One: Sydney

On “our way” to New Zealand, we figured we would stop over in Australia, as we had never been there, and had considered living there. We did five days in Sydney, three in the Barossa Valley, and three in McLaren Vale, all at Airbnb’s. We had many exciting and great experiences, a few annoying and frustrating experiences, and overall, a great adventure. Read on for an overview of the highlights (and lowlights) of our trip.

To begin, the flights were long. So long! We left our families in Saskatchewan with tears, knowing we wouldn’t see many of them for a long time. We flew to Calgary, then L.A., and then finally on to Sydney. It was a 15 hour flight from L.A. to Sydney, and we spent well over 24 hours in travel. We left on Oct. 30th, and arrived on Nov. 1st, leaving Halloween as only a mist that we quickly passed through. Amazingly, the flight to Sydney wasn’t full, and we had three seats to just the two of us. We were able to take turns lying down across the seats, and actually got a bit of sleep. I also greatly enjoyed Virgin Australia as an airline.

We picked up our rental, and on the other side of the car and road as we were used to, hesitantly headed to our Airbnb in the Surry Hills area of Sydney. This is a trendy area that came highly recommended, but we didn’t enjoy it at all. I recommend staying in the Bondi Beach area if you plan to go to the beach a lot, or in Circular Quay or The Rocks, if you want to be around the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and other main attractions.

Our Airbnb in Sydney was also the worst we’ve ever stayed in. It was so dirty; there were spots of old food and goop on the tables and walls, dirt and dust all over the carpet and tiles, and black mould on the bathroom walls and in the shower. There was no garbage can, anywhere in the unit. I bought a hair dryer, and we ended up turning the box into our garbage. There were no tea towels or washing towels, there were two knives for cooking, one of which had the tip broken off. There was one wine glass… so we shared it. The worst part of all, is that we were on an extremely busy street, and the window was broken. The frame was hanging out of the side of the building, leaving an inch gap along the sides and top. We slept with ear plugs in the whole time! Long story short, we complained to Airbnb and were given a partial refund. Our friends who recently moved to Sydney have seen much worse places on their house hunt; apparently Sydney needs to up its standards. Our friend made a comment about how Australia is a first world country, but many Sydney residents live like it’s a third world country. I was quite disappointed in that, and I feel it’s something tourists should be aware of.


Bondi Beach

We came to Australia in their spring, from reasonably chilly weather in Canada, so we hit the beach on day one! Bondi Beach is amazing, and huge, and beautiful, with white sand, blue water, big waves, a stunning view, and lots of shops and restaurants along the street.

The parking fee is outrageous! There is a lot there, but it costs $15 for 2 hours. To spend a day at the beach is upwards of $45 in parking alone. If you plan to go to the beach, stay in that area and walk! Thankfully, the parking machines were down for two of three visits on our trip, and we paid only once, saving us a lot! I loved Bondi Beach, and the time we spent there. The water is much cooler than in places like Hawaii, but it is warmer than in Canada. There are surfers to watch, and lots of people. We were pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of public toilets, water fountains, showers, and even free wifi at the beaches in Australia. We enjoyed two of the cafes and restaurants along the beach during our visits too.


Opera House and Harbour Bridge

These are two main sights that Sydney is known for, so we visited them several times and had views of them from many different angles, bars and restaurants. If you stay in the Circular Quay or The Rocks areas, you can easily walk to both of these. They are beautiful and worth a see! If you like tours, you can tour the Opera House for roughly $45/each. We chose not to. There are a few bars and restaurants right alongside the Opera House, that we enjoyed a few times. Parking in the lot there is $16/hour! When my parking costs are higher than my alcohol costs, that’s a problem for me. If you book online ahead of time for any Wilson lot, you can get discounted parking, so if you know where you’re going to be, I suggest doing that!

You can also walk on top of the Harbour Bridge for the Bridge Climb if you have $300/each to spend, or you can go halfway up for half price. We climbed one of the towers on the bridge that its creators added to make it look similar to the Tower Bridge in London. The climb was a few hundred stairs, and only $15/each.


Sydney Tower Eye

We were being very budget conscious on this trip, due to our move, but we decided to do one nice dinner out, and we chose the 360 Bar and Dining in the tower. We thoroughly enjoyed our food, drinks, view and experience there! They were great with my soy allergy, and they actually gave Canadian and American style table service. (Most of Australia and NZ requires you to walk up to a bar or counter to order, pay, and then nobody serves you after that.) We ate a variety of appetizers, meals and desserts, all of which were amazing, and even tried the Kangaroo, which was really tender and flavourful! I would recommend this place to anyone who enjoys fine wine and dining. Note that again, the parking situation is challenging. The nearest Wilson lot is a 10 minute walk away, and requires pre-booking for a discount.


Sydney Harbour Cruise

We chose to do a 2 hour, afternoon boat cruise, and it was fabulous. We saw so much of the harbour. Sydney would be an amazing place to do a full cruise to!


Hillsong Church

If you’re a Christian or God follower of any kind, or even potentially if you’re not, you know of Hillsong. They have churches all around the world now, but they started in Sydney, and going to their original location was a major highlight for us!


Darling Harbour

This is another harbour that is less famous than the main harbour, but is also very beautiful, and full of restaurants and bars that capitalize on the exceptional setting. They do free fireworks all spring and summer on Saturday nights at 9pm!


Local Events

We were fortunate to have friends that had just moved to Sydney, and to get to spend two days with them. They invited us along to some local events, and we met some of their friends as well. This really made us feel like we got some of the local experience, and we enjoyed experiencing Sydney with them very much!

Food and Wine Festival in Lane Cove (above)

Melbourne Cup Day (above)

The Lord Nelson Brewery, Sydney’s oldest pub (above)

Navigating our way around The Rocks at night (above)


There are so many more things to see and do in Sydney! Check out Circular Quay and The Rocks areas. The train is easy to use, and pretty affordable. There are great restaurants, pubs, chocolate shops and coffee shops everywhere. There are lots of great places to walk and jog! It’s probably not the best idea to rent a car there, unless you’re like us and are moving with too much luggage! The weather was fantastic and the people were pretty friendly. Other than having disgusting accommodations, we really enjoyed our time there!

Thanks for reading, and happy traveling!

Snakes, Spiders, and Other Bugs in Australia

So, the bugs in Australia…

My husband originally said he wouldn’t live in Australia because of his fear of snakes and spiders. When we booked our accommodations for our 11 day trip on the way to New Zealand, we wondered how many spiders we’d see. I was expecting to see at least one big one, somewhere, and we actually kept our bags closed all the time at the first 2 of 3 places we stayed. I’m pleased to report that we didn’t actually see any big spiders at all! I was surprised to only see very small ones, about the size of an ant.

There are lots of photos and articles that go around on social media and in the news, that give the impression that Australia is just crawling with horrible creatures at every turn. This, we found to be untrue; however, we did discover through talks with the locals, that the bugs actually are a pretty concerning issue. In the northern part of Australia, it is apparently more likely to come across lots of snakes and spiders, and in the outback, they’re definitely common. In the south, the huge Huntsmans aren’t as common, but they are still present.

At our first winery visit in McLaren Vale, we were told that staff are no longer allowed to take visitors on tours of the actual vineyard, partially due to safety reasons. They say that snakes like to live in the vines. Okay – so no going into vineyards or tall grasses or any untamed garden type areas…

We also discovered some other news about spiders through our Airbnb hosts. They warned us about “White Tip Spiders,” and said that if we ever see one, we need to kill it. They explained ever so nonchalantly that the White Tips wouldn’t kill us, but that if we were bit, we would get a high temperature, and an ulcer in the area that would last for years. The bite requires antibiotics as well. They had been cleaning out their garage that afternoon, and only found one, which they said was great for not having gone through it in a couple of years. Those awful little guys also like to live in or around plants. Got it – no plants!

We asked how we would know if we were bitten by one of the poisonous spiders, as opposed to the other ones, and they said that if we notice a red line going from the site of the bite towards our hearts, that means it will kill us and we need to get to the hospital for the anti-venom ASAP. They were surprised that we didn’t know this procedure, and asked how we deal with poisonous bites at home; we explained that in Canada, that’s not a thing! Frost bite is the only bite we need to worry about.

We did conclude that the idea that spiders and snakes are everywhere in Australia, has about the same level of truth to it as the expectation of seeing Moose, Beavers and igloos does, when visiting Canada. Yes, we have those things, but it’s not common to see them.

On another note, their black flies are different from ours, and are extremely annoying! They don’t fly away with the simple wave of a hand near them. They will land on you and sit there until you actually wipe them off. They land on your face. They land right on your face when you’re eating, and just sit there! It’s pretty gross.

We also learned about these big toads they have, that were brought over from Asia in the 70’s as an attempt to rid the country of some other bugs, but there is no predator in Australia that eats them, so now they’ve become a pest. These toads aren’t apparently harmful to humans, but they spit out venom at cats, dogs and other small animals that will paralyze the animal and kill it within hours. People have been losing their pets to this toad venom, and it’s becoming a bit of a problem. So as long as you don’t have an issue with very large toads that spit at you, or a pet you want to keep, you don’t need to worry about those.

Finally, let’s discuss the millipede, which graced the cover of this article. We had heard about them, and been told that tourists freak out when they see them, but they’re quite harmless. This ugly bugger was hiding under my suitcase, and I’m not sure how long he was there! When I folded the lid over and closed up the bag, there he was, crawling at me at much too high of a pace, with all his squiggly legs! I’ll admit, I freaked out, like people said I would!

Greg was thankfully outside, and I discovered the millipede alone. Then I found another dead one, with only half a body, on the other side of the same room. I tried to remember that they’re “harmless.” They may be harmless to my health, sure, but what about my peace of mind? I was glad I didn’t discover these guys until our last day, or I would have been nervous walking to the bathroom at night in bare feet, and the sheets would have been more thoroughly checked! I do believe NZ has bugs like this though… so we may be learning to deal with them, as much as I don’t want to.

We are thankful we didn’t see any snakes or any huge spiders during our time in Australia, and we are looking forward to living in the land of no snakes and no big spiders! On another positive note, at least we know what to look for if we come across those poisonous bites, and now you all do too. You’re welcome?

If you ever visit Australia, now you’ll be prepared. If you have already been, feel free to correct any misinformation, or add a comment with your own experiences and tips! Thanks for reading, blog family.

Living with the In-Laws; Week One

We’ve been living at my husband’s parents’ acreage for one week now, and so far so good! It’s been a very atypical week for our family, so we haven’t settled into any sort of normal routine.

A lot has happened this week! I had my birthday; it didn’t really feel like a birthday so much this year, but that’s life. My brother-in-law also got married, and my in-laws hosted both the rehearsal dinner and the gift opening dinner, with over 100 guests total. My husband was a groomsman, and we worked on his speech; we sang during the signing and practiced our song lots. I even helped my in-laws with some suggestions for their speech! We chose a date to move, booked our flights, applied for our Australian visitor and New Zealand working holiday visas, and were quickly approved for both. We announced our moving date and destination to our friends and family, and have had lots of conversations about the move. We saw most of our extended family due to the wedding festivities, and there were lots of guns, tannerite, quads and blowing up things, which are frequent family activities. So as I say, this was quite the week!

We moved in on my 31st birthday, so my husband and I had a nice wine and my birthday cheesecake in his brother’s childhood bedroom, across the hall from his parents. It was different than our living room, of course, but still comfortable.

I spent the weekdays doing what I usually do, minus tv, because they only have one channel. Instead of the usual morning show while I eat breakfast, I visited with my mother-in-law most mornings. This, in my opinion, was a better use of time than watching tv would have been anyways.

Something that stood out to me this week was how hard working my mother-in-law is. I got to witness her in action all week as she prepared food for both of the huge meals they were hosting. By the time I showed my face in the kitchen on Monday morning, she had already completed several batches of home made buns, and perhaps a few pies. When I got home later that evening, she was still in the kitchen, and had accomplished more pies and several lasagnas. Tuesday looked much the same, as did Wednesday afternoon once she returned from volunteering at a Mom’s group at our church.

She thinks she isn’t good at organizing and planing ahead, but she had pages and pages of lists of all her meal plans for each meal, and was working well ahead to get everything prepped in time. There were so many pies and cakes, salads, buns, meats, lasagnas and sides! She had even arranged for some friends to come and help serve during the rehearsal dinner so she could socialize with her guests.

As I write this, those two meals are done, but Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the in-laws are hosting our family for that as well! The turkey literally had to come out of the freezer on the morning of the wedding! They amazed me this week with all of the money, effort and love that went into both of the wedding meals, and Thanksgiving. In the midst of all of this, she apologized to me for not putting on a birthday dinner to celebrate me. Let’s just say she’s completely excused!

As my in-laws kept showing up from each trip into town with more and more groceries, I’d ask what the new stuff was all for. “This is for Thursday, and this is for Saturday… no that’s for Thanksgiving.”

Oh and did I mention that they don’t have a dishwasher??? Yes. Everything gets washed and dried by hand here.

We’ve been busy with so many of our own things this week, but we’ve been able to step in and help a bit with prep and clean up, and hopefully we’ve made a bit of a difference for them.

Thankfully they also let us change the doorknob to our room with one that locks. We’ve had so many people in the house this week, that it’s nice to know I have one room, at the least, that’s my private space. I learned more than ever last summer when we lived in our camper out here, that I am a really private person. I value my privacy much more than I ever realized. In being a private person, I find sharing space is hard for me; I’m trying to be as respectful of their routines as possible, and they have been really good at giving us our space and alone time as well. I’m very aware that we are guests in their space, and I’m reminding myself to be grateful that we were welcomed in, to spend this last month at home with family.

A few of the guys ended up getting ready for the wedding in our room, so our teddy bears and string of Christmas lights will forever be in their photos!

I’m hoping for a quieter week ahead, and more relaxation time for all of us! This first week has sure been a whirlwind of activity, but we have seen a lot of our family. We won’t see them for a long time once we leave, and I’m already missing some of them. I have a lot to be thankful and grateful for.

Thanks for reading, blog family, and Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!