The Petane Story; Esk Valley Boutique Wine Producers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Lessons; What This Year Living Abroad Has Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to 2020, and Happy New Year!

How Being on TV Forced Me to Face My Insecurities

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 be photoshopped.

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.

I can’t please everyone.

I’m not perfect.

But this is me.

And that’s okay.

Saorsa Wines; A story of Freedom, Liberty, Salvation

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“Freedom from the bullshit of the wine industry.”

“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.

Saorsa, my friends.

Why Friends Should Travel Together

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

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

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

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

  • Travelling together reveals a person’s daily habits.

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

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

  • Travelling together can indicate how a person spends money.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Travelling together shows you how you share a bathroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Travelling together shows how someone deals with stressful situations.

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

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

  • Travelling together allows for more quality time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and by the way…

…they make some pretty exceptional wine!

Guess What Working in the Hospitality Industry is Teaching Me?

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

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

– Google Dictionary

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

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

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

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

(Hcareers.com)

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

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

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

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

(Quotemaster.org)

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

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

It’s service.

It requires humility and grace.

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

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

It sometimes requires sacrifice.

(Pinterest.com)

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

(cheezburger.com)

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

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

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

(cheeseburger.com)