The Organised Chaos Story; Breaking the Boutique Wine Mould

Featured

Hayden Penny is the owner and Winemaker of Organised Chaos, a brand that started quite differently to most others. Contradictory to many boutique producers I’ve met, Hayden took some coaxing in order to start his label. More on that later; first, let’s get to know Hayden a bit.

Hayden is the second eldest in a family of five kids. He was born in Paeroa, which he explained for the non-Kiwis in the room as the famous town known through the soda, L&P. He was 8 years old when his parents moved the family to Hawke’s Bay. Because Hayden has a serious interest in sports and couldn’t stand the thought of working in an office, he chose to pursue physiotherapy. He went to Dunedin for Uni, and was recruited onto the Dunedin Rugby Football Club, which ended up keeping him in Dunedin, even after deciding physiotherapy wasn’t for him. He was eventually offered a contract to play Rugby in Dunfermline, Scotland and played a season over there, at the time unaware that the country would later have a sweet significance in his life.

While in Dunedin, he met Bryce Edmonds of Zaria Wines, who offered him work on his family’s vineyard in Hawke’s Bay over the holidays; that turned into an annual job for three years. That time brought to light Hayden’s passion for the vineyard, so he decided to enter EIT. He had unfortunately missed the entrance date that year, so he worked on a farm doing a table grape harvest in Bourke, Aussie in the meantime. He then came back to NZ in 2003 to go to EIT; he remembered his passion for being in Bryce’s family vineyard, and his experience on the farm had given him more familiarity with it. For these two reasons, he was most interested in the Viticulture side of the program. He comments, “I hadn’t really drank much wine other than cask wine at Uni, but thought, ‘why not? I’ll enroll in both of them,’” and signed up for Wine Science too. It didn’t go so well at the start though.

“First tasting class, we all sat down and all the wines came out. Everyone else is saying ‘bubble gum this and spice in that,’ and I thought, ‘that’s not what it tastes like or smells like at all to me. This is not for me. It’s too hard out.’ I went to talk to the lecturer and said, ‘I’m going to pull out. I don’t get those flavors and aromas. I was getting this and this, so I’m obviously wrong.’ He said that the thing with wine is everyone is different. You can’t be wrong. If you smell that and taste that then that’s what it tastes like, other than faults.’ I was learning that wine is this thing that is so social yet it’s so personal as far as the aroma and the flavor profiles. From then on it gave me the confidence to say what I smell and taste.”

Hayden Penny

With those critical lessons learned, Hayden stuck with it and went on to graduate first in his class for Viticulture, and second for Winemaking. He won an EIT scholarship to go to Italy, the Romeo Bragato Exchange, and while there he was often told by people in the vineyards not to try the grapes because of the sprays on them and the withholding period until they were safe. He says, “after that, I knew I wanted to work organically.” Hayden comments about Italy that, “on that trip I was introduced to skin fermented wines, which has become a real thing for me.” He now sits on the interview panel to determine the student who receives that same scholarship. After graduating, Hayden did some “season hopping,” as he describes it, to gain exposure to different ways of doing things. He tried to work for as many organic producers as he could, but says that in order to fund his travel, he had to work for “the big guys” as well; it was all experience none the less.

Doing a dig out in California, 2007

Meanwhile, Hayden’s wife Tarryn was growing up in her native country of Scotland. In her early 20s, she decided to leave Scotland and see a bit of the world. She ended up in New Zealand, and made some lasting friends, one of whom happened to be Hayden’s cousin, Shelley. Later, when Tarryn was back in the U.K., Shelley came to visit. As fate would have it, Hayden was visiting his brother in London. Shelley asked both Tarryn and Hayden to come out for dinner one night, and due to a long day of beer and cricket, Tarryn almost cancelled! Thankfully, she didn’t, because she and Hayden hit it off right away, and have been a couple ever since. Although their relationship has consisted of lots of long distance, they stayed committed to each other and eventually bought their house, finally moving in together in 2011. They had their son, Otis, in 2016. Hayden is a huge fan of the Bay and says that other than his family being here, “in all of the regions I’ve worked in, I couldn’t see myself getting behind the styles they were making other than Hawke’s Bay.” His 15 year old daughter, Carys, also lives here, so being in the Bay is a win win.

2009, Harvest time in Bulgaria

Hayden had done 20 vintages for other people before he started his own label, and he comments, “I don’t wish I had done it sooner. It came at a good time.” He says, “it always made me laugh when people at EIT would graduate and say, ‘yeah, I’m a Winemaker.’ I never felt like that. It takes 10 or 15 vintages to know what you’re doing. I’ve learned so much through working for other people, and you’re always learning. Even if it’s something you definitely don’t want to do, you’re still learning.” He has held positions like Assistant Winemaker at Te Awa in 2006 and 2007, and has done vintages in Calistoga, the Yarra Valley, Marlborough, Spain and Bulgaria. He returned to NZ to take up the role of Winemaker and Viticulturist at William Murdoch in 2010. In 2013 he was working at William Murdoch, and Supernatural Wine Co. approached him to see if he’d make wines for them; he stayed on at Murdoch while making wines for Supernatural in 2013 and 2014. When Supernatural offered for him to make the change full time in 2015 to make the wine, and run the vineyards, he happily obliged. With them being the biggest skin ferment producer in the country, the first producer of a Pet Nat Sauv Blanc, and a big Pet Nat producer, the job was right up his alley. Ironically, he and Tarryn were married at the same vineyard, before he joined the team.

Supernatural Wine Co. in 2018

Hayden is still at Supernatural, so how did Organised Chaos come about? His achievements were recognized by Kemp Fine Wines, a boutique wine distributor, who approached him to see if he could fill some gaps in their portfolio. They desired to add a small producer, who could make Hawke’s Bay wines with care and attention; they wanted the wines to be fruit forward, pleasing to the palate, and ready to drink now. Over several conversations with Kemp, and Tarryn, Hayden had to decide if this was something he wanted to do. It’s not necessarily his “passion project” like so many other Winemakers have in the Bay, but he realized that “the hardest thing to do is sell wine when you’re starting a label,” and he had the sales people coming to him. All he had to do was make it.

He was unwilling to compromise his personal philosophy and knew that the wine would have to be something he was proud to put his name on, so through multiple chats with Kemp, they came to an agreement, and Organised Chaos became a reality. “For me, it’s an expression of me. I’m not going to squeeze margins. I’m not in wine for a business. I’m in wine because I love growing and making wine.” Hayden describes the wines as a “fresh, vibrant and textural expression of a modern-day Hawke’s Bay.” Tarryn says when they discussed the label they realized, “we can do this with integrity and to Hayden’s beliefs.” Hayden comments, “I always thought when I introduced a label it would be organic and blah blah. At the end of the day, we haven’t got any leg up or land or anything. Maybe I can do a passion project further down the line. We can’t do it now, but we also can’t do it if we sit in our 9 to 5’s either. We have to take a risk and try something.”

2019 was the first vintage of this very new label, and Hayden made 2 tonnes of each. He’s adding a Gamay Noir, and possibly Chenin Blanc this year, so he’ll produce 8-10 tonnes in 2020. The Gamay and Chenin will come from the Two Terraces Vineyard in Maraekakaho. Stylistically, the wines are made to be “fruit forward, with not much winemaker influences. They’re all stainless steel fermented, with not much oak influence. Hawke’s Bay [in general] is pretty heavy on the oak. They’re released on the 14th of October from that vintage, and I want them drinking well then, [in a] super fresh and super vibrant fruity style.”

The labels represent the name beautifully. Every label has an edgy, black and white design of its own pattern. They’re similar, yet different. The whites feature horizontal lines, and the reds have verticals. To show organised chaos on the 2-dimensional label, they used designs inspired by Franco Grigani, an Italian optical artist. The logo is “creating chaos but using straight lines; it’s a play with angles.” The name is from a memory Hayden has of working in the vineyard at William Murdoch one very complicated vintage. He remembers saying, “this is just organised chaos.” He had suggested Murdoch use it as a secondary label at the time, but in hindsight, Hayden’s grateful they turned it down.

2013, working at William Murdoch

Hayden is stylistically most proud of the Syrah, because it was the biggest challenge. Organised Chaos Syrah is light, fresh, and fruit forward. The pepper comes as a secondary, well-integrated component. Hayden uses the MS clone, which is “superior” in his opinion. The most shocking trait of his Syrah though, is that it’s a 2019, and we’re already drinking it. It was released in October of 2019.

Releasing a Syrah in the same year it was harvested has lead to Hayden receiving more than his fair share of criticism. “’Oh you can’t do that,’ people say. Well why? Who’s making that rule? I’ve got my distributor saying people want this style.” I must admit that I too was skeptical of what a 2019 Syrah would taste like before I tried it, but I was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t wait to share it with my wine loving friends. Hayden has truly had an uphill battle with the naysayers with this wine, but his attitude about it is inspirational. “To me, it was a personal challenge. Everyone says you can’t. I thought I’d try it and see. Hawke’s Bay has the traditional wines already. I want to do something different. Push the boundaries slightly, but why not? Where are the boundaries? Who sets the boundaries? Stylistically it’s so different. It was a roll of the dice to go that way. I was fairly confident I could get it ready on time.”

He really enjoyed seeing people’s reactions to it being a 2019, and then positive responses after trying it. He comments that “on launch day, people were genuinely intrigued.” He loved “seeing the reaction of people enjoying it and loving the brand,” but clarifies that he’s proud of all the wines. Tarryn says that she’s been “blown away by the support of friends and family and word of mouth through colleagues, etc. It makes me proud that people genuinely love the wines.” Hayden says he’s not a huge believer in shows and awards, but the wines have been recognized by Steven Wong and Bob Campbell.

Hayden has faced challenges other than just how his young Syrah is perceived. He explains, “natural wine gets slugged off all the time by conventional producers. We don’t do it the other way. You do what you want to do and I will too. There’s this negativity towards the natural wine sector. There is some hatred for it.” He found that in creating a young Syrah, people saw him to be “breaking tradition with the vintage thing. Breaking the mould,” but mentions, “I haven’t even found that a problem really because it’s been made for that. There’s not one type of person it appeals to. This is targeted at anyone that’s just keen to try something different, or fun wines.”

As for the winemaking philosophy for Organised Chaos, Hayden quotes, “these wines are a celebration of the chaos that is, and a tip of the cap to the chaos that was. They are a reflection of the moments, inspirations and influences, of my journey throughout the world of wine-growing, organised into my personal expression of the wines that Hawke’s Bay does best.” I love and identify so much with Hayden’s life philosophy and how he believes that “things don’t have to be as they’re told they have to be. What’s wrong with embracing imperfection? Who dictates perfection?” He doesn’t label them as organic or natural but makes them as naturally as he can. He uses yeast for the whites for “purity of fruit and to keep them fresh,” and minimal sulphur is the only addition. The wines are “styled to be enjoyable for everyone.” The more I spoke with Hayden, the more I realized how creative and artistic he is; he is confident to take risks and use his ingenuity to go against the grain, regardless of critics, and that is inspiring.

Organised Chaos’ fruit comes from two key producers in Hawke’s Bay. The Pinot Gris is from the Petane vineyards. Hayden met Philip through making wine at Askerne, and Philip had brought him on as a consultant. As they worked together, Hayden respected what he saw in Philip’s growing philosophy. When choosing fruit for Organised Chaos, he knew he loved Petane’s Pinot Gris, and wanted to stay away from the big, popular microclimates of Hawke’s Bay and champion for the minor ones, like Esk Valley. Hayden explains, “the beauty of Hawke’s Bay is the huge variety that we have. Why can’t we champion that? Why do we have to have our ‘Marlborough Sauv?’ That’s a cop out. If we explored the Hawke’s Bay regions more, each has amazing things that should be highlighted in them if they’d have the right things planted.” The Chardonnay and Syrah come from Pieter Koopman’s Hopes Grove vineyard in the Pakipaki area of the Havelock Hills. This region, another minor one in the Bay, is another Hayden wants to champion for because of its limestone soils; he admires the particular aspect of Pieter’s vineyard, as well as the organic growing techniques he follows.

The vineyards that supply the fruit are, not surprisingly, very important to Hayden. “I don’t find speaking about them hard. I know them inside and out. I use environmentally focused growers. I feel good about that. It’s working with those smaller growers. It’s slightly tougher because the grapes are more expensive, but I’m okay with that. I’d much rather have the full story of the grapes being from Petane and Hopes Grove than that I bought them off the bulk market. I have the freedom to hand pick when I want and get the fruit that I want. I can’t cut corners. I need to keep a relationship with the growers to keep the integrity of the wine.”

Hayden makes the wine at Hawke’s Bay Wine Company and goes in to taste it every single day through harvest. That’s right; he’s there seven days a week, every week, back and forth from the vineyard for his full-time job. He says, “the wine industry is not as glamorous as a lot of people think. Admin is also of the not so glamorous side of things. Spreadsheets. If you’re in the wine industry you can spreadsheet!”

Being largely passionate for the vineyard, I wondered why he became a Winemaker and Viticulturist, rather than pursuing the vineyard route alone. He regaled me with a story of a time when he realized he knew so little after graduating, other than the basics. “I was sitting with Jenny [Dobson] and in passing conversation, I asked, ‘how do you choose which blocks go through malo and which don’t?’ Two hours later we were still talking coppers and this and that. It’s amazing that she knows that, but that’s for that vineyard and those yeast. You go next door and it’s different again. There’s the concept of it being this endless spectrum of input from fruit growing conditions, Winemaker, etc. I was intrigued with it ever since.” He also explains how wine-making is art to him. “I’m a bit of a chemistry nerd and what goes on is incredible. Ten Winemakers can be given the same grapes and come out with different wine. That’s artistic; it’s maybe not from a wine lover’s point of view, but it intrigued me. Through that intrigue, it taught me to love it.”

Hayden has learned a lot from his experience in the industry. His biggest lessons are that “wine can be personal as well as sociable.” He gives the advice to “back yourself. You have to back yourself in a tasting environment.” He has learned to “not sweat nature. You can complain all you want but at the end of the day it’s out of your control. Mother Nature is just a beast and you’ve got to hold on for the ride.” He says about his career, “I certainly never knew I’d be doing this but I’m loving it. It’s the perfect balance of science, growing and being outdoors, sales, chat. It’s pretty cool when you can be driving a tractor one day and in Auckland the next holding dinner over a tasting. Variety scares a lot of people, but I’ve had some of my best ideas sitting in a tractor.”

He says without hesitation that starting Organised Chaos has been worth it. “The hardest thing was doing it this way, and leaving the passion project for another day.” Kemp wasn’t offering him a “vanity project,” but a “business opportunity.” He says, “it’s a totally different way of thinking about your own label.” Hayden’s humility shone through during our conversation; even though it came about in a way he didn’t expect, he seized the opportunity, took the challenges head on, and now produces wines and a label he is very proud of. He has proven that he can more than meet the specifications set out to him for the label and make well priced wine that people enjoy, with fruit sourced from high quality vineyards. Most importantly, he’s proven that he can rise above the challenges and doubts of others and do all the above with integrity to release a product that’s true to what he believes is right. I highly encourage you to try one of Hayden Penny’s Organised Chaos wines as soon as you get the chance!

To purchase Organised Chaos, head to their website, www.organisedchaos.co.nz, or find them on Instagram @organisedchaosnz. They also have a wine club, #jointhechaos where you can receive the wines regularly for 15% off and free freight. Great Little Vineyards and Kemp Fine Wines in Auckland distribute the label and there’s some on-premise places you may see it as well.

So cheers to trying something new and enjoying the Organised Chaos.

The Hancock & Sons Story: Creating Family Legacy Through Wine

Featured

John Hancock grew up on a farm in Australia, that although in the Coonawara wine region, had nothing to do with wine. His parents gained interest in wine only once John entered the industry. One day, John was on his daily commute into the town school, when he began browsing some books on the bus, and as fate would have it, he came across a book about how to make wine at home. Intrigued, he decided to give making fruit wine a go. John finished his high school years at a boarding school, where he happened upon a chemistry teacher who shared about his hobby of making mead. Still fascinated by the process of fermenting, John began making cider from apples he took from the school dinner tables. He joked that he had a “semi commercial operation of slightly sparkling cider!” His business of slightly sparkling cider lead to a fully sparkling passion to make wine; after graduating, he enrolled at Roseworthy College, Australia’s first agricultural college, founded in the late 1880s. Although agriculturally based, Roseworthy offered a winemaking component, and their website still boasts that many of the best-known names in winemaking have passed through their doors. John went straight to work upon graduation, and as of 2020, he has done an amazing fifty vintages, with seven in Australia, two in France, and forty-one in New Zealand.

In 1972, John did his first harvest in the Barossa. He described how different it was to today’s industry. “There were lots of people there forever, forking grapes off a truck for ten hours a day. There was no way of tipping. You would smoke and drink as much as you wanted to. It wouldn’t happen these days! We would spend three or four hours plunging Barossa Cab and Shiraz. You could bloody walk across the top of it.” John went on to describe the astronomical gap in quality he’s witnessed in his fifty years. “You don’t want to know how wine was made back then. They would add almost anything: sugar or water to skins and ferment and add more, etc. to make different wines or fortified wine. They would turn over a ton of grapes four times. The fruit was terrible. We were processing more than the whole of New Zealand at that time, seven thousand ton a day of grapes. Brandy and spirits and fortified wines were big. The guy who was head winemaker had a philosophy that above ten degrees, it all went to distillation.” John just laughed as he told this story and said, “now we know different.”

In 1979, Jim Delegat had posted a winemaker job for advertisement in Australia, and John applied. Jim drove to Berri to interview him and ended up offering him an eighteen-month contract that brought John over to New Zealand. John has fond memories of Jim, who “paid for a ten-week trip around Europe with my partner to learn the wine industries. Just fantastic. Delegat was making less than one thousand ton a year at that time.” He commented that he “loved working there because I had free creative reign to try new things,” and as we know, it’s experiences that foster some of the best learning. John did four harvests for Delegat, before helping to start Morton Estate. There, he implemented the practice of commercial barrel fermentation of Chardonnay, as one of the first places to do it in Australasia. He had been to Burgundy during the harvest of 1981 and witnessed it there. He remembers thinking it was “really bizarre” but saw it work; he came back to New Zealand and slowly edged his way into it, becoming slightly known for it. For example, Delegat won their first gold medal for Chardonnay in 1981, with their 1982 Chard winning Wine of the Show at the precursor to the Air NZ Wine Awards in 1983. It was at Morton where John made his first barrel fermented Chardonnay, their Black Label Chardonnay. He had wanted to be a winemaker since that childhood bus ride and was finally living that dream. “I have never done any other job and don’t want to. It’s too late now,” he joked.

He is also the founder of the well-known winery and wine brand in New Zealand, Trinity Hill. He was in London in 1987 at Bleeding Heart Restaurant, and ran into some friends, who believed in him as a winemaker and said to him, “look, if you’d like to start something on your own, we’d like to invest.” He spent years searching for the ideal vineyard sites and had some great experiences with the Gimblett Gravels. In 1993, he said, “let’s do it,” and bought the land. In 1994, he planted Trinity Hill’s first vineyards, leaning largely on Bordeaux varietals for blends, and the ever popular Hawke’s Bay Syrah. John is no longer involved with the brand today, but it was a large part of his career to which he owes much experience.

Hancock & Sons was founded in November of 2017. John’s got two sons; he points out that only Willy is involved with the business right now, but it’s called Hancock & Sons because he’s got them both, and the door is always open to either of them to be involved. The fruit for this label specifically comes from the Bridge Pa Triangle, and not the Gravels, as in John’s opinion, that’s where you need to be in Hawke’s Bay to produce great Chardonnay. He’s formed a lot of relationships in fifty years, so going into this label, he already knew who he wanted to source fruit from. He keeps a small number of growers, and commented, “I’ve known them for a long time and I know good growers.” He wanted to produce Hancock & Sons in Hawke’s Bay, because he’s had “quite interesting experience with fruit from Hawke’s Bay and I think it’s quite good!”

You’ll find three wines in the Handcock & Sons portfolio, a Rosé, Chardonnay and a Cabernet Franc. The Rosé is made from Cab Franc, not Merlot, and they have done nothing to change its natural colour. The label and name of the Rosé, the inaugural Hancock & Sons wine, represent the legacy from which the family came. John’s great great grandparents migrated to South Australia from Cornwall on a ship called “Lillies.” Willy explained that “coincidentally at the time of harvest, there were lilies in the vineyard where we got our fruit.” The Hancock’s wanted their first wine to be one that many could appreciate and enjoy, not something for a niche market, hence their debut with Lillies Rosé. You’ll find their family crest on all their wines, representing John’s history in the industry and the family legacy. After all, John started Hancock & Sons to be about family and legacy, with the intention of leaving it to the boys. Trinity Hill wasn’t suitable for that, as he was in partnership with other investors; Hancock & Sons is a small label that’s just for them.


As for the winemaking philosophies they hold, they’ve blended new world with a bit of old-world knowledge. John speaks of working with a viticulturist from Burgundy, who used to “taste the fruit from top to bottom… and taste through all the barrels. He would open bottles from all over the world. Fantastic guy.” John learned from him to try everything, and to be open minded. John also notes that “we’ve both done harvests in France. That’s had an influence on the way I’ve approached wines. Rhone. Paul Jaboulet. I admired La Chapelle’s top Syrah. Trinity Hill Homage was made with that in mind. He gave us cuttings of Syrah and Viognier to bring back to New Zealand.”

Willy was born in 1993, the year Trinity Hill was being built up, giving him mainly childhood memories of family life at the vineyard and winery. He says fondly, “I grew up at Trinity Hill.” His first memories are when the winery was being built in 1996 for the 1997 harvest. He remembers Tip, the dog, and getting to help with “little jobs here and there.” It wasn’t until the end of high school though, that Willy decided to make his own way in the industry. “You’ll never make any money in the wine industry. Be a lawyer,” John says he had advised Willy. Willy just responded with, “You always seem to have a lot of fun though!” Willy continued, “Dad always said ‘don’t get into wine. You won’t have money.’ I guess what I saw is that you can have a lot of fun. The places you end up travelling to are invariably beautiful and you meet amazing people.”

Willy worked in the Trinity Hill Cellar Door, and at a restaurant, The Don, that his godparents owned in London as an Assistant Sommelier. He recalls them having four to five hundred bottles from all around the world on their wine list. “You get to taste everything. Huge amount of wines you can’t try in New Zealand.” He’d been on a two-year Working Holiday Visa for the U.K. and when it ran out, he wasn’t ready to leave. “There was a college for winemaking in the U.K., and I thought, ‘should I give it a go? Should I not?’ I studied for three years over there.” He then went through California and worked for Bob Linquist at a place in the Central Coast Valley growing Rhone varieties. He was provided with a car and house, as well as wine in exchange for getting no pay. After, he got in touch with Craig Thomas at Church Road in Hawke’s Bay, and landed a harvest job there, working on the front end as a Harvest Supervisor in 2019. Willy said about Church Road, “I loved working there. They have a great crew.” He’s chosen to continue his career in the industry, and notes “there was never any pressure [from his Dad]. If anything, there was the opposite! Do what you want to do. But this is what I want to do.” One of the rewards Willy has already experienced is the many relationships built in this industry, as well as “building bridges. Getting invited back to a place is pretty cool.”

One of the challenges they’ve have had to overcome relates to sales. “To have the time with a full-time day job to do the bits and pieces that need to be done,” has been hard work. John currently works at Moana Park, where he also produces Hancock & Sons, and Willy is a Cellarhand at Hawke’s Bay Wine Company. Their full time jobs require them to be creative to meet their goal to sell directly to the consumer as much as possible. There are some retailers outside of the Bay that sell their wines, but it’s important to John to keep this label small. “I don’t want to get too big,” he said, as he knows where that leads. “I’ve done the big business thing. If you own vineyards and a winery you never make any money.” Size is less important than the success of the business that’s to be the legacy he leaves to his sons.

An additional challenge is the way consumers buy, as John explained. “It’s so trend driven, the wine industry. People want to drink something else. So you dig it out and plant new, but it’s three years before you can make the wines and try to sell them. If you want to plant something that doesn’t exist in New Zealand at the moment, you have to bring it in from Europe, do the quarantine, etc. From the time you have the brainwave to do it, it’s ten years.” By then, the trend has shifted, and people want something else; or do they? Willy’s learned that “people are fickle. We don’t know what we want and if we do, we can’t articulate it. We’re not prepared to pay what we need to pay for what we want. You go to Cellar Doors and talk to people. They don’t know what they want. They think they like something but don’t actually know.” John added that he “underestimated how little wines at $35 actually sell. At least 80% of wines that are sold have been under $20.”

He’s learned that there is a sizable gap between making wine that is an art form to the winemaker, and making wine that consumers actually want to drink. “Wines with minerality; the average person who drinks a wine doesn’t care. “There’s a generation that hasn’t gotten into wine yet. They’ll get into it. We have to incorporate the millennials and make wine that people are going to drink.” Over the course of John’s career he’s learned an invaluable lesson. “I used to think if we’ve made wines that I like, then people are going to like them too. But now I’ve changed that. We’ve learned that we have to think about what other people like too.”

In watching the evolution of the industry in the last fifty years, John was able to comment on some new challenges for up and coming winemakers. In his day, “you had to complete two harvests and get a good report at Roseworthy before you could graduate.” With the increase of wine’s popularity and prestige, many people are entering the industry with naivety. He says, “everyone wants to be a winemaker,” but cautions, “do a harvest before you go to school. It’s not glamorous. I’ve been involved with designing three wineries now.” He’s also noticed that “very few people leave their jobs, so the succession is low.” This leads to a lack of winemaking jobs for new grads. John graduated from Roseworthy in 1973, and describes that at that time, “you had to have a degree or do another Ag degree before Winemaking. There was an average of ten people graduating each year. They were in huge demand. It was not paying well. $7000 a year was my opening salary, but we were in demand. How many now in the Southern Hemisphere are graduating?” When he graduated, he got a job right away. “Now you’ve got to spend ten years dragging hoses. I missed all that.”


To sit down with someone who has spent his entire career in this industry and has contributed so much to its development, was an honour, to say the least. John’s gained wisdom about winemaking, and about life. “Work ethic is probably the most important thing of the whole lot,” John said, and added, “even if you don’t know what you’re doing, work hard. Past a point, you can’t learn that.” Willy mentioned that he’s taken that lesson to heart and he’s really had to prove himself, coming into the industry as John Hancock’s son. “Even if you don’t know what you’re doing if you can work hard, people really respect that. You have to work harder to prove them wrong as a winemaker’s son.” John reflected on his relationships as well. “I’ve been divorced twice. It really gets under your skin and becomes the driving factor in your life. If you want to be successful in the wine industry you can have one mistress. Your family suffers. I spent so much time away from home.”

In asking John and Willy why they continue to work in this industry, their answers clearly show they both have passion that drives them. “It’s the greatest job in the world but not the highest paid,” John said. “It’s a really interesting industry. If people were in this situation in the used car industry they would be gone tomorrow. People rarely leave the industry.” Willy responded with, “that’s a good point. From the outside, you’re being wet and cold and hungry and tired. But you still want to do it.” John agreed with, “gets under your skin, doesn’t it?” Willy regaled me with the story of his longest shift yet. “Everything in Sancerre, it’s all Sauvignon. We had to get it all in in ten days. It was nuts. I did a thirty-six-hour shift. You get into this twilight zone where the fruit comes in and you press it. What other job could you do that in? You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it because you couldn’t. You’re going to see two sunrises on this shift and get no money for it,” Willy joked. “You couldn’t tell a car salesman that.” John agreed and added that his longest shift was fifty-four hours. “It’s a buzz. Adrenaline rush. You’re creating. That’s the thing.”

In sitting down with them both, the respect that Willy has for John was apparent, and his desire to learn from his Dad, and soak in his stories and wisdom is refreshing. John has those years of lessons to pass on, and he has lived through the largest growth of the New Zealand wine industry yet. He’s seen it all, from turning over fruit and adding sugar to make fortified wines, to now, when New Zealand is producing wines that compete with the best in the world.

John isn’t in wine for the fluff. He isn’t full of dramatic, romantic comments and goals. John has been through that already, and he has learned what works and what doesn’t. He has seen the change, and he accepts the new generation and the ideas and insights that come with that, which is why he wants to involve his sons. This label really is designed to be a legacy. John and Willy work well together and enjoy their working relationship. Willy commented, “my number one goal is to learn everything I can from my Dad. I’d be an idiot not to!”

I found their wines to be unique, flavoursome, soft, aromatic and interesting. The nose of each struck me because their intriguing aromas invited me to think about them in further depth. As we neared the end of the evening, John commented to Willy, “they open up so well these wines; that’s what I really like about them.” When you purchase Hancock & Sons wines, you’re buying a label that is made with care, attention, purpose and a sense of family pride. “You’re always proud of the next one coming along,” John said about their wines.

You can purchase Hancock & Sons wines through their website, hancockandsons.co.nz, or find them on Instagram @hancock_and_sons. They are working on getting a fortnightly blog up to share more of their story with followers, and are currently on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Some Glengarry’s and Liquor Kings stock their wines, but John and Willy are happy to courier them to you or drop them off personally on their way around the Bay, in order to sell directly to you as much as possible. Follow them on Instagram to stay in the know, and to get some of the 50th Anniversary vintages of John’s wines. Vintage 2020 is wrapping up, and previous vintages of all three wines are ready to buy and are drinking beautifully. So choose a wine, or all three from Hancock & Sons, and sip on fifty years of winemaking experience, perfectly blended with a young winemaker’s aspiration, finished off with the touch of a New Zealand legend, and the legacy of a family.

Saorsa Wines; A story of Freedom, Liberty, Salvation

Featured

“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.

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

Featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winery work – Beaune, France 2010

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

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

Harvest – Castiglione Falletto, Piedmont, Italy

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

Beaune, France 2010

Hand sorting Pinot Noir Grapes – Burgundy, France

Pump-over – Beaune 2010

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

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

Cabernet Sauvignon – Hunter Valley, Australia 2017

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

Amoise harvest with help from friends – Hawke’s Bay 2019

Amy driving the tractor during Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful, hand picked Amoise Pinot Gris – Hawke’s Bay 2019

Working as a team for the Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

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

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

Horse ploughing – France

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

Amy and Gus – Black Estate, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand

Steep slopes of Cornas, Northern Rhone, France

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

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

Stirring water as part of Biodynamic Preparations

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

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

Horse ploughing

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

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

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

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