Marlborough; Thoughts after Visiting this Widely Known Region

Marlborough, New Zealand. I want to paint it in lights and wave my hands through the air like a banner as I say it with grandiosity. It’s the pinnacle of wine regions in this country… isn’t it?

If we hadn’t worked in the industry here, and were living in Canada as our regular old, wine loving, WSET certified wine fan selves, and we were given the choice to pick one wine region in New Zealand to visit, we would have chosen Marlborough, all day, hands down. I’d bet that’d be the common vote across most wine fans. There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s the same reason why we want to visit Tuscany in Italy, or the Barossa in Aussie, or Mendoza in Argentina. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to New Zealand is like Rioja to Spain, or Zinfandel to California, or Chennin Blanc to South Africa. I have to pay respect to Marlborough for producing something that has grabbed the attention of internationals, because it’s given all other regions the chance to start showcasing that New Zealand is producing some exceptional wines. And if you like Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand really is the country you should be looking to, and Marlborough is the region that it mostly comes from, although I do challenge you to try Hawke’s Bay Sauv, or Central Otago, or any of the other regions as well.

Upon flying into Marlborough in our wee, 9 seater plane, we got to see it from a bird’s eye view.

It is stunningly beautiful, as is most of New Zealand; I noticed though, that it is almost fully planted in vines. There are hardly any orchards, and hardly any trees. There is hardly anything else, actually, because they’re running out of space entirely to plant vines. Sauvignon Blanc production has basically consumed Marlborough.

As we made our way around the region, we learned that there are over 40 Cellar Doors, and a lot of them are for large brands. We went to a few big producers, like Brancott Estate, who planted the first Sauvignon Blanc vines in Marlborough in 1979, and Giesen.

We visited some smaller ones, like No.1 Family Estate, a solely Methode Traditionnelle producer that is 12/13th generation from France and does exceptional champagne-style wines. We loved everything at No.1 Family Estate.

We were also guests of Hans Herzog (Swiss family making very natural style wines), Framingham (producing delicious, aromatic wines), and Fromm (using organic growing and dry farming). We were impressed with the Rieslings at Framingham, Fromm’s Pinot Noir, and the Cellar Door Exclusive Zweigelt at Brancott.

We saw the industrial side of Blenheim when we went for a tour of our sister winery, Brancott.

It’s surrounded by several other wineries that all have tanks and presses of sizes so large I could hardly wrap my mind around them. In knowing how large our presses are, I was whispering to my friend along the tour, “did she just say it has that much capacity? Did I hear that number right?”

I took a journalist for a tour/interview at work the other day, and she asked me, “if travellers only had time/money to visit one wine region in New Zealand, why should they pick yours? Why Hawke’s Bay?” I had to stop and think for a moment before I responded, because where do I even start? My answer of “obviously because it’s the best,” wouldn’t have been appropriate for a journal article, so I went into a bit more depth. I could write an entire article on just this, but I’ll try to sum up my passion for Hawke’s Bay into a single paragraph.

Hawke’s Bay, although it is the second largest wine region in New Zealand, only exports around 10% of the wine leaving the country; this means we are largely boutique and small production, ensuring more interesting wines, made by real people who strive for wines of quality. We have an extremely diverse array of over 25 different microclimates created by our soils, mountain ranges, Mediterranean climate and sea breezes. This allows us to grow a wide selection of varietals and make wines of all kinds, so like I told the journalist, if you like Bubbles, we have it, Rosé, we have it, all kinds of white wine, we have it, light to heavy red wine, we have it. We’re the only region that does it all. With over 38 Cellar Doors, there’s plenty to try, and we have so much here in addition to the exceptional wine, like orchards, capes, walks, beaches, harbours, museums, history, culture, over 2000 sunshine hours per season, and a great restaurant scene, to name a few.

As I’ve travelled to wine regions and gotten to sample local wines, I’ve noticed there are amazing wines in almost every region that are not mainstream; however, as a traveller I was mostly there to try as many producers and styles of the specific varietals I knew the places for. Since working in the industry in this country, I’ve had the opportunity to change my focus. I’ve seen first hand that there is infinitely more to a country’s wine production than what’s exported. Yes, infinitely more.

When we went back to Canada last year, we were excited to take a browse of the New Zealand isle and see what was available to our friends and families. We were disheartened to find so many mass production labels, that our wine region of New Zealand is so poorly represented, and that most regions here aren’t represented at all. Many of the labels we found aren’t real wineries. They’re brand labels made specifically for export, and although are sometimes decent examples of characters a wine from that area may exhibit, it would be hard to say they’re high quality wines. When people send me photos of Hawke’s Bay wines they’ve found and ask if we’ve been to their Cellar Door, I’m thinking, “no, that’s not a real place, but I drive past the factory where it’s made sometimes…” There is a market for that, yes, but it’s sad to see that those labels seemed to be all that was available. That being said, we really don’t have many wine factories here in the Bay to produce large enough quantities for export at cheap enough prices, unlike Marlborough.

It got me thinking about how many of the other countries of the world are this poorly represented.

What are we missing out on that’s exceptional?

Likely all countries are sending mostly or maybe exclusively mass production wines from only their widely known regions, of only their popular varietals overseas, because that’s what sells. Wine is a business, just like any other, and sales is the biggest thing that matters.

Make wine people will buy. That’s the goal.

The average consumer isn’t buying wine to appreciate the terroir, and to try something different and experience sense of place and be part of the story the weather told that year. They’re looking for an alcoholic beverage with good value, and taste consistency across vintages. To do this, you need multiple recieval bins, huge presses, huge tanks, and huge everything else too, along with some winemaking tricks. Your vintage is just as long as everyone else’s and you’ve got to make the volume happen in the same short 6 weeks, hence the larger, “factory” looking places we saw in the South.

I’ve got to say that in visiting Marlborough, I found there were lots of really nice, interesting wines, that are of quality. Some of what were my favourite wines really surprised me, because they were at a big producer’s tasting room, not the place I expected to have anything interesting. I really enjoyed doing single vineyard comparisons of two of Geisen’s Sauvignon Blancs, and three of their Pinot Noirs; I loved smelling and tasting the expression of the terroir of each vineyard. It was refreshing to see that side of the industry does exist, even in Marlborough, and even with Sauvignon Blanc, although it is a small part down there. This goes to show that even the big producers can do small production stuff that is interesting; however, most of it’s sold locally, so you’ll only find it if you actually go visit the region.

Visiting Marlborough as a wine enthusiast, and as an industry person, was worth it. Despite mixed opinions in the industry on the region and its famous wine, I believe every New Zealand industry person should experience it for themselves. I want to go back again with my husband so he can understand it personally, and I’d love to visit more of the places I unfortunately missed on this last trip. Marlborough is beautiful, iconic for the country, and wines of quality can be found at several wineries. And if you only drink Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, you’ll definitely love Marlborough.

I do challenge you though, if you’re visiting this gorgeous country to experience some interesting and quality made wines, please keep in mind that there’s so much more to New Zealand outside the borders of our famous wine region. Take the time to explore the other regions and varietals if you really want to know what this country can do. Even within Marlborough, there’s so much more than just Sauv. There are some beautiful aromatic varietals and Chardonnays, and Pinot Noirs coming out of the region, and there are great small producers making sustainable and unique Marlborough wines. Although our identity to the world is largely represented by Marlborough Sauv, and that is a part of who we are, we have a much deeper wine identity, and I suspect many other countries are the same.

On a fun, side note, Marlborough Pinot Noir is just as good for breakfast as Central Otago Pinot. Pinot Noir as a breakfast wine is surprisingly great!

Now that I’ve seen our most iconic region, I’ve been asked if I wish I had chosen to live and work in Marlborough instead of Hawke’s Bay.

Well, you read the article.

Not for one millisecond.

The 3Sixty2 Story; Sustainable Boutique Marlborough Wines

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Alice Rule is the face behind 3Sixty2, a boutique wine label producing small batch Marlborough wines. Along with Cooper, the dog, who has a big piece of Alice’s heart, Alice spends her free time paddle boarding, or catching up with friends.

Growing up as the oldest child in her split family, Alice knew no other life as a kid than to work hard, help her Dad around the dairy farm on which she was raised, and watch out for her younger sister. Born and raised in a rural area in the Bay of Islands, Alice and her sister would choose between who would feed the calves and who would make their lunches before racing to catch the bus to Kawakawa School. After school, she went straight back to work to help her Dad finish up anything that needed to be done on the farm. She was no where near wine then; it wasn’t a part of her upbringing.

School wasn’t a big priority to Alice as a teen, and she was kicked out of high school at the age of 17. Her parents finally had enough and told her she needed to get herself together and do something meaningful with her life. She decided that training as a chef sounded intriguing, so she enrolled in the course at the Culinary Institute of NZ. Part of her requirements was a 3 day per week job in a restaurant. As chance would have it, she came across a job at Marsden Estate, a small, family owned winery. Every day, the whole family (even Grandma, Alice notes) sat down for coffee together at 10.00am, and included the staff. One morning, a contractor called Hobo said to everyone at coffee, “why do you have Alice working in the kitchen? Do you know who her Dad is?” He recognized the farm skill and pure hard work ethic she had and moved her into the vineyard instead. Alice comments that “from there, there was no looking back. I knew wine was for me. They shipped me off to EIT to study wine.”

Once she graduated, she returned to Northland to work there; however, during her time at EIT, she worked part time for Hoggle, the Vineyard Manager of Moana Park. She asked if she could help after she was done school for the day, and he said, “I can’t pay you, but yeah.” Alice says about Hoggle that “he became a real mentor of mine, so I learned as much as I could. And he’d pay me in this wine called ‘Hog Snort’ he made himself. Hog Snort was a real luxury as a student and I had to work really hard for it cause I only got a few bottles!”

Alice has worked 10 vintages now, at a wide range of New Zealand wineries. She’s worked at some smaller places, like Marsden Estate, Omata and Fat Pig in Northland, Craggy Range and Church Road in Hawke’s Bay, as well as huge ones like Indivin and Corban’s. She’s even done 2 vintages in the same season, starting in Aussie, and finishing that same autumn at Moana Park in New Zealand. She was a Technical Viticulturist at Te Mata too, which was a great expression of her vineyard passions.

So why did she start her own label? In 2016, she realized that even with her experience and education, the vineyard she was at paid the bird scarer the same wage as they paid her.

She was over working for little to make someone else’s wine dreams come true; it was time for her to take the leap and start building towards her own dream. She called up her good friend, Phil, who is a winemaker in Marlborough to see if he would partner with her to produce the kinds of wines she wanted to make. Even as a small start up, she had her long term vision of being an international brand in mind, and knew that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was key. With a personal love for Chardonnay, she wanted to produce it as well. Phil agreed, and they were off.

With Phil and the winery Alice uses being in Marlborough, and her desire to make a Marlborough Sauv, it makes perfect sense that all her fruit comes from that region as well. She lives and works in Hawke’s Bay, because she feels it’s the place to be with its accessibility to Auckland and Wellington, the two main centres that distribute her brand. She travels to Marlborough monthly to personally check in on the wines, is there during harvest, and communicates daily with her winemaking partner, Phil.

Her day job is with a tech company out of Auckland, and she is currently working on a project for NZ Wine Growers on the Technical Advisory Committee for Sustainable Wine Growers. Sustainability is a huge passion of Alice’s, and she dedicates her heart and soul to not only the sustainability of her brand, but on creating ways to improve the sustainability of the industry across the country. She says about her job that her “hours are all over the place,” but it “gives flexibility to spend on the wine” and to work with her customers.

The 3Sixty2 name pays homage to the land where Alice is from, as well as the history of the industry in the country. She had won a Young Viticulture award when she was in EIT, and instead of a trophy she received a copy of “Chances and Visionaries” by Keith Stuart, who wrote about the history of New Zealand wine. Alice says she “always refers back to that book,” and there was the story of how James Busby brought cuttings into New Zealand and was teaching orphans to grow grapes. He had taken over 500 cuttings from Europe, but only 362 survived the journey. Alice explains that the name “pays homage to a visionary that I have great respect for.”

As well as sustainability, focusing on reducing carbon emissions, and going plastic free as much as possible, Alice’s company mandate revolves around “driving the circular economy.” She gives the example of glass to explain. “Glass is circular. It’s made out of natural products and the bottles I use are, on average, 67% recycled glass.”

She makes the point that often, conventional wines are criticized for not being as sustainable as organic ones, but with all of her research and experience in the industry, she has found that the best wines are grown with a mixture of the two. There have to be certain practices taken into account to make a wine sustainable. Alice explains, “the best vineyards I have worked in grow cover crops, reduce pesticide, use fewer chemicals, and do less passes through the vineyard. This is because the sprays are more efficient, support microbial activity in the soil, compost, and typically use less copper, which I quite firmly believe is the most toxic chemical to soil health and is less likely to cultivate.”

On the somewhat controversial topic of organics, she comments, “I think organics has taught conventional producers a great deal and is an important part of the wine-producing biosphere and how we treat our land. But I challenge the common perception that organic grape production is kinder on the soil.” She wants to bring greater awareness to sustainability in all schools of winemaking.

Many producers focus on making wine as naturally as possible, but Alice feels “the packaging the wine comes in should be as natural as the wine itself,” and therefore pays lots of attention to hers. As well as advocating for low weight bottles, she uses no cellotape, only FSA, New Zealand made boxes, and Environmark Gold certified labels from a specific producer. She has also created “362 Trees for Bees” and partners with an initiative supporting New Zealand native plantings.

Similarly, in taking responsibility and care for her environmental impact, she wants to care for those that she contracts with, and says that if she can make her wines better, she can pay her staff better. “I never want to pay anyone as little as I was paid. There’s got to be a better way.” She points out that “it’s an element of sustainability we often forget about.”

As of 2016, you’ll be able to find 3Sixty2 Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Most recently, in 2019, Alice added a red to her label, Pinot Noir. She describes it as “not delicate or floral,” and because of the smaller berries she got, she was able to give it “more concentrated skin contact.” Like Alice’s other wines, it’s unique in that it’s a “kick you in the face Pinot Noir.”

She does partial wild ferment on all of her wines, which contribute to more complex and interesting flavours. Even her Marlborough Sauv is 25% wild fermented. She “loves the character of what it brings and how it expresses the terroir.” For the rest, she prefers to inoculate with a 5-in-1 yeast that brings out more complexity.

She doesn’t like too much reduction in Chardonnay, and prefers a restrained version, similar to the styles she was helping make in Northland. She uses hand harvested fruit, presses it in whole bunches and ferments it in old oak barrels for a subtle flinty character. She has been experimenting with oak marbles from Tony Bish too. She loves some oak in a Chardonnay, but as sustainability is key, she poses the question of, “what am I going to do with all these barrels after I’m done with them?” If she can find a way to impart similar character, that’s more sustainable, that’s her number one goal.

She produced just over 3000 bottles in 2016. 2017 was around the same, but she faced the same challenges as many did in 2018 with a less than desirable vintage and decided not to produce that year. She’s had other challenges as well, like her original brand not standing out on the shelves. She was in a difficult relationship that was taking its toll when she released her first label, and admits that it didn’t get the thought it should have. She has completely rebranded since and is proud of her new branding.

Her labels showcase the honour she pays to the history of New Zealand wine. On the Chardonnay label you’ll see the pattern that was on the original, hand written treatise that Busby documented. The circle represents the official stamp on the original documents, a symbol of authority. Alice loves that her labels represent not only where wine began for her, in Northland, but where it began for the country.

In addition to overcoming the rebrand challenge, Alice explains how difficult it can be as a solo, woman founder. She is supporting herself and her brand in a region away from her family. “We work our guts off in this industry and the days are hard and expensive.” Is it worth it? Alice joked that “if you’d asked me last week, I’d have sold it to you! But this week, yeah, it’s worth it.” Her jestful response shows how difficult and emotional this industry can be. Despite that, she says, “I love 3Sixty2. I love making wines. I love being in the industry and I love making blends.” She clearly has a lot of love for what she does, and also realizes it’s her art. “I’m a creative person. I love talking with my winemaker and looking at interesting components, and next steps.” Both wines have done her proud, with the Sauv getting a Silver Medal through Bob Campbell’s Real Review, and the Chardonnay getting Bronze.

When I asked her what she’s learned being in this industry, she responded with the word “grit.” She’s realized the biggest lesson is that “you’ve just got to take the punches and carry on going.” She comments that “the business part is intimidating and sales are hard,” but she’s proactive in facing the challenge head on; she’s enrolled in a weekly business course to help her grow in those areas. Alice is determined and when she faces challenges, she chooses to “find the motivation to carry on. You’ve got to sink or swim.”

She is grateful to see that “there are good people in the industry fighting tooth and nail for their dream and it is not easy.” Alice comments that “the most magical thing” is the “good people that support your dream,” and seeing customers love her wine. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your wines loved. There’s nothing more satisfying than that.” She comments about industry people and customers alike, that “the people have made all of the challenges totally worth their while.”

You can find 3Sixty2 wines at boutique wine stores in Auckland and Wellington, as well as Milk and Honey in Hawke’s Bay. If you want to enjoy them at home, find her on Instagram @3sixty2 or order online at http://www.3sixty2.com.

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

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

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

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

Vineyard at Harvest time in 1989 – Chateau Sénéjac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottling Blanc de Sénéjac in 1988

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

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

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

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

Vineyard, Autumn 1988

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

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

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

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

Vineyard in Winter, 1984/85

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny with a press in the new winery in 1987

New winery, 1987

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

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

Jenny’s Fiano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 was her 40th vintage.

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

Doris Merlot grapes

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

Jenny, 1991

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

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

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

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

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

Are you that someone?

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

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

#nzv19

New Zealand Vintage 2019… is done.

The end of vintage brings mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s sad to say goodbye to the time of year when everything the industry people have been working towards for the rest of the year is finally realized. It’s also time for all the vintage staff to be on their way back to their home countries, or on to the Northern Hemisphere for the next vintage. Saying goodbye to a team of people who have spent more time with each other than anyone else for the last 6 to 8 weeks can be difficult, especially if it was a great team that got along well and bonded over late nights and long days.

On the other hand, for all the Cellar Hands out there, vintage is exhausting, stressful, and can be all consuming, so it’s a relief to get back to a normal schedule, start sleeping again, and get the occasional day off. The “wine widows” are happy to have their partners back too.

As promised, I’ll outline briefly what our experiences of our first vintage were, and better explain some of the photos you saw on our social media profiles in the last 2 months.


Vintage for my winery started on the 26th of February. I’ll remind you here that I work in the Cellar Door, not the winery, (which my boss had to remind me of a couple times – sorry Mitch) so any time I got to spend in the winery was really special to me. I didn’t personally have the long days, no time off, and night shifts that all the Cellar Hands did (and wow, do I admire them for their work). I certainly did clock some hours out there when the Cellar Door was slow, on my days off, and after work, to hang out with the crew and get my hands on everything I was allowed to touch.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual First Crush Ceremony, which was an unexpected honour for me. The grapes were loaded into the hopper, and before it was turned on, we had a speech with some high-ups in the company, and some of our Blanc de Noir (Champagne-style wine). Traditionally, everyone has a sip or two, and then throws the remainder of their wine into the hopper over the grapes. It’s a way of “blessing,” if you will, the next harvest with some wine from previous harvests. Ceremonies like this are practiced all over the world, and have been for years. Traditionally, the ceremony shows thanksgiving for the vineyards, the grapes, the workers, and begins the new vintage with a united team, hopeful for the vintage ahead.

My face when one of the Cellar Hands told me not to throw the entire wine glass in! 😂 Obviously.

I stuck around to watch the first crush, and tried some of the juice straight out of the press. It was a great day! I had no idea then just how many things I was actually going to experience this vintage.

The team began by bringing in Chardonnay for our bubbles, as well as some aromatic whites, like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, and then moved onto Chardonnay. Whites lasted for weeks, and I made sure to try each type of grape as they came in, and each grape juice as it was pressed out of the tanks.

During this time, I learned how the hopper, auger, crusher and presses work in a lot more detail, how to rack a tank, how the barrels are filled, and got to try my hand at some Battonage (yeast lees stirring). I also got to learn about the process of several loads of grapes arriving in both trucks and in bins, and how the winery coordinates with the vineyards, pickers and truck drivers to manage it all.

Hand harvested Sauvignon Blanc being loaded up into the press

Meanwhile, Greg was doing his own vintage at his workplace. After seeing our first crush ceremony, Greg suggested his team do one as well; they took his suggestion and involved everyone there, including the Cellar Door team, to launch the vintage with Champagne. Greg’s First Crush Ceremony was on the 14th of March, when they brought in some Merlot for Rose. For his very first crush, he mostly cleaned equipment and learned how to do a thorough job of that. He helped run pumps, move hoses, de-stem and get the juice off of the skins.

Two weeks later, Greg’s winery brought in some whites. Greg had lots of different roles; sometimes he drove the tractor from the vineyard into the winery with loads of grapes, other times he helped operate the press. As his place is an Estate winery, everything is grown on site. With their small team, they often enlisted the help of picking gangs to come harvest the grapes on the days they were ready. Greg began doing more involved jobs, like loading the press, and continuing with that all important cleaning and sanitizing. He enjoyed harvesting the Chardonnay the most, but loved the taste of the Gewertztraminer grapes the best.

I got to experience my first harvest, and Greg’s second, when Greg and I helped our friends at Saorsa wines with their Viognier. I was so slow at first, but eventually got the hang of it!

As exciting as the whites were, I was thrilled when the reds began coming in. Merlot for Rose was the first red that came into our winery on the 24th of March, and the reds continued until the end of April.

Greg’s Winery brought in their first official red, Pinotage, on the 25th of March. He enjoyed harvesting the reds more than the whites, because although the reds require a lot more work in the winery over the next several months, the harvest day process is simpler. With the reds, Greg learned to do everything from pour overs, punch downs and rummages (to continually mix the juice and skins all together while they’re fermenting) to taking and recording data of temperature and Brix (sugar) levels in the active ferments every day.

His small team lead to some extra long days, as they had to finish processing the grapes that came in before they could go home. That same small team had some benefits for me though, as I was welcomed to come participate in some of the cellar work. I loved doing punch-downs, and helping with anything they’d set me up working on.

Couples who make wine together… 🍷

Meanwhile, at my own workplace, I was still taking every chance to be out in the winery. I witnessed a few dig outs (emptying skins from the tanks after fermentation is done) and got to try everything from taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins at the top of the tanks, to testing Brix (sugar) levels in wine, rummages (blowing compressed air into the tanks to mix up the skins through the juice and regulate the temperature of the ferment), and even running the hopper (with much needed and excessive supervision)!

Rummaging the Cuves
Testing the Brix
Taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins
Learning to run the hopper with a load of red grapes

Greg and I helped our friends at Element Wines harvest their Merlot, and got another little harvest under our belts.

Greg did his first dig out on his birthday!

A big highlight for me was when Alex of Saorsa allowed me to help him foot stomp his Syrah! This had been a dream of mine for years, and it was so amazing to actually get to do it.

Greg has also had the incredible and special opportunity to make his own wines. He’s got the mentorship of his Assistant Winemaker every step of the way, to help him create the style of wine he wants, and the benefit of the winery’s fruit and equipment. He is making a “field blend,” which is a mix of any and all grape types that come from the same block; his has 8 varietals in it, and will be a red wine. He’s also making a Chardonnay, and a Rose. He is learning to be a Winemaker on his own wines, which is an amazing way to learn. We’re so excited to try the finished products.

Greg’s Chardonnay
Greg tasting his field blend in the early stages
Greg’s field blend during the first week of fermenting

All of the grapes have been brought in now, but there is still much to do to tend to the wines, as they will be in the winery for months to years before they’re ready to be bottled. Greg continues to work on those tasks, and is doing some big jobs independently now. He continues to learn new things every day, and will soon be getting into pruning the vines with his Assistant Winemaker.

I’m spending more time back in the Cellar Door, and less in the winery now, but I’m reminded that it’s where I wanted to be, and still want to be – talking to people about wine, touring them around, and educating them about this passion of mine. There’s so much Greg and I have learned, and even more we want to learn. At the end of this first vintage we’ve gotten to be part of, the whole process of growing grapes and making wine is even more alive and exciting for us than ever before.

A Day in the Life; What Working in the Wine Industry Actually Looks Like for Greg

You all know we’re “working in the wine industry,” but we’ve been getting lots of questions about what we actually DO all day, our hours, colleagues, wineries, etc., so if you’re interested in the specifics, read on, and I’ll walk you through what Greg might do during a typical day or week. (I’ll post a separate blog for my typical week as they’re quite different!)

Greg works at Linden Estate Winery as a Vineyard Hand and Cellar Hand. For right now, he’s working Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 4:30. (This will change during harvest time.) The guys take coffee breaks, which they call “smoko,” in the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon. Linden provides basic coffee and tea for them, but Greg brings his own lunch.

He works with a small team at Linden, which he loves, because he gets to actually do a little bit of everything. Trevor is the Head Winemaker, and Alex is the Assistant Winemaker. Greg works closely with Alex most of the time, but spends a great deal of time with Trevor as well. There’s another man who drives the tractor and does most of the spraying and trimming of the vines.

Linden has a small Cellar Door, with only one full time Cellar Door host, and another office manager that helps as well. Greg doesn’t see them too often as he’s not in the Cellar Door.

As Greg works with the vines, his daily tasks are constantly changing with the stage of growth of the vines and grapes; the weather has an impact too. His vineyard has recently added some new blocks of vines, so their young vines need appropriate trimming to keep them growing upwards instead of outwards; they are too young for spray, so they need to be weeded manually. The guys go by hand and break off all the extra shoots that are not the main shoot of the vine.

The grass needs mowing in between the rows every so often in all of the blocks. This is part of Greg’s job.

As the more mature vines are growing, they grow like a bush and the branches spread out, but they need to grow straight up. There are wires in the vineyard that keep all of the rows contained. The branches that grow out need to be pushed back into the wires. Greg helps when the vines get taller and the wires need to be pulled up; this process is called “tucking,” and “lifting wires.”

(Pictured above is a comparison of vines that need to be tucked, versus cleanly tucked vines. The wires I mention are shown more clearly in the second photo.)

A few times per season the vines also require what’s called “bud rubbing.” Vines grow out of everywhere, even on the stumpy looking part of the vine at the bottom. If they were left there, they would grow up and cover the fruit from the sun, which wouldn’t allow the grapes to ripen properly. Vintners also just don’t want too many shoots growing because the more fruit a vine produces, the lesser the quality of the fruit. Wine will have more concentrated flavours and complexity if the vines only produce a small amount of fruit that they can invest all of their energy into. In order to prevent these extra shoots from growing, Greg will go from vine to vine and snap off any little shoots that are appearing, and rub off any buds that are beginning to show.

When he helps in the winery, he is working with the wine that was harvested within the last few years and is currently aging. As wine is aging in oak barrels, a small portion of it is constantly evaporating. (We call this the “angel’s share.”) At least once per month, if not more, the barrels need to be topped up with more wine until they’re literally overflowing, to ensure no oxygen is in the barrel. Oak allows a small amount in, but this is controlled and good to help the wine soften and be more palatable. Too much oxygen will ruin the wine and make it taste unpleasant. Greg helps refill the barrels with wine from a different tank. He has to pay close attention to which wines go in each barrel to keep them consistent with the grapes and years that the Winemaker wants.

Greg also cleans and sterilizes hoses, pumps and tanks before filling or using them. Once the Winemaker decides on the percentage of the blends for certain wines, Greg helps him transfer those wines together. He uses a barrel washer machine to clean out barrels once they’re empty. He mixes up a special compound that is applied inside the barrels to keep them sanitary while they’re in storage.

Greg also does a process called “batonnage.” When wines are aging in the barrel, the dormant yeast and other solids sink to the bottom. Sometimes, with certain wines, these are removed throughout the aging process. Other times, they are left during the aging process, and stirred occasionally through the wine, because they add complexity of flavour and contribute to a creamy mouthfeel. Batonnage is when Greg does the stirring.

Linden has additional clients that bring their grapes into the winery for Trevor, the Winemaker, to make into wine for them. Greg helps Trevor with whatever he needs for this as well.

Once the harvest begins, in late February, Greg will be working many more hours than he is now, and will be required to help with anything necessary. Getting grapes off the vine and into the winery has to happen in a very small window of time. The grapes need to be processed in the winery as soon as they’re off the vine, whether it is day or night. Harvest goes throughout March and into April. That will be a very busy, and important time of year for anyone in the industry.

We’ve also been asked if we get discounts on wine. You bet! It’s awesome. As we get such great prices, and the wines are good, lots of the wine we buy is from Linden (and lots from Church Road too). Greg comes home with the occasional, “here, drink this with your wife and tell us what you think,” wine, which is homework we’re definitely not complaining about. (I’ve been known to bring home a few left over bottles here and there as well.)

There are, of course, many other day to day tasks Greg does that can’t all be mentioned here, but hopefully you have a greater understanding of what his roles are, and can see why he appreciates the small team he works with and the wide variety of experience he’s gaining! He is really happy at Linden so far, and I’ll keep you updated on the craziness of our life, and his new tasks once harvest, or “vintage,” starts.

Three Amazing Must-Do Travel Bike Tours

We love traveling, seeing the sights, and being active, so it’s no wonder we’ve chosen to do bike tours on several of our trips. I also appreciate efficiency, and getting some wheels can greatly increase the amount of ground that can be covered in a short amount of time! We’ve biked in many places of the world, but these three experiences are all somewhat or fully guided, have given us the best bang for our buck, have offered very scenic exercise opportunities, and have provided amazing memories that we will cherish for life.

The Paris Night Bike Tour – 4 hours

http://www.fattiretours.com offers it for $69.95 and I recommend booking well in advance or it will be sold out! It’s got a 5 star rating on their site and I’m not surprised, as it is absolutely fantastic.

This tour was recommended to me by a friend before I had been to Paris for the first time, as it’s a great way to get some bearings on the layout of some popular tourist spots, and some general information. I recommend doing the tour close to the beginning of your trip for that reason. We did it, loved it, and have recommended it ever since. My sister and her friends booked it on my recommendation and highly enjoyed it as well.

We arrived on time, just after supper, at the address given to us upon booking, where we met our tour guide. We were set up with bikes and safety vests that were adjusted to fit us properly, and then we were taught how to use the bike. Paris is a very busy city, and we were going to be driving on the roads, with the traffic, so our tour guide taught us how to drive as safely as possible and how to keep up with the group.

Disclaimer: If you have never ridden a bike before, I wouldn’t recommend a bike tour in any large city as the place to learn. You don’t need to be an avid biker, but you do need to have some pre-established comfort on a bike.

Once we were ready to go, we set off into the evening! We biked at a relatively quick pace, and stopped every so often to view a monument, take some pictures, and learn a bit about what we were seeing. We stopped at places like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Latin Quarter, and we even stopped for an ice cream at Berthillon, a place they claim is most famous in Paris.

Then we made our way to the river, where we locked up our bikes, and jumped on a boat for a Seine River Cruise. The river cruise is one of my absolute favourite things to do in Paris, as you can see so many of the city’s famous places from the water, sail under its intricately ornate bridges, and admire all the locals that gather to relax and socialize along the riverbank. The timing of the boat ride was perfect for us to see the sunset, and the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the dusk from the water.

Oh, and did I mention the bike tour guide gives you free wine on the boat ride? Yes. Free wine. As much as you want. 🍷✔️

Once we got off the boat, we resumed our biking, perhaps a little wobblier than before the free wine, and made one more stop to see the Eiffel Tower again before heading back to the Fat Tire shop.

What a fantastic use of 4 hours in Paris!


Brooklyn Bridge Bike Tour
in New York – 2 hours

http://www.centralparksightseeing.com offers this tour for about $45, depending on what time and day you’re going.

Nobody had recommended this to me, but I wanted to do a bike tour in NYC, for the same reasons as on other trips: we cover ground so quickly, we get to meet other people, and we get some information about what we’re seeing, all while being active!

We were almost late for this one as we got lost on the Subway (so leave earlier than you think you need to), but we got there just before our group left. They quickly fitted us with bikes and we were on our way with our tour guide.

We biked at a reasonable pace, but we also stopped quite frequently on this tour to learn for a couple of minutes about what we were seeing. We rode through several old neighbourhoods that were the beginnings of Manhattan, down by the harbour, through the south end of Broadway, and China Town, while learning about some of NYC’s history. We pedalled across the Brooklyn bridge, breaking for some photos on the top!

Then we explored Brooklyn Heights and learned about the bridge and the area, before heading to the water’s edge near Jane’s Carousel to get a fantastic view of Manhattan, the bridge, and of course, some photos.

We made our way back across the Manhattan Bridge before ending the tour back at the shop.

This was an affordable and very informative tour with a friendly, personable and knowledgeable tour guide (ours happened to also be a college professor who was passionate about his city’s history), that left us feeling like we learned and saw so much that we just couldn’t have on our own.

They offer many different bike tours other than this one, so if you’re interested in other areas of the city, or want to do more than one tour, you could learn and see a lot!


Biking the Vineyard Trails of Burgundy
in France – full day

We booked rental bikes ahead of time through http://www.burgundy-by-bike.com for the very reasonable price of €20/day.

My heart smiles when I remember this day. It was easily not only one of the best biking experiences, but the best travel experiences – I’ll even say best life experiences – I’ve ever had.

We had watched some YouTube videos and read a few articles in our preparation to visit Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) and we’d seen a few recommendations to do the bike trails through the vineyards. As we love wine, we were going for wine, and we enjoy biking, we knew this was an absolute must for us.

There are a few companies that do guided tours, but we chose to rent our bikes in the town of Beaune, follow the maps they gave us of the bike trails and winery stops, and go independently of a guide. We didn’t know how long we’d want to be out, but we didn’t want to be limited by a group for this one, and I’m glad we weren’t, because we took the whole day!

We were fitted to our bikes, and given great directions and a map to get us through Beaune, and onto the bike path. Our map also explained exactly how many kilometres apart each of the towns were, so we could decide if we wanted to go the full distance or not.

We had the most beautiful, magical day. This was my Disneyland! Biking through the vineyards of Burgundy is just breathtaking! For one, the views are stunning, and the history is ancient; these vineyards and wineries have survived wars, and the stories of the families are generations long. Secondly, Burgundy is not flat! Our breath was taken away many times on this hilly ride! We were there in June, and it happened to be a very hot, sunny day. There is little shade on the ride, so make sure you bring lots of water. There are a few towns that you can purchase food and water in along the ride as well.

We started off at the famous entry to the vineyards.

We rode through several towns in the morning, stopping at a small Chateau in Pommard for a wine tasting in their below ground cave.

It was stunning, but the details of this are for another article!

We then rode through the villages of Volnay, Monthelle, and into Mersault, where we bought some beer and water and had a picnic lunch in the town square. It was scenic and quaint, with the church tower chiming away noon, and the small shop keepers closing up to enjoy the lunch hour by the trickling fountain. The town was alive with locals on their daily routes, and other bikers like us, stopping to enjoy the moment and some rest in the shade.

Once we were finished our storybook perfect lunch, we headed on towards Puligny-Montrachet, where we did another wine tasting. We then biked to Chassagne-Montrachet and finally Santenay, before deciding to turn around. We enjoyed little stops along the way to look closer at the vineyards and take photos, as well as to observe the village homes and businesses.

We also made sure to stop and smell the roses!

Biking in Burgundy felt so picturesque, so peaceful and so surreal that I had to keep reminding myself that I was really there, and it was really happening! I soaked up every minute of the experience and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

We put on 40kms on the bikes that day, so we were pretty tired by the evening, and it was so worth it!

So there you have it; these are my top three biking memories. If you are ever in any of those places, I highly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities, and all they can offer you!

Happy travels!

Aging Wine; The Need To Knows

“You get better with age like a fine wine…” ❤️

We’ve all heard sayings like this before that leave us to believe that all fine wine gets better with age.  This is partly true – many fine wines do get better with some age – but which wines are meant for aging and how long they should be aged, is actually quite a complex topic.  Then there are multiple factors that come into play regarding storage/cellar conditions that will either age wine well, or ruin it quickly.

A huge misconception I’ve come across in speaking with friends and family about wine is that it ALL gets better with age.  This is definitely not true!  There is a saying in the wine world that only 1% of wine is actually meant to be aged in the bottle, which means that 99% of the wine on the shelves right now is meant to be consumed within a few short years from now, or today!  More on specific aging times in a moment. I’ll tell you right now, that 1% more than likely didn’t cost less than $20 either, so if you’re hanging on to those $7.99 bottles, it’s time to grab some glasses, or possibly make dinner with some type of a wine sauce!

Wine needs to have certain qualities to give it the ability to age well.  Madeline Puckette, the creator of Wine Folly, gives 4 qualities that you can look for in a wine to determine if it is age worthy:  Acidity, Tannins, Alcohol Level, and Residual Sugar.  [1]

Acidity

The higher the acid in the wine, the better it will age.  When tasting wine, acidity is the factor that makes your mouth water.  It is often described as “crispness.”  Chablis, for example, has a high amount of acidity, and can age well, even though it’s made from white grapes. (Tip your chin down with the wine in your mouth and see how much spit forms. If there’s a lot, it’s higher in acid!)

Tannins

Lots of red grapes have high tannins and can be aged for several years.  Sometimes whites have tannins, but rarely.  Tannins are chemical compounds that come from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes.  When you taste them in wine, they’re not so much a flavour as a feeling.  (That dry feeling you get along your gums, like when you drink a way over-steeped tea, is the feeling of tannins!) In the process of making red wine, the grape juice sits with these parts of the grape, allowing the tannins to enter the wine.  Some can come from oak contact as well.  Certain grapes are more tannic than others, depending on their composition, and certain wines will be more tannic if they’re left to sit with the skins, etc. for longer periods of time.  These tannins can be bitter and harsh in young wines, but they help them age well because with time, the tannins “soften,” and become more “well-rounded.”  This basically means that instead of the wine tasting sharp and pungent in your mouth, it will taste more smooth and balanced; higher tannin wines need age to taste better.

Alcohol Level and Residual Sugar

Red wines with higher alcohol content, closer to the 14% mark, will typically age better than lower alcohol reds.  Whites have lower alcohol in them, but some grapes have particular compounds and sugar levels that will allow for a decent amount of residual, that is, left-over sugar, once the fermentation process is done.  These whites, like Rieslings, for example, have a balance of sugar and acid that enables them to age well.

So now that you’ve determined you’ve got a wine you’re going to hold on to, here are some things to think about before you put it away and forget about it.

Screwcap vs. Synthetic Cork vs. Real Cork  

The method of capping wines is still a largely debated topic in the wine industry.  Real cork, vs. synthetic cork, vs. screwcap – there are a lot of opinions out there on which is best and why.  For more information on this topic, check out my article Real Cork vs. Synthetic Cork and Screwcaps. For the purposes of this article, I’ll only comment related to wine’s age-ability and storage.

Australia and New Zealand initiated the use of screw caps, and still use them on many of their wines.  Other countries have started following suit.  A screw cap does not indicate poor quality wine, it’s simply a method that some producers believe is the best way to seal their wines.  Wines with screw caps don’t need to be laying down for storage, but they can be. Screw caps haven’t been tested for super long term aging, but some can last a decade or more.

Wine professionals have recommended to me, on more than one occasion, that synthetic cork should not be left in contact with the wine for long periods of time; they say it can leave a plastic type taste in the wine, and can also leave other synthesized compounds in the wine, that they don’t want to be consuming several years down the line.  Stand those synthetic cork wines up for any length of storage.  Fair enough. These are also only guaranteed for a few years at best.

Wine with a real cork must be stored lying down.  Cork is a natural compound, and it dries out over time.  By lying the wine on its side, the wine stays touching the bottom of the cork, and the moisture helps to keep the cork damp enough that it shouldn’t dry out.  This is important, because if the cork dries out, it shrivels up and shrinks, letting too much unwanted air into the bottle.  Over the years, the overdose of oxygen will ruin the wine, leaving it “oxidized” and undesirable. Natural cork has proven the test of time and has lasted sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cellar Conditions

Have you ever been to a winery, or seen photos of their cellars?  What do you notice about them?  They’re usually cool, dark, and damp, and the wine is off to the side and out of the way so it doesn’t have to be moved.

Cellar conditions for ideal wine storage should be between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, and shouldn’t change much.  Light shining onto the bottles for some time can alter the wine inside, whether it’s natural or artificial light.  Humidity will help keep the corks damp, so they stay plump and tightly sealed to the inside of the bottle’s neck.  The more you can leave the wine alone, without bumping it and moving it, the better its chances are of aging well.

When wine is resting well, it’s aging well, similar to you!  Just think of how well you would rest if someone kept changing the temperature on you, shining light on you, and bumping you around – exactly.  This is why I can’t sleep on an airplane. If you want your wine to be pleasant, give it a good rest!

Did you know that storing wine in a kitchen is actually one of the worst places in a home environment to keep it?  The temperature fluctuates the most in kitchens/bathrooms out of any of the rooms in your home.

How Long is Too Long?

There is a window of time that most wine professionals believe wine is at its best.  The window will vary slightly for each wine, but at a certain point, it will hit its peak, and begin to decline in quality again.  There is no exact way to know when this is, so it can feel like a risk when you’ve been aging a wine for a while, and want to make sure it’s at its best before popping that old cork ever so gently!

So many great wines become collector’s items, and people spend so much money on them, that they never want to drink them.  I once heard someone on a wine documentary say something to the effect of how many of the world’s greatest wines have essentially gone to waste, sitting in someone’s cellar for way too long, because people don’t understand how wine ages.  There’s a time and place for cellaring wine, but in the end, wine is meant to be drunk.

Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favourite wine books.  She says, “contrary to popular opinion, only a small subgroup of wines benefit from extended bottle aging.  The great bulk of wine sold today, red as well as white and pink, is designed to be drunk within a year, or at most two, of bottling.”[2]

In her expert opinion, she goes on to list specific numbers of years that several particular types of wine should be aged for, of which I’ve only included a few popular choices.  Almost all whites retailing under the $20 range should only be bottle aged to a maximum of 2 years.  Heavier whites, like Chardonnay can sometimes last up to 6 years.  More expensive whites can age longer, like Chablis (up to 15 years), or some Rieslings (up to 20).[3]  This has to do with the structure of the particular grapes, and how they’re produced.

Surprisingly, the number doesn’t differ much for reds.  If they’re around that same $20 mark or under, the longest Jancis recommends you keep them is 3 years.  You can hang onto higher priced French wines in your cellar from 15 to 25 years, Italian Chianti or Spanish Rioja can present nicely up to 10 and 20 respectively as well.  Above the $20 price point, most Cabernet Sauvignons can be bottle aged for 7 – 17 years, Pinot Noirs, 4 – 10, Shiraz, 4 – 12, and Grenache, 3 – 8. [4]  Jancis has not lead me astray yet, and I trust these numbers; keep in mind there are always exceptions, and your cellar conditions need to be appropriate, especially if you’re considering aging your own wines in the bottles.

*Note that keeping value wines up to that 2-3 year mark is NOT going to enhance their flavour; think of that time frame like a best before date.

To determine how long the wine has been in the bottle, you’re going to have to do some math!  The year on the label is the year the grapes were harvested, not the year it was bottled necessarily, so if the label explains that it was aged in the winery for a certain number of years, you can add that time to the year on the label to get the bottling year.

If you’re looking to age a wine, remember to look for wines that are balanced in acidity, alcohol, residual sugar, or have some tannin to them.  You’ll want to spend a bit more on these ones, and watch out for synthetic cork. If you’ve got a lot of $20 to $30 wines sitting in your house, it may be time to have a party!  Let’s not let that wine go to waste.  Happy aging of the appropriate ones, and cheers to all the rest of them!

[1] Puckette, Madeline.  (2017, Feb.)  “How to Tell If A Wine Is Age-Worthy.”  Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/tutorial/how-to-tell-if-a-wine-is-age-worthy/

[2] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[3] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[4] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.