Level 2 Feels and Rambles

Level 2 has arrived. It felt like it would never come, but here we are.

As of 11.59pm on Wednesday 13th May, we’ve entered into another new way of life. It’s not normal life, and certainly not close to it either. We’re still very much living cautiously, and I hope the rest of the country remains vigilant so we don’t have to go back to Level 3 or 4.

When we left Level 2 on the way up, I had all these dreams of what I thought I was going to do, or want to do, as soon as lockdown was over. I wasn’t that worried and hadn’t processed the reality of the pandemic. I hate to admit this, but I got my nails done only hours before hitting lockdown with little concern about who I was coming into contact with. I naively went to several supermarkets to find the chocolate I wanted without thinking about all the possible places I could have picked up the virus or spread it around. I’m surprised at how cautious and reserved I feel now.

Coming into Level 2 on this side, I felt guilty for being on the road the first time we went for a drive. I decided to wait a couple of weeks to get my nails done, “just in case,” and I’m in no hurry to book other non-essential appointments. I find I’m still wanting to limit my interaction with people I haven’t seen since before lockdown, because it’s just that many less people I’ll have been in contact with if this goes belly up in a week or two. I was happy to book a dinner out, but only once I found out how the establishment was being Covid safe. I’m excited to get back to the gym, but only now that I’ve been reassured of the lengths they are going to in order to protect us while we’re there. And most surprising of all, I’ve found I’ve had to be intentional about making social plans because I know it’s good for me.

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. We were in complete isolation for 33 days, followed by another 14 of near isolation. We’ve not been socializing for 47 days. We have formed a habit of disconnection and isolation.

Even once we moved to Level 3 and were permitted to expand our bubble by one household, we arranged our expansion, but never did anything about it. Maybe it was partly because it somehow still felt wrong, or maybe because it would have taken effort that we’re no longer used to putting forth.

Sometimes, I feel too lazy to make plans. It’s easier to just stay home. I don’t have to get ready, or even get up! I’m used to being at home now. I can stick to my own routine. I know myself though, and I’m a social person who is definitely in need of some real face to face interaction. I need to push myself past the laziness and start getting back to the parts of real life we’re permitted to be doing. I need to interact with people in a social setting. I was so socially busy before; I only stayed home if I had to. Now, it’s been surreal to notice that new struggle to motivate myself.

An object in motion wants to stay in motion, right? And one that’s stopped, well that takes some extra force to get it going again.

I’ve also learned that I’ve formed some negative associations with socializing. I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I hug someone, or go to a friend’s house. I have to remind myself that this is now okay; it’s actually healthy. There is so much more to health than just the physical realm, and it’s time to start caring about the mental, emotional and relational parts of my health.

I’m observing a whole range of responses to the newest change in levels. There are those people that have always acted like it was a level more casual than it was, and there are those acting like we’re still in lockdown now. I suppose people need to take things at their own pace, within the government recommendations, and do what they’re comfortable with. I do wonder though, if we’ll ever get back to how life was before. I think not.

Even if a vaccine is created in the next year or so, by then, people will be so used to social distancing and limiting their interactions that they may never go fully back to pre-Covid life. On the radio they were speaking about a process we’ve all adopted called “nesting.” We’ve set ourselves up in our homes and we’re good to go. We can work from home and shop online and have things delivered, so why do we need to go out anymore?

Covid has affected every single one of us. The way we interact is likely forever changed. I was reminded recently that I’m in a country that’s a lot better off than many others. We feel hopeful within New Zealand because we are feeling the benefits of going hard and fast. The rest of the world isn’t where we are. We can’t drop our guards yet. During a business update by my company’s CEO, he discussed how the way we do business has changed, likely forever. The way our countries govern and how they relate to each other has changed, which will affect travel, trade, and the world economy. People are spending differently because they’ve lost jobs, which is changing the products they want, and the markets to produce those products. Covid has a domino effect that reaches into every arena of our lives.

What parts of Covid are going to stay with us for the foreseeable future?

Nobody has the answers. Sometimes it feels like we’re all on a train that’s out of control and we can’t get off. Or I have flashbacks to an amusement park ride that I’m trapped on and it’s scary and uncomfortable but it’s going and I just have to wait till it’s over, pray it doesn’t fall apart and hope I don’t puke or pass out. We’re in this for the long haul, whether we like it or not.

There’s a lot to think about right now. Most of it’s not certain. Every now and again I have these “what if” moments, where my stomach drops and I get that feeling like my heart’s in my throat. When I catch myself thinking those words over and over, “what if,” I’m reminded that I’m worrying. This is not productive to me in any way. What will be will be, regardless of my worry. In those moments, I need to remind myself of what keeps me calm. In those moments is where my faith becomes real.

We’re in this together, and I believe there’s a plan. And it’s going to be okay. I might be stuck on that scary ride, and I don’t know when it’s going to end, but I’m not alone on the ride. Or even though I can’t see ahead to where the train track goes, or what’s behind the next corner, I trust that we’re going to be alright.

It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to acknowledge whatever feelings we’re having. We’re human and our humanness is being put to the test. It’s okay to take this one day at a time. It’s okay to reach out!

So we’ll just keep on keeping on and see how this all unfolds. I hope you’re healthy and staying safe out there, readers.

Grief for the Losses

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I’ve been reflecting most recently on the things that have been lost to this pandemic, and about so many people experiencing losses. This article is my attempt at a small gesture of honour to all of you who have lost.

I think of my friends and sister who have graduated from university programmes they’ve been working at for years, who don’t get to celebrate in walking across that stage. Graduation is a rite of passage; it’s an important ceremony that marks a huge accomplishment. I think of those beginning their careers in the health fields, law enforcement, and other essential services, with this as their training ground.

I think of couples that have had to either cancel or postpone their weddings, or chose to marry with no venue of witnesses, no gathering of family and friends, no reception to follow. I think of those with other milestones to celebrate, that have all been cancelled.

I think of people who live alone, or those who had limited social connections prior to this that are now non-existent, or those who aren’t familiar with technology, who are struggling to connect with those in their lives. I think of those who are lonely.

I think of new mothers and fathers; one of my nieces was born just before this pandemic hit, and she is the first child in her family. Our siblings are working through being new parents without the support they expected and would have received under normal circumstances. We have a new niece or nephew who will be born in the midst of this, and more than one set of friends in New Zealand who are due with Baby Number 1 in the coming months. They’re facing all the same uncertainties that the rest of us are right now, with the added uncertainty of what the hospitals will be like for their births, and the reality of the world they’ll be bringing new life into.

I think of the grandparents, who want nothing more than to hold those perfect, beautiful new grand-babies, but can’t travel to where they are, or that can’t be within 2 metres of them and have to settle for a look across the room. I think of families of all kinds who are separated right now.

I think of people that are dealing with bigger health problems than Covid-19; it’s all we can think about, but there are just as many people who have recently been diagnosed with serious illnesses than there were before, who are grappling with their diagnosis and their new treatment plans, in and amongst the risks of the virus. There are those who have been battling illnesses for some time, and have the added worries of how this virus will complicate their already significant challenges of navigating the world with reduced immune function.

I think of those who are in hospital, and can’t have visitors anymore; I think of those who have died alone.

I think of those who were struggling to make ends meet, and are now out of work, like the hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers across the globe, just to name one example. I think of those who didn’t realize it was their last day at work, or those that have had to abruptly leave jobs. I think of small business owners who will never again open their doors.

I think of those who were on vacations they’d saved tirelessly for and dreamt of for years, who had to go back to a home country. I think of those who had “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences cut short or missed entirely. I think of those that never got the chance to take it all in, or to say goodbye.

These people have lost. They’ve lost ceremony and celebration. They’ve lost any sense of normalcy and tradition for some of the most important days of their lives. They’ve lost first experiences, and last experiences. They’ve lost the physical and practical touch and support of family. They’ve lost what little sense of predictability and assurance they could have been given in already challenging times. They’ve lost any feelings of stability, closure, safety or peace.

These things that have been lost can’t be given back. They’re just gone. These things can’t be changed. These are their stories now. These are their memories.

I’ve been contemplating the stages of grief.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

In past counselling sessions, I’ve learned that although these stages are commonly felt, they don’t necessarily come in the order we think they should, and once we’ve passed through one stage, it doesn’t mean we won’t go back there. The stages are more fluid. We may experience one stage multiple times, or several within a short period. The key is to allow ourselves to experience them as they come.

I read an article recently that addressed that many of us are grieving during this time. Maybe because grief is usually associated with a significant loss, like a death, maybe we think “grief” is too intense of a word for what we’re going through. Maybe we’ve not lost a life, or maybe we have. One thing is certain; we have lost. We’re grieving a lot of different things, big or small, because of Covid-19, and that’s okay. Grieving is not only normal, it’s healthy. If we want to come out of this with mental and emotional health on the other side, we need to face it and go through it. We need to feel what we’re feeling and not let guilt or shame push our emotions under the surface.

It’s not pretty. None of this is. Let’s admit it.

This sucks. Straight up.

This really f*cking sucks.

Most days I’m doing well. Other days I feel like swearing and complaining about how unfair this all is for so many people. I wonder why this is happening, and how long this will last. I wonder about the future. I’m so aware that I’m not in control of what happens, and that can be a really scary place to be, until I remember that I was never in control of what happens in the world any more than I am today; any sense of control I felt was an illusion brought on by my daily routines and plans gone right. Now, again, I must cling to the hope that there is someone who is in control of what’s going to come out of this, and that He can bring good out of it.

Can we please stop comparing our situations and be kind? It’s not helpful to respond to a person’s loss by saying that someone else’s loss is greater, or that everyone’s going through it. The fact that several others in the world are experiencing similar losses can bring comfort in knowing we’re not alone, but it doesn’t in any way negate the losses we have each suffered.

Loss can’t be quantified in the same measurements for everyone; it’s not equal. The same loss may seem manageable to me, yet insurmountable to deal with to someone else, and vice versa. Can we support each other instead of comparing or minimizing each other’s experiences? Can we lend a listening ear and communicate that we’ve heard and understood? Can we validate those who are brave enough to be vulnerable with us and thank them for sharing what they’re going through?

I’ll leave you with some quotes that have inspired me this week. The author speaks about how one thing we can control in uncertain times is our mind-set, how we choose to look at the world around us, and how we see the future.

Your internal mind-set designs your external world. If you believe the world is full of possibilities, it is… if you believe in love, you will find love. If you believe in hope, you will find hope. And the reason you will find them is because you will bring them with you.

When your mind is shaped by hope, you do not see simply two paths; you see an endless number of paths filled with opportunity, possibility and beauty. However, if your mind is shaped by cynicism, or fear or doubt, then the only paths you see in front of you are the ones that are filled with pain and disappointment, with failure and hardship.

Faith changes our perceptions of the future. Faith always sees a way… when we have confidence in things hoped for we are instantly connected to the future… when we have assurance in things seen, we are limited by what we have, by what we know, and by what we can prove. When we have assurance in things not seen, we now add to our resources everything that exists in the realm of mystery, uncertainty and endless possibilities.

– Erwin McManus; The Way of the Warrior

I don’t know anything about your faith, nor do I wish to push mine on you; however, I chose today to have faith on behalf of all of you reading this, that things are going to get better for all of us, and that good will come out of this for you.

I have hope that opportunity and strength are going to come to all those beginning their careers as nurses, doctors, and law enforcement officers in the middle of a pandemic, and to those looking to restart somewhere new.

I have hope that beauty is going to come to all those who missed moments of ceremony, firsts, lasts, the chance to say goodbye, and to those facing health difficulties aside from Covid-19.

I have hope that endless possibilities are going to come again, once this is behind us.

Tomorrow I may need another mind-set adjustment or a reminder to stay positive and hopeful, but today, I choose to put my hope in a future with opportunity, beauty and endless possibilities. I like that a lot better than the other option.

I wish you a future of beautiful, endless possibilities, reader!

Time is a Gift

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I watched a movie called Collateral Beauty this week, in which the main character, Howard, faces a tough situation. He grapples with love, death and time throughout the storyline; Time, the character, comes to visit him and calls him out by saying that time is a gift and he shouldn’t waste it.

Seeing that film helped remind me that I can change my perspective on this 4 week isolation period.

Time is a gift.

There are tens of thousands of people in the world already, who have suddenly run out of time. This virus has taken all the time they thought they had left; their time is up. Time is a gift. We never know how much we have left.

We, in New Zealand, have just been given 4 weeks of time (maybe longer); for those who are healthy and able, we can use this time in ways we usually never do. Wherever you are in the world, your time frame may be different, but you’ve likely been given some time too.

How often do we go through our busy lives, putting off so many things we say we want to do, or know we need to do, using the excuse that we don’t have time.

We don’t have time to catch up with this person or that person, or to listen or connect with our partners or families.

We don’t have time to read that book, or write that article, or paint that picture.

We don’t have time to do something spiritual, read our Bibles, meditate, pray, do yoga, or whatever we’d like to do for our spiritual health.

We don’t have time to exercise, or stretch or get some fresh air.

We don’t have time to catch up on the rest we so desperately need but never prioritize.

Well now we have the time.

We can’t connect in person, no, but we can connect via phone and social apps. We can connect face to face with those in our households, like our partners and our families, and spend more quality time with them.

We can also choose to waste these 4 weeks, or get sucked into our phones until each day rolls into the next, or we can choose to set some goals we aspire to achieve. We can make this time useful. Valuable. Memorable. Meaningful. If we want to. It’s up to us.

We’ve been given this time to use in new ways.

What are you going to do with yours?

We Control What’s in Our Feeds

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We are in control of our social media feeds. We get to choose who we follow.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about a post in her feed. (You know who you are, so thanks for inspiring this article!) How a person in her feed has affected her has lead me to re-evaluate what and who is in my feed. This same person was also in mine, and has a history of posting private personal information, emotional rants, and prejudiced remarks.

Now, thanks to this pandemic, we’re on our screens more than ever before. It’s one of the only ways we can connect with others during this time. I’d love to see the stats on how much social media use has increased. I’ve spent a lot more time scrolling, reading article after article on the virus and personal posts on how people are dealing with it.

As important as it is to stay informed, I believe it’s important not to get sucked in to the news so much that Covid-19 becomes the only reality we know. We have to find space for other things in our minds to maintain balance.

I love reading the personal posts from friends who are sharing how this is affecting them. Social media is one way we can still connect and let others in on what we’re going through, and it’s through genuine sharing that we can encourage and support each other. There are so many people being vulnerable, who are sharing honestly and respectfully, and I’m encouraged, comforted and grateful.

There are, of course, those that prefer to complain, make inappropriate remarks about other cultural groups, post highly sarcastic or negative views, or get into political debates on social media. These people have always been around, but my tolerance to their posts has changed. I spend more time on social media now, and the world around me is less bright. I need to be aware of what I want to allow into my mind via social media, and what my needs are right now. Personally, I want to follow reliable news sources, and friends who are genuine.

Those other kinds of posts do not lift me up. I don’t have time or space in my life right now to follow people that bring me down. If I find that reading a certain friend’s posts leads to a pattern of sending me into negative emotions, I’m going to choose to take a time out, stop following that person and no longer let their opinions enter my mind. You can do the same.

Whether we realize it or not, the information coming through our feeds is affecting us, and we do have some control over it. Maybe it’s time we all take a look through our Instagram and Facebook accounts, and clean out the dust. We have the time, after all.

Let’s be mindful of what and who we’re following, and choose to make our feeds, as much as possible, places that add something of value to our days. Not everything should make us happy, of course, but for the most part, when I close those apps, I either want to be more informed, encouraged, entertained, have laughed, or have felt connected; I don’t want to leave feeling angry.

It’s a two way street. If I’m one of those people that makes you feel negative emotions when you see my posts, I won’t be offended if you unfollow me too.

You probably came across this article via a social media feed, so I challenge you to look at your feed over the next couple of days with a closer eye. Who and what is affecting you? Are you happy with how it’s affecting you? The choice is yours, my friends.

Level 3 and 4 Have Brought Me Here

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It’s too much to take in. It’s a lot to process. How are you all doing? My brain is running in a million directions right now. I’ve got so many thoughts I’m fighting to make sense of. Bear with me here. Reach out, please, and tell me how you are coping.

New Zealand has gone to Alert Level 3 today, with the advancement to Level 4 happening on Wednesday. The country will effectively shut down, with the exception of essential services, for 4 weeks. Or longer? No one knows. That’s the part that’s hard. The whole world is being challenged with this huge unknown. We are so human and so limited. Usually I sit on my blogs for a while before posting, but today, I’m processing with you as I write this.

My job. Do I even have one to go back to? How many people are going to be unemployed? Statistics are saying 10,000 people in retail jobs are going to be without work (rnz.co.nz). Already, over 30,000 businesses have applied for subsidies for their staff (nzherald.co.nz). Our country relies on tourism and it’s gone. It’s gone. Just like that. 8 days ago we had a Church Road Live concert with 400 people in our park. A cruise ship came in and a team member took a group on tour. 8 days ago. It feels like months ago.

Vintage 2020. Thankfully, the wine industry has been considered an essential service! There were a few hours today once we heard the announcement that we were going to Level 4 that we weren’t sure they would be permitted to continue working. Trying to imagine New Zealand without wine for 2020 is something I don’t even want to think about. Praise the Lord that they can continue bringing that fruit in and tending to those ferments. It’s a crucial industry for our country. We’re still awaiting specifics. Vintage 2020 will forever be a special, rare and valuable vintage to this world.

The future of our economy. How is this going to affect all of us? Will any of us be able to pay for our mortgages? Our rent? I went to the supermarket today and cued to get in. The shelves were bare. I did my best to adhere to the regulations they have put on food items, but still had items confiscated from me at the till. We are on rations. Rations. We are on rations. This is what you read about in WWII novels.

The 4 week isolation. I realize this is essential to stop the spread of the virus. And I realize that the physical benefits to stopping human contact outweigh the mental and emotional benefits to continuing it; however, there will still be mental effects that we will deal with in order to prioritize our physical needs of eliminating the spread of this virus, like those that come from lack of human contact.

Human contact is a basic human need. Seeing someone face to face. Hugging someone. Seeing their smile in person. Working side by side as a team. Celebrating together. These are all things that all of us crave and need in varying proportions. This virus is cutting off one of our most basic needs from us. Introverts all over the world might be soaking this in, meanwhile all of us extroverts are going into a state of panic. My biggest fear for this next month is being lonely. Bored and lonely. Missing human contact. I will have to do some soul searching and face something I’ve never faced before: this much time to myself. Isolation was the punishment my parents gave me as a child. It’s a punishment to me. How will I deal with this? I am now faced with the challenge of turning this huge bag of lemons into some amazing lemon wine.

We’re all being challenged to do something none of us have ever had to do before. But, what I’ve learned so far in my life is that we can always do more than we think we can. And we can do this, extroverts! We can face this challenge. We can overcome this, and we’re about to prove to ourselves what’s possible… while eating wholemeal pasta, no name beans, and the only 2 salad dressings I was allowed to buy today. Like. A. Boss.

If there’s other things I’ve learned, first of all, we as humans don’t like being told what to do. Many of us are struggling with this isolation and this virus, because we don’t like being told we can’t go out and can’t see our friends. We’re not good at listening. We think we know best. We’re not good at submitting to authority. We’re not accustomed to this. That’s why it has to get to this extreme. Secondly, we take so many creature comforts for granted. Going out for a meal. Stopping at a drive through. Going for a coffee. Going to our friend’s house for a visit. Having people over. Going to work. Going to the gym. Entering a building without thinking of how many people are in it. Going anywhere in public without hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. We take all these things for granted. We’ve just lost all of them.

I said to my boss today, “remember when just a few weeks ago I was complaining that I never get any time off work? Now all I want to do is go to work.” This puts everything we do and everything we know into perspective, doesn’t it? It’s amazing how quickly the world around us can just fall apart. 8 days ago it felt normal. Now, I have questioned everything. Was the last day we were open my last day ever serving customers at Church Road? It may have been. I don’t know. It is completely mind blowing to me that this is happening. And how fast it’s happened.

Faith moment: God knew this was coming. 2020, the year for which my word is “vision” couldn’t have left me more blindsided; this is a time in my life where I’ve had the least vision I’ve ever had, and when I have the least is when I can lean into God the most. This is a year where all of us as a global community have had no way to envision what is to come. It’s a day by day life right now. Rather than live by my vision, or what I think I want, I have to trust God’s vision entirely. He saw this coming. This was no surprise to Him. And I have no other choice but to believe He has a vision that includes me being taken care of in it. We’re living in another country, and although our visas aren’t up for a while, we’ve been thinking of what’s next. Now we’re just taking it one day at a time and one hour at a time.

Where are my extroverts out there? I am such an extrovert! Extroverts gain energy from social interaction, and we thrive on it. We need external stimulation through relationship. When we can’t get it, our energy is sucked from us. We become drained. Verbal processing is a common extroverted quality. We like to talk things through. I find I personally can’t completely deal with a stressful situation without talking it through with someone, which has now become writing it out. Psychology Today says, “People who identify as extroverts tend to search for novel experiences and social connections that allow them to interact with other individuals as much as possible. Someone who is highly extroverted will likely feel bored, or even anxious, when they’re made to spend too much time alone.” Bored, check. Anxious, check. Anxious about being bored, check!

Human touch is a basic need. There are all of those studies I’m sure you’ve heard of where the babies that get held grow into mature, healthy people, and the babies that don’t get held die. Okay, so don’t quote me on that, but look them up. Human touch has been linked to many positive benefits in society, like building greater trust in relationships, decreased violence, increased immune systems and lower disease and stress levels, strong team building, improved learning, and an overall well-being (kcha.org). “Physical touch is the foundational element of human development and culture…we should intentionally hold on to physical touch” (kcha.org).

Face to face communication is critical to our relationships; there’s nothing that can compare to being in the same space as someone else, and sharing in community. Yes, FaceTime and social media are keeping us more connected than ever before, but it’s second best to the real thing. There’s actually a condition known as “skin hunger,” or “touch deprivation“ with symptoms such as being less happy, more stressed, and generally more unwell, along with a reduced ability to experience and read emotions or form meaningful attachments in life (psychologytoday.com). All of this, just from a lack of contact. There are people who, pre-Covid-19, were experiencing this, and who are now going into isolations for various lengths of time, perhaps with nobody to give them any face to face contact. Perhaps they are elderly and can’t see their children or grandchildren anymore, or maybe they’re single and living alone, and going to work, or the gym, or their church, was their only form of social contact, and that’s all been stripped from them for an indefinite time.

Isn’t it ironic that through that same touch, that normally brings us so many positive benefits, we can spread something that will kill us all if we let it? It’s gotten to us in a personal way. It’s affecting many people physically, and everyone else mentally, emotionally, relationally, and financially, to name a few. We’re all being affected by this virus in one way or another.

So what are we going to do about it?

We can’t give up. We have to keep going. We have to stay positive. We have to find hope. We have to find things to laugh about. We have to do our best to simulate human contact. Let’s stay in touch. Let’s unite as the communities we are and let’s band together to overcome this. We can overcome this. We will. Slow and steady. One day at a time. We, as the globe, will get through this. We, as humans, will fight. We will cry if we need to. We will rest. We are being forced into a period of rest. Let’s take advantage of it. We don’t normally rest this much because we live in a constant state of busyness. We will meditate. We will spend time getting to know ourselves more. We will cut this thing off eventually. We will look back on that year that Covid-19 happened and it will be part of the struggle that shaped us. We are living part of history. This will be in the books.

So here’s to the fight. Cheers to you, doing what you need to do. Cheers to governments that are giving their best to make the best decisions they know how to in unprecedented situations. Here’s to uniting as a community.

I wish you the best, wherever you are in the world, and with whatever part of this you’re dealing with.

I was a Vintage Widow

I used to hate this term, and thought it was a bit of an overreaction, but having lived through this season for the real first time (Greg hardly worked outside of normal hours last vintage), I understand why they call us partners by this cruel, yet accurate name.

Vintage Widow: someone who’s partner is working the wine harvest season, and essentially mourns the loss of said partner to everything grapes and winemaking for anywhere from end of February through May; the vintage widow’s needs come second to the winery’s needs at all times.

Now before you think I’m about to launch into a huge list of complaints about this, let me reassure you that I’m not. I get it. I’m in this industry too, and I understand how the weather controls so much of when the grapes can come in, and that once they’re in, they need immediate processing. I understand that it’s all hands on deck, and how it has to be a 24 hour, 7 day per week operation. Vintage is exciting and there’s a thrill to seeing a winery in full swing.

No, I’m not here to complain, yet assuming my first official “vintage widow” title came with challenges, especially during this unprecedented Vintage 2020.

First, this was one of the longest vintages New Zealand’s had in years; it started very early due to warm, sunny weather all spring and summer, and then ended with cooler nights throughout autumn that stretched the reds on for weeks. Secondly, Covid happened; world pandemic vintages are interesting, to say the least. We weren’t sure if wine production was going to be able to continue, but thankfully the government deemed it as essential, strict pandemic procedures were put in place and patrolled at all wineries, and vintage 20 rolled on.

Greg not only worked 12+ hour shifts, 6 days a week, he was Night Shift Supervisor. If he’d been on days, I would have seen him each evening. With nights, we were 2 ships passing. Thanks to Covid, and social distancing, the night shift had to remain on nights for several weeks longer than usual, to keep the 2 shifts from coming into contact with each other on site. All up, Vintage 2020 was 13 weeks of night shift for Greg.

This challenged me in several ways, the biggest at first being sleeping alone every night. I hadn’t slept for a full night alone in a decade. I was assaulted in my 20’s, and sleeping overnight was the one hurtle that I’d never jumped. Whenever Greg went out of town, I’d have friends sleep over, or go to his parents’ or mine. I was offered beds this time too, but decided it was time I finally faced that fear. My colleagues can tell you how tired I was at work for those first few weeks. I was so uncomfortable that I felt like I slept with one eye open most nights. I tossed and turned and had to fight my anxiety all night long, every night. I don’t know if I eventually just hit a point where I got so exhausted that I began passing into unconsciousness, or if I gained some peace; it was likely a mixture of both. Eventually, I started to sleep better. I learned to pray before I went to bed and trust that God would keep me safe. I listened to calming worship music that assured me I wasn’t alone. It was a huge fight. But I finally chose to fight it. It was never easy, but it did become less difficult.

Another challenge was finding something to do with all my alone time. I am an extrovert, and although I enjoy being by myself for short times, I love being with people. In New Zealand, we’ve had to re-balance our relationship and the time we spend with each other. I usually work more hours than Greg does, and he normally gets home before I do, so he has had to get used to missing me for once, while I’ve had to get used to never having any time to myself in the house. We had some arguments at first, but eventually found our groove. Then vintage hit. All of a sudden I was coming home to an empty house. I wondered what I was going to do to keep myself entertained; then I remembered that in Canada, I used to beat Greg home each day, and I had 2 months a year off work and was on my own. I had done this before and I could find things to do, like read and write, go to the gym more often, not rush out of work as fast, or catch up with girlfriends. Great! Plan sorted.

Enter Covid.

Looking back on what vintage would have been like without being mandated to isolate at home for 5 weeks in the middle seems like a dream, and before, I was dreading that! Now, how I felt about it seems laughable! Covid took me to a new level of isolation I never imagined, but I survived, and actually ended up finding some rest and enjoyment in it.

Now, about the cooking. Greg loves cooking; I don’t. He usually gets home first, hence he cooks and it works great… until he isn’t around, and I have to cook for myself! I literally hadn’t turned on the oven in our place before vintage and had to send Greg a photo to ask him if it was on the right setting. I ate cereal for dinner a few times. What have I become? Once Covid hit and I didn’t have to leave the house for work, things changed. In isolation, I could eat whatever, when I was hungry. It also turned out that meals of chocolate and wine were pretty easy to prepare!

We knew going into vintage that Greg would get one day off per week, which thankfully ended up aligning with one of mine. I thought, “oh this will be great! We are used to only having one day a week together so this will be the same!” Wrong. Try coordinating eating and sleeping when you’re on complete opposite schedules. It doesn’t work. One of us was either hungry, or not hungry, or sleeping or tired or wide awake and wired. Covid actually helped us in this area, because once I started working from home, I made my own hours. I switched to night shift. I slept in with Greg, did my work in the evenings, and stayed up until he got home to have a drink or catch up with him. We would go to bed together around 3.00am or 4.00am and it worked really well (apart from the odd 10.00am meetings I had – those were rough).

I have a whole new respect for anyone that works nights as part of their regular schedule. Health care professionals, police, trades workers and so many others do this regularly and don’t see their partners on certain days, and have messed up sleep. Some people’s partners travel often for work and they run their relationships via impersonal contact. Kudos to all of you.

The week that Covid-19 became a huge reality in New Zealand and we went through hourly changes that eventually lead to the closure of my Cellar Door, Greg and I didn’t have a face to face conversation for 6 days. I informed him of only the major things via text. I had a lot of mental processing to do, but I couldn’t process with him. Having someone to talk to about your life who knows you, and who you are, is quite valuable. You can vent to them and they accept you. They can challenge your perspectives, and present new view points. I noticed Greg’s absence the most that week, as I was going through a lot without the support I was used to. I had to lean on other people.

On a much deeper level, one night, I found myself contemplating the point of life. For me, I’ve realized that a lot of my joy in life comes from living it with someone, and Greg is the partner I chose to do that with. Even just sharing small, every day things makes life better for me than when I am doing those same things by myself.

Little things like his cooking, or being there to listen when I need an ear reminded me of how much he does around here. How clean I was able to keep the house reminded me of how much mess he makes too! He does a lot for me, and vintage life reminded me some of why I appreciate him.

Vintage is over, and Greg’s back on days. We’re back to working very similar hours, and eating dinner together and trying to find a new normal in this ever changing life of ours. It’s interesting how something I was so afraid of at the beginning could become something I got used to and even appreciated at times. We, as people, adjust. We deal with what we have to and we make things work. It still surprises me how flexible we can be when we have to be. If life was all the same though, it would just be boring, right?

I’m proud to hang up my “vintage widow” hat for now though. And hey, I work in the Cellar now. Who knows what’ll happen next vintage, or where we’ll be. We’ll find out in due time.

And to all you vintage windows out there, especially the Moms, you rock.

In a Time of Turbulence

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I added Covid-19 to my Microsoft Word dictionary today.

When 2020 began, I could not have foreseen this year becoming what it has so quickly become. And we’re just at the beginning of these next unpredictable and shaky weeks. Or months?

I’ve asked people in their 70’s if they’ve ever seen anything like this in their lifetime and they say they haven’t. No one has. Someone commented to me that the last time things were this dire was in World War II, and although that comment may be a bit extreme at this point, it’s truth may not be for long.

Isn’t it crazy how a microscopic virus can become the hugest villain this world has seen in decades?

I’m reflecting on so many things, and processing uncountable thoughts as this thing affects my life more and more daily, and the lives of those who I love; I know I’m not alone in that.

Life at work has been a lot to take in, and we’ve been dealing with the punches as they come. We had no idea on Sunday morning when we woke up that it would be our last day with cruise ships in town, and that our last tour of the season would go out. We had no idea on Monday when we woke up that we would be isolated from the winery, and many of our colleagues. I spent the majority of my day going through our calendar and regretfully cancelling booking after booking with tour groups and customers. We had no idea on Tuesday when we woke up that all of our Administration office staff would now be working from home indefinitely. Our diary has gone from very full, to completely empty in 2 days. Church Road has never seen this. Local tour operators have lost thousands of dollars of business each day at the drop of a hat. It is amazing how much our culture in NZ survives on tourism. What will happen to those businesses? Those employees? How will people pay their bills?

Living across the world has often felt like we are far from our friends and family in Canada, but this pandemic has reminded me of how small this world can be, and how connected we are to each other. We are in this together, and fighting this together, as a world community. It takes something like this sometimes, that’s attacking all of us, to unite us in our fight against it. We are one large community in many ways right now, as we realize how human and vulnerable we are, and how this life can never be taken for granted.

We like to walk through life feeling like we’re in control. We think we have a job, and we make this much, so we plan ahead for money to come in, and we buy now. We think we can book vacations and just go on them. We plan so many events, celebrations and gatherings, and we assume they’ll happen, because why wouldn’t they? But we’re never really in control, are we? We’ve never been, even when we thought we were, but going through life with that mentality is scary as all hell. We can’t have peace with that knowledge unless we believe in something that gives us a sense of grounding or faith or we have something to put our trust and hope into that it’s all going to be okay or work out as it’s meant to be.

We feel so out of control and turbulent when things like this happen, because we are faced with the reality that we can’t control the outcome. This leads to panic. The panic, I’ve found, can spread just as quick as the virus itself, or maybe quicker. Panic and fear breed more panic and more fear. Panic buying, panic conspiracies being spread verbally and over social media. Panic reactions of all kinds.

The virus may steal the health of some, but the fear is already stealing the peace of many.

It has been interesting to watch how government authorities across various countries are handling the same situation so differently. I am thankful for the precautions New Zealand is taking to “flatten the curve.” Many of us are informing ourselves as best we can, and are trying to weed through the overwhelming amount of information we’re being presented with as the situation changes hourly. We try to cope with it all as we are able, through sharing conversations (hopefully via safe social distancing), or sharing the many humorous memes and videos already going around on social media, or exercise (if our gym is still open), or maybe even with some straight up liquor and pure denial. Or by writing (how I process).

Regardless of how we’re all dealing with it, I’m impressed at so many positive elements of the human race I’m seeing come out already. We, as people, have a fight in us that is awakened when we’re challenged. We push to try and fix and solve and we don’t give up. We work together. When we unite, we support each other. It has been humbling to already witness so many groups forming to support others in the community. It is heart warming to see people who are strangers come together to help other strangers because we are all human beings. This is the basis of humanity. It’s touching to see the goodness in people’s souls, and to be reminded that it is there. We are seeing people love other people in very tangible ways. Why do we not operate like this under “normal” circumstances? This is what the communities in this world should be like!

We are at the beginning of what could be a long road ahead, that will inevitably have multiple tiers of effects that last years. Someone told me today this is the Depression of the 2020’s. The thing is, nobody knows. And we have to take this one day, and one hour and one battle at a time. We have to find ways to cope that work for us. We need to support each other; we need to have friends and family we can lean on, and that can lean on us. We need to be open to how this is affecting us and seek help if we need. When the panic and the fear and the “what if’s” set in, we have to find something that can ground us. For me, it’s my faith. For you it may be something else, but I’ll leave you with this. Maybe it can help you too.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7.

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.

2019 Lessons; What This Year Living Abroad Has Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to 2020, and Happy New Year!

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!