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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and by the way…

…they make some pretty exceptional wine!

Two Canadians, A Campervan and New Zealand’s South Island

It’s been over 6 months of us working in this country, and we have now earned holiday time! Vintage is done, and Air NZ started offering really affordable flights within the country. All of this meant that we could finally get to the South Island, and we were so excited to explore it!

As people heard we were going south, they all gave us their lists of the must-do’s! We appreciated all the cool, local tips, but unfortunately we didn’t have a year to actually cross them all off… New Zealand offers almost never ending exploring! So we picked the things that sounded the most intriguing to us, accounted for our budget and time allowances, and carefully planned (on my end) a jam-packed, 6 day adventure, in a campervan, of course!

We got an amazing flight deal to Christchurch, so we headed there early Wednesday morning, thankfully just missed the fog, and landed on time at 8:05am. We picked up our Campervan from Jucy, and hit the road, as we had an appointment to get to in the Waipara area of the Canturbury Wine Region.

I won’t go into too much detail about the wineries we visited on this trip, but we uprooted our entire lives, and moved to this country specifically to work in wine; clearly it was high on the priority list for this holiday, as it usually is.

Bell Hill

The wine in the South Island is very different than it is where we work in the North. We work in the warmest wine growing region in the country, with very vast and diverse soil types; the wine regions in the South Island have completely different soil from each other, and from the North; they also have their own unique climates, and therefore, produce unique versions of some of the grape varietals we have in the North, and also some completely different varietals altogether. We tried lots of Pinot Noir on this trip, some Chardonnay and bubbly wine, as well as many aromatic whites, like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir based Roses, and even a Muscat, that was dry and surprisingly enjoyable.

In Canterbury, we visited Bell Hill, and had a private tour around their biodynamic and organic boutique vineyards, on incredible slopes, with the vines showing off the beautiful autumn colours. We tried some Pinot Noirs out of barrel. We visited Pegasus Bay, which had beautiful grounds, some very nice wines, and a friendly and knowledgeable Cellar Door host.

Tasting in the Bell Hill caves
Pegasus Bay Cellar Door
Pegasus Bay

We also visited the winery with two labels that belongs to this year’s New Zealand Winemaker of the Year, Greystone and Muddy Water. The Winemaker at my workplace has won that award 2 times in the last 5 years, and we have amazing wine, so I had very high expectations for this place, which I feel is fair. If you are considered the best Winemaker in the country, your Cellar Door should support that, and the visitors that you will undoubtedly bring, and give an exceptional experience. This one, sadly, did not. The host was unfriendly, made no effort at conversation, and was actually outrightly rude to us with a couple comments. Thankfully, the Marketing Manager overheard some of our questions and came out to speak with us for a while, and he was great. If it weren’t for him, we would have had a terrible experience there.

We made our way back into Christchurch for the remainder of the afternoon, did a bit of shopping for some winter gear and groceries, and drove around to see the sights.

A highlight for me was the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial for the people who died in the 2011 earthquake. It was chilling to see, and served as a reminder that life is short and fragile, and should be valued and lived to the full. We had a quick dinner at what I describe as a funky, more upscale food court, Little High.

We visited one of Christchurch’s older and highly awarded bars, the OGB Bar, and had a great experience. One of their employees did a wine tour with me a couple months back on his holiday, and invited me to visit him there on our trip, and him and his colleagues made sure we were taken great care of!

Then, it was time for a very late dinner and wine, once we found somewhere to camp! We used the Ranker’s Campervan App to help us find everything we needed to on our trip. It showed all of the places we could park, empty our tanks, etc., with reviews, photos and prices. We searched for the free options, and found a place just outside of the city to park. I’ll elaborate on the campervan later.

We woke up early on Thursday to get a good head start on our drive to Lake Tekapo.

The Lake Tekapo famous church

The scenery was beautiful on the way, as we made our way into the mountains. We spent the afternoon in Tekapo; we got some photos with the famous church on the lake, and then took a moment to pause inside and admire the view of the lake through the windows on the back wall. What a great place to go to church! We opted to walk to the top of Mount John, which was a short, fairly easy but steady climb.

Almost to the top of Mount John
The view
Snacks at the Astro Cafe

We enjoyed views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and some coffee and dessert in the sun at the Astro Cafe, before heading back down for lunch. We parked the van alongside the lake for a gorgeous view, had a picnic and some Riesling, and then headed to the Tekapo Hot Springs.

We had a booking for 2:00, but because we picked the date and time ahead, we were able to get a great deal on a site called bookme.co.nz. We enjoyed a couple of hours there, soaking in the warm water, and soaking up that view, before heading on.

Next, we drove to Lake Pukake, and stopped for some views of Mount Cook, and then made our way through the Lindess Pass, which was beautiful at sunset, and then onto Cromwell, where we wanted to start our next day.

Classic NZ highway photo
Lindess Pass at sunset
Admiring Mount Cook and Lake Pukake

We found another free camp spot on the Ranker’s App, right next to the lake, and it was such a gorgeous spot. I can’t believe some of the amazing, free camp grounds New Zealand has! I kept saying to Greg, “why is this free…?” In Canada or the USA, those would have been costly spots.

“Pancake Saturday” was moved to Friday, as we had the time in the morning, and the lakeside spot to enjoy! As we awoke in Cromwell, we were already amongst many more great wineries we were excited to visit! This is when it really started feeling like a holiday to me; finally, we had made it to Central Otago, another world renown wine region on our bucket list!

We definitely started off with the bar high, as we visited the appointment only Cellar Door of Felton Road for a tour and tasting with the owner’s daughter. Bookings are required well in advance to get a spot. She was fantastic, as was their philosophy, place, and wine, and we loved our experience there.

Felton Road tasting set up
Felton Road Cellar Door

We followed that up with another amazing experience at Mt Difficulty. It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day, and we took in the expansive views of Central Otago on their patio in the warm sun for a delicious and generous platter, that was a special treat for me from a reward card I received at work. After we ordered, we did a complimentary tasting to help us decide what to have with lunch. By the time we finished our tasting, our food was ready for us. We enjoyed our time there so much!

Views with the platter and wine at Mt Difficulty

Other wineries we visited in the Cromwell area were Carrick, and Akarua; we had positive experiences at both of them as well. We then jumped back in the Jucy van to head for Dunedin! The drive was absolutely beautiful the entire way; we arrived around dinner time, and spent the evening with friends.

Baldwin Street

They took us for dinner at a quaint and delicious Italian place, and then drove us to the top of Signal Hill to view the city, as well as took us for a spin up and down the steepest street in the world! We parked the van outside their house that evening, and funnily enough, we weren’t the only Jucy van on the street.

In the morning, we grabbed coffees and had a visit with our friends before making our way around Dunedin to see St Clare Beach, and the famous Railway Station; as it was Saturday, we visited the Farmer’s Market where we purchased some fresh fish and produce for dinner, before making our way back to Central Otago, where we’d spend the next 3 days.

We arrived in Wanaka mid-afternoon, so we went to Rippon, another famous winery with, yet again, amazing wines and an exceptional view!

We also visited Maude Wines, where we had the perfect spot on their comfy couch with blankets in their sun room, overlooking lake Wanaka.

We each had a seated tasting flight of different wines, and then enjoyed a glass in the sun. Our host at Maude was extremely welcoming and knowledgeable, and made us feel very comfortable during our visit.

After we were done relaxing at Maude, we headed down to That Wanaka Tree, to get some sunset photos. We were amongst a group, but got some beautiful shots. I love when I get to see something in real life that I’ve been seeing on Instagram for a while!

That Wanaka Tree at sunset
That Wanaka Tree at sunrise

We checked out another cute wine bar in Wanaka called The Cork Bar. It was warm, dim, and comfortable. So many of these places remind me of small mountain towns in British Columbia, and the whole Wanaka/Queenstown area made me feel quite at home.

At The Cork Bar, I tried some Black Peak Pinot Noir, who’s Winemaker and owner had been in to work last week. We also tried some Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, that came highly recommended, and loved it.

As Wanaka is such a famous tourist spot all year long, there are no free campsites there. We were fortunate to have a friend who’s father lives in Wanaka, and allowed us to park in his driveway for the evening. We carb loaded for our upcoming hike with some pasta, and enjoyed a bottle of wine before bed. We had purchased some candles by this point, so we had our usual ambience and didn’t have to run the bright LED lights in the van!

The next morning, we were up at 6:00am to eat breakfast, grab some sunrise photos of That Wanaka Tree, and make it to the base of the Roy’s Peak Hike for daylight at shortly after 8:00am.

Roy’s Peak Ridge

We were up to the ridge by 10:00am, took our photos, and decided to go for the summit. It was pretty cold up there, but we were glad we made the extra treck to complete the hike. The views were stunning and we had the place to ourselves.

Roy’s Peak Summit, 1578m

We had lunch back down at the ridge, and started our descent just as the rain began. By the time we got to the bottom it was full on pouring, and we were drenched! Thankfully we started when we did that morning, because had we even been 1 hour later, our view would have been largely lost in the rain clouds and fog.

Very wet after finishing Roy’s Peak

Many reviews strongly suggest a high fitness level is required for this hike, and I completely agree. It’s steep, and it’s all up, sometimes at a 45° angle, with basically no plateaus, for hours. And then you have to come down…potentially in the rain or snow, depending on the season. You must wear proper clothing, shoes, and layers. It is almost 1600 meters in elevation; the conditions are considered Alpine at the ridge and upwards, and with all that uphill climbing, if you’re not wet from the rain, you’re wet from the sweat. I was so thankful to have key parts of my work uniform on; I wore my amazing Icebreaker Merino wool jersey and Merino wind proof vest, all thanks to my awesome company outfitting me for the winter. The hike was absolutely worth all the effort and sore knees; in exchange we got some of the best views we’ve ever seen in our lives, and some pretty amazing photos.

Rainbow and mountain views from Roy’s Peak Summit

We had a makeshift shower with baby wipes when we got back into the Jucy van, and were happy to get out of our completely drenched clothing. We hung it all around the van, but the van unfortunately never got warm enough to dry any of it. I got creative to dry my hair.

We headed for Arrowtown, and walked around a bit there.

We found a candy store and got some fudge, but were stiff and cold, and just wanted to sit down. We found a cool restaurant that was just about to close, The Chop Shop, but they gave us a table. Greg had a thirst quenching beer, and I had a warm coffee with Baileys and it hit the spot perfectly. We ordered a dessert, and ended up getting 3 more free because they were using them up before closing!

Do you want another dessert on the house? Yes, please.

We headed to, guess where… more wineries! Are you surprised? We fit in short visits to Peregrine, Gibbston Valley, and then had a nice long tasting at Mt Rosa.

Peregrine Cellar Door

The owners of Mount Rosa had come to do a tasting with me at my workplace in the Bay at Christmas time, and one of my good friends is heading down to help them out for several weeks this winter while they go on vacation! As the owner knew me, he had us in way past close, and gave us a very personalized tasting. We enjoyed his wine, and the cozy, warm, rustic atmosphere!

We made our way into Queenstown that evening to check it out, and then found a campsite in the area. Queenstown doesn’t have any free sites either, but we found a decent one for only $13/each. Greg cooked up a nice meal, and we relaxed in the van, as it was still pouring outside!

The next morning, after a stop at Starbucks (yes, whenever I get the chance) we traded in the Jucy van for a car, as the van specifically had to be back during certain hours, and our flight home the following day wouldn’t allow for that to work. We took the car around the area, and did our last set of wineries: Chard Farm, which has an amazing, 2km cliff side drive in, Wet Jacket and Whitestone Cheesery, which is in an old wool shed and has a super cosy atmosphere, and then Amisfield, which was closed for repairs, so I was quite disappointed to miss them.

Chard Farm’s driveway along the left
Visiting Wet Jacket with wet jackets
Wet Jacket Cellar Door
Bald Hill

The rain had stopped by then, so we ate up the rest of our groceries outside the boot of the car! We went to Bald Hill instead of Amisfield, and then it was time to check into our hotel.

We stayed right close to downtown Queenstown, which was amazing. We got straight to laundry, as our hiking gear was all still soaking wet, and we weren’t sure how we’d get it home that way! We visited with some friends from home, who also happened to be on holiday in Queenstown!

Then we walked downtown from our hotel and checked out the shops, as well as this very cool bar, The Winery.

Inside The Winery

It has many enomatic machines, that work like a Coravin, allowing small tastes of a bottle of wine to be poured from it without oxygen getting in. We were able to try several new wines, and I got that Amisfield wine after all. It was a lovely evening, and we enjoyed some cheese and crackers on the balcony of our hotel before bed, and also really enjoyed a hot shower, a real toilet, and a King size bed! As much as we loved the hotel for the last night, we really did like the Jucy van.

Our Jucy van was just what we needed for this trip.

Fuel prices

It was small enough to get good fuel mileage (which matters a lot here – fuel on the South Island was around a whopping $2.40/litre, and that’s not a typo); it was still big enough to have a functioning bathroom. We had a small living area with benches, and a table that we could set up for dinner. That same area converted to a bed for the night.

There was also a bed option up above, but with just us, we didn’t need to use that one for anything but storage. It came with a kitchenette, and all of the dishes we needed. It also had towels, and bedding. The weather was quite cold (for NZ) at this time of year, and got down to just above 0° at night, but we had 2 duvets, and were toasty warm under them – borderline hot some of the nights. I was glad we only flew with carry-on luggage though, because compared to our camper in Canada, it felt a bit tight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have any more stuff!

On another note, this was the lightest I’ve ever packed for a trip, and it was a big stretch for me! I wore the same boots the entire time, other than my runners for hiking. I didn’t bring heels. (Who am I?) I didn’t bring my blow dryer or straightener, either, and just made due with the hair situation. I knew we wouldn’t have power for them anyways. (Thankfully, I was able to shower at my friend’s in Dunedin, half way through the trip, and use her hair appliances to freshen up. Alice, you’re a life-saver!) Over all, I really embraced the campervan lifestyle. It was fine for 5 days, but by day 6, I was quite happy in our hotel room! I am still a bit “precious” as they say here, after all.

I have also realized that we’ve only been here just over half a year, and our trip was greatly enriched by the many connections we already had, because of our jobs in the industry, and friends we have made. We visited friends in Dunedin and Queenstown, and I knew people in Christchurch, and Gibbston Valley through simply meeting them at my job and spending some time getting to know them; they then returned the hospitality to us. We tried wines of people I’ve met at my job. We had a free place to stay in Wanaka, through another friend we’ve made. Most of the places we visited gave us extra special treatment when they found out we were industry people. I’m so thankful for all of these connections, and they make us feel so much more welcome in NZ.

Our trip was amazing.

Queenstown area
Queenstown
Roy’s Peak Summit
Arrowtown in Autumn

I’m so happy to have finally seen the South Island, and it is every bit as beautiful as people say. (Although, I do have to give bigger points to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.) 6 days went by so quickly, and we did a lot, but we still had moments of relaxation, and thoroughly enjoyed our first actual holiday in NZ.

Relaxing with my babe, stunning views and some Pinot at Maude

Hmm… where to next?

Home

What is “home?”

I asked the question, and a lot of you gave very thoughtful responses. Here are some of them, paraphrased and summarized.

Home is where you are heard and appreciated.

Home is where you feel the most comfortable to be yourself.

Home is where love is abundant.

Home is where you are relaxed and free.

Home is that soft place to land, where your heart smiles, and your soul shouts, “yes, this is where I belong.”

Home is different for everyone, and it can change over time.

Home is somewhere you look forward to going each day.

Home is wherever you put down roots.

Home is where you are authentically yourself, and loved unconditionally by yourself and others.

You can have more than one home.

My husband’s answer to what home is, was that it is anywhere I am. Although this caused a bit of friendly teasing from some of you, many of you know that when you have a partner in life, you can choose to go almost anywhere with them and make a new home.

We’ve been living in Hawke’s Bay for 6 months today; we’ve been away from Canada for a bit longer than that, but we’ve been living in this new place for half of a year now. To some that may seem short, while to others it may seem long. To me it seems perfect, because this is exactly where I have needed to be.

So when does it become home? We’ve been proactive at choosing to make this our home, right from the start.

Canada will always be our home. Saskatoon will always be our hometown. I still feel at home every time I visit the camp I grew up attending. I feel at home when we arrive at our favourite lake in Saskatchewan. I feel at home in our camper, wherever we may park it. Hawke’s Bay also feels like home to us now.

We don’t know how long this will be home, but for now, it is home to us. So when you ask us to “come home,” or when we’ll be “coming home,” the answer is, “we’re already home.”

Everybody’s Got A Story

Oh, to start again. When we moved to New Zealand, we left our entire lives as we knew them; we left behind established careers, family, circles of friends, and our reputations of who we were to others. We’re immigrants here; we’re the newbies in the country, and in the industry we’ve chosen to jump into. A lot of excitement comes from that, and freshness and newness, and we do so much learning. We’re challenged every single day to do something we’ve never done before, and we’re gaining so much. We are also having to prove ourselves, and we’re possibly being underestimated sometimes.

Greg came from being surrounded by people that know his skill set and how capable he is. In Canada, everyone who knew him trusted him and his advise in many areas, and often asked him for his help. Here, as is to be expected, he has to prove himself, and prove what he can do. Some people see the value in his skill set already, (some saw it very quickly), but others don’t trust him yet; that’s all part of starting again in a new place.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that certain customers in the Cellar Door were going to make a judgement about me because of my job. Some people have assumed that because I’m working a hospitality job, I must not be educated, or that I’m there because I can’t be anywhere else. Once people discover my story, I’m often asked why on earth I’m not teaching. I could be “making way more money,” they say. (Although a customer said to me with sarcasm recently, “yes, because teacher’s are in it for the money.”)

It’s not just me either; there are other women in my workplace that have university degrees, and could be working in a higher earning career that would bring more prestige, but who choose, like me, to be working where we do because we enjoy it.

Those that take the time to actually ask me about my story hear that I chose to be in this job, and it’s actually exactly what I want to be doing with my time.

Upon talking with Greg about this topic one evening as we sat by the ocean, we realized that for every assumption people have made about us on first glance here, we’ve probably made ten assumptions about others. We (I’m referring to us here, because I’m sure you’ve never done it…) have a tendency to assume things about others based on their jobs, or where they’re living, or what they’re driving, or based on a whole list of other qualities we can see at first glance.

Upon first look at our jobs or income here, where we live, or our cars, (especially mine – we call it “the fridge”) a person could easily assume I don’t have a degree, or that Greg doesn’t have much for skills or expertise, or that we don’t own a home. Anyone might assume lots of things about anyone else if they never hear their story – but if we take the time to ask, everybody’s got a story, don’t they?

My take from experiencing being assumed about, is to try to start assuming less.

As we talked on the beach that night, I realized that sometimes we can get to know small parts of people’s stories, when it’s appropriate to ask, and sometimes we can’t. With some people, if we have enough time, they’ll let us in on big, important parts of their stories, and that’s a privilege.

Whether or not we get to know any part of another’s story, we can realize that they’ve got one, and start giving people a little more credit than we maybe would have in the past.


The title of this blog was inspired by a good old country song. (I’m so Canadian at my roots.) I thought I’d share the lyrics to the Chorus here, as they seem fitting.

Drake White – Story

Everybody got their good days, bad days, ups and downs 
We’re all on the same world, spinnin’ around
Flyin’ with the birds, sinkin’ with the stones
Livin’ on prayers, keepin’ up with the Joneses
Some got a little and some got a lot
Some of us are lost, some of us are not
But everybody got their moment in glory
Guess everybody got their story

Friendship

Have you ever thought about how much the people in your life leave lasting effects on you?

So many people come into our lives; some stay for a short time, and some stay for a long time. In this season, I’m reflecting on the important ones to me, who have, or will leave my life, who I know I may never see again (but hope that I will!)

It’s surreal to me to think about the process of how we meet someone.

Just the day before, we had no idea who they were. We didn’t know their name, or what they looked like, or anything about them. Then we were put in the same place, at the same time as them.

One day, our paths aligned, and we formed a relationship; with some, we formed an immediate friendship.

Then, what feels like all of a sudden, it’s time for us, or them, to move on. As quickly as they entered our lives, they’ve left.

But we’re not the same as we were before we met them, because they’ve influenced us in one way or another. Through shared experiences and conversations, laughter or frustrations, sharing old stories and making new ones, they’ve impacted us.

Some people that enter our lives, we’ll remember for a while, but then probably forget after enough time has passed. There are those that we’ll remember for longer, or that we might see a picture of years down the road and it will spark the memories.

Then, there are those that we know we will never forget. For one reason or another, they’ve had a significant impact on us, or helped us learn something about ourselves, or life, or shared genuine conversation or experiences with us. Those are the ones that remain friends, even if we never see them again in this life. I believe that the more people we meet, the more enriched our lives become; more stories are shared, more memories are made.

Everyone moves on though, eventually. Some move on more quickly than others, but eventually, lots of people will leave our lives.

I naively assumed that since we were coming to New Zealand, we would be the ones to leave. I was prepared to say goodbyes to everyone in Canada; I wasn’t prepared to say goodbyes to people here, and they are tough! I’m grateful though, that these goodbyes are tough, because that’s what I prayed for long before we ever came here; I wanted friendships that were good enough to make me cry when it came time to move on. To me, those are the ones that are real blessings in life.

Relationships and change are both part of life. The more we age, the more our friendships shift, especially in a situation like this. There are always going to be seasons of relationships. They’ll come and go. Some will stick for a lifetime, yes, but many are only meant for a season, and that’s okay. It’s sad to think about the ones I may not see again, but I’m so grateful for the time I got to have with those people.

No matter who comes and goes in our lives, if we’re open to new relationships and friendships, we’ll find them. Special people will bring us so much joy, and leave their fingerprints on our lives in one way or another, and hopefully, we’ll do the same for them.

*inspired by Amy… written with her and many others from years past in mind. ❤️

Learning to Accept Generosity

Moving to New Zealand has brought with it a whole set of life changes, and one of them that’s come to mind repeatedly lately is how often we’ve had to rely on other people’s help since we got here.

Back in Canada, when we had careers that paid us larger salaries, and we had our house, vehicles, and all of our stuff, we didn’t really have to rely on other people very much. We had everything we needed and so much more. If we felt we needed something we didn’t have, we would just go buy it. Greg and I enjoyed having people over to our house and sharing our food and wine with them. We were quite willing to lend our stuff to others, whether it was small things like clothes, shoes, hunting/fishing/camping gear, or bigger things like a vehicle or our camper. We had no problem giving things to people if we no longer needed them.

I also struggled with borrowing from most people, or accepting things from others. I always felt like I owed them. I didn’t mind borrowing things from family, as I felt that was slightly different somehow, but even then, I would prefer to buy my own things rather than use someone else’s, even if they offered.

I’m not sure why I struggled to accept someone’s help, other than potentially having some bad experiences with a few specific people. I can recall a couple of times in the past where someone has helped us with something, and then lorded it over us for some length of time, or used it as a bargaining chip to try and get as much out of us as they could for as long as possible. It’s a shame that a few people like that can make me think that others might be planning in their heads to do those same things when they help me. I have some difficulty accepting kindness, because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wonder if some people will come to us and say, “remember when you first got here and we did this for you? Well now you owe us.”

The interesting thing about this assumption or fear I have put on others, is that I would never do that to someone else. I lent a colleague $10 a while back, and completely forgot about it. She paid me back a couple weeks later and I hadn’t even remembered I gave her money. I don’t mind sharing what I have, so why does it even cross my mind that everyone else might be secretly holding what they’ve shared with me over my head?

I think I’ve tried to live my life up until now being on the positive side of owing friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, our families have definitely been generous and helpful to us in many ways over the years, and could choose to lord some things over our heads if they wanted to, but I try to be as self sufficient as I can, and as generous as I can towards them, and leave asking for help as a last resort.

If someone paid for my Starbucks in Canada, I wanted to make sure I’d get them one next time, or the next two times; I couldn’t just accept the coffee without feeling like I needed to try and repay them with something of equal or higher value. I’ve even allowed my own guilt to motivate me into doing things for others that they probably didn’t expect of me, because I have such a good memory, and I remembered when they helped me last. I placed that burden of “owing them” on myself, even when others hadn’t. I still expect more from myself than I expect from others.

When we arrived in New Zealand, we had no physical stuff but the 3 suitcases we brought between us.

We had to accept so much help… I really mean, so much help. We were forced into learning to accept generosity.

Even once we got our jobs, we quickly realized that our lifestyle here was going to have to be very different than it was in Canada. Not only are things more expensive here, but we’ve taken a huge pay cut. We can’t afford to go buy most of the things we want. We can’t even afford to buy things that we used to think we needed. Our definition of what we “need” has really changed as well. We’ve realized that a lot of the things we used to think we need, are really just wants, and we can get by just fine without them.

For example, we have 3 bowls. (4 now, because I took one from work that had been sitting on the table for months unclaimed. It doesn’t match, but it holds food.) We don’t have many utensils! I do dishes at least once every day so we have enough. When we had our biggest party yet, we used every single utensil we had (forks, spoons, serving spoons, tea spoons) to serve dessert to people, and Greg and I ended up using whatever we could find in the drawer to eat ours. But we all ate dessert and I don’t think my friends minded (if they did, they were super polite about having to either eat their cake with a serving spoon or one the size of their pinky finger).

We used a broken clock for 2 months, until we finally decided we could break the bank and buy a new one. The old one ran slow, so every night it would be behind by 20 minutes. I would make sure to reset it 20 minutes ahead of time each day so that we were never running late.

Greg was shopping for groceries one week and I had told him how much money was in our bank account. He got to the till and put all the stuff we really needed at the front, and the stuff we wanted at the back, and when the total reached what we had in the bank, he said to the teller that he had to leave the rest. We’ve never had to do that before. He described it as a humbling experience.

I just wanted some lotion SO bad, and all of the decent smelling and somewhat quality lotions (ie. not Vaseline Intensive Care) retail for roughly $40 or more for a small container! I looked and looked, and eventually came to the realization that I can’t afford nice lotion here. I just can’t justify that price right now. It’s a small thing, but it was the final straw that broke the camel’s back for me in realizing that I have to significantly change my lifestyle in a lot of ways.

(On a side note, we do realize that these are the small sacrifices we are making to gain bigger, more important things, like being fulfilled in working in the wine industry, living in a warm place by the ocean, and living out our dreams, and we wouldn’t trade them!)

The examples above are things we just wouldn’t have chosen to deal with in Canada, or been willing to tolerate before, but we’ve been re-learning the value of a dollar. (And that’s a New Zealand dollar too, not a Canadian one!) I’ve started thinking about how long it takes me to earn something when deciding if it’s really worth buying.

This drastic change in our financial situation has forced us into accepting the generosity of others, and wow, are the people in our life ever generous.

Within a week of getting here, when my first car broke down (twice) we had new friends lend us their car. Their car. They biked to work for the days we had it. That was not easy for me to accept, and we actually had spent more money on a rental car the first time mine broke down, and our friends were upset I was being so stubborn as to not use theirs. So we conceded the second time my car broke, and borrowed their car. I was so grateful, but felt so guilty at the same time for my needing help to inconvenience them.

We’ve had several people lend us camping gear, hiking gear, biking gear, etc. on more than one occasion.

Greg’s bike and fishing rod are both on indefinite loan from friends.

Colleagues bring us vegetables or herbs from their gardens.

People have invited us into their homes for beautiful meals, or wine and charcuterie, many, many times, and invited us to spend holidays with their families.

They’ve welcomed us into their circles of friendship, and been so kind.

Friends invited us to their lake house for a weekend, or others have offered to put us up when we’re travelling through their areas, and they feed us and offer us clean, beautiful places to sleep.

Our family recently sent us a care package, full of things we want and need. They cared to ask us what we’ve been missing, and spent their money to bless us with things we would have normally bought in Canada without thinking twice about. Now, we appreciate them beyond measure. I’m sure it cost dearly to ship that over from Canada, too.

And, a colleague who heard me saying how badly I wanted some nice lotion, brought me one of hers, hardly used, and just gave it to me. Vanilla Chai. It’s fricken amazing. I’ve never appreciated lotion more in my entire life than when I put that stuff on.

We’ve experienced so much generosity from so many people, that it’s gotten to the point where I know I can never pay them back.

That’s a hard spot for me to be in, because I’m not used to it! I’m not used to needing other people this much. I’m not used to having to ask to borrow things. I’m not used to accepting a free gift from someone, just because she knew I wanted it. I’m being stretched out of my comfort zone which, although uncomfortable, I know is so good for me! It’s been really humbling, yet really difficult. It’s been really touching, and it’s made me feel so loved.

The generosity we’ve received makes me want to be even more generous to others.

I still struggle to accept things from certain people. Maybe my pride has something to do with it, such that I don’t like feeling like I can’t provide for myself. Maybe I will always struggle with accepting generosity or help, or maybe it will get easier. Maybe I’ll be in a position one day where I can take care of someone else as much as we’re being taken care of here. Maybe some of these people will lord it over us one day, or ask for something in return. Or maybe, they’re all just kind souls, who know what it’s like to need help, and want to use their positions to bless others, with nothing expected in return.

Hopefully we will continue learning to accept generosity day by day. We will definitely continue to choose to pay it forward whenever we have the means or opportunity. One thing I’m absolutely certain of, is that if everyone in the world was as kind as the friends we’ve been blessed to make here, this world would be a much better place.

Living the “No Plan” Plan

We have no plan.

So many people are asking what our plan is. My accent often leads to me telling part of my story to tasters in the Cellar Door, and I’m asked several times per day what my plan is. Our family and friends are wondering what our plan is too. We understand that people want to know. We do get it, really! We want to be able to tell you, but we have no concrete answers for you.

We really have no plan.

How long will we stay? Will we continue working in the wine industry? Will I ever teach again? When are we going “back home?” (I feel like I could write a blog on defining “home.”) What will we do after this? (When does “this” end and “after” start?) Honestly . . . we have some ideas, but we change our minds all the time. We are literally living almost day to day right now. And we like that.

That’s crazy to me. I’m a planner. I’ve always been a planner. I like plans. Actually, I love plans. I used to live for and by plans. If you’d told me ten years ago, or even five years ago, that I’d be living like this right now, I would have either not believed you, or had an instant panic attack.

But… I’ve actually found that living with no solid plan is kind of freeing. It’s liberating, and exciting and scary and maybe it’s not smart, or maybe it is. Maybe it’s not good for us, or maybe it’s exactly what we need right now. Whether it’s wise or not to not have a ten year plan, or even a five year plan, or honestly even a five month plan… it is what it is, and we have no plan.

We’re four months into living out a dream we’ve had for years; that’s really not that long in the grand scheme of things. We’re still feeling this whole new life out!

We’re learning so much. We learn things every single day about the wine industry, about ourselves, each other, what we like and don’t like, what we struggle with, and what we’re good at. We learn things God’s teaching us; we learn things about what’s important in life, and what’s not as important as we used to think it was. We learn about other cultures and countries. We learn about people.

For every question we get answered, we come up with five more we want answered. We’re curious. We’re exploring.

Isn’t this what moving abroad is all about?

There are multiple studies that suggest that people who have lived abroad are more confident and self-secure than those that haven’t. The experience gives them a better concept of themselves, and a wider understanding or outlook on others in the greater context of the world. After working through the values and systems in another country, expats have to re-evaluate themselves and their personal views.

This is part of the reason we wanted to make this move, and we’re living it every day. I doubt we’ll be here forever, but we’re not closed minded to that, if this is where we’re supposed to be. We may likely return to Canada, because that’s where our families are, but we’re also not set on that either. We have honestly talked through several options of how long to stay here, and where to go from here; however, we are fully aware that we’re dreaming at this stage, and anything could happen.

I think some people have trouble accepting the “no plan” plan, because they themselves can’t identify with it. I get told every week how brave we are for what we did, moving across the world with nothing, to a place we’d never been, to try and find employment in a new industry. People often tell me they wished they’d done what we did, but either never got around to it, or were too scared to take the leap; I don’t know if I feel like we’re brave, but I do admit that having no plan is truly terrifying at times.

Most people don’t choose to live with no plan, but for us, right now, we’re living it, and it’s kind of great. It’s just what we need.

Besides, we believe God’s got a plan for us, so it’s not so much that we have no plan at all, it’s just that we don’t know what it is yet; we’ll find out when it’s time to take the next step.

So if I haven’t confused you enough yet, or shown you how much we really are unsure ourselves, the answer to “what’s your plan?” or “how long will you stay?” is simply that we actually just don’t know.

So there you have it.

Just keep following the blog and time will tell!