Amy and Olly Hopkinson-Styles are the winemakers, creators, experimenters, and characters behind Halcyon wines (pronounced “Hal-see-yon”). Their wine, Halcyon Days, is an organic label in Hawke’s Bay, producing boutique wines that will challenge your mind and excite your palate – all with no additions.
Amy was born in the Bay of Islands but moved all over New Zealand while growing up. After studying Politics at Otago University showed her that she didn’t like conflict, she went back to her roots of working in kitchens and, with a love of “sensory culture and sharing of food”, decided to be either a chef or Winemaker. She did her postgraduate winemaking studies at Lincoln University in 2002. As a lover of Champagne, Amy wanted to move there to learn from the masters. Her plans were challenged during a vintage at Vidal with Rod McDonald, who told her, “Champagne is boring – red wine is where it’s at.” It happened to hail in Champagne that year, which also saw a heatwave throughout Europe – not exactly Amy’s dream vintage. She was catching up for a drink with a friend who knew of someone in Spain seeking Winemakers immediately and asked if she was keen, so she took a role. That position turned into a full time offer after vintage was done.
Olly grew up in Oxfordshire, and when asked about his childhood, he said, “have you ever seen the Inbetweeners TV series? Growing up was basically that: similar characters, dialogue, setting and situations – well, to a degree.” He studied English Literature and French at the University of London and did a year’s graduate study on modern literature (lettres modernes) at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he also interned in an art-house film production company. Some of his work placement experiences were “cool”, to say the least – like briefly interning at Spectator magazine while Boris Johnson was editor. He also had a week’s stint at wine magazine Decanter, writing news, and realised he was drawn to the discipline. Olly joked that he walked straight out of university and put his degree to work stocking shelves at the local supermarket.
After a year of this, his Dad sat down at the end of his bed and said, “look, it’s the military or teaching…” Olly jokes that he still thinks the military missed out on him, but by chance was offered a job with Decanter part-time only a few days after the parental ultimatum. Part of his job, which exposed him to thousands of wines from around the world, included assisting in setting up the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Meanwhile in Spain, Amy worked for Jorge Ordonez, and had the privilege of setting up Bodegas Cenit and Bodegas Triton, in Tierra del Vino de Zamora. Among her countless and enviable experiences with wine, like working with ancient, bush-vine Tempranillo, Amy also started studying for the Master of Wine qualification. She recalls the many people she got to meet, and the even more wines she was able to taste. Among the top of her memories is learning from wine buyers and sommeliers who had experienced palates, as well as getting to sit on numerous judging panels, which put her in the same room of judges for wines from countries all over the world.
Amy and Olly met in 2008 at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London. Amy was on the Spanish wine judging panel, and Olly was there on staff. Olly moved to Spain in 2009 to be with Amy, and to do his first vintage at her winery, a memory the two of them still laugh about. Olly was apparently a bit revolutionary and attempted to cause a general strike. The next year he worked with Al Gardner (now at Grava in Martinborough) in a winery in the northwest, making Godello, and remembers the “bachelor life” and consuming lots of “greasy pies and Coca Cola,” before going to Chablis the year after for vintage where he got to play with a heap of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. He describes it as the quintessential “big chateaux, with big dinners, classic France” and in accepting the position, expected he would get to drink a lot of amazing wines; he soon realized his vintage team consisted of two recovering alcoholics. He ended up getting wine from the Cellar Door and drinking it on his own after dinner in the dorms; it wasn’t exactly the experience he was anticipating but was great anyhow. He describes the first wine he made, and I’ll let his words speak for it: “my first homemade wine was from 100 year-old vines. I wanted to start fermenting spontaneously but it never really started – it must’ve been too cold in the small bodega I was using. I had to inoculate it in the end but it never lost that slight nutty oxidation note. It won gold in home winemaking competition for the region. If that won gold, I’d hate to think what it was up against…” Other home winemaking trials included harvesting underripe Malvasia bunches and hanging them to dry on a clothes rack and in an abandoned fridge. The resulting wine was an unmitigated disaster.
Even though Amy was working in Spain, she came home for the Cloudy Bay vintage in 2004, and the Brokenwood vintage in Australia in 2005, where she credits much of what she learned about technical winemaking – and the onset of her arachnophobia. “I don’t like spiders. I won’t work in the Hunter Valley again!” She tells the story of how the winery engineer would “hide fake spiders and snakes where I had to put my hands!” She remembers “water blasting spiders out of picking bins everywhere”, but among those memories is “trying some amazing wine”. She also met some Italian friends from Tenuta de Valgiano, who ended up bringing her into the biodynamic world in Italy, where she got to work in biodynamics and see it in action. That’s where she gained her belief in biodynamics and spent five years returning to that producer. She brought some of the philosophies back to her job in Spain, where she could explore them further.
By the time 2012 came around, Amy and Olly’s life in Spain felt different. After the financial crisis, unemployment rates were rising, and it seemed like time to move back to New Zealand. They also wanted to have kids, so came back to get married and start their family. Amy, got a Winemaking position at Craggy Range. Olly worked vintage in the cellar at Vidal, and eventually became an Assistant Winemaker there.
Amy and Olly considered all the New Zealand wine regions when moving home, and although they have friends in Martinborough and love the region, they chose Hawke’s Bay because they were drawn to the slightly bigger, diverse food and wine culture, along with the mountains, oceans and beaches. The Steiner school and community here also align with their philosophies.
In 2018, Amy and Olly did their first vintage of Halcyon. Amy recalls being “in a deep fog” with two young boys who were not sleeping well. She was working with Rod McDonald at Te Awanga Estate, who was kind enough to give them access to Organic grapes to get Halcyon started. Amy says, “we would not have been able to do it without him”.
Halcyon only uses organic fruit that’s Biogro certified. They don’t use any additions either. Their goal down the road is to own their own vineyard that they can manage exactly as they like. For now, they use Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. but do the winemaking themselves. Note that they “pick earlier than some people but think it’s the perfect window and optimum ripeness for our style.” They “want a bright natural acidity on the lighter bodied, lower alcohol spectrum”.
The name “Halcyon” is linked to Spain, where they worked in a region that was at 500 meters altitude, but the mountains were far away. They describe a “massive blue sky, sunny and hot, long summer, short autumn, freezing cold, foggy winters” and the “perfect weather for growing grapes”.
Halcyon Days evokes a “a nostalgic remembering of the golden times” and “refers to a time past when everything was beautiful and golden and perfect – what you want vintage to be, what Hawke’s Bay is like. Sunshine and light”.
“Kotare” is Halcyon’s skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, with a touch of Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir Rosé. The name references the New Zealand native Kingfisher. It comes from a vineyard Amy has a familiar love of: the Osawa vineyard in the Mangatahi subregion of the Bay, settled along the Ngaruroro river. This wine is Olly’s secret favourite if he had to pick one. Despite the general blasé feelings many Kiwi Winemakers have towards the all too famous grape, Olly was inspired by a special interview with Dider Dagueneau, a renown Sauvignon Blanc winemaker from Pouilly Fume. Olly describes his wines as “amazing, lean, austere, mineral… almost unpleasant but stunningly beautiful.” Olly explains that he has “always had a thing for Sauvignon Blanc” and that it’s “such a great grape” and he “loves working with the skins.”
When describing their Rosé, Ruth, they used adjectives like “texture,” “structure,” “chalky,” and asked “is it Orange Wine or is it Rosé – who knows?” With the blend of Pinot Gris, Syrah and Pinot Noir, they’re definitely not afraid to experiment and make wines they describe as “not definable” and “whatever you want it to be.” Ruth is a collaboration with chef Conor Mertens, who began setting up Ruth – a pop-up dining experience – when he moved to Hawke’s Bay from Auckland. Halcyon Day’s red Syrah, Luz, is named in Spanish for “light” and is predominantly whole-bunch fermented.
In 2020 they made ten tons of fruit into three wines, one of which they pulled from to make a Pet-Nat in keg for Brave Brewing (long-since sold out). Their keg experimentation has led to some great results. Amy laughed at their initial feelings that “we thought we might be making bombs – but nothing exploded!” Brave liked the idea, so gave them some kegs to give it a go in. They’re proud of the fact that, with kegs, “every glass pour is the same, and they’re environmentally awesome,” and you can’t beat the nostalgia of “going back to how you would have done it 200 years ago…” although they joke that it “doesn’t look nostalgic when you order it in a bar.” They also want to make an oxidative, Sherry-style wine inspired by the wines of the Jura. They love the fun they get to have playing with Pet-Nats, kegs, unique varietals, and getting to work for themselves. What they say they love most though, is “the fact that all of [the wines] are totally ours and exactly what we want to do.”
Amy’s typical day now involves taking the kids to school, working at Workroom Coffee part-time, being a barrel agent, sitting on the Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers board, and even doing a bit of contract winemaking! Her schedule allows her to work on Halcyon when she needs, and to be there for the kids too. The fact that she’s a barrel rep is ironic to her, because for Halcyon they don’t use new barrels themselves. However, the job has provided invaluable networking and tasting opportunities, as well as pre-Covid trip to Burgundy.
They both admit that they love working together but it can be a challenge at times, as many married couples could imagine, not to mention that having two Winemakers in the family “is not good for the budget.” They joke about the comment of a friend, Matt Kirby, who said, “I’m surprised you guys are working together – wouldn’t have suggested it.”
Amy and Olly recalled their “biggest fight” when they painted their spare room in Spain. “Let’s agree to never paint anything together again,” they had decided, but winemaking is different. Despite the odd argument, by working together, it forces them to “justify everything to the other person,” which for them is a good thing because they have to think and talk through each decision until they find the best one. Amy spends more time in the market, and runs the Halcyon Instagram, so sometimes consumers don’t realize Olly is fully involved. Other big challenges have been trying to find organic fruit in Hawke’s Bay, as well as juggling family life, day jobs, and everything they’ve got going on with Halcyon. Production amounts are small, and they sell out. Their challenge is finding a way they can increase production so they can satisfy demand for their wines.
The challenges are outweighed by the rewards however, such as Amy being a member of Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Board. She takes the responsibility on “to be a voice for small producers”. She “joined the board because [she] wants to do better and be better,” and that drives her. They also relish opportunities to work with chefs, label designers, and enjoy any collaborations. Amy even noted at the expense of some laughter from Olly that “Wine Warehousing is amazing. That’s niche! They’re really accommodating and lovely.” Olly joked, “how about that for a quote? Shout out to my peeps Alice and the team at Wine Warehousing!”
Over the years, Amy and Olly have had opportunity to try some of the most well-known, esteemed wines in the world, so I was curious what some of their most memorable were. For Olly, it was a 1996 Dujac from Burgundy, although he also has a distinct memory of the first Fino Sherry he sampled. “I thought I would be immediately sick. The moment I put it in my mouth, I loathed it. Now I absolutely adore it. Your initial perceptions aren’t always right. It’s a journey.” Amy’s memory is a 1990 Salon Blanc de Blancs, an aged Champagne, along with a trip in Jerez she got to do with some small producers who “got carried away in the cellar and said let’s try this and that.” She still recalls the “smell of it and summer”. They also had the rare opportunity to try something with their flatmate, John, that will make all of us wine fans jealous. He blindly poured them something one night, and had them guess. They remember thinking, “this is really good Burgundy. This can’t be DRC, can it John?” It was.
In all seriousness, industry life has taught Amy and Olly the importance of community. They both share the belief of “my strength is not the strength of one, it’s the strength of many. That’s really important”. Olly’s learned to not over-indulge, which is one reason they like their wines to be table friendly and lower in alcohol. Through his experiences he’s learned that excess is not a way to live. “It’s joking and it’s true. We work with alcohol. It’s not healthy. We forget it’s about being an accompaniment. Not a means on its own. Being social. Enjoying a meal. Your place with other people.” Amy has learned the value in a sense of place, and the joy she finds in being connected to the home of her fruit.
Olly mentions how in his past jobs, they were either all physical with little mental stimulation, or all mental with no physical elements; the wine industry combines the two, and for him, that’s key. He loves how this industry is “fully encompassing.”
He also made an important observation that it “is not well paid, so you find people in the industry because they love it.” Isn’t that the truth?
To try Halcyon wines, and to stay in touch with Amy, Olly and their adventures, check out their website, and follow them on Instagram.