The de la terre Story; Boutique Hawke’s Bay Winemakers

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“de la terre:” from the earth.

Those three words sum up what Tony and Kaye Prichard of de la terre are all about: provenance.

“Own what’s in the glass, grow your own grapes, do it yourself. That’s really important to us.” – Tony

When you pull up to Tony and Kaye’s winery, after a relaxing, beautiful drive through the winding country-side of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, you’ll instantly notice you’re somewhere special.

You will feel like you’re a visitor to an old, French country cottage. Gracie, the friendly dog, will greet you as you begin walking the path to the solid cedar double doors. You will hear the gravel crunch underneath your feet, and as you survey the hilly landscape, you’ll take in the scent of freshly cut grass, blooming flowers, and clean air. You’ll also notice the aroma of a warm loaf of Kaye’s home made bread, or a from-scratch pizza baking in the clay oven, and take note to pop over to the cafe as soon as you’re finished your tasting.

As you set foot inside the earth brick winery, you will meet Tony himself, who will take you through your selected choices from 13 of his 16 wines, kept fresh in his personally designed and home-made wine dispensing machine. He’ll explain how he has made each of the unique and distinctive wines he produces, and you’ll be amazed at the exceptional quality, depth and complexity of each of them. When you purchase your wine, you’ll notice that each bottle has been hand numbered by Kaye, just one example of the incredible detail that goes into every single element of what de la terre does.

After your degustation, you will partake in a beautiful meal or platter of Kaye’s delicious, home made food, perfectly paired with the de la terre wines of your choice. While you eat, the three-tiered pergola water feature above you (that Tony built himself) or a crackling log fire in the pizza oven will bring calm serenity to relax you before you head off . . . until next time. You already know you’ll be back.

So how did Tony and Kaye create this incredibly special place for their customers to experience?

It all began when they met each other in their early 20’s as Food Tech students at Massey University in Palmerston North. Kaye was enrolled in the product development side of the programme and Tony was enrolled in the engineering side. On their first days of school, neither Tony or Kaye thought they’d graduate from a Food Tech programme and eventually own their own winery, but low and behold, that’s what happened.

Kaye had been raised visiting the vineyards of her father’s winemaker friends, and remembers really liking a popular, sweet, sparkling wine as a young girl. Tony had also tried a sparkling in his early years at his brother’s wedding, in an old-style goblet, and remembers not liking it, yet being mesmerized by it; he was curious as to how it was made.

They give the real credit though, for the spark of their wine journey, to an influential lecturer, Malcolm Reeves, co-founder of Crossroad Winery, who used to put on wine tastings for his students on Friday’s. As you can imagine, wine tastings on Friday afternoons were very well received by the students, so Tony and Kaye began attending. Tony recalls one afternoon where Malcolm poured a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling, then put them in bags to disguise them before pouring them again, blind. Tony guessed them correctly, and thought to himself, “this winemaking stuff is easy. I can do this!”

He couldn’t picture himself as a food tech engineer, wearing a white uniform in a dairy factory somewhere for the rest of his life. He knew in his soul that he was a “maker of things,” and wanted to make wine.

Upon graduating, Tony found an advertisement in the paper for an Assistant Winemaker position at the Montana Winery in Gisborne. Many people in his class applied, but Tony was chosen for the job. When I asked him why, he said he isn’t sure, but it could have been to do with his passion. Knowing how passionate and skilled he is today, I would agree that Montana made the right choice. Tony explains that in those days, there weren’t winemaking degrees like there are now. Two of the decision makers for Montana also had Food Tech degrees, like Tony, and perhaps wanted someone without any winemaking ideas of his own, who could be trained and moulded. His Food Tech course had indeed prepared him quite well for the science of winemaking; everything else he learned on the job.

The two were married in 1983.

Tony worked as Assistant Winemaker for Montana for 3 years, doing huge volumes (for example, 15,000 tonne vintages). He was promoted to Chief Winemaker in 1986. As Tony began working at Montana, Kaye completed a Cordon Bleu Certificate Course in Auckland.

In 1989, Montana bought Church Road Winery and re-opened it, making Tony the Chief Winemaker at both the Gisborne Winery, and Church Road. Running both places in two locations was exhausting. Tony and Kaye moved to Hawke’s Bay in 1990 so Tony could focus solely on Church Road, where he spent 15 years in total.

He remembers many of the early years at Church Road with fondness. “It was family and fun in the early days,” Tony says, but unfortunately, through a couple of ownership changes, Tony eventually tired of the increasing corporate reporting and compliance in those companies; he also tired of not being able to see the wines he made into the bottle, as the bottling plant was in Auckland.

Tony and Kaye remember a specific afternoon drive they took, where through the conversation, Tony realized that he was ready to move on. He had always told his staff, “if you’re driving to work and you’re not happy, and you don’t want to be going here, you should be looking for something else.” Tony realized he needed to take his own advice; they both already knew what to do.

They had visited Burgundy in 1995, and remember it vividly.

We would be “driving through little streets, and see a small house and underground cellars and there’s a press and some barrels and a few tanks, and you go along and there’s another one, and here were people living and breathing wine, and that was their livelihood and that struck a chord. Even before that we’ve always been makers of things. Having been trained in winemaking it seemed like a logical progression to make our own.”

Tony and Kaye had previously found their property in 1992, when it was just a green paddock with nothing on it. Being the makers of things that they are, they had built their house and workshop from scratch. After Tony left Church Road in 2005, he started a successful wine consulting business, and set about designing and building the winery. Ever since Tony can remember, he’s been building and making anything from furniture to beer; he wanted to make the winery too. It took them 4 years to get the winery up, and although Tony had begun producing some wines in the meantime with some of his consulting clients’ grapes, de la terre’s first vintage in the new winery was in 2009.

The name “de la terre” doesn’t just represent the way Tony makes his wine. The principle of using what is from the earth (de la terre) is weaved throughout the whole place. The winery is built with “earth bricks” that came from a local earth brick maker, who uses highly compressed soil to make them. Tony and Kaye’s house is built in the sustainable “rammed earth” style, and is made completely of raw, natural materials. Tony built both himself, along with the wine dispensing machine he uses to serve his tasting wines.

The couple believes in doing as much as they can themselves, by hand, and not relying on other people; they wanted the control to determine how the winery was shaped, as well as how the wine turns out. Tony’s currently just finished the three-tiered water feature pergola that sits above their cafe patio, and the pizza oven that acts as centrepiece. This time though, now that the recent projects are done, he said he’ll “never build again.” Kaye just laughed and said, “I’ve heard that before!”

As for the vineyards, they took over the lease on their Hill Country Vineyard in 2013, which is 5.5 hectares in the Havelock North area, and they also lease a 0.5 hectare satellite vineyard down the road. All of their grapes come from those vineyards, and they employ a Vineyard Manager and some part time staff to ensure premium grape quality. The main vineyard is a unique terroir of very steep limestone terraces that create an individualized minerality in de la terre wines. Tony explains that “it’s less obvious in the reds, but people can pick it in the whites,” and he purposely tries to highlight the land and its minerality in the wine.

Tony and Kaye stand out in Hawke’s Bay for more than just their sustainable earth brick buildings and their terrior. Tony believes there are enough Bordeaux blends and Pinots around, and prides himself on producing unique varietals. “The last thing we need is another Merlot,” he says. He produces some really rare wines in New Zealand, like Tannat, Barbara, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and a Chablis-style Chardonnay. Although you’ll find a few Viogniers in the Bay, Tony’s is quite different. He also makes late harvest and Noble wines from Viognier grapes.

While at Church Road, Tony had the opportunity to work closely with some French winemakers, and one of the key things he learned from them is to let the wine speak for itself. He believes that provenance, representing the land on which it was grown, is the most important thing for wine, rather than trying to manipulate it into what that varietal is “supposed” to taste like. It is for that reason that Tony chooses not to enter wine shows.

Despite not entering shows, de la terre wines are still highly reviewed by the best in the business, and often receive points well into the 90’s, and 5 stars, by writers like Bob Campbell and Michael Cooper.

Tony’s also launched a relatively new series called “The Cloud Series,” that is particularly unique, and actually started as a joke in 2016, with Chardonnay. It’s made almost in complete opposition to most Chards in the Bay, being unfined, and unfiltered, with “its own personality.” To make it, he did a hard press on Reserve quality grapes, wild fermented the must, used huge amounts of fully toasted Hungarian oak from his favourite producer… and couldn’t keep it on the shelves! It was wildly popular with its rich butterscotch, and savoury burnt butter character. It reminded me of popcorn, and I loved it! He has now added a Viognier to the Cloud Series, and the name is there to remind people that if it looks a little cloudy, that’s okay.

Tony uses many traditional winemaking techniques, and he is of the opinion that most winemakers these days use too many fining ingredients. As of 2014, he also doesn’t filter any of his reds. He prefers to do the more natural process of racking his wines every few months, as it increases the intensity and mouthfeel of them. He’s even done some unfiltered whites. Tony is entirely confident in what he puts into the bottle, and pours into each glass in the Cellar Door. Kaye quipped that the wines “don’t get into the bottle unless he’s completely happy with them.”

He’s most proud of his Reserve Viognier, for a reason most wouldn’t suspect. “It doesn’t taste anything like Viognier, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing.” His Montepulciano is a pride and joy because of its “brooding black fruit, black olive” character, and its tannin structure that “isn’t over-polished, but rough with coarseness.” Bob Campbell also seemed to like it, as it was his wine of the week in early September.

Tony’s favourite wine to make though, is his Blanc de Blancs! He makes it old-school like they do in Champagne, right down to the traditional riddling racks, and even disgorges à la volée, or “on the fly,” as the French monks once did. When I asked him how long it took to get the hang of that process, he said there’s definitely a trick to it, and proceeded to show me how precise he has to be with the bottle and the tools.

Although Tony makes a wide range of wines, de la terre is still quite small in production. He makes about 2500 to 3000 cases (of 12) per year, and jokes that at Church Road, he “used to spill that much before lunch time.” Being small, Tony and Kaye find it can be a challenge to get the de la terre name out. They don’t want to sell in supermarkets, but they do have a distributor who arranges en premise, fine wine and liquor store contracts for them throughout the country. They have been known to export a few wines to China, the UK, America, and even Canada! The sales side of the business, and promoting themselves, has been one of the biggest challenges they’ve had to overcome. They never know when the next sale will be. There are other stresses that they face, like losing staff, or having people move on that they love. With such a small team, training new people, or finding those that have aligning philosophies can prove to be a challenge too.

They’ve learned some important lessons over the years, one being that despite experience, you can never be sure of exactly what’s going to happen. Tony phrased it so genuinely.

“You start as a beginner, learn some stuff, think you’re red hot…your ego goes through the roof. The lesson is on the other side. You can never know it all. There are always so many variables that you don’t know about. You can very easily convince yourselves that you’re smarter than you are. You’re not. The more you make wine, the easier you think it will get. Well it doesn’t. We’re always fine tuning techniques. I look at what’s happened in the past and if it’s not where I want to be, [I use] my best guess in my experience and push the odds. If you have a problem and you’re not sure what to do, you throw a swack of things to it and try to fix it.”

I was awed by his attitude to become humble, realize what he doesn’t know, yet stay determined and persistent, and continue to deal with what comes at him; he chooses to learn from his past experience and do the best he knows how, while never giving up. I find this to be great advice for all of us, no matter what stage of life or industry we may be in.

Tony remembers the first Monday after he resigned at Church Road, when he had a moment that so many of us have amidst a big life change: did I make a mistake? Despite any challenges, Tony and Kaye feel in their hearts that it’s all been completely worth it. “I can’t think of doing anything else,” Tony says. “We’d be a lot wealthier, but would we be happier? I can’t ever imagine going back… everything you have, every ounce, goes into it. It’s very passionate.” They are truly living their passion.

I believe it is that passion that makes visiting Tony and Kaye so much more than just any winery visit. As Tony explains, “once people drive into de la terre, it goes beyond what’s just in the glass. It’s about a winery experience.” He loves hosting people in the Cellar Door, and pouring his wines himself. It’s a beautiful, “rustic and artisan” space to be in, that he’s created with his own hands. Tony describes the Cellar Door and his winery as his “happy place.”

Tony and Kaye invite you to head out to de la terre this season to experience the many things they can offer you from the earth. They are open from 10:00am to 5:00pm, Friday’s through Sunday’s, and most public holidays, from the first weekend in October to the first weekend in June. Visit their website at delaterre.co.nz for more info on the winery, wines or special events. You can purchase wine on their website as well, or contact them at sales@delaterre.co.nz.

So make the beautiful drive to experience de la terre for yourself. From the earth brick Cellar Door and restaurant, to Tony’s personalized tasting of his terroir driven wines, paired exceptionally at the cafe with Kaye’s fresh, home-made food . . . you really will experience de la terre.

How Being on TV Forced Me to Face My Insecurities

Everyone has insecurities. I feel I can fairly make that statement. It’s truth.

We are all imperfect, and we usually know it. Some of us can admit where we fall short, and others of us don’t do such a great job at that, but we all have things we don’t like about ourselves. One of the things I don’t like about myself is that I care too much about how I look, not just physically but as a person.

I’m insecure about certain aspects of my physical appearance. To be completely honest, I have always struggled with that. The parts of my appearance that I’m insecure about have changed over my lifetime, but there’s always something. I’m never just perfectly happy with how I look.

From conversations I’ve had with other women, this seems to be a common thread, but I’m very aware that many men also struggle with this. People seem to be more open to discussing insecurities these days, and I think that’s good; there is something freeing about actually calling out the one thing you hoped nobody would notice about you, and having them communicate that it’s not actually as bad as you think it is. It’s interesting hearing other people say what they’re insecure about, because it’s usually something that you would never have noticed on them, or that you wouldn’t choose as something they should be concerned with. If that’s how we feel about each other, isn’t it possible that the things we are insecure about really aren’t perceived the way we think they are either?

Greg and I recently filmed an episode of a popular show on a widely viewed American channel. We applied for it, and it was our decision to go on it. I was really excited to be on the show, and looked forward to it for months before hand, but when the day actually came to start filming, I found myself becoming very aware that thousands and thousands of people were going to see our episode, and see the very things about me that I didn’t want them to see. It brought out a lot of insecurities in me, not only physically, but with how we would be portrayed on the show as people, or how our relationship would be cast.

When you choose to go on television and you sign that waiver saying the network can use anything and everything they film you doing or saying in a five day stretch, for any purpose… you realize that you’re going to be seen. All you, from any angle, with no filters, whatever you said. Yikes.

A photo is still. You can take another one, and then take another one, and change the angle, and apply as many filters as you want. You can just delete the ugly ones (unless you like posting really funny ones to your album of unfortunate shots like I do). A photo doesn’t capture the stupid thing you just said, or the incorrect grammar that you heard coming out of your mouth that was too late to stop.

A photo can be photoshopped.

I had so many moments during filming where I nervously slurred my words, or said something embarrassing. I literally had all of these thoughts that week:

Was that even a word?

I need to google what I just said to make sure it was a word.

I hope they don’t use that.

Did I really just say that?

Ugh, I came across so stupid there.

I wonder if I seem shallow?

How will they portray me?

Our episode aired in America last week, and thousands of viewers saw it before we did! When I was notified of the air date, I found myself thinking some of those exact same thoughts again. How would we be portrayed? What would actually get shown? I wonder how obvious this or that will be on camera?

I’m a perfectionist and I expect as close to perfect from myself as I can get; this, of course, is an unrealistic expectation, and when I let my mind get stuck on my imperfections, I feel inadequate.

Most people, I think, want to be liked. We want to be accepted for who we are. We want people to think we’re pretty, and smart, and kind, and good at what we do. We want to feel needed. We want to know we have value.

One of the areas in life I wanted to learn to be better at in my thirties, and grow in during my time living abroad, was not caring what other people think of me.

I didn’t expect that I’d accomplish this goal entirely, but I hoped to move closer towards the “not caring” end of the spectrum than I had been; doing that show really pushed me to take a hard look at myself, and realize that I am who I am, and I have to own it.

I look this way.

I say stupid stuff sometimes because I don’t know everything.

I’m not 18 anymore.

My hair is a hot mess sometimes.

I don’t always speak perfectly.

I make mistakes.

I have scars.

Certain people will never accept certain things about me.

I can’t please everyone.

I’m not perfect.

But this is me.

And that’s okay.

Why Friends Should Travel Together

Last month I went for a girls’ weekend in Queenstown; as I was reflecting on the weekend and sharing stories with my husband, I was reminded of how enlightening it can be to travel with someone. I had a great time, and must say it is easily on the short list of the best girls’ trips I’ve had. The reasons for that aren’t so much because of where I was, or the things I did, but because of who I was with.

This was the first time I had travelled with these girls. During a good old, classic, deep and meaningful conversation on the last night, I admitted that amongst my excitement, I’d also experienced some anxiety about the trip. I knew that when we were all put together for three days straight, we were going to get to know each other on a new level, and I wanted so badly to come out the other side thankful for what we’d learned about each other. I’ve had past girls’ trips or experiences go horribly, either because they were overflowing with drama, or because they ended up causing tears in friendships. I deeply hoped this trip could strengthen all of the friendships within this group, and prove that we could work well together and accept each other as we are, regardless of our differences. I’m pleased to report that during that last night discussion, we commented on how we had done just that.

Travelling together puts people in unique situations. It’s different to just grabbing a coffee, working a shift, or spending an evening with someone. Travel can teach us a lot about who we are as people, and that’s a big part of what being in relationship is about: knowing and understanding someone else, and being known and understood for who we are. When we’re understood and still accepted and loved, and we can do that for someone else, the relationship has the potential to become strong and rewarding.

So with that said, I believe every friendship should go through a trip, and here’s why.

  • Travelling together reveals a person’s daily habits.

How messy are they? How long does it really take to get ready? What morning and night rituals do they have? Who is a night owl? Who gets up early? Who is always ready on time and who is running late? Who is a beast without coffee? Who is obsessive about taking photos? (Total jab at myself.) Who maybe has a very serious chocolate addiction? (Also me, but I’m not alone on this one!)

It all comes out on a trip! The more we know about our friends, and they know about us, the better we can love and support each other, even in the little things (like getting coffee and chocolate … or are those big things?)

  • Travelling together can indicate how a person spends money.

In friendships, this information can be helpful to see what matters to each other. Travelling gives lots of opportunity to spend money. Food, drink, experiences, shopping, etc. all cost. Some people like to stick to a budget, and some like to splurge. You only live once, right? I believe that it’s absolutely not my place, or anyone else’s, to ever tell someone how to spend their cash; however, observing sure is a good indicator of what’s important to them, and what they like! Taking note of this can also lead to great gift ideas.

Most importantly to me though, noticing how generous people can be is always heart warming. I love groups that aren’t worried about the dimes, and that will gladly grab a drink or snack for someone else. It’s refreshing to be among people that are generous and thoughtful.

  • Travelling together shows how high or low maintenance a person is.

How much did they pack? What did they bring? What can’t they live without for a few days? (Back to the chocolate again.)

We were all told not to bring our flat irons on this trip, because one of the girls was bringing hers. All of us but one ended up bringing our own anyways, because we all had the same thought that one wouldn’t be enough for six people to share. We ended up with way more than we needed, but it was funny to see how some of us thought alike, and one listened to the instructions! We also apparently can’t travel without our flat irons. (Look at that hair though – on point.)

  • Travelling together shows you how you share a bathroom.

Six girls, one toilet, one shower. It went well. Enough said!

  • Travelling together shows how people compromise in a group setting.

Travelling is one of those things for which everyone has set aside time and money. They probably all have ideas or expectations for the trip. Some people can be flexible and compromise and others struggle with that. Some groups like to be together, and some are happy to split up for different activities.

On this particular trip, I noticed that everyone compromised so well, which definitely contributed to the enjoyment of it. We all seemed to value being together more than doing any one specific thing. We split a couple of times for a short while, but everyone was okay with it, and it worked great.

We shared food, costs and responsibilities well, and everyone stepped in to help in different ways. Some people cleaned and did dishes, and other people drove or provided treats or tea for everyone. Nobody seemed to have selfish interests, or was looking to make sure it was completely fair to them; everyone was concerned that we all got what we needed or wanted, and seemed to look out for the greater needs of the group.

  • Traveling together allows certain personality traits to really shine in people.

Leadership, independence, organizational traits, spontaneity, etc., can all be seen on a trip. Travelling can show who is a leader and a follower when it comes to making decisions about anything from where to eat, to directions in an unknown area. Travelling shows who likes their independence, and who prefers to be with others. Some people are organized super planners and others prefer more spontaneity.

On the first night of our trip, one of the girls suggested we make a list of all the places we wanted to get to the next day. As there were six of us, there were a lot of ideas. I put mine in as well, but as I listened to the rest, I realized there was no way we’d get them all done. I didn’t want to say anything at first, but later in the evening, I just had to point it out. “Im sorry, but can I just state the obvious? We’ve planned three days worth of activities for tomorrow. There’s not a chance we have time for all that stuff!” The girls realized I’d obviously been thinking about the plans, and thankfully saw the humour in my statement. “Can I just state the obvious?” became a quote for the rest of the weekend.

Trips are such great opportunities to see your friends use their strengths in new ways, and to have some good laughs at each other.

  • Travelling together shows how someone deals with stressful situations.

You’ve got to love travelling for presenting stressful situations! There is always something that comes up that has the potential for stress, whether it’s getting lost, unforeseen costs, cancelled or delayed flights, lost baggage, problems with the accommodation, etc. How someone deals with stress can really say a lot about them.

It was really encouraging to me to see how my girlfriends on this trip affirmed each other when stress hit, listened to each other, were honest but supportive, and made the best of bad situations instead of letting them ruin a day.

  • Travelling together allows for more quality time.

When you’re all living together, eating together and doing activities together, you see each other a lot! Right from morning tea in pajamas, up to brushing teeth together and chatting before bed, trips allow so much time for talking, and mutual experiences, that contribute to getting to know each other more.

All in all, travelling together really does teach people about their travel mates. I’m so thankful for the wonderful friends I got to enjoy time with down South, and would definitely travel with those ladies again. You know who you are, girls! Thank you.

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

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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!

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

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!

“Cherished Life” Moments

I call this blog, “Cherished Life by Chelsea” because I used to run a business under a similar name; when I named the blog, I didn’t yet know that I was going to move to New Zealand and get to live one of my dreams. I didn’t understand how many memories I was going to make that I’ll have for a lifetime.

The first time I remember specifically creating a lifelong memory was on our first trip to Paris.

There are, of course, many milestones in life that I’ll remember forever, like our wedding, travels, family holidays, graduating with my degree, my first teaching job, buying our houses, etc., but I remember those in more of a larger context, or I remember specific things about them as a whole.

I’m talking here about experiencing a moment in time, and being so precisely aware of how special that moment is while it’s still happening; it’s almost like time has stopped for just that moment, so that I can step outside of it, look into it, and really realize how valuable it is. Have you ever experienced anything like that?

The first time I created a memory like that was during the last hour of a Paris City Bike tour, on a Seine River cruise, at dusk, as we sailed past the Eiffel Tower, and I saw it sparkle for the first time. Greg was standing behind me, and I was leaning against the rail of the front of the boat, with the perfect view. It was warm, and there was a gentle breeze coming off the water. Everyone else on the boat sighed in wonder as the tower began to sparkle, and I remember distinctly thinking, “I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

We toured the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and got to stand in “the circle” where the biggest country artists of all time have performed, and sing an acapella “Amazing Grace” in two-part harmony; as I felt the spot light on my face, and listened to our voices echo throughout the rows and fill the room, I created another lifelong cherished moment.

There are so many mundane moments in life, where we do the same things we always do, and we can’t or don’t choose to remember what’s different about one day from the next. It’s often the escape from the mundane that’s the most memorable. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower sparkle now too many times to count, and although I still appreciate it and savour it each time, none of those times specifically stick out to me as much as that first time does, when I was forever imprinting that memory into my mind. Singing “Amazing Grace” on stage has happened several times in our lives as well, but singing it on the Opry stage… I knew I would cherish that for a lifetime.

Moving across the world has brought me more of those cherished moments, and I’m so grateful for them.

Every time we walk from our house down to the ocean after dinner, and stick our toes in the sand, I realize how fortunate we are to be able to do that. When we just grab our wine glasses and walk down to the ocean with friends to sit on the beach or stand in the water while we visit – I cherish those moments.

We were recently wake boarding and buiscuiting on a clear, warm, bright blue lake, next to some volcanoes, in January, and we sat in a natural hot pool in a corner of the same lake, with kind and generous friends who have taken us in, and brought us along to these places. We cherished that moment.

One of my most recent cherished moments was at the UB40 concert I worked. We closed the bar down shortly after 9pm on the police’s call, but the band was still scheduled until 10pm. We did as much clean up as we could for the time being, and then our manager told us to go enjoy the concert until 10pm. We grabbed a glass of red wine, and headed up into the tanks that overlook the park area of the winery where the stage was. (Those tanks also happen to be for red wine.) We got to dance and sing, and drink red wine, as UB40 sang their famous, “Red, Red Wine.” During that song, I knew I was creating another memory that I will truly cherish for a lifetime.

We don’t make a lot of money here, and it feels like we’re living on borrowed time until our savings/credit run out. We left our careers, and our circles and routines in Canada to make a move that could have, or could still, turn out badly in the end, or leave us with nothing to our names. It’s not always easy or perfect, but it’s in moments like that one – when I looked at my life for that three minutes, in New Zealand, where I live, at the winery where I work, with my amazing new friends and colleagues, dancing and singing to “Red Red Wine” in the red wine tanks, with red, red wine, being sung by a famous band that I got to meet the day before – when I realize that no matter what happens, this risk we took of coming here, will have already been worth it. That song will remind me of my time in New Zealand, and at Church Road, for as long as I can still hear it. I’m realizing that these cherished moments in life can’t be bought. They just happen, and when I stop to recognize them, I’m able to be grateful for them.

I was fortunate enough this week to participate as the Cellar team opened the customary bubbly to kick off the 2019 vintage; we all poured the remainder of our glasses into the first load of grapes. I got to watch the first crush happen, and taste the juice as it was pouring from the press. I’ve been in the winery as much as possible this week, watching, asking questions and learning so much, and I’ll continue soaking up every opportunity I get. Greg and I will both cherish the memories of our first vintage.

I don’t know how long we’ll stay here, or where we’ll go from here. I don’t know how long we’ll stay in the wine industry. I don’t know what’s going to happen in our future, or with our finances, or our house back in Canada, or anything else. I do my best not to get too caught up in the future, and to let each day worry about itself. (That struggle is easily another post of its own!)

What I do know though, is that these memories we’re making are more valuable than money can buy; they’re shaping us, and changing us. These experiences are impacting us in meaningful ways, and giving us more moments that really remind us to stop, take it in, and cherish life . . . and we feel pretty blessed, and grateful for all of them.