The Decibel Story; How A Glass of Wine Lead to A Move Across the World

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Daniel Brennan, or “Decibel Dan” as he’s better known, was born in Syracuse, New York, and raised near Philadelphia. He is one of 5 children in a Catholic family, and with his mother having ties to Europe and Italy, plus the family diner, Sicilian food and wine culture was his normal.

His Great Aunt and Uncle owned a beer and shot bar in what Dan describes as “a rough hood.” He says, “I remember going as a kid at 10.00am, and it was packed from the night shift workers. It was busy all day and all night.” Dan’s Uncle, who had been living in France, returned to the States when Dan was 16. At the time, his Great Aunt and Uncle were looking to sell the bar, so his parents and uncle purchased it together and transformed it into an Irish Pub featuring Mediterranean cuisine. Dan began working there, at McCrossens Tavern, and dabbled in almost every role, from dishwasher, to front of house, working in the kitchen and bar tending. McCrossens exposed him to quality made beers and wines, and Dan sunk into the cosmopolitan environment of the city. Dan’s first memorable experiences with wine follow a common thread: Martinborough Pinot Noir. He tried a Palliser Estate, a Dry River and a Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir, and he says he can still feel the experience of the wines stopping him in his tracks, making him think, “what was that?”

When I asked Dan what some of his other favourite wines are, he responded with, “Italian whites.” The reason is because “they’re so good at it.” He mentioned they’ve been making many styles of wines for thousands of years, across so many regions. “There are a billion varietals; it’s almost a cop out,” he said as he laughed. He recalls drinking an Italian wine across 4 days and noticing that it got better every day. “It made me reconsider everything I was doing. They thought about it as a different kind of drink. It was way too good to be an accident.”

After he graduated high school, Dan went on to study Political Science and Philosophy at The Catholic School of America in D.C. Although Dan’s study aligned with his interest in Philosophy, Politics and History, life eventually led him to another industry, and it wasn’t wine just yet. A childhood friend of Dan’s sent him the first CD he’d produced with his band and asked if Dan would help organize a bar gig for them. He agreed, and it proved both enjoyable and successful; he was asked to organize again the following year, and then eventually to manage the band. He managed Seeking Homer for 6 years, touring North America with them until he was 27 years old. Dan came away from that experience with some amazing memories; the band played with big names like Maroon 5, but also some of Dan’s “musical heroes,” Levon Helm, David Johansen, Richie Havens, David Byrne and Ryan Adams.

Eventually, touring life took its toll on everyone, and with the increasing popularity of sites like Napster, the landscape of selling albums changed. Dan transitioned back home, and began working part time at McCrossens while studying in Philly. He got into WSET courses, and doing beer and wine tastings, but wanted to leave hospitality, due to the unsustainable lifestyle. He decided to go to wine school, brush up on his chemistry and read anything wine related he could get his hands on. His research drew him to both cool climate and up-and-coming regions. Dan commented on the impression that having his Uncle live in France had left with him. “The idea that your Uncle lives in France says to you, ‘well I can do that.’ It opens your world.” With that little nudge of inspiration towards an international life, and Dan’s ongoing relationship with New Zealand Pinot Noir, he knew where he had to go to pursue his wine passions. It was 2008 when he arrived in New Zealand, and although he moved to the country because of Martinborough Pinot Noir, he settled in Hawke’s Bay to attend EIT for Wine Science. Ironically, he notes “I moved to Hawke’s Bay without having tasted a wine from there. I’ll never forget the bus ride into Napier thinking it sure was smaller.”

Dan’s purpose in New Zealand was clear, so it’s not surprising that he wasted no time in starting his label. He purchased grapes in 2009, and had the concept of Decibel in his mind, aiming to produce New Zealand’s famous Sauvignon Blanc, and one you may not expect, Malbec. His nickname, that ultimately inspired his label, “Decibel Dan” grew out of his signature when he was managing the band. He used to spend time with the sound crew before every show, and would sign off with his initials, dB. dB was already taken as a label, but fortunately, the simple yet significant word he now uses was available, and Decibel was created.

Even though he didn’t originally plan on being in Hawke’s Bay, he’s come to love it for simple reasons, like the fact that it’s the second largest region in the country, a great place to live near the ocean, and that it suits him more than Martinborough would have. More importantly, he recognizes how special the Hawke’s Bay is as a wine producing region. “It’s a great place to learn how to make wine because we do so many great wines well. Other places don’t give you the exposure.” Although he will always love Martinborough Pinot, Dan comments how “we make everything else here. Aromatic whites, big reds. I think it’s the best place in the world to make wine.”

Wine with a view of Hawke’s Bay

He’s put his time in working in the Bay, with planning weddings and restaurant work at Te Awa in 2008, where he was fortunate to work alongside Jenny Dobson in the winery here and there. He did his first vintage at Te Awa that year. In 2009 he did vintage at Vidal, and says it was not high tech, but “hard work. You had to think on your feet.” From 2010 to 2013, he was the Assistant Winemaker at Unison, and then moved onto Assistant Winemaker at Paritua from 2013 to 2017. He was running Decibel along the way, always doing Malbec, and some vintages of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Dan’s not one to add anything to his wines, like acid or sugars, and that’s another reason why he loves making wine in the Hawke’s Bay. “We have natural acidity; typically, we don’t have to add acid and that’s a great start. We don’t have to add sugar either.”

Dan and parter Mara

Hawke’s Bay is now home to his family. Dan met his partner, Mara, at one of his famous “Kiwi’s Giving Dinners” in May 2012, that he holds in honour of American Thanksgiving. One of his friends sent him a text right before the dinner asking if she could bring her friend along. Dan agreed, and when he met Mara, he describes their connection as being “instant.” They have a five-year-old daughter, Cecila, named after the Patron Saint of Music, and pronounced in the Italian way, who they endearingly call “Chechy.” They have plans to get married in Italy when they’re able.

Dan with daughter Cecilia

Dan’s got a few different labels within his company. Under the Decibel label, you will now find 5 single vineyard wines, including a Martinborough Pinot and a Malbec. His label Giunta, after his grandmother’s maiden name, features 3 young and fresh wines, one of which is a Nouveau style Malbec, and then, there’s Testify.

The birth of Testify came with an exceptional parcel of 2016 Malbec. He put it in a new puncheon, and neutral barriques, and recalls its purity of fruit. Dan said it was so special, he knew it had to be a new label. The name has roots in a song by one of his favourite bands, The Band, founded by Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm. The band also happened to finish in the same year Dan was born. They were largely influential to him for most of his life and have produced one of his favourite albums of all time. One of Robbie Robertson’s solo albums features a song called “Testimony”. He’s named his wine after the song because to him, it represents the testimony of the quality of that wine. “I put my hand on my heart. It’s my best effort. I put my name on it. I promise you, this is my best. I won’t make it if it’s not up to crack. And that’s fine.” For the Testify label, Dan only focuses on the best appellations that have a story to be told. It is a label that is close to his heart. The Testify line features a Gimblett Gravels Malbec/Merlot blend, a Martinborough Pinot Noir, and a Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay.

Malbec isn’t one of the main varietals that comes to mind when most people think of New Zealand wine, so why did Dan go with a Malbec right from the start, and why does he still include it in all 3 of his labels? “I’ve always loved it. It has a similar acid and flavour profile as Syrah, yet it’s easier to grow. With a learning curve and effort, it can grow well. I think I’ve proven a point. Great wine can be made from Malbec. Gordon Russel has proven that. It’s inherently more interesting than Merlot. It’s got plush juiciness, colour, tannin and acid. It’s a fun thing to make every year.”

Dan sources his roughly 80 tonnes of fruit from a few different vineyards in Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough. He works with several growers and has been consistent with some of them since 2011. He uses organic fruit and wants to support organic growers in the Bay. Part of the reason for that is because he’s learned to “take a breath. Let’s do it right. What we’re doing affects our life and everyone’s. Have some perspective.” He dreams of having a biodynamic home and hopes that more growers will move in that direction. “Organics is important. It makes sense. I can’t believe other people don’t go that route. People think it’s an easy path to not go organic. I get it; it can be scary, but it doesn’t make sense to me any other way. I’m not dogmatic about the way you do it. It just seems crazy not to. Why would you think you can do it better than the great designer has done it? It’s tapping into the right way. It goes back to music. I left myself open to writing that song. Conventional is not leaving themselves open to the possibilities. Nature can manage better than us. It’s scary, but we have to let nature take its course.” He refers to conventional vineyard practices, and says, “I wouldn’t want my kid around it.”

Giunta Chenin Blanc sourced from
Two Terraces Vineyard

Although only 60% of Decibel is exported now (due to an amazing local distributor) Dan started his label in an uncommon position, as a 100% export label. If you remember his connections, he just so happened to have one main client lined up in the States, his family restaurant. He’s thrilled that his wine is selling in New Zealand now, but he also loves the unique opportunity he has to share his wine back home. “The best is when I get a message from someone I grew up with or knew from the past. People I have no idea who they are, saying ‘I just tasted this wine and it’s delicious,’ and they’re putting it online. Someone in Brooklyn saying it’s awesome. I’m the guy that gets to bring Hawke’s Bay Malbec to America? That blows my mind. I get to, through the wine, tell people on the other side of the world that there’s this cool place called Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand.”

Dan being Dan in the vineyard!

Dan’s been challenged along the way, in finding fruit that’s up to what he’s looking for. Additionally, he speaks of the all too familiar financial and marketing challenges that many boutique producers face, and says he wishes EIT taught more on business. Although he’s been on the receiving end of great advice from fellow producers through the years, he was unaware going into his label just how financially challenging it could be. It took him 10 years to be able to make the jump into doing solely Decibel, and he wishes there was “bigger dialogue about how much cash is tied up in your wine.” Pinot Noir, his first love, also keeps him up at night. He’s still passionate about the difficult to grow variety, and often finds himself wondering what he’s going to do with it.

Wine life has given Dan a harvest of inspirational lessons. First, he told me, “just do it. Most of the time they’re not going to stop you.” How true of life; sometimes we just need to take that risk that most of us are too afraid to take. Secondly, he has learned to “live life by the season. Have a flow to the year. When it’s time to relax, relax.” Dan described his Catholic upbringing and agreed that he does have traditional roots in a sense. “Friends, social, family, we’re part of something much bigger. I have no idea what it is, but there’s something cosmic about it.” He talked about how he loves the busy season of harvest, but says, “there is receipt for that. There’s a natural flow to it. Flow, seasons, it’s all cyclical and natural. That was not part of my life in New York or Philly; it was go go go. There wasn’t a rhythm. It’s so important to slow down. Some people don’t have a flow, and it’s easy to get lost. It’s good to have boundaries.” He also loves the comradery in the industry and speaks highly of the Hawke’s Bay wine community. “It’s the people. Talking about all of the things we do. We’re in it together; talk through it. There’s not a point of making wine in isolation.”

Music has always been a meaningful part of Dan’s life, and he credits a few important business lessons to his time managing the band. “I released a couple studio albums with them. It primed me for the idea of getting a wine finished and put out.” Through those experiences, he understood that “it makes sense to take your time and get it right. It’s a captured moment in time. People go on about the parallels of music and wine. The real part is the art and craft. Some are great artists. Some great song writers. Some are both. It’s the same in the wine industry. Some are technical winemakers. Some are artistic. Some have both.” Dan explains that sometimes, wines may not be considered technically right by certain critics but believes that more importantly, they should be loved when they’re consumed. “That’s what I prefer; it should be like song writing.”

When I asked Dan if it’s all worth it, he responded with, “I don’t have a choice.  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

To learn more or purchase Decibel wines, visit https://www.decibelwines.com or follow on Instagram @decibelwines.

The Organised Chaos Story; Breaking the Boutique Wine Mould

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Hayden Penny is the owner and Winemaker of Organised Chaos, a brand that started quite differently to most others. Contradictory to many boutique producers I’ve met, Hayden took some coaxing in order to start his label. More on that later; first, let’s get to know Hayden a bit.

Hayden is the second eldest in a family of five kids. He was born in Paeroa, which he explained for the non-Kiwis in the room as the famous town known through the soda, L&P. He was 8 years old when his parents moved the family to Hawke’s Bay. Because Hayden has a serious interest in sports and couldn’t stand the thought of working in an office, he chose to pursue physiotherapy. He went to Dunedin for Uni, and was recruited onto the Dunedin Rugby Football Club, which ended up keeping him in Dunedin, even after deciding physiotherapy wasn’t for him. He was eventually offered a contract to play Rugby in Dunfermline, Scotland and played a season over there, at the time unaware that the country would later have a sweet significance in his life.

While in Dunedin, he met Bryce Edmonds of Zaria Wines, who offered him work on his family’s vineyard in Hawke’s Bay over the holidays; that turned into an annual job for three years. That time brought to light Hayden’s passion for the vineyard, so he decided to enter EIT. He had unfortunately missed the entrance date that year, so he worked on a farm doing a table grape harvest in Bourke, Aussie in the meantime. He then came back to NZ in 2003 to go to EIT; he remembered his passion for being in Bryce’s family vineyard, and his experience on the farm had given him more familiarity with it. For these two reasons, he was most interested in the Viticulture side of the program. He comments, “I hadn’t really drank much wine other than cask wine at Uni, but thought, ‘why not? I’ll enroll in both of them,’” and signed up for Wine Science too. It didn’t go so well at the start though.

“First tasting class, we all sat down and all the wines came out. Everyone else is saying ‘bubble gum this and spice in that,’ and I thought, ‘that’s not what it tastes like or smells like at all to me. This is not for me. It’s too hard out.’ I went to talk to the lecturer and said, ‘I’m going to pull out. I don’t get those flavors and aromas. I was getting this and this, so I’m obviously wrong.’ He said that the thing with wine is everyone is different. You can’t be wrong. If you smell that and taste that then that’s what it tastes like, other than faults.’ I was learning that wine is this thing that is so social yet it’s so personal as far as the aroma and the flavor profiles. From then on it gave me the confidence to say what I smell and taste.”

Hayden Penny

With those critical lessons learned, Hayden stuck with it and went on to graduate first in his class for Viticulture, and second for Winemaking. He won an EIT scholarship to go to Italy, the Romeo Bragato Exchange, and while there he was often told by people in the vineyards not to try the grapes because of the sprays on them and the withholding period until they were safe. He says, “after that, I knew I wanted to work organically.” Hayden comments about Italy that, “on that trip I was introduced to skin fermented wines, which has become a real thing for me.” He now sits on the interview panel to determine the student who receives that same scholarship. After graduating, Hayden did some “season hopping,” as he describes it, to gain exposure to different ways of doing things. He tried to work for as many organic producers as he could, but says that in order to fund his travel, he had to work for “the big guys” as well; it was all experience none the less.

Doing a dig out in California, 2007

Meanwhile, Hayden’s wife Tarryn was growing up in her native country of Scotland. In her early 20s, she decided to leave Scotland and see a bit of the world. She ended up in New Zealand, and made some lasting friends, one of whom happened to be Hayden’s cousin, Shelley. Later, when Tarryn was back in the U.K., Shelley came to visit. As fate would have it, Hayden was visiting his brother in London. Shelley asked both Tarryn and Hayden to come out for dinner one night, and due to a long day of beer and cricket, Tarryn almost cancelled! Thankfully, she didn’t, because she and Hayden hit it off right away, and have been a couple ever since. Although their relationship has consisted of lots of long distance, they stayed committed to each other and eventually bought their house, finally moving in together in 2011. They had their son, Otis, in 2016. Hayden is a huge fan of the Bay and says that other than his family being here, “in all of the regions I’ve worked in, I couldn’t see myself getting behind the styles they were making other than Hawke’s Bay.” His 15 year old daughter, Carys, also lives here, so being in the Bay is a win win.

2009, Harvest time in Bulgaria

Hayden had done 20 vintages for other people before he started his own label, and he comments, “I don’t wish I had done it sooner. It came at a good time.” He says, “it always made me laugh when people at EIT would graduate and say, ‘yeah, I’m a Winemaker.’ I never felt like that. It takes 10 or 15 vintages to know what you’re doing. I’ve learned so much through working for other people, and you’re always learning. Even if it’s something you definitely don’t want to do, you’re still learning.” He has held positions like Assistant Winemaker at Te Awa in 2006 and 2007, and has done vintages in Calistoga, the Yarra Valley, Marlborough, Spain and Bulgaria. He returned to NZ to take up the role of Winemaker and Viticulturist at William Murdoch in 2010. In 2013 he was working at William Murdoch, and Supernatural Wine Co. approached him to see if he’d make wines for them; he stayed on at Murdoch while making wines for Supernatural in 2013 and 2014. When Supernatural offered for him to make the change full time in 2015 to make the wine, and run the vineyards, he happily obliged. With them being the biggest skin ferment producer in the country, the first producer of a Pet Nat Sauv Blanc, and a big Pet Nat producer, the job was right up his alley. Ironically, he and Tarryn were married at the same vineyard, before he joined the team.

Supernatural Wine Co. in 2018

Hayden is still at Supernatural, so how did Organised Chaos come about? His achievements were recognized by Kemp Fine Wines, a boutique wine distributor, who approached him to see if he could fill some gaps in their portfolio. They desired to add a small producer, who could make Hawke’s Bay wines with care and attention; they wanted the wines to be fruit forward, pleasing to the palate, and ready to drink now. Over several conversations with Kemp, and Tarryn, Hayden had to decide if this was something he wanted to do. It’s not necessarily his “passion project” like so many other Winemakers have in the Bay, but he realized that “the hardest thing to do is sell wine when you’re starting a label,” and he had the sales people coming to him. All he had to do was make it.

He was unwilling to compromise his personal philosophy and knew that the wine would have to be something he was proud to put his name on, so through multiple chats with Kemp, they came to an agreement, and Organised Chaos became a reality. “For me, it’s an expression of me. I’m not going to squeeze margins. I’m not in wine for a business. I’m in wine because I love growing and making wine.” Hayden describes the wines as a “fresh, vibrant and textural expression of a modern-day Hawke’s Bay.” Tarryn says when they discussed the label they realized, “we can do this with integrity and to Hayden’s beliefs.” Hayden comments, “I always thought when I introduced a label it would be organic and blah blah. At the end of the day, we haven’t got any leg up or land or anything. Maybe I can do a passion project further down the line. We can’t do it now, but we also can’t do it if we sit in our 9 to 5’s either. We have to take a risk and try something.”

2019 was the first vintage of this very new label, and Hayden made 2 tonnes of each. He’s adding a Gamay Noir, and possibly Chenin Blanc this year, so he’ll produce 8-10 tonnes in 2020. The Gamay and Chenin will come from the Two Terraces Vineyard in Maraekakaho. Stylistically, the wines are made to be “fruit forward, with not much winemaker influences. They’re all stainless steel fermented, with not much oak influence. Hawke’s Bay [in general] is pretty heavy on the oak. They’re released on the 14th of October from that vintage, and I want them drinking well then, [in a] super fresh and super vibrant fruity style.”

The labels represent the name beautifully. Every label has an edgy, black and white design of its own pattern. They’re similar, yet different. The whites feature horizontal lines, and the reds have verticals. To show organised chaos on the 2-dimensional label, they used designs inspired by Franco Grigani, an Italian optical artist. The logo is “creating chaos but using straight lines; it’s a play with angles.” The name is from a memory Hayden has of working in the vineyard at William Murdoch one very complicated vintage. He remembers saying, “this is just organised chaos.” He had suggested Murdoch use it as a secondary label at the time, but in hindsight, Hayden’s grateful they turned it down.

2013, working at William Murdoch

Hayden is stylistically most proud of the Syrah, because it was the biggest challenge. Organised Chaos Syrah is light, fresh, and fruit forward. The pepper comes as a secondary, well-integrated component. Hayden uses the MS clone, which is “superior” in his opinion. The most shocking trait of his Syrah though, is that it’s a 2019, and we’re already drinking it. It was released in October of 2019.

Releasing a Syrah in the same year it was harvested has lead to Hayden receiving more than his fair share of criticism. “’Oh you can’t do that,’ people say. Well why? Who’s making that rule? I’ve got my distributor saying people want this style.” I must admit that I too was skeptical of what a 2019 Syrah would taste like before I tried it, but I was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t wait to share it with my wine loving friends. Hayden has truly had an uphill battle with the naysayers with this wine, but his attitude about it is inspirational. “To me, it was a personal challenge. Everyone says you can’t. I thought I’d try it and see. Hawke’s Bay has the traditional wines already. I want to do something different. Push the boundaries slightly, but why not? Where are the boundaries? Who sets the boundaries? Stylistically it’s so different. It was a roll of the dice to go that way. I was fairly confident I could get it ready on time.”

He really enjoyed seeing people’s reactions to it being a 2019, and then positive responses after trying it. He comments that “on launch day, people were genuinely intrigued.” He loved “seeing the reaction of people enjoying it and loving the brand,” but clarifies that he’s proud of all the wines. Tarryn says that she’s been “blown away by the support of friends and family and word of mouth through colleagues, etc. It makes me proud that people genuinely love the wines.” Hayden says he’s not a huge believer in shows and awards, but the wines have been recognized by Steven Wong and Bob Campbell.

Hayden has faced challenges other than just how his young Syrah is perceived. He explains, “natural wine gets slugged off all the time by conventional producers. We don’t do it the other way. You do what you want to do and I will too. There’s this negativity towards the natural wine sector. There is some hatred for it.” He found that in creating a young Syrah, people saw him to be “breaking tradition with the vintage thing. Breaking the mould,” but mentions, “I haven’t even found that a problem really because it’s been made for that. There’s not one type of person it appeals to. This is targeted at anyone that’s just keen to try something different, or fun wines.”

As for the winemaking philosophy for Organised Chaos, Hayden quotes, “these wines are a celebration of the chaos that is, and a tip of the cap to the chaos that was. They are a reflection of the moments, inspirations and influences, of my journey throughout the world of wine-growing, organised into my personal expression of the wines that Hawke’s Bay does best.” I love and identify so much with Hayden’s life philosophy and how he believes that “things don’t have to be as they’re told they have to be. What’s wrong with embracing imperfection? Who dictates perfection?” He doesn’t label them as organic or natural but makes them as naturally as he can. He uses yeast for the whites for “purity of fruit and to keep them fresh,” and minimal sulphur is the only addition. The wines are “styled to be enjoyable for everyone.” The more I spoke with Hayden, the more I realized how creative and artistic he is; he is confident to take risks and use his ingenuity to go against the grain, regardless of critics, and that is inspiring.

Organised Chaos’ fruit comes from two key producers in Hawke’s Bay. The Pinot Gris is from the Petane vineyards. Hayden met Philip through making wine at Askerne, and Philip had brought him on as a consultant. As they worked together, Hayden respected what he saw in Philip’s growing philosophy. When choosing fruit for Organised Chaos, he knew he loved Petane’s Pinot Gris, and wanted to stay away from the big, popular microclimates of Hawke’s Bay and champion for the minor ones, like Esk Valley. Hayden explains, “the beauty of Hawke’s Bay is the huge variety that we have. Why can’t we champion that? Why do we have to have our ‘Marlborough Sauv?’ That’s a cop out. If we explored the Hawke’s Bay regions more, each has amazing things that should be highlighted in them if they’d have the right things planted.” The Chardonnay and Syrah come from Pieter Koopman’s Hopes Grove vineyard in the Pakipaki area of the Havelock Hills. This region, another minor one in the Bay, is another Hayden wants to champion for because of its limestone soils; he admires the particular aspect of Pieter’s vineyard, as well as the organic growing techniques he follows.

The vineyards that supply the fruit are, not surprisingly, very important to Hayden. “I don’t find speaking about them hard. I know them inside and out. I use environmentally focused growers. I feel good about that. It’s working with those smaller growers. It’s slightly tougher because the grapes are more expensive, but I’m okay with that. I’d much rather have the full story of the grapes being from Petane and Hopes Grove than that I bought them off the bulk market. I have the freedom to hand pick when I want and get the fruit that I want. I can’t cut corners. I need to keep a relationship with the growers to keep the integrity of the wine.”

Hayden makes the wine at Hawke’s Bay Wine Company and goes in to taste it every single day through harvest. That’s right; he’s there seven days a week, every week, back and forth from the vineyard for his full-time job. He says, “the wine industry is not as glamorous as a lot of people think. Admin is also of the not so glamorous side of things. Spreadsheets. If you’re in the wine industry you can spreadsheet!”

Being largely passionate for the vineyard, I wondered why he became a Winemaker and Viticulturist, rather than pursuing the vineyard route alone. He regaled me with a story of a time when he realized he knew so little after graduating, other than the basics. “I was sitting with Jenny [Dobson] and in passing conversation, I asked, ‘how do you choose which blocks go through malo and which don’t?’ Two hours later we were still talking coppers and this and that. It’s amazing that she knows that, but that’s for that vineyard and those yeast. You go next door and it’s different again. There’s the concept of it being this endless spectrum of input from fruit growing conditions, Winemaker, etc. I was intrigued with it ever since.” He also explains how wine-making is art to him. “I’m a bit of a chemistry nerd and what goes on is incredible. Ten Winemakers can be given the same grapes and come out with different wine. That’s artistic; it’s maybe not from a wine lover’s point of view, but it intrigued me. Through that intrigue, it taught me to love it.”

Hayden has learned a lot from his experience in the industry. His biggest lessons are that “wine can be personal as well as sociable.” He gives the advice to “back yourself. You have to back yourself in a tasting environment.” He has learned to “not sweat nature. You can complain all you want but at the end of the day it’s out of your control. Mother Nature is just a beast and you’ve got to hold on for the ride.” He says about his career, “I certainly never knew I’d be doing this but I’m loving it. It’s the perfect balance of science, growing and being outdoors, sales, chat. It’s pretty cool when you can be driving a tractor one day and in Auckland the next holding dinner over a tasting. Variety scares a lot of people, but I’ve had some of my best ideas sitting in a tractor.”

He says without hesitation that starting Organised Chaos has been worth it. “The hardest thing was doing it this way, and leaving the passion project for another day.” Kemp wasn’t offering him a “vanity project,” but a “business opportunity.” He says, “it’s a totally different way of thinking about your own label.” Hayden’s humility shone through during our conversation; even though it came about in a way he didn’t expect, he seized the opportunity, took the challenges head on, and now produces wines and a label he is very proud of. He has proven that he can more than meet the specifications set out to him for the label and make well priced wine that people enjoy, with fruit sourced from high quality vineyards. Most importantly, he’s proven that he can rise above the challenges and doubts of others and do all the above with integrity to release a product that’s true to what he believes is right. I highly encourage you to try one of Hayden Penny’s Organised Chaos wines as soon as you get the chance!

To purchase Organised Chaos, head to their website, www.organisedchaos.co.nz, or find them on Instagram @organisedchaosnz. They also have a wine club, #jointhechaos where you can receive the wines regularly for 15% off and free freight. Great Little Vineyards and Kemp Fine Wines in Auckland distribute the label and there’s some on-premise places you may see it as well.

So cheers to trying something new and enjoying the Organised Chaos.

Grief for the Losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve been contemplating the stages of grief.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

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

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

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

This sucks. Straight up.

This really f*cking sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Erwin McManus; The Way of the Warrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time is a Gift

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

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

Time is a gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well now we have the time.

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

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

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

What are you going to do with yours?

Level 3 and 4 Have Brought Me Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are we going to do about it?

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

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

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

I was a Vintage Widow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Covid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a Time of Turbulence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Lessons; What This Year Living Abroad Has Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to 2020, and Happy New Year!

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.

Saorsa Wines; A story of Freedom, Liberty, Salvation

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“Freedom from the bullshit of the wine industry.”

“Liberty to make honest wines without manipulation.”

“Salvation from the industry binds.”

THAT is Saorsa, and is everything Alex Hendry and Hana Montaperto-Hendry stand for.

Never have I seen one word on a wine bottle describe not only a company mandate, but a deeply rooted personal philosophy in such a beautifully succinct way.


Hana and Alex are some of the most bad-ass people I know, yet are down to earth, humble people of integrity, and great friends. Their style is so cool; when you walk up to their place you’re greeted by Sailor and Bam Bam, their Thai Ridgeback and Rhodesian Ridgeback Cross dogs. When you enter, you find Hana’s motorcycle sitting in the kitchen, and family photos and artistic, statement posters on every wall. There are beautiful antiques and vintage pieces galore, but everything is well organized. Hana’s usually got something amazing cooking for dinner, which is followed by a new dessert she’s baked from scratch. Isla and Taj, their kids, are there to welcome you into the family, and you’re served some amazing wine in a funky antique wine glass.

Alex had what many would consider to be a regular childhood. He’s from a “quiet” family of four, and grew up in Auckland with his sister and parents, attending a prestigious boarding school. He ended up in Hawke’s Bay when he decided to enrol at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) to study Wine Science and Viticulture.

Hana is one of four children, from Italian roots, born in Hawke’s Bay, who grew up “old school,” as she describes it, with a mechanic, hunting-enthusiast father, who taught her that everything can be fixed, and a nurse mother, who raised her “non-gender specific;” she show jumped horses across the country, but also raced motocross (which lead her to breaking her back not once, but twice).

Hana is tough as nails. She was a teen Mum, having had her son, Taj, at the age of 18. “Everyone said having him was going to stop me from things; Taj hasn’t stopped me from anything.” She already had her diploma in Video and Electronic Media and a great job when she gave birth, and purchased her first house shortly after, by the age of 19. Although it wasn’t easy, Hana is no stranger to hard work and perseverance.

Alex and Hana do things differently than most, which is a huge part of their charm. How they got together was different as well, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less. They met at a Rock and Roll show, held at an old youth church that had been converted into a concert venue, ironically named, “The Vineyard.” Hana was used to most guys hitting on her; Alex, however, rocking Mohawk hair, piercings and tattoos, walked past, looked at her over the fence, screamed like a punk in her face, and kept going. She thought he was “so cool.” He had her at “blaaahhhh!” Hana says “he met his match,” but agrees that she met hers as well. Alex jokes that Hana had told him “she was a well-mannered Catholic girl.”

They began meeting up as friends at rock shows around the Bay, and Hana found she was hanging out with Alex’s group at their house frequently. Even though Hana’s house was nicer, she had “nothing good to eat in the fridge!” Hana remembers a pivotal moment when she realized how amazing Alex is. She had gone through a difficult time, and he completely supported her through it. It was then that she fell in love with Alex.

It was in 2008 when they met, and when Alex graduated from EIT. They had their beautiful and spunky daughter, Isla, in 2014, and were married in January of 2015. They got engaged and found out they were expecting Isla in the same week! Alex had been having the ring designed for 3 months already, and they had been hoping for Isla, but when the timing all collided, Alex wondered if he should still go ahead with his elaborate proposal plan. He decided he didn’t care how it looked; he knew he wanted to marry Hana.

He sent her on a treasure hunt for clues around Hawke’s Bay on her Cruiser. Hana thought he had planned it as a special last ride and was preparing to tell her she couldn’t ride pregnant! Alex figured it would take her 3 hours tops, but after what became a 7 hour, 700km ride, an exhausted and newly pregnant Hana rolled up at home to find Taj beside Alex, waiting on one knee. Isla was born 8 months later, and they were married when she was 10 months old.

Wine was not a huge part of either Alex or Hana’s upbringings, so I was curious to find out how their lives revolve so much around it now.

Alex had a lot of friends choosing corporate careers after high school; he didn’t know for sure what he wanted to do, but he knew it wasn’t that world. He had been enjoying brewing his own beer, heard about winemaking, and “thought it sounded interesting,” and he’d “give it a shot and find out.” Once he got into school, he found he actually really enjoyed making wine.

Alex has currently done 13 vintages, and has full time experience in Vineyard Manager, Cellar Hand, and Assistant Winemaker positions across 4 wineries in the Bay over the last 12 years.

He remembers working for a larger company in his early industry days, and seeing “truck loads of garbage” coming in from the vineyard, and thinking, “why am I doing this? How can we do better?”

Those key questions lead Alex to start personally researching biodynamics, and to discover that everything about great wine “comes down to the vineyard.” He left that big company, and began working for Warren at La Collina, where he had creative run of a beautiful, hillside vineyard.

His passion now is the vineyard, which is so ironic, because Alex had dropped the additional year at EIT that focused on Viticulture, in order to graduate faster. He believes it’s actually “the best thing he’s done,” because he has “taught [himself] what he needs to know based on real experience working.” Although he didn’t originally plan on focusing on Viticulture, it has slowly emerged as not only his passion, but one of his main areas of expertise.

Once Alex had learned a sufficient amount about how to care for the vines, he wanted to make a quality wine that was a true representation of the place in which the grapes grew: the terroir. He wanted to make a counter-cultural wine that showed the features of when it was picked, and what the weather and fruit were like that year; he didn’t want to showcase what so many others do: winemaking.

For a wine like that, site selection is critical. Since Alex and Hana don’t own their own vineyard, they purchase fruit from growers. Alex admits that by not owning the vineyard, he does lose some control. When I asked him if he’d like to own his own one day, he said “yes and no; yes, in a whimsical world where it’s perfect, but it takes so much work and time.” Alex loves being in the vineyard, but that’s not Hana’s passion. She prefers to fabricate the wine tanks! In addition, she loves the relational side of the industry, and is in the business to support Alex’s dream; she’s also realistic to accept that they have a young family, and both work full time. Alex is confident in his ability to find amazing fruit without having the stress of a huge mortgage on a vineyard. He knows the vineyards he uses inside and out, and has personal relationships with the owners. He specifies how Saorsa’s rows are to be managed, and even does a lot of the work himself, on top of his full time day job.

The first Saorsa wine was a 2015 Viognier; however, Alex has been making his own wine at home since his last year at EIT, when he entered a student Vintage Port-Style wine competition. Alex being Alex, and anti-wine industry bullshit, he thought, “what can I do to sabotage the whole thing?” and decided to give his wine an edgy name “to take the piss,” calling it, “The Day the Wine Industry Died.” He ended up winning a Bronze Award at the Mercedes Benz Wine Awards with that wine, and having that name publicized and printed. He started producing wine under that label for the next several years, but when he and Hana decided to start selling wine, and created the business, he chose to set that label to the side. He calls it a “watch this space moment,” because when he knows what he wants to do with it, it’ll be back.

“Saorsa” is a Scottish word, and although Hana and Alex both have Scottish blood in them, they more so chose it because of what it meant, and how it completely represents what they believe in. It is also quite unique, as they are.

As for their logo, you’ll notice that it’s, again, extremely unique. The design is a collaboration between Hana, Alex and their friend, renowned photographer, Richard Wood. The logo represents Hana’s fire as an engineer, Alex’s heart for what he does, and the grapes, as well as the “massive crossover” between science and religion, and its association with wine as the blood of Christ. As they phrase it, “you can’t have religion and wine without science. You need science to create wine, but they don’t believe in each other.”

Their label is also a statement that rebels against marketing and everything industry standards promote. Rather than have any information on the front, they’ve chosen to put it all on the back, including their name. Hana explains, “I wanted a void. Wine labels are competitive and busy. You want people to look for the good, but some look for faults. If you have nothing, it’s a void.” Hana also makes the point that “people are inquisitive and want to know more.” People that are drawn to their wine are willing to pick it up and look at the back.

All you’ll see on the front of the bottle is their logo, which again, is very strategically placed. Research told them it needed to be in the top left corner, because that’s where the eye is naturally drawn. So where do you think it appears on Saorsa’s label? In the bottom right corner. It may seem as though they’ve chosen simply to thwart what society says, but in fact, every decision they’ve made has been purposeful, and depicts the kind of wine that’s in the bottle. Alex has rebelled against everything he hates about the wine industry, so why should the label not follow suit?

Hana stated it so elegantly: “If you see the beauty in what is wrong, you clearly want to drink this wine.”

It should not surprise you by now to read that Saorsa’s wine making philosophy is different than those held by many who are making the typical commercial wines on the market. As Alex has based his entire winemaking mandate on going against “wine industry bullshit,” I feel I should fill you in on what that means to him.

“There’s a romanticism about the industry . . . the whole modern process of efficiency is bullshit. We’ve taken a 10,000 year old art form and ruined it to keep up with demand and revolution. When you see industrial size wineries, you might as well work in a sweat shop or any factory. You can make any wine, any year, and adjust anything to make it taste the same. The modern world has lost the yearly aspect of it. You can manipulate wine like making Coke.” – Alex

“The pretence is something that annoys me about it. It’s not romantic; it’s hard work. Wait until he jumps in bed during vintage after a 19 hour day and he’s sticky. Your sheets will be Syrah red. I don’t have white sheets anymore.” – Hana

“We also disagree with so much of how it’s done and how much you’re lied to; consumer expectation – ‘you have to do this or no one will buy it.’ Why? We want to do it the way we want to do it.” – Hana

Alex believes in “taking it back to basics, before marketing and manipulation were involved.” They hand pick, foot crush, use wild yeast for fermentation in old oak barrels where the wines mature for at least a year and undergo natural malolactic fermentation.

Saorsa has made a 2015 Viognier, and both Syrah and Viognier in 2016, 2018 and 2019. They didn’t make wine in 2017 because the vintage wasn’t good enough. Some may assume that a new, boutique winemaker would have wanted to get his wine on the market quickly, but the 2015 Saorsa Viognier wasn’t released until 2018. Alex will only release his wines when they’re ready. He keeps tasting them, and “allows what’s there to shine.”

Alex and Hana make Viognier because they enjoy drinking it as a varietal, but also because of the amazing parcel of fruit they were given the chance to lease. As for Syrah, Alex has a “love affair” with it, because of its “wild, crazy side,” its “power and structure yet delicacy and florals,” and that it’s a “flamboyant, wild variety that’s in your face.” He loves the “histories of Hermitage,” and the “crazy wild-hills, romantic side” of Syrah, but also that it’s the variety that’s “most at home in Hawke’s Bay.” He knows it’s got a “sense of place,” and is “ideal here,” and he specifically loves the “limestone shallow soil,” at the vineyard site he uses.

Saorsa makes “honest wine,” meaning Alex is happy with their name being on the back of the bottle. Honest wine, to them, is wine without manipulation. Alex asks, “how would it have been made 100 years ago before we had additives to make everyone think they’re drinking something good, but it’s full of crap?” Alex believes in making the wine right from day one, rather than having to correct it in the winery.

Honest wine, to him, means having the wine represent the truth of where it came from and when it was made, rather than “stylistically making something.” He gives the example of Gimblett Gravels Syrah in Hawke’s Bay, and how there are characters that so obviously scream “sense of place,” but he hates that so many of them are the same from one producer to the next. Alex strives for Saorsa to be unique. “For me it’s more about not using large amounts of new oak, or any new oak, or additions or adjustments, [and] no acid adjustments. What I can pick is what I want in the bottle. If I pick too late, that’s my fault, and I won’t rely on a packet of tartaric acid [to fix it].” It makes complete sense to me after learning their philosophy that entering wine shows is of no interest to them.

As you can imagine, being a boutique wine maker on the side of your full time job, having made the decision to go against the industry grain, and make wine with no manipulation, is extremely challenging. Time is one of Alex and Hana’s biggest challenges; they both work full time to support their family, and pay for their house and rental houses. Alex is sharing his time to be Winemaker for Saorsa, along with Assistant Winemaker for his day job’s label. Hana says, “for 3 months of the year I don’t see him.” She identifies with the common nickname of “vintage widow,” and says jokingly, “don’t marry a winemaker. They earn shit money and work shit hours.”

The cost of running a small business is challenging as well, as Saorsa has to legally pay the same fees and taxes on every bottle that the bigger companies are paying. They’re very small production, making only a few barrels per year. Doing things naturally is hard too; even though it’s what Saorsa stands for, “it takes longer waiting on everything to go naturally, but that’s part of the ethos and what happens.”

After all the ups and downs of life and wine, Alex and Hana still love spending time together. That’s something the couple wants readers to know; “we actually love being together. The Instagram is real. The whole thing is real.”

They also want customers to understand that Saorsa doesn’t support them financially. They’re not “doing it for a quick buck,” they’re doing it because Alex is truly passionate about it, and Hana backs him to the end, even to the point of unloading grapes in 2014 after giving birth, and getting reprimanded by her midwife. Although balancing full time jobs with everything else sucks their time, it allows them to “stay true to it,” and to wait until they have a product that Alex is completely happy with for Saorsa. “There is no rush; it can sit as long as it needs. The integrity of the wine is never compromised by a need to release.”

As for what they’ve learned, the “good things about wine are really good.” Alex loves the “culture, people, [and] whimsical” side of the industry, and comments that “when you meet people that are really invested, you see the amazing good side of it.”

The satisfaction Alex gets from knowing people have enjoyed the wine he’s made continues to motivate him. “You see people review it, and how much they love it, and you get the warm fuzzies. It makes sense in your head. Financially no, but whimsically, yes. For the people, yes.” Hana enjoys the people, and that they can do it as a family. She, Taj and Isla have all helped harvest, foot crush, and do other jobs along the way.

Alex thrives in the practical application of his work, in that he is passionate about what he does. It’s “science and magic at the same time.” He loves being out in the vines, and that wine has been made for tens of thousands of years, but that it’s only made once a year. Winemakers get “one chance” each year to make that vintage of wine, and it “can never be repeated.”

They both agree that their whole lives have been taken over to a certain degree by wine, but they are happy. “We work for what we have, we’re all in on Saorsa. We love what we have, and our life, our partnership.”

So what is Saorsa wine actually like?

It IS honest, it IS different, and it IS amazing.

Their 2016 Viognier is one of my favourite Viogniers ever. They’re sold out of it (and I’m not opening my last bottle just yet) so I’ve currently made a couple of trips to a wine bar in town for a glass, and last I heard they were on their last bottle. Tasting notes I made were “fruity and apricoty with dried mango and the perfect amount of floral; it’s aromatic, smooth, oily and rich.”

When I asked for some key features of the wines, Hana joked, “features? Our feet. Yours included this year!” (That’s right, my feet were in the 2019 Saorsa Syrah, and Greg’s were in the Viognier.) All kidding aside, Hana does describe them by saying, “they taste like Alex. I know that sounds odd, but they taste like his passion and love.” When describing the Syrah, she notes “earthy chocolate berries and a bit of attitude mixed with gentle and humble flavours.” Both varietals are “elegant, effeminate, flamboyant.”

If you’re curious to try these incredible, counter-cultural, down to earth, honest wines, get in touch with Saorsa via Instagram by following them @saorsawines and sending them a message. Their website just launched today; you can now find them at http://www.saorsawines.co.nz.

So cheers to freedom from bullshit, to the liberty to be your honest self, and to salvation from your binds.

Saorsa, my friends.