The Organised Chaos Story; Breaking the Boutique Wine Mould

Featured

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.

Time is a Gift

Featured

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

Featured

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.

2019 Lessons; What This Year Living Abroad Has Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to 2020, and Happy New Year!

Wines by Jenny Dobson; The Story of a Legendary Wine Producer

Featured

Jenny Dobson: winemaker, boutique wine producer, icon in the New Zealand wine industry. When I had the chance to sit down with her to hear and write her story, I was honoured, to say the least.

Jenny, a born and raised Kiwi, grew up in a time where licensed restaurants were rare in New Zealand. The wine industry was basically non-existent. Her father was English, and for her parents, wine was a regular part of any meal; they drank it, and shared it with the children as per their cultural norms. Although they chose wine mostly from South Africa and France, Jenny’s father had a special love for Chateauneuf du Pape. Jenny remembers adding McDonald wines to their table when they began gaining popularity in the 70’s.

Even as a child, Jenny had a fascination with aromas, and most of her memories are linked through scent. She can vividly remember the smell of the Rosemary bush and the Lily of the Valley at her childhood homes, along with a fascination with the diversity of smells and flavours in wines; she wanted to discover the underlying reasoning for this. She is scientific by nature, so she entered a Science programme in University, but couldn’t envision herself inside a lab full time and wanted to be part of nature. She discovered that working in wine could provide that.

Vineyard at Harvest time in 1989 – Chateau Sénéjac

With the Wine Science degree not yet established, she transferred to Food Science, where she took a course on sensory observation; she realizes now how “invaluable” that course was to her “understanding of taste and the importance” of it. With a professor passionate about wine, Jenny was able to focus her schoolwork in that direction. As an independent learner, she spent her personal time reading every book, article and study she could get her hands on about tasting or making wine. There is a book shelf in every room of her house, full of wine books, that she graciously offered to lend to me! It was at the end of her 3rd year in University, after all of her school-driven and personal research, that she knew wine was her passion, and she says “if you don’t have passion you could not work in the industry.” 

Jenny in the old cellar at Chateau Sénéjac in 1986, 6 months pregnant

She’s always excelled at science and maths, and used to think she “had no artistic bones,” but her opinion has changed.

“Fine winemaking is art. So many of the decisions are felt. They’re a sense of what is going to be right. [Winemaking] so deftly combines science and art…You need scientific rigour but artistic license and openness of thinking to push boundaries. I love the fact that wine can not be made to a chemical formula.”

As soon as she graduated, she travelled to France, motivated to learn from some of the “best and oldest” winemakers in the world. She says she was “very naive” in her move there, but was “lucky enough to get a job at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy.”

Her job at Domaine Dujac involved her living with the family, and doing everything from “babysitting, cleaning, vineyard work, cellar work,” to eating and drinking with the family. She realizes how fortunate she was to be able to “drink so widely with Jacques and Roz,” and she explains the rarity of his wine collection.

“I had a glorious introduction to wine. In most wine producing areas in France in those days you only drank the area you were in. You wouldn’t find anything else in the Supermarket. Because Jacques’s Dad was Parisian, he had started a cellar for Jacques when he was young including wines from around Europe; Jacques added to it with wines from the new world, so I had the pleasure of drinking and getting to know fine Burgundy, but also wines from around the world.”

Bottling Blanc de Sénéjac in 1988

Jenny attributes much of her wine making philosophy back to the time she worked at Domaine Dujac. From Jacques she learned the value of “reflecting vineyard vintage variety,” and that “wine is made for people to enjoy.” She also learned that she values “integrity and authenticity” in her winemaking. “It’s working hard at every stage, especially in the vineyard, not tweaking at the end,” and if you drink Jenny’s wine, you can be sure she’s taken pride in it’s authenticity at every stage.

After working at Domaine Dujac, Jenny moved to Paris to work with the famed Steven Spurrier, who started a very controversial wine school. If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’ll know his name. Steven Spurrier organized the iconic and history-making Paris Tasting in 1976, in which the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from Napa Valley won the blind tasting, to everyone’s shock, putting California on the wine map. He was instrumental in beginning to bring Californian wines into France in the 70’s. Jenny comments about Steven that he had a similar philosophy to Jacques, in that the “diversity of wine is the beauty of wine. Every bottle, every property is different.”

Jenny began working with him in 1981, and her role was enough to make any wine lover jealous! She explained that after the historical 1976 Paris Tasting, winemakers from all over the world wanted to be featured in Steven’s shop. She was part of the selection process; she tasted applicant’s wines, and helped chose those lucky few that would be fortunate enough to grace Steven’s shelves. She also worked in his wine school, and gave 2 hour courses on French wine, appropriate cheese pairings, and French regions and helped organize and participated in many tutored tastings run by L’Académie du Vin.

In Paris, Jenny expanded her world palate, had one of the best jobs any wine lover could ask for, and on top of that, met Charles, the English grandson of a wine merchant with offices in London and Bordeaux, and the love of her life. Before you think it was all sunshine and roses though, imagine her living in a flat on the 6th floor in the building’s roof, with no toilet, in which she could literally touch both walls at once with arms stretched. The toilet was on the 4th floor and was a squat toilet. There was no lift. She jokes about a huge upgrade from that place when she moved to her second flat with a toilet and a bedroom! Despite the quirky places she called home, Jenny says with fondness, “I loved living in Paris.”

Vineyard, Autumn 1988

She did miss winemaking though, so she moved to Bordeaux and got a vintage job in Graves at Chateau Rahoul, which was part owned by an Australian man and wine industry icon, Len Evens. This also happened to be in 1982, one of the most iconic vintages in Bordeaux’s history.

One evening, she went along to a magazine wine tasting, and as Charlie was in the merchant business, he was there. They met casually; she went back to Chateau Rahoul to finish her vintage job, but then moved back to Paris. She was at a wine bar one evening, when she met the owner of Chateau Sénéjac, who offered her a cellar hand job in Bordeaux. She moved again, back to Bordeaux, in Steven Spurrier’s delivery van of all things! The day she arrived in Bordeaux, she was out for lunch, and there was Charlie, at the same restaurant. Eventually they found themselves in the same social circles, and “the rest is history,” as Jenny says. They were married in 1984.

Jenny, Charles and their children in 2000 – New Zealand.

Charlie being a wine merchant has contributed to Jenny’s diverse palate. She explained how the businesses operated at that time. Bordeaux Negociants, wine merchants, would buy wine “en primeur” from the properties (Chateaux) around 6 to 8 months after harvest. The wine was then sold at a later date, sometimes before and sometimes after bottling to other merchants in and outside of Bordeaux and to private clients. This pre-purchase of wine by the Bordeaux merchants helped shoulder the cost of production for the Chateaux. The Chateaux would present barrel samples to the merchants for tasting and Charlie would bring them home at the end of the day for Jenny to evaluate as well. Jenny commented that “in retrospect, that was a huge advantage” for her, because she “got to taste the finest Bordeaux wines when young and also drink them when mature. It gave [her] a benchmark for the young wines she had in barrel at Chateau Sénéjac.”

Vineyard in Winter, 1984/85

She has also made 13 vintages of Bordeaux, and because she stayed all year long, she gained knowledge of the vineyards, what to do in the cellar, and onwards; she saw the entire process. She learned “the effects of ferments on the wine in bottle, 2 years later, 3 years later, and how the vineyard choices translated into the wine.” She realizes that is something else that has helped develop her skill in winemaking; she “had a vision of where the wine was going in years and years of time.”

We discussed not only making wine, but what it’s made for. Jenny believes that wine is made to be consumed and enjoyed, and that the industry today is pushing towards simply selling an alcoholic beverage, rather than appreciating an art form, as it was meant to be. “It’s made to sell product for people to drink and get drunk rather than educating them about wine so that it’s looked more so as an art form than a beverage.”

She shares how they had “wine every day” in France. There was “no such thing as a non-wine day. Sometimes we finished the bottle, sometimes we didn’t. It depends on your attitude. We always looked on wine with pleasure and enjoyment, not as a guilty sin… If it’s always there, there’s no compulsion.”

Jenny explains what the enjoyment of wine brings to her. “I drink wine for it’s diversity. For it’s intellectual stimulation. For it’s flavour and taste.” She explained it so beautifully, and I couldn’t help but completely agree.

Jenny and a friend, Norma, tasting Pinotage at Te Awa in 2000 – Hawke’s Bay

“It’s like music or painting, or any form of art. If you just have background music, anything can be there. If you’re actually listening and understanding then you have a greater appreciation.

Jenny believes “the more people know about wine and get excited about it, there will be less mass consumption.” These are the kinds of palates she is mindful of in her work.

Jenny and Charlie had their 3 children while in Bordeaux, but eventually decided to move to Jenny’s home country, New Zealand. When I asked why she chose Hawke’s Bay, she answered that it seemed the “logical place” because “you can ripen the Bordeaux grape varieties” that she was used to working with. She had also done a vintage in Western Australia, where she gained experience with Chardonnay and Syrah, also key varietals in Hawke’s Bay. She and Charlie visited every single wine region in the country before making their final decision, just to be sure!

When she first arrived in the Bay, Jenny began working as a wine consultant, but found it to be “isolating.” She noticed she was only getting to be involved when things went wrong with wine, and customers needed her to fix it. A job came open at Te Awa Farm, and Jenny spent a “glorious” 12 years as the winemaker there. She got to really know the vineyards and the wines; when it went through a change of ownership, she decided to move on. The consultancy she does now is hands on. (Jenny had been racking barrels all day before her interview with me.)

Jenny with a press in the new winery in 1987

New winery, 1987

With Jenny’s experience and clear appreciation of the artistic side of wine, I was curious why it took her until now to start her own label. First, Jenny believes wine starts in the vineyard, so she wasn’t ready to do something for herself if she had to be buying fruit. She has her own now, that she fell upon quite interestingly. She had a client in 2009 that had some land on Ngatarawa Road, and asked her what he should plant. She had been reading studies about the Italian grape, Fiano, and thought it would be great for the Bay, as it was interesting, and had good acitity. It was a “throw-away comment,” as she describes it, but she told him to plant Fiano. She came back a year later, and he had planted it, and said to her, “well, are you going to make it?”

She made the first Fiano in 2013 for her client, and again in 2014. The plan was for her to continue making it for him, but due to personal reasons in 2015, he asked if Jenny wanted to take it over. She agreed, and made a small batch of the first Jenny Dobson Fiano. In 2016, she realized, “it was more wine than I could drink myself!” She released it to the public in 2017. Another reason she hadn’t started her label sooner was simply because she “was getting enough enjoyment out of helping other people make their own wines,” but she has realized, “if I don’t do this now I will never do it.”

Jenny’s Fiano

In 2018, she was inspired to add a red wine to her label, but wanted a unique one. She began exploring Hawke’s Bay Merlot with the aim to give it the “appeal that people like about Pinot Noir,” like “fragrance [and] texture but lightness and freshness in the mouth.”

As she works as the winemaker for William Murdoch Wines, and adores the character of their organic vineyard, she bought some fruit from them. She wild fermented it in oak, with whole bunch Malbec and Cab Franc “for texture and fragrance.” She explains that she “didn’t know what was going to happen” and that she was “being guided by the wine.” She basket pressed it and aged it in barrel, taking it out 18 months later in mid-September. Her red wine will be called “Doris” after her grandmother; Doris was “formidable, way ahead of her time, had vision, [and] didn’t follow any conventions.” Jenny’s favorite memory of her is her purple hair, so watch for that on the label. For the wine to represent its unconventional style, Jenny is also putting it in a Burgundy bottle, not a Bordeaux bottle, like other Merlots. She doesn’t want people to “taste it as a Merlot,” but rather “a red wine.” Doris is being bottled in October, and will likely be released next Autumn, “based on how she looks.” Jenny has carried on with Doris in this past 2019 vintage, and has some ideas to expand her label in 2020. She describes her current production as “tiny” at 80 cases or less of Fiano.

Because Jenny is always reading and learning, the 2019 Fiano has some new elements in the winemaking. She had read a study about Fiano that claimed that the skins have a compound in them that can contribute additional flavours, and that soaking some skins in the juice could enhance the character of the wine. Jenny did a 4 L trial tank to test out that theory. She bottled off a small amount of the trial tank for future testing to determine what she wants to do for the 2020 vintage. She says, “even with tiny amounts, you have to always be open minded and thinking of what you can do. Can I make a better wine? A different wine?”

When I asked Jenny out of all the wines she’s made, which she’s most proud of, she answered, “all of them!” She said they’re “like my children.” Some of her favorites are from the “difficult vintages, where you come out with something so good. It’s not the standout best in a line-up, but it’s best because you know the elements and Mother Nature were against you, but you’ve worked with it to produce something so good; it makes you feel really satisfied.”

Jenny’s story is amazing, but it’s not without challenges, many of which have been related to her gender. She says that being a woman is “an extra challenge that men don’t have to factor in.” When she was working in France in the 80’s, there were “signs outside cellars saying women weren’t allowed to enter the cellar.” They had “funny ideas” like the fact that “women had funny acids in their body that turned wine to vinegar, or if a woman had her period and came into the cellar the wine would re-ferment every month.”

Jenny was the first female maitre de chai in the Medoc; being a history maker leaves an incredible legacy, but it’s never easy. “It was a male dominated business” and people wondered how women would be able to manage the home, a family, and a career in wine. “Women were shut out because the industry people knew it was all encompassing.” When she did eventually have her children, she took a few days off, and was then right back into the work. She breast fed in the vineyard, with her baby strapped to her chest. She was bottling (not milk – wine) 3 days after giving birth. She lived on site, and the kids grew up around the vineyard and the winery. She successfully accomplished being a wife, mother and a winemaker. She had to overcome being the only woman making wine in the Medoc, but she did it. How? “My wines spoke for themselves.” She proved herself to the French people. She truly is a legend.

Winemaking is also a very physically demanding job. Jenny admits that she’s tired at the end of the day, but also points out that “so is a man working in a cellar.” There are different challenges for women today than when she began her career, yet she is confident we are moving in the right direction and knows that “a woman starting today will not face the same challenges” that she had to. “It was all men but me,” Jenny says. It’s “a lot closer to equal now; we are growing up with women and men in it together now.”

She doesn’t want to be known as a “woman winemaker.” She just wants to be known as a “winemaker,” like anyone else. She makes it clear that she doesn’t think “women or men are better winemakers. There are people that are better winemakers” than other people. She is also clear to point out that she knows it’s not all men that discriminate. “There are people that discriminate, not just men.”

With her current label, there are the challenges of selling the wine. Jenny has thought to herself, “[consider] the amount of money I make on each bottle – am I crazy? Why am I doing this?” She is doing it because she is creating “wines of distinction and individuality.” This also makes them “a bit harder to sell,” especially in the small Hawke’s Bay.

When I asked Jenny if she thinks it’s worth all the challenges, she gave a resounding, “yes! I wouldn’t be starting my own label so late in life if I didn’t!”

2019 was her 40th vintage.

Patsy the Rose is coming soon too! Patsy is named after her Aunt, and unlike most Hawke’s Bay rosés, it will be Cabernet Franc dominant. Being let in on Jenny’s thought process as she described how she wants to make Patsy was very intriguing to me. Here I was, sitting with the Medoc’s first female winemaker, who selected wines for Steven Spurier’s shop, who has 40 years of experience, and she was debating back and forth on what she should do, or might do, still undecided, still exploring ideas. I commented on this, and she responded by saying that it’s important to always be willing to experiment and learn because no one can ever just know what’s coming for any vintage or any wine. Greg had made a Cab Franc Rose in 2019, so he and Jenny discussed some ideas for the next vintage. It was surreal to listen to that conversation.

Doris Merlot grapes

Jenny at Chateau Sénéjac

Emma in the vines at Franklin Estate, 1995

Chris at age 1 in the cellar

Richard finishing breakfast while the bottling truck sets up, 1992

Jenny with son, Chris, 1988

Family labeling in 1992

Jenny, 1991

Jenny has learned some beautiful lessons in her career as a winemaker that I feel can reach beyond the wine industry to inspire; I have left them in her words.

“It’s all learning. You continue learning. There was a stage when I was looking for perfection in wine. Perfection’s boring. If everything’s perfect, it’s boring. You’re striving for perfection but the goal posts keep moving.”

“The best tool a winemaker has is the palatte. You have to keep it diverse. Natural wines challenge your palette. Things that challenge are the extremes that move the middle.”

“Recipe wine making has its place, but is one of the worst things. There’s so much unknown about wine that when you formulate a recipe you can only make good wine. You can’t make great wine.”

“You can not make a wine that will please everyone or else you’re making Coca Cola. You have to be okay with some people not liking your wine, but for everyone that doesn’t like it, there will be someone that does.”

Are you that someone?

To find out, you can purchase Wines by Jenny Dobson via mail order, through Boutique Connection, @boutiqueconnection or her Instagram @jenny_dobson_wines. Several establishments stock her wines, like Liquor King, Urban Winery, restaurants around Hawkes Bay and Wellington, Regional Wines and Spirits in Wellington, Vino Fino in Christchurch, and soon, the Auckland market.

Cheers to Jenny for following her passions, making history, sharing her story and for making interesting and authentic wines of quality; cheers to you as you enjoy them!

Saorsa Wines; A story of Freedom, Liberty, Salvation

Featured

“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.

The Last Starbucks

I have been picturing this moment for years now… picturing, dreaming, envisioning, hoping for, praying for, questioning at times, even fearing it if the anxiety got too tight a hold, but grasping onto it in my mind as clear as day. Greg and I talked about “that dream moment,” many times, when we would be HERE, sitting in the secure area, at our gate, with our last Canadian Starbucks. 

There were many times it seemed like it would never come. I even started typing this post a long time ago so I could read it over when I needed a reminder to have faith and hold tight to the dream. Every time we travel I take a secure area Starbucks photo before we get on the plane; if you’ve followed me in the past, you know the ones.

This is “the last Starbucks” on this side of the ocean for a while. This is the last Starbucks on this side of a one way ticket to New Zealand (I left a blank when I typed this months ago because I used to be sure it was Rome but somehow knew it might be somewhere else).  

This is the last Starbucks on this side of the life we know, the last Starbucks on this side of a life we can almost predict. This is the last Starbucks on this side of safety in our people, comfort in our communities, stability in the familiarity of home. This is the last Starbucks in the same building as family members and close friends, who we’ve just hugged and cried with downstairs. This is the last Starbucks on this side of the biggest adventure we’ve ever known, this side of the contradicting panic and fear, and also complete peace that we have in knowing we’re supposed to do this. This is the last Starbucks as people who have only ever lived in one city, before changing everything we know, and trusting God more than we’ve had to in a while to provide everything we need. This is the last Starbucks on this side of the hugest leap of faith we’ve ever taken. 

This moment is here

This moment is real

This moment is now

Woah.

We’ll catch up with you on the other side of the world! Cheers.