The Amoise Story; “Unadulterated” Wine Producer in Hawke’s Bay

I always love a story in which wine finds someone who was truly meant to be in the industry, but just wouldn’t have thought to look there at first.

Amy Farnsworth is the owner and Winemaker of Amoise (pronounced am-was), a boutique and “unadulterated” wine label in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Amy’s story is one of passion, patience, persistence, and the pull of nature. With 17 harvests under her belt, across 6 countries, Amy truly has a vast array of personal experience to bring to her label.

Grape Harvest time at Domaine Alain Graillot – Crozes Hermitage, France 2012

Amy was raised by a Canadian father and a Kiwi mother in White Rock, a small city in the Vancouver area. She remembers childhood trips to New Zealand to visit her Mom’s side of the family, on which she grew familiar with the Kiwi country and culture. After high school, Amy decided to enter a career in Criminology, with the goal of becoming a lawyer. To help with tuition fees, like many students do, she got a hospitality job. It was while working at Uli’s Restaurant in White Rock that she had two significant experiences with wine that ultimately ended up changing the course of her life.

Uli’s employed several professional male servers that had extensive wine knowledge, and were selling “huge wines like Opus One” to the customers. A self-driven hard worker, Amy knew that if she wanted to compete with their sales, she needed to educate herself on the world of wine, and she began taking WSET courses.

She also recalls one fateful night that Uli pulled a wine out of his cellar that she will never forget. When I asked Amy about the first significant wine she remembers, she didn’t pause for a second before telling me exactly what it was, a 1971 Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Spätlese from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr (Sundial) Vineyard. “It stopped me dead in my tracks,” she says about the Riesling. She had previously loved Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cab, but the Riesling “opened up a whole new ball game” for her. “I was drinking South Australia and Napa but there’s a whole other world out there, and thank God for that. I had no idea. I’d never tried wine like that in my life.”

As Amy continued advancing in her WSET courses, she moved to Vancouver to work in fine dining. She completed her WSET Level 3, and then decided to begin her 2 year WSET Diploma; she soon realized Criminology couldn’t compete with wine, and pursued wine studies full time. She eventually lost interest in the hospitality side of the industry, and began working in fine wine stores, like Liberty Wine Merchants, and for importer Liquid Art Fine Wines in Vancouver, who had the largest biodynamic portfolio in Canada. She willingly traded in a higher income for valuable experience, and her work with Liquid Art fuelled her passion for not only wine, but specifically biodynamic and natural wine. Her WSET Diploma took a back seat when she was promoted into their office and chose to focus her energies on sales and marketing, and learning about biodynamics. She was tracking the lunar calendar, observing key differences between biodynamic and conventional winemaking and knew she was “all in” with biodynamics before she even set foot in a vineyard.

Winery work – Beaune, France 2010

In 2009, the recession hit Canada; Amy knew that her job was at risk. Her company had been importing biodynamic wine for a special New Zealand producer in Central Otago; she had actually been the author of their story and had sent it to trade customers and private clients across Canada, and had previously met the Winemaker. She contacted them on a whim to ask for employment, and thanks to her connections, was able to secure a job at their vineyard. She made the move to New Zealand to do her first Kiwi harvest at Felton Road Winery.

Working at Felton Road was “the experience of a lifetime” for Amy. She stayed on for a full year, which she highly recommends to anyone wanting to seriously enter the industry. “Anyone can do a harvest for a couple months, but the year round experience is the most important.” It was during her year at Felton Road that she explored all sides of the winemaking business, “from vineyard to Cellar Door and winery.” That year, Amy discovered in her heart that “Winemaker” was part of her identity. She remembers thinking, “this is amazing. I need to keep doing this,” and she says about Felton Road, “I feel I started at the top. The bar was set so high after working there.” Her reasons for this are because of “the Ethos, the community, and how they look after the animals and the plants.” She was already passionate about biodynamics, but after integrating into the community of Felton Road, she was captivated.

Harvest – Castiglione Falletto, Piedmont, Italy

Following Felton Road, Amy lived in Burgundy for two years where she obtained her Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology. Upon completion, she began traveling to different countries “to work the harvests and live, eat and drink through different cultures.”

Beaune, France 2010
Hand sorting Pinot Noir Grapes – Burgundy, France
Pump-over – Beaune 2010

In 2017 she returned to New Zealand for a harvest job at Paritua Winery, in Hawke’s Bay. She enjoyed the comradery with her colleagues and the Winemaker, and decided to stay on. As it so happened, a position opened up for Assistant Winemaker, and it was awarded to her. Even though she was making wine for Paritua’s two labels, Amy’s desire was to make her own.

She was ready to start Amoise, but 2017 was a difficult vintage in Hawke’s Bay. Winemakers only get one chance each year to do what they do; Amy made the painful decision to wait another year, because she knew that if she used the grapes from 2017, the wine would need intervention, and that went against everything she envisioned for her label. She was supported with advise from a wise Hawke’s Bay Winemaker and mentor, Jenny Dobson, who “truly wants the best for everyone,” and had suggested that 2017 wasn’t the strongest year to make her label’s debut. It was an extremely tough call to choose to wait, but Amy knew it was serendipity.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Hunter Valley, Australia 2017

In 2018, Amy searched tirelessly for organic fruit, and with it being so difficult to find in Hawke’s Bay, she had begun to accept the postponement of her dream for Amoise, yet again! As fate would have it, she happened to sit next to another Amy at a wine tasting, who became a great friend. Her new friend happened to be cousins with an established local winemaker, and he had some organic fruit she could purchase! It was Pinot Gris, and a small amount of Gewürztraminer. Amy recognized the opportunity in front of her and seized it.

Amoise harvest with help from friends – Hawke’s Bay 2019
Amy driving the tractor during Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

She had unfortunately had an accident that year involving a knife falling into her foot, so she was casted up and in a moon boot during the harvest season; Amy did not let that stop her from producing the wine she knew she needed to make. It was going to be a natural wine; it had to be hand harvested, and she was relentless. She literally dragged her moon boot through the vineyard to harvest the grapes, got the fruit into the winery, then hobbled around the winery until she physically couldn’t walk anymore. Her friend, Amy, was there to help her, and she couldn’t have done it without her. “Right from the get go we’ve been supporting each other and that is what community’s all about.”

Literally, through what must have felt like dream-crushing delays, freak knife disasters resulting in actual blood, sweat, and tears (and a moon boot), and thankfully, a supportive wine dream team . . . the 2018 Amoise Gris was born!

Amy released it in October of 2018, and made 70 cases (of 12). She didn’t want her wine to be similar to so many of the other Pinot Gris available on the market. Hers is a Pinot Gris, and she chose to add “a sprinkling of Gewürztraminer to spice it up,” and to make an orange wine. This means that for the one month fermentation, she chose to leave the skins of the grapes in with the juice; she also allowed both varietals to ferment together. The skins add complexity, tannin and body, and the Amoise Pinot Gris is definitely not boring or typical!

Everything is also hand bottled, and labelled, by her and her partner, Greg. The label showcases some of the essence of Hawke’s Bay in that it’s a friend Harry’s painting of Te Mata Peak and Cape Kidnappers, two significant landmarks of the region, with her signature captured from her chalk labeling on the barrels to spell “Amoise.”

As for the name, “Amoise” is Amy’s Canadian nickname. Her family still calls her by it, and that’s how she was known in her “hospo days,” the times she remembers with fondness when the love of wine found her, and she embraced it; it is fitting that her own label be called after a name with such endearment.

Amy has the 2019 Amoise Pinot Gris in the works, as well as a red wine this year, 2019 Amoise Cabernet Franc. Both are “unadulterated wines,” as Amy refers to them, and follow her strict winemaking philosophy: organic grapes, only certified bio-grow fruit, with no additions, and no sulphur.

Beautiful, hand picked Amoise Pinot Gris – Hawke’s Bay 2019
Working as a team for the Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

She avoids using the phrase “natural wine” to describe her product, because she has significant experience and research invested into the topic, and says that “natural wine has no legal definition and for almost a decade the EU can’t come to a consensus on how it should be labelled legally!” Alternatively, she chooses to label her wine with the phrase, “no additions or adulteration of any kind,” and aims to spread the word of what organic, biodynamic and natural wines actually are, and their key differences.

Amy explains that organic wine is made from organic grapes (no herbicides/pesticides/insecticide sprays). Biodynamic wine is made with organic grapes, but also by observing the lunar calendar and applying Biodynamic techniques. Natural wine is also made from organic grapes, but it uses little to no intervention, and no additions (only natural yeast, no enzymes, no sugars, no acids, no fining agents, little to no sulphur, etc.) Amy however, doesn’t even add sulphur, which is why she prefers the term “unadulterated.” Her wine is literally as pure, genuine, and naked as a wine can get.

Horse ploughing – France

Her company mandate, and number one goal, is “responsible natural winemaking.” Her mandate came from her experiences making wine in France, where she adopted the belief to never release a wine that is faulty, or that she wouldn’t drink herself. “It’s not about putting grapes in a vat and praying for good results.” She watches her wine so closely. “My intention is always to make it without intervening. Altering the temperature is the only intervention I’ll do, if needed.” She also believes that taking care of the vineyard is of utmost importance. She explains how the quality of yeast and fruit in the winery is determined in the vineyard. She embraces the French model that marries winemaking and viticulture, in which “people do everything . . . making the wine is only a snapshot of what you do.” She loves being in the vines. It really all starts there for her.

Amy and Gus – Black Estate, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Steep slopes of Cornas, Northern Rhone, France

After listening to Amy describe the attention to detail, and the purity of her wine, it’s clear to see that it’s her baby. I was quite happy to enjoy the bottle she shared with us, knowing I wasn’t putting anything in my body that didn’t come straight from nature. Amy genuinely works with the earth and nurtures the fruit as it transforms into a wine that is a pure expression of the terroir, vintage and place. There’s a snapshot of history behind every Amoise label, and her wine takes those who enjoy it back to that vineyard, that season and those moments in time, as a wine has the incredible power to do.

As with many new businesses, Amy has had an uphill battle getting Amoise off the ground. Aside from the 2017 missed start, the unpredictability of where from or if her fruit would come in 2018, plus the moon boot harvest, she has had the huge challenge of trying to educate New Zealand wine consumers on what a natural wine actually is. Educating Kiwi consumers has become a large part of not only her company mandate, but her personal one, as she is so passionate about the biodynamic process, and making wine the natural way. She aims to raise awareness in the market that there is an alternative style of wine that’s available for those that want it. Amy does many Pop-up events with food and a selection of her own and other natural wines, that set out to educate the community and spread knowledge within the industry.

Stirring water as part of Biodynamic Preparations

Aside from the educational challenge, 2018 was another delicate year, and although Amy knew she wanted Pinot Gris and the spicy Gewürzt she loves, she didn’t have control over the timing of the harvest. The grapes came in that year with some botrytis, which was a factor of nature that was beyond her control. She made the decision to honour her beliefs, and made a natural wine, with no sulphur or additions, despite the challenges with the fruit. Working full time at Paritua has also limited the time that Amy has had to spend on Amoise. Her and her partner do “Power Hour” at 6:00am where they both work on their own businesses. She sacrifices sleep before her day job so that she can dedicate time to her label.

One of Amy’s biggest lessons is that the wine industry is hard. “Nothing’s ever easy. You have to work with nature. You have to be adaptable. You have to accept Mother Nature.” They say that if your job aligns with your passion, you never work a day in your life. The more Winemakers I meet, who are truly passionate about what they do, the more I see that this is sincerely true. It is arduous work, and can appear unrewarding, but those that possess passion know they’re where they belong. Amy is one of those people. When I asked her if it was worth it, she responded with a big, “yes. There’s something about it that keeps me coming back. This is my art. This is absolutely my passion.”

Horse ploughing
Poplar Grove Winery crew at harvest – Penticton, Okanagan Valley, Canada

If there’s something Amy would like to see more of in Hawke’s Bay, besides a greater understanding of natural wine, it would be the strengthening of the wine community, and a deeper desire to learn from each other. “There’s never a point where you can go, ‘I’m fully satisfied with that.’ There’s always new info, new things to be shared.” She gives the example of Syrah ripening in Hawke’s Bay. “We’re all struggling with it. Let’s share information. Let’s learn from each other, and share the knowledge that we have.” That is why she was pleased to see the start of the HBVine group last year, that aims to share and exchange data and vineyard techniques.

To try Amoise wine, get in touch with Amy via her Instagram account @amoisewines, or visit her at one of her Pop-up events. She’ll be participating in the Hawke’s Bay FAWC (Food and Wine Classic) with free events featuring natural wine and food by Chimera restaurant on 8 and 9 November. Follow her on Instagram to stay in the know.

I encourage you to visit her events; bring your friends to experience some of the special, unique and delicious, unadulterated Amoise wines for yourself. Arrive with an open mind, an appetite, and a willingness to learn something new, and you might just be swayed towards some exciting and alternative styles of wine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and by the way…

…they make some pretty exceptional wine!

#nzv19

New Zealand Vintage 2019… is done.

The end of vintage brings mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s sad to say goodbye to the time of year when everything the industry people have been working towards for the rest of the year is finally realized. It’s also time for all the vintage staff to be on their way back to their home countries, or on to the Northern Hemisphere for the next vintage. Saying goodbye to a team of people who have spent more time with each other than anyone else for the last 6 to 8 weeks can be difficult, especially if it was a great team that got along well and bonded over late nights and long days.

On the other hand, for all the Cellar Hands out there, vintage is exhausting, stressful, and can be all consuming, so it’s a relief to get back to a normal schedule, start sleeping again, and get the occasional day off. The “wine widows” are happy to have their partners back too.

As promised, I’ll outline briefly what our experiences of our first vintage were, and better explain some of the photos you saw on our social media profiles in the last 2 months.


Vintage for my winery started on the 26th of February. I’ll remind you here that I work in the Cellar Door, not the winery, (which my boss had to remind me of a couple times – sorry Mitch) so any time I got to spend in the winery was really special to me. I didn’t personally have the long days, no time off, and night shifts that all the Cellar Hands did (and wow, do I admire them for their work). I certainly did clock some hours out there when the Cellar Door was slow, on my days off, and after work, to hang out with the crew and get my hands on everything I was allowed to touch.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual First Crush Ceremony, which was an unexpected honour for me. The grapes were loaded into the hopper, and before it was turned on, we had a speech with some high-ups in the company, and some of our Blanc de Noir (Champagne-style wine). Traditionally, everyone has a sip or two, and then throws the remainder of their wine into the hopper over the grapes. It’s a way of “blessing,” if you will, the next harvest with some wine from previous harvests. Ceremonies like this are practiced all over the world, and have been for years. Traditionally, the ceremony shows thanksgiving for the vineyards, the grapes, the workers, and begins the new vintage with a united team, hopeful for the vintage ahead.

My face when one of the Cellar Hands told me not to throw the entire wine glass in! 😂 Obviously.

I stuck around to watch the first crush, and tried some of the juice straight out of the press. It was a great day! I had no idea then just how many things I was actually going to experience this vintage.

The team began by bringing in Chardonnay for our bubbles, as well as some aromatic whites, like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, and then moved onto Chardonnay. Whites lasted for weeks, and I made sure to try each type of grape as they came in, and each grape juice as it was pressed out of the tanks.

During this time, I learned how the hopper, auger, crusher and presses work in a lot more detail, how to rack a tank, how the barrels are filled, and got to try my hand at some Battonage (yeast lees stirring). I also got to learn about the process of several loads of grapes arriving in both trucks and in bins, and how the winery coordinates with the vineyards, pickers and truck drivers to manage it all.

Hand harvested Sauvignon Blanc being loaded up into the press

Meanwhile, Greg was doing his own vintage at his workplace. After seeing our first crush ceremony, Greg suggested his team do one as well; they took his suggestion and involved everyone there, including the Cellar Door team, to launch the vintage with Champagne. Greg’s First Crush Ceremony was on the 14th of March, when they brought in some Merlot for Rose. For his very first crush, he mostly cleaned equipment and learned how to do a thorough job of that. He helped run pumps, move hoses, de-stem and get the juice off of the skins.

Two weeks later, Greg’s winery brought in some whites. Greg had lots of different roles; sometimes he drove the tractor from the vineyard into the winery with loads of grapes, other times he helped operate the press. As his place is an Estate winery, everything is grown on site. With their small team, they often enlisted the help of picking gangs to come harvest the grapes on the days they were ready. Greg began doing more involved jobs, like loading the press, and continuing with that all important cleaning and sanitizing. He enjoyed harvesting the Chardonnay the most, but loved the taste of the Gewertztraminer grapes the best.

I got to experience my first harvest, and Greg’s second, when Greg and I helped our friends at Saorsa wines with their Viognier. I was so slow at first, but eventually got the hang of it!

As exciting as the whites were, I was thrilled when the reds began coming in. Merlot for Rose was the first red that came into our winery on the 24th of March, and the reds continued until the end of April.

Greg’s Winery brought in their first official red, Pinotage, on the 25th of March. He enjoyed harvesting the reds more than the whites, because although the reds require a lot more work in the winery over the next several months, the harvest day process is simpler. With the reds, Greg learned to do everything from pour overs, punch downs and rummages (to continually mix the juice and skins all together while they’re fermenting) to taking and recording data of temperature and Brix (sugar) levels in the active ferments every day.

His small team lead to some extra long days, as they had to finish processing the grapes that came in before they could go home. That same small team had some benefits for me though, as I was welcomed to come participate in some of the cellar work. I loved doing punch-downs, and helping with anything they’d set me up working on.

Couples who make wine together… 🍷

Meanwhile, at my own workplace, I was still taking every chance to be out in the winery. I witnessed a few dig outs (emptying skins from the tanks after fermentation is done) and got to try everything from taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins at the top of the tanks, to testing Brix (sugar) levels in wine, rummages (blowing compressed air into the tanks to mix up the skins through the juice and regulate the temperature of the ferment), and even running the hopper (with much needed and excessive supervision)!

Rummaging the Cuves
Testing the Brix
Taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins
Learning to run the hopper with a load of red grapes

Greg and I helped our friends at Element Wines harvest their Merlot, and got another little harvest under our belts.

Greg did his first dig out on his birthday!

A big highlight for me was when Alex of Saorsa allowed me to help him foot stomp his Syrah! This had been a dream of mine for years, and it was so amazing to actually get to do it.

Greg has also had the incredible and special opportunity to make his own wines. He’s got the mentorship of his Assistant Winemaker every step of the way, to help him create the style of wine he wants, and the benefit of the winery’s fruit and equipment. He is making a “field blend,” which is a mix of any and all grape types that come from the same block; his has 8 varietals in it, and will be a red wine. He’s also making a Chardonnay, and a Rose. He is learning to be a Winemaker on his own wines, which is an amazing way to learn. We’re so excited to try the finished products.

Greg’s Chardonnay
Greg tasting his field blend in the early stages
Greg’s field blend during the first week of fermenting

All of the grapes have been brought in now, but there is still much to do to tend to the wines, as they will be in the winery for months to years before they’re ready to be bottled. Greg continues to work on those tasks, and is doing some big jobs independently now. He continues to learn new things every day, and will soon be getting into pruning the vines with his Assistant Winemaker.

I’m spending more time back in the Cellar Door, and less in the winery now, but I’m reminded that it’s where I wanted to be, and still want to be – talking to people about wine, touring them around, and educating them about this passion of mine. There’s so much Greg and I have learned, and even more we want to learn. At the end of this first vintage we’ve gotten to be part of, the whole process of growing grapes and making wine is even more alive and exciting for us than ever before.

A Day in the Life; What Working in the Wine Industry Actually Looks Like for Greg

You all know we’re “working in the wine industry,” but we’ve been getting lots of questions about what we actually DO all day, our hours, colleagues, wineries, etc., so if you’re interested in the specifics, read on, and I’ll walk you through what Greg might do during a typical day or week. (I’ll post a separate blog for my typical week as they’re quite different!)

Greg works at Linden Estate Winery as a Vineyard Hand and Cellar Hand. For right now, he’s working Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 4:30. (This will change during harvest time.) The guys take coffee breaks, which they call “smoko,” in the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon. Linden provides basic coffee and tea for them, but Greg brings his own lunch.

He works with a small team at Linden, which he loves, because he gets to actually do a little bit of everything. Trevor is the Head Winemaker, and Alex is the Assistant Winemaker. Greg works closely with Alex most of the time, but spends a great deal of time with Trevor as well. There’s another man who drives the tractor and does most of the spraying and trimming of the vines.

Linden has a small Cellar Door, with only one full time Cellar Door host, and another office manager that helps as well. Greg doesn’t see them too often as he’s not in the Cellar Door.

As Greg works with the vines, his daily tasks are constantly changing with the stage of growth of the vines and grapes; the weather has an impact too. His vineyard has recently added some new blocks of vines, so their young vines need appropriate trimming to keep them growing upwards instead of outwards; they are too young for spray, so they need to be weeded manually. The guys go by hand and break off all the extra shoots that are not the main shoot of the vine.

The grass needs mowing in between the rows every so often in all of the blocks. This is part of Greg’s job.

As the more mature vines are growing, they grow like a bush and the branches spread out, but they need to grow straight up. There are wires in the vineyard that keep all of the rows contained. The branches that grow out need to be pushed back into the wires. Greg helps when the vines get taller and the wires need to be pulled up; this process is called “tucking,” and “lifting wires.”

(Pictured above is a comparison of vines that need to be tucked, versus cleanly tucked vines. The wires I mention are shown more clearly in the second photo.)

A few times per season the vines also require what’s called “bud rubbing.” Vines grow out of everywhere, even on the stumpy looking part of the vine at the bottom. If they were left there, they would grow up and cover the fruit from the sun, which wouldn’t allow the grapes to ripen properly. Vintners also just don’t want too many shoots growing because the more fruit a vine produces, the lesser the quality of the fruit. Wine will have more concentrated flavours and complexity if the vines only produce a small amount of fruit that they can invest all of their energy into. In order to prevent these extra shoots from growing, Greg will go from vine to vine and snap off any little shoots that are appearing, and rub off any buds that are beginning to show.

When he helps in the winery, he is working with the wine that was harvested within the last few years and is currently aging. As wine is aging in oak barrels, a small portion of it is constantly evaporating. (We call this the “angel’s share.”) At least once per month, if not more, the barrels need to be topped up with more wine until they’re literally overflowing, to ensure no oxygen is in the barrel. Oak allows a small amount in, but this is controlled and good to help the wine soften and be more palatable. Too much oxygen will ruin the wine and make it taste unpleasant. Greg helps refill the barrels with wine from a different tank. He has to pay close attention to which wines go in each barrel to keep them consistent with the grapes and years that the Winemaker wants.

Greg also cleans and sterilizes hoses, pumps and tanks before filling or using them. Once the Winemaker decides on the percentage of the blends for certain wines, Greg helps him transfer those wines together. He uses a barrel washer machine to clean out barrels once they’re empty. He mixes up a special compound that is applied inside the barrels to keep them sanitary while they’re in storage.

Greg also does a process called “batonnage.” When wines are aging in the barrel, the dormant yeast and other solids sink to the bottom. Sometimes, with certain wines, these are removed throughout the aging process. Other times, they are left during the aging process, and stirred occasionally through the wine, because they add complexity of flavour and contribute to a creamy mouthfeel. Batonnage is when Greg does the stirring.

Linden has additional clients that bring their grapes into the winery for Trevor, the Winemaker, to make into wine for them. Greg helps Trevor with whatever he needs for this as well.

Once the harvest begins, in late February, Greg will be working many more hours than he is now, and will be required to help with anything necessary. Getting grapes off the vine and into the winery has to happen in a very small window of time. The grapes need to be processed in the winery as soon as they’re off the vine, whether it is day or night. Harvest goes throughout March and into April. That will be a very busy, and important time of year for anyone in the industry.

We’ve also been asked if we get discounts on wine. You bet! It’s awesome. As we get such great prices, and the wines are good, lots of the wine we buy is from Linden (and lots from Church Road too). Greg comes home with the occasional, “here, drink this with your wife and tell us what you think,” wine, which is homework we’re definitely not complaining about. (I’ve been known to bring home a few left over bottles here and there as well.)

There are, of course, many other day to day tasks Greg does that can’t all be mentioned here, but hopefully you have a greater understanding of what his roles are, and can see why he appreciates the small team he works with and the wide variety of experience he’s gaining! He is really happy at Linden so far, and I’ll keep you updated on the craziness of our life, and his new tasks once harvest, or “vintage,” starts.

New Zeal in New Zealand; The Start of our Life in Hawke’s Bay

November 2018 will forever live in our memories as one of the most unique months of our lives; we will also remember being completely overwhelmed by God’s goodness and hand on our lives! I can’t believe we’ve only been in NZ for three weeks today. We have been absolutely amazed in the many, many ways we have seen God bless us and take care of us. It has been surreal to experience so many “impossible” blessings in such a short time frame. So much has happened, but I’ll just give an overview of the big topics for now, like jobs, cars, home, church and friends.

We arrived on Tuesday, the 13th of November (that’s how they date things here), picked up our rental car, and headed to our Airbnb. It was a really cute place, and we had the space to ourselves while the host couple was at work all day. I immediately got on the computer and started applying for jobs for both of us. Within an hour, Greg got a call from Linden Estate Winery to come for an interview the next morning!

Tuesday afternoon, we test drove two cars, and got groceries. I got in touch with a couple that a friend at home had put me in contact with via email, and they invited us for dinner the very next night! We spent Tuesday evening with our Airbnb hosts, sharing a bottle of wine and getting to know them.

On Wednesday morning, Greg went for his interview, and was hired on the spot! His job consists of helping around the vineyard and in the winery throughout the vintage season and the rest of the year. It is a small, family owned, estate winery, and he is part of a small group of core staff. He gets to do a little bit of everything and be really involved in several aspects of the wine making process; his job also requires him to use many different skills from the various trades he’s been working in over the last decade. That was exactly what he was looking for in a job, and he was hired within only 25 hours of us arriving in the Bay. Praise the Lord!

Everyone we’ve told has been shocked at how quickly he got a job, with no past winery experience. This kind of thing “just doesn’t happen,” and we feel it could only have been arranged by God. Linden also has a big shop that Greg has access to, as well as tools; they’re even getting him to brew a beer for harvest time, so he gets to do that too!

Wednesday afternoon, our second day here, we purchased the first car we had looked at the day before, for only $500, as it wasn’t running very well. Greg got to work on finding the problem. He decided we needed to search for another car for me, as this one, “the Polo,” was going to perhaps be a little unreliable.

I had heard of a FB group while we were in Sydney, from an American who had recently moved there, for the purpose of Americans connecting in Sydney. I wondered if there was one like that for Canadians in NZ, and sure enough, there is. I received permission to join it, and put a request out for someone to suggest areas that are good to live in, and areas to avoid. We had been told once we arrived how difficult it is to find rentals here, and we wanted to start looking right away. On their main rental site, there were only seven in our price range, and many were in undesirable neighbourhoods, or far from Greg’s winery. It’s typical here for a place to have upwards of sixty applicants too; we had no idea it would be so hard to find a place!

A Canadian girl got back to me right away on FB, suggesting we try to live in her area. She had been there for years, and loved it. She said it was beautiful and safe. Seeing as she was young and married, I messaged her to invite her for a drink. She said she would love to meet up, but her and her husband were moving away in less than three weeks. I said, “well we should just live in your place then!” She said she would recommend us to her landlord, and she did!

Wednesday evening, we went to meet R & A, the new couple whom we’d been in contact with. They were so friendly and had us in for dinner with their daughters. We spent the evening getting to know them and really enjoyed their company. They suggested I print my CV’s at their house (something I had worried about in Canada – “where will I print my CV’s?”) and they said we could borrow their car if we ever needed, and invited us to join them at their lakehouse in the summer. They read us a story about Kiwi Christmas and taught us about Hawke’s Bay. We feel blessed to have met them so quickly after arriving.

Thursday consisted of Greg working on the Polo, and me applying for some more jobs. I had also been in touch with a winemaker via Instagram while we were still in Canada, and he had been so helpful in tips for living here, answering my questions, and trying to help me find a job. He invited us to come try their wine and sit down with him and his partner, so we went to their house on Thursday, for what was supposed to be a glass of wine, and turned into five hours of visiting with him, his partner and their daughter over charcuterie until it was dark out! We feel blessed to have met them too!

The Canadian’s landlord had only just posted the listing for her “flat” the day that I was speaking to her, and she had already had over a hundred people contact her about it, over sixty applications, and a day “chocka full” of viewings set up for Sunday. Once her current tenant recommended us fellow Canadians to her, and we got in touch, the landlord said that she loves Canadians, has family in SK, and is destined to rent to Canadians. Amazingly, she offered to hold the place for us. We set up a time to see it Saturday.

On Friday, our rental car was due back, and the Polo still wasn’t running, so we found what appeared to be a great car, for a little more money than we’d hoped to spend, at a dealership. We test drove it that morning, and decided to purchase it. We got it insured and left it near the rental agency to pick up when we returned the rental later on.

Greg’s new boss’s partner showed us two places she had for us to potentially live. She has an empty house where her art studio is, that she would allow us to live in once our time at the Airbnb was up, as a transitional spot (where we are currently). She also has another property becoming available, that she wasn’t intending to rent out again, but that she said we could have if we wanted. Both of these are in a very desirable area of Hawke’s Bay. Here we were, on our first week in town, where it’s nearly impossible to find a rental, with two amazing choices in the most desirable neighbourhoods, both being held specifically for us. Amazing.

Greg took me to Linden so I could see where he’ll work, and I got a bit of a tour, and even got to meet most of his co-workers. It was a Friday at quitting time when we happened to be there, so we got to sit with them for a bit and have a visit.

After seeing Linden, we went and picked up the new car, the Mitsubishi, and took the rental back. We spent the evening with our Airbnb hosts again, after Greg worked until dark on the Polo.

Saturday, we drove to see the Canadian’s rental unit, and the car began breaking down on the way! We got there though, and decided to live there. It has the airport and a highway nearby, but there are no windows on that side of the house, so we can’t see it, and hardly hear it from inside. It’s in a great area, and everything is included – even towels and linens! It has wifi and tv, a dishwasher, and all the dishes. It used to run as a bed and breakfast, so we can literally move in with our bags.

This is another thing that has been shocking to many Kiwi’s here, as apparently that’s not how they usually do it. It’s quite uncommon to find a furnished place at all, let alone with dishes and linens. Here is another “impossibility” made possible. Oh, and we can walk to the ocean in five minutes! We can move in on the 9th of December, and I can’t wait for those after work walks to the ocean!

The Mitsubishi broke down completely after we left there, so we had to call the dealer back. Thankfully, he said to drop it at his shop and he would have it looked at the next week. We got yet another rental car, and then took me to apply for more jobs. Greg finally got the Polo running that evening! We were so thrilled about that!

Sunday morning was our first time to attend C3 Hawke’s Bay, so we were excited to go check out what we hoped would be our new church. We were greeted by some very friendly people, and found a small group to join that meets “fortnightly” on Wednesday’s. We made plans to go to the next one. The service was unique in the way that they had three of their core members tell their stories, so we got to know some of the people at the church really well just by attending on that particular day. The church also happened to be having a quarterly lunch afterwards that we were able to stay for, and use to spend more time meeting and connecting with people. It was a great week to be there.

Greg started his new job on Monday, six days after we arrived, and he got to do so many amazing things and learn so much. He came home with homework – a couple of bottles of wine we were supposed to drink so we could start getting familiar with it.

I also got a call for an interview at the job I really wanted! My new winemaker friend had recommended the company to me, and I had also seen it posted online the first day we were here, and I said out loud, “that’s my perfect job.” It was exactly what I said I wanted to do here, but didn’t think I’d be able to find or get. I was so excited, and also very nervous! I spent Tuesday preparing for it and learning as much as I could. Wednesday morning I went in for my interview, and it seemed to go well, however I found out they were interviewing more than four people for only two positions!

We had to return the rental car on Wednesday, and the Mitsubishi was supposedly fixed, so we picked it up… and made it half a block away before it broke down again. We took it right back and Greg spent twenty minutes arguing with the dealer on the phone who no longer wanted to refund us, and said he had to think about it overnight! I was so stressed. Thankfully, we had plans with R & A and their girls again that evening, so I was distracted! They also bought our drinks, invited us for Christmas, and lent us their car! I can’t believe the kindness they have shown us already. It brings tears to my eyes.

Wednesday and Thursday that week were big days of me practicing patience with the car and the job, and trusting that God would help us with the car dealer, and that if it were the job for me, God would set it up; if it wasn’t, He would bring something else my way at the right time.

Thursday, after taking a verbal beating on the phone by the dealer, Greg got our money back! We were so relieved, and back on the hunt for another car. Thursday evening, I heard from the job that they wouldn’t be deciding until the following week now, due to contacting references! It was hard to hear that I’d have to wait so long, but I just kept thinking that God would put me where I was supposed to be.

Friday, I got a call in the afternoon that they were offering me the job! I was so thrilled and excited! Again, I felt a miracle had happened. I have no winery experience, and they interviewed three or four others, and still chose me to do tours and tastings at the most visited, and one of the oldest, biggest name wineries in the Bay. I was, and am, so grateful to God for both of our jobs!

Saturday was spent moving out of our Airbnb in Hastings, into the transitional place belonging to Greg’s boss’s partner. It’s in Ahuriri, in Napier, very close to where we’ll live. On the way, we happened to notice a car on the side of the road for sale that hadn’t been there before. We joked that we should maybe buy that one, and then kept going.

Once we moved our stuff over to the new place, we went looking for a car again! Greg had found a bunch online and had lined up four test drives, but none of them seemed to be great. We had just started saying that maybe we needed to increase our budget when we pulled onto that main road near our Airbnb and saw that car on the side of the road again. We pulled over and Greg called the owner, who came and let us test drive it. She had just parked it there at lunchtime, literally moments before we had driven by. It felt right and seemed in good condition. The lady dropped her price when we got back, because she is a single Mom and didn’t want to deal with having to continue to show it to people. We got it for a steal!

On Saturday night, we met the woman that lives in the house behind the one we’re in, and shares our yard. She is from Italy! We connected right away and she sat and visited with us for a while, and invited us to her dinner party the following night.

On Sunday morning, we went to church again and met some more new people, and reconnected with some from the previous week. We spent the afternoon with R and A again after returning their car. They showed us how to turn my new ride into a camper van so we can sight see the NZ way on our days off!

That evening, we had dinner with L, our Italian neighbour! She cooked us Italian food and introduced us to some of her friends. It was a great day full of socializing, and we felt so blessed to have already met so many great people. I thought it was so interesting that we ended up making an Italian friend, who has already cooked Italian food for us, and that we can speak the small amount of Italian we learned with! The things we were looking forward to in Italy, we got to do here already!

I started my job on Wednesday the next week, and did four days in a row. It was a lot of information to take in, but I am absolutely loving it, and having so much fun. The staff are all so friendly, and as the third winery to be established in NZ, it has amazing history. The winemaker is friendly, great at his job, and makes quality wine that I’m proud to represent and pour for people. We even got invited to the Christmas party and had a great night socializing with my new colleagues and their partners. In the tasting room (Cellar Door as it’s called here) I’ve already met people from all around the world and gotten to have great conversations with so many of them in my first week!

We attended our first C3 Church Connect Group last week as well, and couldn’t believe how welcoming the group was. We felt right at home and completely comfortable with them, like we had known them for years.

We’ve taken every chance we can to get outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery around us. We’re looking forward to when the rainy spring ends and we can get outside even more.

We continue to learn so much as we slowly integrate into the wine industry, and look forward to the months ahead. We have been so blessed to have everything we’ve needed come together in such a short time. It’s been only three weeks today since we arrived, and we’re both working in not only wine industry jobs, but the exact types of jobs we wanted. We have been blessed to meet so many amazing people already and have been out with new friends more nights than we’ve been in! We have vehicles now, and a place lined up, and a great church and small group. It really has been overwhelming to see God provide for our needs in ways I couldn’t have even dreamed of.

Despite everything that’s gone right, it’s not been easy, but it’s been humbling, exciting, and so encouraging for us to have experienced this new beginning. I am curiously awaiting what’s coming next in our story!

Aging Wine; The Need To Knows

“You get better with age like a fine wine…” ❤️

We’ve all heard sayings like this before that leave us to believe that all fine wine gets better with age.  This is partly true – many fine wines do get better with some age – but which wines are meant for aging and how long they should be aged, is actually quite a complex topic.  Then there are multiple factors that come into play regarding storage/cellar conditions that will either age wine well, or ruin it quickly.

A huge misconception I’ve come across in speaking with friends and family about wine is that it ALL gets better with age.  This is definitely not true!  There is a saying in the wine world that only 1% of wine is actually meant to be aged in the bottle, which means that 99% of the wine on the shelves right now is meant to be consumed within a few short years from now, or today!  More on specific aging times in a moment. I’ll tell you right now, that 1% more than likely didn’t cost less than $20 either, so if you’re hanging on to those $7.99 bottles, it’s time to grab some glasses, or possibly make dinner with some type of a wine sauce!

Wine needs to have certain qualities to give it the ability to age well.  Madeline Puckette, the creator of Wine Folly, gives 4 qualities that you can look for in a wine to determine if it is age worthy:  Acidity, Tannins, Alcohol Level, and Residual Sugar.  [1]

Acidity

The higher the acid in the wine, the better it will age.  When tasting wine, acidity is the factor that makes your mouth water.  It is often described as “crispness.”  Chablis, for example, has a high amount of acidity, and can age well, even though it’s made from white grapes. (Tip your chin down with the wine in your mouth and see how much spit forms. If there’s a lot, it’s higher in acid!)

Tannins

Lots of red grapes have high tannins and can be aged for several years.  Sometimes whites have tannins, but rarely.  Tannins are chemical compounds that come from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes.  When you taste them in wine, they’re not so much a flavour as a feeling.  (That dry feeling you get along your gums, like when you drink a way over-steeped tea, is the feeling of tannins!) In the process of making red wine, the grape juice sits with these parts of the grape, allowing the tannins to enter the wine.  Some can come from oak contact as well.  Certain grapes are more tannic than others, depending on their composition, and certain wines will be more tannic if they’re left to sit with the skins, etc. for longer periods of time.  These tannins can be bitter and harsh in young wines, but they help them age well because with time, the tannins “soften,” and become more “well-rounded.”  This basically means that instead of the wine tasting sharp and pungent in your mouth, it will taste more smooth and balanced; higher tannin wines need age to taste better.

Alcohol Level and Residual Sugar

Red wines with higher alcohol content, closer to the 14% mark, will typically age better than lower alcohol reds.  Whites have lower alcohol in them, but some grapes have particular compounds and sugar levels that will allow for a decent amount of residual, that is, left-over sugar, once the fermentation process is done.  These whites, like Rieslings, for example, have a balance of sugar and acid that enables them to age well.

So now that you’ve determined you’ve got a wine you’re going to hold on to, here are some things to think about before you put it away and forget about it.

Screwcap vs. Synthetic Cork vs. Real Cork  

The method of capping wines is still a largely debated topic in the wine industry.  Real cork, vs. synthetic cork, vs. screwcap – there are a lot of opinions out there on which is best and why.  For more information on this topic, check out my article Real Cork vs. Synthetic Cork and Screwcaps. For the purposes of this article, I’ll only comment related to wine’s age-ability and storage.

Australia and New Zealand initiated the use of screw caps, and still use them on many of their wines.  Other countries have started following suit.  A screw cap does not indicate poor quality wine, it’s simply a method that some producers believe is the best way to seal their wines.  Wines with screw caps don’t need to be laying down for storage, but they can be. Screw caps haven’t been tested for super long term aging, but some can last a decade or more.

Wine professionals have recommended to me, on more than one occasion, that synthetic cork should not be left in contact with the wine for long periods of time; they say it can leave a plastic type taste in the wine, and can also leave other synthesized compounds in the wine, that they don’t want to be consuming several years down the line.  Stand those synthetic cork wines up for any length of storage.  Fair enough. These are also only guaranteed for a few years at best.

Wine with a real cork must be stored lying down.  Cork is a natural compound, and it dries out over time.  By lying the wine on its side, the wine stays touching the bottom of the cork, and the moisture helps to keep the cork damp enough that it shouldn’t dry out.  This is important, because if the cork dries out, it shrivels up and shrinks, letting too much unwanted air into the bottle.  Over the years, the overdose of oxygen will ruin the wine, leaving it “oxidized” and undesirable. Natural cork has proven the test of time and has lasted sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cellar Conditions

Have you ever been to a winery, or seen photos of their cellars?  What do you notice about them?  They’re usually cool, dark, and damp, and the wine is off to the side and out of the way so it doesn’t have to be moved.

Cellar conditions for ideal wine storage should be between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, and shouldn’t change much.  Light shining onto the bottles for some time can alter the wine inside, whether it’s natural or artificial light.  Humidity will help keep the corks damp, so they stay plump and tightly sealed to the inside of the bottle’s neck.  The more you can leave the wine alone, without bumping it and moving it, the better its chances are of aging well.

When wine is resting well, it’s aging well, similar to you!  Just think of how well you would rest if someone kept changing the temperature on you, shining light on you, and bumping you around – exactly.  This is why I can’t sleep on an airplane. If you want your wine to be pleasant, give it a good rest!

Did you know that storing wine in a kitchen is actually one of the worst places in a home environment to keep it?  The temperature fluctuates the most in kitchens/bathrooms out of any of the rooms in your home.

How Long is Too Long?

There is a window of time that most wine professionals believe wine is at its best.  The window will vary slightly for each wine, but at a certain point, it will hit its peak, and begin to decline in quality again.  There is no exact way to know when this is, so it can feel like a risk when you’ve been aging a wine for a while, and want to make sure it’s at its best before popping that old cork ever so gently!

So many great wines become collector’s items, and people spend so much money on them, that they never want to drink them.  I once heard someone on a wine documentary say something to the effect of how many of the world’s greatest wines have essentially gone to waste, sitting in someone’s cellar for way too long, because people don’t understand how wine ages.  There’s a time and place for cellaring wine, but in the end, wine is meant to be drunk.

Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favourite wine books.  She says, “contrary to popular opinion, only a small subgroup of wines benefit from extended bottle aging.  The great bulk of wine sold today, red as well as white and pink, is designed to be drunk within a year, or at most two, of bottling.”[2]

In her expert opinion, she goes on to list specific numbers of years that several particular types of wine should be aged for, of which I’ve only included a few popular choices.  Almost all whites retailing under the $20 range should only be bottle aged to a maximum of 2 years.  Heavier whites, like Chardonnay can sometimes last up to 6 years.  More expensive whites can age longer, like Chablis (up to 15 years), or some Rieslings (up to 20).[3]  This has to do with the structure of the particular grapes, and how they’re produced.

Surprisingly, the number doesn’t differ much for reds.  If they’re around that same $20 mark or under, the longest Jancis recommends you keep them is 3 years.  You can hang onto higher priced French wines in your cellar from 15 to 25 years, Italian Chianti or Spanish Rioja can present nicely up to 10 and 20 respectively as well.  Above the $20 price point, most Cabernet Sauvignons can be bottle aged for 7 – 17 years, Pinot Noirs, 4 – 10, Shiraz, 4 – 12, and Grenache, 3 – 8. [4]  Jancis has not lead me astray yet, and I trust these numbers; keep in mind there are always exceptions, and your cellar conditions need to be appropriate, especially if you’re considering aging your own wines in the bottles.

*Note that keeping value wines up to that 2-3 year mark is NOT going to enhance their flavour; think of that time frame like a best before date.

To determine how long the wine has been in the bottle, you’re going to have to do some math!  The year on the label is the year the grapes were harvested, not the year it was bottled necessarily, so if the label explains that it was aged in the winery for a certain number of years, you can add that time to the year on the label to get the bottling year.

If you’re looking to age a wine, remember to look for wines that are balanced in acidity, alcohol, residual sugar, or have some tannin to them.  You’ll want to spend a bit more on these ones, and watch out for synthetic cork. If you’ve got a lot of $20 to $30 wines sitting in your house, it may be time to have a party!  Let’s not let that wine go to waste.  Happy aging of the appropriate ones, and cheers to all the rest of them!

[1] Puckette, Madeline.  (2017, Feb.)  “How to Tell If A Wine Is Age-Worthy.”  Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/tutorial/how-to-tell-if-a-wine-is-age-worthy/

[2] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[3] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[4] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

Red Wine Really Does Taste Better on Fruit Days 🍓 How I Put the Biodynamic Wine Calendar to the Test

I’ve heard it said that red wine tastes better on fruit days. First off, I can make my wine taste better? Second, what’s a fruit day? What does that even mean? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you all about it!

The biodynamic wine movement bases it’s entire operation on the lunar calendar. For vineyard practices, certain days are believed to be ideal days to water, prune, harvest, fertilize, etc. The lunar calendar doesn’t just determine when to do each vineyard practice; it’s believed that the lunar cycle affects us and our experiences of wine too. Biodynamic enthusiasts will tell you that wine will actually taste better on certain days than it does on others. This theory applies not only to biodynamic wine, but all wine. Crazy? Maybe. Maybe not!

Before you go discounting this whole idea, keep in mind that growing vines is essentially farming. The Farmer’s Almanac has used the lunar calendar for farming practices for decades, and if the moon can affect weather and climate patterns for other crops, it can certainly affect a wine crop, and potentially us!

There are 4 types of days the calendar presents: fruit days, flower days, leaf days and root days. These days are determined by the lunar cycle, so sometimes an entire day will be one type, and sometimes the type will change part way through the day! For example, it could be a fruit day in the morning and change to a leaf day at 2:00pm if that’s how the moon cycle was at that time.

Okay, so you might ask how on earth (or should I say on the moon) are we supposed to know which day is which?

Thankfully there are lots of handy calendars online. Here’s a link to one I like: https://ca.rhythmofnature.net/biodynamic-calendar.

Alternatively, you can download a biodynamic calendar app (the only one in the App Store), but you have to pay in order to see ahead in the calendar, which with my planner personality, I don’t like.

Enough moon talk. Let’s get to the wine!

According to the wine tasting theory, red wine is supposed to taste best on fruit days, and white is pretty freaking great on flower days; awesome!

🍓 🌺

Apparently both red and white are supposed to be less enjoyable on leaf days and root days. Boo.

🍃 🥕

I’ve read articles written by people that have tested the theory and found it to be true, and others who think it’s a complete joke. I love a good experiment, and drinking wine, so naturally, I had to see for myself! My husband did the experiment with me, and we found that red wine actually did taste the best on a fruit day!

We took this experiment pretty seriously, so before you judge me as completely off my rocker, have an open mind and read on.

Here’s our experiment:

Hypothesis:

I figured we’d each agree on our enjoyment of the wine for no more than 2 of the days, and that we would not be able to peg the fruit day specifically. (I clearly had little faith in this theory!)

Materials:

  • A good friend to determine 4 blind tasting dates for us (as I couldn’t check for myself in order to keep them anonymous)
  • 4 bottles of red wine of the exact same producer, grape, and vintage (the control) 🍷 🍷 🍷 🍷
  • Wine glasses (cause drinking from the bottle’s just not classy)
  • Pen and paper (and an ability to keep secrets!) ✏️ 📝
  • Open minds (reader, you need this too!)

Procedures:

I wanted this to be as legit as possible. I had my friend, Ivy, check the biodynamic calendar and select 4 days during my upcoming holiday. She checked 2 calendars just to be sure, and gave me 4 dates that covered each kind of day, without telling me which was which. (Very secretive!)

I wanted to do the whole experiment on holiday so that I would be in roughly the same type of happy mood each day (which ended up slightly failing, as I’ll explain below).

We selected a type of wine that we don’t normally drink a tonne of, (yes, it was difficult, but we found one) and a producer that we had never tried before, so that we wouldn’t have many past experiences to compare the wine to.

We purchased 4 bottles of the same wine, so that each day we could open a fresh one. Have you ever tried week-old opened cheap red? Yikes! Don’t! This way there could be little risk of the taste having changed from oxidation over the course of the week.

We made sure to chill them each to the appropriate temperature range, and to drink the experiment wine first, before any other wine or food that evening (to ensure we were of perfect clarity of mind and palate).

We each kept notes of our level of enjoyment of the wine and gave it ratings based not on quality, but on how we felt it tasted (as that was the goal of the experiment).

We did not peek at the biodynamic calendar at any time. (No cheating!)

Lastly, we did not discuss the wine with each other at all until the whole experiment was done. No tasting notes were given, not even if we liked it or not, nor any guesses or comparisons – we said nothing, to keep it completely subjective. (As wine education lovers this took incredible self-control!)

(Image from winefolly.com)

Results:

Upon comparing our notes, we both felt the wine wasn’t that great on Day 1, which turned out to be the root day. My husband gave it the lowest score, and I gave it the second lowest score on this day. Interesting! 🥕

We were in between on our opinions on Days 2 and 3, which ended up being the flower and leaf days, however I must add that I gave it a high-ish score on Day 3, the leaf day, as I drank it in the first good sun tanning weather I’d had on the trip. I believe the perfect weather probably affected my emotional experience of it – I was really happy when I drank it! It wasn’t very complex that day, but it seemed enjoyable. This goes to show that environment and mood also affect enjoyment of wine. 🌺🍃

Finally, we both pegged the fruit day right on! 🍓

On Day 4, we had just had an afternoon nap, woke up before a dinner date, and it was raining, but we knew we had to taste the wine before we could go out! It shouldn’t have tasted good in that setting, but it was immediately, upon first sip, the best and most complex it had tasted to both of us during the entire experiment. This was mind blowing to me, because I was not expecting to actually notice that much of a difference! Once we looked up the days and realized it was the fruit day, we were both shocked that it was noticeably better for both of us on that day, without us knowing any better or speaking to each other about it.

🍓🍷✔️

This could be one factor to explain how sometimes a wine is so good, but when you open the same one the next time, it’s not as good as you remember, or vice versa.

Based on my results I’d absolutely recommend saving higher priced red wines to drink on fruit days, or at least when you’re in a fabulous mood!

Further Experimentations:

I want to try this with whites, and see if we can peg the flower day. 🌺

I also will choose dates for my friend, Ivy, and her husband to do their own version of the experiment to see what kind of results they get. 📝

If you think this is all complete BS, that’s fair. I honestly did too. Now, I’m open minded to it and will be paying closer attention! ✔️

I challenge you to try it for yourself. You might just be surprised! At the very least, you’ll have some bottles of wine with someone you like, and that’s pretty great in itself.

Happy fruit and flower days!

🍓🌺

Organic and Biodynamic Wineries in Kelowna

Organic wine is becoming more and more of a trend in the new world. It’s quite commonly found in Europe, but it’s still a rarity in Canada. Kelowna has several wineries that use some organic practices and that claim to be organic, but there are only two that are actually certified Organic, and one that has a Demeter biodynamic certification. We visited both of them, and loved our experiences at each! I’m pleased to share with you what we learned about their practices and what we thought of the wines at Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Rollingdale Winery. First, it will help to understand what makes a winery organic and biodynamic.

There are several reasons why people are growing fond of organic wines, such as their low sulphite content, and environmentally sustainable practices. Many wineries may use organically grown grapes, but as nice as this theory is, if the winery isn’t organic in the rest of its production, it’s not putting out an organic product. In order to be certified organic, there’s actually quite a process that a winery has to successfully complete. Each country has its own specific regulations for certification, but they all focus on producing the purest wine possible. Grapes need to be grown organically, with no chemical sprays used. The organic vintner doesn’t add commercial yeast, but rather, lets the natural yeast in the air and on the grapes do the work. Sulphur naturally occurs on grapes in small amounts, and it is often used to sanitize bottles, but an organic winery is not permitted to add sulphur to their wines to stop the fermentation process, and they have specified maximum sulphur amounts on reds and whites. This means that sulphites (the buggers blamed for those nasty headaches and hangovers) are going to be minimal compared to commercial wines. Many organic wineries often don’t do fining or filtering, which means they’re not putting animal protein by-products (like fish bladders or egg or milk proteins) into the wine to clear out the sediment; you’ll notice some chunks at the bottom of your bottle of organic wine. This is the leftover tartaric and other acids, dead yeast and bacteria. It sounds kind of gross, but this is part of the wine making process, and they’re in all wines during fermentation. Most commercial wines take them out using chemicals or all those animal parts I mentioned (the sediment coagulates onto them), so I’m fine with seeing the sediment in my glass to know it’s a cleaner product.

The biodynamic movement is gaining more traction as people are studying it and starting to notice positive effects in the vineyards and the wine. The movement basically involves using the lunar calendar to determine the best days for vineyard practices, as well as some other beliefs that certain plants and natural practices increase the overall health of the vineyard, and therefore the final product that it produces. Biodynamic wineries are always organic wineries first; biodynamics is a way of being even more environmentally friendly, and additionally, these types of wineries are usually paying attention to sustainable practices to reduce their footprint on the earth as much as possible.


Now, to the wineries!

Summerhill Pyramid Winery is located just outside of Kelowna on a hillside overlooking the mountains and Okanagan Lake. Summerhill is certified organic and biodynamic. All of their wines are organic, and two are biodynamic. They are a large winery with lots of room for tasting, special events, and enjoying the beautiful view from inside and out. They have a large patio area that is part of their restaurant. We started with a tasting of several wines before we made our way to the patio to relax with a glass.

We started with their sparkling wine, which is made from Chardonnay and tastes as similar to Champagne as we had in the Okanagan valley, anywhere. It is made in the traditional method, with a traditional Champagne grape varietal, and we were quite impressed with it. It has notes of crisp green apples and citrus, and a slight yeasty bready nose and flavour.

Their Viognier was also notable as it was quite floral and aromatic, and was a great expression of what the grape should taste like, as was their Alive Rose.

This is a benefit to organic wine, with little intervention; it can taste like what the grape actually offers, rather than what the winemaker did to it to alter the taste to what he or she believes consumers may want. We tried several more wines, and weren’t in love with all of them, but overall, we were pleasantly surprised. Our sommelier was an Italian man who recently spent some time in South America, and he had lots of experience and knowledge to offer about wine.

On the patio, we enjoyed Syrah and Merlot, two more that we felt were great representations of the grapes and well done. Our service here was also excellent!


Rollingdale Winery is special to us because we’ve gotten to know their wine maker over the course of our visits in which we’ve connected on lots of common ground. We therefore know even more about Rollingdale’s practices than we do about Summerhill’s. Rollingdale is certified organic, and is currently in process of becoming biodynamic. All of their wines are organic.

Rollingdale is set up in a very casual, minimalistic style. It’s rustic-industrial-chic, if you will! They’re using a shop as their winery and tasting room, and they don’t have a restaurant or a fancy patio, but visitors get the sense of being on a family farm, and that’s how they treat you there – like family. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. They have a little cheese and cracker set up when you come in, and juice boxes for kids, and when they go through the wines, you can tell they’re passionate about what they do, not just punching a clock.

Our sommelier took us through several wines with an explanation of each, what they were made of and how, and a bit of the stories behind the names. He was knowledgable about the wines and the winery.

After our tasting, we ran into the winemaker who took us on a long walk through the vineyard and showed us where they were at in the season. He also explained how they’re in the process of getting their Demeter biodynamic certification. We went and took a look at the biodynamic block to compare the crop with the others, and it was immediately clear how much bigger, more ripe and abundant the fruit was. After going through the process, he really believes in the practices, now that he’s seen them for himself.

He has to keep a daily log of everything he does to those grapes and vines to get the certification. There are only certain days on which he can water and harvest, and he has to track exactly how much water the vines get. There are other days they’re permitted to prune and trim the vines. There are certain plants that need to be growing on the property to increase the health of the whole vineyard’s ecosystem. They have been taking measures to draw certain birds to the area to control pests naturally. They spray the crop with steeped teas of particular herbs and plants. There’s so much going into it, but it’s going to be worth it based on how those grapes looked yesterday! I’ll be excited to try their 2018 biodynamic Chardonnay!

(Pictured above: smelling hops, and taking a look at some of their fruit plants)

If you’re in the Kelowna area, and looking for a fabulous tasting experience, try either Summerhill or Rollingdale, or both! I highly recommend them, as you’ll be supporting more environmentally friendly wineries, and getting a more pure product in addition. If you have never tried organic or biodynamic wines, I encourage you to do so. See what you think of them, and how they make you feel.

Happy organic wine-ing!

How We Rode a Willy’s Jeep through the Vineyards of Chablis

We recently took a trip to the wine regions of Chablis, Bourgogne, the Cote Rotie, and Hermitage.  We celebrated our 10th anniversary in Paris, and as my husband and I just recently took our WSET Level 2, he planned this nice, five-day wine tasting add-on as a surprise that I must say was very, very pleasantly received.  Today, I’ll discuss one special tasting in Chablis.

First things first – the cutest little red and white Citroen!

Trains are a great way to travel around Europe; they get you easily out of and into the hearts of the cities.  If you’re going wine tasting though, you need to have some method of getting into the wineries, which are often in small towns, or out of town.  You have a few options of hiring drivers or signing up for wine tour vans and mini-buses, but we like to be independent, so we usually prefer a car of our own.  We knew from research that the French don’t appreciate it if you swallow their wine at a tasting. “You taste wine with your mouth, not your stomach,” is a common French philosophy, and we get it.  They’re pouring you some really nice wines, and if you’ve consumed the first five at their place, and who knows how many others at the place before, they know your palate isn’t exactly what it was when you woke up that morning, nor is your mental clarity.  As we were clearly planning to befriend the spittoon at every facility, driving was not going to be an issue.

We flew from our small city in the prairies to Toronto in the afternoon, then took the red eye from Toronto to Paris, arriving around 8am.  We had to drive through Chablis on our way to Dijon, the town we had our Airbnb booked in.  I’ve travelled enough now that I know myself pretty well; I said to my husband prior to the trip that no matter how tired I’d be from flying, as soon as we got there, and were driving through Chablis (me saying, “oh my gosh, we’re in Chablis right now!” over and over), I was going to want to stop at a winery, or a chateau as they call them, and stat!  I knew I wouldn’t want to wait a day, so we made a couple of bookings for Chablis before we flew out (more on bookings later).

We rented the Citroen, and once we figured out how to change the GPS from German into English, we were on our way to Chablis!  After filling up on baguettes and prosciutto from a grocery store off the highway, we arrived at Clotilde Davenne where we were in for a real treat.  They recently began offering a Willy’s Jeep tour through the vineyards of Chablis, and we were their first customers to book the experience.  We climbed up into the old Jeep, with Arnaud, the winemaker and owner’s son driving, my husband riding shot-gun, and myself in the back, hanging onto whatever I could find as to not fall over the side, and boy was it a ride!  If you’ve ever seen pictures of Chablis, it’s not flat; I had some moments of sheer terror where I was bounced off the seat, or I imagined going over the edge or us rolling, but I was so thrilled to be riding in Chablis that I got over it pretty quickly.

First of all, this jeep was used in WWII to transport soldiers, and if that wasn’t amazing enough, we were driving between rows and rows of perfect Chablis vines, setting our eyes on the very slopes of the Premier and Grand Cru grapes of arguably the most reputable Chardonnay in the world, with a second generation French winemaker as our guide.  “Here are some Premeir Cru plots, and over here are the Grand Cru plots…”  If you wonder why Grand Cru is so expensive, it’s because out of the 6000 hectares of vineyards in Chablis, only 100 hectares are Grand Cru plots, meaning that only the grapes that come from those specific 100 hectares can be labelled as Grand Cru.  The land is Grand Cru because of several reasons, some of which include the direction it faces which affects sun exposure, the slope of the hill affecting sunshine and water uptake, the soil make-up, the depth of the roots, the age of the vines, and the history that those particular vines have in producing the best quality Chablis.  Arnaud took us to a viewpoint at which we could overlook the vineyards, and see a map of Chablis on a stone plaque that labelled all of the individual plots and their level of quality in an easy to read, color coded system.

Once we finished our tour of the land, Arnaud took us back to the chateau for a tour of the grounds, a history lesson on his family and how they started in the industry, and a tasting.  He spoke fairly good English, which was great for us, as we speak little to no French.  We began with about six wines on the table, and once he saw that we were spitting them out, asking detailed questions and taking the tasting seriously, we ended up with another four.   We tried all four levels of Chablis: Petit Chablis, Chablis Villages, Premier Cru Chablis, and Grand Cru Chablis.  These are all quality, Chablis Chardonnays, but they’ve been aged differently, and for different lengths of time, and they come from the specific plots of land that coordinate with their specific level of quality.

If you’ve ever had a bad Chardonnay, or heard the saying, “ABC – Anything But Chardonnay,” you’ve probably had experience with super oaky ones, or butter bombs, but Chablis is nothing like that.  It’s crisp and refreshing at all levels, and the higher levelled ones are extremely complex, with multiple smells, and tastes that linger in your mouth and change over the course of the next 15 or so seconds after you’ve swallowed (or spat).  You’ll get lemon, crisp green apple, citrus and floral blossoms on the nose, and there is a distinct minerality to it, kind of like a wet stone, limestone taste to Chablis that comes from the limestone soil the vines call home.

We also got to try some wines from other plots in the family that were really interesting, like some Pinot Noir Roses, a sparkling Cremant (made in the same way as Champagne, but wine can’t be called Champagne if it’s not grown in Champagne), and the Bourgogne Aligote, which is the only other white grape that’s allowed to be grown in the Bourgogne region, and is used often as a table wine or a blending grape.  The most interesting wild card we tried was the Roman grape that Caesar used to drink, and was therefore named after him.  This is grown in the Irancy region, therefore the wine is called Irancy, (regions are how France labels their wines), although it’s 10% Caesar and 90% Pinot Noir.

ALL of this – for the very reasonable price of €20 each.

Needless to say, we picked up a few of our favourite bottles to take with us, and gave Arnaud and Clotilde Davenne a spectacular review on Google.  I would send anyone there, so if you’re ever in Chablis, look them up!

A note on bookings in France:

Always book ahead at the chateaus in France.  The website that we used, ruedesvignerons.com, helped immensely.  I did have a couple of glitches with their app when trying to cancel or change a reservation, so it’s not perfect, but it is a great starting point for booking.  It shows which wineries are visitor friendly, because not all are open for tastings to the public.  It also lists information such as the different times available, types of tastings, and the costs.

We found that when we showed up at most chateaus in France for our bookings, we were the only ones there.  The families live and work on the property, and they’re the ones that run lots of the tastings and tours.  They’ve got work to do; they’re not sitting around waiting for people to walk in the door.  If you don’t book, there’s a chance the door will be locked, and nobody will be around.  If you do book, they’ll be there waiting for you, having already learned your names and set up the tasting, just for you.  Be sure to let them know if you need to cancel!

If you ever have the opportunity to taste in Chablis, or to taste anywhere in this world for that matter, go for it.  You can meet some of the greatest people, and get to share in a small piece of their story, their craft, and their passion.  Especially in Europe, it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.

Happy wine-ing!

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned; Value Wines to Please Your Palate

Many of us enjoy wine for a variety of occasions.  Sometimes, we want that special, expensive bottle, to celebrate a milestone or achievement, but sometimes, we just want a glass of red on the sofa while we read a great book, or a cool crisp white on the patio on a summer weeknight.  Although these occasions are special in their own right, not all of us can afford to be cracking $50 bottles three times a week!  Lots of us have also tried that $8 wine that looked oh-so-good in the packaging, with the fancy bottle shape and funky label, only to be let down by its lack-lustre or overbearing, unbalanced taste.  Can we say “cooking wine”?

I used to wonder if it was even possible to spend less, and get more in a wine.  The great news is, yes it is!  You just have to know a few things.  I realize that the $10 – $25 price range is the largest market for wine consumers, and I want to help you find wines you love for that price!

I gathered some friends together to help me give you the best information I can, and added our tips too. Specific wines are bolded throughout to make them easier to spot!

If you’re looking for even more specifics, a sommelier friend put together a list organized by price, specifically for you, my readers!  Check out the list at the bottom.


The WSET Grad List

Ivy and Aaron are certified in WSET Level 2, just like us.  They’re frequent hosts of wine tastings in their home, because they love sharing their passion for wine with their friends.  They’re on a quest to try 100 grape varietals, and have reached the final stretches in that goal.  They have an entire book shelf full of wine books (of which I’ve only yet borrowed one) and are pursuing further education in the wine industry.

“There are a few strategies that I use when purchasing value wines. Depending on what type or style I am looking for will determine which countries I will look for wines in. I love Riesling and in the Germany section you can get Rieslings under $20 that are a great value. If I am looking for a fruity and accessible red my go to is Beaujolais which is found in the French section. Beaujolais wines are the Gamay grape and one of my go to wine varieties under $25.” – Ivy

“When looking for value be sure to look at South America. Chilean Pinot Noir and Argentinan Cab Sav’s and Malbec’s. You can find inexpensive quality wines.” – Aaron

Great tips! They also include a category that I often don’t shop in because I don’t digest it well; however it’s widely liked, extremely popular and important to mention here – Sparkling Wine.

“One of my favourite tips for value is bubbly wines! I love my Champagne but don’t always love the price. Cava, which is from Spain, is made in the same style as Champagne but without the price tag. You can find lovely Cava under $25.” – Ivy


We met Sandra and Ian while they worked in the higher-ups of a restaurant we frequented.  Over wine, we discovered we had more in common than we realized, and became friends.  They’ve got ISG and WSET certificates between them, and Sandra has years of experience in high end service. Ian is the bar manager, and wine/spirits buyer, at one of our city’s most trendy, award winning restaurants, recognized as a top restaurant in Canada.  (He also designs hundreds of spectacular, award winning cocktails!)

Ian walked us through how he designs wine lists for his restaurants. His goal is to find wines that will pair with the menu, cover main regions and the grape varietals they do well, and be of value to sell to patrons, for example, Pinot Noir from Oregon, or Argentinian Malbec.

He also frequents industry wine tasting events and tries new bottles that reps bring to him on the regular, so he shows the value in trying new wines and producers.

He spoke highly of South African wines for value, while still being interesting to the palate, (look for KWV on the label for higher labour standards in South Africa), as well as one other particularly interesting grape, and left me with this hilarious, but true quote.

“Look for a good Petit Syrah; you’re going to enjoy the shiz out of that!” – Ian

Sandra’s value go to is the Santos de Casa Reserva Alentejano, retailing for $27.  They’ve shared this with us before – delicious.

“I love a well paired bottle of wine, but sometimes you get home from work and you just need to unwind and have a glass of something and you don’t want to plan your meal or think too hard.  This is the perfect go to for those occasions.  It is smooth and neither too dry or too sweet and will appeal to the seasoned wine drinker and the person just getting into wine alike.”  – Sandra


Ken

We were privileged to take our WSET Level 2 from this knowledgeable and intelligent man, who is well certified himself, and always continuing his wine education.  He is currently researching and presenting on Biodynamic Wines in his free time, and is a University Professor by day.  When I asked him for some tips for you, my readers, he shared some extremely valid points.

“It’s hard to say what a ‘good wine’ is for someone, so the answer for me is to drink more, and try everything!” – Ken

 That is very well said.  The wines my friends and I are presenting to you in this article are great to us, but may not be great for you.  These are meant to be a starting point in your exploring.  I must also note, that a ‘good wine’ to me 10 years ago, is not a ‘good wine’ to me now, because I’ve done more learning and exploring; tastes change, so try to hold an open mind and be discovery oriented.  Don’t they say we should enjoy the journey, as well as the destination?

“One approach is to look for lesser known regions that are close to the ‘famous’ regions, for example, rather than Chateauneuf-du-Pape, try something from Gigondas, which is close, similar, lesser known, and provides a good value.

Another approach is to look for ‘lesser’ sub-appellations within regions, so for example, if a person likes Chablis, Petit Chablis, rather than Premier Cru Chablis.  This doesn’t necessarily mean poorer quality, just different aging.  The longer it’s aged, the more money the producer has tied up in it, the more they need to charge for the wine.” – Ken

He does realize that some of his suggestions require some background knowledge, but encourages readers to have fun exploring and experimenting.  Plus, if you’re reading this, and have a more specific question about either of Ken’s approaches, you can leave a comment and I can help direct you.


Dawn

Dawn is certified in ISG and WSET Level 3, and runs the Tasting Room at our Coop Liquor. She is hilarious, kind, hospitable, a great chef, and extremely experienced and knowledgeable. That’s why the owners of Coop have put her in charge of choosing and buying every single bottle of wine that comes into that store! She works with wine producers all over the world, and here are her go to’s.

1.   “Bodegas Laya from Spain . It’s a big, full bodied red that over delivers for the price.

2.   La Vieille Ferme Rosé from France.  It is not as dry as some of the rosés from Provence, but it is very well made and always quaffable.  It is perfect on a summer patio day.” – Dawn


Our Tips to Affordable, Yet Still Great Wine

 1. Find an affordable producer that you like.  Chances are, if you really enjoyed one particular wine of theirs, you might also enjoy their other wines.

2. Shop lesser known varietals. You can find amazing value wine if you’re willing to step outside the Cab Sauv and Chardonnay boxes.

3. Avoid the mass production wines!  These are the ultra-cheap, big name companies, that I won’t name, but you’ve heard of them.  If they’re mass produced, they’re going to be a value, yes, but also boring and predictably not great. Look on the label for hints that they’re mass produced, like the non-specific region of “California,” for example, rather than “Monterey County.”

4. Shop in the European sections.  Many of the most overpriced wines come from the USA.  Canadian producers have high operating costs and small production, so they have to charge more.  You can get really great wine, for under $20 from Europe.  Our faves are almost anything from Italy or France, Riesling from Germany, Duoro from Portugal, Rioja from Spain.  In the Italy section, if they have a ribbon around the neck that’s a blue/gray and says DOCG or DOC on it, you know you’re getting a quality controlled wine, and yes, they have these for under $20.

5. Shop in the South American sections!  Carmenere from Chile and Malbec from Argentina, are great.  It’s also worth trying the whites from these regions. Last week we had an Eco Chilean Chardonnay that was superb, and $13.

6. Be willing to take a risk!  We had a Boutari from Greece last month that was $18.  We were in Greece in 2015, and no wine grabbed us as “the best wine ever,” but we decided to give the Boutari a go (open-mind!).  It was wonderfully crisp, with lemon and fresh herb notes to it that reminded me of being in Greece.  You don’t know if you don’t try.

7. Keep a list of what you’ve tried, and write down what you like or don’t like.  Have your “go to’s” for value white, red, sparkling or rose. I use the Vivino app to keep a running tally, and when I have time, I add my tasting notes.


A Sommeliers List – Available at the Coop Wine Spirits Beer store in Blairemore

Angela is the sommelier at the Coop Liquor Store and Tasting Room, she is certified in WSET Level 3, and is currently taking her two year Level 4 Diploma.  She sent me a list of her favourite value wines, all available at our Coop Liquor Store!  Upon getting to know her, I’ve discovered she’s passionate about interesting wines and discovering new, quality wines for herself and her customers.  She’s not going to set you up with something run of the mill or boring, which I really appreciate about her, especially because she fills my wine locker every month!  I’ve personally had all of the Under $15 wines, and they’re fabulous.  I would also mention that any wine by La Vieille Ferme I’ve had has been affordable and tasty.  Check out her list below.  What do you notice about it?

Under $15

• Plantaze Vranac $13.99

• Claude Val Rouge and Rosé $12.99

• La Vieille Ferme Red $13.99

Under $20

• Gerard Bertrand Corbieres $17.99

• Henry of Pelham Baco Noir $15.49

• Glenelly Glass Collection Chardonnay $18.99

• Mediterra Poggio Al Tesoro $19.99

Under $25ish

• Ricossa Barbaresco $22.99

• Gray Monk White Brut Odyssey $25.99

• Chateau Pesquie Les Terraces $22.99

There may be a lot of grape varietals that you haven’t heard of before.  Just because they’re not mainstream doesn’t mean they’re not flavourful, or a good value.  A lot of them are also international.  Hmm… I think I read that somewhere.

Remember, take a risk.  You might not like all of these wines, but you might also love them.  Now get to the store, find a value wine, and start popping corks, (or unscrewing screwcaps)!

A special thanks to all of my guests: Ivy, Aaron, Sandra, Ian, Ken, Dawn and Angela.  You’re all wonderful for taking the time to contribute and I appreciate you!

Cheers!