The Hancock & Sons Story: Creating Family Legacy Through Wine

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John Hancock grew up on a farm in Australia, that although in the Coonawara wine region, had nothing to do with wine. His parents gained interest in wine only once John entered the industry. One day, John was on his daily commute into the town school, when he began browsing some books on the bus, and as fate would have it, he came across a book about how to make wine at home. Intrigued, he decided to give making fruit wine a go. John finished his high school years at a boarding school, where he happened upon a chemistry teacher who shared about his hobby of making mead. Still fascinated by the process of fermenting, John began making cider from apples he took from the school dinner tables. He joked that he had a “semi commercial operation of slightly sparkling cider!” His business of slightly sparkling cider lead to a fully sparkling passion to make wine; after graduating, he enrolled at Roseworthy College, Australia’s first agricultural college, founded in the late 1880s. Although agriculturally based, Roseworthy offered a winemaking component, and their website still boasts that many of the best-known names in winemaking have passed through their doors. John went straight to work upon graduation, and as of 2020, he has done an amazing fifty vintages, with seven in Australia, two in France, and forty-one in New Zealand.

In 1972, John did his first harvest in the Barossa. He described how different it was to today’s industry. “There were lots of people there forever, forking grapes off a truck for ten hours a day. There was no way of tipping. You would smoke and drink as much as you wanted to. It wouldn’t happen these days! We would spend three or four hours plunging Barossa Cab and Shiraz. You could bloody walk across the top of it.” John went on to describe the astronomical gap in quality he’s witnessed in his fifty years. “You don’t want to know how wine was made back then. They would add almost anything: sugar or water to skins and ferment and add more, etc. to make different wines or fortified wine. They would turn over a ton of grapes four times. The fruit was terrible. We were processing more than the whole of New Zealand at that time, seven thousand ton a day of grapes. Brandy and spirits and fortified wines were big. The guy who was head winemaker had a philosophy that above ten degrees, it all went to distillation.” John just laughed as he told this story and said, “now we know different.”

In 1979, Jim Delegat had posted a winemaker job for advertisement in Australia, and John applied. Jim drove to Berri to interview him and ended up offering him an eighteen-month contract that brought John over to New Zealand. John has fond memories of Jim, who “paid for a ten-week trip around Europe with my partner to learn the wine industries. Just fantastic. Delegat was making less than one thousand ton a year at that time.” He commented that he “loved working there because I had free creative reign to try new things,” and as we know, it’s experiences that foster some of the best learning. John did four harvests for Delegat, before helping to start Morton Estate. There, he implemented the practice of commercial barrel fermentation of Chardonnay, as one of the first places to do it in Australasia. He had been to Burgundy during the harvest of 1981 and witnessed it there. He remembers thinking it was “really bizarre” but saw it work; he came back to New Zealand and slowly edged his way into it, becoming slightly known for it. For example, Delegat won their first gold medal for Chardonnay in 1981, with their 1982 Chard winning Wine of the Show at the precursor to the Air NZ Wine Awards in 1983. It was at Morton where John made his first barrel fermented Chardonnay, their Black Label Chardonnay. He had wanted to be a winemaker since that childhood bus ride and was finally living that dream. “I have never done any other job and don’t want to. It’s too late now,” he joked.

He is also the founder of the well-known winery and wine brand in New Zealand, Trinity Hill. He was in London in 1987 at Bleeding Heart Restaurant, and ran into some friends, who believed in him as a winemaker and said to him, “look, if you’d like to start something on your own, we’d like to invest.” He spent years searching for the ideal vineyard sites and had some great experiences with the Gimblett Gravels. In 1993, he said, “let’s do it,” and bought the land. In 1994, he planted Trinity Hill’s first vineyards, leaning largely on Bordeaux varietals for blends, and the ever popular Hawke’s Bay Syrah. John is no longer involved with the brand today, but it was a large part of his career to which he owes much experience.

Hancock & Sons was founded in November of 2017. John’s got two sons; he points out that only Willy is involved with the business right now, but it’s called Hancock & Sons because he’s got them both, and the door is always open to either of them to be involved. The fruit for this label specifically comes from the Bridge Pa Triangle, and not the Gravels, as in John’s opinion, that’s where you need to be in Hawke’s Bay to produce great Chardonnay. He’s formed a lot of relationships in fifty years, so going into this label, he already knew who he wanted to source fruit from. He keeps a small number of growers, and commented, “I’ve known them for a long time and I know good growers.” He wanted to produce Hancock & Sons in Hawke’s Bay, because he’s had “quite interesting experience with fruit from Hawke’s Bay and I think it’s quite good!”

You’ll find three wines in the Handcock & Sons portfolio, a Rosé, Chardonnay and a Cabernet Franc. The Rosé is made from Cab Franc, not Merlot, and they have done nothing to change its natural colour. The label and name of the Rosé, the inaugural Hancock & Sons wine, represent the legacy from which the family came. John’s great great grandparents migrated to South Australia from Cornwall on a ship called “Lillies.” Willy explained that “coincidentally at the time of harvest, there were lilies in the vineyard where we got our fruit.” The Hancock’s wanted their first wine to be one that many could appreciate and enjoy, not something for a niche market, hence their debut with Lillies Rosé. You’ll find their family crest on all their wines, representing John’s history in the industry and the family legacy. After all, John started Hancock & Sons to be about family and legacy, with the intention of leaving it to the boys. Trinity Hill wasn’t suitable for that, as he was in partnership with other investors; Hancock & Sons is a small label that’s just for them.


As for the winemaking philosophies they hold, they’ve blended new world with a bit of old-world knowledge. John speaks of working with a viticulturist from Burgundy, who used to “taste the fruit from top to bottom… and taste through all the barrels. He would open bottles from all over the world. Fantastic guy.” John learned from him to try everything, and to be open minded. John also notes that “we’ve both done harvests in France. That’s had an influence on the way I’ve approached wines. Rhone. Paul Jaboulet. I admired La Chapelle’s top Syrah. Trinity Hill Homage was made with that in mind. He gave us cuttings of Syrah and Viognier to bring back to New Zealand.”

Willy was born in 1993, the year Trinity Hill was being built up, giving him mainly childhood memories of family life at the vineyard and winery. He says fondly, “I grew up at Trinity Hill.” His first memories are when the winery was being built in 1996 for the 1997 harvest. He remembers Tip, the dog, and getting to help with “little jobs here and there.” It wasn’t until the end of high school though, that Willy decided to make his own way in the industry. “You’ll never make any money in the wine industry. Be a lawyer,” John says he had advised Willy. Willy just responded with, “You always seem to have a lot of fun though!” Willy continued, “Dad always said ‘don’t get into wine. You won’t have money.’ I guess what I saw is that you can have a lot of fun. The places you end up travelling to are invariably beautiful and you meet amazing people.”

Willy worked in the Trinity Hill Cellar Door, and at a restaurant, The Don, that his godparents owned in London as an Assistant Sommelier. He recalls them having four to five hundred bottles from all around the world on their wine list. “You get to taste everything. Huge amount of wines you can’t try in New Zealand.” He’d been on a two-year Working Holiday Visa for the U.K. and when it ran out, he wasn’t ready to leave. “There was a college for winemaking in the U.K., and I thought, ‘should I give it a go? Should I not?’ I studied for three years over there.” He then went through California and worked for Bob Linquist at a place in the Central Coast Valley growing Rhone varieties. He was provided with a car and house, as well as wine in exchange for getting no pay. After, he got in touch with Craig Thomas at Church Road in Hawke’s Bay, and landed a harvest job there, working on the front end as a Harvest Supervisor in 2019. Willy said about Church Road, “I loved working there. They have a great crew.” He’s chosen to continue his career in the industry, and notes “there was never any pressure [from his Dad]. If anything, there was the opposite! Do what you want to do. But this is what I want to do.” One of the rewards Willy has already experienced is the many relationships built in this industry, as well as “building bridges. Getting invited back to a place is pretty cool.”

One of the challenges they’ve have had to overcome relates to sales. “To have the time with a full-time day job to do the bits and pieces that need to be done,” has been hard work. John currently works at Moana Park, where he also produces Hancock & Sons, and Willy is a Cellarhand at Hawke’s Bay Wine Company. Their full time jobs require them to be creative to meet their goal to sell directly to the consumer as much as possible. There are some retailers outside of the Bay that sell their wines, but it’s important to John to keep this label small. “I don’t want to get too big,” he said, as he knows where that leads. “I’ve done the big business thing. If you own vineyards and a winery you never make any money.” Size is less important than the success of the business that’s to be the legacy he leaves to his sons.

An additional challenge is the way consumers buy, as John explained. “It’s so trend driven, the wine industry. People want to drink something else. So you dig it out and plant new, but it’s three years before you can make the wines and try to sell them. If you want to plant something that doesn’t exist in New Zealand at the moment, you have to bring it in from Europe, do the quarantine, etc. From the time you have the brainwave to do it, it’s ten years.” By then, the trend has shifted, and people want something else; or do they? Willy’s learned that “people are fickle. We don’t know what we want and if we do, we can’t articulate it. We’re not prepared to pay what we need to pay for what we want. You go to Cellar Doors and talk to people. They don’t know what they want. They think they like something but don’t actually know.” John added that he “underestimated how little wines at $35 actually sell. At least 80% of wines that are sold have been under $20.”

He’s learned that there is a sizable gap between making wine that is an art form to the winemaker, and making wine that consumers actually want to drink. “Wines with minerality; the average person who drinks a wine doesn’t care. “There’s a generation that hasn’t gotten into wine yet. They’ll get into it. We have to incorporate the millennials and make wine that people are going to drink.” Over the course of John’s career he’s learned an invaluable lesson. “I used to think if we’ve made wines that I like, then people are going to like them too. But now I’ve changed that. We’ve learned that we have to think about what other people like too.”

In watching the evolution of the industry in the last fifty years, John was able to comment on some new challenges for up and coming winemakers. In his day, “you had to complete two harvests and get a good report at Roseworthy before you could graduate.” With the increase of wine’s popularity and prestige, many people are entering the industry with naivety. He says, “everyone wants to be a winemaker,” but cautions, “do a harvest before you go to school. It’s not glamorous. I’ve been involved with designing three wineries now.” He’s also noticed that “very few people leave their jobs, so the succession is low.” This leads to a lack of winemaking jobs for new grads. John graduated from Roseworthy in 1973, and describes that at that time, “you had to have a degree or do another Ag degree before Winemaking. There was an average of ten people graduating each year. They were in huge demand. It was not paying well. $7000 a year was my opening salary, but we were in demand. How many now in the Southern Hemisphere are graduating?” When he graduated, he got a job right away. “Now you’ve got to spend ten years dragging hoses. I missed all that.”


To sit down with someone who has spent his entire career in this industry and has contributed so much to its development, was an honour, to say the least. John’s gained wisdom about winemaking, and about life. “Work ethic is probably the most important thing of the whole lot,” John said, and added, “even if you don’t know what you’re doing, work hard. Past a point, you can’t learn that.” Willy mentioned that he’s taken that lesson to heart and he’s really had to prove himself, coming into the industry as John Hancock’s son. “Even if you don’t know what you’re doing if you can work hard, people really respect that. You have to work harder to prove them wrong as a winemaker’s son.” John reflected on his relationships as well. “I’ve been divorced twice. It really gets under your skin and becomes the driving factor in your life. If you want to be successful in the wine industry you can have one mistress. Your family suffers. I spent so much time away from home.”

In asking John and Willy why they continue to work in this industry, their answers clearly show they both have passion that drives them. “It’s the greatest job in the world but not the highest paid,” John said. “It’s a really interesting industry. If people were in this situation in the used car industry they would be gone tomorrow. People rarely leave the industry.” Willy responded with, “that’s a good point. From the outside, you’re being wet and cold and hungry and tired. But you still want to do it.” John agreed with, “gets under your skin, doesn’t it?” Willy regaled me with the story of his longest shift yet. “Everything in Sancerre, it’s all Sauvignon. We had to get it all in in ten days. It was nuts. I did a thirty-six-hour shift. You get into this twilight zone where the fruit comes in and you press it. What other job could you do that in? You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it because you couldn’t. You’re going to see two sunrises on this shift and get no money for it,” Willy joked. “You couldn’t tell a car salesman that.” John agreed and added that his longest shift was fifty-four hours. “It’s a buzz. Adrenaline rush. You’re creating. That’s the thing.”

In sitting down with them both, the respect that Willy has for John was apparent, and his desire to learn from his Dad, and soak in his stories and wisdom is refreshing. John has those years of lessons to pass on, and he has lived through the largest growth of the New Zealand wine industry yet. He’s seen it all, from turning over fruit and adding sugar to make fortified wines, to now, when New Zealand is producing wines that compete with the best in the world.

John isn’t in wine for the fluff. He isn’t full of dramatic, romantic comments and goals. John has been through that already, and he has learned what works and what doesn’t. He has seen the change, and he accepts the new generation and the ideas and insights that come with that, which is why he wants to involve his sons. This label really is designed to be a legacy. John and Willy work well together and enjoy their working relationship. Willy commented, “my number one goal is to learn everything I can from my Dad. I’d be an idiot not to!”

I found their wines to be unique, flavoursome, soft, aromatic and interesting. The nose of each struck me because their intriguing aromas invited me to think about them in further depth. As we neared the end of the evening, John commented to Willy, “they open up so well these wines; that’s what I really like about them.” When you purchase Hancock & Sons wines, you’re buying a label that is made with care, attention, purpose and a sense of family pride. “You’re always proud of the next one coming along,” John said about their wines.

You can purchase Hancock & Sons wines through their website, hancockandsons.co.nz, or find them on Instagram @hancock_and_sons. They are working on getting a fortnightly blog up to share more of their story with followers, and are currently on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Some Glengarry’s and Liquor Kings stock their wines, but John and Willy are happy to courier them to you or drop them off personally on their way around the Bay, in order to sell directly to you as much as possible. Follow them on Instagram to stay in the know, and to get some of the 50th Anniversary vintages of John’s wines. Vintage 2020 is wrapping up, and previous vintages of all three wines are ready to buy and are drinking beautifully. So choose a wine, or all three from Hancock & Sons, and sip on fifty years of winemaking experience, perfectly blended with a young winemaker’s aspiration, finished off with the touch of a New Zealand legend, and the legacy of a family.

#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.

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!