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.

How We Planned to Move to Italy and Ended Up Choosing New Zealand; Our Story Part 3

The house wasn’t renting, so I had a summer of wrestling with God. We felt we had been hearing Him so clearly for two years, guiding us to this move, and now, this house was holding us back. How will we pay for everything without selling it? (I still don’t know the answer to this). Why didn’t we get renters sooner?

I was really struggling one week, and one morning I decided to go find some nature and have it out with God (cause you know, God is there apparently… I know He’s actually everywhere, but I seemed to think meeting Him in nature would give me answers). Greg happened to call me that same morning and said he had to go to the lake for a quick job that afternoon, and invited me along. Perfect. This was my chance!

As he worked, I found an old, wooden swing set and went for a long swing. I told God exactly how angry I was and laid all my confusion out there. I asked, “why haven’t we rented the house yet?” I noticed that as I was moving on the swing, the same view to the side looked different from the forward swing than it did from the back swing. I could look at the same swing post, and see that it looked entirely different depending on how I looked at it. I thought, “maybe we’re looking at this move all wrong. I heard, “you need a new perspective.” I had no idea what that meant. I went away mad that I hadn’t gotten what I wanted: my phone buzzing with dozens of potential tenants, but I kept the thought in the back of my mind.

I kept spending time every morning reading lots of devotionals about trust, and one day, one of them suggested a journaling practice of writing out my fears and facing them head on. I started praying and writing them out, and I remembered the “perspective” thought I’d been trying to figure out. I kept writing fears, and eventually I got to, “what if it’s not Rome?” I immediately felt a sense of peace when I let go of Rome.

I thought, if it’s not Rome, it’s Australia or New Zealand. We’d never been to either, but we had our eyes on them. We’d talked about traveling to visit them, maybe on the way to Italy since we’d have some time. We had even discussed living in one or both countries after a year in Italy. They were on our must-see travel destinations list, but we hadn’t been yet and I had been unwilling to choose a place to move to, that I hadn’t already been to. I’d seen people do that on House Hunters International and always thought they were absolutely nuts! “I would never move to a place I hadn’t been before,” I had said to Greg. Cue God’s laughter.

Australia and New Zealand looked and sounded wonderful, and my favourite wine is from Australia. New Zealand has great wine and weather too, and is part of the commonwealth. Australia wasn’t accepting people our age for working holiday visas (at that time), but New Zealand was! I met Greg at the gym before teaching my fitness class and quickly said to him, “I don’t think we’re supposed to move to Rome. I think we’re supposed to move to New Zealand. Don’t say anything yet, but think on it during my class.” It must have come as quite a surprise to him, but he just said, “hmm. Okay. I’m open to that!”

We discussed it in more detail that evening, and he was at peace about it too, fully on board, and excited about it. We could work in the wine industry there; I could have a break from teaching, and there would be more opportunity for us to both have jobs. More importantly, there would be the opportunity for my husband to have his dream job. We’d have to start at the bottom, of course, but we’d gain experience in the industry. It’s English speaking, and culturally less of a departure from what we’re used to for our first move ever. Visas are way simpler to get, our dollar goes further, and the climate is warmer. Also, guess what begins in New Zealand in November – the month we were supposed to be moving? Wine season.

We wanted to think on it, keep praying for wisdom, and try it on for size. I suggested that we actually start “trying it on” by speaking like we had picked New Zealand instead, and seeing how it felt. In our daily conversations, we changed out “when we live in Rome,” to “when we live in New Zealand.” We noticed it was easy to say, and exciting. I wasn’t terrified anymore, and Greg was no longer overwhelmed at the prospect of the do list that living in Italy presented us with. We noticed that we were excited again! We began dreaming again, and we felt renewed. We wanted to use our upcoming summer holiday to really invest time into the decision, so we decided to officially choose after the trip was done, and to keep it quiet for the time being. We still had to rent the house anyways, and sell the BMW.

We went on a trip to BC to do wine touring, and to visit some of our favourite cousins (the same ones who challenged my husband to find his passion). They inspire us and challenge us both so much. We explained how we weren’t sure where to move. They advised us not to worry about “the where,” so much as “the what.” What was it that we felt we were supposed to be doing? When we were asked to think of it in that frame of mind, we felt we knew already that we were to be in the wine industry.

Every industry needs Christians. We could be the Christians in the wine industry. I know that seems counterintuitive, or taboo to some people, and we know we don’t have everyone’s support. We know some people are probably praying for us, thinking our souls are lost because we want to work in this industry. That’s fine, and we’ll gladly take extra prayers, but we feel it is where we’re supposed to be, for this time in our lives. Italy couldn’t fulfill that “what,” so we needed a new “where” that could. We ended up deciding on either Australia or New Zealand by the end of our trip; Greg was really leaning towards New Zealand.

While in BC, we filled our cousins in on the house situation and the struggle with the move. We had been praying to find tenants through a mutual connection all summer. We didn’t want to post the house publicly and have someone in it that we didn’t know anything about, as it’s not just a rental property; it’s our home and we wanted to leave it furnished. Word of mouth and social media had not been working. I struggled with feeling like I would be giving up on God if I posted it publicly. Our cousins said that sometimes you just have to pick a date, make a decision, and move forward with it. We decided to try that strategy.

We prayed and chose September 15th. We told God we were trying to trust Him but felt we needed to take action of some kind, and that if we didn’t have tenants by the 15th, we’d post it.

On the 12th, we went to a Wine Locker Member invite only wine tasting, for Villa Maria wines, from New Zealand, with a Kiwi there to lead the tasting. We spoke to her after, and she is from the exact area in New Zealand that we want to live. She gave us her contact info, told us how to make our resumes (CV’s), told us where to buy a car, find a rental, and gave us so many helpful tips. She encouraged us and said we should be able to get jobs in the industry. I hope she’s right! Talking to her was so encouraging, and made us feel even better about our choice. We were pretty set on New Zealand after that night.

September 15th came, and we still had no tenants, so we posted the house. We had prayed that by my brother in law’s wedding on October 5th, we would be able to tell all our family and friends the date we were leaving, and where we were going. It was important for us to have closure and be able to use the wedding as a family reunion in a way, to say our goodbye’s in person, hug everyone and tell them we love them.

Within the first week of the house being posted, we had lots of interest. We set up several viewings, and our first one was three people who we have several mutual connections with, including some of my family members, and our property manager! They had seen the add publicly, and didn’t even realize it was us they had been speaking to! They informed us the next day that they wanted our house for October 1st. This was what we’d been praying for all along and I was beyond excited and grateful!

We moved in with Greg’s parents on my birthday, finalized our health insurance, and booked our flights a couple of days later. We applied for our New Zealand work visas, expecting them to take 3 weeks. I had to submit my driver’s license information on my visa application, but I had just gotten a new one, and it hadn’t come in the mail yet! I had to submit the date of issue and had no idea what it would be. I prayed, and guessed a date, entered it, and applied, praying more that it wouldn’t be a problem, and that I’d be able to change it when my license arrived. Our visas surprisingly came through within only 2 days, the day before the wedding!

We were able to tell everyone in person, and say our goodbyes, just as we’d hoped and prayed for. When my license arrived the following week, I ripped it open anxiously to see what the date of issue was going to be. To my surprise, it was the exact date I guessed when I filled in my visa application! I don’t even have to contact immigration and try and change it, or risk problems when we land. Amazing.

I love looking back and seeing all of the things that had to come to be in order for us to be where we are now.

If we hadn’t been set on Rome initially, I wouldn’t have even been open to moving abroad at all. It had to be somewhere warm, and in Europe for me in the beginning or I wouldn’t have even considered a move.

If we hadn’t been pulled towards Rome, where we thought we wanted to go, we wouldn’t have been planning ahead in order to save money and arrange finances and other details we still needed to get New Zealand visas.

Without the comfort of my English teaching course, we would have had no plausible job possibilities for either of us, and wouldn’t have even considered moving abroad.

If our friends hadn’t given Greg the brewing supplies, he never would have found his passion for the industry, and asked to take the WSET course for our anniversary.

If that watch I bought him hadn’t cancelled for no reason, I wouldn’t have had the money to pay for the WSET course, and we wouldn’t have done it.

If we hadn’t done that course, we wouldn’t have considered working in the wine industry.

If we’d never done the WSET course, we also wouldn’t have our wine locker, and wouldn’t have met the Italian winemaker who discouraged us to look for wine jobs in Italy, or the Kiwi wine rep who encouraged us about possibilities in New Zealand.

If we hadn’t had our 10th anniversary in 2018, we wouldn’t have done the Europe trip that essentially clarified that it was not where we were supposed to live.

Had I not gotten my extended contract at my school in 2017, and the timing of all the other things I mentioned that year hadn’t lined up, we would have tried to move a year sooner.

Had I not gotten laid off in 2018, I’m not sure what we would have decided about proceeding with the move, especially once September came and we didn’t have tenants.

If we had rented the house out even one month sooner, we would have bought plane tickets to Italy, not New Zealand.

God’s timing – it’s a thing!

We still have no idea where we will end up living, or working, and as anyone who’s moved before knows, we’ll be starting up a new life in so many ways. Nothing is certain. It’s exciting and terrifying, all at the same time. Even the things we think we’ve planned now, could still change. Maybe we won’t settle where we think, or end up working in the wine industry after all. Life is so uncertain that way. This is a risk, and it could be incredibly rewarding, or incredibly disappointing. I know it will be challenging, and I know we will learn.

We appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers as we take steps forward on this adventure, and we look forward to sharing the experience with you via my blog, and through the Instagram handle, “ourroadleadstoroam.”

Thanks for reading our story, and following along with us.

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!