The Organised Chaos Story; Breaking the Boutique Wine Mould

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

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

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

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

Hayden Penny

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

Doing a dig out in California, 2007

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

2009, Harvest time in Bulgaria

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

Supernatural Wine Co. in 2018

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

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

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

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

2013, working at William Murdoch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Petane Story; Esk Valley Boutique Wine Producers

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Philip Barber and his wife, Sarah, are the faces behind Petane; however, it’s really a family affair. Philip is the second oldest of 4 boys in a tight knit family who was brought up making wine, and who still choose to work closely together. Philip’s father bought 17 acres of established vineyards in 1979 in the Auckland area of Kumeu, and Philip remembers growing up on the vineyard until 2000. Despite a brief dabbling in flipping houses, having grown up in the industry, Philip never really wanted to do anything else with his life. After high school he got a hospitality job at a bar called Sails, and it was there that he got to see more of the customer facing side of wine; people were buying and enjoying wine and that motivated him. He chose to do his Bob Campbell Wine Diploma, which lead him to learn of a little place called “Hawke’s Bay.”

After completing the diploma, Philip began doing vintages to learn as much as he could in the vineyard and winery. He’s got a variety of experience under his belt, like the three vintages he did in Australia. He worked in the Hunter Valley, and the Barossa Valley, at several wineries, all while living in a van and living his other passion, surfing! He returned to New Zealand to go to Tairawhiti Tech in Gisborne to learn more of the basics about wine. Once done obtaining that diploma, he accepted a vintage job in Carneros, California, making Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cab Sauv under the three year reigning American Winemaker of the year, Paul Hobbs. Philip comments that one of the great things about working there was that “it was a brand new winery; the winery was pristine.” Being a small, boutique winery, it was there that he also learned the importance of focusing on the details. While he was flying back to New Zealand, he accepted a vintage job at Nobilos (now Constellation) close to his family home, which allowed him the contrasting experience of large scale production.

One of my favourite stories about Philip’s vintages is the one when he worked in Germany. He had decided he “didn’t want to work in another factory,” and had come across a job posting at a winery in the Mosel. This place, Selbach-Oster, sounded fabulous to him; it had been running since 1663, and was still in the same family. The only problem was that he needed to be able to speak German to work in the winery. He assured the owner, Johannes Selbach, that he could speak the language by having a German acquaintance write his application letter in German, and figured if he got the job he’d learn the language before going. Sure enough, he got the job and set to trying to learn German! In realizing that the plane ride over wasn’t going to be sufficient time to gain fluency, he had put himself in a bit of a bind. Johannes’ wife picked him up from the airport and spoke only German to him the whole car ride, which Philip describes as very awkward, because she knew he didn’t understand anything she was saying! Luckily, when they showed up at the winery, Johannes turned out to be an understanding guy, who thankfully also spoke English; although he couldn’t employ Philip in the winery as planned, he allowed him to stay on in the vineyard, and later ended up allowing him two weeks in the winery, lack of German fluency aside.

Philip’s brother, Chris, also joined him in Germany to help over vintage, and the two of them used to go across the road to the brew house after work for beers; Johannes made the comment that he wished he could come too, and why didn’t the guys open some of his wine in the cellar and stay at the winery instead? So they did. He would let them pick whatever they wanted to drink. Philip remembers pulling out 1968 Riesling’s and other old vintages and Johannes saying “good choice, let’s open that,” and they did. Philip comments that “you don’t forget stuff like that.”

His experience in Germany turned out to be both educational and fun, but he headed back to New Zealand, this time to Hawke’s Bay, so he could attend EIT in the Wine Science program. He arrived in the Bay in 2006, and keen to continue his serious hobby of surfing, found a great surf spot that happened to be very near to the Esk Valley. Through his travels through the valley, he thought it would be a “cool place to grow grapes.” It so happened that some land became available in the Esk Valley the very next year. As his Dad had sold the Kumeu land in 2000, he was free to invest in the Hawke’s Bay.

Philip found what is now Petane in 2007 at 20 acres, with his Dad, during his second year at EIT. Philip describes his Dad as a visionary. The land was full of bramble, blackberries, wild bush, and some old Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay vines, but his Dad saw the potential in the place. It was also him who recognized the potential to expand when the neighbour’s land went up for sale, and in 2009, Philip and his Dad bought that as well, upping their acreage to 31 altogether. They’ve got almost 5 hectares under vine, with plans to expand to 8. Every original vine is gone; Philip has replanted it all with his Dad, exactly as they wanted it. It was 2011 when they did their first vintage.

Some may find working with family challenging, but Philip explains that the Barber boys are all close, and they all admire and respect their father. They are happy to work together and have learned how to overcome their differences because family is very important. It’s still a family operation with Philip’s dad sharing in ownership of the vineyard, and if you head out to Petane, you’ll also notice that the Zeelandt Brewery is on site. Zeelandt belongs to Chris, Philip’s youngest brother.

Even though Petane had officially started being built up, Philip continued through to complete his Wine Science and Viticulture degree. He also worked at Sacred Hill and Askerne, all while in school. He was among the few EIT students to already own his own vineyard while taking his degree!

Once the wine was being produced, naturally a name and a label were needed. Petane used to be called “Petane Station,” after what that area of Hawke’s Bay was originally called; there had been confusion with another region North of Wellington called Petone, and mail was being sent to the wrong places, so local officials ended up changing the area’s name to Eskdale and Bayview. There used to be a sheep station right on their land, so they had chosen the name to honour the history of the land, and have chosen to clean it up with the single word you see on their labels now, “Petane.”

As for the label, Philip went to Tank, a marketing office in Napier, to get something designed and was introduced to his new graphic designer. Philip remembers being “amazed by this beautiful woman” called Sarah, who later became his wife. Petane literally brought them together. Sarah now raises the kids, and does all of Petane’s graphic design and administration. She’s hand painted every label from day one, first as a contractor, and now as part of the family. She says she “knew nothing about wines or him” when she did that first label, but “this final one is a better representation of who we are.”

Philip is no stranger to hard work. He says about wine that unlike how many view it, it’s “not mystical, it’s just a lot of hard work. It’s cool to be in, but not mystical.” What is it that gets the job done? “It’s the grind, really.” He can identify with the mystical view though, and has experienced that draw when “reading about the growers and seeing the photos,” but being raised in the Kumeu River Valley, “where it wasn’t ideal growing … hard soil, vigorous, [with] huge canopy and weeds,” Philip was raised with the notion that you must work hard in the vineyard.

The main challenges Philip faces these days revolve around creating a balance between running the vineyard and raising his young family. With Sarah, his young son, James, and brand new baby girl, Ella, he can’t be out in the vineyard until dark every night anymore. He has to find new ways to spread his time between work and family, and the vineyard takes a lot of time. His typical day involves a balance between fathering and maintaining the vineyard with Helen, his “vineyard genius,” who helps him a few days a week. He quips that he also spends a lot of time “fixing stuff that breaks!” He admits “the work is endless,” but explains that he really enjoys it. “I wouldn’t do it otherwise,” he says. He also finds a lot of enjoyment from taking James around and seeing his son’s interest in what Daddy’s working on. He has learned to “enjoy nature and look outside.” He says not to “just rely on weather forecasts but look; be aware of other interactions with what’s happening out there, and don’t stress too much because you can’t control the weather, so don’t worry about it.” As far as making the wine, Philip is fully qualified and involved, yet likes the collaboration of ideas; he chooses to have Hayden Penny consult as well.

For Sarah, the main challenge is “selling and promoting. When you’re small you have to do most of it yourself. For small producers it’s costly, to afford it. Marketing costs are the same for small producers as for large producers per hour or month.” They also face a challenge that seems to be industry wide. “[We] just wish it wasn’t such a race to the bottom with prices, with what Supermarkets have done to the industry. As a kid, [wine was sold] only in bottle shops. Supermarkets have made it cut throat.” They also used to be able to travel more to promote their wines, but with a young family now, things are different. The Esk Valley also doesn’t get as many tourists coming through as other sub-regions in Hawke’s Bay, but the Barber brothers have a plan to make their site a spot to be.

They’re currently in plans to build a Beer Garden and Cellar Door. It will be a beautiful outdoor space where people can come with friends or the family to relax and enjoy gorgeous Hawke’s Bay weather. The Beer Garden will be appealing to a wide range of people, because both Zeelandt beer and Petane wines will be available, making it a great hang out spot for beer and wine enthusiasts alike. It is due to open summer of 2020/2021.

Among Philip’s many vintages was half a year at Millton in Gisborne; it was there, from James, that he gained an interest in organic and biodynamic vineyards. The goal is for Petane to eventually become organic. They are taking steps towards this process already. He doesn’t use herbicides as to not affect the natural ecosystems in the vineyard. He loves the wildlife in the vineyard, like the Hawks, Falcons, Pukeko, Wild Turkeys, and Hares to name a few. He also says he’ll “never go back” to herbicides because he didn’t like them from the start. “You spray it on and feel itchy after and your family is running around… I like it more wild! You get better fruit and smaller bunches and more intense flavour.” He also uses dry farming, so doesn’t irrigate.

He does under-vine mowing, but allows some grass to grow, as it helps reduce water uptake by the vines, especially during heavy rain events. He also has a strict “no-machine harvester” policy. Every harvest is done by hand in his vineyard, as Philip says “machines carry viruses” when they’re coming from other vineyards.

Another thing you’ll notice about Petane wines is that they’re all single vineyard. History and sense of place are extremely important to Philip. He says his wine “has to be single vineyard. It speaks of the specific terroir,” and he learned that from Hobbs. He “wants to make the best wine possible, and the best wine possible is coming from one vineyard.” He uses significant names to represent the plots as well, and sticks to history and the true story of the place for each. For example, their “Hau Hau Block” is named after an event that happened on that land in the 1800’s. “Hau Hau” is Maori for “war party,” and there is still a memorial that honours the fight that occurred there. Philip believes it is “quite spiritual,” and the way he communicates about the history of his land demonstrates just how passionate he is about not only honouring the terroir now, but keeping in mind the significant past that came before. The “Puriri Block” is named after the trees that line the block, which Philip loves because they bring in lots of native birds.

As for what Petane produces, customers will find Pinot Gris, of which the 2018 vintage won Gold at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Awards, and the 2015 took the Trophy. Petane does Chardonnay as well as Gewurtztraminer, which Philip is a fan of ever since trying a spectacular Gewurtz from Rippon in 2000. He doesn’t have reds on site but does get some grapes from the Bridge Pa to make Syrah and Merlot Franc. He does Viognier as well, and even though it’s a harder sell in Hawke’s Bay, it is a special varietal to Philip for a couple of reasons. James Millton grew it, and he is one of Philip’s heroes. Viognier was the first vines Philip planted with his Dad, and it’s also got an an underdog story. Philip regaled me with how at one time, Viognier was almost extinct, and someone took it from 12 hectares and replanted it, to save it from being lost forever. Philip has 4 barrels of it for 2019, and uses special immersion barrels made for Viognier production. He’s also insistent on not bottling until it’s ready, no matter how long he has to wait.

The most interesting wine I find Petane to do though, is the Edelzwicker. “Edelzwicker” dates back to the 1600’s in Alsace, and means “noble blend.” Philip loves it because it’s different. He had heard of the style 4 years prior to making it and wrote the name on a small scrap paper. That paper ended up getting lost in his sock drawer for 4 years, and one day he dug it up and thought, “nobody has done it. Let’s do it!” And so he did! He describes making it as “very exciting,” and wants to do another one. He’s thinking of adding a late harvest, or noble version to the Petane collection.

He works hard to promote the Edelzwicker, and says “let’s get the word out.” He is very passionate about this wine, and about making it true to the name. To be a traditional Edelzwicker, all of the grapes have to be white, picked on same day, and must be from the same vineyard. The point is that the wine represents the vineyard and that vintage specifically. They don’t need to have colour but in New Zealand, some do. Philip loves rose, so he left his on skins for a week; he describes it as “floral and beautiful.” I would encourage you to try a bottle if you’re up for something refreshing and unique. The longer I sat with Philip I could see how much he loves to be different than the other producers around him. Even his business cards are printed vertically. It’s producers like Philip, who aren’t afraid to be themselves, yet still balance out their practice to honour tradition, that add uniqueness and interest to the industry, and who are making some really special wines.

Philip comments that “wine got boring for a while. It was all same same. What we are about, is when you pick it up, I want people to know what it is. Know the variety by the smell or taste. Don’t filter or fine beyond belief. Nobody should have to tell you what it is.” He believes people should know “where it’s from,” and it should be “made by people who love what they’re doing.”

And Philip does love what he’s doing! Despite the challenges that inevitably come with any career, Philip says about running Petane, that it’s a “great industry” and “totally worth it.” He finds joy in caring for the vineyard, and “seeing it looking really good.” He also is satisfied in seeing his wine be bottled and knowing the year’s cycle has completed once again. Sarah says about Philip that “he’s super passionate about making really good wine, from our property. He’s in it for that, not the money.” Sarah mentioned when she came into the industry, she “thought it was snobby but the people that work in it are down to earth and love wine passionately. Everyone knows you don’t know everything. It’s not like that at all.” They’re grateful for the flexibility to work around their family, and to live on a beautiful property.

Philip has learned over the years to “be very humble and happy when anyone buys wine, because they don’t have to.” He has also learned what he can’t control. He tells of a time “in the early days when I was naive” and “had lots of stress.” He’s learned now that he can’t “know everything,” and is “always learning.” He has realized, “stuff happens. Try and do your best. Don’t stress, and enjoy life.”

To find Petane wines, head out to Zeelandt Brewery Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm or Saturdays 12.00pm to 4.00pm. Additional hours are available over the summer holidays.

You can also find them at The Common Room, Liquor King Onekawa, Indigo, Three Wise Birds, Bareknuckle BBQ and a few other places in Hawke’s Bay, Invisible Wines in Wellington, or JG Wines and Drinks and in Auckland. To order, book a private group tasting or to find out more places to purchase, visit http://www.petanewines.co.nz or contact through Instagram @petanewines.

Follow on Instagram to stay in the know for the opening of the new Zeelandt Beer Garden and Petane Cellar Door, scheduled for next summer.

Saorsa Wines; A story of Freedom, Liberty, Salvation

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“Freedom from the bullshit of the wine industry.”

“Liberty to make honest wines without manipulation.”

“Salvation from the industry binds.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is Saorsa wine actually like?

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

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

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

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

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

Saorsa, my friends.

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

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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.