Everyone has insecurities. I feel I can fairly make that statement. It’s truth.
We are all imperfect, and we usually know it. Some of us can admit where we fall short, and others of us don’t do such a great job at that, but we all have things we don’t like about ourselves. One of the things I don’t like about myself is that I care too much about how I look, not just physically but as a person.
I’m insecure about certain aspects of my physical appearance. To be completely honest, I have always struggled with that. The parts of my appearance that I’m insecure about have changed over my lifetime, but there’s always something. I’m never just perfectly happy with how I look.
From conversations I’ve had with other women, this seems to be a common thread, but I’m very aware that many men also struggle with this. People seem to be more open to discussing insecurities these days, and I think that’s good; there is something freeing about actually calling out the one thing you hoped nobody would notice about you, and having them communicate that it’s not actually as bad as you think it is. It’s interesting hearing other people say what they’re insecure about, because it’s usually something that you would never have noticed on them, or that you wouldn’t choose as something they should be concerned with. If that’s how we feel about each other, isn’t it possible that the things we are insecure about really aren’t perceived the way we think they are either?
Greg and I recently filmed an episode of a popular show on a widely viewed American channel. We applied for it, and it was our decision to go on it. I was really excited to be on the show, and looked forward to it for months before hand, but when the day actually came to start filming, I found myself becoming very aware that thousands and thousands of people were going to see our episode, and see the very things about me that I didn’t want them to see. It brought out a lot of insecurities in me, not only physically, but with how we would be portrayed on the show as people, or how our relationship would be cast.
When you choose to go on television and you sign that waiver saying the network can use anything and everything they film you doing or saying in a five day stretch, for any purpose… you realize that you’re going to be seen. All you, from any angle, with no filters, whatever you said. Yikes.
A photo is still. You can take another one, and then take another one, and change the angle, and apply as many filters as you want. You can just delete the ugly ones (unless you like posting really funny ones to your album of unfortunate shots like I do). A photo doesn’t capture the stupid thing you just said, or the incorrect grammar that you heard coming out of your mouth that was too late to stop.
A photo can bephotoshopped.
I had so many moments during filming where I nervously slurred my words, or said something embarrassing. I literally had all of these thoughts that week:
Was that even a word?
I need to google what I just said to make sure it was a word.
I hope they don’t use that.
Did I really just say that?
Ugh, I came across so stupid there.
I wonder if I seem shallow?
How will they portray me?
Our episode aired in America last week, and thousands of viewers saw it before we did! When I was notified of the air date, I found myself thinking some of those exact same thoughts again. How would we be portrayed? What would actually get shown? I wonder how obvious this or that will be on camera?
I’m a perfectionist and I expect as close to perfect from myself as I can get; this, of course, is an unrealistic expectation, and when I let my mind get stuck on my imperfections, I feel inadequate.
Most people, I think, want to be liked. We want to be accepted for who we are. We want people to think we’re pretty, and smart, and kind, and good at what we do. We want to feel needed. We want to know we have value.
One of the areas in life I wanted to learn to be better at in my thirties, and grow in during my time living abroad, was not caring what other people think of me.
I didn’t expect that I’d accomplish this goal entirely, but I hoped to move closer towards the “not caring” end of the spectrum than I had been; doing that show really pushed me to take a hard look at myself, and realize that I am who I am, and I have to own it.
I look this way.
I say stupid stuff sometimes because I don’t know everything.
I’m not 18 anymore.
My hair is a hot mess sometimes.
I don’t always speak perfectly.
I make mistakes.
I have scars.
Certain people will never accept certain things about me.
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 wasTuesday, the 14thof 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 inAucklandwhere 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 was3.00amby 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 fromFrancethat 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.
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 inCanada, with so many randomNew Zealandquestions.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 inCanada.)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 inAuckland, 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.
It’s been over 6 months of us working in this country, and we have now earned holiday time! Vintage is done, and Air NZ started offering really affordable flights within the country. All of this meant that we could finally get to the South Island, and we were so excited to explore it!
As people heard we were going south, they all gave us their lists of the must-do’s! We appreciated all the cool, local tips, but unfortunately we didn’t have a year to actually cross them all off… New Zealand offers almost never ending exploring! So we picked the things that sounded the most intriguing to us, accounted for our budget and time allowances, and carefully planned (on my end) a jam-packed, 6 day adventure, in a campervan, of course!
We got an amazing flight deal to Christchurch, so we headed there early Wednesday morning, thankfully just missed the fog, and landed on time at 8:05am. We picked up our Campervan from Jucy, and hit the road, as we had an appointment to get to in the Waipara area of the Canturbury Wine Region.
I won’t go into too much detail about the wineries we visited on this trip, but we uprooted our entire lives, and moved to this country specifically to work in wine; clearly it was high on the priority list for this holiday, as it usually is.
The wine in the South Island is very different than it is where we work in the North. We work in the warmest wine growing region in the country, with very vast and diverse soil types; the wine regions in the South Island have completely different soil from each other, and from the North; they also have their own unique climates, and therefore, produce unique versions of some of the grape varietals we have in the North, and also some completely different varietals altogether. We tried lots of Pinot Noir on this trip, some Chardonnay and bubbly wine, as well as many aromatic whites, like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir based Roses, and even a Muscat, that was dry and surprisingly enjoyable.
In Canterbury, we visited Bell Hill, and had a private tour around their biodynamic and organic boutique vineyards, on incredible slopes, with the vines showing off the beautiful autumn colours. We tried some Pinot Noirs out of barrel. We visited Pegasus Bay, which had beautiful grounds, some very nice wines, and a friendly and knowledgeable Cellar Door host.
We also visited the winery with two labels that belongs to this year’s New Zealand Winemaker of the Year, Greystone and Muddy Water. The Winemaker at my workplace has won that award 2 times in the last 5 years, and we have amazing wine, so I had very high expectations for this place, which I feel is fair. If you are considered the best Winemaker in the country, your Cellar Door should support that, and the visitors that you will undoubtedly bring, and give an exceptional experience. This one, sadly, did not. The host was unfriendly, made no effort at conversation, and was actually outrightly rude to us with a couple comments. Thankfully, the Marketing Manager overheard some of our questions and came out to speak with us for a while, and he was great. If it weren’t for him, we would have had a terrible experience there.
We made our way back into Christchurch for the remainder of the afternoon, did a bit of shopping for some winter gear and groceries, and drove around to see the sights.
A highlight for me was the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial for the people who died in the 2011 earthquake. It was chilling to see, and served as a reminder that life is short and fragile, and should be valued and lived to the full. We had a quick dinner at what I describe as a funky, more upscale food court, Little High.
We visited one of Christchurch’s older and highly awarded bars, the OGB Bar, and had a great experience. One of their employees did a wine tour with me a couple months back on his holiday, and invited me to visit him there on our trip, and him and his colleagues made sure we were taken great care of!
Then, it was time for a very late dinner and wine, once we found somewhere to camp! We used the Ranker’s Campervan App to help us find everything we needed to on our trip. It showed all of the places we could park, empty our tanks, etc., with reviews, photos and prices. We searched for the free options, and found a place just outside of the city to park. I’ll elaborate on the campervan later.
We woke up early on Thursday to get a good head start on our drive to Lake Tekapo.
The scenery was beautiful on the way, as we made our way into the mountains. We spent the afternoon in Tekapo; we got some photos with the famous church on the lake, and then took a moment to pause inside and admire the view of the lake through the windows on the back wall. What a great place to go to church! We opted to walk to the top of Mount John, which was a short, fairly easy but steady climb.
We enjoyed views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and some coffee and dessert in the sun at the Astro Cafe, before heading back down for lunch. We parked the van alongside the lake for a gorgeous view, had a picnic and some Riesling, and then headed to the Tekapo Hot Springs.
We had a booking for 2:00, but because we picked the date and time ahead, we were able to get a great deal on a site called bookme.co.nz. We enjoyed a couple of hours there, soaking in the warm water, and soaking up that view, before heading on.
Next, we drove to Lake Pukake, and stopped for some views of Mount Cook, and then made our way through the Lindess Pass, which was beautiful at sunset, and then onto Cromwell, where we wanted to start our next day.
We found another free camp spot on the Ranker’s App, right next to the lake, and it was such a gorgeous spot. I can’t believe some of the amazing, free camp grounds New Zealand has! I kept saying to Greg, “why is this free…?” In Canada or the USA, those would have been costly spots.
“Pancake Saturday” was moved to Friday, as we had the time in the morning, and the lakeside spot to enjoy! As we awoke in Cromwell, we were already amongst many more great wineries we were excited to visit! This is when it really started feeling like a holiday to me; finally, we had made it to Central Otago, another world renown wine region on our bucket list!
We definitely started off with the bar high, as we visited the appointment only Cellar Door of Felton Road for a tour and tasting with the owner’s daughter. Bookings are required well in advance to get a spot. She was fantastic, as was their philosophy, place, and wine, and we loved our experience there.
We followed that up with another amazing experience at Mt Difficulty. It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day, and we took in the expansive views of Central Otago on their patio in the warm sun for a delicious and generous platter, that was a special treat for me from a reward card I received at work. After we ordered, we did a complimentary tasting to help us decide what to have with lunch. By the time we finished our tasting, our food was ready for us. We enjoyed our time there so much!
Other wineries we visited in the Cromwell area were Carrick, and Akarua; we had positive experiences at both of them as well. We then jumped back in the Jucy van to head for Dunedin! The drive was absolutely beautiful the entire way; we arrived around dinner time, and spent the evening with friends.
They took us for dinner at a quaint and delicious Italian place, and then drove us to the top of Signal Hill to view the city, as well as took us for a spin up and down the steepest street in the world! We parked the van outside their house that evening, and funnily enough, we weren’t the only Jucy van on the street.
In the morning, we grabbed coffees and had a visit with our friends before making our way around Dunedin to see St Clare Beach, and the famous Railway Station; as it was Saturday, we visited the Farmer’s Market where we purchased some fresh fish and produce for dinner, before making our way back to Central Otago, where we’d spend the next 3 days.
We arrived in Wanaka mid-afternoon, so we went to Rippon, another famous winery with, yet again, amazing wines and an exceptional view!
We also visited Maude Wines, where we had the perfect spot on their comfy couch with blankets in their sun room, overlooking lake Wanaka.
We each had a seated tasting flight of different wines, and then enjoyed a glass in the sun. Our host at Maude was extremely welcoming and knowledgeable, and made us feel very comfortable during our visit.
After we were done relaxing at Maude, we headed down to That Wanaka Tree, to get some sunset photos. We were amongst a group, but got some beautiful shots. I love when I get to see something in real life that I’ve been seeing on Instagram for a while!
We checked out another cute wine bar in Wanaka called The Cork Bar. It was warm, dim, and comfortable. So many of these places remind me of small mountain towns in British Columbia, and the whole Wanaka/Queenstown area made me feel quite at home.
At The Cork Bar, I tried some Black Peak Pinot Noir, who’s Winemaker and owner had been in to work last week. We also tried some Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, that came highly recommended, and loved it.
As Wanaka is such a famous tourist spot all year long, there are no free campsites there. We were fortunate to have a friend who’s father lives in Wanaka, and allowed us to park in his driveway for the evening. We carb loaded for our upcoming hike with some pasta, and enjoyed a bottle of wine before bed. We had purchased some candles by this point, so we had our usual ambience and didn’t have to run the bright LED lights in the van!
The next morning, we were up at 6:00am to eat breakfast, grab some sunrise photos of That Wanaka Tree, and make it to the base of the Roy’s Peak Hike for daylight at shortly after 8:00am.
We were up to the ridge by 10:00am, took our photos, and decided to go for the summit. It was pretty cold up there, but we were glad we made the extra treck to complete the hike. The views were stunning and we had the place to ourselves.
We had lunch back down at the ridge, and started our descent just as the rain began. By the time we got to the bottom it was full on pouring, and we were drenched! Thankfully we started when we did that morning, because had we even been 1 hour later, our view would have been largely lost in the rain clouds and fog.
Many reviews strongly suggest a high fitness level is required for this hike, and I completely agree. It’s steep, and it’s all up, sometimes at a 45° angle, with basically no plateaus, for hours. And then you have to come down…potentially in the rain or snow, depending on the season. You must wear proper clothing, shoes, and layers. It is almost 1600 meters in elevation; the conditions are considered Alpine at the ridge and upwards, and with all that uphill climbing, if you’re not wet from the rain, you’re wet from the sweat. I was so thankful to have key parts of my work uniform on; I wore my amazing Icebreaker Merino wool jersey and Merino wind proof vest, all thanks to my awesome company outfitting me for the winter. The hike was absolutely worth all the effort and sore knees; in exchange we got some of the best views we’ve ever seen in our lives, and some pretty amazing photos.
We had a makeshift shower with baby wipes when we got back into the Jucy van, and were happy to get out of our completely drenched clothing. We hung it all around the van, but the van unfortunately never got warm enough to dry any of it. I got creative to dry my hair.
We headed for Arrowtown, and walked around a bit there.
We found a candy store and got some fudge, but were stiff and cold, and just wanted to sit down. We found a cool restaurant that was just about to close, The Chop Shop, but they gave us a table. Greg had a thirst quenching beer, and I had a warm coffee with Baileys and it hit the spot perfectly. We ordered a dessert, and ended up getting 3 more free because they were using them up before closing!
We headed to, guess where… more wineries! Are you surprised? We fit in short visits to Peregrine, Gibbston Valley, and then had a nice long tasting at Mt Rosa.
The owners of Mount Rosa had come to do a tasting with me at my workplace in the Bay at Christmas time, and one of my good friends is heading down to help them out for several weeks this winter while they go on vacation! As the owner knew me, he had us in way past close, and gave us a very personalized tasting. We enjoyed his wine, and the cozy, warm, rustic atmosphere!
We made our way into Queenstown that evening to check it out, and then found a campsite in the area. Queenstown doesn’t have any free sites either, but we found a decent one for only $13/each. Greg cooked up a nice meal, and we relaxed in the van, as it was still pouring outside!
The next morning, after a stop at Starbucks (yes, whenever I get the chance) we traded in the Jucy van for a car, as the van specifically had to be back during certain hours, and our flight home the following day wouldn’t allow for that to work. We took the car around the area, and did our last set of wineries: Chard Farm, which has an amazing, 2km cliff side drive in, Wet Jacket and Whitestone Cheesery, which is in an old wool shed and has a super cosy atmosphere, and then Amisfield, which was closed for repairs, so I was quite disappointed to miss them.
The rain had stopped by then, so we ate up the rest of our groceries outside the boot of the car! We went to Bald Hill instead of Amisfield, and then it was time to check into our hotel.
We stayed right close to downtown Queenstown, which was amazing. We got straight to laundry, as our hiking gear was all still soaking wet, and we weren’t sure how we’d get it home that way! We visited with some friends from home, who also happened to be on holiday in Queenstown!
Then we walked downtown from our hotel and checked out the shops, as well as this very cool bar, The Winery.
It has many enomatic machines, that work like a Coravin, allowing small tastes of a bottle of wine to be poured from it without oxygen getting in. We were able to try several new wines, and I got that Amisfield wine after all. It was a lovely evening, and we enjoyed some cheese and crackers on the balcony of our hotel before bed, and also really enjoyed a hot shower, a real toilet, and a King size bed! As much as we loved the hotel for the last night, we really did like the Jucy van.
Our Jucy van was just what we needed for this trip.
It was small enough to get good fuel mileage (which matters a lot here – fuel on the South Island was around a whopping $2.40/litre, and that’s not a typo); it was still big enough to have a functioning bathroom. We had a small living area with benches, and a table that we could set up for dinner. That same area converted to a bed for the night.
There was also a bed option up above, but with just us, we didn’t need to use that one for anything but storage. It came with a kitchenette, and all of the dishes we needed. It also had towels, and bedding. The weather was quite cold (for NZ) at this time of year, and got down to just above 0° at night, but we had 2 duvets, and were toasty warm under them – borderline hot some of the nights. I was glad we only flew with carry-on luggage though, because compared to our camper in Canada, it felt a bit tight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have any more stuff!
On another note, this was the lightest I’ve ever packed for a trip, and it was a big stretch for me! I wore the same boots the entire time, other than my runners for hiking. I didn’t bring heels. (Who am I?) I didn’t bring my blow dryer or straightener, either, and just made due with the hair situation. I knew we wouldn’t have power for them anyways. (Thankfully, I was able to shower at my friend’s in Dunedin, half way through the trip, and use her hair appliances to freshen up. Alice, you’re a life-saver!) Over all, I really embraced the campervan lifestyle. It was fine for 5 days, but by day 6, I was quite happy in our hotel room! I am still a bit “precious” as they say here, after all.
I have also realized that we’ve only been here just over half a year, and our trip was greatly enriched by the many connections we already had, because of our jobs in the industry, and friends we have made. We visited friends in Dunedin and Queenstown, and I knew people in Christchurch, and Gibbston Valley through simply meeting them at my job and spending some time getting to know them; they then returned the hospitality to us. We tried wines of people I’ve met at my job. We had a free place to stay in Wanaka, through another friend we’ve made. Most of the places we visited gave us extra special treatment when they found out we were industry people. I’m so thankful for all of these connections, and they make us feel so much more welcome in NZ.
Our trip was amazing.
I’m so happy to have finally seen the South Island, and it is every bit as beautiful as people say. (Although, I do have to give bigger points to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.) 6 days went by so quickly, and we did a lot, but we still had moments of relaxation, and thoroughly enjoyed our first actual holiday in NZ.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
If you’ve read my previous post about what Greg does, you have seen how a winery operates from the vineyard and winery perspective. My job is quite different than Greg’s.
I work at Church Road Winery as a Visitor Experience and Cellar Door Host. What that means is that I am responsible for many aspects of what makes a visit to our winery a great experience for the customers. I’ve included some examples below:
⁃ doing tastings at the bar for walk in customers or pre-booked groups
– tour operator group tastings at the bar, or seated at tables for small or large groups
⁃ running the till for people to pay for their meals, tastings, wine, or merchandise
⁃ answering the phone
⁃ educating customers about the wine and helping them in the shop
⁃ serving wine and drinks to tables at the restaurant or those enjoying the lawn area. We have a restaurant in the Cellar Door, and although we don’t run the food part, all of the drink orders for all beverages (even Soda, etc.) come through us. We are also responsible to clear, wash and polish all of the glasswear.
⁃ VIP drink service and general assistance at concerts
⁃ tours of the winery and through the museum, which include educating the guests on the history of the company, the wine making process, and our specific procedures
⁃ stocking the shelves in the shop with wine and merchandise
⁃ stocking the bar with wine, drinks, and clean glasswear
⁃ working in the new Container Bar. We just opened our new bar down in our park area. It used to be a shipping container and is now a really nice outdoor bar where we can serve drinks to outdoor customers wanting wine and snacks on the beanbag chairs or blankets in the park. We can also use it for concert service and as an additional tasting area on really busy days.
⁃ So much more!
Church Road is only closed 4 days of the year, and we are the most visited winery in Hawke’s Bay. The team won “Cellar Door of the Year” last year, meaning they were named the best Cellar Door experience in the whole region; this shows and means that the Church Road team takes the visitors’ experience very seriously and places it in high regard. There are about 16 of us that do what I do. We have a wide range of ages represented on the team as well, which is so nice!
We are very busy most of the time! We are open from 10:30am to 4:30pm for tastings, but we have a beautiful venue that is often rented out for weddings and other functions after hours. We are also hosting several Sunday Jazz festivals in our park, as well as 5 big name concerts this summer, like UB40, Fatboy Slim, Toto, Sticky Fingers and Angus & Julia Stone. This all means that my hours can jump around quite a bit, and my weekly schedule is never the same.
We also have a gorgeous setting!
One of my favourite parts of my job is leading the tours. We offer 2 tours per day; the Behind the Scenes Tour is at 11:00am and requires booking ahead. This one features an hour and a half experience of a full winery tour, on which the guests get to taste wine right out of our Oak Cuves and Stainless tanks, visit our wine museum, (which is the only one in New Zealand), and have a seated tasting that is paired with food. The second is at 2:00pm and is a Winery and Museum tour, that features a more basic walk through the winery and museum, and a tasting at a private bar afterwards. I have recently begun doing these tours on my own, and have done a good number now, with various sizes of groups up to 15 people. As a teacher, getting to teach people who actually want to be there and who have lots of questions, is so refreshing. Teaching the visitors, and talking about wine with them is really enjoyable, and there’s no homework to mark afterwards either.
In addition, when cruise ships are in, sometimes extra tours will be booked that start at 9:30am or 10:00am, and we will open early for those groups. We’re expecting 72 cruise ships in Napier this summer, and several of them will bring in large groups to Church Road. I just co-lead my first 40 person tour last week; the group was engaged and asked a lot of questions, and it was so much fun to do the tour with my colleague.
It is typical for me to start at either 10:00am or 11:00am, and on my schedule it says I work until “F,” which means when we’re finished! Sometimes, if it’s been a slow or rainy day, and we can get all of our glassware washed, restocking the wine done and all the other cleaning and organizing finished sooner, we will be done work by 4:30pm or 5:00pm. Other days, when the weather is nice, and people are hanging around finishing wine outside, or if we’ve been busy and have lots of glasses piled up, we don’t finish until 5:30pm or 6:00pm. There have been a few days when I’ve been helping unload palates of wine into the store room, after our stock has been replenished, or cleaning up until after 6:00pm.
We don’t get scheduled lunch breaks, because we are usually the busiest over lunch. We take turns popping into the back for 15 minutes or so to eat, and then we come back out so the next person can go. We have the freedom to use the washroom or go grab a snack or drink when we have a moment. Sometimes one of my colleagues will make tea in the afternoon, or someone will bring baking, and we’ll stand at one of the bars and have a cup (if we’re not slammed)! The plus side to a schedule like that is that I’m paid for the whole time, even while I’m eating lunch, or while we’re having tea, so more work means more money.
I also love my colleagues, and spending time with them at work is fun! Lots of times when I go to work, it feels like I’m on my way to go spend the day with friends. We truly have an amazing team of people (and if you can’t tell by these photos, we have a lot of fun)!
Another part of the job that I love is doing tastings. I get to meet so many amazing people from all over the world when I’m behind the bar. Most of the people that come to the counter are traveling, and as they are generally on holiday, and they’re out wine tasting, they’re usually in a great mood (99% of the time). I enjoy asking them questions about where they’re from, hearing their stories, and getting to talk about wine with them.
Every day of work is so different, and there’s so many things I might do. It really depends on the time of year, the weather, if there’s a cruise ship in, if the tours are booked or not, if the restaurant is fully booked and lots of drink orders are coming through, if there’s a function or concert that day, etc.
Another great perk of my job is that we get to have a bit of wine at the end of each work day! I love this part for a few reasons. Drinking great wine is obviously a huge plus. Apart from the obvious, getting to taste the wine helps us keep our palates tuned into the wines we’re talking about to people every day. We have 25 wines at Church Road, so it’s helpful to keep trying different wines again, to keep them fresh in our minds. Even more enjoyable to me though, are the friendships being built during this time. I love that we all sit down for half an hour or so after work and unwind together, and talk about our personal lives as friends. It really encourages a positive work environment and building relationships with our colleagues. Sometimes the Winemaker will join us as well, or our bosses will, and we get to see them in a different light. It’s a really special time of day for me, and I make sure not to rush off unless I absolutely have to be somewhere.
Another question Greg and I are often asked is how much we actually drink the wine from our places of work.
I personally really love Church Road wine; several of them have won many awards and they’re of high quality, so it’s not at all difficult to want to drink them! Our Winemaker was named the best in the country in 2013 and 2016, and he definitely knows what he’s doing. Church Road is a highly recognized and reputable brand throughout New Zealand. It’s too bad we can’t ship to Canada, or I’d be sending it back in hordes already! There are extra perks sometimes too… for example, our Chief Winemaker, Chris Scott, had an interview with a wine writer a few weeks ago, and he opened a bunch of really high quality, aged wine. Not only did us Church Road staff get to try it after work, but as they would just go to waste otherwise, we got to take the bottles home the next night. Greg and I had the remainders of a 2006 Grand Reserve Chardonnay and a 2002 Tom Merlot Cabernet with our dinner.
Surprisingly, I even enjoy some of the tasks I thought I wouldn’t, like polishing glassware. The ladies told me I would find it a nice, zen-like break from doing tastings on busy days, and it really actually is! It’s a great place to either rest our voices, or have a chat while polishing together (like our version of the water cooler)!
Most surprising to me, is that I also love taking the cardboard out. It is so strange to me that I love that job, but whenever there’s cardboard, I’m all, “I’ll take it!” That sounds ridiculous, but allow me to explain. I have moments every time I go do it, when I put that “high-vis” jacket on and get to stroll through the working winery to the cardboard bin. (Side note, I ran into UB40 while taking the cardboard out last week, so that was pretty amazing too.) Besides the off chance celebrity run in, I think I love it because it’s a particular moment in the day when I take a walk outside, and stop to realize that I actually work in a winery. Me. I do! I’ve dreamt of it for years, and now I do. Taking the cardboard out sounds like such a menial task to enjoy, but it reminds me of what I’m actually doing with my life right now. I can hardly wait to take the cardboard out during vintage when I’ll get to see all the grapes coming in and being processed!
Thanks for reading, blog family; that’s such a small glimpse into what I do, but it gives you the general idea for now. I’ll be sure to post updates on my job as it changes, and once vintage starts.
…And if you ever get a chance, have a glass of Church Road wine, and think of me. 🍷❤️
We’ve had a very busy January at work (and by “we” I mean “me,” as Greg’s been enjoying all of the public holidays). I’m used to having two weeks off over Christmas and New Years, and then spending the next few weeks of work struggling to get out of bed and motivate myself to get back into the routine, after having to dig my car of out of the snow in the dark, minus 40 weather. This year, of course, with an industry and country change, brought a big life change, and a significant change to my January! I’ve not had more than two days off in a row in a long while, (maybe at all since I started my job), but with that, comes no dread of returning to work, and no broken routine. It’s a good thing I love what I’m doing! January is one of the busiest months in the Cellar Door, and we’ve been working hard, for long hours, in the heat! We’ve had many days in a row of higher than 30 degree weather, and heaps of sunshine. I’ve been spending my mornings going for jogs along the ocean instead of digging my car out of the snow, and getting sun burnt instead of frost bitten!
With all of that work, I’ve been very tired, but when Greg and I realized I had a weekend off, we decided we needed to take advantage of it and go see some more of this beautiful country we’re calling “home.” As we did a “rustic” trip last time (slept in the car, next to a stream on a mountain and hiked 20kms), we decided to do a city trip this time. We chose Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, a four hour drive for us; on route, there is the Wairarapa wine region, with Martinborough in it, famous for its Pinot Noir, something Hawke’s Bay is too warm to do much of.
We left early Saturday morning and headed through many cute little towns on the way to Martinborough. We wanted to fit in a few wineries before our 1:00pm appointment at Ata Rangi.
We visited Poppies, Vynfields, and Schubert during the lunch hour. They were all very small production, beautiful places, and featured the Pinot Noir we were after.
We ran into a family at Poppies that lives in Wellington, that I had done a tasting with at Church Road recently; we all recognized each other, and stopped to chat! They told Greg how great of a time they had with me, and that they could tell how passionate I am about wine and the process of making it. That’s definitely true, and I’m glad it comes through to people who visit me in the Cellar Door!
We had a beautiful, seated tasting, with only 10 people at Ata Rangi, and got to hear a bit of their history, as well as the history of Martinborough.
After Martinborough, we headed into Welly! The first stop was the mall, where I bought some necessities that are harder to find in Hawke’s Bay, and looked for some clothes. Greg and I are noticing that the styles here are very different than in Europe or North America. I didn’t find much, but got a few things. We checked into our Airbnb in Island Bay, and then headed into downtown.
We had a walk around the waterfront, checked out Cuba Street and the candy store, Nicnacs, before having a pint at Hashigo Zake, a craft beer bar.
We had dinner at Chow, an Asian inspired place, that surprisingly was able to accommodate me very well. We loved their food, and atmosphere.
We finished the evening at Noble Rot, a famous wine bar in Wellington, where we got a Napa Chardonnay, just to remember what they taste like, and did a blind flight of three reds from around the world. We did decently well on our guesses, and enjoyed having some red wine from the old world again.
Sunday morning, we slept in a tiny bit, but had too much on the agenda to laze around! We started with a trip to the top of Mount Victoria for 360 degree views of the city. It was beautiful up there, and definitely worth a see!
We checked out the Te Papa Museum, where we learned about some of New Zealand’s history in the First World War, and saw their amazing, more than double life size models of soldiers; they have been crafted in incredible detail!
Next, we headed to the waterfront to walk more of it, and grabbed a coffee. This was a relaxing part of the day, and was a peaceful stroll.
The wind was intense! I had been warned of the Wellington wind, but didn’t quite comprehend how fast it actually is! I literally had to hold my sunglasses on my head because they were blowing off. The wind actually pushed us along if it was behind, and we had to lean into it if it was in front. I had to tuck my shirt into the front of my pants to prevent it from whipping up!
We eventually found the cute huts at Oriental Bay, and then headed to do some breweries for Greg!
Wellington has a really big craft beer scene. We went to Husk first, that features Choice Bros brewing, and great food, and then to Whistling Sisters. Greg found most of the beer very good; his favourites still lie in other parts of the world, but he really liked lots of the Welly ones.
We did some wine shopping at Moore Wilson’s and Glengarry, and were excited to find some wine from other parts of the world. We’ve got a craving for a good Napa or Sonoma red, but we haven’t found that yet. (Do we want it just because we can’t find it?)
The last stop was at Starbucks, for the New Zealand souvenir mug, and an Americano. To be honest, I’m starting to get used to New Zealand’s amazing coffee, and how rich and velvety it is, with a nice foam to it, that I found the Americano a bit lacking; however, it was a weird sized cup and had too much water for the amount of espresso, and it also didn’t have the same flavour as in Canada. I don’t blame anyone, but they’re competing with so many other amazing coffee shops; if Starbucks wants to become more popular here, they need to up their game. (Disclaimer: I will always love Starbucks.) We can’t use our app or gold cards here, and they don’t have the oatmeal, but I did get my Americano free with my mug. The mug was $30 here (yikes) but Switzerland still takes the prize for “most expensive we’ve seen” at somewhere around $32 – $34 Canadian. The Starbucks people probably think I died, seeing as how my gold card, that used to get several purchases a week, went from full on, to absolutely nothing the day I left Canada. If anyone from Starbucks is reading this, I am alive, and I still love you.
We enjoyed the ride home, as it is a really beautiful drive through mountains, with lush greenery, and several cute towns, one of which won New Zealand’s most scenic town recently.
I said to Greg before the trip that I wanted to have a relaxing weekend in Wellington, as I have been so tired from work and not sleeping well due to our almost 30 degree nights (poor me, right?). If you know me though, I always try and fit as much in as possible on a trip, because I like to take advantage of being in the place. I have to go back more than once to be able to fully relax in any place! This weekend, no matter how much I thought we’d relax, was not relaxing, but it was full of sight seeing, and we felt like we were on holiday! I said to Greg at one point, “doesn’t it feel like we just flew here and we have to fly back to Canada soon? But we don’t. We will just drive back home and go to work tomorrow.”
I’ve also noticed there’s nothing that makes me feel more at home in Napier than leaving it, and then getting that comfortable feeling of coming home when we return to Hawke’s Bay. We’ve definitely ended up living in the right place for us, and it’s feeling more like home every day.
Our weekend in Wellington was short and sweet, and we’re happy to have seen the city; we’re also happy to be home… until the next time!
After spending five days in Sydney, we were ready to head to Adelaide, a city many people don’t visit unless they’re heading to the surrounding wine regions. Within a short drive from Adelaide are several large and famous wine producing regions in Australia, such as the Barossa Valley, which is well known for Australian Shiraz, and several others; we visited Barossa first, the Eden Valley briefly, and spent several days in McLaren Vale.
We flew into Adelaide and picked up our rental car (after business hours); it turned out to be broken, so after a couple of hours of dealing with shuttles, returns and getting a new car from a different company, and an express and affordable dinner at “Fasta Pasta,” we were on our way to the small town of Gawler. It lies in the Barossa, where we stayed at the old courthouse, that has been converted by the owner into an Airbnb. Coming out of our Sydney Airbnb, this one was just what we needed. It was quirky and adorable, the bed was so comfortable, it was very clean, and it was fully stocked! It also had a Bluetooth speaker, and phone chargers, which was extra appreciated, seeing as ours were left in a backpack in the first rental car, and we didn’t manage to get them back for a few days.
The Barossa Valley
First things first – Penfolds! ❤️
Penfolds has two locations in the Barossa; one location is their Cellar Door in the valley, where they make the majority of their wine, and offer some interesting experiences, like the “Make Your Own Blend” tasting that we did. The other location is a heritage site in Adelaide, and is the original location of Penfolds, featuring the cottage where Dr. and Mrs. Penfolds lived when they started it in 1847. Some wine is still produced at that site, and is labelled Magill Estate.
Seeing as how I’m gaga over Penfolds, we visited both sites, and for me, they were some of the most jaw dropping, stars in my eyes, “I can’t believe I’m standing here seeing this” wineries I’ve ever been to.
The “Make Your Own Blend” experience was recommended to me by friends who had done it, and was an exceptional experience. We were dressed in lab coats, told the history of Penfolds, and given wine making tools, and three bottles to work with, of single varietals commonly blended in Australia. We got to try different percentages of our own, and come up with the ratio we preferred. Then we made a bigger batch each and bottled them; we got to take them with us!
We did a tasting downstairs afterwards, and as we happened to connect well with their Cellar Door ladies, we were there a bit longer, and were able to try a lot of “off menu” wines.
Our experience at the Magill Estate the following day was also amazing! We had a private tour of the grounds and got to see everything from Max Schubert’s personal collection of signed Grange’s, and his handwritten notes on production, to the area where he built his secret wall to hide them in the early 1950’s.
We did another tasting after the tour, and connected well with our guide again, who literally snuck us a taste of the not-included on the tour, iconic, Grange. I was speechless, and very aware of the value in my glass (pictured below).
If you’re in the Barossa, even if you don’t love Penfolds as much as I do, go to Penfolds! It is such a famous, iconic wine producer that has shaped a large part of the wine making history in Australia and is well known across the world.
This producer is another well known one, that has some pretty amazing history behind it. They have the record for the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, as the Barossa Valley is one of the only areas that hasn’t been affected by phylloxera, a disease in the vine that kills it. Even Europe has had to tear out many of their old vines due to this disease. We saw these beautiful vines, and were fortunate enough to try the wine they produce. When a vine is very old, it produces much less fruit, but the fruit it does produce is rich, concentrated and flavourful. The wines reflect this in their deep, intense flavours, and their complexities in varieties and layers of different flavours that come out as you smell it in the glass, in your mouth as you sip, and long after you have swallowed.
Peter Lehman, Yalumba, Wolf Blass, Jacob’s Creek
We visited several other well known producers, and were glad to get to see some of the wineries that are so well known around the world. Peter Lehman and Wolf Blass impressed us with their higher tier wines that we don’t get in Canada due to our government’s taxation and shipping laws. Yalumba (Eden Valley) has several quality wines as well, and the lady in their tasting room was a blast to spend an hour with! Tate, the company that makes Ballbuster, was also there, but only opens by appointment with people who plan to purchase, so we drove past, but didn’t visit. Jacob’s Creek was another history maker in its day, but we were disappointed with our experience there, and the taste of their wines.
Landscape and Food
The Barossa Valley in itself is quite hilly, and sunny, with lots of interesting plants and animals to look for! We ate at a restaurant called Harvest Kitchen, as it came highly recommended in my research. It had unique menu choices with made-in-house food and friendly service, plus a beautiful view.
We started off our visit in McLaren Vale with the best of the best, and it was really difficult to enjoy some of the other wineries after being at Mollydooker! If you’re a Mollydooker fan, save them for close to last. It was explained to us that Mollydooker is mostly known in America and China, as 85% of their product is shipped overseas. Lots of the locals haven’t heard of them. They have a unique watering formula that allows them to get large, high quantities of grapes that are concentrated in flavours, leading to high “fruit weight”‘on the tongue, meaning you can clearly taste the fruit flavours in the wines, along with secondary flavours. They also have higher alcohol wines that are very smooth and creamy in texture.
We did a tour and light lunch with Liza, who was lovely, and got to learn all about the wine making process, meet the winemaker, and enjoy a beautiful charcuterie board on their stunning patio while we tasted through their flight.
Mollydooker makes amazing quality wines that are full of flavour, boast a velvety mouthfeel, and have long finishes. If you haven’t tried their wines, I recommend you do so. Even their entry level wines are fabulous!
Coriole, Samuel’s Gorge
We fit in two more tastings after Mollydooker that I was fairly unimpressed with. Coriole had a beautiful setting, but a small Cellar Door, and basic wines. Samuel’s Gorge made great, Italian varieties, but I found our experience there to be very unprofessional. Don’t go on a Friday at the end of the day if you want your cellar door people not to be “trollied,” as they say. Greg loved it there, and was able to see past the behaviour of some of the staff; had we sat on their patio and done a seated tasting with the sober worker, I’m sure it would have been way more enjoyable for me as well.
D’Arenberg – The Cube
This place is something else! I’ll let the photos speak to their set up in there.
There was haunted house type music playing on outdoor speakers as we walked up, and the whole ground level is an artistic museum. The tasting room is on the top, and the bathrooms are on the first level.
This wasn’t my style of winery, but was worth seeing once. I’d recommend that everyone who visits McLaren Vale go take a tour, keeping in mind that all of that craziness in there distracts from their wine. They have over 70 wines and they’re aiming for 100. I’ll let you decide how many you think a place can do before the quality drops.
This was easily one of the most beautiful wineries and tasting rooms I’ve ever been to. They also had exceptional wine. The building is very simple and small, but it’s set up for sit down tastings that capitalize on the naturally beautiful setting that is all around them.
Wirra Wirra, Alpha Box & Dice, Chapel Hill
These were all nice enough experiences, with decent, but not spectacular wines, except at Alpha Box & Dice. It was a super cute, quirky place, that made a lot of Italian varieties, and did them well.
We quite enjoyed our experience and our wine. We even sat on their lawn and had a glass in the shade before ending our day, as they’re open later than all the other wineries.
The craft beer scene is beginning to pick up in several of the wine regions in Australia. Breweries are slowly popping up that produce locally made styles of craft beer in a wide range.
Greg enjoyed his flight at Goodieson’s very much, and as the D.D., I practiced driving on the other side of the road!
Landscape and Food
Pizzateca was the highly reviewed restaurant we chose to visit for lunch in this wine region. It is run by Italians, who make everything in house and fresh. Greg said our pizza was one of the best he’s ever had. We also enjoyed their lamb skewers, tiramisu and limoncello!
McLaren Vale was quite hilly, and unlike the Barossa, it sits right along the sea. You can see the sea from many different viewpoints as you’re driving around and at wineries. Our Airbnb was also within sight of it, and we walked or jogged down to and along the shore several times. We also visited the beach to relax in the sun a couple of times, and to watch the sun drop into the ocean at the end of the day.
We also managed to see some Kangaroos along the side of the road!
Wine Tasting in Australia
One thing we noticed, that is unique to Australia (and some wineries we’ve been to in New Zealand), is that they actually let you taste everything on the menu. In other countries, you’re asked to choose which ones you’d like to do, and given a number of how many you can try, but in Australia, they seem to like to take you through everything they have.
Many people in Australia do not use the spittoon. It was common to see people with drivers, or on group tours in vans. We, of course, both use the spittoon at all the wineries, all day (with the exception of definitely swallowing Grange!) even if we’re not the one driving. We actually want to learn, and we like to be able to pay full attention to each wine we’re tasting, even by the end of the day. Because spitting isn’t super common, some of the spittoons were a big bucket, across the room or walkway from the bar, which made it awkward for us to have to walk over with each mouthful, and sometimes bend to the floor to spit. That was a negative for me at the places that didn’t have mini spittoons at the bars.
One of the ladies at Penfolds noticed we were spitting, and commented on it. We explained how we learned a saying they have in France that “you don’t taste wine with your stomach.” She just laughed and exclaimed, “well we don’t say that in the Barossa!”
Overall, our trip to the wine regions in Australia was fabulous for wine lovers like us, and we had some really great visits, met some great Cellar Door people, and learned a lot! Hopefully I’ll get to be a Cellar Door person myself some day, and offer that experience I’ve enjoyed so many times to others.
If you’re touring wine regions in Australia, good luck, enjoy the beautiful scenery, watch for bugs and creatures, and have fun!