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.
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.
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.
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.
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.