Wines by Jenny Dobson; The Story of a Legendary Wine Producer

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Jenny Dobson: winemaker, boutique wine producer, icon in the New Zealand wine industry. When I had the chance to sit down with her to hear and write her story, I was honoured, to say the least.

Jenny, a born and raised Kiwi, grew up in a time where licensed restaurants were rare in New Zealand. The wine industry was basically non-existent. Her father was English, and for her parents, wine was a regular part of any meal; they drank it, and shared it with the children as per their cultural norms. Although they chose wine mostly from South Africa and France, Jenny’s father had a special love for Chateauneuf du Pape. Jenny remembers adding McDonald wines to their table when they began gaining popularity in the 70’s.

Even as a child, Jenny had a fascination with aromas, and most of her memories are linked through scent. She can vividly remember the smell of the Rosemary bush and the Lily of the Valley at her childhood homes, along with a fascination with the diversity of smells and flavours in wines; she wanted to discover the underlying reasoning for this. She is scientific by nature, so she entered a Science programme in University, but couldn’t envision herself inside a lab full time and wanted to be part of nature. She discovered that working in wine could provide that.

Vineyard at Harvest time in 1989 – Chateau Sénéjac

With the Wine Science degree not yet established, she transferred to Food Science, where she took a course on sensory observation; she realizes now how “invaluable” that course was to her “understanding of taste and the importance” of it. With a professor passionate about wine, Jenny was able to focus her schoolwork in that direction. As an independent learner, she spent her personal time reading every book, article and study she could get her hands on about tasting or making wine. There is a book shelf in every room of her house, full of wine books, that she graciously offered to lend to me! It was at the end of her 3rd year in University, after all of her school-driven and personal research, that she knew wine was her passion, and she says “if you don’t have passion you could not work in the industry.” 

Jenny in the old cellar at Chateau Sénéjac in 1986, 6 months pregnant

She’s always excelled at science and maths, and used to think she “had no artistic bones,” but her opinion has changed.

“Fine winemaking is art. So many of the decisions are felt. They’re a sense of what is going to be right. [Winemaking] so deftly combines science and art…You need scientific rigour but artistic license and openness of thinking to push boundaries. I love the fact that wine can not be made to a chemical formula.”

As soon as she graduated, she travelled to France, motivated to learn from some of the “best and oldest” winemakers in the world. She says she was “very naive” in her move there, but was “lucky enough to get a job at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy.”

Her job at Domaine Dujac involved her living with the family, and doing everything from “babysitting, cleaning, vineyard work, cellar work,” to eating and drinking with the family. She realizes how fortunate she was to be able to “drink so widely with Jacques and Roz,” and she explains the rarity of his wine collection.

“I had a glorious introduction to wine. In most wine producing areas in France in those days you only drank the area you were in. You wouldn’t find anything else in the Supermarket. Because Jacques’s Dad was Parisian, he had started a cellar for Jacques when he was young including wines from around Europe; Jacques added to it with wines from the new world, so I had the pleasure of drinking and getting to know fine Burgundy, but also wines from around the world.”

Bottling Blanc de Sénéjac in 1988

Jenny attributes much of her wine making philosophy back to the time she worked at Domaine Dujac. From Jacques she learned the value of “reflecting vineyard vintage variety,” and that “wine is made for people to enjoy.” She also learned that she values “integrity and authenticity” in her winemaking. “It’s working hard at every stage, especially in the vineyard, not tweaking at the end,” and if you drink Jenny’s wine, you can be sure she’s taken pride in it’s authenticity at every stage.

After working at Domaine Dujac, Jenny moved to Paris to work with the famed Steven Spurrier, who started a very controversial wine school. If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’ll know his name. Steven Spurrier organized the iconic and history-making Paris Tasting in 1976, in which the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from Napa Valley won the blind tasting, to everyone’s shock, putting California on the wine map. He was instrumental in beginning to bring Californian wines into France in the 70’s. Jenny comments about Steven that he had a similar philosophy to Jacques, in that the “diversity of wine is the beauty of wine. Every bottle, every property is different.”

Jenny began working with him in 1981, and her role was enough to make any wine lover jealous! She explained that after the historical 1976 Paris Tasting, winemakers from all over the world wanted to be featured in Steven’s shop. She was part of the selection process; she tasted applicant’s wines, and helped chose those lucky few that would be fortunate enough to grace Steven’s shelves. She also worked in his wine school, and gave 2 hour courses on French wine, appropriate cheese pairings, and French regions and helped organize and participated in many tutored tastings run by L’Académie du Vin.

In Paris, Jenny expanded her world palate, had one of the best jobs any wine lover could ask for, and on top of that, met Charles, the English grandson of a wine merchant with offices in London and Bordeaux, and the love of her life. Before you think it was all sunshine and roses though, imagine her living in a flat on the 6th floor in the building’s roof, with no toilet, in which she could literally touch both walls at once with arms stretched. The toilet was on the 4th floor and was a squat toilet. There was no lift. She jokes about a huge upgrade from that place when she moved to her second flat with a toilet and a bedroom! Despite the quirky places she called home, Jenny says with fondness, “I loved living in Paris.”

Vineyard, Autumn 1988

She did miss winemaking though, so she moved to Bordeaux and got a vintage job in Graves at Chateau Rahoul, which was part owned by an Australian man and wine industry icon, Len Evens. This also happened to be in 1982, one of the most iconic vintages in Bordeaux’s history.

One evening, she went along to a magazine wine tasting, and as Charlie was in the merchant business, he was there. They met casually; she went back to Chateau Rahoul to finish her vintage job, but then moved back to Paris. She was at a wine bar one evening, when she met the owner of Chateau Sénéjac, who offered her a cellar hand job in Bordeaux. She moved again, back to Bordeaux, in Steven Spurrier’s delivery van of all things! The day she arrived in Bordeaux, she was out for lunch, and there was Charlie, at the same restaurant. Eventually they found themselves in the same social circles, and “the rest is history,” as Jenny says. They were married in 1984.

Jenny, Charles and their children in 2000 – New Zealand.

Charlie being a wine merchant has contributed to Jenny’s diverse palate. She explained how the businesses operated at that time. Bordeaux Negociants, wine merchants, would buy wine “en primeur” from the properties (Chateaux) around 6 to 8 months after harvest. The wine was then sold at a later date, sometimes before and sometimes after bottling to other merchants in and outside of Bordeaux and to private clients. This pre-purchase of wine by the Bordeaux merchants helped shoulder the cost of production for the Chateaux. The Chateaux would present barrel samples to the merchants for tasting and Charlie would bring them home at the end of the day for Jenny to evaluate as well. Jenny commented that “in retrospect, that was a huge advantage” for her, because she “got to taste the finest Bordeaux wines when young and also drink them when mature. It gave [her] a benchmark for the young wines she had in barrel at Chateau Sénéjac.”

Vineyard in Winter, 1984/85

She has also made 13 vintages of Bordeaux, and because she stayed all year long, she gained knowledge of the vineyards, what to do in the cellar, and onwards; she saw the entire process. She learned “the effects of ferments on the wine in bottle, 2 years later, 3 years later, and how the vineyard choices translated into the wine.” She realizes that is something else that has helped develop her skill in winemaking; she “had a vision of where the wine was going in years and years of time.”

We discussed not only making wine, but what it’s made for. Jenny believes that wine is made to be consumed and enjoyed, and that the industry today is pushing towards simply selling an alcoholic beverage, rather than appreciating an art form, as it was meant to be. “It’s made to sell product for people to drink and get drunk rather than educating them about wine so that it’s looked more so as an art form than a beverage.”

She shares how they had “wine every day” in France. There was “no such thing as a non-wine day. Sometimes we finished the bottle, sometimes we didn’t. It depends on your attitude. We always looked on wine with pleasure and enjoyment, not as a guilty sin… If it’s always there, there’s no compulsion.”

Jenny explains what the enjoyment of wine brings to her. “I drink wine for it’s diversity. For it’s intellectual stimulation. For it’s flavour and taste.” She explained it so beautifully, and I couldn’t help but completely agree.

Jenny and a friend, Norma, tasting Pinotage at Te Awa in 2000 – Hawke’s Bay

“It’s like music or painting, or any form of art. If you just have background music, anything can be there. If you’re actually listening and understanding then you have a greater appreciation.

Jenny believes “the more people know about wine and get excited about it, there will be less mass consumption.” These are the kinds of palates she is mindful of in her work.

Jenny and Charlie had their 3 children while in Bordeaux, but eventually decided to move to Jenny’s home country, New Zealand. When I asked why she chose Hawke’s Bay, she answered that it seemed the “logical place” because “you can ripen the Bordeaux grape varieties” that she was used to working with. She had also done a vintage in Western Australia, where she gained experience with Chardonnay and Syrah, also key varietals in Hawke’s Bay. She and Charlie visited every single wine region in the country before making their final decision, just to be sure!

When she first arrived in the Bay, Jenny began working as a wine consultant, but found it to be “isolating.” She noticed she was only getting to be involved when things went wrong with wine, and customers needed her to fix it. A job came open at Te Awa Farm, and Jenny spent a “glorious” 12 years as the winemaker there. She got to really know the vineyards and the wines; when it went through a change of ownership, she decided to move on. The consultancy she does now is hands on. (Jenny had been racking barrels all day before her interview with me.)

Jenny with a press in the new winery in 1987

New winery, 1987

With Jenny’s experience and clear appreciation of the artistic side of wine, I was curious why it took her until now to start her own label. First, Jenny believes wine starts in the vineyard, so she wasn’t ready to do something for herself if she had to be buying fruit. She has her own now, that she fell upon quite interestingly. She had a client in 2009 that had some land on Ngatarawa Road, and asked her what he should plant. She had been reading studies about the Italian grape, Fiano, and thought it would be great for the Bay, as it was interesting, and had good acitity. It was a “throw-away comment,” as she describes it, but she told him to plant Fiano. She came back a year later, and he had planted it, and said to her, “well, are you going to make it?”

She made the first Fiano in 2013 for her client, and again in 2014. The plan was for her to continue making it for him, but due to personal reasons in 2015, he asked if Jenny wanted to take it over. She agreed, and made a small batch of the first Jenny Dobson Fiano. In 2016, she realized, “it was more wine than I could drink myself!” She released it to the public in 2017. Another reason she hadn’t started her label sooner was simply because she “was getting enough enjoyment out of helping other people make their own wines,” but she has realized, “if I don’t do this now I will never do it.”

Jenny’s Fiano

In 2018, she was inspired to add a red wine to her label, but wanted a unique one. She began exploring Hawke’s Bay Merlot with the aim to give it the “appeal that people like about Pinot Noir,” like “fragrance [and] texture but lightness and freshness in the mouth.”

As she works as the winemaker for William Murdoch Wines, and adores the character of their organic vineyard, she bought some fruit from them. She wild fermented it in oak, with whole bunch Malbec and Cab Franc “for texture and fragrance.” She explains that she “didn’t know what was going to happen” and that she was “being guided by the wine.” She basket pressed it and aged it in barrel, taking it out 18 months later in mid-September. Her red wine will be called “Doris” after her grandmother; Doris was “formidable, way ahead of her time, had vision, [and] didn’t follow any conventions.” Jenny’s favorite memory of her is her purple hair, so watch for that on the label. For the wine to represent its unconventional style, Jenny is also putting it in a Burgundy bottle, not a Bordeaux bottle, like other Merlots. She doesn’t want people to “taste it as a Merlot,” but rather “a red wine.” Doris is being bottled in October, and will likely be released next Autumn, “based on how she looks.” Jenny has carried on with Doris in this past 2019 vintage, and has some ideas to expand her label in 2020. She describes her current production as “tiny” at 80 cases or less of Fiano.

Because Jenny is always reading and learning, the 2019 Fiano has some new elements in the winemaking. She had read a study about Fiano that claimed that the skins have a compound in them that can contribute additional flavours, and that soaking some skins in the juice could enhance the character of the wine. Jenny did a 4 L trial tank to test out that theory. She bottled off a small amount of the trial tank for future testing to determine what she wants to do for the 2020 vintage. She says, “even with tiny amounts, you have to always be open minded and thinking of what you can do. Can I make a better wine? A different wine?”

When I asked Jenny out of all the wines she’s made, which she’s most proud of, she answered, “all of them!” She said they’re “like my children.” Some of her favorites are from the “difficult vintages, where you come out with something so good. It’s not the standout best in a line-up, but it’s best because you know the elements and Mother Nature were against you, but you’ve worked with it to produce something so good; it makes you feel really satisfied.”

Jenny’s story is amazing, but it’s not without challenges, many of which have been related to her gender. She says that being a woman is “an extra challenge that men don’t have to factor in.” When she was working in France in the 80’s, there were “signs outside cellars saying women weren’t allowed to enter the cellar.” They had “funny ideas” like the fact that “women had funny acids in their body that turned wine to vinegar, or if a woman had her period and came into the cellar the wine would re-ferment every month.”

Jenny was the first female maitre de chai in the Medoc; being a history maker leaves an incredible legacy, but it’s never easy. “It was a male dominated business” and people wondered how women would be able to manage the home, a family, and a career in wine. “Women were shut out because the industry people knew it was all encompassing.” When she did eventually have her children, she took a few days off, and was then right back into the work. She breast fed in the vineyard, with her baby strapped to her chest. She was bottling (not milk – wine) 3 days after giving birth. She lived on site, and the kids grew up around the vineyard and the winery. She successfully accomplished being a wife, mother and a winemaker. She had to overcome being the only woman making wine in the Medoc, but she did it. How? “My wines spoke for themselves.” She proved herself to the French people. She truly is a legend.

Winemaking is also a very physically demanding job. Jenny admits that she’s tired at the end of the day, but also points out that “so is a man working in a cellar.” There are different challenges for women today than when she began her career, yet she is confident we are moving in the right direction and knows that “a woman starting today will not face the same challenges” that she had to. “It was all men but me,” Jenny says. It’s “a lot closer to equal now; we are growing up with women and men in it together now.”

She doesn’t want to be known as a “woman winemaker.” She just wants to be known as a “winemaker,” like anyone else. She makes it clear that she doesn’t think “women or men are better winemakers. There are people that are better winemakers” than other people. She is also clear to point out that she knows it’s not all men that discriminate. “There are people that discriminate, not just men.”

With her current label, there are the challenges of selling the wine. Jenny has thought to herself, “[consider] the amount of money I make on each bottle – am I crazy? Why am I doing this?” She is doing it because she is creating “wines of distinction and individuality.” This also makes them “a bit harder to sell,” especially in the small Hawke’s Bay.

When I asked Jenny if she thinks it’s worth all the challenges, she gave a resounding, “yes! I wouldn’t be starting my own label so late in life if I didn’t!”

2019 was her 40th vintage.

Patsy the Rose is coming soon too! Patsy is named after her Aunt, and unlike most Hawke’s Bay rosés, it will be Cabernet Franc dominant. Being let in on Jenny’s thought process as she described how she wants to make Patsy was very intriguing to me. Here I was, sitting with the Medoc’s first female winemaker, who selected wines for Steven Spurier’s shop, who has 40 years of experience, and she was debating back and forth on what she should do, or might do, still undecided, still exploring ideas. I commented on this, and she responded by saying that it’s important to always be willing to experiment and learn because no one can ever just know what’s coming for any vintage or any wine. Greg had made a Cab Franc Rose in 2019, so he and Jenny discussed some ideas for the next vintage. It was surreal to listen to that conversation.

Doris Merlot grapes

Jenny at Chateau Sénéjac
Emma in the vines at Franklin Estate, 1995
Chris at age 1 in the cellar
Richard finishing breakfast while the bottling truck sets up, 1992
Jenny with son, Chris, 1988
Family labeling in 1992

Jenny, 1991

Jenny has learned some beautiful lessons in her career as a winemaker that I feel can reach beyond the wine industry to inspire; I have left them in her words.

“It’s all learning. You continue learning. There was a stage when I was looking for perfection in wine. Perfection’s boring. If everything’s perfect, it’s boring. You’re striving for perfection but the goal posts keep moving.”

“The best tool a winemaker has is the palatte. You have to keep it diverse. Natural wines challenge your palette. Things that challenge are the extremes that move the middle.”

“Recipe wine making has its place, but is one of the worst things. There’s so much unknown about wine that when you formulate a recipe you can only make good wine. You can’t make great wine.”

“You can not make a wine that will please everyone or else you’re making Coca Cola. You have to be okay with some people not liking your wine, but for everyone that doesn’t like it, there will be someone that does.”

Are you that someone?

To find out, you can purchase Wines by Jenny Dobson via mail order, through Boutique Connection, @boutiqueconnection or her Instagram @jenny_dobson_wines. Several establishments stock her wines, like Liquor King, Urban Winery, restaurants around Hawkes Bay and Wellington, Regional Wines and Spirits in Wellington, Vino Fino in Christchurch, and soon, the Auckland market.

Cheers to Jenny for following her passions, making history, sharing her story and for making interesting and authentic wines of quality; cheers to you as you enjoy them!

The Amoise Story; “Unadulterated” Wine Producer in Hawke’s Bay

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I always love a story in which wine finds someone who was truly meant to be in the industry, but just wouldn’t have thought to look there at first.

Amy Farnsworth is the owner and Winemaker of Amoise (pronounced am-was), a boutique and “unadulterated” wine label in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Amy’s story is one of passion, patience, persistence, and the pull of nature. With 17 harvests under her belt, across 6 countries, Amy truly has a vast array of personal experience to bring to her label.

Grape Harvest time at Domaine Alain Graillot – Crozes Hermitage, France 2012

Amy was raised by a Canadian father and a Kiwi mother in White Rock, a small city in the Vancouver area. She remembers childhood trips to New Zealand to visit her Mom’s side of the family, on which she grew familiar with the Kiwi country and culture. After high school, Amy decided to enter a career in Criminology, with the goal of becoming a lawyer. To help with tuition fees, like many students do, she got a hospitality job. It was while working at Uli’s Restaurant in White Rock that she had two significant experiences with wine that ultimately ended up changing the course of her life.

Uli’s employed several professional male servers that had extensive wine knowledge, and were selling “huge wines like Opus One” to the customers. A self-driven hard worker, Amy knew that if she wanted to compete with their sales, she needed to educate herself on the world of wine, and she began taking WSET courses.

She also recalls one fateful night that Uli pulled a wine out of his cellar that she will never forget. When I asked Amy about the first significant wine she remembers, she didn’t pause for a second before telling me exactly what it was, a 1971 Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Spätlese from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr (Sundial) Vineyard. “It stopped me dead in my tracks,” she says about the Riesling. She had previously loved Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cab, but the Riesling “opened up a whole new ball game” for her. “I was drinking South Australia and Napa but there’s a whole other world out there, and thank God for that. I had no idea. I’d never tried wine like that in my life.”

As Amy continued advancing in her WSET courses, she moved to Vancouver to work in fine dining. She completed her WSET Level 3, and then decided to begin her 2 year WSET Diploma; she soon realized Criminology couldn’t compete with wine, and pursued wine studies full time. She eventually lost interest in the hospitality side of the industry, and began working in fine wine stores, like Liberty Wine Merchants, and for importer Liquid Art Fine Wines in Vancouver, who had the largest biodynamic portfolio in Canada. She willingly traded in a higher income for valuable experience, and her work with Liquid Art fuelled her passion for not only wine, but specifically biodynamic and natural wine. Her WSET Diploma took a back seat when she was promoted into their office and chose to focus her energies on sales and marketing, and learning about biodynamics. She was tracking the lunar calendar, observing key differences between biodynamic and conventional winemaking and knew she was “all in” with biodynamics before she even set foot in a vineyard.

Winery work – Beaune, France 2010

In 2009, the recession hit Canada; Amy knew that her job was at risk. Her company had been importing biodynamic wine for a special New Zealand producer in Central Otago; she had actually been the author of their story and had sent it to trade customers and private clients across Canada, and had previously met the Winemaker. She contacted them on a whim to ask for employment, and thanks to her connections, was able to secure a job at their vineyard. She made the move to New Zealand to do her first Kiwi harvest at Felton Road Winery.

Working at Felton Road was “the experience of a lifetime” for Amy. She stayed on for a full year, which she highly recommends to anyone wanting to seriously enter the industry. “Anyone can do a harvest for a couple months, but the year round experience is the most important.” It was during her year at Felton Road that she explored all sides of the winemaking business, “from vineyard to Cellar Door and winery.” That year, Amy discovered in her heart that “Winemaker” was part of her identity. She remembers thinking, “this is amazing. I need to keep doing this,” and she says about Felton Road, “I feel I started at the top. The bar was set so high after working there.” Her reasons for this are because of “the Ethos, the community, and how they look after the animals and the plants.” She was already passionate about biodynamics, but after integrating into the community of Felton Road, she was captivated.

Harvest – Castiglione Falletto, Piedmont, Italy

Following Felton Road, Amy lived in Burgundy for two years where she obtained her Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology. Upon completion, she began traveling to different countries “to work the harvests and live, eat and drink through different cultures.”

Beaune, France 2010
Hand sorting Pinot Noir Grapes – Burgundy, France
Pump-over – Beaune 2010

In 2017 she returned to New Zealand for a harvest job at Paritua Winery, in Hawke’s Bay. She enjoyed the comradery with her colleagues and the Winemaker, and decided to stay on. As it so happened, a position opened up for Assistant Winemaker, and it was awarded to her. Even though she was making wine for Paritua’s two labels, Amy’s desire was to make her own.

She was ready to start Amoise, but 2017 was a difficult vintage in Hawke’s Bay. Winemakers only get one chance each year to do what they do; Amy made the painful decision to wait another year, because she knew that if she used the grapes from 2017, the wine would need intervention, and that went against everything she envisioned for her label. She was supported with advise from a wise Hawke’s Bay Winemaker and mentor, Jenny Dobson, who “truly wants the best for everyone,” and had suggested that 2017 wasn’t the strongest year to make her label’s debut. It was an extremely tough call to choose to wait, but Amy knew it was serendipity.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Hunter Valley, Australia 2017

In 2018, Amy searched tirelessly for organic fruit, and with it being so difficult to find in Hawke’s Bay, she had begun to accept the postponement of her dream for Amoise, yet again! As fate would have it, she happened to sit next to another Amy at a wine tasting, who became a great friend. Her new friend happened to be cousins with an established local winemaker, and he had some organic fruit she could purchase! It was Pinot Gris, and a small amount of Gewürztraminer. Amy recognized the opportunity in front of her and seized it.

Amoise harvest with help from friends – Hawke’s Bay 2019
Amy driving the tractor during Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

She had unfortunately had an accident that year involving a knife falling into her foot, so she was casted up and in a moon boot during the harvest season; Amy did not let that stop her from producing the wine she knew she needed to make. It was going to be a natural wine; it had to be hand harvested, and she was relentless. She literally dragged her moon boot through the vineyard to harvest the grapes, got the fruit into the winery, then hobbled around the winery until she physically couldn’t walk anymore. Her friend, Amy, was there to help her, and she couldn’t have done it without her. “Right from the get go we’ve been supporting each other and that is what community’s all about.”

Literally, through what must have felt like dream-crushing delays, freak knife disasters resulting in actual blood, sweat, and tears (and a moon boot), and thankfully, a supportive wine dream team . . . the 2018 Amoise Gris was born!

Amy released it in October of 2018, and made 70 cases (of 12). She didn’t want her wine to be similar to so many of the other Pinot Gris available on the market. Hers is a Pinot Gris, and she chose to add “a sprinkling of Gewürztraminer to spice it up,” and to make an orange wine. This means that for the one month fermentation, she chose to leave the skins of the grapes in with the juice; she also allowed both varietals to ferment together. The skins add complexity, tannin and body, and the Amoise Pinot Gris is definitely not boring or typical!

Everything is also hand bottled, and labelled, by her and her partner, Greg. The label showcases some of the essence of Hawke’s Bay in that it’s a friend Harry’s painting of Te Mata Peak and Cape Kidnappers, two significant landmarks of the region, with her signature captured from her chalk labeling on the barrels to spell “Amoise.”

As for the name, “Amoise” is Amy’s Canadian nickname. Her family still calls her by it, and that’s how she was known in her “hospo days,” the times she remembers with fondness when the love of wine found her, and she embraced it; it is fitting that her own label be called after a name with such endearment.

Amy has the 2019 Amoise Pinot Gris in the works, as well as a red wine this year, 2019 Amoise Cabernet Franc. Both are “unadulterated wines,” as Amy refers to them, and follow her strict winemaking philosophy: organic grapes, only certified bio-grow fruit, with no additions, and no sulphur.

Beautiful, hand picked Amoise Pinot Gris – Hawke’s Bay 2019
Working as a team for the Amoise harvest – Hawke’s Bay 2019

She avoids using the phrase “natural wine” to describe her product, because she has significant experience and research invested into the topic, and says that “natural wine has no legal definition and for almost a decade the EU can’t come to a consensus on how it should be labelled legally!” Alternatively, she chooses to label her wine with the phrase, “no additions or adulteration of any kind,” and aims to spread the word of what organic, biodynamic and natural wines actually are, and their key differences.

Amy explains that organic wine is made from organic grapes (no herbicides/pesticides/insecticide sprays). Biodynamic wine is made with organic grapes, but also by observing the lunar calendar and applying Biodynamic techniques. Natural wine is also made from organic grapes, but it uses little to no intervention, and no additions (only natural yeast, no enzymes, no sugars, no acids, no fining agents, little to no sulphur, etc.) Amy however, doesn’t even add sulphur, which is why she prefers the term “unadulterated.” Her wine is literally as pure, genuine, and naked as a wine can get.

Horse ploughing – France

Her company mandate, and number one goal, is “responsible natural winemaking.” Her mandate came from her experiences making wine in France, where she adopted the belief to never release a wine that is faulty, or that she wouldn’t drink herself. “It’s not about putting grapes in a vat and praying for good results.” She watches her wine so closely. “My intention is always to make it without intervening. Altering the temperature is the only intervention I’ll do, if needed.” She also believes that taking care of the vineyard is of utmost importance. She explains how the quality of yeast and fruit in the winery is determined in the vineyard. She embraces the French model that marries winemaking and viticulture, in which “people do everything . . . making the wine is only a snapshot of what you do.” She loves being in the vines. It really all starts there for her.

Amy and Gus – Black Estate, Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Steep slopes of Cornas, Northern Rhone, France

After listening to Amy describe the attention to detail, and the purity of her wine, it’s clear to see that it’s her baby. I was quite happy to enjoy the bottle she shared with us, knowing I wasn’t putting anything in my body that didn’t come straight from nature. Amy genuinely works with the earth and nurtures the fruit as it transforms into a wine that is a pure expression of the terroir, vintage and place. There’s a snapshot of history behind every Amoise label, and her wine takes those who enjoy it back to that vineyard, that season and those moments in time, as a wine has the incredible power to do.

As with many new businesses, Amy has had an uphill battle getting Amoise off the ground. Aside from the 2017 missed start, the unpredictability of where from or if her fruit would come in 2018, plus the moon boot harvest, she has had the huge challenge of trying to educate New Zealand wine consumers on what a natural wine actually is. Educating Kiwi consumers has become a large part of not only her company mandate, but her personal one, as she is so passionate about the biodynamic process, and making wine the natural way. She aims to raise awareness in the market that there is an alternative style of wine that’s available for those that want it. Amy does many Pop-up events with food and a selection of her own and other natural wines, that set out to educate the community and spread knowledge within the industry.

Stirring water as part of Biodynamic Preparations

Aside from the educational challenge, 2018 was another delicate year, and although Amy knew she wanted Pinot Gris and the spicy Gewürzt she loves, she didn’t have control over the timing of the harvest. The grapes came in that year with some botrytis, which was a factor of nature that was beyond her control. She made the decision to honour her beliefs, and made a natural wine, with no sulphur or additions, despite the challenges with the fruit. Working full time at Paritua has also limited the time that Amy has had to spend on Amoise. Her and her partner do “Power Hour” at 6:00am where they both work on their own businesses. She sacrifices sleep before her day job so that she can dedicate time to her label.

One of Amy’s biggest lessons is that the wine industry is hard. “Nothing’s ever easy. You have to work with nature. You have to be adaptable. You have to accept Mother Nature.” They say that if your job aligns with your passion, you never work a day in your life. The more Winemakers I meet, who are truly passionate about what they do, the more I see that this is sincerely true. It is arduous work, and can appear unrewarding, but those that possess passion know they’re where they belong. Amy is one of those people. When I asked her if it was worth it, she responded with a big, “yes. There’s something about it that keeps me coming back. This is my art. This is absolutely my passion.”

Horse ploughing
Poplar Grove Winery crew at harvest – Penticton, Okanagan Valley, Canada

If there’s something Amy would like to see more of in Hawke’s Bay, besides a greater understanding of natural wine, it would be the strengthening of the wine community, and a deeper desire to learn from each other. “There’s never a point where you can go, ‘I’m fully satisfied with that.’ There’s always new info, new things to be shared.” She gives the example of Syrah ripening in Hawke’s Bay. “We’re all struggling with it. Let’s share information. Let’s learn from each other, and share the knowledge that we have.” That is why she was pleased to see the start of the HBVine group last year, that aims to share and exchange data and vineyard techniques.

To try Amoise wine, get in touch with Amy via her Instagram account @amoisewines, or visit her at one of her Pop-up events. She’ll be participating in the Hawke’s Bay FAWC (Food and Wine Classic) with free events featuring natural wine and food by Chimera restaurant on 8 and 9 November. Follow her on Instagram to stay in the know.

I encourage you to visit her events; bring your friends to experience some of the special, unique and delicious, unadulterated Amoise wines for yourself. Arrive with an open mind, an appetite, and a willingness to learn something new, and you might just be swayed towards some exciting and alternative styles of wine.

#nzv19

New Zealand Vintage 2019… is done.

The end of vintage brings mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s sad to say goodbye to the time of year when everything the industry people have been working towards for the rest of the year is finally realized. It’s also time for all the vintage staff to be on their way back to their home countries, or on to the Northern Hemisphere for the next vintage. Saying goodbye to a team of people who have spent more time with each other than anyone else for the last 6 to 8 weeks can be difficult, especially if it was a great team that got along well and bonded over late nights and long days.

On the other hand, for all the Cellar Hands out there, vintage is exhausting, stressful, and can be all consuming, so it’s a relief to get back to a normal schedule, start sleeping again, and get the occasional day off. The “wine widows” are happy to have their partners back too.

As promised, I’ll outline briefly what our experiences of our first vintage were, and better explain some of the photos you saw on our social media profiles in the last 2 months.


Vintage for my winery started on the 26th of February. I’ll remind you here that I work in the Cellar Door, not the winery, (which my boss had to remind me of a couple times – sorry Mitch) so any time I got to spend in the winery was really special to me. I didn’t personally have the long days, no time off, and night shifts that all the Cellar Hands did (and wow, do I admire them for their work). I certainly did clock some hours out there when the Cellar Door was slow, on my days off, and after work, to hang out with the crew and get my hands on everything I was allowed to touch.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual First Crush Ceremony, which was an unexpected honour for me. The grapes were loaded into the hopper, and before it was turned on, we had a speech with some high-ups in the company, and some of our Blanc de Noir (Champagne-style wine). Traditionally, everyone has a sip or two, and then throws the remainder of their wine into the hopper over the grapes. It’s a way of “blessing,” if you will, the next harvest with some wine from previous harvests. Ceremonies like this are practiced all over the world, and have been for years. Traditionally, the ceremony shows thanksgiving for the vineyards, the grapes, the workers, and begins the new vintage with a united team, hopeful for the vintage ahead.

My face when one of the Cellar Hands told me not to throw the entire wine glass in! 😂 Obviously.

I stuck around to watch the first crush, and tried some of the juice straight out of the press. It was a great day! I had no idea then just how many things I was actually going to experience this vintage.

The team began by bringing in Chardonnay for our bubbles, as well as some aromatic whites, like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, and then moved onto Chardonnay. Whites lasted for weeks, and I made sure to try each type of grape as they came in, and each grape juice as it was pressed out of the tanks.

During this time, I learned how the hopper, auger, crusher and presses work in a lot more detail, how to rack a tank, how the barrels are filled, and got to try my hand at some Battonage (yeast lees stirring). I also got to learn about the process of several loads of grapes arriving in both trucks and in bins, and how the winery coordinates with the vineyards, pickers and truck drivers to manage it all.

Hand harvested Sauvignon Blanc being loaded up into the press

Meanwhile, Greg was doing his own vintage at his workplace. After seeing our first crush ceremony, Greg suggested his team do one as well; they took his suggestion and involved everyone there, including the Cellar Door team, to launch the vintage with Champagne. Greg’s First Crush Ceremony was on the 14th of March, when they brought in some Merlot for Rose. For his very first crush, he mostly cleaned equipment and learned how to do a thorough job of that. He helped run pumps, move hoses, de-stem and get the juice off of the skins.

Two weeks later, Greg’s winery brought in some whites. Greg had lots of different roles; sometimes he drove the tractor from the vineyard into the winery with loads of grapes, other times he helped operate the press. As his place is an Estate winery, everything is grown on site. With their small team, they often enlisted the help of picking gangs to come harvest the grapes on the days they were ready. Greg began doing more involved jobs, like loading the press, and continuing with that all important cleaning and sanitizing. He enjoyed harvesting the Chardonnay the most, but loved the taste of the Gewertztraminer grapes the best.

I got to experience my first harvest, and Greg’s second, when Greg and I helped our friends at Saorsa wines with their Viognier. I was so slow at first, but eventually got the hang of it!

As exciting as the whites were, I was thrilled when the reds began coming in. Merlot for Rose was the first red that came into our winery on the 24th of March, and the reds continued until the end of April.

Greg’s Winery brought in their first official red, Pinotage, on the 25th of March. He enjoyed harvesting the reds more than the whites, because although the reds require a lot more work in the winery over the next several months, the harvest day process is simpler. With the reds, Greg learned to do everything from pour overs, punch downs and rummages (to continually mix the juice and skins all together while they’re fermenting) to taking and recording data of temperature and Brix (sugar) levels in the active ferments every day.

His small team lead to some extra long days, as they had to finish processing the grapes that came in before they could go home. That same small team had some benefits for me though, as I was welcomed to come participate in some of the cellar work. I loved doing punch-downs, and helping with anything they’d set me up working on.

Couples who make wine together… 🍷

Meanwhile, at my own workplace, I was still taking every chance to be out in the winery. I witnessed a few dig outs (emptying skins from the tanks after fermentation is done) and got to try everything from taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins at the top of the tanks, to testing Brix (sugar) levels in wine, rummages (blowing compressed air into the tanks to mix up the skins through the juice and regulate the temperature of the ferment), and even running the hopper (with much needed and excessive supervision)!

Rummaging the Cuves
Testing the Brix
Taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins
Learning to run the hopper with a load of red grapes

Greg and I helped our friends at Element Wines harvest their Merlot, and got another little harvest under our belts.

Greg did his first dig out on his birthday!

A big highlight for me was when Alex of Saorsa allowed me to help him foot stomp his Syrah! This had been a dream of mine for years, and it was so amazing to actually get to do it.

Greg has also had the incredible and special opportunity to make his own wines. He’s got the mentorship of his Assistant Winemaker every step of the way, to help him create the style of wine he wants, and the benefit of the winery’s fruit and equipment. He is making a “field blend,” which is a mix of any and all grape types that come from the same block; his has 8 varietals in it, and will be a red wine. He’s also making a Chardonnay, and a Rose. He is learning to be a Winemaker on his own wines, which is an amazing way to learn. We’re so excited to try the finished products.

Greg’s Chardonnay
Greg tasting his field blend in the early stages
Greg’s field blend during the first week of fermenting

All of the grapes have been brought in now, but there is still much to do to tend to the wines, as they will be in the winery for months to years before they’re ready to be bottled. Greg continues to work on those tasks, and is doing some big jobs independently now. He continues to learn new things every day, and will soon be getting into pruning the vines with his Assistant Winemaker.

I’m spending more time back in the Cellar Door, and less in the winery now, but I’m reminded that it’s where I wanted to be, and still want to be – talking to people about wine, touring them around, and educating them about this passion of mine. There’s so much Greg and I have learned, and even more we want to learn. At the end of this first vintage we’ve gotten to be part of, the whole process of growing grapes and making wine is even more alive and exciting for us than ever before.