Bryce and Alena from Zaria Wines. Photo: Florence Charvin
Bryce and Alena from Zaria Wines. Photo: Florence Charvin

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine region and has the most vibrant, progressive wine tourism programme in the country. Anyone wishing to soak up what’s on offer at sensational cellar doors has a smorgasbord of experiences to choose from. 

Yet conventional cellar doors are expensive to operate, meaning some of our most exciting new producers roll under the radar, existing predominantly in the online or on-premise space. So let’s take a look at some locals making a tiny, but tasty impression… 

ZARIA WINES 

Born and raised in Wellington, at 18 Bryce Edmonds moved to Hawke’s Bay to study grape growing and winemaking at EIT. And in the scorching 1998, Bryce and his two brothers began planting cabernet franc, malbec, merlot and semillon in a vineyard in Bridge Pa, realising a wine-dream his parents had harboured for a long time. 

Named after his late mother, Lesley’s Vineyard became Bryce’s, a home he shares with Alena his wife and their two young daughters. “Our living space is perfect for our family, especially as we have loads of space all around us. My favourite spot is the back of the shed with a North-facing outlook away from the road noise, it has amazing views through the vineyard to the Ruahines in the distance.” 

His wines are named Zaria after the Goddess of Beauty in Slavic Mythology, mythology important to a special woman in his life. “In 2011 I made 36 bottles of rosé as a gift to a Czech girl. That girl (Alena) and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary at Pacifica in Napier, where we’d got engaged 12 years prior.” 

Today Zaria produces three wines, a clean, dry, malbec rosé which recently scooped the Champion Rosé Trophy at the Hawke’s Bay A&P Wine Awards; a constantly evolving, handpicked, whole bunch pressed, barrel fermented chardonnay; and a spicy, textural merlot/cabernet franc blend. “That’s the wine I’ve been making the longest,” he says. Working for Jenny Dobson at Te Awa Winery between 2003 and 2007 instilled in me a love for Bordeaux styles, something that Hawke’s Bay does amazingly well.” 

His wines are made sustainably and with minimal intervention. “I also like the simplicity of making just three wines. It means I can give each wine all the love and attention it deserves,” he adds. Bryce makes his wines over at Beach House in the Gimblett Gravels, where he’s worked for the last decade. As well as the challenge of maintaining two jobs to support his growing business and family, the weather is a constant worry. ”Wet weather leading into harvest is extremely stressful. Frosts in the spring post bud-burst AND the hailstorms. All these ‘acts of god’ that are completely out of our control is what keeps me up at night,” he shrugs. 

But what keeps his endorphins flowing and grins growing are seeing sales tick over via the Zaria website, positive reviews and accolades, and new listings in great restaurants. “It’s also satisfying surveying a freshly mowed vineyard.” 

Time off is rare for a man who has dreams of travelling the world and who used to make home brew and spend hours playing guitar. “Who’s got time for hobbies with young children?” he laughs. “But I do enjoy cooking. Not weekday cooking in a hurry with whatever’s in the fridge – but recipes that require a long time to slowly prepare whilst enjoying a few drinks and listening to great music.” 

zaria.co.nz 

SWIFT WINES

Like Bryce, Lauren Swift moved to Hawke’s Bay from an apple orchard surrounded by vines in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley to study viticulture and winemaking at EIT. So a life in wine was kind of her destiny. 

“I liked that you can grow anything here, including, I reckon, the best chardonnay and syrah in the country. So I finished my degree, and stayed. For 15 years!” she laughs. Swift Wines is a family affair. “I’m Chief of Everything and my husband Henry is Head Packer and Box Assembler. Our 6 month old son Finn is a future Vineyard Hand while miniature dachshunds Tina and Marceline are Chief Rabbit-er, and Model respectively.”

Lauren Swift with husband Henry son Finn and miniature dachshunds Tina and Marceline Photo Florence Charvin

Lauren was also winner of the inaugural New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year competition back in 2015 and went on to create many award-winning wines in her past role as winemaker for Ash Ridge in Bridge Pa. Today she crafts classic styles like chardonnay and syrah, and other “fun” wines which change depending on their availability and the season. “This year I’ve made a sparkling blanc de blanc, a chenin blanc, syrah rose, gamay blanc de noir, gamay noir, and a yet-to-be-released cabernet franc” she adds. “They’re all bone dry with racy acidity and are perfect on their own or with food. Essentially my wines are an extension of me. They’re wines that I love to drink and the labels are inspired by my wardrobe!” 

She also tries to work with organic growers. “I have a motto of ‘mindfully grown and mindfully made’, meaning we work with thoughtful growers. All the growers we use are certified under Sustainable Wine Growing New Zealand.” But it’s far from easy, as selling wine is a challenge. “It’s a hard gig to build brand awareness and familiarity AND get people converted to buying when it’s not in the supermarket.” 

She’s also raising a six month old. “Who’s a wonderful handful,” as well as making cider for Paynter’s Cider and doing the accounts for her husband’s business. But her smiles come from growing proteas, drinking wine and having business and personal goals. “We now have the flexibility to live the life we want of food, wine and travel,” she adds. Which is what she might’ve done more of had she not ended up here in Hawke’s Bay. “I reckon I’d either be a nomad or making wines in Europe.”

But for now she’s living in the sunshiny, sleepy hamlet of Haumoana, close to the beach and happily sourcing her grapes from Bridge Pa and Maraekakaho. “Because I love the soil type and flavour profiles we get from there.” She also makes her wines elsewhere. “We’re a young growing business and our aim is to eventually have a home for Swift where we can grow, make and sell our wine on the one site. So watch this space!” she says. 

swiftwines.co.nz

AMOISE WINES 

Vancouverite Amy Farnsworth arrived here in 2017 to work the harvest and fell in love with Hawke’s Bay. 

Immediately she wanted to make her own wine, but a tricky vintage meant she had to wait until 2018 when by chance she was offered some organic pinot gris. Amoise Wines was formed and Amy hasn’t stopped since. 

Today she purchases grapes from two “lovely and extremely hardworking” growers in Bridge Pa and the Mangatahi Terraces. “Bridget Wilton & her partner Miles have been growing my cabernet franc for three years,” she says. “Their vineyard has older vines and is surrounded by the lush green hills.” Her gamay noir, chenin blanc and syrah are grown at Ian and Linda Quinn’s Two Terraces vineyard located on dramatic terraces formed 15,000 years go by the Ngaruroro river. 

Amy Farnsworth, Amoise Wines. Photo: Florence Charvin
Amy Farnsworth Amoise Wines Photo Florence Charvin

A winery and cellar door aren’t part of her picture though. “I don’t have my own winery because I’m not a millionaire unfortunately!” she shrugs. “The equipment required to make wine is quite capital intensive, so I lease a space in a local winery where I can work on my wines and store my Tinajas (tall, clay, oval-shaped Spanish amphorae) and my neutral oak barrels.”

In addition to gamay noir, cabernet franc, chenin blanc and syrah, Amy also makes an Amber wine from extended skin-contact pinot gris. “My wines are also all farmed organically and I practice biodynamic farming on my allocated parcels throughout the year,” she says. “Her grapes are either certified by BioGro or are in conversion. 

Amy’s determined each wine should tell the story of its vineyard and microclimate. “I make vineyard ‘starters’ under the vines before harvest begins, then all my wines are ‘inoculated’ with these localised yeasts. I don’t put any additives in my wine as I feel the vintage and the site should shine through on their own.” 

On her own is also mostly how everything gets done. “Wearing all the hats is the challenge for me,” she shrugs. “Making wine is the fun part. Growing grapes is hard. But it’s also the accounting, the spreadsheets and the sales & marketing that can make things really tricky to juggle.” So Amoise is a solo gig for now. “But I’m very much supported by my partner Greg, my parents, and our amazing wine community. We definitely prop each other up.” 

But it’s working outdoors that keeps her smiling. “What we do and where we live is a privilege,” she says, and despite not having much time for hobbies, she’s a huge fan of hiking, gardening and cooking. “I really just look forward to having a home cooked meal with Greg and sharing our day. I guess if I wasn’t making wine I’d probably be a biodynamic vegetable farmer or a yoga teacher. Or both!” she laughs. 

amoisewines.co.nz

HALCYON DAYS 

Te Reo and MW student Amy Hopkinson and Olly Styles, her champion fencer and trout fishing fan husband, had already worked vintages in Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa before deciding to settle in New Zealand. 

Originally from Kerikeri, Amy grew up criss-crossing the country; then lived in Spain for nine years making wine, whereas Olly is a UK and Swiss national born near Oxford to a Swiss-French mum. Olly says the couple chose Hawke’s Bay because it’s a great place to live and bring up kids. “We live in Akina in Hastings and we just love it.”

The grapes for Halcyon Days hail from the Osawa vineyard in Mangatahi, just up Kererū Road from Maraekakaho. “It’s a beautiful place. To the west, the Ruahines seem close, and to the east Te Mata-o-Rongokako rises between the gap in the hills,” he adds. “During vintage we get these amazing sunrises as the mist rolls down the valley and the pink rays radiate from the east.” 

Amy Hopkinson and Olly Styles Halcyon Days Photo Florence Charvin

Their wines are made at Hawke’s Bay Wine Co in Napier. “We use their space and gear and we do all the winemaking,” explains Amy. “Ideally, we’d have our own place, but the vineyard’s key, really, anyway.” While they may not have their own winery, they’re totally in control of their wines. “We want to make wines that chime with what we drink. Wines with energy, purity, drive and freshness,” says Amy. “We like them to cover a range of notes, from evocative colours (the pink underside of clouds at sunset; the dry grass in summer) to aromas and flavours that are bright but also complex with spicy, savoury, herbal layers.” 

Organics is the foundation of what they do, their wines are certified by BioGro and they’re also interested in biodynamics and regenerative agriculture. Halcyon Days wines are also considered ‘natural’, meaning there are no additions at any stage. 

“We’re really lucky to work with varieties we love like sangiovese and pinot noir, and Olly loves sauvignon blanc, (but not NZ-style sauvignon), so we ferment ours on its skins to dryness,” explains Amy. While ferocious Hawke’s Bay fans, Amy and Olly also enjoy pushing the boundaries of our regional styles. “Sometimes it’s tough though, being in a category where the majority of your interactions are with people who have a pre-conceived notion of the wines you make,” Olly adds. 

It’s also not always plain-sailing making wines as a couple but, for the most part, they’re on the same page. The mechanics of making wine and spending time with their mates in the wine community keep the joy sparking for the couple who also have two young sons at Taikura School. 

Amy is also on the Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers board and pulls the occasional shift at Work Room for First Hand coffee, while Olly also has a ‘day job’ writing for and editing a wine magazine. Phew! 

So while the definition of Halcyon Days is “a very happy or successful period in the past” – Olly and Amy are firmly future-focused. And if they weren’t making wine? Amy reckons she’d be cooking, gardening or making films. “We’d probably be doing something that made us a bit more money,” laughs Olly. 

halcyonwines.co.nz

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3 Comments

  1. There was once a pop-up wine tasting shop in Hastings (Heretaunga Street – where Decibel now operates) for all these small wineries. A similar operation year round would be great – would give these smaller boutique wineries an outlet, allow the winemakers a place to meet the public on say a roster basis, and allow the public easier access to their wines – I know we bought a lot of wines we’d never heard of, or tasted before while the pop up was open.

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