Your halcyon days are those times in your past that were happy and peaceful. Originating in Greek mythology, the likes of Shakespeare and Walt Whitman used the term. In choosing a name for the wines Amy and Olly Hopkinson-Styles produce in Hawkes Bay, Halcyon Days was perfect. It conjured for them imagery of “big skies, open country”, referencing both Hawkes Bay, and Castilla y Leon in Spain where Amy honed her winemaking craft. It also encapsulates their approach to making wine, one that has been informed not just by the depth of their own experience in the wine industry, but also by older, even ancient methods of winemaking.
The couple met in 2007 in London, the vibrant hub of all things happening in the wine trade. Olly was a wine journalist working for Decanter Magazine. After post-graduate studies in Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln, Amy was making wine in Castilla y Leon in Spain. Their paths crossed while Amy visited London to judge on the Spanish panel for the Decanter World Wine Awards.
At that time the wine industry, particularly across Europe, was experiencing a movement of radical change. This wasn’t spurred by the kind of modernisation that helped scale the industry in the 80’s and 90’s. It was rather a U-turn from that in fact. More growers and producers were employing organic and biodynamic methods, and producing wine without additions or preservatives. It was deemed the ‘natural wine movement’, which inadequately sums up the changes, but does at least highlight a tipping point when many in the wine trade (like ourselves, we were in London at the time) started to see, taste and think beyond the convention of the modern industry.
The drive to change stemmed from a heightened awareness of the effects that intensive viticulture was having on its immediate environment, particularly the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. It stemmed from an awareness of how much was being altered and added to wine before it reached the bottle. And it stemmed from a sense of what was lost in the advancement of large scale wine production.
Being based in Spain, Amy soaked up the vinous traditions and older methods used on her doorstep in Castilla y Leon. Wine fairs and events around Europe provided the opportunity to learn from great biodynamic pioneers like Alex Podolinsky. The couple then, with their bundle of combined experience and expertise, moved to Hawkes Bay and their first release of Halcyon Days was in 2018.
From the outset organic production has been front and centre for Amy and Olly. Their fruit comes from the alluvial soils of two certified organic vineyards, one in Bridge Pa and the other further west at Mangitahi. Their winemaking practices could be described as ‘low intervention’ or ‘hands off’, an approach that requires much more consideration, hard work and skill than the words ‘hands off’ might suggest.
Fruit is hand harvested, ensuring each bunch is up to scratch. They pick relatively early so that wines maintain freshness and a low pH. An added bonus of this is slightly lower alcohol levels. Fermentation occurs with natural yeasts. Skin contact and whole bunches in ferments feature for all the wines. There’s no filtration or fining, and no additions. In the hands of this couple, all of this adds up to pure, vibrant, textural, natural wines.
The current releases are from 2020. This is a particularly memorable vintage in New Zealand as we were just going into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite extraordinary circumstances, 2020 has been a celebrated vintage in Hawkes Bay. The summer was kind and the fruit quality excellent. These three wines are an expression of that, the Bay’s big skies and open country, and the conviction of thoughtful, talented people.
The ‘sacred kingfisher’ is Mangatahi Sauvignon Blanc that’s part skin fermented, part whole bunches with a handful of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir thrown in. Put any preconceptions of Sauvignon Blanc aside. This has aromatics of ripe apricot, mandarin and sage, with generous fruit weight, spice and a pithy, fresh finish.
Predominantly skin contact Pinot Gris from Mangatahi blended with Syrah Rosé from Bridge Pa. It’s a fine example of a less binary approach to wine.
Luz is Spanish for light. With the early drinking Joven wines of Spain as a reference point this is indeed a light, bright expression of Hawkes Bay Syrah. It’s given a couple of weeks of skin contact, and a couple of foot stomps. It’s red fruited, smokey and crunchy. Serve it chilled and enjoy what Amy describes as “the beauty of simplicity”.