The best wines Renee Dale’s ever had have no label; just memories of people and places. It’s all about the moment for Dale, who, at the age of 18, read a newspaper article about winemaking and threw aside her dreams of being a professional footballer (although she did represent New Zealand for a time) to pursue a career in “professional foot stomping.”
She started sniffing around Soljans winery in West Auckland, and soon graduated from EIT with a Bachelor in Wine Science; since then she’s knocked back a Spanish Mencia while walking the Camino di Santiago and blended a wine sold at the White House. Moi Wines reflects Dale’s resourcefulness and resilience, as well as a healthy sense of positive pessimism. “These are all traits that have got me to where I am today,” she said, while also noting that they are traits that any winemaker will need just to get through vintage.
The winemaking set-up at West Brook winery, where Dale serves as assistant winemaker and also where she produces Moi as a client, includes a whole lot of “old-school” equipment which has been retrofitted to achieve the perfect, “higgledy-piggledy” technique. “Sometimes old equipment accidentally works better than newer, fancier gear,” said Dale. “Our crusher is pretty rugged, but it gets perfect colour from the reds.” The mix of tanks reclaimed from breweries and milking sheds allows Dale and her team to make wine in small vessels that change the fermentation kinetics of the yeast and, as a result, the texture of the wine.
At the winery, there’s a simple philosophy: taste, taste, taste. “Taste grapes in the vineyard, taste them when they’re harvested, taste the free-run, taste the pressings taste the clarified juice, taste the ferments every day, taste the wine as often as you can.”
She also believes in looking after the staff. “It’s all about the people. If the people are looked after then you will produce amazing wine.” So does she have many people working at Moi Wines? “Numbers are helpful,” Dale said, “to validate our palates”.
Dale’s palate is broad, but purposeful, and she finds new grape varieties intriguing. She always drinks wine with food in mind: “A perfectly-balanced wine is so easy to drink by itself, but this defeats the purpose for me; I love food.” At the moment she’s enjoying the 2016 Little Wing Waiheke Syrah and West Brook Waimauku Chardonnay. “I like wine with a bit of edge but still with an aroma that represents the varieties with elegant texture and considered acid balance.” Her own wines are made with this guiding principle. They’re “elegant wines with a woman’s touch,” fruit-driven and with a careful acid and tannin balance.
2018 has been one of Dale’s most challenging years in the industry, but it’s also been her most successful season. The bleak weather and the lengthy season were physically gruelling: “4 am starts, power outages, staffing changes; it was a highly emotional season”. In fact, the last three years in West Auckland have been off. They’ve had exceptionally heavy rains and peak vintage season has been humid. “I’m not sure if it’s due to climate change,” she said. “It could just be Auckland.”
However, 2018 is also the year Moi Wines produced their best rosé yet. “Rosé made well is actually a tonne of work,” she explains. “Unfortunately, the price doesn’t reflect this”. Dale believes the New Zealand industry as a whole needs to charge more for its premium products.
Compared to other countries, the New Zealand wine industry is close-knit; they share information. That’s why it’s easy for Dale to know what they should all be working toward: “we need to get real about what ‘sustainability’ actually means, ditch round-up, shake up our boring marketing styles, and collaborate more.” For aspiring winemakers, Dale suggests learning to make a good, clean commercial wine before branching out – or, as she says, “playing with funk.”
“Well placed funk is awesome in a wine. But if it’s done clumsily then it just gives wine a bad name and sends wine drinkers elsewhere.”
This is meaningful advice from a woman who doesn’t waste time. Moi Wines stands for “Moment of Impact;” the moment the wine touches your tongue is definitive, and so is the impact Dale has on the world around her. Dale funds Moi entirely under her own steam, and uses wine to support fundraising events which she believes is her way of giving back. She has also started The Imbibe Tribe, a series of food and beverage matching events, which introduce diners to craft producers like herself.
She takes wine and winemaking seriously because she finds joy in it, and hopes she can help others do so too. There’s one simple piece of advice which Dale follows. “At the end of the day, wine is just an alcoholic beverage; don’t get too serious about it.”