Updated: Aug 2, 2019
To help our growing membership keep track of each other, we are enjoying running a Q&A with certified organic OWNZ members via our blog as well as our Organic Matters magazine. Here is our recent interview with Hayden Penny of the Supernatural Wine Company in Hawke's Bay.
Respected by his peers for his impressive palate and intuitive winemaking skills, Hayden Penny is a charismatic and relaxed New Zealander. He graduated top of his class with a Bachelor of Viticulture and a Bachelor of Wine Science from E.I.T. Hawke’s Bay before joining the team at Te Awa. Curiosity and a thirst for knowledge led to an impressive stint as a flying winemaker, gaining valuable experience in California, the Yarra Valley, Toro and Bulgaria. He joined Supernatural in 2015 and has never looked back. Founder Gregory Collinge and Hayden's visions align, committed to crafting delicious expressions from their organic Millar Road Estate vineyard.
Where are your vineyard and winery located? Our home block is based on a north-facing hillside, in the Tukituki Valley, on lime and clay-rich Matapiro sandy loam over Kidnappers sandstone. We are currently making our wines at a certified organic contract facility.
What’s your role in the business? Viticulturist and winemaker
What varieties does the Supernatural grow, and how much of each? We have eight hectares in grapes and are building toward a total production of 60-odd tonnes off the site. We make up to five different Sauvignon Blancs and three different Pinot Gris', depending on the vintage. Everything from crisp and clean to Pet Nat to skin fermented. The vintage always dictates which wines are made in any given year. We are also looking into partnering with other organic producers to enable us to produce a wider range of varieties in our portfolio.
How long has the Supernatural been certified organic? Our vineyard was initially grown organically from its inception in 1989. After a few years of contract conventional growing, and after replanting in the early 2000s, 2009 saw the creation of Supernatural Wine Co, and a refocus on organic production. In 2015 we were certified with BioGro, and in 2015 we also started incorporating some biodynamic practices in the vineyard to complement our organic philosophy.
What drove the decision to become certified? When the Supernatural brand was developed, it was always aiming at organic certification. This was done to ensure respect for the land and with a drive to produce the wine with as little impact on the environment as possible.
What inspired you personally to get involved in organic production? While studying I couldn’t believe what they were telling us about the chemicals to use on both the vineyard and in the wines. I thought there must be a better way. I was then introduced to the idea of tūrangawaewae, and this had a profound effect on me. The idea of expressing your land, your people, the vintage and the variety in any given year, in the purest way possible, was what really excited me about organic and natural production.
What are the biggest challenges for your company around growing organically? I don’t think that the ‘growing organically’ part is a big issue for us. Yes, we get disease pressure and dealing with undervine weeds is tough, and yields are lower than ‘conventional’ vineyards, but the biggest challenge is in the marketplace. The perception of ‘organic wine’ and ‘natural wine’ has had such a bad profile is the past (mainly due to a few closed-minded wine writers, and some hideous wines that hid their faults under the organic/natural banner). What we are trying to do is show that these styles can be made in New Zealand, and be clean, crisp, faultless wines, while having a little funk and a whole lot of character. And of course a good serving of NZ fruit-forwardness. We want people buying the wine because it is good wine and not just because it’s organic or natural.
What’s an interesting experiment or innovation you’ve tried in the winery? We don’t do a lot, to be honest. We use all natural yeasts and no additions other than a little SO2 and occasionally a little bentonite. When you make wines like this, I guess every year is a different experiment! I am extremely proud of our skin fermented, barrel aged, SO2-free Sauvignon Blanc, ‘Minus 220’, though.
Any comments around your goals and results around natural winemaking techniques? When making wines naturally you must taste, taste, taste..... and back the most powerful analysis tool we have, ourselves! Wines don’t become faulty overnight. The more you are in touch with your wines, and vines for that matter, the more likely you are to pick up stress or other problems. Also, when fermenting whites on skins, do not treat them like reds; gentle gentle is the key.
What reflections do you notice in your vineyards and wines that you believe are related to your organic status? The vineyards show balance and a natural resistance to disease that you don’t see in conventional vineyards. The wines are a true reflection of tūrangawaewae. They tell an unadulterated story of site, people, vintage and variety. Our wines differ in style year to year, and I’m totally ok with that.
Why do you think organic production causes those results? I think it’s just a much less manipulative way of growing and making wine. In conventional growing, the limiting factor to a certain extent is how much money you have (fertilisers etc.), and seems to be driven by wanting the ‘same’ product in bottle year after year. Whereas in organic growing the limiting factor is your site and how you care for it, and a drive to express the site. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-conventional, it certainly has its place – but I just enjoy the organic approach.
Do you have any particular aspirations for the future? I passionately believe in Hawke’s Bay as a region and I would love to see more growers getting into organics. If I could aspire to anything, it would be to help people into and through the conversion process and help them in their path to certification. I would also love to see Supernatural Wine Co. grow into a leading organic/natural producer, not just in New Zealand but throughout the world.
Interested to learn more? Don't hesitate to check out the Supernatural Wine Co. website by clicking here. If you happen to planning a trip to Hawke's Bay, the Millar Road Estate accommodation is VERY special.