Day One in New Zealand – A Campervan’s Story of the Northland.

We left Sunday, Feb 25th from Vancouver to arrive in Auckland at 5 am Tuesday the 27th. We had skipped Monday (who needs Monday) and had 3 hours before we could pick up our home on wheels. New Zealand was actually the easiest country to get into, I wasn’t even questioned about my Visa, they wanted to know where my shoes had been than anything. They have a small, delicate ecosystem and because of such things, they have to take LOTS of precautions to make sure no one is bringing in foreign bugs or plants. It took less than an hour including our baggage claim. The airport was great, very clean and full of returning rugby teams. As soon as we had gotten off the plane, it was like “Oh my humidity!!!!” After being on an airplane for 14 hours (which deserves its own post I will write later), the humidity left us being awkwardly sweaty and clammy. The best.

We spent the next hour actually walking to our van pick up location, we needed the leg stretch. It was cloudy so didn’t catch the sunrise. The back sweat was real as we hauled our backpacks around. After picking up our campervan, which was slightly more outdated than the photos (we made the most of it, whatever) we took a couple practice drives driving on the wrong side of the road!!! Failed once, we went into oncoming traffic. Sorry Dad if you’re reading this, my credit card is down for the deductible don’t worry. Kyle being my master & commander, he is the sole driver and we have mostly adapted to driving on the right side? It is very odd, left-hand turns are weird. Right-hand turns are just fucked, Kyle jokes he only goes left so I, as the official title of direction giver, must find a route with only left turns. For the most part, they have lots of signs and arrows on their roads, there has usually been a car around us to make sure we are on the right  (left) side.

Do we still jump when a car comes around the corner on the other side of the road? Yes. Perhaps Day 2 will be less edgy in that sense.

After driving around for a little while, we had what Auckland’s Weather report stated was a “Heavy Drizzle”. Is that an oxymoron? It was still warm, you didn’t need an umbrella and we were all still in flipflops. Coming from the ‘Wet Coast’ of BC, it was just a regular day?? If that’s the worst it gets (other than Cyclone Gita hitting days before our trip) I’ll take it.

Adventures for today included going to the Baylys Beach, which is a part of the 90 Mile Beach which was amazing! The Tasman Sea wasn’t very cold in this location, farther up it got chillier. The sand was perfect and the sun finally peaked through the clouds that had been hanging out. Although we thought we only had a little bit of sun (considering we had rain the morning in Auckland. We are both fairly pink)

After Baylys Beach, we continued to drive up Highway 12, going to the Waipoua Forest. That was equally as amazing in your dense, tropical rainforest kind of way. We drove a long, curvy road for most of it, met many bikers along the way and stopped at a swimming hole with a rope swing to cool off and watch for wild kiwis. We have yet to see the Kiwi but there are many birds here and they are soooo noisy. I have not come across any part of the forest that has been completely quiet. It’s so loud and fascinating. We ended the night at a campsite in Paihia which is back on the Pacific Ocean side of New Zealand. We basically zigzagged up the Northside after Auckland between the two coasts. Sounds like a lot of driving but we only drove around 400km and the time between coasts in anywhere from 1 hour – 2 hours. Pretty neat.

In Paihia, we parked and went for a walk in the village. It was all ocean views, little kids running around in no shoes and soft, salty sea breezes. We went to Thirty30 for some local beers and it was amazing. Garage Project was high up on my list of beers I have tried with the house beer from Gisborne Brewing solid for the price point. Alcohol here is expensive. Like we are talking $44 for a 700ml of Jack Daniels Whiskey. Beer by the bottle in restaurants was anywhere from $8 – $20. Not even joking, I was tempted to get the $20 beer but I decided against. After Thirty30, we went to an amazing build your own pizza place and had some more beers. An Amber Ale and Hefeweizen, I will remember the names later. A bonus of New Zealand, EVERYTHING HAS LAMB AS AN OPTION. I had a roast lamb, bacon pizza with onions in a creamy garlic sauce. Delicious. Walking back to our site, the sun had now set, it was 9 pm, we showered, set up our little home for sleeping and passed out.


Fast forward 8 hours, I am now writing this eating a sandwich in the sun as we plan out route to HOBBITON!!!!! And to the hot springs nearby. I am a huge LOTR fan and cannot wait until we get to The Shire.

Will update with photos as soon as I can,

See you in Middle Earth,


Maddi and Kyle

Sulfites: The Witch Hunt

One of my favourite topics in wine yet one of my most dreaded due to the lack of knowledge and pretentiousness that stems from this subject. I will say it now, I am PRO SULFITES. I will probably get t-shirts made up in the near future called “Team Sulfites” and I hope it becomes the new hashtag for wine. Why? There is so much bad connotation around this word “contain sulfites” people think it is the evil of the wine world. Endlessly searching for their sulfite-free wine, telling anyone in their path about their allergies and headaches.

Reality? It is your silent hero. The Robin Hood of wine. Everything you want in your bottle of wine.

So why do I have this undying love affair with sulfites? They are extremely important to the winemaking process and in the vineyard. I will write about that process but first,

What Are Sulfites?

By textbook definition, sulfites are compounds that contain the sulfite ion. Essentially, sulphur, sulphur dioxide, sulphurous acid, bisulphite ion and complexed sulfite. The list goes on for quite some time and doesn’t get any easier to understand. It is a naturally occurring chemical element that’s been around since 2000 B.C and used universally in wine since the 17th century. It is a substance that can naturally occur and/or artificially such as by yeast during fermentation, small quantities around 10 mg/L is produced. It is used as a common food additive and known as preservative E220.

Why Are There Sulfites and Why Do We Use Them In Wine?

There is four main reasons:

  • Antioxidant: Prevents oxygenation by combining with oxygen and removing it before any damage can be done.
  • Antiseptic: Kills off unwanted bacteria and spoilage yeasts.
  • Prevents second fermentation in the bottle. It can kill off indigenous yeasts, which tend to be weaker than cultivated yeasts.
  • Preserves the wine

I would like to make it very clear, that sulfites are most likely not the cause of your red wine headaches. There is a small percentage of people that have a sulfite allergy (less than 5%) but this is usually reserved for people with bad asthma and will experience asthma symptoms such as hay fever and hives WAY more likely then you would a headache.

Wines will range from No Added SO2 (10 – 40 PPM) to about 350 PPM on the extreme end. 350 Parts Per Million?! That must be like an overdose on sulfites and why I react to wines.

Wine Myth Buster: No way Jose. Wine is on the low end of the spectrum for sulfites in consumable products. Dried fruit is over 3000 PPM to something like strawberry jam that still contains more sulfites than most wines. Pop, french fries, preserved foods all contain more sulfites. Nuts, packaged soups, juices, processed meats all contain anywhere from 300 – 2000 PPM. The list goes on and on and if you think you have a sulfite allergy, start eating dried apricots and let me know how you feel after. If you feel fine, it’s not the sulfites. They are a super common food additive and not the root of all evil.

Sidenote: The legal requirement to list “Contains Sulfites” only exists in North America and a couple other countries like Australia. Why? Because there are people with an allergy impacting less than 5% worldwide. 

Why do I get Headaches?

This is probably the best part. This section is full of nothing but truth bombs and really talks about the unspoken things of wine. Like the fact that it is alcohol and our bodies do not harmonize together. They were not created to be equals. We have to train our bodies to continuously drink it. No one likes to admit that.

In winemaking, on the dark side of the moon, there is an abundance of chemicals that can be used in the process. It is not always just grapes and yeast creating this magical juice (part of the reason why I love boutique wineries and avoid commercial wineries). Nowadays, we can alter everything from sweetness to colour to alcohol. Every person will react to something different and it will vary with different wines. Very often, it won’t be one single culprit either.

Here are Some Wine Truths Bombs:

Histamines and Tyramines

These are compounds that are known to trigger allergic reactions and headaches. More prevalent in red wine and sparkling as being a byproduct of long fermentation.

However, these compounds are present in many other foods such as sauerkraut, aged or processed meats, cheeses and even vegetables! Coffee, fruit juices and pop, yet another thing we could list quite a few consumable products on. Nothing is what it seems. 

If you believe this is what is causing your headaches, you can go on a histamine/tyramine-restricted diet. There is quite a few if you google them. You can also talk to your doctor and determine if an antihistamine could be the solution. You can drink white wines or drink lighter reds like Pinot Noir or Gamay as they usually don’t undergo a very long fermentation.

Note: This is not medical advice, please don’t pop an antihistamine before your open your bottle of Merlot without asking your doctor first.


This is one of the more common sayings I hear on a retail wine store level and this actually has lots of truth to it.

Tannins can cause headaches. So these sometimes overwhelming characters of wine, come from grape skins, seeds and stems. They can also be sourced from non-grape sources like barrels and oak chips. They cause headaches because they have been known to alter serotonin levels which can lead to headaches.

Some other common foods are chocolate, nuts, soy and teas.

Home Test: A good way to figure out if it is tannins that are affecting you, over steep a black tea and it will become very tannic. Monitor your reaction.

Another way to avoid this, drink lighter reds or wine lower in tannins such as Barbera, Dolcetto or Zinfandel. White wine or sparkling has zero tannins.



So, unfortunately, this is considered to be a fairly strong diuretic. What does that mean?  A fancy term for makes you pee a lot and become dehydrated. Dehydration leads to headaches and dizziness.

I don’t want to be ruining alcohol for anyone but alcohol sensitives, intolerance’s and allergies are very common – in a study done by the Johannesburg University of 950 people, 25% had symptoms. I know that while I may be able to drink a lot of wine, we call Kyle “2 Beer Kyle” because he has a very poor tolerance and the next day, feels like a truck hit him no matter how minimal he drank. Turns out, his grandfather was allergic to alcohol. It’s probably something we will never admit too, but it is very common.

Some ways to avoid this (other than consuming less, that is the last resort) one can drink more water during the day, in between wine glasses or drink wines lower in alcohol.


This causes dehydration, blood sugar and insulin level will spike, excessive thirst and makes you crave carbs and sweets. It is soooo good but yet so bad! This really is the silent killer in wine as most people don’t understand how much sugar is in there wine. Most off-dry to sweet wines contain anywhere from 10g/L to 220g/L = 2 to 5 teaspoons PER 5 OZ Glass! I don’t even know anyone who pours a 5 oz glass, they certainly don’t pour them in restaurants and at home, no one’s watching as the bottle gets to the end.

Examples: Apothic Red 16g/L Jam Jar 56g/L Yellowtail Big Bold Red 18g/L

Solution? Drink dry wines! Some Italian Pinot Grigios and Cabernet Sauvignons can be as little as 1 gram per serving. Sometimes this takes some palette training to learn to appreciate bone-dry wines. I do have a soft spot for sweet wines, anything Riesling, Gewurz or Dessert wines like Tokaji or Sauternes.

Another alternative is to drink wines higher in quality. You do not need to spend $60 on a bottle to get quality. All I am saying is an extra $5 – $10 can really show a difference as they use better grapes and don’t have to rely on the sugar for fruitiness. I am not a supporter of Apothic Red, you add an extra couple dollars and can branch off into better wines like Josh Cellars or Tom Gore. Start investing in Michael David’s Freakshow line. Minimal differences on the wallet yet amazing increase in taste and quality.

If you’re still not sold on the good properties of sulfites, there is something else that you can use. It is called Dimethyl Dicarbonate (DMDC) aka Velcorin. So fun fact, this product is actually poisonous for the first hour, it requires special training and a full set up of protective equipment. However, there is nothing traceable in the end. Whats better, sulfites or this?

Life is rough sometimes, wine doesn’t need to be. Do not blame sulfites, they are not the enemy. All I ask is you enjoy your sulfite riddled (exaggeration) wine with pleasure and knowledge these days 🙂

Till next time, your devoted sulfite team player





Caymus Special Selection 2013

What really helped put Caymus on the map, this is the only wine to have been awarded not once but twice, “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator. Only produced in the best vintages lead by a blind tasting selecting superior barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon, the special selection process, this wine is the premium Napa Cab. With the regular Caymus Cabernet coming in at $99.00, this bad boy fetches $199.99. The first wine was released in 1975, they continuously score 90+ points, the 2013 vintage taking home 95.

Big, rich and full-bodied boasting dark fruit of blackberries, plum and currants with flavours of licorice and anise, stewed fruit and cigar box revealing themselves upon opening. Earthiness and spice with velvety, smooth tannins coat the mouth with a long, lingering finish. The oak is very well integrated, high acidity and well balanced. Savoury and delicious, a great special occasion wine. Could easily cellar for 10 – 15 years, a wine worth the investment.


Conundrum Rose 2016

A much more affordable, everyday wine from the Wagner family, I present to you Conundrum Rosé. With the whole concept of “Conundrum blends” introduced 25 years ago, this wine has some unique factors. Rosé unique ??? It is possible? So this wine is made primarily from Valdiguié. Never heard of it before? Probably not. It originates from the Languedoc – Roussillon region of southern France. Known as Gros Auxerrois, Napa Gamay or Gamay 15, this is a red grape that produces dark coloured wines with low alcohol and medium tannins.

This rosé has a beautiful rose gold colour with bright, intoxicating fruit of watermelon, strawberry and candy with rose petal aromas. On the palate it boasts cherry, berries and citrus, it is intense yet leaves a delicate, peachy finish that lingers for a long time. Surprisingly dry, it is one of my favourite rosés for summer.

Aeros Viognier



Mmmmm Viognier. One of my preferred grapes when done properly. The grape itself originates from France, this wine hails from Chile. Full bodied, perfumed and full of tropical fruitiness, what is not to love? This is a grape that can be aged in oak, hold up to Chardonnays or just something delightfully fruity. Soft on the acidity and full of fruit, a Viognier can express anything from tropical fruits to some mineral, delicate rose notes. Often going to be floral, this wine expresses apricots, peaches and oranges. Medium bodied, medium acidity it is smooth and delicate. Not overly sweet, as some Viogniers can be. It tidies up with an elderflower, honey note. A great wine to pair with food, it holds up to spice, chicken dishes, assorted cheeses, seafood and turkey. You could enjoy this on its own on a hot summer day or on Thanksgiving weekend. At $15, this makes a great weekend wine, friends over kind of night or just a Netflix and chill.


Emmolo Merlot

If you don’t already know, you will soon learn that I am a big Wagner family supporter. What does that mean? I will drink anything done by the infamous Caymus family, the Wagners. They could seriously bottle gutter water and perform their California magic on it and it would be completely palatable and delicious. All jokes aside, they are an incredible family full of winemakers stretching over 150 years of winemaking and 8 generations. The family has helped shape the Napa Valley wine industry for years to come. Being the only winery to receive the Wine of the Year award by Wine Spectator TWICE, they continuously produce good wine. Some fascinating facts about the family are that not all of the Wagner’s have formal wine training yet produce impeccable wines and win awards.

Jenny Wagner, Chucks daughter, under the “Wagner Family of Wine” took over Emmolo from her mother where she focuses on Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. This is now her fifth vintage and honestly, an inspiration for my desire to continue my education through UC Davis Extension in the Winemaking Certification program. The grapes are sourced from Oak Knoll, which is a little bit cooler in temperature than Rutherford. Allowing for full hang-time of the grapes for optimal ripeness. Vineyard practices include crop thinning throughout the growing season, light gravel soil and cooler temperatures produce this amazing, distinctive Merlot.

At first nose, this wine is a rich, deep plum with dark fruit, fig and dried fruit characters. Blackberry, currant, ripe fruit and earthiness flood the palate for a supple, full-bodied Merlot. Notes of leather open up on the palate as it breathes. Supported by sweet tannins and medium acidity, this is a well structured and balanced Merlot.

Everyone goes to Caymus for the Cabernet Sauvignon, I go for the Merlot. This is by far, one of my favourite wines (and wineries to go to) and if you enjoy a classic, California Cab I suggest this wine to really switch it up. Only $60.00, a must-have for any cellar or California enthusiast.


Alceo Tempranillo 2015

Produced by Bodegas Familia Bastida, this winery was founded in 1950 by the Bastida family and still operates to this day by the family. Continuously working on upgrades, they feature some of the most up to date technologies a family winery has to offer. Resulting in one of my favourite wines ever!

This is a rich, easy drinking Spanish red full of red fruit dominate flavours of cherry, raspberry followed through with blackberry on the nose and palate. Full bodied with smooth tannins. Develops some leathery, dried fruit characters upon opening up. This wine is 100% Tempranillo from the region of La Mancha. A very important, wine region of Spain. Very easy to drink on its own or pair with lamb, beef or game meats. This wine was rated 90 Points by Vinous.

Alceo means “Perseus” and long Greek story short, means that he was one of the greatest Greek heroes and slayers of monsters before Hercules. I love Hercules and will drink too any of that. Some unique facts about this wine are this is the first vintage, it is dry farmed and follows organic practices, waiting for certification. The grapes were hand-picked, coming from up to 20-year-old vines. 10 days maceration, 14-day fermentation with wild yeasts (also known as natural or indigenous yeasts, you hippies) Aged in American oak for about 5 months with a couple of months of bottle aged before release. For my wine geeks, this wine has a pH of 3.42, 3.8 grams of RS and 14% alcohol.