Five things I learned on my sabbatical

By Thea Schlendorf

One of the perks of working at Benson Marketing Group is that, after 4 years of being with the company, we are eligible to take a sabbatical trip. After 7 years with the company, I finally exercised this opportunity and took myself over to Australia and New Zealand this past March. Below are a few things I learned along the way.

*Note: WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. It’s a global program that, in a nutshell, allows for city folks like myself to get the experience of a real working farm or vineyard in exchange for room and board.

A few things I learned on my sabbatical:DSC_0638

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  1. Both Australia and New Zealand experienced earlier harvests in 2015 than in years past. This was particularly true of the Swan Valley in Western Australia and the Auckland region of New Zealand – the two areas where I was able to spend some time. Auckland saw a drier than average summer which bumped up harvest by about 3 weeks. It also caused our residential water tank to go dry. Twelve wwoofers*, one bathroom in the flat, no running water – a whole host of life lessons were learned.
  2. Turanga Creek, the winery in Auckland where I worked for a few weeks, is all organic (certified) and uses some biodynamic practices. Did you know that the dung used in the preparation involving a buried cow horn must come specifically from a lactating female cow? At Turanga, this employee’s name was JarJar.
  3. Vegemite, Australia’s signature spread, is a by-product of beer brewing as it is made from leftover brewer’s yeast extract. The Aussies do love their beer. Rich in B vitamins, Vegemite was originally marketed as a healthy food product for children during World War II. Rigorous proprietary testing confirms that it is still completely unpalatable to the average American (i.e. me).
  4. Qantas stands for “Queensland and Northern Territories Air Service” – and they serve really excellent food! (Vegemite excepted, though it should be noted that Air New Zealand is no slouch on the food front either)
  5. In the US, we call them flip flops. The Aussies call them thongs. Both names are obviously derived from a physical aspect of the footwear in question. The Kiwis inexplicably call them jandals….and even they don’t know why.

Finally – I learned that I have a new appreciation for New Zealand Pinot Gris wines. I think this variety could really have a future alongside Sauvignon Blanc as an alternative white wine offering from New Zealand. Less aggressively acidic than most Sauvignon Blancs and without those really green aromas and flavors, the Pinot Gris’ I tasted still possessed a refreshing acidity but also a more round mouthfeel and, on occasion, some residual sugar. The wines were sometimes fermented in barrel or saw some lees stirring to get that rounder, creamier texture and put more emphasis on the floral and ripe stone fruit aromas and flavors. Try New Zealand Pinot Gris today if you can find it on US shelves and lists!