Chris Reid inspects citrus trees at the site of their new distillery on Todds Rd in Martinborough. PHOTOS/GIANINA SCHWANECKE
The story of how Reid+Reid, a Martinborough-based craft distillery, came to be is simple.
In 2013, Chris Reid was living in Burgundy, France, while brother Stew was in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The two brothers enjoyed meeting up to sample gin and whiskey distilleries.
“We’d been to a lot of gin and whisky distilleries,” Chris said. “A lot of the Scottish ones were using native and local botanicals which was really inspiring.
“As a winemaker I really like that sense of place in products.”
After sampling gins from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand they realised there wasn’t a strong focus on gins using native New Zealand botanicals.
Botanicals are the herbs, roots, flowers, leaves and seeds added to drinks, cosmetics and foods for scent and flavour.
To challenge the definition of a “classic gin”, they set up their own distillery.
“We’ve got a few different products now,” he said.
From their native, barrel aged and Rev Dawson gins – one of New Zealand’s leading prohibitionists and the Reid’s great-great-grandfather – to vermouth and an Aperitivo liqueur to their modern take on a traditional punch, the Martinborough Cup.
“For us, they are just products I would like to drink. There’s no point competing with the big markets.
“It takes a very long time for the market to catch up with what’s being done.”
The gins are distilled in the brothers’ 200-litre, custom-made copper pot still in Martinborough.
“The product is made from a lactose-base,” Chris said. “That’s where our ethanol in New Zealand comes from.
“It’s definitely a point of difference.
“We also use quite a lot of citrus and native botanicals.”
Reid+Reid gins are produced with three native botanicals, kawakawa, manuka and horopito.
“It has a spicy and peppery kind of taste,” he said with a laugh, waiting to see my reaction to the small bite I’d taken.
In addition, they also use classic gin botanicals like juniper, coriander seeds, fresh orange zest, orris root, angelica root, liquorice root, cassia, nutmeg, fennel and cardamom.
It’s in this area that many see potential for parts of New Zealand to focus on niche, high-value crops to support new industries like distilling.
A Ministry for Business, Innovation and Enterprise project has identified alcoholic spirits production as a value-added sector with potential to exhibit export-focused growth.
As a sector it has been enjoying 10 per cent year-on-year growth, albeit off a small base.
Additionally, there are now 20 gin manufacturers who want to make their product “100 per cent New Zealand”, but who are forced to import their angelica, liquorice and coriander seeds.
Gin makers join several other distillers experimenting with different spirits, including whisky and absinthe, which use New Zealand-sourced aromatics.
Botanicals like orris root can be found in Hawke’s Bay, coriander in Wairarapa, angelica in Taranaki and juniper grows from Kaitaia to Bluff – legally gin has to contain 50 per cent juniper as its main botanical flavouring.
The brothers produce about 25,000 bottles a year, also exporting to the UK, Australia and Japan.
This could double as the new consent allows for up to 50,000 bottles.
“It was only meant to be a bit of fun,” Chris said. “It was never intended to be my full-time job.”
But it’s one he loves.
“It’s a lifestyle thing.”
He said making the move from working in the wine industry to distilling was straightforward.
“I approach distillery like the wine industry,” he said.
“The distillery industry has been really dominated by big brands. It’s only been the last five years that it’s taken off.”
A flow-on effect from the growth of wine and craft beer industries in recent years.
“Young people are drinking less but they are spending more.”
Work began this week laying the foundations of their new distillery on Todds Rd, just outside of Martinborough.
Vines for the vermouth went in a month ago and several citrus trees had already been transplanted from pots.
Though the one-hectare plot is vulnerable to weather conditions and strong winds, the biggest challenge for the Reids had been the consenting process and finding land in the region.
“Because the region is so small, it’s a really limited area of land that’s suited to growing [grapes and botanicals],” Chris said.
When they first found the land about two years ago, it was just being used as a horse paddock.
“I knew it wasn’t good land for growing grapes from working at Ata Rangi,” he said.
“We don’t really need the land for what we are growing. With any of the herbs you just need the topsoil.”
The first third of the property is classic silt loam over gravel, making it well suited for planting citrus and pinot noir varieties.
It gets more clay heavy in the centre, near where the distillery will sit.
Within the final third, clay can be found at a depth of one metre.
“That’s the good thing about alluvial soils, they are varied,” Chris said.
Building the distillery will not only allow them to expand the business but will offer a space where people can learn about the gin-making process and tourists can enjoy products.
The brothers hope to have the distillery up and running by March next year, and the bar some time after that.
50ml Reid + Reid Native or Barrel Aged Gin
15ml Reid + Reid Dry Vermouth
15ml Reid + Reid Bitter Aperitivo
1. Fill glass with plenty of ice.
2. Pour Reid + Reid Native gin, dry vermouth and bitter Aperitivo over the ice.
3. Top with tonic water and garnish with grapefruit zest.