The way to mend a broken heart

Annie Robertson and Joerg Henkenhaf with Broken Heart Gin.  Launched publicly in September, the...
Annie Robertson and Joerg Henkenhaf with Broken Heart Gin. Launched publicly in September, the gin was made in memory of Bernd Schnabel, who died in March. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.
Some say time heals all wounds, but for Joerg Henkenhaf and Annie Robertson, of Arrowtown, it could be said gin has been their saviour.

The business partners and flatmates launched Broken Heart Gin in September, in honour of Bernd Schnabel - a close friend of Mr Henkenhaf and Ms Robertson's partner - who died from cancer in March, just three weeks after he was diagnosed with the disease.

Ms Robertson said Mr Schnabel (66) had been an engineer in Germany before moving to Queenstown about 20 years ago to find ''peace and quiet''.

Living in Kelvin Heights, Mr Schnabel soon gained a reputation for distilling and was affectionately known as ''that crazy German''.

In 1999, Mr Henkenhaf, a commercial pilot based off-shore, arrived in New Zealand and during a one-week layover travelled around the North Island and later planned to drive through the South Island.

While driving through the Gibbston valley, Mr Henkenhaf spotted vineyards for sale.

''It was always my dream to have a vineyard, so I bought a vineyard,'' he said.

After seeing grape skins being wasted by neighbours, Mr Henkenhaf gained permission to use them to make grappa, used some of their wine to make brandy and also produced his own schnapps.

When he was tipped off about a fellow German in Kelvin Heights who was distilling his own alcohol, Mr Henkenhaf called him.

A friendship was quickly formed and the pair began to dream about distilling their own gin for sale - a dream that took more than three years to become a reality, but not before Mr Schnabel died.

Ms Robertson said after Mr Schnabel died, Mr Henkenhaf ''turned up on my doorstep and said 'Let's do it' ... 'we're doing the gin' ''. The secret to Broken Heart Gin was its minimalistic, traditional recipe, which includes spring water and 11 botanicals.

Mr Henkenhaf said most of the ingredients were either certified or uncertified organic and as much as possible was sourced locally.

The pair had also ensured it did not price itself out of the market.

''We want people to drink it - there's no point in making something and people can only afford to have it once a year.

The gin was produced at Mr Henkenhaf's Cromwell distillery, which pumped out 12 litres an hour. However, as the company expanded they would probably look to establish a distillery in Queenstown.

While the gin is stocked at liquor stores and restaurants in Queenstown, Arrowtown and Central Otago, the pair also have plans to export it.

''We're talking eventually about setting up in Southeast Asia and Germany ... ''A second variety had also been created. However, it would be at least six months before they considered releasing it to the market.

''You need to drink it for a while and see if you like it in half a year's time,'' Mr Henkenhaf said.

When asked what Mr Schnabel would make of seeing the trio's dream become reality, Ms Robertson said his first comment would likely be to inquire about the cost of the Italian bottles and labelling.

''But he would be proud, so proud ... not just for the gin, but for how we've come through, I think.''


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