Bottling the beauty and tastes of North Canterbury


Mt Fyffe Distillery, a boutique grassroots distillery, set in the foothills of Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura, was awarded the MADE NORTH CANTERBURY Food & Beverage Award (with Patoa Farms & Harris Farms), at the recent North Canterbury Business Awards, hosted by Enterprise North Canterbury in Rangiora. Mt Fyffe Distillery owner Justine Schroder’s two award-winning gins - Woolshed and Oceanic Shearwater - are true story-inspired gins, created using botanics sourced from her family farm and the local area. Robyn Bristow reports 

Justine Schroder standing on Mt Fyffe with her award winning gins. Photo: Supplied
Justine Schroder standing on Mt Fyffe with her award winning gins. Photo: Supplied
Justine Schroder is capturing the tastes and smells of Kaikoura and bottling it.

In a boutique distillery, tucked away in her garage on the family farm at the foot of Mt Fyffe, Justine is telling her story about her home through her Woolshed and Shearwater Gin.

Botanicals collected from around the farm, and beyond to the rugged coastline of Kaikoura, provide unique ingredients, and a snap shot of Kaikoura in each bottle.

She says it has been a hell of a ride over the past two years, but she is proud and passionate about what she has achieved at her business — Mt Fyffe Distillery.

"It is a wonderful hobby, and I have fallen in love with it. It is heaven’’.

Her gin, indeed, does reach to the heavens, with Justine teaming up with South Pacific helicopters, to give visitors a 30 minute fight over the Kaikoura peninsula and Seaward Kaikoura Range, before landing a top Mt Fyffe where guests taste Justine’s boutique gin, and hear her story about making the gin on her farm at the foot of the mountain.

Her boutique business is a long way from being a midwife for Justine.

More than two years ago she decided it was time to diversify on the family’s Mt Fyffe farm.

She completed a gin course, and then went on to create her first gin, launching her business in July 2021.

Being a one-person band has its ups and downs, but it means her gin is a niche product, only producing about 1800 bottles a year.

"It is pretty big for a hobby, but the amount I produce is dependent on me foraging for botanicals.

"I work hard, but it’s wonderful.’’

Foraging is for everything from mint, elderflowers and kanuka, to rosehip berries, blue borage and native seaweed.

Justine loves a good challenge, loves to learn and create, and ‘‘if I can bring a little smile to your face when you drink either the Woolshed or Shearwater Gin, then that makes a me very happy person indeed’’.

It took a few attempts to get her Woolshed Gin just right, but once she found it, she knew it was a cracking gin bold, botanical and ‘‘bursting with just the right amount of attitude to make you want another taste’’.

‘‘The Woolshed Gin finds its uniqueness by using elderflowers which hang over our lamb pen, mint that grows in little pockets scattered about the farm, and the flowers of the kanuka bushes which protect and shelter our stock in adverse weather."

Her Shearwater Gin, is a unique blend inspired by the little Hutton shearwater birds, endemic to the Kaikoura coastline.

"Imagine standing on the coast, take a big breath of fresh sea air .... welcome to Shearwater Gin.’’

A big part of Justine’s business is being as sustainable and community orientated as she can.

"I am committed to supporting the economy of a small rural town. My unique bottles are imported from Europe so they stand out, but everything else is sourced locally, from the boxes I make myself to the marketing, foraging and maintenance of the distillery.

"It is important to understand that giving, as well as taking, is part of the story.’’

She has given $3000 to the Shearwater Trust in support of the Kaikoura Hospital Trust, which looks after injured birds.

"It helps pays the vet bills, food and bedding, so the Trust can get on with looking after the birds.’’

She has also given $3000 for a ball in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, so everything raised through holding the North Island event in the stricken area, could go back to the community.

"When Kaikoura was struggling, the country certainly helped us. It is really lovely to give back,’’ she says.

Justine says the application process involved in the Business Awards was daunting, and took her three weeks to complete. She had never written up a budget before — everything was in her head.

"All of a sudden I realised where I was heading, and I had a budget to work to. It is such a good process, and I now know more of the nuts and bolts of my business.

"Winning the award was wicked. It was lovely, and I now have an appreciation of heading in the right direction.’’

The key to survival, says Justine, is to set herself apart in an industry saturated by gin producers.

By telling the story behind her gin, continuing to love and enjoy her hobby, and inviting visitors to share her journey through flight, humour and creating a great experience in her little distillery at the foot of Mt Fyffe, she is achieving this.