By law, 50% of botanical or vegetable material used to make gin has to be Juniper berry. Juniper is a northern hemisphere plant, harvested in the wild using resource consents provided by local authorities. The volume of Juniper that can be harvested, and the way in which it is harvested, are hugely variable depending on these resource consents. Juniper is harvested in Macedonia, Armenia, and China. All of these areas are geopolitically active, at risk of significant climate change, heavily urbanised, and have significant pollution problems. And to top it all off, the majority of Juniper purchasers are spice houses, so there is a definite lack of provenance and traceability for Juniper worldwide.
With all of these issues, it occurred to Jo and Dave that they should be growing Juniper in New Zealand. They engaged Massey University and began research to help make that dream a reality. Their research concluded that the climate in New Zealand was more than suitable for growing Juniper, and that Juniper was in fact a popular ornamental plant in New Zealand in the 1960s/70s. The Massey team informed Jo and Dave that due to these findings, there had to be an abundance of adult trees around the country that would be well adapted to New Zealand conditions.
The Juniper tree is dioecious, so there are both female and male trees. Dave explains that ‘if you’re planting an ornamental tree, you typically plant only one so that they won’t produce fertile berries.’ The task for them was to locate both male and female trees so that they could cross-fertilise and grow a stock of Juniper. To locate these male and female Juniper trees, Jo and Dave couldn’t just put on their tramping boots and go for a bush walk to find them – this was something that required much, much more! And so, The Great Juniper Hunt was created!
The Great Juniper Hunt is an initiative driven by New Zealand Gin Distillers, with the assistance of Massey University. It encourages a nationwide search for Juniper by encouraging the people of New Zealand to check their backyards, their mates’ backyards and their Nanas’ backyards for Juniper trees. Anyone who believes they have found one can log into the iNaturalist platform and submit an image of what they believe to be a Juniper tree. Massey University monitors the submissions, and if they recognise a Juniper, they send a Genetics student out to gather a sample.
Massey University’s Genetics Department has now mastered how to extract DNA from a potential Juniper and test it in order to determine whether it is the desired species. The plan is to clone the DNA of all Junipers found, and begin propagation of these trees at Cedar Lodge. This, in turn will help create a sustainable orchard of Juniper for gin distillers in New Zealand.
Growing Juniper can also have positive effects on farming practices. In Dave’s previous field of work, he would come across farms that provided little or no shelter for stock. Dave is now working with young farmers near Okato in Taranaki to trial growing Juniper trees as shelter belts for cattle. If these trials are successful, the local Taranaki farmers will be able to harvest and sell their Juniper directly to Jo and Dave for profit, at the same time as improving their animal welfare. Everyone’s a winner!
Juno Gin’s contribution reaches far beyond their immediate Taranaki community. As active members of Distilled Spirits Aotearoa, an association of independent distillers in New Zealand, Jo and Dave are helping work towards implementing academic standards in their industry, in order to encourage a clearer distilling career pathway for future generations.
Jo and Dave are living and breathing the values of Juno Gin on a daily basis. They are making sure that everything they do at Juno Gin is wholly collaborative, wholly community-focused and always for the betterment of all. When setting out on their Juno journey, Jo and Dave didn’t ever want to just make gin, they wanted to create something so much more socially conscious – and they most certainly have achieved this with no signs of slowing down.