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JUNO GIN

The Foundations of a Legacy

Words by: Nat Clausen and Ella Waterhouse

Juno Gin is a local gin distillery in Omata, New Plymouth and the brainchild of Taranaki born Jo and Dave James. We use Juno Gin at our Westmoreland eatery and our Auckland beverage team absolutely love developing new cocktails and pouring our customers lush gin and tonics using Jo and Dave’s beautifully crafted and locally made gin. Our Ozone crew spent the day with Jo and Dave at their distillery, and it became immediately clear to us that Juno Gin is far more than just a gin - it is a legacy business. With the core values of social responsibility, relationship fostering, community support and hard work - Jo and Dave are creating something very special together, and return to the mantra of ‘make it fun, make it together, make it right’ when making any business decision.

The Juno Gin family:

Jo – Mother Hen of Juno Gin.

Jo has an exceptional palate and an effortless skill in articulating her perception of flavour notes and aromas. Jo has a Bachelor of Science, Majoring in Genetics and Microbiology, and after a stint working in the public health sector in Australia – she felt the pull of Mount Taranaki calling her home.


Dave – The Thinker.

Dave’s background is interesting to say the least. While working for Fonterra, he completed a degree in Climate Change. He then used his knowledge and experience to work with farmers to help them understand the science of climate change, and how to adapt their farming practices in order to survive as the global warming phenomenon approached.

Lila – The Still.

Some people name their cars, some people name their kids – Jo and Dave have named their Still. Lila is a bespoke Still designed by Jo and Dave. Of course, the easy option would have been to purchase a prebuilt Still from Europe – but that wouldn’t have been a very Jo and Dave ‘thing’ to do. Instead, they looked to their community and engaged with local firm Rivet Engineering to take on the project of building the heroine of Juno Gin. In taking on a custom design, Jo and Dave were able to gain a deep understanding of the functionality of their Still, and utilised the skills of their local community and business network. A total win, win.

- all key ingredients to a beautiful gin.

In the early stages of business, Jo and Dave were forced to think about some really key business issues – what would their projected volume be for their first year in production? How were they going to start building their overseas markets? How were these projected volumes and emerging overseas markets going to affect their local gin supply and production requirements? Jo and Dave knew they needed to be very considered with how they were going to meet these supply and production demands, which led them to design and build a sustainable supply chain for Juno Gin.

Working with local horticulturalists to grow botanicals in New Zealand is extremely important to Jo and Dave. Not only because the produce taste better when locally supplied, but also because freight distances are massively reduced when sourcing locally. This reduces the strain on the environment and allows Jo and Dave to grow their business alongside their local suppliers. So as Juno Gin grows, they grow too.

Sourcing the minor ingredients for their gin has been quite straightforward for Jo and Dave. New Zealand is home to some amazing orchards and backyard gardens, and Taranaki in particular is a small, productive and generous gardening community with lush volcanic soil. Jo and Dave have experienced the generosity from their local community on numerous occasions, receiving locally grown Lemon Verbena and Red Clover to add to their varietals from those who grow it in and around the Taranaki province.

However, the major botanical ingredients needed for successful gin making required more research and experimentation from Jo and Dave in order to establish a sustainable source. They worked tirelessly with local growers to build a long-term supply of Oris Root, Coriander Seed and Angelica – all key ingredients to a beautiful gin. The seeds for these plants are imported for growing by a local New Plymouth man named John. Jo and Dave have developed a strong friendship with John, and have the novelty of being able to just pop down the road for a chat about all things seeds and gin, and working with John to connect with growers in the Wairarapa for their Coriander seed supply.

When Jo and Dave experimented growing Angelica in Taranaki, the results were fascinating. They found that Angelica seed taken from the same packet – but grown in different locations across Taranaki – produced variants of Angelica that were completely different in colour, flavour and aroma from location to location. Their immediate thoughts were ‘if we can achieve these amazing results with Angelica, imagine what New Zealand-grown Juniper could bring!’

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.

Dave: ‘We are a product of our experiences, and sometimes you don’t even know the experiences you’ve got. I must admit, it was a leap of faith for us to start Juno Gin - we invested a fair amount of money in all of this and just hoped to make a difference in our community’.’

Ozone Fam: ‘There must have been something behind that faith, that made you feel like you could really turn your dreams into reality?”

Dave: “It was actually the two of us, together. Knowing that if one of us is having a bit of a down day or a moment of doubt, the other one of us invariably isn’t. And I’m gobsmacked at Jo’s skills and ability. It’s almost like we’re learning about each other all over again, and for that I consider myself very lucky.”

Ozone Fam: “That’s too cute.”

Dave: “Isn’t it?’