Artisans: Blueberry delight born in a cyclone

By Tash McGill

Mamaku blueberries, Rotorua. Photo / Thermalair
Mamaku blueberries, Rotorua. Photo / Thermalair

Sometimes it takes an act of God to change the direction you're headed in.

In 1988, Cyclone Bola was the catalyst for Anne and Harry Frost to begin making blueberry wine.

After Bola's gusts dumped the Frost's export order of blueberries on the ground, they turned to a 10-litre paint bucket, a potato masher and a library book to guide them to the saving grace of the season.

Their inspiration came from a desire to use good quality but weather-damaged fruit to produce a high-end product and supplement the berries they supplied to wholesalers. Ten or so years later, they became an official winery, the first in the Rotorua district. They relied on local support when it came to testing and developing the product.

Anne recalls their early days of trialling the wine every hour on the hour for days in a row trying to get the right balance.

Friends and neighbours were the experimental customers. Eventually they produced a liqueur that has passed all the tests, and Mamaku Blueberry Liqueur is the result.

"One husband told us that the 200ml bottle was no good. Why?, we asked - the reply came 'My wife drank it all before I got home.' Another friend said the spades and clubs all looked the same after a serious evening of playing cards and blueberry liqueur tasting.", Anne says.

Harry has been farming for over 50 years now and bought their current property in 1967, 20 minutes north of Rotorua on top of the Mamaku Ranges.

Anne has been on the farm since they married in 1969 and eventually their son Phillip will take over the business.

They first planted the blueberry crop in 1982, when the berry was relatively unheard of in the NZ but the farm now features a visitor centre and tour so visitors can make the most of the blueberry experience.

The liqueur itself is remarkably versatile; served over ice or neat it's not overly sweet but retains a tartness and warming feeling that serves as a lovely digestif. For a summer drink or easy barbecue "slosher" pour over ice into a tall glass and top with soda (or lemonade for the sweet-toothed) and slices of juicy lemon.

An easy dessert to impress only requires good vanilla icecream to pour the liqueur over; or use it for an easy twist on a creme brulee - just add a few fresh berries on top. Each Christmas, the Frosts release a special Blueberry Cream liqueur edition, something a bit special for the holiday season, and perfect timing to enjoy berries at their best in all varieties.

Where to buy

Available from: mamakublue.co.nz. From $11.50 for 45ml to $69 for a litre.

- NZ Herald

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