A New Zealand wine should be made from New Zealand-grown grapes, just as a Kiwi gin should feature New Zealand-grown juniper.
However, despite a booming local artisan gin industry, Kiwi distillers still have to source all their juniper from the Northern Hemisphere.
A new initiative seeks to change that.
Through the Great New Zealand Juniper Hunt, distillers Juno Gin (Taranaki) and Reefton Distilling have collaborated with researchers at Massey University to put a call out for all Kiwis to check their backyards and local parks for thriving juniper plants.
Massey University will sample these specimens, discover the ideal plants for growing delicious New Zealand juniper, and then commercial growing can begin.
Jo James founded Juno Gin with her husband Dave and is excited at the prospect of sourcing the crucial ingredient for gin locally.
"The botanicals we already grow in New Zealand—like the angelica and orris roots and coriander seed—all have a vibrancy and flavour that is really unique and amazing. So, we think it's safe to assume that locally grown juniper will show that same excitement."
For Juno, the Great New Zealand Juniper Hunt goes beyond taste into the ethics of knowing where your produce comes from and in acting sustainably.
"We are at the mercy of what happens in the Northern Hemisphere and we, as Kiwi distillers, want to be the masters of our own destiny by, for example, ensuring good harvesting practices," said Jo.
"When we think about sustainability and the planet, that smaller distance for the juniper to travel is a better thing for everyone."
How can Kiwis help?
"Juniper communis was a popular ornamental plant in the 50s and 60s, so we know there are individual trees scattered around the country. I guess we are inviting New Zealanders on a treasure hunt to find them.
"You may have that juniper tree that will make wonderful gin in your backyard or you pass by it daily when you're out for a run or walking the dog," said Jo.
Although juniper can vary in size, from a flat shrub to a small tree, the following tips can be used for spotting the plant:
• Needle-like leaves with sharp tips (up to 25mm long).
• Leaves are not decurrent (i.e. do not extend downward on the stem).
• Leaves have one wide white band (it should be wider than the green borders that surround the white portion).
• Fleshy berries 5-6mm wide with several seeds (blue/black when ripe).
• The actual size and shape of the shrub/tree varies.
Kiwis have a growing thirst for locally distilled artisan gin and exports are growing, too.
Therefore it makes economic sense that New Zealand should have this final piece of the puzzle in place for its domestic gin industry.
Jo is excited at the prospect of New Zealand farmers becoming part of this thriving
industry through growing juniper in sustainable ways.
"The trees will live for over 100 years, which is beautiful for carbon storage and for giving back to the environment and atmosphere. They grow well in New Zealand—the only thing they don't like is having wet feet."
For more information, please visit junogin.co.nz/juniper-hunt which includes a guide for identifying juniper communis as well as links to further information.