On a Sunny Wairarapa afternoon, one cannot go past a refreshing gin. Luckily I know just the man. You may not have yet heard of Reid+Reid Gin - but I can guarantee you this will be the tipple you’ll reach for in Summer.
I’ve known co-founder and distiller Chris Reid since school days. In fact, I asked him to my seventh form ball. All was going well until he was stopped at the front of the ball by our deputy headmistress who searched him and confiscated a hip flash he had stashed in his jacket. It was clear, spirits were a passion of Chris’s and it was not simply that he was trying to drown out the misery of having to dance to Moon River with my mum.
These days, Chris and his partner Holly, a lawyer, live in Martinborough. When Chris isn’t working at various wineries throughout the week, he and Holly are foraging for Kawa Kawa, correcting heath and safety notices to reflect the updated legislation and labeling bottles together, all in the name of serving the finest gin they can make.
Since Chris's gin passion became operational, I’ve wanted to find out more about his enterprise. So, one afternoon in Winter, we met up and over risotto I found out how Chris started his gin journey.
A childhood passion: "I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do at a young age"
Christopher Reid was born in Wellington, growing up in Seatoun by the sea where his parents still live (they also have a house in Martinborough which is the site of the gin distillery). His parents are Scottish and Kiwi. Chris has two older brothers, one in Brisbane and one in Edinburgh (one of which is the other half of Reid+Reid).
At High School (Wellington Boys College), Chris let his interest flourish. “I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do at a young age,” Chris says. He elected to take subjects that supported his interest in alcohol - chemistry and physics.“Although I now wish I’d studied some French because it would have made learning about wine in France much easier - and accounting!”
“Wine making has a sense of place. I’ve been trying to bring that into how I approach making my gin now."
Chris was tossing up between studying wine making in the Hawkes Bay, studying brewing or studying distilling in Scotland. He went with wine because it had broad horizons and was connected to the raw product in a way that wasn’t the case with whiskey. “Wine making has a sense of place. I’ve been trying to bring that into how I approach making my gin now. Regional characteristics make a product interesting” Chris says, although he admits he didn’t get into distilling until he went on to his tertiary studies. He studied for four years (and would see his girlfriend Holly, studying in Wellington, once every two months).
Wine School: "It's Just Science"
Chris did a viticulture degree and winemaking degree. He notes that studying in the Hawkes Bay helped him become entrenched in the industry in a way he wouldn’t have studying somewhere else, such as Lincoln University. The first year involved mainly chemistry. The second was more practical but it wasn’t until his third year it focused on vineyard management and other more business focused aspects of winemaking. “That final year I did a paper on distillation. It’s a really complex system. Everything is always changing. It’s just science.”
Chris worked while studying, first at Trinity Hill and then at William Murdoch wine. “They threw me in the deep end. I was trusted to do a lot of stuff myself” Chris says. In semester breaks he worked at various vineyards around Martinborough.
Making it in the wine industry: “It’s a lot of hard work and it’s quite hard to find a full-time job."
After university, Chris started at the bottom. “It’s a lot of hard work and it’s quite hard to find a full-time job. You have to be really, really, really passionate about it to make it work. But having said that, I love it” he says. He did a harvest at Neudorf and then went to Te Kairanga winery. He then moved to Oregon in the United States before returning to work at Ata Rangi Winery. After this, Chris moved to Burgundy in France where he immersed himself in wine culture even more. While he was over there, he was offered a full-time job as an assistant winemaker at Ata Rangi winery where he has been working ever since.
“Winemaking as a process is simple. You put grapes into a tank and let it ferment. But it’s about doing it with confidence.”
Chris has focused on making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, his particular favourites. “The thing with Pinot Noir is you can’t make it cheaply so it’s more expensive when you buy it. It’s a fine wine” he says. “Winemaking as a process is simple. You put grapes into a tank and let it ferment. But it’s about doing it with confidence.”
In 2013 Chris visited his brother in Edinburgh. Over multiple whiskeys, the pair hatched a plan to save up their pennies and develop a distillery to make a gin that was distinctly New Zealand. “It is still an under-represented industry in New Zealand so we thought it would be interesting,” Chris says.
From there, Chris used his background in the wine industry to ground his idea. “You have to approach it with experience - it’s not simple or easy if you want to make gin. The margins are tiny.” So what makes Chris’s gin different? “We are totally open. Generally, the spirits industry is very secretive. It’s all market brand products which mean a lack of love. Spirits shut you out. There’s no personalisation and words like premium are bullshit. We are trying to bring gin into a place where people can relate to it. We show all our processes via our website and social media. We document everything we’re doing. We’ve got nothing to hide.”
More than a Hobby
Chris’s first step was to renovate the family shed which has become the distillery. He admits he avoided spending money by scavenging for paint and wooden pellets. The pair had a copper still custom made in China. I ask how much one of those sets you back. “Too much for this just to be a hobby now” Chris admits.
"New Zealand images of the Kawakawa leaf and Manuka is on the bottle - and it’s not just for show. “I wanted to make something that was uniquely New Zealand,” Chris says"
The still currently produces 200 litres at a time and it’s onto gin batch number four. The decision to call the gin Reid+Reid also reflects that open, honest process where it’s just the name of the people that make it. The New Zealand images of the Kawakawa leaf and Manuka is on the bottle - and it’s not just for show. “I wanted to make something that was uniquely New Zealand,” Chris says “I didn’t want it just to be in there from a marketing perspective. It had to add something. We spent many a weekend foraging in the bush to see what would work. The problem with New Zealand botanicals is much of it tastes like grass. But to me when I smell the gin it smells like the native bush” Chris explains.
Now Chris and Holly’s weekends revolve around distilling. “People tell me not to expect it to take off overnight. You have to have patience” Chris says. He still works on the vineyards full time and take help where he can. Chris has received support from friends. Chris also credits Regional Wines and Spirits and his uncle, Mike, for doing his accounts. “Wellington has been so supportive - everyone’s been really helpful, ” Chris says. I’m not so surprise, however. Naturally, we Wellingtonians know a good thing when we see it. And I’ll drink to that.