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Rob and Toni Auld

With a rich history of arable farming on this Southland-based property since 1883, third-generation family member Rob Auld and his wife Toni are continuing the sheep and cropping legacy. Since Rob’s grandfather purchased the farm in 1924, the 200-hectare Scotts Gap property has gone from strength to strength with the establishment of the southernmost on-farm distillery in the world.

Seed-to-sip, grain-to-glass, Auld Farm Distillery resides in the perfect location for great rainfall and good soil for growing high-quality crops. Their nine varieties of grains include barley, wheat, oats, maize, and a few other heritage and ancient grains. On over 200 hectares, three-quarters are dedicated to grain, and the other quarter to grass on a rotating basis. The grass provides great pastures for their 400 ewes, 150 hoggets and their lambs.

Rob has lived on the property his whole life, studying agribusiness at a young age and farming in partnership with his parents. “Growing grain is something that we really love. We are a part of the New Zealand industry, both with the growing of grain and also in other ways. It’s really fulfilling to be able to take something from a small seed and grow it into a harvestable crop,” Rob said. “I guess the part we were missing in all of this was that we were selling grain never to be seen again, so to be able to bring a business on the farm that could use that grain was really important to us.”

“We knew that we needed to do something different on the farm if we wanted to have a future for our children to stay here. So, we looked at lots of different things and decided that making whisky was the best thing to do, and it worked well with the farm history,” Toni added.

Born and bred in Invercargill, Toni is a Southland local and has been farming with Rob for almost 15 years. “I love it here; it’s such a beautiful place in the world, and it’s quiet. It’s a great place to bring up kids,” she said.

On a trip to Oamaru, Rob and Toni discovered a New Zealand whisky business that used malted barley dating back to the 1980s. They soon realised that the barley used in these bottles would have been some that was produced on Auld Farm. The lightbulb moment hit when they thought, why couldn’t we do that? Why couldn’t we house a distillery on our farm? In 2017, Rob channelled his Scottish roots, and the pair founded Auld Farm Distillery, sourcing grains straight from their farm.

“We wanted to be able to add value to something we were already doing well and be able to take that out to the consumer. We also wanted to be able to have a succession programme for the kids to follow their dreams and leverage off one of the two businesses, the distillery or farm. Having seen our grain go out to make amazing whisky with other distilleries in the past, we thought we’d have a crack at creating a legacy business,” Rob said.

Auld Farm Distillery is quickly becoming one of the top distilleries in Australasia. There are very few distilleries in the world that grow their own grain and also make their own spirits. When Rob and Toni began this journey, there were less than a handful of farms and distilleries that did it. “It’s how all distilleries used to be, so it’s really fitting to our 100-year history. It’s so humbling that people want to share a piece of this journey as well,” Toni said.

“To take an idea that’s planted as a seed, and to see it grow to be one of the biggest and oldest distilleries in New Zealand is really humbling for us. The achievement is where it’s got to, and it’s only just begun,” Rob added.

Their unique whisky blends can be found at numerous retail and hospitality spots throughout the country, and are also available through their online store. The team also attends food shows and events such as the Fieldays to connect with people from both rural and urban backgrounds, while offering tasteful products that can be shared with loved ones.

The on-farm distillery uses grains that have never been a regular ingredient in whisky before. These unique varieties, grown on their farm, are one of the major points of difference for the brand. Just like grapes for wine, each year they will have a vintage, which means no grain is the same, and each year their whisky will have a slightly different flavour. Auld Farm Distillery also produces gin, with their most distinctive flavour being their Ocean’s Keep Gin, which has an oat base with notes of Bluff oysters and local botanicals, keeping true to their proud Southland roots.

Another part of the farming operation is their on-site distillery tours, which they also view as a great way to promote the rural sector. “It’s such a privilege to be able to have people come, where we can teach them about what we do and how spirits are made. A lot of the people that visit have never even been on a farm before, so that makes it super special.”

“They get to hang out with us for an hour or so, and we always have a great time and love that people want to come and learn all about us and what we’re doing here,” Toni said.

“I think it’s amazing when our customers take our product out the gate; in some cases, it’s the first time that our grains have even left the property. I think it’s special that we can share where we are and who we are. People can take that home, remember us and enjoy it. We’re happy that we can do that and share a little piece of land with anybody who wants it.”