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Rob Hammond: The Best Job is Your Hobby

Longfield Farm

Surrounded by Marlborough high country, just a short 8kms outside of Blenheim, we visited Rob Hammond at his farm that has been in his family for four generations. Over time, he has turned the family block into a thriving vineyard.

Longfield Farm got its name when Rob’s great grandfather first bought the property in 1870. Rob’s family line originally hailed from England, travelling over to New Zealand on one of the first four boats into Nelson. They resided in Nelson until Rob’s great grandfather and his brother travelled to Marlborough to purchase some land. The farm was just native land at the time and was first subdivided into long narrow strips. Rob’s family spent years farming and developing Longfield, fencing and draining the land. When the two brothers married and had families, they split the farm into two. As it was passed down through the generations, part of the original land was sold. Over the years, Rob and his family have been lucky enough to purchase part of Longfield back again, along with neighbouring blocks that equate to 260 hectares of total farm area.

Originally a sheep and cropping farm, Rob grew fresh produce such as peas, beans, and sweetcorn, and farmed around 2000 ewes. Rob’s mindset was focused on improving his lambing percentage and crops, but as costs continued to rise and after a few years of drought, they realised it was time to look into other avenues. In 1999, grapes were becoming a popular asset in Marlborough, so Rob decided to add a seven-hectare block of grapes near his house for diversification purposes, while still having his sheep and crops.

At Longfield, they continued planting blocks every couple of years until 2008 when the “goldrush of Sav planting in Marlborough” saturated the market. During the global financial crisis, the demand for grapes reduced and wine companies began to implement yield restrictions. However, Rob and his family decided to continue on their venture of winegrowing. It wasn’t until the second harvest that Rob realised the income from grapes was exceptionally better than that of sheep and crop farming. From then on, every year or two they ended up developing another block of grapes until it became their sole income.

Longfield’s grapes were first being sold to Villa Maria (who also have a winery next door to the farm), but now they’ve expanded to include Wither Hills, Whitehaven, Sacred Hill, and Pinnacle Wines – where his son works. Sauvignon Blanc is the main driving force of their vineyard and it’s what Marlborough is world-renowned for. Rob also has a small block of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as he says it “keeps his winemaker son happy”. The Hammond family has had a long line of successes, with Rob’s grandfather developing the elastrator, which is used for tailing and castrating lambs and calves. Rob's father, Ian Hammond, was involved in the elastrator business for many years, which also helped to develop Tux dog biscuits. He was also a former All Black in the early 50s - "I played club rugby but that was about it for me,” Rob said.

Rob spends his time concentrating on the farm and its continual developments. He also purchased a farm in the Wairau Valley where he loves to spend time managing his livestock of 400 Friesian bulls. Their Longfield family home, which has been featured in House and Garden, is inspired by their travel overseas to places like Greece, France, and Italy. Over the last 10 years, Rob and Lynne have been fortunate enough to go and visit their children living overseas and this has given them a wealth of inspiration for their beautiful surroundings.

Rob and Lynne have three children, Josh, Tyler, and EllaRose. When the children were little, the family once had a swimming pool, which has now been replaced by five Italian-inspired fountains. While Rob’s main love is the farm and vineyard, Lynne has a strong eye for architecture and house renovation. The farmhouse features five bedrooms, a French-inspired living room and an English-inspired kitchen with their favourite furnishings bought from auctions.

Apart from spending a few years down south and travelling abroad to see the kids, Rob has lived his whole life at Longfield. It’s very sentimental to him and his family. Rob’s father, Ian, was even born in the house where he resides. After Ian’s death, they had his ashes scattered on the hilltop of their farm. Rob’s aunty, sister, and her husband have their ashes scattered there also. “It’s a beautiful viewpoint looking out over the Marlborough region,” Rob said.

Longfield farm has a vineyard manager and four other full-time workers. The busiest times of the year are from October to February. When it gets quieter, Rob and his wife Lynne love the Marlborough Sounds and enjoy getting out in their boat.

Rob mentioned that if you’re wanting to start and work on your own vineyard, you’d want no more than 10 hectares if you are doing it by yourself. It does come down to how many workers you want to have. At Longfield, they started off with seven hectares then progressed to 50 hectares, so that they could still have sheep and cropping on the side. It carried on from 80 hectares through to 200 hectares, and with that came more helping hands.

New developments started last April, and the plants (that were planted last September) have been growing well. The development is nicknamed “the swamp” due to the Fairhall River in the wintertime flowing through the gravel seams underground. When the river flows, the water starts rising through the property and others close by. Rob has spent a good amount of time on the shovel, re-draining the land, and laying down clay tiles. His father spent a lot of time working on it also.

Rob hopes to get a small crop off their next vintage in 2022. This new development features all things Goldpine from the strainer posts, stays and half rounds to the 330km of wire. In the development stages of a vineyard, Rob said there is a fair bit of wire used - with 300 coils of wire left to run.

“We got quotes from different companies and Goldpine was very competitive, but also the product was very consistent. We want good even-sized posts without too many knots. Obviously, knots are weak points that will break either through the wind or with harvesters. So the quality of posts makes a big difference with your maintenance in a block later on.”

Goldpine Blenheim is Rob’s local store, “We’ve had a very good relationship with Steve there. He’s bent over backward to help us. Last year, there was quite a shortage of posts for getting replacements and we could just give Steve a call and somehow a truckload would turn up. So, he is excellent to deal with”.

“A quote my father once said to me was that ‘the best job you can have is your hobby’ and I think that is so true. If you love what you’re doing and it’s your passion, it doesn’t become a job. It’s not like working, you’re just out having fun all the time.” Wishing Rob and his team all the best with Longfield’s ongoing developments.

We cannot wait to see how the new vineyard is looking after a few more years of growth.