When Wilson Matthewson decided to rip out the entire 10 hectares of berries growing on his Glenrae Road farm, he was the last member of the Matthewson family still known as a raspberry grower.
Surrounded by a lush green patchwork of towering hop gardens, the Matthewson’s berry stall was where locals headed when they wanted fresh raspberries and, at one stage, preservative and additive-free jams. Supermarkets throughout the South Island stocked ‘The Berry Cart’ jams, named after the Matthewson family’s antique cart which Wilson had restored, topped off with a bright red roof and re-commissioned as a stall near the Tapawera village.
Wilson and his wife, Kylie, made countless jars of jam in a purpose-built second kitchen. Chest freezers were kept filled with berries for year-round jam-making; the jams cooked in huge saucepans over gas burners. The Matthewsons’ industrious cottage industry could produce 60 large or 120 small pottles of jam in an hour.
But Wilson hankered to do something different and more lucrative with their Glenrae Road property.
“I’d been working fulltime as an agricultural technical field rep for PGG Wrightson’s Fruitfed Supplies and taking my Annual Leave to pick berries. I felt as though I was always on the road, when I really just wanted to be here at home, doing something more with the land – and we never really made a lot of money out of the raspberries.”
Each hop harvesting season, over several years, Wilson had joined the harvesting teams on some of the neighbouring farms. He had also helped his brother Scott transform the family’s original ‘home farm’ in Tadmor Valley into a hop farm, by sourcing the products required for an irrigation system and the hop plants’ support structures. His interest was piqued.
He started looking deeper into the economics of hop farming and learning as much as he could from local farmers whose families had been producing hops in the greater Nelson region for generations.
Having made the life-changing decision to switch careers and transform the Glenrae Road farm, Wilson took on the laborious task of dismantling row upon row of support-wires, posts and the berry bushes which then gave their final gift – screeds of rich mulch for the soil they’d been growing in for 25 years.
“It felt great, actually,” Wilson says. “What really felt good was making a big decision that would change everything - and sticking to it. The berry farm became a blank canvas, and I became a hop farmer.
“We started our hop growing venture with investment in the project coming from local dairy farmers, Aaron Begg and Rachel Taylor.”
Glenrae Hops was launched in 2018 with four hop varieties being planted over eight hectares. The gardens now produce 10 varieties, including the recently developed Nectaron hop and a small variety of trial hops.
“To ensure we didn’t over-capitalise when we were starting out, we bought second-hand machinery. It dates to the 1950s and it still does the job well enough. It’s machinery you only use for five weeks of the year, but I must admit it would be nice to have a more modern plant someday.”
Wilson says he has had the advantage of drawing on his brother’s knowledge and he has also taken in plenty of advice and ‘know-how,’ willingly shared with him by well-established growers, such as Colin Oldham of ‘New Hoplands.’
“The New Zealand Hops Co-op also shares a lot of information,” he says. “It’s still a small industry on the world scale, but we have a good niche of in-demand varieties that grow well in this latitude.”
- written by Victoria Clark 2021