The night before harvesting begins in Guy Coddington’s hop gardens, master brewer Tracy Banner is feeling as excited as a child anticipating Christmas morning.
Tracy will have already visited ‘Kentishman Hops’ in the Upper Moutere Valley three or four times to ‘palm rub’ a few hops. Once she has found the aromas and potential flavours she wants for her special brews, Guy tags her chosen rows; their crop destined exclusively for Tracy’s Sprig and Fern Brewery.
“We’ll text back and forth until nine or ten o’clock at night while Guy’s assessing the hops and deciding if he will go ahead with the harvest or put it off for another day,” she says. “Once he gives the word, it’s all on. We can be at his farm in 14 minutes.”
Loaded to the gunnels with bales of Kentishman green hops, the van’s windows are shut tightly and the air-conditioning is set to full fan. None of their goodness can be lost.
Guy Coddington has been supplying the multi-award-winning brewer with his remarkable hops since around 2011 and, every year, those special brews earn gold and silver awards.
Not surprisingly, Tracy and Guy first met ‘over a beer’ at the annual MarchFest at Nelson’s Founders Park. They kept in touch and made plans for the next hop season.
“Guy is at the top of his game and, like me, he’s an absolute stickler for quality. He’s just got a sense for knowing when the hops are absolutely perfect for picking.”
That’s a big compliment for a man who had never seen a hop bine or hop flower, the day the real estate agent suggested he consider buying a hop farm.
Back in the 1990s, working the proverbial ‘9 to 5’ weekday in front of a computer screen got the better of Guy. He put away his corporate gear and bought a café on the edge of Wellington’s Mt. Victoria. He eventually started another cafe in Petone’s main street, long before the cool café scene became ‘a thing’ in the once-quiet Petone.
But he was hankering to quit city life all together. Although he had a small lifestyle property north of Wellington where he grew blueberries, he dreamed of moving to Nelson’s countryside where he could put his horticultural studies to good use.
When a local real estate agent took him to see a hop farm in Upper Moutere, Guy returned to Wellington none the wiser, because it was the depths of winter - the gardens were completely bare.
“I’d never seen a hop, never even held a hop, let alone seen a hop bine or a hop garden,” Guy remembers. “I went home to Wellington and sat down to search the internet.
“The thing that clinched the deal for me was that the original owner of this farm, Peter Heine, was happy to stay on for a year to teach me everything he could about hop farming.”
Guy moved across the Cook Strait to the historic Upper Moutere village of Sarau just in time for the 2008 growing season, having bought what is most likely the smallest and one of the oldest hop farms in New Zealand.
“Hops have been growing on this property since the 1850s. Peter’s family go right back to his great grandfather who was the first pastor of the local Lutheran Church when the area was established by the German settlers.”
Guy remembers he very quickly became enamoured with the “amazing hop plants,” as he threw himself into many hours of intensive research, hands-on training which involved plenty of “trial and error,” and gleaning as much as he could from the obliging and supportive hop growers in the NZ Hops co-operative.
Passionate about using biological based growing systems, Guy introduced eco-friendly and sustainable methods, including the use of compost he makes on site and fertilising the gardens with foliar spray. He also shunned chemical sprays and opted to use predator bugs to combat any mites that find their way onto the farm. There’s also solar power on the farm, nowadays, to offset electricity use and costs.
In recent years, Guy’s partner Krista Eaton has been fine-tuning the hop growing operation with her business management expertise, while the couple also focus on better production and quality.
Krista affectionately refers to the hops as “our girls.” During the growing season, she walks the rows every week - 10 hectares of hop gardens in total - giving the plants a thorough ‘health-check’ and ensuring they’re mite-free.
“It’s quite incredible to look over the hop gardens and see the plants all swaying in the wind like hula-dancers,” she says. And, says Guy, “it’s amazing to think those hops are going to give you a really nice beer at the end of the season.”
- written by Victoria Clark