The day Scott Matthewson’s 1950s Bruff hop-picking machine arrived on his Tadmor Valley farm, it was a dismantled jumble of Meccano-like parts contained in 30 apple bins – and there were no written instructions for putting it back together.
Having been a builder all his working life, Scott called on a local engineer, Barry Wastney, and his younger brother Brad’s engineering skills to help him reassemble the multitude of pieces, which he’d laboriously laid out on the ground. Gradually the giant puzzle came together - the framework, numerous panels, chains, nuts and bolts methodically re-connected and secured into all the rights places.
“It took a couple of months to complete and we literally finished it the night before our first day of harvest,” Scott remembers. “We really were flying by the seat of our pants when we started that first harvest. Family and locals came to help, but we were kind of on our own. The experienced hop farmers couldn’t be on site to show me the ropes, because they were working their own harvests.
“The Bruff had breakdown after breakdown, too. That harvest took about four weeks, but it felt more like six months,” he laughs.
Scott’s decision, in 2014, to turn his family’s original ‘home farm’ into a hop farming operation, made the Matthewson name ‘new blood’ among the region’s relatively small hop farming community. Other local families had been growing numerous varieties, old and new, of the lush and lofty vine for four or five generations; there hadn’t been a new player in the neighbourhood since Dean Palmer established Hinetai Hops in Tapawera in the early 1990s.
More than 80 years ago, Scott’s grandfather arrived in Tapawera and established the Tadmor Valley Road property as the Matthewson family’s home farm. He became a berry-grower, a beef and sheep farmer, and milked cows. Eventually, the family farmed deer. Scott still farms 400 deer – “and I have three sheep,” he laughs.
Hankering to spend more time in the peaceful countryside and to do something new with his land, instead of building houses in suburbia, Scott decided to create hop gardens.
Long-experienced hop growers, particularly Colin Oldham and his family, were only too happy to share their knowledge and advice.
“I wanted to build my hop shed roof in the style of the old hop-kilns, so I went to look at a couple of old kilns that are no longer in use on nearby farms and I searched the internet.”
His years of experience in the building industry are evident in the result. Matthewson Hops’ shed features a pyramid-shaped roof with impressively symmetrical and rather beautiful Douglas Fir rafters, set atop poles which tower nine metres above the ground.
“I built the roof out in the paddock and had a crane operator come in to lift it into position.”
“I started out planting six hectares of hop gardens and that’s grown to 16 hectares. We have nine varieties, including the new Nectaron Hop and an unnamed variety which is still being trialled.”
Seven years on, Scott has the upper hand on the vintage Bruff’s workings, but he intends to relocate it in a second hop-shed, which he has yet to build. He will also dust off his house-builder’s tool-belt to create a place to relax at the end of those long days, preparing the hops for the bustling harvest time.
“I’ll build a place just up on the hill, so we can sit there with a beer and look out over the hop gardens,” he says.
The view is certainly pretty from up there. The home farm’s front boundary is lined with magnificent oak trees, planted by the English settlers who originally established the farm over 100 years ago.
Ironically, the much-admired heritage trees were destined to be used as poles in a hop garden - but the original landowner’s ‘career-move’ in hop-farming never eventuated.
- written by Victoria Clark 2021