Redbank Lavender Oil
A boutique lavender oil business sits within the Two Paddocks vineyard operation
Mike Wing is the vineyard manager at Two Paddocks, actor Sam Neill’s Central Otago grape growing and wine making venture. He is also responsible for managing the lavender plants on the Redbank orchard in Earnscleugh, from which flowers are harvested, and valuable lavender oil extracted, for local sale.
The 60ha Redbank orchard in the Earnscleugh valley about 12km from Alexandra is now the largest vineyard of the Two Paddocks wine business, also the headquarters of the business. Proprietor Sam Neill had two smaller vineyards previously, Gibbston and Alex Paddocks, which he retains. Redbank was a Crop & Food Research station until it was closed and Neill purchased it in 2000. It has a wide variety of trees, shrubs, herbs and fruits dating back to the research station time, which are still producing. They include lavender, saffron, Echinacea, marigolds, St John’s Wort, apricots, nectarines, cherries, plums, apples, pears and truffles.
Redbank has 42 varieties of French and English lavender and lavandin (two different species) covering about half a hectare. Some bushes are 25-30 years old and have been used for cuttings to develop new blocks around the property. All are irrigated in the 300mm p.a. rainfall region. They have a wide range of flowering times, from early January to mid-February. The yields range from 50g to 1kg of flowers per bush, depending on its age and variety.
Harvesting is done with a two-man Japanese tea cutter which is like a two-stroke hedge cutter with a blower and catcher attached. In tight spots a third person is required to manoeuvre the catcher, which comfortably holds up to 20kg of flower heads. It also collects bees in the process, which are released before processing begins.
The oil distilling process is done in a vertical retort, holding around 30kg of flower heads. An electric steam boiler and a cross-flow condenser heat and cool the plant material, extracting the essential oils in the process. One batch takes 20 to 45 minutes to process and extracts 200ml to 1.5 litres of oil depending on cultivars, timing of harvest and effectiveness of harvesting. Some varieties are fickle producers but their oils have aromatic and curative properties that the heavier producers don’t.
Two Paddocks only bottles and sells 100% lavender oil, a blend of all 42 plant varieties. “We do not cut or blend with any other oil such as almond, which is common in the industry. All Two Paddocks oil is sold exclusively from Redbank cellar door and headquarters or supplied directly to resorts and spas.
Lavender oil is used for its antiseptic qualities, combating headaches, aiding sleep and relief of muscle tension and massage.
Mike Wing has been at Two Paddocks since 2005. Lavender harvesting and processing takes place from mid-January to mid-February, a day or two at a time. He says it is an enjoyable diversification from grapes and the timing of the harvest fits well with the work that has to be done in the vineyard, just before netting has to be placed on the grape vines. Some processing is also done for other lavender farms.
New Zealand has several large commercial lavender growers, one in Canterbury and another on the Kapiti Coast. We also import lavender oil from Europe.