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British gin producer plants her own juniper berries due to Brexit concerns

While some British gin distillers might worry about imports of juniper after Brexit, one Worcestershire gin producer aims to ditch the uncertainty and grow her own.

Vicars Gin - Oakhampton Estate
Credit – Peter Goddard

Naomi Joy, who distils Vicars Gin on her estate in Worcestershire, has begun planting juniper plants for gin production on her Oakhampton Estate due to concerns around imports or shortages after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Last June, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association warned a “no-deal” Brexit could threaten imports of juniper from the Mediterranean, leading to a “doomsday” for British gin. In addition to difficulties arising from the political situation, there has also been the spread of a deadly fungal disease, which has been damaging juniper berries.

These two factors led Joy to consider planting her own. She said: “When I was thinking about going into the gin business, it kind of made sense that I wanted my unique selling point to be growing the botanicals on the land. I plant my own juniper and then if there is a shortage, I’ve got myself covered, and can act as a supplier for other gin producers in the UK who might be suffering from a similar shortage.”

Around 50 bushes were planted on the land about a month ago. The plot is suitable for the growth of the plant due to the slope, the dry soil and sufficient drainage. The site is also served by a natural spring in a nearby wood. According to Joy, the conditions are favourable and the plants seem to be doing well.

“There’s no guarantee, but hopefully, once we know if it takes, we can plant some more and extend the crop,” she said. “In the future, we’d like at least a couple of hundred bushes. You can plant quite a lot in a small bit of land. We’ve earmarked a plot and ideally it would be nice to cover that.”

The planting has attracted interest from companies further afield. Beacon Commodities, based in Sussex, has said it would look to purchase juniper berries from Oakhampton Estates if and when they are able to produce them or other botanicals, on the basis they are a UK-based botanical supplier.

However, juniper berries take 3 to 5 years before they’re ready for harvest, so it will be a while yet before there will be any gin production from the newly planted bushes in Worcestershire.

Meanwhile, Joy is looking to expand her existing gin production business. If permission is granted, there are plans in place to convert one of the existing farm buildings into a suitable botanical drying and gin production facility. This would mean it would be possible to grow and dry some of the other botanicals for gin, including coriander seed and angelica root. “We’ll be able to distill it and do everything ourselves,” said Joy.

If this drying facility goes ahead, the nearby Astley Vineyard would be looking to work with Oakhampton Estate, using the equipment for their vermouth production.

Vicars aren’t the only ones growing juniper berries in England for gin production. Becketts Gin is made using juniper berries from Box Hill in Surrey and mint grown in Kingston-upon-Thames, as well as a range of other botanicals including Moroccan lime and Spanish orange peel.

Since Box Hill is owned by the National Trust, Becketts is undertaking a long-term project in partnership with the Forestry Commission to create a new sustainable population of juniper.

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