When Nikki and Geoff Drummond of Magpie Distillery moved to Murrurundi, little did they know that they would soon be winning awards around the world for their gin.
The roads are lined with wild fennel on the way to Murrurundi. Clouds of yellow seed heads on tall arching stems reach into the bright blue sky. They are so pretty that I’m tempted to stop the car to cut a few armfuls to fill the vase on the dining room table when I eventually get home. But I’m not the only one in the area who sees their potential. Nikki and Geoff Drummond of Magpie Distillery are also keenly aware of their value in making gin – a blend recently awarded with silver medals at the International Spirits Awards in London for the Murrurundi Dry and Songbird gins.
Here, we ask the pair about their life in Murrurundi and the business of making gin:
Why did you move to Murrurundi?
For us, Murrurundi was love at first sight. We had been looking for a change of pace, the proverbial tree change, for quite some time. We’d looked up and down the coast, in the Snowy Mountains, all over the place. Nothing ever quite worked out. We didn’t really know what we were looking for until we found it. We stumbled upon Murrurundi by pure chance. We had never been here, never even heard of it when we came to take a look at a house. It was a totally unexpected delight; the magnificent countryside, the history and character of the town. We knew almost instinctively that we had finally found a place to call home.
What do you love about the town?
There are so many things: the inherent creativity coursing through the town from the established artists through to the local art society and amazing talented artisans. The spirit of entrepreneurship where great business ideas flourish, are shared and acted on. The inclusivity, where two blow-ins with a crazy idea to start a distillery are made feel entirely welcome and part of the community. Also a cast of exceedingly likeable, utterly funny, local characters whom we now call our dear friends.
Is there a great sense of community?
Most definitely. The friendships we have forged are solid. To be accepted into a community in the middle of tough times is pretty amazing. We arrived in Murrurundi just as the drought was ramping up. As the situation got worse, Murrurundi got busy. We were witness to incredible community spirit. Locals formed groups organising tankers of water, trucks of food and necessities for those on the land and in the community struggling to make ends meet. And it wasn’t just a one off, week after week, month after month people donated time, money and goods to ensure that their neighbours made it through. There were families here doing it very tough and seeing the giant heart of this tiny town was truly inspiring.
The generosity and sense of community doesn’t end there; we thought that starting a new business in a new town where we knew very few people was bound to be tough. But as far as community goes, we couldn’t have been more wrong. We’ve been fumbling our way through managing a small property, launching a business, renovating the sheds for our cellar door, all while trying to establish ourselves here. The guidance and generosity of local knowledge is abundant. People offer to help in any way they can; everyone knows someone who can fix whatever it is that needs fixing, people go that extra mile. We have the most incredible neighbours and friends looking out for us. The community of Murrurundi champions each other, people genuinely want the town to thrive and in so doing, do what they can to help each other succeed.
Why did you decide to start a distillery?
We both felt an inkling to build something when we moved to Murrurundi and our property gave us the potential to establish a new business. We had taken a trip to Scotland and visited the Speyside distilleries both large and the small. Maybe we fell in love with romance of running a distillery, but the idea irresistibly moved from a concept to reality over three years. Distilling is an amalgam of aesthetics and process, and we are both able to bring our differing skills and ideas to these seemingly incongruous requirements. It was all validating when we won medals in our first year of operation for our gin at the Australian Gin Awards.
What are you trying to achieve?
Geoff and I are striving to create a business that is ecologically sustainable; From our packaging which is all 100 per cent recyclable, our composting of spent ingredients back into our gardens, our enviro-cycle recycling waste water system to our use of solar power and rain water to physically drive our business. Our aim is to grow a business with as small a carbon footprint as humanly possible while still creating delicious and exciting products.
When we first moved into the house and decided to create the distillery, we immediately installed solar panels which generate enough power to run our own power plant, we installed more water tanks to quadruple our water collection and storage capacity and all of our by-products and waste water are composted and go back into the ground and the garden which is now home to many of the ingredients we grow to flavour our gin.
How has living in the country influenced you?
As far as our business goes, we are doing things now we thought we would never do… growing and foraging our own produce and using other local produce to create locally influenced flavours in our gin.
And on a personal level, it has changed our very existence. We now have the physical and metaphorical space and freedom to be creative, we can take our time to think about our next steps and we have the support of the community driving us forward. We have the time and space to breathe.
We have also developed a resilience that can only come from spending time in the country; learning a new, self-reliant way of existing, letting go city life and embracing dodgy internet, power outages, and what to do when the water pump packs it in. Country life has it challenges, that’s for sure; there is nothing like dodging black snakes whilst lawn mowing to focus the mind. And I have come to appreciate my grandfather’s adage, “there is nothing baling twine or fencing wire can’t fix!”
What do you love about living in the country?
Our view… it’s pretty spectacular. And the veggie garden, digging in the dirt brings me no end of joy. We like being able to walk into town and greet people by name, that feeling of belonging somewhere not being just another face in the crowd.
I love that I can invite my new friends over for an afternoon drink and they stay until midnight and we all have tear stained cheeks from hours of raucous laughter… that’s the best.
“I loved talking to Geoff and Nikki, they are both very inspiring,” says this former editor-in-chief of Country Style and Vogue Living. Her only regret? “I just wish we had time to stay for a gin and tonic.”
This Sydney photographer was in her element searching for a perfect patch of the wild fennel Geoff uses in his gin before the light faded. When not on the road, Nicola works as the Special Projects Producer for Gritty Pretty magazine.