Family looks to fill wine glass
They know how to make milk and grow beef; now they’re venturing into producing wine. It may seem a big step away from dairying and beef, but the Dromgools believe it will help diversify their dairy-and-beef business and capitalise on a growing trend for boutique wineries in the Bay of Islands.
Shane and Dot Dromgool have planted around two hectares of grapes down at the bottom of their dairy unit in the rolling hills, 20 kilometres west of Kerikeri.
Their son, Jake, 25, who works in the wine industry and has an international business and marketing degree from Auckland University, will produce the wine with Marsden Estate.
The family is bottling the first 3000 bottles under the 144 Islands label, a name reflecting the number of islands in the region.
“I’ve sampled some of it already and it’s quite impressive,” says Shane.
“We aim to plant 8ha of grapes. Depending on how it goes, the vineyard may get bigger and the dairy platform smaller. It helps us spread the risk; in the years the weather doesn’t favour dairying, it will favour the grapes.”
He sees potential for the vineyard to become a good business-earner for the farm.
Three hours’ drive from Auckland,. the Bay of Islands is becoming an increasingly popular day-trip for tourists keen to sample boutique wineries.
“The wine industry is in its infancy here and is already showing a lot of promise,” he says. “With an emphasis on marketing, we hope to reach our goal sooner rather than later.”
Shane, who comes from a sheep-and-beef farm at Hokianga, bought the first block of their farmland in 1990. They have added three blocks, giving them 210-hectare effective/250ha total for dairying and 300ha effective/400ha total for beef.
They also lease a 20ha block at Okaihau. They milk 500 mixed-breed cows with around 100 milking shorthorns also in the mix.
They have a beef-shorthorn stud with 250 fully recorded pedigree cows from which they source bulls to tail off their dairy herd. Their aim is to produce attractive, high-value, dairy-beef cattle.
“I’ve always liked the beef-shorthorn breed and it crosses well with dairy cows,” says Shane.
“We get a premium for our shorthorn-cross calves, but I could never get enough shorthorn bulls as they were being bred for the beef industry.”
This is where his stud has set itself apart – not only breeding for the beef industry but also for dairy. Shane stresses that milking shorthorns and beef shorthorns are markedly different.
“A milking shorthorn can have a number of breeds in it. They are a genuine hybrid milking cow and have improved a lot in the past 25 years from what people might remember.”
Shorthorns are the oldest breed in New Zealand – the first three animals, a bull and two cows, were introduced by Samuel Marsden in 1814.
They lost favour to jerseys and then friesians in the 1950s when dairying became more specialised.
The value of the crossbred dairy calves is an obvious plus for dairy farmers as they produce a viable, killable carcass from 15 months onwards.
Shane has clients killing 20-month-old cattle at 350 kilograms at premium grading.
The Dromgools breed for growth rates, marbling and temperament for the beef industry and moderate birthweight for the dairy industry. This is reflected in investment they have made in genetics.
They visit Australia every two years to secure the New Zealand rights to top genetics.
Two years ago at the Dubbo Shorthorn National Show and Sale, they bought the New Zealand share in Bayview Unique K11 in a joint venture with another New Zealand breeder.
The bull’s exceptionally high marbling and fat covers, low birthweights and above-average growth rates will see his progeny suit both sides of the Dromgools’ business, says Shane.
“The first calves are on the ground and look very promising.” Another current sire, Kamilaroi Meat Packer
H014, also ticks all the boxes and has yearlings and calves on the ground.
And this year the Dromgools will be using genetics from Logan Farm TK Kodak K130, another bull which exhibits similarly good traits.
The Dromgools sell privately up to 55 bulls for breeding and the rest (around 60-70) go to the works at 350-400 kilograms.
Details at www.longviewshorthorns.co.nz