Gareth Renowden | Truffle grower & author
Waipara Valley, North Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand, April 2013
‘Any piece of land has an optimal use and the journey of gardening is to find out what that might be, to grow something that is happy there and that will be productive.’
We have 12 acres of useable land in 10 hectares of property set in a north facing bowl above the Waipara river in north Canterbury. It is divided between 2 acres of olive grove, 1 ½ acres of Pinot noire grapes, a dozen walnut trees, 3 acres of flower and vegetable garden and then the truffieres. We grow Perigord black truffles, white Bianchetto truffles and Burgundy truffles. We are the only property in NZ growing all three varieties.
We bought the farm here in 1997 and the first thing we did was plant the trees impregnated with Black truffle spores. Then we planted Olives in 1999 and the vines in 2000 and 2002 - when were one of the first to grow white and Burgundy truffles in NZ
We harvested our first Black truffles in 2006 and our first Bianchetto and Burgundy truffles in 2012
There is more work involved in running the vineyard than the truffiere which is not very high maintenance. There is some tree pruning in spring, soil aeration, mowing and weeding. In summer I irrigate the soil and generally it’s a time for hands off by late summer when you don’t want to be walking where the truffles are growing.
It changes every year but generally Burgundy truffles are ready from about January with Bianchetto peaking in May and June and Perigord in July and August. Our truffles go mostly to restaurants but we also sell in markets.
Rabbits are a pest as they dig in the soil around the truffles and damage them. Our fifteen year old cat – who has had several knee reconstructions – still gets more of them than I do by shooting them. We have tried to fence them out of most key areas. The biggest chore would be weeding – and trimming all the box hedging around our vegetable and flower beds.
We haven’t quite demonstrated that you can make a living doing this but we are definitely on the way. We do well with our truffles now and have been told by respected wine makers that we have every chance of making excellent wine.
When we started planning and planting we had a vision we’d be sitting on our verandah eating a truffled chicken and drinking wine – the only thing we have yet to add is our own olive oil.
I love the landscape here, it’s a beautiful place. The shapes of the land and the way they change with the light. Our garden and our home give us peace, tranquility and a stunning vista. They also have a sense of place. In wine terms this means ‘terroir’ – everything that goes into making a wine, the soil, the weather, environment.
Any piece of land has an optimal use and the journey of gardening is to find out what that might be, to grow something that is happy there and that will be productive. So try things and work out what you can grow best. Its important to grow stuff that you feel enthusiastic about, don’t be frightened of experimenting. Start small and move ahead, get your soil quality up and put in the effort to get it right. Grow things that you know you’ll enjoy and don’t listen too much to the experts. My mum had a garden full of flowers, it might not have been trendy but it brought her pleasure.
One of the special moments in the year is the first perfect, ripe, sun-warm apricot – fresh from the tree. Such an explosion of flavor, definitely APRICOT in capital letters, it makes me appreciate where I am.