Back then he was a commercial pilot, living in Germany and flying regularly to New Zealand. One stopover, he hired a camper van, drove south into Gibbston, saw a sign saying ‘vineyard for sale’, and realised he’d found his dream.
Growing up in Germany, both sides of Joerg’s family-owned smallholdings with cottage vineyards, orchards and a few house cows. Every year his grandparents would make wine, and fruit-infused spirits with that season’s bumper crop, from cherry schnapps to plum gin. The Broken Heart Quince Liqueur is made with his grandmother’s recipe.
Young Joerg picking cherries
From artisanal spirits to a business built on craft gin
When Joerg moved to his own land in Queenstown, it was natural for him to start experimenting with distilling and infusing. Joerg explains, “My family had a very self-sufficient ethos, where nothing went to waste, so I was surprised when I saw Central Otago winemakers composting their grape skins instead of making grappa. I brought a still over from Germany and started making grappa and schnapps infused with local fruit.”
Joerg was ahead of his time. He recalls, “Back in the noughties, the New Zealand market wasn’t ready for artisanal spirits and liqueurs. I was making high-quality spirits with foraged local ingredients, but they were hard to sell. So, I asked myself, what spirits do Kiwis like to drink? And the answer was gin. But the gin on offer was very limited, we’re talking Gordon’s and Beefeater, I don’t think there was even Bombay Sapphire then.”
A business born from friendship and loss
Joerg began to research craft gin distilleries around the world and began a fruitful collaboration with Bernd Schnabel, another distiller and German ex-pat living in Queenstown. Together, the two friends created the blueprint for Broken Heart’s original gin, a delicious balance of eleven natural botanicals.
They were about to launch their business together. Then tragedy struck. Bernd was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, dying suddenly in 2012. Devasted, Joerg remembers how he decided to memorialise his friend. “I was driving alongside Lake Hayes not long after Bernd died, feeling so sad. The phrase ‘Broken Heart’ was repeating over and over in my mind. And suddenly I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to call our gin.’”
Broken Heart gin varieties
From side hustle to prolific local distillery
For almost 20 years Joerg did his distilling on the side while flying around the world. He says, “For me as a pilot, having the international airport here meant I could carry on flying and live in this beautiful place. Many times, I’ve driven my kids to school, looked around at where we live and thought, how amazing is this. And I love how cosmopolitan it is here, so many different nationalities In our business alone, we have people from all around the world.”
When Joerg opened the first bottle of Broken Heart gin in September 2012 he was also toasting the start of a new era in his distilling career. Joerg says, “For a while we stayed with gin, creating different types, navy strength, barrel-aged, and our fruit-infused flavours rhubarb and quince. But I always knew we’d make more than gin. In 2017 I started work on our spiced rum, before branching out into whisky and vodka.”
Joerg with a lineup of cocktails made from Broken Heart Spirits gin and vodka
Created in Paradise
Near Glenorchy, Paradise is home to one of the largest aquifers of pure mountain spring water in New Zealand. Joerg says, “There’s no clearer drinking water in the world. And because we’re fortunate enough to know the owner of the land, we’re able to use that water for our spirits. Our water comes from Paradise. Not many other gins can say that.”
It’s not just the water that comes from Paradise. Many other ingredients are sourced locally, from the foraged Bannockburn plums that go into Bella, the Wild Plum Gin Elixir created in collaboration with Annabel Langbein, to rhubarb and quince from Arrowtown gardens. Joerg grows his own hops and angelica, and nothing goes to waste, with the quince paste being boiled down to create delicious membrillo for the Gin Garden menu.
When you ask Joerg to recommend his favourite Broken Heart flavour he smiles, saying, “I love them all. Queenstown is so seasonal, so my favourite changes by the season. On a hot summer day, rhubarb gin is refreshing. Then when the season turns and it becomes a little cooler, quince gin’s mellow fragrance is superb. For a winter warmer, our barrel-aged gin, or the pinot noir gin with its caramelised notes are perfect.”
Welcome to the Gin Garden
After years of people begging him for tasting tours, Joerg opened the Gin Garden in July 2021, a dedicated gin tasting room in Arthurs Point. The airy, appealing space combines European design influences with a cosy Kiwi welcome, with an eclectic mix of vintage wooden furniture juxtaposed with clean lines.
The Gin Garden menu is designed by local foodie icon, Glynnie Barry, who’s worked at Saffron, Matakauri Lodge, Mahu Whenua, and the Lindis. Dishes riff on gin flavours, with squid pickled in gin spices, gin-soaked spiced plum sorbet, and a Broken Heart rhubarb meringue pie. Joerg’s German heritage is also apparent with a Flammkuchen, or onion tart, and a sauerkraut accompaniment to a Broken Heart rum spiced beef brisket.
So, what’s next for this prolific craftsman and entrepreneur? Joerg says, “Our distillery is too small. Too small for all we want to do and too small to run tours. We’ve been talking for a long time about a bigger space. In the last two weeks we’ve found an amazing opportunity, so watch this space. With luck we’ll have a new distillery within the year.”