New Zealand gin brand Strange Nature has set its sights on expansion in travel retail. And if its performance to date is anything to go by, it won’t be long before the innovative brand makes a suitably refreshing splash globally.

Combining Kiwi ‘inGinuity’ with winemaking skills and experience, Strange Nature is grape-based (Sauvignon Blanc) and boasts strong sustainability credentials.

Introducing the five men behind the innovative Strange Nature: (From left to right) Alex, Marcel and Theo Giesen, founders and owners of Giesen Wines in New Zealand and below (left) Kyle Skene and Rhys Julian

Brand owners include the three brothers behind Giesen Wines, a successful and highly respected New Zealand company.

Theo, Alex and Marcel Giesen are joined by former Maxxium Regional Sales Manager and Giesen Group General Manager Kyle Skene, along with the group’s former Global Account Manager Asia, and Strange Nature Distilling General Manager Rhys Julian.

Julian points out that Strange Nature was developed during the COVID lockdown in New Zealand. Giesen was trialling ways to make zero-alcohol Sauvignon Blanc, never expecting the alcohol extract to have a rich, herbaceous-citrus flavour that would “lend itself so perfectly to gin”.

“We were tasting the distillate for the first time and going, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ It had quite a high alcohol, but it didn’t taste of alcohol because of all the beautiful herbaceous, citrus and tropical Marlborough aromatics. Even in its rawest state, the flavour shone.

“What’s resulted is an inventive spin on a traditional gin; a natural, truly grape-based gin that goes against the grain, aptly named Strange Nature. The rest is history and that is how Strange Nature Distilling was formed.”

With a 44% ABV, Strange Nature was launched in October 2021, its owners looking to leverage the international popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, particularly from Marlborough.

The gin is naturally flavoured, bearing all notes the Sauvignon Blanc varietal is known for: part tropical and zesty with hints of fresh pineapple, candied grapefruit and a touch of kaffir lime and blood orange. Part savoury and herbaceous-piney juniper, blackcurrant leaf and fresh green pepper.

The Strange Nature journey: From grape to glass, with a touch of Kiwi ‘inGinuity’

“We are at a very exciting stage of our business journey where it feels that we could be on the cusp of some really great things,” Julian says.

“Travel retail is starting to become a solid part of our business, with local partnerships formed over the last six months with Dufry, Gebr. Heinemann, Lagardère Travel Retail, Aer Rianta International and Lotte Duty Free.”

Strange Nature will be available locally in key US states including California, Texas and Colorado from June. Closer to home in Australia, the gin is available domestically across all 260 Dan Murphy’s stores.

“We have the New Zealand market covered and are in discussions with Dufry and Heinemann at stores at airports in Sydney and Melbourne,” Julian adds. “Though relatively small at this stage, we are trying to act like a global brand to secure key positioning and space in stores to tell a strong story.

“The run rate of sales, especially with The Loop {ARI} at Auckland Airport, has blown our minds.”

Strange Nature comprises a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc base with a single botanical, juniper.

To complement Strange Nature’s travel retail aspirations, brand ambassadors are sampling the gin across six Air New Zealand business lounges in New Zealand and Australia for eight weeks from 1 February.

“Air New Zealand is forecasting at least 5,500 Strange Nature G&Ts to be sampled throughout the campaign,” Julian comments. “This is great news for a brand that very much backs its liquid and the fact it will be sampled with many existing and new consumers.

“The liquid itself is unique and sourced in a different way, obviously really important in a busy gin category. We talk to our strangeness so to position ourselves left of centre and really try to stand out from the crowd.”

Julian says the company spent nine months trialling different distillations of the spirit, with various botanicals, including kawakawa and cardamom. They settled on the addition of only one botanical: juniper.

“Less is more when it comes to Strange Nature. That’s because the product has so much flavour and aroma from the Sauvignon, with underlying pineapple and grapefruit, pepper and lime.

“Tapping into the wealth of knowledge that the Giesen brothers bring has been important to the success of Strange Nature Distilling. Taking their 0% alcohol wine innovation, overlaid with our inquisitiveness to make gin has been a match made in heaven.”

The result, according to Julian, is “a unique gin with real provenance”. “We know our spirit inside and out. We have complete trust and traceability in every batch.”

The base grape spirit that Strange Nature Distilling sources come from Giesen who are accredited with Sustainable Wine-growing New Zealand and BioGro New Zealand, meaning Strange Nature Gin can be traced back to specific rows in its vineyards. “Most distilleries don’t talk about where the distillate comes from; they talk more about the botanicals,” Julian says.

Recognising they had a distinctive gin, the Strange Nature team was adamant that the bottle design should also be exceptional.

“We spent a lot of time on the bottle design, searching through lead light glass windows at salvage yards just to get the colour right,” Julian explains. The copper-coloured disc echoes copper gin distilleries; the top is a bespoke wooden topper with a natural cork stopper.

Strange Nature is also experimenting with distillates derived from wine with the goal of launching other limited-release gins. “There’s a huge amount of potential for us to continue to be innovative and bring new products and flavour profiles,” Julian notes.

As part of its sustainability drive, the company has introduced a bottle recycling programme, collecting them back from bars and restaurants in New Zealand.

“We’re just trialling this because logistically it’s quite hard to coordinate, but it’s a solid start and could lead to a similar strategy in travel retail,” Julian concludes. ✈

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