Queenstowner Mathurin Molgat recalls mate Michael Sly, a perfumery entrepreneur, dropping by for a chinwag three years ago.
“Michael says, ‘Look, I’m wondering what the scent of wilding pine is. We know what pine oil smells like but what does our pine oil smell like?’”
Molgat and his partner Jessie Coutts – a musician and aromatherapist who went to school with Sly – prick up their ears.
Molgat: “We distilled some wilding pine oil and thought, ‘Wow, it’s got a zestiness to it, something special’.”
A sample was sent off to an essential oil specialist in the United States who got very excited and came back very quickly to say it was the finest pine oil he’d ever smelt.
Molgat says the specialist also declared it one of the most valuable, too, because it came from a tree that was a threat to its local environment.
“He placed an order for 6500 kilograms and said, ‘I want to come on a plane now and film your process from harvest to distillation and throw it out to the world’.”
Fast-forward to this February when Molgat, Sly and Coutts soft-launched their aromatherapy oil at a TEDx Queenstown ideas-sharing event, giving away 150 five millilitre bottles to attendees.
Late last month they also gave Destination Queenstown 200 bottles to hand out to media attending a Wakatipu-themed wine and food promotion in Sydney.
Molgat and Sly – who’ve formed Wilding & Co with Queenstown-raised Dave Turnbull – say they have so far spent more than $200,000 developing their oil. Their equipment includes a semi-mobile still and a steam distillery unit.
The directors believe their business – with the tag-line ‘making scents of nature’ – can double as a social enterprise that can rid the Wakatipu of hundreds of thousands of young pre-coning wilding pines that threaten the landscape.
As it stands, hundreds of thousands are being spent in the ongoing battle to rid the Wakatipu of the pines which grow like topsy.
“As any company grows, its ecological footprint gets worse – ours gets better,” Molgat says.
“The more product we sell, the more trees we harvest – bigger is greener.”
Sly explains that the 5ml bottles alone could sell internationally for $25 for use as a room spray, decongestant or even a light fragrance for your bath.
One pre-coning wilding pine’s branches and needles will produce 15ml or three bottles of aromatherapy oil, he says.
“It’s one thing to supply large-scale bulk oil to the international market but the other market is where you create finished product.
“You can get more return, more dollars back on every tree that you cut down, therefore you can afford to clear more trees.”
Those finished products range from perfumes, colognes and scented candles through to body washes and multi-purpose cleaning products.
Wilding & Co has formed a partnership with an Auckland producer of household and business cleaning products to produce wilding pine product lines.
It’s also enlisted an international fragrance expert to formulate blends and fragrances using its oil.
Sly says their aim is to sell their cleaning product for the same price as existing ones.
Molgat believes New Zealand’s clean and green message could be enhanced if hotels and restaurants stocked their lines.
“If every tourist who came to town washed their hands with Wilding & Co soap, every tourist is effectively paying to help clear the pines and going home with an amazing message.
“It’s not a bed tax – it’s a pine tax.”
Sly adds: “It’s pretty much the only tree in the world that you can cut down and it will be a positive thing – normally if you’re cutting down a tree there’s some negative connotation to it.”
As the company expands and the product-testing continues in earnest, Sly says he’ll use a consent he already has to build a perfumery at his Speargrass Flat property.
Fittingly, it would be built from the old Taramea winery building that his mother Ann Pinckney used to help pioneer the local wine industry in the 1970s.
“That’s where the wine industry started so maybe we’ll be starting a whole new industry too.”