Pinoli Pine Nuts: a special company growing a very special nut

by | Jun 9, 2023 | Opinion

In the latest in our series, brought to you by Everybird, we meet the couple behind Pinoli Pine Nuts, the award-winning novel nut farm from Nelson.

One fateful day, Andrew Wiltshire was looking around a block of commercial pine forest near Nelson when a colleague pointed out a ‘funny looking tree with a round top on it’. A European Stone Pine. They picked a cone, tore it apart and there were dozens of fat pine kernels inside.

This started Andrew thinking: New Zealand is good at growing pine trees. Why don’t we grow pine nuts? He did some research and the more he learnt the more interested he became. The final piece in the puzzle was a paper he found, written for the New Zealand Tree Crops Association, which concluded that pine nuts would never be a viable commercial crop in New Zealand.

There’s a certain type of person who thrives on being told things can’t be done. Andrew is one of those people.

Pinoli Pine Nuts was born.

 

 

 

Old friends: pine nuts and people

Pine nuts and humans have a long and fascinating relationship. Ever since the first people arrived in Europe from Africa, pine nuts have been an important source of protein and fat. And not just for Homo Sapiens: archaeological evidence suggests our Neanderthal cousins also harvested pine nuts. Paleo diet? Pine nuts really are the real deal.

During the last Ice Age the European Stone Pine almost became extinct, with only small pockets surviving in parts of Spain and Portugal. Their reintroduction to the rest of the Mediterranean probably owes a lot to human beings, intentionally or otherwise, disseminating the seeds.

The Greeks revered pine nuts with a near spiritual intensity. Pine nuts travelled to Britain with Roman centurions as part of their provisions. They are mentioned in the book The Physicians of Pharaonic Egypt and were used by Arabic physicians in the Middle Ages.

 

 

The Change It Up series is proudly sponsored by Everybird. Drink it black, with milk, mylk or sugar – Everybird coffee is a versatile drop that’s best enjoyed however you like it. Certified Fairtrade, organic and climate neutral, it feels as good as it tastes, and it’s now available at Supie.

 

Seed to sapling

European Stone Pine thrives in a Mediterranean climate, so it makes a lot of sense to plant them alongside the vineyards and olive groves of Marlborough. Which is exactly what Andrew and his wife Barbara set about doing in the late nineties. General manager Lee Paterson quickly became a partner in the business along with sales manager Zoe Thompson. This team is still together 25 years later.

They initially intended to set up a small business aiming to replace imports into New Zealand with a fresh, homegrown product. Pine nuts from China were from a different species of pine that produced inferior nuts, and European nuts were eye-wateringly expensive.

As the first harvest of pine nuts came in 2010, and the customer reviews started coming back, the Pinoli team began to realise they had something very special on their hands.

Andrew recounts a story from the early days of Pinoli. Lee Paterson brought a packet of pine nuts to an Italian gentleman who owned a restaurant in Marlborough. The man’s eyes widened when he saw the size and quality of the nuts and was soon shovelling handfuls of them into his mouth with wild abandon. He simply couldn’t believe that such beautiful pine nuts could be grown in New Zealand.

This, and many other glowing reviews, led the team to believe that they could do more than produce pine nuts for the New Zealand market. They now aim to produce the best pine nuts in the world and are already exporting to Australia, Spain and soon, in an excellent example of coals to Newcastle, even Italy. From 42 hectares in the late nineties, Pinoli now have over 550 hectares under plantation. They have built a state of the art factory to process the cones and extract the nuts from their shells– a surprisingly complex enterprise.

Pinoli’s quest for excellence has seen them be named Supreme Champion at the 2023 New Zealand Outstanding Food Producer Awards 2023. The next 5-10 years will see a swathe of young trees reach production maturity and Andrew expects output to increase by four or five times in the near future.

 

 

Glimpses of the future

New Zealand is largely free of the pests and diseases that plague European producers of pine nut. Pine nut supply is shrinking in Europe while demand remains steady. Stone Pine are hardy and grow well on dry land. The shells from the pine nuts can be used as a high quality organic mulch. The cone mass can be burnt in place of coal. It can be converted into biofuel. Stone Pine can be productive for well over 100 years so carbon can be sequestered for longer than it is in, say, commercial Pinus Radiata forestry.

In short, pine nut production has the potential to become a high-value, low emission (if not carbon negative) industry, not just in Marlborough but also in the Wairarapa and the Hawke’s Bay. Andrew suggests it could be an excellent side crop for sheep farmers in these regions.

Frustratingly, the government seems to be standing in the way. The carbon credit scheme bafflingly excludes European Stone Pine on the basis that it is a food producing crop.

When Pinoli attempt to acquire land, they are competing against forestry companies that are heavily subsidised by carbon capture schemes. According to Andrew this makes little or no sense. Why would the government favour forestry over food production? Especially when European Stone Pine don’t have problems with wildling pine spreading where they are not wanted, nor do they produce the kind of forestry ‘slash’ that had such profound consequences during Cyclone Gabrielle.

Pinoli Pine Nuts are ready to become a world leader in their industry, an industry that produces high-value protein at little to no cost to the environment. With a little forward thinking from the New Zealand government, they could make a real positive change for the environment, for Marlborough, and Aotearoa.

 

 

About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

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