Saturday, March 2, 2024

Provenance is key for wool’s biggest fan

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What is on the label is in the product, says Patrizia Vieno.
Rod Clutton and Patrizia Vieno, a passionate supporter of New Zealand wool.
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This article is part of Famers Weekly’s annual Land Champions series. Read the full series here.

Patrizia Vieno and partner Rod Clutton have already appeared in Farmers Weekly having won the Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards this year. 

That was as well as winning the Bayley’s People in Primary Sector Award, the Norwood Agri-Business Management Award and the QE11 National Trust Farm Stewardship Award.  

The Italian interior designer and British intensive sheep and beef farmer are passionate about farming and you’d travel a long way to get stronger supporters of New Zealand’s wool industry.

In 2011 Patrizia and Rod purchased Rewa Rewa station, a 988ha hard hill country property just North of Tinui and to the East of Masterton. Of that 620ha are effective with just 14ha of flats. The station runs 4300 Romneys and 140 Angus cattle. In addition they recently planted 200ha of pine trees and have 60 cashmere goats for both weed control and fibre.

They also have 60 coloured sheep running in small flocks of Polwarth, Romney Cross Corriedale and Gotland. Finally, they have Angora Goats, Alpacas and Highland cattle. 

When Patrizia came to Wairarapa she wanted to learn to spin and joined the local spinners and weavers. Local matriarch Phyllis French not only taught her how to spin but took Patrizia under her wing and sold her some coloured sheep.

Patrizia would be the most passionate supporter of NZ wool I’ve struck. The Italian pocket rocket has energy to burn and can certainly operate outside the square.

“Wool is a natural fibre – you can’t beat it,” she said. “It has everything. It is sustainable, renewable, recyclable, eco-friendly and compostable.

“Add to that it is self-cleaning, insulating and a fire retardant, storing 50% more organic carbon than other fibres. It is a miracle product.

“It can come naturally coloured or we can dye it using natural dyes.”

Because wool was so cheap Patrizia decided to use white Romney lambs’ wool to make blankets. They contain nothing that is artificial, just wool for the product and either cotton or leather for the labels.

Wool is a natural fibre – you can’t beat it,’ Patrizia Vieno says. ‘It has everything … It can come naturally coloured or we can dye it using natural dyes.’

The blankets use wool grown in the Wairarapa, scoured in Napier, spun in Lower Hutt and woven in Auckland. 

They are double woven and reversable.

“The blankets are a product of the North Island and have a low carbon footprint.”

When it comes to the sustainability of wool, Patrizia is passionate and she has done her homework.

“Sixty percent of all clothing comes from fossil fuel. People talk about reducing our greenhouse gases but happily wear polyester clothing.

“No one seems to worry about it and they should.

“It’s a bit like fast food. People don’t worry about where it comes from and when the packaging is discarded it goes to the tip and is there forever.

“In 2020 only 1.7% of all clothing came from natural fibres, that’s wool and silk. Compare that with 68.2% for synthetics. You can add a further 6.5% from man-made cellulosic product (viscose, rayon etcetera) where manufacture is banned in the USA because of the pollution the manufacturing process creates.

“What that has achieved is the pollution of 20% of the world’s drinking water that is caused by production of artificial fibres and dyes.

“We’re manufacturing and selling twice the amount of clothing today we did 15 years ago and that isn’t sustainable.

“We need to think of the planet, which means we need natural fibres.”

“We’re currently developing woollen socks using worsted yarn instead of the polyesters that are in most socks sold today.”

Patrizia’s creed for Rewa Rewa wool is simple: provenance and traceability. That means what is on the label is in the product.

She has started doing courses on wool and wool processing.

They have purchased a Canadian mill to wash, card and spin on site. Rewa Rewa has its own looms so they can sell wool yarn, clothing and home wares.

The Canadian mill can do smaller lots than conventional machines, meaning the processing can be tailored to the end product more easily.

The mill will also mean the full-time employment of two Tinui locals.

Patrizia also intends running courses in natural dyeing.  

On the wider farming scene Rewa Rewa is part of Beef + Lamb NZ’s Open Farms, where they get a good crowd up from Wellington and show them dogs working, sheep shearing, the benefits of wool and the farm itself.

Currently they’re selling store lambs, which they are re-evaluating as they feel nervous being at the “mercy of finishers”.

Patrizia would like to have an export abattoir in Tinui as there would be less travel and with it less stress on the animals. She also believes her “provenance and sustainabilty” mantra would be better served by a small, local operation.

The couple have developed a farm stay from the old shearers quarters, which is both impressive and unique.

“Tourism has great potential for us.”

Patrizia was raised in Italy and spent 15 years in the UK before immigrating with Rod to New Zealand. They purchased a campervan and drove around the country, finally settling in Tinui.

She is a person who thinks outside the square and sees opportunities where others see problems.

Both Patrizia and Rod are New Zealand citizens.

The farm isn’t an easy property to work being pretty harsh hill country. It is relatively isolated, a good 45 minutes from Masterton.

What is has achieved is to create a flourishing operation that promotes and markets NZ wool in a variety of forms, highlighting its sustainability and versatility.