The Finest Fleece, Mt Cook’s Traffic Jam

Sheep blockade… Glenntaner Aoraki road “OPEN” ?????

This part of the south island of New Zealand is dotted with lakes. Snow and Glacial fed lakes, some of which contribute to the hydro and irrigation schemes for the east coast.

Lake Pukaki is part of this network of canals and lakes, and is one of the prettiest in the area around Mt Cook, which has its Moari name of Aoraki.

A hour long drive off the main highway to Queenstown will head you in the direction of the South Island’s highest peak.

Lake Pukaki with a view to Mt Cook.

As we closed in on Mt Cook, so did the weather, unfortunately, so the summit was hidden from view. But there was plenty of snowy vistas to keep me happy. Hard to see in the photograph but I noted the braided nature of the river that drains into Lake Pukaki.

Guess what:  Woolly, off white four-hoofed friends were to launch a blockade at the bridge impeding our access to the Cloud Mountain… well it is New Zealand after all!!!

You see, Merino sheep were completely blocking a bridge as we approached so the farmers got their sheep dogs, and Huntingdons to ride the ‘sheeps back’ to the delight of the Japanese tourists and herd them slowly over the bridge… but as they were going in the same direction as us our bus driver Andrew, had to “split” the mob. That is drive very slowly through the mob of sheep without hitting any of the silly animals which stubbornly refused to move out of the way. These sheep were so valuable he could not afford to give any of them the slightest bump.

Mt Cook sheep station is an expansive property presided over by a 91 year old bachelor ( who recently passed away without an heir and is now held in trust)… The wool from the merino sheep from this and surrounding properties is purported to be the best in the world. It is so fine, that one bale of wool fetched a million dollar record price in Italy.

Glentanner Station is 45,000 acres and carries 9,000 Merino sheep, 200 Hereford cattle and 230 Red deer.

Our bus in a Glenntanner ” traffic jam”

Merino fleece of 12.6 microns fetched the record price of $1800 per kilo clean. first offered in 2000, by Donald Burnett of Mount Cook Station

The winning bale had an average of only 10.9 micron (µ), eclipsing Australia’s finest bale by 0.5µ.

This must mean NZ has the finest natural fibres on the planet – finer than silk, vicuna or cashmere.

To collect the top global prize Anna travelled to Paris courtesy of Loro Piana for their award function at the headquarters of the Italian Embassy on May 20.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “As well as receiving the World Wool Record Challenge Cup for producing the world’s finest bale of Merino wool I was also presented with a sterling silver plate engraved with my name, farm details and wool fibre specifications for producing NZ’s finest bale.”

Emmerson also visited one of Loro Piana’s luxury clothing and accessories stores. They have 135 stores worldwide selling their exclusive range of luxury products.

She says Loro Piana has bought most of the finest bales from NZ and Australia since the 1980s – bales classified with the Australian top line 1PP (1 plus/plus for fineness and style). Fewer than 50 bales of more than three million sold annually achieve the 1PP certification.

As part of Loro Piana’s commitment to promote quality and support Merino breeders in their quest for excellence they introduced the World Wool Record Challenge Cup in 2000. The cup is awarded to the finest bale weighing at least 90kg net greasy weight.

Emmerson says it is the first time in a decade that a NZ Merino farmer has won the trophy. The late Donald Burnett, from Mt Cook Station, won the title in 2000 with a 13.1µ bale produced in 1999.

Emmerson’s winning wool was sold for a privately negotiated price…. She would not disclose the sale price but says the bale will be woven into Loro Piana’s world bale record fabric collection and will eventually be made into about 50 made-to-measure men’s suits with price tags of about €15,000 Euro (NZ $28,000) each.

Emmerson says the key to producing the finest bale in the world is having access to sheep with the right genetics. Forest Range sheep are naturally fine so they will always grow fine woo, but a good eye for stock is needed as well.

Merinos are creatures of habit and like to have a routine with a timetable planned to the last minute. Above all else they need to be happy and healthy to produce high-quality, ultra-fine wool.There is no room for error. The sheep require a constant diet to produce fibre 24 hours/day, 365 days a year.Their fleeces are so fine it takes only a minor setback to cause a loss in body condition which affects fibre growth and fleece quality.Emmerson farms 1000 Merinos on her Canterbury Plains farm.

Country-Wide believes the record price paid for a bale of 13.8µ wool was set 15 years ago. Ian and Kaye Appledore from Brim, Wimmera , Victoria, Australia sold a bale for AU$1.194 million ($10,300c/kg). Without knowing the price paid for the latest record bales, one has to assume the 1995 record price still stands.

From then on, it was only a matter of minutes before we were at Mt Cook… World Heritage area…

2 thoughts on “The Finest Fleece, Mt Cook’s Traffic Jam

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