The Graft of an Alchemist

The daily grind was getting to Gabrielle Sproul. Life was humming for the family of five at the base of the Remarkables mountains, but Gabrielle’s career in vet nursing that had starved her of creative happiness.

“I've always been quite creative – quite crafty.”

She unleashed this pent-up energy by experimenting with candle making.

“I was always chasing after Scott getting him to smell different scents. The kids used to get a little frustrated as well – I was quite passionate. I threw myself into it.”

The candle hobby evolved into The Remarkable Candle Co. – an alchemist’s lifestyle. Before she quit her job, there was 18 months of arduous home testing and plenty of brainstorming sessions with close friends. Gabrielle knew she wanted to create a candle brand that captured New Zealand in some way.

“My friend Belinda was like 'STONE FRUIT' and I was like 'LUPINS' and then it became all about Central Otago.”

A friend from Takaka gave Gabrielle the idea to re-use wine bottles as candle jars. She ordered a bottle cutter and started playing around.

“In the first six months I broke lots of bottles…” There’s nothing like starting a small business to test your towel-throwing threshold. Scraping labels, wax stuck on carpet; there was a lot to learn before she nailed down a smooth operation.

“I was going to use a Steinlager beer bottle but at the bottom they have a little ridge so they're not dead straight. Putting the label on I thought: 'Arghh, it didn't work!”

Gabrielle had already ordered 2,000 cork lids to fit that sized bottle.

“I found Sol, a Mexican beer that was exactly the same size.”

PHEW! But she now needed them in bulk. Queenstown Recycling Centre weren’t keen to help at all, but a solution came from the team at Wanaka Wastebusters; “They said ‘sweet as!' So, for 20 cents per bottle, they delivered 300 bottles at once.”

Perseverance has paid off, the re-used glass are a win among sustainably minded customers but the heart of these candles are in the unique blends.

“They're not like your typical French pear.”

It took a beach bach weekend in Mount Maunganui, mixing potions and sniffing sticks with her friend Belinda, to come up with the scents she has today. Apart from the Pinot Noir scent – that took a little more tinkering; “It's so difficult, a Pinot Noir! You don't want to release a dud Pinot Noir in Central Otago. You can't.”

This particular scent was a three-year graft to get it just to her liking, releasing it to the market then pulling it back, twice!

“It's been the bane of my life this Pinot Noir but finally I think it's awesome. It's cherry, it's leather, tobacco – it's a really dark scent.”

Blending wine scents into candles has opened up a world of collaborations. Custom candles are now a big part of the business.

“They go really well in cellar doors.”

Gabrielle admits she probably needs to ‘chill out a little bit and stop being a mad scientist.’

‘Less is more’ is her current outlook for the business.

“You buy a candle in a box and it's just waste, isn't it? You get your candle out and you throw the box away.”

She mostly relies on stockists and local markets to move her candles but is opening up her wee home studio for the month of December. Her plan for the new year is to simplify and create more time for being a mum.

Words Lauren Prebble


© 2019