Kevin Wiggins has been working in the bottling hall for 3 years, and like many in the Bruichladdich community, has a number of other occupations, including his commitments to the family croft.
His shed and fields at Lorgbaw on the track up to Octomore Farm, between Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte, are full of Blackface lambs in Spring; further up the hill his flock of Hebridean sheep tough it out in all seasons.
In October, Kevin and Tom took a group of Blackfaces by ferry to the Dalmally sheep sale, which, with 1100 lots this year, serves the whole of the west of Scotland’s hill farmers and estates. He describes how his work on the croft gives the year its rhythm. Dalmally this year marked the successful culmination, a competitive environment in which it’s, “Nice to get them all sold”.
It’s a long game, improving the stock year on year, and August’s Islay Show is an important marker to see how the animals are developing and how they are received. There is an additional maturation gamble when it comes to showing shearlings, as Kevin explains, “You have to choose which ones to bring on, when they are just lambs. As they grow, any faults get bigger”. Besides the obvious grandeur of the breed’s curling horns, “What you want in a Blackface,” he says, “is the black and white being sharp and crisp. And the muzzle. You need a muzzle.”
The rosettes on the Lorgbaw shed wall are testament to healthy status his flock achieve, but beside the pride and skill he displays in his work on the croft, there are other incentives.
Reputations in the breeding world command a premium, which saw a Blackface tup (as rams are called here) sell for £100,000 this year, [read the tabloid article here! >], the record soaring to £160,000 for an animal from Perthshire in 2014. Kevin’s sheep have “good bloodlines” – he has in the past had loans (a “test-drive”) of tup lambs from a renowned breeder and has sold on home-reared animals to Ireland and Germany for breeding. Returning to the bottling hall after the weekend in Dalmally, however, he is teased by the team for not yet making his fortune on the croft.
“I think I’ll just have to keep working at Bruichladdich ’til then…” he says.