Winery focus on new beginnings

HAMISH CARDWELL
Last updated 09:40 16/11/2012
Bill Foley
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
Bill Foley is a major player in the US insurance market.
Foley wines
Anthony Phelps
Jens Merkle with a newly labelled bottle of Grove Mill wine and Stu Marfell Vavasour wines

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About $2.7 million will be invested in two Marlborough wineries to turn around the former New Zealand Wine Company, Foley Family Wines chief executive Mark Turnbull told the company's annual meeting in Blenheim.

Foley Family Wines was formed in September after New Zealand Wine Company, known for its Grove Mill, Sanctuary, and Frog Haven labels, merged with Family Wine Holdings. Family Wine Holdings is majority-owned by American billionaire Bill Foley, and owned the NZ Wine Fund, which has the Vavasour and Clifford Bay labels. He also owns Te Kairanga Wines in Martinborough, and all three companies have been combined into Foley Family Wines.

Foley Family Wines chairman Alton Jamieson said Foley was unable to attend the meeting for family reasons, but a meeting with the shareholders was planned for the new year.

At yesterday's meeting, existing board members Jamieson, Turnbull, Foley, and Tony Anselmi were re-elected to the board, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers appointed as new auditors. 

Turnbull said the company was 73 days into the 90-day post-merger restructuring plan and the focus was on new beginnings. As well as new auditors, the company had new lawyers and new bankers.

''I'm not really interested in the past.''

He said Foley Family Wines was axing a number of its wine labels, and focusing on having fewer, higher quality brands.
Vavasour will be its top-tier brand with Clifford Bay as its entry point wine, he said.

''My ideal is that Clifford Bay will underpin our business. We want to sell 250,000 cases and at that point we will have a strong backbone for our brand.''

High profile winemaker John Kavanagh had been brought in to revitalise the Te Kairanga label to make it ''the hero it once was''.

Turnbull said the company was hoping to would sell its ''problematic inventory'' by the end of the year through tactical bulk wine sales, and would reinvest the cash generated. Operating costs had been trimmed by $1.3m.

He credited interest in Foley for several approaches from wine distributors from the United Kingdom.

''We have a rebuild job to do with Grove Mill... it is the big problem to be honest.''

The company has moved head office facilities to Marlborough.

Marlborough chief winemaker Stu Marfell said the $1.4m at Grove Mill would improve the winery's receiving area, increase refrigeration capacity, upgrading their produce depot and general infrastructure upkeep. Another $600,000 would be spend on increasing the red wine capacity at Vavasour's winery, and the remaining $700,000 is for a project that was ''commercially sensitive''.

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- The Marlborough Express

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