Wairarapa vineyards in demand

17:26, Mar 16 2014

Several Wairarapa vineyards are changing hands.

The sale of Martinborough's Vynfields is set to be settled at the end of April to Harry Guo, a Victoria University-educated business analyst.

Guo said the purchase of Vynfields was a family decision, and a possible retirement project for his parents.

"I've got business access to the Chinese market and we see people over there growing to like wine more and more."

He said he had looked at other vineyards but liked the existing Vynfields owners' strategy and its emphasis on biodynamics.

Meanwhile, shareholders at nearby Alana Estate have agreed to sell the business to locals, and Foley Family Wines, majority owned by US billionaire Bill Foley, has flagged its interest in Martinborough Vineyards.


Alana's buyers are Wellington residents Charlie Zheng and Nan Li, who bought local winery Murdoch James three years ago, and Murdoch's former owners, Roger and Jill Fraser.

Fraser said he could not go into detail about the purchase of Alana Estate at present but said there were exciting plans for the winery and concert venue.

"We will not run it as Murdoch James, there will be a whole new personality that we want to develop."

Foley Family Wines' (FFW) New Zealand chief executive Mark Turnbull said the purchase of Martinborough Vineyards was far from complete. had to pass several hurdles.

He said there were several hurdles to be overcome first. Shareholders had to be informed and due diligence, Overseas Investment Office clearance and shareholder approval were needed.

FFW owns another Martinborough winery, Te Kairanga.

Martinborough winemakers welcomed the new investment, whether it was foreign or Kiwi-based.

Richard Riddiford, managing director of Palliser Estate, said it was good to see wineries being "rescued," and the new owners would lift the profile of the town's wineries in both China and the US.

Another said Foley had done "a good job with Te Kairanga," enabling it to focus on winemaking and marketing rather than debt.

Bill Foley, who is chairman of US insurance firm Fidelity National and owns a string of Californian vineyards, began buying vineyards and other interests in New Zealand five years ago.

As well as his wineries, he holds a half stake in wine distributor Euro Vintage and majority owns the luxury lodge Wharekauhau in south Wairarapa.

Last November he branched into the New Zealand restaurant scene with a 24.9 per cent stake in celebrity chef Simon Gault's company, Nourish Group.

In 2012, Foley's company bought the New Zealand Wine Company in a reverse takeover, gaining a listing on the NZX alternative market.

In its 2013 full year report, FFW reported that its parent had broken even after recording a $5.65 million loss the year before.

More recently, FFW reported a net profit of just over $1m for the six month to December. Fairfax NZ