Trust link behind plan to sell liquor brands

BY BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 27/04/2010

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A Marlborough distillery is trying to shed its gin and vodka brands after its controversial charitable trust partner said selling hard liquor did not square with its "family values".

Prenzel Distilling Company chief executive Hugh Steadman said the company was selling its award-winning Blenheim Bay Gin and Southern Star Vodka because they did not gel with its joint-venture partner La Famia's values.

"I don't think they particularly wanted to be linked with hard liquor," he said.

The Christchurch charitable trust La Famia Foundation claims to provide "family management programmes" but last year it was reported that one of its trustees, Harmon Wilfred, was an American overstayer.

Other key staff included controversial chief executive Gerry Walmisley, who has since left, and the former head of a failed Maori health organisation, Jim Gillanders.

Yesterday, Mr Wilfred said he was still negotiating his citizenship status with the Internal Affairs Department but hoped his work at the trust would count in his favour.

He has also renounced his American citizenship and faces extortion charges in Colorado, which he claimed arise from a personal vendetta. Immigration NZ and Internal Affairs would not comment on Mr Wilfred's status.

La Famia bought a 50 per cent stake in the Prenzel in 2008 for $294,000. It also owns the La Famia Function Centre at Wigram Manor, which has a bar and restaurant, IT firm ITtelenet, and has a 50 per cent stake in La Famia Kitchen in Sumner, another bar and restaurant.

Mr Wilfred said the trust had invested in Prenzel because of its "family values" but there had been an understanding the company would look to unload the gin and vodka products when appropriate.

"Anytime you're looking at hard liquor and then looking at family values there is going to be a conflict," he said.

The trust followed a new charitable model for New Zealand, using private business ventures to remain sustainable in an environment increasingly bereft of government funds, he said. "Our main interest is in the business model itself." Financial records for the year ending March 30, 2009, show the trust received $520,776 in "donations", its main source of revenue, and spent $205,369 in wages and administrative costs. It also owed Mr Wilfred's wife, wealthy heiress Carolyn Dare-Wilfred, $190,320.

Mr Wilfred said the trust's charitable work was mostly in-house, with six staff providing family training seminars and on home assistance on anything from autism to palliative care.

Mr Steadman said there had not yet been any interest for the vodka and gin brands but both would provide a great opportunity for someone with the vision and capital to market them.

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"They are exceptional products by any standards ... but we not are the people to do it, we don't have the capital or the mindset." Most of Prenzel's products are food rather alcohol-based, including olive oil and vinegars, and are sold through 10 exclusive franchised tasting rooms throughout the country.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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