Wine company's demise blamed on change in Chinese importing policy

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 14:33 05/09/2017

Hawke's Bay winemaker Robbie Bird banked on a booming demand for red wine in China.

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A wine-making descendant of one of Hawke's Bay's wine pioneers has been made bankrupt and will soon have his liquidated company removed from the Companies Register.

Robbie Bird, 63, a founder of Wishart Estate Winery and the grandson of Robert Bird, who founded Glenvale winery (now Esk Valley) in the 1930s, left unpaid debts of $132,000 with the demise of his company Robbie Bird Wines Ltd.

The company was put into liquidation by High Court order in 2015 following an application from Petane Properties Ltd, which owns the Wishart winery and vineyards at Bay View, just north of Napier.

Petane submitted a claim for $126,372 which was later settled by a guarantor. But the $132,794 owed to preferential creditors and 12 unsecured creditors went unpaid, with liquidators saying all assets ahd been realised and the company would soon be removed from the Companies Register.

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Bird was adjudicated bankrupt on a creditor's application to the High Court in Napier in April.

According to a liquidator's report Bird put the company's demise down to a change in policy by Chinese president Xi Jinping.

​Bird said he had formed a business plan to produce red wines for customers in China "following consultations with a prominent NZ winemaking consultant".

During the 2013 vintage the company leased Wishart Winery and purchased grapes from two growers. About 140 tonnes of grapes were purchased and yielded about 105,000 litres of finished wine.

The aim was to produce various varieties of wine and "arrangements with our Chinese customers included shipping significant quantities of these fully packaged wines prior to the 2014 vintage which was important to create winery space and cash flow for the next harvest".

Bird said president Xi Jinping came to power in March, 2013 and "a change in policy regarding imported wines resulted in an immediate reduction in demand and commitment for NZ wine especially affecting HB red wine producers".

"We were more exposed than other NZ wineries as China was our total market," Bird told teh liquidators.

Customers delayed their commitment to buy wine and this meant the company couldn't make wine in 2014 due to a lack of cash flow and a lack of space.

"From that point onwards our total focus was to recover our markets with our Chinese customers and sell through our 2013 wines as quickly as possible aiming for best possible return and at the same time reducing costs where possible," he said.

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The company continued negotiating the sale of remaining stock to a customer in Qingdao, but that fell through in late 2015.

Liquidators were able to sell the remaining five barrels of blended red wine and 5,500 litres of Hawke's Bay Pinot Noir, as well as 18 used wine barrels, and two stainless steel wine tanks.

Bird was a founding director of Wishart Estate in 1998. He ceased being a director in March 2015.

A spokeswoman for NZ Wine said China cracked down on all forms of corruption in 2013.

"A lot of wine purchased was purchased for gifting, not drinking. The change in Policy meant a prohibition on officials 'gifting' wine affected the market and reduced our exports to China. NZ wine exports to China went from 2.2 million L in 2013 to 1.8 million L in 2014 (almost a 20% reduction)," she said.

- Stuff

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