Chinese buy Awatere farm

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 07:11 01/04/2014
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Awatere Valley property Castlebrae has been sold by longtime owners the Marfell family to a Chinese-owned company.

A decision, published by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) yesterday, said the Ling Hai Group, a company owned by Zongren Ling and family from China, had been approved to buy 100 per cent of the Castlebrae farm.

The farm, about 741 hectares of land at Renners and Castles roads in the Awatere Valley, running down to the sea, was owned by brothers Geoff and David Marfell and Castlebrae Vineyards.

The sale price was withheld for commercial sensitivity reasons.

The OIO decision said Ling Hai Group intended to acquire the land as part of its long-term investment in the New Zealand wine and tourism industry.

"The applicant intends to expand a vineyard located on the land, build a winery, and construct new accommodation for visitors. More than half of the land will continue to be farmed for pastoral purposes."

The office said the overseas investment transaction satisfied the criteria in section 16 of the Overseas Investment Act 2005. The "substantial and identifiable benefit to New Zealand" criteria were satisfied by particular reference to the creation of new jobs, increased export earnings, greater productivity and extra investment for development purposes.

As part of the application, Ling Hai Group appear to have offered concessions around protecting indigenous vegetation/fauna, walking access and an offer to gift foreshore land to the Crown.

Ling Hai Group is based at a residential address in Glenfield in Auckland. Its owner, Zongren Ling, lives in China.

Ling Hai lawyer Andrew Petersen, of law firm Bell Gully, was not available for comment yesterday. Geoff and David Marfell did not return calls either.

The Marlborough Express understands the sale has yet to go through to settlement.

In material from Bayleys real estate from when the property first went on the market in 2009, the Marfells said Castlebrae was a unique sheep, beef and viticultural coastal estate at the mouth of the Awatere River where it meets the Pacific Ocean at the top of the South Island.

Farmed in partnership by Geoff Marfell and his brother David, along with their wives Polly and Diane, Castlebrae had been in the Marfell family since 1955.

"The family all have different avenues that they now want to explore . . . We hope someone else will pick up the reins and take a long-term view of how the property can work in the future," Geoff Marfell was quoted as saying at the time.

Castlebrae ran different sorts of farming, including having merino and corriedale sheep, some cropping, and about 20ha of sauvignon blanc grapes planted in 2003.

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- The Marlborough Express

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