Settlement in Gravitas case

Last updated 07:20 16/11/2012
Gravitas vineyard
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Gravitas vineyard

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The director of a failed Marlborough wine company has settled out of court with liquidators who were chasing him for $310,000 which they had alleged he withdrew while the business was teetering on insolvency.

Gravitas was the first of many Marlborough wine companies that went belly-up in 2010 after the global financial crisis and wine glut of 2008-09.

The small Renwick vineyard and wine label went into receivership in June 2010 owing BNZ bank $4.4 million, unsecured creditors $126,000 and Inland Revenue $21,000. Almost $1m owed to Gravitas was written off as bad debts.

The receivership was wound up following the sale of the 23-hectare vineyard and small adjoining property for about $3.5m.

John Fisk and Craig Sanson, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, were appointed liquidators early this year. A High Court document shows the liquidators asked the court for an order requiring company director Martyn Nicholls to repay $310,100 which they said he transferred to himself from company accounts in April 2009.

A representative of BNZ bank told the court Mr Nicholls had arranged to sell a large amount of wine at discounted prices between February and April, to improve Gravitas' lagging financial performance, the document said.

However, soon after the money from the sale had been deposited in the company account, two payments totalling $310,100 were made to Mr Nicholls, the banker said.

Mr Nicholls had contended that the company may have been struggling leading up to the "fire sale" but afterward it had a healthy cashflow, according to the court document. About that time Mr Nicholls and his late partner, Debbie Argus, were seriously injured in a three-wheeler motorbike accident on their vineyard and spent three months in hospital. During treatment, Ms Argus was diagnosed with lung cancer and she died later that year.

In 2009, the Sunday Star-Times reported Mr Nicholls had moved to Auckland to be closer to his family and was in the process of selling his 2008 vintage. He wanted to run arts and yoga classes, start a PhD on the global wine marketplace and monitor his grapes from a distance. A former merchant banker, Mr Nicholls had searched the globe for the perfect spot to grow grapes before planting Gravitas vineyard in 1999.

His lawyer, Sean McAnally, said yesterday the case had been settled late last month and the terms were confidential.

Mr Fisk confirmed the settlement.

Fairfax NZ

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- The Marlborough Express

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