Tenth Excerpt – Winegrower

In 2001, we were able to attract equity investment from private sources to enable us to re-structure the business of Fiddler’s Green Wines Ltd. The same equity source took a 50% stake in the acquisition and development of an adjoining property at 242 Georges Road (Ensor block ). A separate company structure was created for this purpose. Settlement of the purchase from Tim and Helen Ensor was completed in March, 2002. It was a bare block of land: of easy contour, a northerly aspect, and immediately adjoining the eastern boundary of our own existing vineyard. Following settlement the first task was to plant shelter trees along both the eastern and southern boundaries. We planted a mix of big Italian Alders and Crows Nest Poplars. The standard development work followed preparatory to planting the new vines. We first planted part of the block in 2003 with 12,150 pinot noir grafted rootstock vines in a mix of scion wood French clones of 114, 115 and 777. The row spacings were 2.4metres x 1.6metres plant spacings  within the rows. This gave a density of 2,604 vines per ha. A temporary water connection from the Fiddler’s Green reservoir provided the necessary water supply for these new plants. This was followed by a planting of 8,960 pinot gris grafted rootstock vines in a mix of scion wood clones GM2-15, GM2-16 and Sel Ovaille in 2004. The same row and plant spacings were used as for the pinot noir. By this time a groundwater well at 96 metres was in place and with a resource consent to take up to 8 litres per second for irrigation. The term of the consent was the maximum permitted of 35 years. The first crop of pinot noir was picked in 2006 and the first crop of pinot gris in 2008.

The investors did not have any experience in the wine industry but were keen to be part of the future growth of our business as an investment opportunity. Over time the new business structure began to unravel. There were philosophical issues at play, as well as management and performance factors pulling us apart. The seasons from 2001 through to and including 2005 had been a mixed bag in terms of production levels,  except for a top vintage in 2004.At one stage we had a business structure involving 3 different entities owning and controlling the total assets.

By 2005 we were actively looking to other options to grow our business. We needed outside expertise and capital to assist the growth of sales both within New Zealand and in export markets. We particularly needed specialist input in the areas of distribution and marketing. We never connected with the right people – despite our best efforts. Over the years we had 4 different distributors represent our Fiddler’s Green brand within New Zealand. I have to say, that none of them lived up to their own hype and expectations for what they could achieve for our brand. Commission agents, too, came and went without much success. We experienced similar issues with our export markets: UK, the Netherlands, the Cook Islands, and Australia, all failed to perform after strong initial orders. Other markets pursued were Brazil, Japan, and the USA – all to no avail. We were never able to achieve strong distribution relationships  – to the detriment of our brand and business. On the other hand, our direct sales achievements within the Canterbury region and mail order continued to be strong.

In 2009 we finally reached an accommodation with our equity investor – he taking title to the vineyard at 242 Georges Road as part of an overall settlement.This block has been leased to another Waipara wine producer since that time to ensure that the vineyard is properly maintained and to preserve its value. Of recent years I am aware that it has been on the market but without a sale being achieved to date. This is indicative of the lack of interest from outside the Waipara Valley for the acquisition of established vineyards within the valley. The only exception, of recent times, has been the sale of the former Mudhouse vineyards and winery to overseas interests.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

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