Twelth Excerpt – Winegrower

The 2012 season followed a similar pattern to that of 2011, with the main focus being to maximize the sauvignon blanc and pinot noir crops. Our sauvignon blanc had built up a strong regional following over many years – it was our biggest selling wine. It was known to be the top selling wine annually over a 6- year period for the Nor’ Wester Café, a highly regarded Amberley restaurant. It is interesting to note that our biggest selling wine was the least awarded of all our varieties in New Zealand wine shows. Our pinot noir, too, was a very popular and well regarded variety. Everyone seemed to love our riesling wine – though it was always a hard sell as a variety. Again, some crop was traded with local wineries in return for winemaking services. This strategy was aimed at reducing financial outlay and controlling cash flow requirements. The downside was reduced production for our own label.

For the 2013 season the vineyard was managed by a local winery under a crop sharing arrangement. This enabled us to focus on business issues and to be more actively involved with the agents retained to sell the vineyard. It was essential for the vineyard to be fully managed in keeping with industry best practices throughout this process.

Our latter years on the vineyard saw us adopting the practice of grazing sheep at different times of the year. A group of local farmers were willing to pay for grazing at between 50 cents to 75 cents a head per week. This applied to a number of vineyards around us as well. They would move the stock in and use their own battery charged electric fences to graze parts of the vineyard on a rotational basis. We ensured that there was ample stock water available.  The numbers could be as many as 250-300 sheep grazing in our vineyard on occasions. The times that best suited us were immediately after the completion of harvest, usually May, and up to and including the start of winter pruning in June through to the end of September in each year. Another opportune time was in January when the grapes were still green. The sheep could graze the inter-row ground cover and also enjoy a change of diet by eating the leaves of the vines within the fruit zone, to allow more light into the canopy around the fruit and improve ripening. By February the berries would start to ripen and the sheep would need to be off the property for the next 3-4 months. The sheep were an added source of income, they provided certain nutrients to the soil, and generally improved the ambiance of our rural setting.

In 2012 our appointed rural agents had a 90 day sole agency in which to concentrate their efforts. At the end of that time, and despite a reasonable level of inquiry and even viewings by 3 potential parties, a sale contract could not be achieved. It was left to us to pursue our own strategy which led to serious discussions with another Waipara Valley wine producer. Over many months of meetings and negotiations we were finally able to put together a conditional contract with Dancing Water Ltd. All the time we were under pressure from our bankers to achieve such an outcome. The Bank had certain expectations around a sale that needed to be accommodated, so far as possible. They were supportive and adopted a tolerant position in working through the sale process. I had been working closely with the Bank’s business risk manager in Christchurch over a period of some 2 years to that point. I had monthly meetings with Peter which also involved our accountant and an independent business adviser, assisting on a pro-bono basis. These meetings covered reporting on sales activity, projections, debtors and creditors, and cash flow. From time to time our overdraft facility needed tweeking to relieve some of the cash flow pressure. It was a tough time: we got through it with the Bank’s understanding and support and, more especially, the time and effort put in by our accountant and the independent business adviser fighting the good fight with us. They walked in our shoes and bore the pain with us.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

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