Sir George Fistonich ’emptied’ of loss of Villa Maria vineyards, estate and concert hall
Sir George Fistonich at Villa Maria where irrigation pipes, poles and vines are removed. Photo / Provided
Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich is ‘gut’ of the loss of around 18,000 vines, a vineyard and a concert hall after he ran into financial difficulties and lost control of the business.
The $4.8 billion listed on the NZX
Owner Goodman Property Trust bought most of the site where for decades the grapes for the award-winning wines were grown after Villa Maria went into receivership.
Goodman owns the land and is planning a full warehouse logistics development off Montgomery Rd near Auckland Airport. The removal of vines, irrigation systems, poles, wires and other infrastructure is the first step in this change.
But it saddened Fistonich.
“I am disgusted that I have been prevented from being able to protect this precious site. I am disappointed that future international and domestic visitors cannot share in its true beauty. The sale absolutely did not need to take place.”
But the banks disagreed and called receivers.
The grapes grown in the field were Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and a small number of Albarino.
The irrigation was a drip system. Originally around 10 ha of the site was planted with vines, but this was reduced to around 8 ha when more space was needed for concerts.
The first Villa Maria grapes were planted there around 2001.
Fistonich founded the wine business in 1961 but lost control when Villa Maria Estate’s parent company, FFWL, went into receivership by ANZ Bank and Rabobank.
Brendon Gibson and Neale Jackson of Caliber Partners were named and said their creditors owed $211 million.
A grape grower said replanting 18,000 vines elsewhere was “unlikely” to succeed and mulching or shredding them was likely the only option.
“It’s such a shame, but they’re probably nearing the end of their lives anyway, even though they could have continued producing for about another decade. In fact, Hawke’s Bay would probably be the best place for them, but it’s a huge job. The vineyards get a lot of trunk diseases after 20 years and they might have gotten tired anyway,” the winemaker said.
Last year, Goodman chief executive John Dakin said the company intended to create a high-quality business park on what are now vineyards where concerts and events are held. organized.
“Hopefully we can do something that would make Sir George, the community, us and our customers proud and that we did the right thing,” Dakin said.
Goodman paid $75 million for the site, considered a low price. The trust did not obtain the winery or other buildings which were purchased by Indevin which purchased all of the operational activities of the Villa. This separation also disappointed the ex-owner.
Fistonich said the “destruction” of 35 ha of vineyard was a “travesty. Once the bulldozers are there, that asset will be lost forever.”
Dakin said the land was already zoned light industrial, meaning it was perfect for Goodman’s plans to build thousands of square meters of warehouse and logistics buildings.
General planning would take up most of this year, and then Goodman would be in a consent phase. Major construction work was unlikely to take place until around 2024 or 2025.
“Land acquisition is difficult and very competitive, but we just want to take our time because it means a lot to a lot of people,” Dakin said.
Multi-level buildings were not planned “but [if] we’re still working our way in eight to 10 years, that might be a possibility. We take three to four years before starting to build. »
Planning would take one to two years and then civil works lasting one year would have to take place. Discussions with iwi would be required before full planning.
“The whole area around the airport has an interesting history with a number of different iwi having an interest in this area. We have been in contact with those we know.
“We just want to make sure we’re listening to the parties that have an interest and that we’re working constructively. We’re in the very early stages of our work,” Dakin said.
In June, the Herald reported that Fistonich lost the opening skirmish against the receivers in court.
High Court Judge Gerard van Bohemen this year dismissed attempts by Fistonich to prevent receivers from setting aside millions to defend against claims he had filed against them.
The origins of the dispute can be traced back to concerns by bankers ANZ and Rabobank of Villa Maria over governance, management and debt levels. In 2020, Fistonich agreed to explore the sale of the winery business and excess land, but following a sale process he felt the prices offered were too low and withdrew his consent.
It triggered a default and saw receivers appointed to settle the sales, but the process also served to crystallize acrimony, the Herald reported in June.