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Villa Maria buys Thornbury

Published:  23 July, 2008

Villa Maria, New Zealand's largest privately-owned wine company, has bought respected mid-sized producer Thornbury to expand its Sauvignon Blanc production in the Marlborough region.

The main driver behind Villa Maria's purchase of Thornbury is its 19 hectares of company-owned vineyards and additional leased land and grower contracts in Marlborough's Wairau, Waihopai and Awatere Valleys. This opportunity came up at a time of shortage of Sauvignon Blanc,' said Villa Maria's George Fistonich. Thornbury has a very good mixture of well-managed vineyards, with the additional benefit of not having its own winery to burden us. It's also quite a strong brand with a good image and presence.'

While Thornbury grapes surplus to those required by the brand will go into other Villa Maria Group wines, Villa Maria said that it intended to develop the Thornbury brand further. Thornbury currently exports 90% of its total production, which at full capacity would be around 100,000 cases.

Thornbury's co-owners, winemaker Steve Bird and partner Bruce McCutcheon, sold Thornbury for an undisclosed sum, described by Bird as a not unattractive offer'. The decision to sell was fuelled by Thornbury's need for new equity combined with McCutcheon's decision to retire from the business. In the short term, Bird will remain at Thornbury as a consultant. However, he said that he would very shortly be starting another brand of his own again.

Much of Thornbury's existing distribution will be left in place. While Villa Maria is examining overall strategy for the brand, Fistonich said that it was probable that arrangements set up with regional wholesalers would remain.

Thornbury Vineyards is currently distributed in the UK by Gloucestershire's Heritage Wine. Villa Maria is distributed by Hatch Mansfield, based in Ascot.