Out of cloisters for Abbey Vale

MARGARET River winemaker Abbey Vale is hoping to emerge from last year’s financial dramas with a new look and expansion plans for its facilities.

Newly appointed general manager and chief winemaker, Cathy Spratt, said she was in the throes of drawing up a business plan that could result in substantial upgrading of the company’s operations and branding.

Design companies were already being sought to revamp the Abbey Vale image.

The changes make a sharp turn from 2001, a tumultuous year for the wine company.

In February, founders Bill and Pam McKay sold the company, with its 22-hectare vineyard and 200-tonne winery, to Swiss couple Jurg and Regula Hauser for a price between $10 million and $12 million.

By December, the winery was in voluntary administration, with appointment of Mervyn Kitay of Grant Thornton.

Three months ago, creditors endorsed a deed of company arrangement that relieved Abbey Vale of fully honouring grape contracts with about 10 growers for 2002.

Ms Spratt said the new owners, who spend half of each year in WA and half in Switzerland, had been shocked and disappointed by the events surrounding what had been an emotive purchase.

However, she said they were resolved to revitalise their investment.

“They reacted in a proactive way,” Ms Spratt said.

“The administration phase has set the company up for the future.”

She said the company was looking at three potential sites on the property to build a new winery capable of producing between 500 tonnes and 1000 tonnes, as well as being expandable to process much bigger volumes.

It would also look at reopening the cafe.

Bush on the property would be used as a focal point and would feature in the branding.

Ms Spratt said the company had produced about 11,500 cases off site this vintage and was talking with distributors about creating a range at the $15 price point.

The new general manager comes from a background of winemaking with St Hallett Wines in the Barossa and has also worked with Orlando Wyndham.

“It has been quite exciting from my point of view,” Ms Spratt said.

“I was ready to move into a senior wine management role like this, to be able to do it in Margaret River is great.”

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