12/04/2005 - 22:00

Tim Treadgold: Briefcase - Heathrow launch pad for Three Amigos

12/04/2005 - 22:00

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Margaret River’s next big wine event is being planned, not for the town, but for Heathrow Airport on the outskirts of London in about six weeks’ time.

Margaret River’s next big wine event is being planned, not for the town, but for Heathrow Airport on the outskirts of London in about six weeks’ time.

It is there, with the background rumble of jumbo jets taking off or landing every 90 seconds, that McHenry Hohnen Vintners is planning its international launch with a range of wines under the Three Amigos label.

Details of the London launch, which will follow a smaller event in Perth, have not been widely publicised, in keeping with the low-key birth of the McHenry Hohnen venture, which has grown out of the merger of two significant Margaret River-linked families.

Last year, February 26 to be precise, Briefcase brought its readers news of the creation of the McHenry Hohnen label. The plan then was to crank up vineyard production from assets owned by David Hohnen and his brother-in-law, Murray McHenry. It was also hoped that Mr Hohnen’s daughter (and Mr McHenry’s niece) Freya Hohnen would become a key player, using her freshly acquired winemaking skills.

The Hohnen family is best known as the founders of the Cape Mentelle brand, which is now part of the French luxury goods giant LVMH. Mr McHenry is best known as the owner of the Nedlands Park Hotel in Perth, or Steve’s, so named after his late father.

The two met in the 1960s while students at Christ Church Grammar School in Claremont, with rowing a common interest.

Wine became the next common interest (plus the odd beer, or three) in the 1970s after Mr Hohnen returned to Perth from a wine studies course. Using family money (Mr Hohnen’s dad was a senior geologist with CRA, the forerunner to Rio Tinto) the Cape Mentelle vineyard was created, and soon made its mark as the source of some of Australia’s (if not the world’s) best plonk.

Roll forward in time and Mr Hohnen marries Mr McHenry’s sister (Sandy), the Hohnen family has a few issues, Mr Hohnen creates Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, tires of working for a corporation and dreams of going back to basics, the creation of high-quality wine.

Most 55-year olds have similar dreams, but few get to put them into action. That, arguably, is the romance in what the boys are doing.

Mr McHenry told Briefcase there would be limited supplies of wine available at the launch, with production still being ramped up. He said the Three Amigos name came from a decision to blend three grape varieties in both a red and white. He added that while his daughter, Freya, had yet to commit to the new venture, it was hoped that she would.

What the new business now needs is for the world to recognise the quality of what McHenry-Hohnen has created in the slow-but-steady process by which most good vineyard ventures are developed – which is why an international launch at Heathrow is so important. If the Brits like what they see (and taste) the sky really is the limit.

Mr McHenry added that the airport location for the launch had been chosen not because Mr Hohnen wants to save the £15 Heathrow express train fare into Paddington station, but because it is a central point that is easy for London’s wine glitterati to get to, and easy for the Aussies to get to as well.

Briefcase, in keeping with the mood of the forthcoming event, wishes Messrs Hohnen and McHenry every success.

•••

Speaking of Margaret River vineyard adventures it appears that British investors remain underwhelmed by the progress of the only Australian company listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Palandri Wines, which put itself through the astonishingly expensive process of listing on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) last year, has seen its share price steadily sink lower.

When Briefcase took a squiz last week, Palandri was trading around 15p, less than half the 37.5p of mid last year, and apparently unaffected by press reports that the Unwins chain of booze shops in the UK is likely to start stocking Palandri products.

Ownership of Unwins changed earlier this year with control passing to a mob called DM Private Capital, which also owns a 5 per cent chunk of Palandri.

In theory, according to comments made by Palandri boss Darrel Jarvis to Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper last week, the deal should substantially boost British sales with a target of 100,000 cases in sight.

Investors have taken the Unwins development in their stride, perhaps more interested in Palandri undertaking a fresh capital raising, this time for $23 million in a managed investment scheme with the cash earmarked for further vineyard development.

And while on the subject of Palandri, the final words go to this uncorked gem from a story in the Cairns Post of January 8, which breathlessly reported that Palandri "has a winery and about 900 hectares of planted and unplanted vineyards".  Briefcase would love to see those unplanted vineyards, guess they’re the ones that look like cow pasture.

•••

If wine doesn’t do it for you when it comes to making money Briefcase has found another way – go into the telecard business.

Last week, much to its amusement, Briefcase discovered that telecards (those pre-paid cards for long distance calls) have an expiry date. Nothing unusual about that.

However, what is interesting is that when a card hits its expiry date something miraculous happens to any pre-paid cash you might have left on the card – in the words of the operator, "it is forfeited".

That’s right, pay your $20 up front, use a bit, and lose the rest. Talk about a licence to print money.

In fact, this telecard process of capturing unused call time is rivalled only by unused travellers cheques.

Once upon a time, before credit cards became the rage, one of the major profit centres of companies like American Express was uncashed travellers cheques that were gathering dust (or moths) in someone’s wallet. At any point on the calendar, Amex had a few billion in customers’ cash while they walked around with what is effectively Amex’s form of money.

Today, the same game is being played, but it’s called telecards – so watch out for that expiry date or, as a helpful chap advised Briefcase, "you need to read the legal disclaimer on our website".

Yeah, sure.

•••

“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it.” Oscar Wilde

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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