Wharekauhau chief back from US sales mission

By Anne Gibson

Increasing numbers of wealthy Americans could be on their way to a luxury Wairarapa lodge where the British royals stayed two years ago.

Richard Rooney, general manager of Wharekauhau Country Estate, has just returned from six weeks in the United States and he expects that to boost business in New Zealand.

In 2014, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George stayed at the farm lodge at Palliser Bay north of Wellington.

Rooney said he had met people in the US who make travel arrangements for wealthy, often prominent Americans. He visited California, Montana and Nevada.

"I came up here about July 5, so a month-and-a-half now, so being part of Wharekauhau, it's a bigger part of the world of Bill and Carol Foley," Rooney said, referring to the American billionaires who own the Wairarapa lodge and have extensive US and New Zealand interests.

Rooney was at the Foley's exclusive Rock Creek Cattle Company property in Montana. That is a cattle ranch, luxury resort and retreat on the northeast side of the Flint Creek Mountain Range, outside Deer Lodge.

Rooney said his time there was productive.

"I stopped off in Montana at Bill's private ranch. He has an 18-hole golf course up there. It's a members-only club. It's considered one of the top private courses in the world so for three weeks it was getting a bit of a chance to know those members because from a tourism perspective in New Zealand, they're a key demographic.

"You know, there's so much more uplift and air lift to New Zealand now. So these are people that we're just talking to, getting to know them and learning about that. As Wharekauhau is Bill's baby, so is Rock Creek," Rooney said from the Les Mars Hotel in the town of Healdsburg north of San Francisco.

Foley also owns that hotel.

"Healdsburg is kind of the wine capital of the Sonoma and I've just spent a day out and looked at three of Bill's vineyards: Chalk Hill, Roth Estate and Foley Sonoma which is actually going to have Courtney - Bill and Carol's daughter - as the winemaker. So getting a chance to be educated in the greater world of Foley has been great," Rooney said.

Wharekauhau serves wine from the Foley's Californian interests, including Chalk Hill, and water from Wharekauhau is used to make Lighthouse Gin in the Wairarapa.

Statistics NZ listed the US along with Australia and China as a source of rising tourist numbers.

Three new cottages are now being built at Wharekauhau to expand its accommodation offering.

Foley Family Wines not only has the Wairarapa lodge but is listed on the NZAX where it is trading at $1.65. It owns Te Kairanga, Vavasour, Martinborough Vineyard and Grove Mill Wine Company. Bill Foley is chairman of that New Zealand business while Auckland-based New Zealander Mark Turnbull is chief executive.

In June, Foley paid US$500 million ($683.9m) for a giant ice hockey deal in the US, winning the franchise rights to bring the National Hockey League to Las Vegas, for the first time, in the 2017-18 season.

Ice hockey games in Las Vegas will be held in the T-Mobile Arena, a US$375m building that only opened off the Las Vegas Strip in April.
Foley Family Wines' annual result will be announced next week.

- NZ Herald

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