An American billionaire has signalled his intention to buy an NZX-listed wine company as part of a huge expansion in New Zealand.

Bill Foley, who owns a large Wairarapa estate, wants to buy The New Zealand Wine Company, spelt out in an announcement made this morning.

In December, Grant Samuel was appointed to advise the company on capital restructuring - targeted at satisfying an agreement reached with the ANZ National Bank in December to raise $5m before reducing bank debt, said an announcement made to the NZX.

"Grant Samuel identified and pursued interest from a number of trade investors and NZWC is currently exploring a proposal targeted at merging NZWC with the Foley Family Wines New Zealand wine business," the announcement said.


Foley has already talked to Wine Spectator about the deal. It reported: "In New Zealand, Foley is putting the finishing touches on merging his firm there, which includes the brands Goldwater and Clifford Bay, with the New Zealand Wine Company.

Pending government approval, the deal will put 80 per cent of the combined, $46.5 million company in Foley's hands. New Zealand Wine Company owns 250 acres in Marlborough, mostly Sauvignon Blanc, and produces 300,000 cases a year. The merger will double Foley's volume in New Zealand.

"New Zealand Wine Company has suffered extensive losses in the past year, evidence, some analysts say, that there is a glut of wine being made in the country.

But Foley claims the problem is effective exporting of all that wine. "When I bought Clifford Bay, it didn't have distribution in the United States," he said. "This year we'll bring 75,000 cases to the US The small New Zealand brands have trouble getting attention here," Wine Spectator said.

Mark Turnbull, Foley's representative in New Zealand, said this morning that this move was "consistent with what Bill said in February that he wanted to have a listed company and this is an important step along the way."

A new consumer-focused Foley business was also launched recently.

"The Wharekauhau Wine and Food Society was borne from a desire to merge our affinity for the natural, rugged New Zealand landscape, with our passion for expertly crafted wine and food. The Society's symbol, the Wharekauhau rowlock, dates back to the mid 1800s and represents our search for authenticity and excellence in food, wine and travel," the society says on its website.