By ELLEN READ

The Government's surprise tax rise on fortified wines and weak spirits has put the final nail in the coffin of a 60-year-plus tradition.

Lemora - a fortified citrus wine invented by Russian immigrant Alexis Migounoff - is unlikely to be kept in production.

Grandson Peter Migounoff, who runs the Wine Masters shops Alexis founded, said Lemora was not a great profit driver but the company kept making it to satisfy old regulars.

Now, with the price going from $12 to $25 a flagon courtesy of the tax hike, it was no longer viable, he said.

Peter Migounoff's late father, Len Migounoff, made the last batch some years ago and stocks were now running low.

"We were considering making some more ... but it's just not worth it with the new tax now," Peter Migounoff said. "On the money side, it's a business decision but on the name side, it's a real shame."

He believes the tax - designed to target underage drinkers - has hit the wrong market. Young drinkers tend towards the ready-to-drink alco-pops, not the bottom-shelf stuff like Lemora.

He is taking seriously letters from loyal customers asking him to continue producing Lemora but with a sub-15 per cent alcohol content, so avoiding the tax. However, he doubts Lemora would be the same without its 18 per cent strength.

"Is it possible to sidestep the exorbitant and badly thought-out tax by dropping the alcohol content from 18 per cent to 14.5 per cent?" one consumer asked. "I for one would gladly accept a few percentage points less alcohol to keep enjoying a living piece of our heritage. Frank Sargeson must be rolling in his grave."

Sargeson was a well-known Lemora drinker - an old flagon of the tipple is on display at his Takapuna home, now a museum.

"If you wished I could survey some Lemora drinkers to confirm that a 3 per cent drop in alcohol would be acceptable," a Northland fan wrote.

Alexis Migounoff fled Russia with his wife and five children (more were born after the family settled here) in 1908. He set up on a farm at Matakana. where, among other things, he tended a citrus orchard.

After developing arthritis from digging on the farm, Alexis Migounoff followed advice he remembered from an old Russian doctor - that grapefruit juice would help.

It did, but the fruit was not available year round, so he bought some old brandy barrels to store the juice in. When it then fermented it was an even bigger hit with Alexis Migounoff and many of his friends.

This led him to establish Lemora Wines ("the wine of the golden fruit" is a combination of grapefruit, orange and lemon) and, in 1938, to copyright and trademark the name and logo.

He then decided Lemora needed an outlet in Auckland, so he applied for a wine resellers' licence to take the product to market. At the time, retailers were not supporting New Zealand products so wine resellers licences, which allowed the holder to sell only local product, were offered.

Alexis Migounoff was granted one of the first licences in Auckland and set up Wine Masters at 151 Great South Rd.

That shop is still there - for the time being it still has Lemora on the shelf - and has been joined by four others, all still family owned.