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Nufarm chief Doug Rathbone’s wine assets up for grabs: Report

Former rich lister Doug Rathbone is set to test the strength of Australia’s wine market by putting his extensive wine business up for sale.

According to a report by the Australian Financial Review, the Nufarm chief is looking across his entire portfolio, which includes the Rathbone Wine Group, a property development in Port Melbourne and a marina project in the Victorian coastal town of Queenscliff.

The potential sale comes amid a decline in Rathbone’s property and wine investments and follows a fall in Nufarm’s share price through the global financial crisis. Rathbone has sold hundreds of millions dollars worth of shares in the listed agricultural chemicals company over the past few years.

One wine industry expert says the wine assets – which include Yering Station in Victoria, Xanadu in Western Australia and Parker Coonawarra Estate in South Australia – are strong brands, but noted the high Aussie dollar could impact profitability.

The Rathbone Wine Group reportedly made a $2 million loss in 2011, versus a $50.7 million profit the previous year.

The report comes as official figures show that exports of Australian-produced wine fell in 2011 to 747 million litres, compared with 788 million litres the year before.

In contrast, wine imports rose 4.2% to 67 million litres in 2010-11.

"There were 1.12 billion litres of beverage wine produced in 2010-11, a decrease of 0.02% billion litres (-2.1%) compared to 2009-10," the Australian Bureau of Statistics said yesterday.

It also follows an investment by James Packer’s investment fund Ellerston Capital in the Foster’s spinoff, Treasury Wine Estates.

The 5% stake prompted speculation that Australian wine – which had lost favour due to the global wine glut and high Australian dollar – might be on the rebound.

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