15 December 2023

Good times ahead for Contentious Character as winery puts troubles behind it

| Ian Bushnell
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aerial view of vineyard

Contentious Character winery and restaurant in Wamboin. The business has been successfully restructured. Photo: VisitNSW.

Canberra region winery Contentious Character has come though its voluntary administration with a new financial structure to sustain it into the future.

The Wamboin wine and restaurant business had gone to the market to seek interest in several sale options as part of the administration but it will now continue trading as a whole after entering a Deed of Company of Arrangement to the satisfaction of staff and creditors, including the Australian Tax Office.

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The restructuring includes a slimmed-down shareholding with two of the four partners bowing out, although they retain a share of the land which is separate from the business.

Tony Mansfield, Jeremy Wilson, Ben Jarrett and Ross Appleton bought the former Lambert Vineyards for $2,385,000 in 2016.

But only Jeremy Wilson and Ben Jarrett will take the business forward.

Mr Jarrett said internal disputes had exacerbated a challenging environment for the wine and food industry in recent years including bushfire smoke, the pandemic and the wine glut caused by the loss of the Chinese market.

He said the voluntary administration had been the circuit breaker the business needed to put it on a surer footing.

“Ultimately the deed of company arrangement offered the best solution for the staff and creditors, and gave the business a clear picture,” Mr Jarrett said.

He said the EOI process confirmed that in the current environment, liquidation would have meant no return for creditors.

“Everybody would have lost,” Mr Jarrett said.

The restaurant trade was now picking up after news of the administration took its toll. Photo: Contentious Character.

He said the business continued to perform and was cash-flow positive.

The business, which had enjoyed 55 per cent year-on-year growth, had continued to trade throughout the administration with strong support from its trade customers, although the restaurant had suffered.

But now, with word out that the business had not gone under and had a more certain future, customers were flocking back.

Mr Jarrett said Contentious Character’s strategy of having growing arrangements at six cool climate locations beyond the 24-hectare Wamboin estate ensured the reliability and consistency of its product.

The last good vintage at Wamboin was in 2029 and the vines had been recovering from the bushfire taint of 2020 but the 2023 vintage was looking really strong.

“If we are having a bad vintage here we’re having a good one in one of those other locations, and vice versa,” Mr Jarrett said.

He said now the restructure was complete the business could kickstart new product development and export discussions.

It already had secured a distributor for the Victorian market.

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Mr Jarrett said Contentious Character was now promoting its New Year’s Eve Event, the Grapes of Mirth festival on the Australia Day weekend, and working with Canberra Comedy Festival on its 2024 event.

“There’s a lot of exciting things that we’ve already got happening,” he said.

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Mr Bushnell, do you have a crystal ball? “The last good vintage at Wamboin was in 2029 “?

Capital Retro8:16 am 17 Dec 23

The smoke must have got into his eyes when he was reading the label.

Capital Retro11:51 am 16 Dec 23

What is wrong with smoked wine?

Canberrans love smoked salmon and smoked bacon so what’s the problem?

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