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Export Award For Tohu Wines

Export Award For Tohu Wines - New Zealand’s First Maori Wine Exporter

Wellington, May 12, 2003 -- Tohu Wines, the country’s first Maori wine exporter, has won a Trade New Zealand Export Award for growing annual foreign exchange earnings to $4 million in five years of business.

(Media are invited to attend the presentation of the Tohu Wines Export Award by the Minister of Maori Affairs, the Honourable Parekura Horomia, at 5pm, on Monday May 12, at Nomai Room, Te Puni Kokori, 143 Lambton Quay, Wellington.)

CEO James Wheeler says Tohu Wines was established in 1998 by three entrepreneurial Maori groups who wanted a business venture that would enable them to export their culture to the world. He says they saw wine as the ideal vehicle to achieve their commercial and cultural aims.

The three organisations – Wi Pere Trust, Wakatu Incorporation and Ngati Rarua Atiawa Iwi Trust – who between them have 3000 shareholders, own land in Gisborne, Marlborough and Nelson, some of New Zealand’s top wine growing regions.

Mr Wheeler says Tohu Wines is the marketing company for the joint venture. Located in Lower Hutt and employing just three staff, it takes responsibility for research, product development, marketing, sales and distribution and strategic direction.

He says the company is achieving strong export growth in a very competitive international market, with key success factors the quality of its wine and its Maori heritage.

“We are targeting the upper end of the market. Our aim is to produce wine that is superb quality and has a unique flavour – we don’t want to make wines that taste the same as everyone else’s. Our wine must be of the highest standard in order to retain customers and create positive world of mouth feedback.

“While quality is an essential element of our competitive advantage, what distinguishes us from all other wine producing companies is our Maori brand. Global markets are fascinated by our indigenous way of life and the Maori aspect enhances their experience of our wine.”

Mr Wheeler says all the company’s branding and marketing reinforces that this is a Maori wine label.

Tohu Wines is currently producing Chardonnay, unoaked Chardonnay and reserve Chardonnay from Wi Pere’s Gisborne vineyards, and Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough grapes.

The company is using contract grapes, as well as its own and a percentage sourced from Wi Pere Trust to produce its wines. Mr Wheeler says the joint venture business has invested millions of dollars in establishing its own vineyards.

“Our intention is to eventually have 60% of total production coming form the joint venture partner vineyards, giving us greater control over quality and supply.”

From 3000 cases of wine from its first harvest, production this year is 30,000 cases. Mr Wheeler says by 2005 production will triple to 90,000, and by 2007 some 120,000 cases of wine a year, which he predicts will earn the shareholders $20 million in foreign exchange.

To ensure he has buyers for all his wine, Mr Wheeler spends up to four months of the year travelling, attending wine shows, cold calling on potential clients such as restaurateurs and bottle stores.

He says to date, the company’s initial focus has been on developing the US and UK markets but he is aiming to open one export market a year between now and 2007.

“During the next several years I will work to increase distribution in current export markets – the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Holland, Belgium and Germany, and enter the Australian market. After that the focus will be on developing Asian markets.”

Trade New Zealand Account Manager Rino Tirikatene congratulated Tohu Wines on its Export Award win.

“Tohu Wines is a role model for Maori businesses, particularly in terms of their branding. Their point of difference is that they are a Maori business - that flows through into everything they do and is something they effectively use to their advantage.

“Their success is especially significant, because Trade New Zealand’s Maori Enterprise team has worked with Tohu Wines since its inception and has grown with them.”

Ninety-five percent of Tohu Wines is exported, and James Wheeler says as production grows, more Tohu Wine will also be available domestically.

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