Wine Society creditors will get a much lower payout than first thought on their almost $2m of debts. The biggest loser is Robert Whitton.
Wine Society creditors will get a much lower payout than first thought on their almost $2m of debts. The biggest loser is Robert Whitton.

Aussie winemakers left high and dry after collapse

The Tyrrell family is among the big wine names expected to receive little more than one cent in every dollar of the $1.8 million they're owed following the collapse of the Wine Society.

The Australian winemakers are among more than 125 creditors of the Wine Society who will receive a much lower payout than originally expected.

Once costs are deducted from the process, there is almost nothing left for trade creditors - including famous wine families such as the Tyrrells, Casellas and Oatleys - as well as scores of small producers.

Chris Tyrell at the family vineyard in the Hunter Valley. Picture: Liam Driver
Chris Tyrell at the family vineyard in the Hunter Valley. Picture: Liam Driver

The Daily Telegraph has learnt they can expect to receive just 1-2c in each dollar of debt after the society's board had earlier raised expectations of a return of 15-30c.

And a Sydney man has emerged as one of the biggest losers in the 74-year-old society's demise, although there are questions surrounding the debt he has claimed.

The Telegraph can reveal its administrator has agreed to an asset sale deal with Wine Collective Holdings, has been effectively running the co-operative's day-to-day operations since 2016.

Wine Collective Holdings will pay $1.387 million for the society's liquor licence, intellectual property and database under an agreement due to be completed later this month.

Much of that money will come straight back to WCH because it is a secured creditor owed $814,000.

A company related to WCH, Australian Wine Finance, will get its $418,000 secured debt repaid also.

Taking the administrator's costs of $113,000 from what's left leaves the creditors with just a few drops.

Robert Whitton chaired the society from 2008 to 2011.
Robert Whitton chaired the society from 2008 to 2011.

The society's original estimate of a 15-30c return was based on a higher price being achieved for its assets, which also include the shares it holds in WCH.

Society chairman Geoff Ballard had said those shares might fetch 20c apiece.

The deal that administrator Giles Woodgate has agreed with WCH values the shares at 11c apiece.

He said that was good value because the last sale of WCH shares had been at 3.1c.

The biggest loser in the society's collapse is set to be its former chairman Robert Whitton's company Wine Industry Advisors Australasia, which has claimed a debt of $400,000.

"I am advised that this amount reflects funds advanced by current and former directors of the co-operative to WIAA, which in turn then advanced the funds to the co-operative," Mr Woodgate said in his administrators report filed with ASIC last week.

Mr Woodgate said "it is likely that the co-operative was insolvent" from at least January 2017, if not earlier.

He said he formed this opinion because creditors were being paid outside trading terms and "special arrangements" were made with selected creditors.

However, he believed there was "no basis for and commercial value in pursuing a claim for insolvent trading against the directors in respect of the WIAA advances" for reasons including "the potential for … set off claims that may be exercised by WIAA".

Mr Whitton - who chaired the society from 2008 to 2011 - said WIAA did not have a special arrangement with the society.

"The Wine Society has never paid WIAA a cent," Mr Whitton said.

The loan provided by WIAA "was just to help smooth over the cash flow of the residual Wine Society" after WCH took day-to-day control, he said.

"It's very definitely not all my money," said Mr Whitton, who works in the insolvency industry. He wouldn't say who the other WIAA lenders were. He is the sole shareholder and director.

Mr Woodgate and Mr Ballard did not respond to requests for comment.

Originally published as Aussie winemakers left high and dry after collapse of Wine Society


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