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Australia's Torbreck Back in David Powell's Hands

Founding winemaker reacquires ownership of his Barossa Valley winery

Tyson Stelzer
Posted: September 5, 2008

David Powell, the winemaker who founded Torbreck, one of Australia's top wineries, has bought it back five years after selling it.

Powell founded Torbreck in 1994 and built the Barossa Valley estate up to a 70,000-case-per-year icon producer, but placed it into receivership in 2003 after a messy divorce. Jack Cowin, the man behind fast-food outlet Hungry Jack's, bought it, with an agreement that Powell would have the option to buy the business back after five years.

"Jack was a great shareholder, as he left us to do our thing and was prepared to put in what was required to get us over the line," said Powell, who remained in the role of managing director and winemaker. "But the opportunity to purchase the business back was important to me. It is something that I would like to pass on to my children some day."

Cowin has expressed interest in acquiring new wine assets but has yet to find anything attractive. At a time when Constellation has placed three Australian wineries on the market and Fosters is reviewing its wine assets, more Australian wineries will undoubtedly be changing hands in the near future.

Cowin said that he got "a good return" on Torbreck, which he purchased five years ago for $5.2 million and sold back for $20.5 million. The purchase was made possible by a partnership between Powell and Peter Kight, proprietor of Quivira Vineyards & Winery in California.

"This partnership is a natural evolution of our shared winemaking vision, environmental goals and personal friendship," Powell said. "Peter and I are inspired by the idea that a wine should speak of both terroir and tradition. We are also passionate about maintaining the environment and ensuring that our properties are viable for future generations."

Quivira was the second winery in the U.S. to be fully registered as biodynamic, although Powell doesn't consider this to be a priority for Torbreck. "We could probably get organic certification straight away if we tried," he said. "And while we are borrowing many principles from biodynamics, we don't intend to practice biodynamics to the full letter of the law. If we get hit with a tough season, I don't want to see my crop destroyed because I'm unable to intervene."

Powell's reacquisition of Torbreck this year corresponds with the completion of a new environmentally friendly winery, bottling line and offices. "Thank God it was ready in time for vintage this year!" Powell said. "It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be able to say that we are now estate bottled."

The completion of the building projects and the reacquisition of Torbreck represent the end of two years of negotiations and planning. "It's been an exciting year for me on both fronts," Powell said. "Peter's involvement takes the pressure off us from having to worry about finances. Now I can finally get back to what I do best, making and selling wine!"

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