KZN winery battles debt crisis

2011-04-05 00:00

AFTER suffering major setbacks in 2010 — including having to deal with a number of creditors knocking on their doors — the high-profile Stables Wine Estate project run by owners “Tiny” and Judy van Niekerk is still in operation.

Responding to various rumours regarding The Stables’s operation in Nottingham Road, Judy van Niekerk told The Witness that although creditors exist, The Stables also has major debtors.

“The company has experienced a massive setback in 2010. But…the company is in the process of turning around having concluded a major export deal to Nigeria consisting of eight containers of wine…in the first instance and a container a month to Ireland. Having said that, the company has major debtors, where the company is struggling to get the money in — sign of the times I suppose,” Judy said.

She cited two major events in 2010 as having had a major impact on the business, namely a massive fire in May at their warehouse/wine bar in Umhlanga and a hailstorm.

Judy confirmed that the company will temporarily revert back to their original model of producing wines from Cape grapes under the Nottingham Road label, noting that: “It was also used to substitute our production in the early years when our KZN grapes were in short supply.”

Ranveer Persad of Gijima KZN told The Witness that the Gijima KZN-funded aspect of The Stables “project was terminated in November 2010, due to non-compliance with contractual conditions”.

He added that an independent financial audit has been commissioned by the Department (of Economic Development) to verify expenditure reported and the extent of contractual non-compliance. The Stables was initially granted R3,8 million — of which R3,42 million was eventually paid out. Gijima KZN is a partnership between the European Union (EU) and the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government aimed at stimulating local economic development.

Persad added that a “project close out report” detailing all achievements is still outstanding.

Judy was not concerned about the so-called “non-compliance”. She responded by stating that the Gijima project reached its natural end “and is currently undergoing a project audit as all projects are required to do”.

She added: “The only outstanding issue at this stage is a narrative report, which is currently being worked on, as well as the completion of the audit. There is no issue of concern with regard to the audit — whatsoever.”

A number of creditors told The Witness that they have still not been paid by The Stables.

Brett Dixon of shopfitters Bears Projects told The Witness that he is owed R113 088 for shopfitting work at a would-be Stables store in Umhlanga last year that is no longer in existence.

However, Judy said they are instituting a damages claim against Bears Projects.

Shane Poplett of The Pop Shop told The Witness he is owed about R39 000 for designing and producing gift boxes — a matter Judy says is subject to legal proceedings and is therefore sub judice.

Richard Wynne Cole of Kindle graphic design said he also conducted work for The Stables last year. He is owed about R17 000 for design work for a job that went to print in September 2010.

“Yes we do owe this money to Kindle. Unfortunately we are waiting for payment from a third party ourselves for this who themselves have been paid for the job and not passed that payment on to us and hence we have had to delay payment to Kindle. However, the company has made some payments to Kindle and will continue to do so even though the company has not received payment as yet,” Judy said.

An interior designer who has also not been paid told The Witness that he is taking legal action against The Stables which owes him about R34 910 — stemming from a bill in late June 2010.

Although The Stables concluded a lease of vineyards from the Bracken Forestry farm near Greytown several years ago, Judy said there is a dispute between the two parties. “No production takes place at Bracken farm in Greytown. All production takes place in Nottingham Road. There is an existing dispute but is subject to legal proceedings and [is] therefore sub judice,” Judy said.

The Stables: A History

The Stables Winery farm was officially launched in late September 2005 and has claimed several wine and business awards. Several years ago, its Sauvignon Blanc received a bronze medal at the Swiss International Air Lines Wine Awards.

However, one could argue that they are no strangers to controversy. In July 2008 the Van Niekerks sued a rival Midlands winery for alleged defamation — claiming R550 000 in damages. The Van Niekerks withdrew their action before any evidence was led and they agreed to pay the rival winery’s legal costs.

Ilembe happy with 'deliverables' in first phase of north coast vineyard

The Van Niekerks are also involved in phase one of a multi-million rand project with Enterprise iLembe (economic development agency) on the KZN North Coast. Enterprise iLembe’s CEO, Kanyi Gasa told The Witness that The Stables was contracted to investigate with iLembe the viability of a vineyard on the North Coast. “To date the deliverables contracted have been met on the project and we continue to monitor the progress on the project. The total project budget for Phase 1 of the project was R8 million,” Gasa explained.

She said that they have planted vines on the three identified sites across the district, adding that The Stables has to date met their contractual obligations. Judy confirmed their continued involvement in this project.

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