AFTER two years in limbo while it was up for sale, Hunter tourism showplace Wandin Valley Estate is being reinvigorated with a new management team and a Chinese owner.
The 40-hectare property in Wilderness Rd, Lovedale, was purchased late last year for a reported $7 million by Lap Tung Tsoi, a director of China’s Alpha Group, one of its biggest animated film studios and toy manufacturers.
Alpha was founded by Cai Dongqing, the older brother of 42-year-old Lap Tung Tsoi, who two years ago bought an $11 million mansion in Sydney’s Vaucluse.
Under general manager Mark Allen, a Novocastrian who has held executive positions at Hunter Valley Gardens, Noah’s on the Beach and the Apollo Motel, the cellar door has been reopened seven days a week and the Wandin Café is back in operation for breakfast and lunch from Wednesday to Sunday.
Work is under way to upgrade the eight hectares of old-vine vineyard, the promising 2017 vintage has been completed under the direction of a leading consultant and plans are in hand to capitalise on exports to China and to boost tourism through the estate’s villa accommodation, cricket oval and Cricket Pavilion function and convention centre.
Mark says the aim is to generate new growth and to return Wandin Valley to its glory days with a portfolio consisting of the $20 Cricketers Pavilion, $40 to $45 Regional and $80 Reserve ranges.
Wandin Valley’s sale was negotiated by Jurd’s Real Estate, Cessnock, which in 2010 sold the property for just under $5 million on behalf of 20-year owners James and Philippa Davern. The estate’s wine history dates back to 1973 when potter-winemaker Peter Dobinson planted a vineyard, calling it Millstone.
Philippa and James Davern, a noted television executive and producer of A Country Practice, bought Millstone in 1990 and renamed it after the fictional location of the TV series. The buyers were retired Macquarie Group investment banker Russell Leslie and his wife Katrina, the executive chair of the HRX recruitment company. The couple plunged into Hunter wine in 2005 by buying the former George Hunter Estate vineyard in Wilderness Rd and followed up in 2006 by acquiring the adjoining Gartelmann vineyard.
In 2009 they added to their Swish Wine Group holdings by paying $2 million for the Warraroong Estate property in Wilderness Rd, Lovedale. Having now disposed of both Warraroong and Wandin Valley, the Leslies have focused their remaining wine assets on the Saltire brand based on vineyards at 113 and 163 Wilderness Rd, Lovedale.