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There was Frank Yukich in the car, there was Mate Yukich in the car, there was Wayne Thomas in the car and myself, and we just roared all over the place. We went right out to Seaview.
The trees looked too bent over there, a bit windy, and they tended to move away from the Awatere back to the Wairau Plains.
Twenty-five years later, Seaview, overlooking the mouth of the Awatere River, became Montana’s single largest Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.
The area of the nine properties bought by John Marris was 2900 acres (1174 hectares) (Figure 7.4). Montana paid $1.4 million for them – less than 20 per cent of what viticultural land would have cost in Hawke’s Bay. In ten days Montana had secured options on an area of land equal to 80 per cent of the New Zealand vineyard at that time. And they bought more Marlborough property later the same year, including the site for their planned Riverlands winery. In the far right column of his table John Marris listed his ‘commission’ as real estate agent. ‘Unfortunately,’ he chuckled, Tyne Gould Guinness were not paying their agents a commission then.’ Had these 2900 acres all been plantable in Sauvignon Blanc the vineyards alone would have been worth about NZ$235 million by 2005. At the end of this ten-day shopping spree the vineyard transactions were not quite complete. Frank Yukich had secured the deals by paying a 10 per cent non-refundable deposit from his own pocket. The board of directors of Montana, who knew nothing about these Marlborough purchases, by now included the Seagram representatives who had recently taken a 40 per cent stake in the company and were to lead the distribution of Montana’s wines in North America and
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Figure 7.4 Properties bought by John Marris for Montana Wines, July 1973 internationally. At its July 1973 meeting the board refused to endorse the managing director’s purchases.
Frank Yukich called Wayne Thomas for help. Thomas was at the University of California, Davis, learning modern propagation techniques for vines so that Montana’s aggressive planting programme could be achieved. He convinced four scientists of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at the university to sign a letter attesting to the suitability of Marlborough to ‘successfully grow grapes of the early maturing varieties’. At its next meeting the Montana board approved the purchase, its Seagram representatives apparently convinced by Thomas and the United States scientists. But the relationship between the board and its managing director would never be the same. In 1977, Frank Yukich resigned as deputy chair – the position the Montana directors had squeezed him into.
Prior to this parting of the ways, Frank Yukich and Montana missed no opportunities for publicity. His Marlborough venture was launched on 24 August 1973. Dignitaries invited to the planting of the symbolic first vine on the biggest vineyard ever planted in