28 February 2024

‘Wrong letterbox’: Supreme Court insolvency hearing on Griffith’s Warburn winery delayed by alleged postal mix-up

| Oliver Jacques
Outside view of Warburn Estate

A statutory demand against Warburn Estate, formerly known as Riverina Wines, was allegedly delivered to the wrong letterbox. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A push to wind up Griffith winery Warburn Estate in insolvency has been delayed due to an apparent postal mix-up.

As Region previously reported, billionaire Anthony Pratt’s packaging company Visy sought to wind up Warburn in insolvency at a Victorian Supreme Court hearing earlier this month, alleging the winery owed it $236,639.

READ ALSO Debts of $2m alleged as Griffith winery fights two Supreme Court battles against packaging giant

While Visy resolved its dispute with Warburn and withdrew its court action, a supporting creditor, global bottle maker Orora Group, is now seeking to take over this wind-up application.

Orora alleges Warburn Estate owes it $1,142,755.

But a Zoom Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday (28 February) was bogged down by a dispute over whether Warburn Estate actually received Orora’s original statutory demand for payment of its alleged debt.

Under Australian law, an application to wind up a company is generally made after a statutory demand for payment is served by way of post but not answered.

“There is a question as to whether or not there was service [of the statutory demand]. That’s why I raised the issue of the letterbox,” Warburn Estate lawyer Ben Horne told the court.

“There are issues about what is 700 Kidman Way, Tharbogang [Warburn’s physical address].

“If you look up certain maps, it’s a different property entirely. The actual property is a winery, where all mail goes to a site office. There is an old letterbox located within the premises which is unused and hasn’t been used in 20 years. My understanding from the staff at Warburn Estate is that [the demand for payment] was in an envelope in that letterbox which was not used.

“Is that letterbox on 700 Kidman Way?” Judicial Registrar Gitsham asked.

“It depends how you look at 700 Kidman Way; on Google Maps, it’s an entirely different property and not the winery,” Mr Horne said.

“That’s your client’s problem,” Judicial Registrar Gitsham said.

“Possibly, Judicial Registrar, but the real issue is that it did not come to the attention of the director of the company,” Mr Horne responded.

Mr Horne said Warburn Estate intended to oppose Orora’s application, both on the grounds of whether the statutory demand was served and due to a dispute over the alleged debt.

Orora’s solicitor, a Ms Ainsworth, said she sent a photocopy of the statutory demand directly to Mr Horne.

The Judicial Registrar said there was a risk court proceedings could be “tied up in knots” over this postal argument.

“I think we can have a very expensive fight about [this] but people can concentrate on whether there is utility in this proceeding.

“Just because the statutory demand might not have been served, doesn’t mean there can’t be a substitution of a supporting creditor. If there’s a debt accrued, there’s a debt accrued, I don’t need a statutory demand.

“I’m going to adjourn this matter for two weeks,” she said. “At the next directions hearing I want to hear from [Orora] on whether it intends to proceed … in light of everything we have heard.”

READ ALSO ‘Give it back’: How Aussie taxpayers helped fund $70 million failed foreign hazelnut farm in Narrandera

Visy’s original application to wind up Warburn Estate was also supported by other companies who alleged the winery also owed them money, including Hanwood-based wine and cocktail exporter Divas Beverages ($346,277), gas company Shell Energy Retail Pty Ltd ($95,865), the nation’s leading sugar producer Sugar Australia Pty Ltd ($20,255) and the Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer ($187,478).

Region understands the disputes with Divas Beverages and Shell Energy have been resolved. At Wednesday’s hearing, Sugar Australia also withdrew from proceedings.

Warburn Estate was established by Griffith’s Sergi family in 1968.

After a tough few years for the industry, it was announced in January 2024 that Meditrina Beverages Pty Ltd, owned by Griffith’s Taliano family, were in the process of purchasing Warburn Estate’s land, plant, equipment, trademarks and cellar door. This sale is expected to be finalised in March 2024.

As Meditrina Beverages Pty Ltd are purchasing the winery assets, not the business, it does not inherit the alleged Warburn Estate debts.

Warburn Estate has also initiated its own separate NSW Supreme Court proceedings against Visy Glass Operations, another arm of Anthony Pratt’s packaging empire, alleging it was supplied with defective bottles.

If you know more about this story, contact [email protected]

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.