Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holman Lang wineries are in receivership

The Holman Lang group of wineries on the Naramata Bench have been placed in receivership.

According to an article in the Penticton Herald this morning, the group owes $15 million to the Bank of Montreal. The assets, primarily land, are valued at $22.7 million.

Above is a photo of the notice that the receiver, Wolrige Mahon Ltd. of Vancouver, placed on the door of Lang Vineyards.

The company was placed in receivership on November 24. The assets that the receiver will seek to liquidate include three wineries and 53,691 bottles of wine.

The documents relevant to this receivership, including the complete lists of assets that are open for bids, can be found at

The Holman Lang group, which has seven wineries, has been struggling for some time. Last March, the company announced the departure of Geisenheim-trained winemaker Bernhard Schirrmeister, who had been the senior winemaker there for more than five years. No reason was given. Bernhard was snapped up quickly by The View Winery.

Also in March, Vancouver wine educator James Cluer was announced as the general manager at Holman Lang. It appears he was brought in by the bank to market 95,970 litres (about 10,600 cases equivalent) of Holman Lang bulk wine at between $3 and $7 a litre. He left the group this fall when he completed his assignment.

In 2009, Holman Lang tried to raise cash by listing two of its wineries for sale with Sotheby’s International Realty, the carriage trade realtor. Mistral Estate Winery, with a 16.5-acre property in Naramata, was listed for $5.5 million. The neighbouring Stonehill Estate Winery, with nine acres of vines, was listed at $3.9 million. Several vineyard properties were also listed.

It is believed that none of the properties was sold, a reflection of the illiquid state of B.C. winery properties coming out of the recent recession.

Keith Holman and his wife, Lynn, are veteran Penticton area fruit growers. They got into the wine business in 2003 by launching the Spiller Estate Winery, a fruit winery with a bed and breakfast located near the beginning of Naramata Road.

Appetite whetted, they started developing Mistral, located nearby, in 2004. Soon after, they were able to buy the Benchland winery next door, which they renamed as Stonehill.

In 2005 they bought Lang Vineyards from Günther Lang. One of the first wineries on the Naramata Bench, it had opened in 1990. The Holmans added it to their growing group because, unlike Mistral and Benchland, it was an established brand with a marketing organization behind it. It also had an experienced winemaker in Bernard at a time when the winemaker at Mistral and Benchland, Craig Larson, was about to depart and work in the United States.

In 2005 the Holmans also bought a spectacular property on the Naramata Bench overlooking Okanagan Lake, planted a vineyard there and developed Soaring Eagle Winery. This became the main production facility and the headquarters for the Holman Lang group.

Two more wineries were developed before the group stopped expanding: K Mountain Vineyards was created in a fruit stand at Keremeos and Zero Balance Vineyards was opened next door to Soaring Eagle, both in 2008.

The strategy with this chain of wineries was to keep wine tourists in house, sending them from one winery to the other to taste the differing styles of wines. It appears that the strategy ran head on into the recession that left many Okanagan producers with unsold or slow-selling inventory.


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