By ALEXANDRA LOKAN and MELISSA KEOGH
Beverage distributor Bickford’s has confirmed it has acquired the Renmano Winery site to be transformed into its new multi-million dollar Riverland spirit distillery.
The Murray Pioneer revealed online on Friday that Bickford’s had settled on the Renmark property on June 30 after reviewing more than a dozen possible properties across the district, including both empty land and existing buildings.
Bickford’s was awarded $2.36 million in Riverland Sustainable Futures Fund (RSFF) towards establishing the distillery in February.
Chris Illman, group marketing manager, said Bickford’s settled on the Renmano site – renamed Black Bottle Brandy Distillery – because of its existing assets.
“As part of the State Government funding from the RSFF there were two ways we were looking at doing it,” he said.
“One was a ‘green field’ site – so something that wasn’t established and we would build a brand new distillery on that site – or other sites that were already in existence which would just need a little bit of TLC.
“As the work transpired we felt that the ‘green field’ site was going to be excessively more than we’d planned to spend because we would be matching the RSFF grant with funding of our own.
“So what we were able to do was negotiate a deal with the Accolade Wines group to take ownership of Renmano and return that winery to its original purpose, which was a distillery back when it was established in 1914.”
Mr Illman said the Renmano site had already proven to be an ideal choice for Bickford’s to extend its range.
“We were lucky to get access to Renmano because of its history, its position and it’s just a wonderful site,” he said.
“It’s all set up for us – it just needs some love and a big refresh.
“We’re very excited about it.
“It will be a couple of years but certainly the Renmark locals will see a lot of activity down there in the short-term as we get things up and running.”
Mr Illman said work would begin immediately on the project’s first phase: rebuilding the winery’s stillhouse.
“Our first phase of the project is to ensure that the bond house for maturation of material is up to modern-day standards and that will allow us to continue to lay down stock for our Black Bottle and Galway Pipe brands,” he said.
“We hope that will be completed by December this year.
“Phase two will be to re-establish the original stillhouse and re-install the original black bottle pot stills which have been moved.
“That should be finished by June 2015.
“Then we’ll lift our eyes towards establishing a visitor centre and cellar door solution for consumers to try all of our wonderful projects.”
Mr Illman said the “massive” project was a focus for Bickford’s as it looked to cement itself as a major distillation force.
“We’ve got a number of resources both internally and externally focusing on that project,” he said.
“(We are) still very much in the embryo stage but obviously only just taking over the site we’re still working towards cleaning up… and engaging engineers and architects around what we’re trying to achieve.
“That will then allow us to be a major distillation force here in South Australia.
“(This project) will give us that flexibility not only for brandy but into neutral grain spirits, gin and whiskey, and enable us to do a number of different products.
“That will support our rum distillery in Queensland and… this group of companies will then be the biggest group of distillers in the country.”
Both Mr Illman and Renmark Paringa Council chief executive Tony Siviour said council had been working closely with Bickford’s to establish a Riverland distillery and would continue to do so.
“We’ll work closely with Bickford’s on the development application process,” he said.
“It’s been a 16-month conversation with Bickford’s and our desire was for them to go into the old Renmano site because it is a good fit.
“(It has) existing infrastructure for them and also… we wanted to see an asset that is probably under-utilised be utilised better.”