The deal includes 34.5ha under vine in the heart of the mountainous Bannockburn sub-region. It is mainly planted with Pinot Noir, but there are pockets of Chardonnay and Riesling too.
Sir Clifford Skeggs, a Kiwi businesmman, and Lady Marie Skeggs purchased the land for Akarua in 1995, and planting began the following year. The first wines were bottled from the 1999 vintage.
Akarua is now firmly established as one of the largest family-owned operations in Central Otago, and its 100% estate-grown wines have earned critical acclaim and a string of awards.
Edmond de Rothschild Heritage, which combines the investment group’s non-banking lifestyle assets, made its first foray into New Zealand a decade ago, when it purchased 24ha in Marlborough Valley to produce the Rimapere brand.
Group president Ariane de Rothschild asked the team to find the best terroir in New Zealand to add a Pinot Noir producer to its collection.
They naturally chose Central Otago, which is widely regarded as one of the world’s best Pinot Noir producing regions outside of Burgundy, along with Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
‘We focused our search on Central Otago, the other Pinot Noir region, with a view to pinpointing the best soil there,’ said managing director Boris Breau. ‘With Akarua, we are adding a renowned family-run winery for over 20 years to our portfolio.
‘Identified as one of the best terroirs of this emblematic grape variety, it still has strong growth potential, enabling us to complete our range and consolidate our position in premium wines.’
The acquisition is subject to a variety of conditions, including the need to obtain consent from New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office.
If it gains approval, Anne Escalle – who has served as technical director for Rimapere since 2019 – will take over operations on behalf of the group.
‘Central Otago, particularly Bannockburn, represents an ideal terroir for Pinot Noir thanks to its continental climate – rare for New Zealand – which is associated with a great deal of mineral complexity in the soil: loess over shale and sand,’ she said. ‘The Akarua vineyard is a unique site, nestled in the foothills of the mountains, offering more balanced conditions, which will undoubtedly allow our wine to grow into one of the finest Pinot Noirs.’
Ariane de Rothschild – the French banker who has run the group since 2019 – added that her late husband, Benjamin, drove the ‘exploration of far-flung destinations’ to seek out the finest terroirs.
‘In keeping with this development strategy, we are committed to untapping each vineyard’s potential to produce fine wines, with a focus on enhancing the local grape varieties,’ she said.
‘New Zealand, widely known for its excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, is one of these high-potential terroirs. After Rimapere in 2012, we’re strengthening our commitment over the long term with Akarua.’