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While avoiding what seemed to be the main threat – control by the brewing-related companies – Corbans had become vulnerable to takeover through the heavy load of debt that it carried. Because of its rapid expansion, partly in response to competition from Montana, Corbans had a voracious appetite for capital during the 1960s and 1970s. From the mid-1960s the company invested heavily in their Henderson, West Auckland production, processing, bottling and distribution centre as well as substantially increasing their area in vines.

Corbans first move to purchase more vineyard land was, naturally enough, northwards. Joe Corban, vineyard manager, with his uncle Najib, vineyard director, searched exhaustively for likely sites. They acquired parcels in three locations successively more distant from their winery – one in Whenuapai near Brighams Creek, several in Kumeu mainly in Cemetery Road, and a further one in Taupaki. These totalled 390 acres – a quite different proposition from the original 30 acres of the Great North Road vineyard in Henderson. With most of the new vineyards being on heavy soils, they had to be ripped, drained and cultivated before being planted, a practice Corbans had mastered in the heavy clay soils of their Great North Road and Valley Road vineyards in Henderson. All the new Auckland vineyards were within 20 kilometres of the Henderson winery. This distance was neighbourly compared with Corbans next vineyard purchases which were over 600 kilometres away in Gisborne. The capital it needed to purchase land on the Poverty Bay flats further increased the company’s debt load.

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Both Corbans and Montana began sourcing grapes from Gisborne in the late 1960s. Montana first let contracts in Gisborne in 1968, while Corbans quickly followed suit. These contracts were initially simple documents, as Roger McLernon’s experience affirms. Frank and Mate Yukich decided on a 33-year tenure to attract grape growers by providing continuity. Corbans quickly bought land, but Montana under Frank and Mate Yukich relied entirely on grape growers. This decision captures the character of the two enterprises. Corbans was the well-established communal family firm. Owning land on which they planted their own vines was an imperative – ‘a stake in the country’, as Dick Scott titled his 2002 book on the family. Frank Yukich was more commercially astute – the challenger with a limited reputation, few assets and, unlike Corbans, no internal, multi-family bureaucracy.

The prospect of a new crop attracted 180 people to a Gisborne growers field day in 1969 where Joe Corban, resplendent in white shirt, tie and dark jacket, spoke to the prospective growers, and Alex displayed the engraved spade used to plant the first vines. Corbans had bought 76 acres on Riverpoint Road and a further 45 acres at Bond Road, Ormond.

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