Mildara Blass has moved to strengthen its Hunter Valley operations with the appointment of Neil McGuigan, one of the region's most noted winemakers, as manager and winemaker at The Rothbury Estate.The appointment is seen as an attempt to stabilize Rothbury's operations which have been marked in recent years by a succession of management and winemaker changes.The Foster's Brewing Group subsidiary plans to invest $A5m in production facilities at the 105,000-case winery which was founded in 1968 by industry identities Len Evans and Murray Tyrrell and which it took over in 1996.Mildara Blass has also bought McGuigan's 50% interest in the 32,000-case boutique winery, Briar Ridge, as part of a package to enable him to take the Rothbury helm.The Hunter Valley, the closest wine region to Australia's major domestic and tourist market, Sydney, is seen as a the prime shop-window for the industry although Mildara Blass managing director, Terry Davis, said that while other major Australian wine producers had reduced their Hunter operations to little more than shop-fronts, "...we are investing in talent, energy and capital to build world-class infrastructure to further develop our Hunter heritage brands."Aggressive export growth plans would be pursued to build on 1999/2000's 50% expansion which saw exports reach 30% of total production which, in turn, was 21.5% greater. McGuigan is a former winemaker and group production director at Wyndham Estate and, in 1992, established the McGuigan Brothers label with siblings Brian and Ross.Chris Snow