The future for McWilliam’s Wines looks to be assured once again after being acquired by Calabria Family Wines, in a deal announced by KPMG and selling agent Colliers International.
The sale, which is set to be complete by 30 April, will see the Griffith-based Calabria family take ownership of the McWilliam’s brands, intellectual property, and stock holdings as well as the Hanwood vineyard, winery and cellar door.
The Mount Pleasant brand and winery has been acquired in a separate deal by Sydney investment group Medich Family Office.
Third-generation Sales & Marketing Manager Andrew Calabria, told The Shout it was very exciting for the Calabria family to bring the McWilliams wines into its portfolio.
“McWilliam’s is not only significant for the whole Australian wine industry, but for us being a Riverina-based business, the importance of McWilliam’s in the Riverina… I think people have said they don’t realise how symbolic it is, but there is no wine industry in the Riverina without them.
“The last five to 10 years has been a really great journey for our family business. We’ve reverted to our original name of Calabria Family Wine and we re-worked our branding and sales have grown and it has been exciting. But when you look at the brand equity of McWilliam’s and what it really stands for, it’s a name that has stood for innovation, it’s stood for quality and of course that was a big part of us having interest in the business.”
McWilliam’s entered into voluntary administration in January last year, with KPMG appointed as administrator and charged with finding a buyer for the company. That looked to have been secured last year when private equity and venture capital firm Prcstnt were lined up as a buyer. However that deal fell through when Prcstnt failed to come up with the funds to secure the deal, meaning another buyer had to be found.
For Andrew Calabria, all this led to a long-winded buying process, which he told The Shout, was “pretty tedious to be honest”.
“I was in the US on a sales trip in January last year and while I was away my brother Michael sent me a text saying McWilliam’s had gone into VA. We know things weren’t travelling too well over there, but it was almost like a depressed feeling of ‘wow I thought this would happen’.
“So I got through the rest of my trip and on the way home I started scribbling some notes and I wondered whether there was a way that we could work with this and if could have an existence with the brand and the winery and the family. We had a look but came to the conclusion that weren’t going to be able to contend and then obviously the first sale went through and we just thought, ‘OK let’s shut the book on that’.
“Then when that deal fell through, we entertained our bid to go forward again. We don’t have Mount Pleasant which is iconic itself, but Mount Pleasant has ended up in some really good hands and it’s family-owned which is really important.
“But from our side it felt that the stars just aligned for a partnership of Calabria and McWilliam. And we have the McWilliams Hanwood cellar door, the barrels, and the brand in the Riverina. But it’s just down here, McWilliam’s has a significant presence in Hilltops and Tumbarumba and they been huge drivers in those areas as well.”
He added: “The winemaking and production side of McWilliam’s is very important to our business, but as we look at the trade-side and the brands we have a great opportunity to amalgamate the portfolios and the sales team to create a really diverse portfolio. McWilliam’s play heavily in the cool climate regions and the commercial and fortified end, which Calabria doesn’t have strong foothold in, so this adds to that.
“Calabria has that strong alternate presence, plus the Barossa but then importantly Calabria is building its import portfolio as well. We’re representing the Symington family and there’s more coming so the portfolio is really going to round out into something quite significant and McWilliam’s and Calabria wines will have a strong presence in that.”
While the future of jobs and the teams in the business is still in a grey area it is expected that there will be some job losses through the administrators, but Andrew told The Shout that the family will be looking at a lot of the experience to help the McWilliams operations work and they will be talking to staff once the dust has settled on the deal.
Fifth-generation Greg McWilliam, welcomed the deal, saying: “Local members of the McWilliam family are pleased that the Hanwood winery and the McWilliam’s Wines business will continue under the control of the Calabria family and that their passion for the local region, brands and history of the company will continue under their family ownership. We have had a close and enduring relationship over many years and look forward to working with the Calabria family in the future.”
Calabria Family Wines General Manager Michael Calabria added: “It is a great honour for our family to become the proud custodians of Australian winemaking history with the purchase of McWilliam’s Wines. Despite recent challenges, we know the McWilliam’s name carries a long and prestigious reputation as one of Australia’s oldest wine producers.”
As part of the transition process, Calabria Family Wines said it will work with KPMG and McWilliam’s to ensure a smooth transition as the business changes hands.