Suntory Holdings, best known for its whiskey and brewery operations, has bought an 80 percent stake in one of China's leading wine importers, ASC Fine Wines Holdings, giving it an important foothold in the growing Chinese wine market. Suntory did not disclose financial details, but industry sources estimate the price tag is more than $55 million.
Founded by Donald St. Pierre in 1996, Hong Kong-based ASC has been an important player as China has grown into a major wine buyer. The company imports products from 100 wineries, including Château Lafite Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Gaja, Penfolds and Joseph Phelps. It also imports Riedel glassware. Suntory bought out shares owned by the Langes-Swarovski family, of the Austrian crystal company. St. Pierre is also officially retiring, but his son Don St. Pierre Jr. will continue as CEO and the family will continue to have a stake in the firm.
"The deal came about because the Swarovski family, after more than 10 years, wanted to exit and my father decided to retire," said St. Pierre Jr. "At the same time the China market is developing quickly and I felt we needed to have a strong partner to deal with both the great challenges and opportunities China offers."
St. Pierre added that the company spent six months looking for a potential partner. Based in Osaka, Japan, Suntory has holdings throughout the world and valuable distribution networks. They also own wineries in France. "Suntory will bring greater access to capital at a lower cost to grow the business, they will bring supply-chain management and IT expertise that a fast-growing company like ASC needs," said St. Pierre. "Our business model will continue to be focused on premium wine import and distribution, but we will expand more rapidly."