Log In / Join Now

Beer Distributor Buys Key U.S. Importer of Fine Australian Wine

Old Bridge Cellars, which represents Leeuwin and d'Arenberg in the United States, was sold to the owner of The Gambrinus Co.

Harvey Steiman
Posted: November 10, 2003

One of the pioneer importers of Australian wine to the United States has sold his business to a Texas beer distributor.

Rob McDonald, who was born in Australia, started Old Bridge Cellars in 1990, concentrating on high-end Australian wines before they had made much impact in the U.S. market. The buyer is Carlos Alvarez, owner of The Gambrinus Co. in San Antonio, best known for importing Corona beer to Texas and the eastern United States. Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but McDonald remains under contract to Old Bridge for three years.

Old Bridge, located in Napa, Calif., imports more than 50,000 cases of wine a year and distributes in 49 states. McDonald started with the likes of Leeuwin Estate and d'Arenberg -- still the best-known wineries in his portfolio, which also includes cult favorites Bass Phillip, Chambers, Jasper Hill and Mount Mary. The roster also includes AusVetia, Penley, Yarra Yering, Yeringberg, and McDonald's own mid-priced négociant brand, called Mak. The wineries will stay with the company, McDonald said, after the sale is finalized and the import license is properly transferred.

"I have spoken with all of them," McDonald said. "They understand that everything should remain the same for them. It just gives us more room to grow." McDonald does not expect to add more wineries to Old Bridge's list, but many of the producers he represents want to significantly increase their exports to the United States. The sale was a way to finance that growth.

"The company is profitable, but I'm always worried that we will overextend ourselves," McDonald said. "We won't have to worry about that anymore."

Alvarez started Gambrinus in 1986 to import and distribute the beers of Mexico's Grupo Modelo -- which include the popular Corona brand, as well as Negra Modelo and Pacífico -- in the eastern United States and Texas. Gambrinus also owns several small breweries, including Spoetzl in Shiner, Texas; Bridgeport in Portland, Ore., and Pete's Wicked in San Antonio. Alvarez was not available for comment.

"We're not merging with the beer guys," McDonald hastened to point out. "The company is being purchased by Carlos Alvarez personally. He has the passion and then willingness to do the job the way it should be done. For me, it's the best of both worlds."

# # #

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.