Peter Lehmann Wines, an iconic Australian winery in the Barossa Valley, will soon have a new owner. Casella Family Brands, best known as the maker of Yellow Tail, offered $1.31 per share for the winery and brand. The majority owner, the Hess Group, announced Wednesday it intends to accept the offer, which amounts to $49.5 million in U.S. dollars.
Hess, based in Switzerland and known for its Hess Collection California wines, owns 85.7 percent of the Australian firm. Hess paid $103 million in 2003 for a majority share of the winery, which Peter Lehmann founded in 1979. Margaret Lehmann, Peter’s widow, said she intends to sell Casella her 10.8 percent, reaching the threshold of 90 percent required in Casella’s filing with Australian authorities late Tuesday.
Casella Wines Pty. Ltd. began as a bulk wine company in Griffiths, New South Wales, about 360 miles west of Sydney. It partnered with U.S. importer W.J. Deutsch & Sons to create the Yellow Tail brand in 2000, and the wine quickly grew to be the largest-selling label in the U.S.
Managing director John Casella told Wine Spectator that Yellow Tail’s parent company’s marketing and distribution reach provided “an opportunity to grow the Peter Lehmann wine portfolio and present the Barossa region on a global stage.”
Casella also suggested that this first acquisition of an existing wine brand won’t be the last. Peter Lehmann Wines “plays an integral part in building a family of quality brands across a range of price segments,” said Casella. “We have a clearly defined strategy to extend our Casella brand portfolio to include an incredible range of premium wines that highlight the enormous diversity of the Barossa and its subregions.”
Recently Casella spun off two other brands on its own: Casella1919, a label meant for high-end wines, and Bondi Rd., a flavored sparkling Sauvignon Blanc.
The past two years have not been kind to Peter Lehmann Wines. Founder Peter Lehmann died in June 2013 at age 82, and his son Doug Lehmann, who had assumed leadership of the company, died a year later of a heart attack at age 62. Despite those challenges, the winery doubled its profits in 2014 over 2013 on significantly higher revenues.
“As you can imagine, with the passing of Peter and Doug Lehmann and the retirement of longtime winemaker Andrew Wigan, this is in many senses a time of transition for Peter Lehmann Wines,” Timothy Persson, CEO of The Hess Collection, said in an e-mail to employees. He intends to use proceeds of the sale to spur growth in The Hess Collection and Artezin Wines in California.
“The Board … is confident that John Casella and his team will be fine custodians of Peter Lehmann’s legacy,” said Christoph Ehrbar, chairman of Peter Lehmann Wines. “Casella Family Brands is an Australian, family-owned wine success story with the vision and expertise to continue the development of this iconic South Australian wine business.”
Margaret Lehmann said she feels comfortable selling her shares to another family-owned company, “because the patient capital of private ownership is better-suited to the cyclical nature of the wine industry.”