Exclusive news and research on the wine, spirits and beer business

News Briefs for May 20, 2011

May 20, 2011

• Having recently sold off its U.K. and Australia wine businesses, Constellation Brands is gearing up to tap into Asian markets. Constellation ceo Rob Sands recently told the Wall Street Journal the company will soon announce a formal head of its Asian business to lead operations out of Hong Kong. During Constellation’s investors presentation in New York City on Wednesday, Sands pointed out the allure of China in particular for global wine marketers such as Constellation, noting that China is already the world’s eighth-largest wine market despite having per-capita consumption of only one liter or so annually. From now until 2015, he said, about 90% of BRIC market wine growth is expected to come from China and Hong Kong.

• Forging ahead with its plan to become a pure-play spirits business, Beam Global parent Fortune Brands has agreed to sell its Acushnet Co golf equipment unit for $1.23 billion to a group led by Fila Korea and Mirae Asset Private Equity. Acushnet, which makes Titleist and FootJoy products, had sales of $1.2 billion and operating income before charges of $80 million in 2010. Calling the divestiture of the golf business “a very important milestone as we execute our proposed plan to separate our three strong businesses,” Fortune expects to realize $1.1 billion in proceeds from the sale after taxes and interest. The deal is expected to close this summer. Fortune now will pursue its plan to spin off its home and security business in the coming months, with the goal of becoming a pure-play spirits company, Beam Inc, early in the fourth quarter. In the three months through March, Beam Global Spirits & Wine’s sales rose 17% to $673 million.

• The Benihana Inc restaurant chain, which recently said it would restructure in lieu of selling out, has sued its founder’s widow in state court in Florida. Benihana alleges that Keiko Aoki and her New York-based company Benihana of Tokyo (BOT)—which is a shareholder in Miami-based Benihana Inc—sought to derail Benihana Inc’s preliminary sale plans by publicly questioning the 1995 deal in which the restaurant group licensed the Benihana trademark from founder Rocky Aoki. The complaint asserts Aoki “deliberately attempted to dilute the value of Benihana and deceive the public into believing that the title to the Benihana trademark is in question, when it is not.” Benihana plans to convert all its shares into one stock class and jettison its poison pill plan rather than sell.

• Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia raised €130,000 ($172,000) from the sale of nine lots at auction at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin last evening. The auction’s focal point was a series of 14 large-format bottles of 2008 Ornellaia: one Salmanazar (9 liters), three Imperials (6 liters), and 10 Double Magnums, all with specially designed labels produced and personally signed by German artist Rebecca Horn. The wines were part of Ornellaia’s Vendemmia D’Artista series, which has so far raised over €500,000 ($710,000) through three editions. Proceeds from the auction, conducted by Christiane Grafin Zu Rantzau, Christie’s Germany chairman, were turned over to Verein Der Freunde Der Nationalgalerie.

• Southern California craft brewer Stone Brewing Co is continuing its $26 million expansion plan with the opening of a second Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens location. The company has leased an 18,820-square-foot space in San Diego’s Liberty Station for the new site, which will include a brewery and gift shop, as well as a restaurant featuring a locally-sourced menu, wine list and 40 craft and specialty beers on tap. Slated to open in early 2012, the restaurant joins Stone Brewing’s existing 8,500-square-foot Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden in Escondido, CA, where the group’s flagship brewery is also located. Stone will also be expanding its Escondido brewery with a 55,000-square-foot production facility and additional brewing, fermentation and packaging space, bringing capacity to 500,000 barrels by 2012. Co-founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, Stone Brewing Co produced 115,000 barrels in 2010—a 17% increase on the prior year—and expects to reach 150,000 barrels this year. In 2010, the company posted revenue of $62 million, and 2011 revenue is projected to reach $75 million.

• Folio Fine Wine Partners has named David Durden as its director of sales.  Durden will oversee a team of 19 sales managers across the U.S. and will be responsible for strategic planning for all Folio imported and domestic brands. Durden previously was the senior vice president and general manager at California wine distributor Regal Wine Company.  Before joining Regal in 2005, Durden was executive vice president and consultant for Baron Philippe de Rothschild in New York.  He began his drinks career at Schieffelin and Somerset in 1982.

• California craft brewer Sierra Nevada is reportedly scouting locations for a new brewery and restaurant site in the Eastern U.S. region. Although a final decision has yet to be announced, the company did confirm that the city of Alcoa, located in Eastern Tennessee, was a leading contender. As a result, Tennessee lawmakers are hoping to further lure Sierra Nevada with new legislation, entitled SB 1224, which would overhaul high-alcohol beer guidelines and allow the brewer to sell and offer samples of beer above 5%-abv on-site. Sponsored by state senator Ken Yager, the measure was passed by the Tennessee Senate Finance Committee earlier this week and currently awaits a full floor vote. In 2010, Sierra Nevada’s total food, drug and convenience store sales rose 11.3% to 3.8 million cases, according to SymphonyIRI. For the year ending April 17, food, drug and convenience store dollar sales jumped more than 10%, to $33.5 million, making Sierra Nevada the 12th-largest beer vendor in the sector.

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