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News Briefs for May 29, 2012

May 29, 2012

•Todd Epsten, chairman of Major Brands, died Saturday, May 26, of cancer. He was 52. Epsten was the third generation of his family to lead Major Brands—Missouri’s largest spirits and wine distributor—which was founded by his grandfather in 1934. Before becoming chairman of Major Brands, he was CEO of the company’s St. Louis office. In 1988, he relocated to St. Louis to oversee the company’s expansion into eastern Missouri, and quickly became one of the city’s civic leaders and most active philanthropists. Epsten is survived by his wife, Susan McCollum, and their two sons, Michael and Brian; his parents, Jacqueline and Robert Epsten; three sisters: Judith McLaughlin, and Jane Girson and Jill Epsten; and a brother, Brad Epsten.

•Southern/F.P. Winner Distributors of Maryland and Southern/F.P. Winner Distributors of Washington D.C., both joint ventures between Southern Wine & Spirits and local distributor Frederick P. Winner, are set to receive an upgrade in sales, marketing and service capacities. Southern president and COO Wayne Chaplin said the moves would include “the creation of a dedicated wine and spirits sales platform that applies Southern’s proprietary sales tools such as SalesNav as well as our back-of-the-house systems.” Established two years ago, the Southern/Winner joint venture utilizes F.P. Winner’s infrastructure and service while Southern takes the lead on sales and marketing. The Maryland and D.C. businesses are projected to reach $30 million in revenue this year, up from $25 million last year, according to Shanken’s Impact Newsletter.

•Christie’s, Zachys and Acker, Merrall & Condit reported 100%, 97% and 95% of lots sold, respectively, at their recent spring wine auctions in Hong Kong. Christie’s raised a total of HK$20 million ($2.6m) from its auction on May 26, led by a set of four six-liter imperials of Petrus from 2005-2008, which sold for HK$780,000 ($100,500). Zachys’ May 25-26 sale brought in a total of HK$57.59 million ($7.42m), led by a methuselah of Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti that sold for HK$1.16 million ($149,000). Acker, Merrall & Condit, whose Hong Kong auction was also held on May 25-26, earned more than HK$70 million ($9m) in total. The top lot—a case of 1947 Cheval Blanc—went for HK$1.48 million ($191,600).

•Hennessy Cognac has partnered with automotive artist Chris Bangle to redesign the bottle of its Privilege VSOP expression. The new design—the bottle’s first significant change since 1954—was recently revealed at a private event in Los Angeles. Bangle’s changes include restructuring the base, emphasizing the curves and refining the main label. Hennessy Privilege, handled in the U.S. by Moët Hennessy USA, is available nationwide at $45.99-$49.99 a 750-ml. Hennessy’s range also includes VS, Black, XO, Paradis and Richard Hennessy.

•Boston-based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners LP has agreed to acquire the 25-unit Brazilian churascarria steak house chain Fogo de Chão from Sao Paulo, Brazil-based GP Investments Ltd. in a deal valued at roughly $400 million. J.P. Morgan and Jefferies Finance LLC are providing financing for the deal, which is expected to close in the third quarter. Fogo de Chão debuted in Brazil in 1979, and opened its first U.S. location in 1997. There are currently 18 Fogo de Chão units throughout 15 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., as well as seven units in Brazil.

•Craft brewer Sierra Nevada says company veteran Scott Jennings has been named head brewer for its new Asheville, North Carolina area brewery, slated to open in 2014. Jennings is currently Sierra Nevada’s research and development head brewer. Brian Grossman—the son of Sierra Nevada founder and CEO Ken Grossman—and Stan Cooper, the brewer’s operations manager, will serve as co-managers of the North Carolina facility.

•As part of the expansion of its brewery and visitor center in Boston’s Seaport District, Harpoon Brewery is slated to begin building a 300-seat beer hall next month. The German-style beer hall, expected to open by year-end, will offer communal table seating and serve Harpoon beer and homemade pretzels.

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