After 143 years of family management that extends to the 6th generation, the fate of Australia's historic winery McWilliam's Wines might be in the hands of a private equity firm, writes Rob Geddes MW.

After 143 years of family management that extends to the 6th generation it’s very sad to see the family ownership heading for a change. 

The news about McWilliam’s is a national story of great importance as the future of Mount Pleasant is a pivotal part of Australia’s wine heritage that needs close scrutiny. The release makes some good points and the limited information about the likely winners business experience, but where will control of this asset ultimately reside? Already the subject of Chinese whispers that the newly owned company could have a more China-centric future. We will know on 24th of July.

KPMG’s Gayle Dickerson, Tim Mableson and Ryan Eagle from KPMG have recommended creditors accept an offer from Prcstnt Asset Management, a private equity firm. 

“We are delighted to have reached a significant milestone in the administration process for McWilliam’s Wines,” Ms Dickerson said.

“The proposal received from Prcstnt Asset Management provides a platform for growth and a confident step forward for the company, employees and stakeholders.

“It removes any lingering uncertainty around its financial stability, which has limited its growth potential in recent times. It also provides continuing employment for staff, and will deliver a substantial return to creditors, and possibly shareholders.”

The offer has been characterized as giving the McWilliam’s brand a platform to grow.

“While it is critical that McWilliam’s is moved out of administration and returned to profitability in the immediate term, over the medium to longer term we will look to inject further capital to scale the business in both domestic and international markets, while driving environmental outcomes in line with our philosophy,” Prcstnt Asset Management chairman Charles Hunting said.

Creditors will vote on whether to accept or decline Prcstnt’s offer on July 24.

The jewels in the crown are the iconic Mount Pleasant vines and wine style with their significant Riverina processing capacity and considerable distribution of imported wines, there are a lot of development opportunities within this company. 

Mount Pleasant vineyard in Hunter Valley

What have the family achieved?

A role in initiating new ideas, upholding standards and years of being a leading wine show award winner producing many classic and enjoyable wines like Lovedale and Elizabeth Semillon, Rosehill Shiraz, Tumbarumba Chardonnay and Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon. Their list of memorable wines is enormous so I will just focus on one example. The first Riverina Botrytis wine “Mc Williams 1958 Botrytis Pedro” which was gifted to me when I left my job in the Riverina was still drinking well as a 40+ year old wine. It was widely said that this was the wine that influenced Darren DeBortoli to develop Noble One.

The family leadership in the Riverina was pivotal to the development of the region during and through its dark days in the 1980’s.

The company was a stop-off for an incredible number of talented people on their career path in viticulture, winemakers and marketers. They provided a touch point for talent in another important way with their initiation of the Maurice O’Shea award since 1991.

On a more mundane note, their ability to design their own equipment created a stainless steel tank to speed up wine handling for mass market wines and was the leader at the time.

The family have contributed to just about every wine committee that matters including Doug Mc Williams leadership as technical chair of the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI).

Their stewardship of the Hunter Valley Pinot Noir mother block of MV6, planted in 1921, has been a reliable source of cuttings for a generation of plantings.

The recalibration and refinement of the iconic Mount Pleasant offering by vine age are just a few of their achievements.

It seems certain that there will be family involvement going forward as such a legacy will need to be maintained by a human presence.

KPMG suggested their solution is the best outcome for McWilliams wines as it will continue as an ongoing concern with increased access to capital. Given the importance of Mount Pleasant there is a lot more to know.

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