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Fortune Brands may steal Hardy's Kendall-Jackson thunder

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Since Foster's created Beringer Blass, its Australian rivals have been trying desperately to catch up. California is the prime target and BRL Hardy's talks with Kendall-Jackson are nearing a conclusion. But, as David Robertson reports, Fortune Brands, the owner of Jim Beam Brands, may swoop in at snatch Hardy's prize.

The love-in between trans-Pacific winemakers seems to be cooling as the relationship shifts in favour of the Americans.

Ever since Foster's scooped its rivals with the $2.6 billion purchase of Beringer Wines last year, other big Australian wine companies have been scrabbling for partners in the US.

Eileen Hardy Shiraz

Southcorp's merger with Rosemount Estates has applied pressure at home and the focus is now on BRL Hardy to make an acquisition. It has initiated talks with the Californian Kendall-Jackson and the industry is poised for another brash Australian company to make major in-roads in the US.

BRL Hardy's largest investor, the International Wine Investment Fund which holds 12.5%, last week agreed to stump up $75m to help Hardy make its bid for Kendall-Jackson.

Hardy is understood to have made the final three but the price seems to be approaching $3 billion - up from an initial forecast of $2.6 billion.

An extra $75m is not going to get Hardy very close and stockmarket commentators in Sydney suggest that unless Hardy can make the numbers look VERY good there is little chance of this deal floating.

Houghton Show Reserve Rhine Riesling

Kendall-Jackson has so far kept its own council with Hardy thought to have had only one conversation with the Americans about its offer.

"They haven't contacted us and we're hardly in a position to push the point," said a Hardy source.

The frontrunner for Kendall-Jackson seems to be Fortune Brands, which owns Jim Beam bourbon, and is about nine times bigger than Hardy.

In the meantime Hardy has been putting out the feelers to other US winemakers but with limited success. Both Buena Vista and Pine Ridge appear to have said no.

Hardy is also talking to Constellation Brands but as this giant (the second biggest in the US) is considerably bigger than the Australian company it seems likely that any deal will not see Hardy as the dominant partner.


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