One of Australia’s ‘first families of wine’ has gone into administration as declining business performance and a changing wine market force family-owned McWilliam’s to seek outside assistance.
- Founder Samuel McWilliam planted his first vines in the NSW Riverina in 1877
- The winemaker has also had a long presence in the Hunter Valley with its Mount Pleasant estate
- The current McWilliams chairman says “evolving market dynamics” and “capital constraints” contributed to a decline in business
The company traces its history back through more than 141 years and six generations of family ownership in the Riverina district of southern New South Wales, although it has also had a major long-term presence in the Hunter Valley wine region through its well-known Mount Pleasant estate.
However, the venerable label has fallen on hard times, voluntarily calling in administrators from KPMG to seek buyers or investors to finance the company’s continued existence.
“We are in the initial phase of the administration process where our priority is to undertake an immediate assessment of the business and its operations,” KPMG partner Gayle Dickerson said in a statement.
“The company will continue to operate as normal and we are working with the McWilliam’s family with the support of its employees while we work hard to try and preserve one of Australia’s oldest winemakers.”
It was 1877 when Samuel McWilliam planted his first grape vines on the outskirts of Corowa in the Riverina, and 1917 when JJ McWilliam planted the famous Hanwood estate vineyard near Griffith, with the company exporting wine overseas since 1935.
The company gained a foothold in the Hunter Valley by purchasing the Mount Pleasant estate in 1941, which is particularly renowned for its semillon and shiraz wines.
McWilliam’s former chief winemaker and current company chairman Jim Brayne said the board had “not made the decision to enter voluntary administration lightly”.
“A number of factors contributed to a decline in business performance, including evolving structural market dynamics and capital constraints.”
Mr Brayne said the winemaker’s management and board were working with the administrator to try to achieve a “positive outcome for all involved”.
The administrators said they were looking to find either a buyer or investors who can finance the company’s ongoing operations.
“We are seeking expressions of interest to recapitalise or acquire the group to take this heritage brand forward in the future both locally and globally,” Ms Dickerson said.
“There are significant wine assets in the Riverina district and the Hunter Valley, long established distribution channels and relationships with global international distributor brands.”
Aside from selling its own wines, McWilliam’s is the Australian distributor for global brands including Taittinger, Mateus, Henkell and Mionetto.
The administrator said all creditors and other key stakeholders will be contacted directly and will meet for the first time to discuss the company’s future on Monday, January 20.