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Questions for Treasury Wineries Continue

August 2014
by Andrew Adams

San Rafael, Calif.—Speculation and rumors continue to surround Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), which is fighting a lawsuit by Australian shareholders, has made leadership changes and is laying off workers.

“Approximately 5% of our global workforce will be impacted, with specific job losses varying across sites but with all functions contributing to overhead reductions,” said Nicole Carter, vice president of public relations for TWE the Americas.

Treasury owns Beringer Vineyards and other wineries and properties in California’s North Coast and Central Coast. According to company information, TWE employs 3,500 people worldwide. Carter couldn’t be more specific about where those reductions took place, but she did say they occurred in June and July and will continue in August.

TWE closed its Cellar 360 tasting room in Paso Robles, Calif., in early July because of lackluster performance. Carter said the company decided the multi-brand concept had not been a successful business model, and the closure affected one full-time, one part-time and two on-call employees.

Based in Australia, TWE has been the subject of both rumored and actual take-over bids. The company rejected a nearly $3 billion buyout by the U.S. private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in May, and reports published in Australia and elsewhere speculated the French firm LVMH and Constellation Brands were interested in all or parts of TWE. The company issued a statement that it had not been in contact with Constellation about its U.S. brands and saw the U.S. market “as a key plank of its future growth platform.”

When asked if TWE is planning to sell any of its U.S. wineries, Carter said: “We are looking to take action on non-core commercial brands in the U.S., and we are both adding and selling parcels of land (and) vineyards on a regular basis.”

In addition to Beringer, Treasury owns in North America Asti Winery, Chateau St. Jean Winery & Vineyards, Etude Wines, Paso 360, St. Clement Vineyards, Stags’ Leap Winery Meridian, Souverain Winery and other brands.

In late June, the company was served with a class-action lawsuit because of writedowns it was forced to take on account of excess inventory in the United States. Last summer the company announced it would have to destroy more than $30 million worth of wine that had piled up in warehouses. The lawsuit contends TWE waited too long to make the announcement and shareholders purchased stock at an inflated price.

TWE announced on June 25 it would take an additional writedown of $244 million and was restructuring its Australian business to place a separate focus on its commercial brands versus its luxury ones. That strategy is already in place in the Americas.

Treasury also decided to separate its Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa operations from Australia. That shift prompted former chief commercial officer for those regions Andrew Carter to leave the company. Carter was replaced with Robert Foye, a former Coca-Cola executive who worked at the soft drink giant with Michael Clarke, who was named TWE’s chief executive officer in February. Clarke has called fiscal 2015 a “reset” year for the company.

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