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Constellation Trades Canada for Washington

November 2016
by Peter Mitham

Toronto, Ontario—The pensions of Ontario’s teachers will benefit from sales of some of Canada’s best-known wines, following the announcement that their pension manager has agreed to acquire Constellation Brands Inc.’s Canadian division. The news broke the same day that Constellation revealed its plan to purchase five Washington state wine brands from Charles Smith.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) will buy 5 million-case Constellation Brands Canada in a $760 million deal ($1 billion Canadian) set to close by the end of 2016. The purchase gives OTPP the business formerly known as Vincor Canada, in which it was an investor until selling its stake in 1996.

“We’re quite familiar with the company, with the brands, and with the wineries,” said Deborah Allen, vice president of communications for OTPP. “When we heard that it was coming onto the market, we were very interested.”

Wineries acquired as part of the transaction include the Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin properties in Ontario and British Columbia, as well as vineyard holdings in both regions.

Constellation Brands Canada will become part of Ontario Teachers’ growing consumer products division, which is part of its private capital portfolio that accounts for 46% of the plan’s total holdings of approximately $128 billion ($168.2 billion Canadian).

The announcement of its divestment in Canada coincided with news that Constellation is purchasing five brands from vintner Charles Smith in Washington state, where it also owns 540,000-case Hogue Cellars. Brands acquired include Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Eve Chardonnay, Boom Boom Syrah, Velvet Devil Merlot and Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon.

In a statement announcing the purchase, Constellation framed the deal as part of the company’s “focus on high-margin, high-growth brands.”

The $120 million deal will change little for Smith, who said he’ll continue to make wine for the brands Constellation acquired.

“I still retain after this transaction, minus the corporate portfolio of Charles Smith Wines, north of 400,000 cases of wine per year,” he said.

Smith will bank proceeds from the deal, while the five brands will have a chance to reach their potential—something Smith’s small staff of seven couldn’t achieve alone. With year-over-year growth of 50%, the wines will now be in the hands of Constellation’s 400-odd salespeople.

“I sold simply because I think it was the best opportunity for Charles Smith Wines,” Smith told Wines & Vines. “If I can sell over 400,000 cases of Charles Smith Wines with seven people, what can Constellation do?”

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