McWilliam's Wines has appointed voluntary administrators. Picture: Facebook/McWilliam's Wines
McWilliam's Wines has appointed voluntary administrators. Picture: Facebook/McWilliam's Wines

$87m Aussie wine empire’s shock collapse

Australia's sixth-largest wine company - which has been in its founding family's hands for 141 years and six generations - has revealed it has appointed voluntary administrators.

Late yesterday afternoon it was announced that McWilliam's Wines was facing an uncertain future after appointing KPMG partners Gayle Dickerson, Tim Mableson and Ryan Eagle to the job.

The much-loved unlisted and publicly-owned company's range includes the McWilliam's and Mount Pleasant wine brands, and it is also the sole Australian distributor for renowned global brands such as Champagne Taittinger, Mateus, Henkell and Mionetto.

Former McWilliam’s Wines chairman Doug McWilliam, pictured in 2007 in Hanwood, near Griffith.
Former McWilliam’s Wines chairman Doug McWilliam, pictured in 2007 in Hanwood, near Griffith.

Last January, the Financial Review reported the company's sales revenue for 2017-18 was $87.4 million, citing documents lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

That figure represented a 13 per cent drop following a period of heavy losses.

Restructuring services partner at KPMG Australia, Gayle Dickerson, said the goal was to save the iconic company.

"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," she said in a statement.

"The company will continue to operate as normal, and we are working with the McWilliams' family with the support of its employees while we work hard to try to preserve one of Australia's oldest winemakers.

"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. There are significant wine assets in the Riverina district and the Hunter Valley, long established distribution channels and relationships with global international distributor brands."

McWilliam's Wine Group chairman Jim Brayne said the decision to enter into voluntary administration was not made lightly.

"A number of factors have contributed to a decline in business performance, including evolving structural market dynamics and capital constraints," he said.

"We will work closely with the administrator during the process in order to strengthen the prospects of a positive outcome for all involved."

A meeting of the company's creditors is scheduled for Monday, January 20.

McWILLIAM'S HISTORY

In 1877, Samuel McWilliam planted his first vines on the outskirts of Corowa, NSW, but in 1913, another relative, J.J. McWilliam, carted 50,000 vines to the state's Riverina region, pioneering the wine industry in that area.

In 1917, he opened the Hanwood Estate winery just outside of Griffith and in 1935, the first McWilliam's wines were exported internationally.

The company continued to thrive over the decades, with the family acquiring Mount Pleasant estate in the Hunter Valley in 1941 and winning a multitude of awards and accolades over the years.

The company’s distinctive cellar door was a hit with tourists. Picture: Facebook/McWilliam's Wines
The company’s distinctive cellar door was a hit with tourists. Picture: Facebook/McWilliam's Wines

By 2004, the demand for McWilliam's wines in Australia and across the globe was soaring, with 500,000 cases of McWilliam's Hanwood Estate wines sold.

Today, the Griffith region is home to several of Australia's biggest wine brands, including Casella Wines, De Bortoli Wines, Warburn Estate, Berton Vineyards and Calabria Family Wines.

RETAIL WOES

McWilliam's Wines' shock news comes after a horror 2019 that brought the collapse of a slew of Aussie businesses, with some international players also folding in recent months.

Last January, menswear retailer Ed Harry went into voluntary administration, and a week later, Aussie sportswear favourite Skins also revealed it was on the brink of failure after applying for bankruptcy in a Swiss court.

At the end of the month, the Napoleon Perdis beauty empire announced the cult make-up chain's 56 Aussie stores had closed for stocktake. Administrators were appointed, and scores of stores have since collapsed.

Footwear trailblazer Shoes of Prey also met its demise in March last year, along with British fashion giant Karen Millen, which in September revealed it would soon shut all Aussie stores, leaving around 80 jobs in peril.

Administrators are trying to save the company. Picture: Facebook/McWilliam's Wines
Administrators are trying to save the company. Picture: Facebook/McWilliam's Wines

In October, celebrity chef Shannon Bennett's Melbourne burger chain Benny Burger was also placed into administration followed by seven Red Rooster outlets in Queensland just days later and then Aussie activewear sensation Stylerunner, which has since been sold to Accent Group Limited.

In November, it was revealed that popular furniture and homewares company Zanui was in trouble after it abruptly entered voluntary administration, leaving angry customers in the lurch.

Later that month, Muscle Coach, a leading fitness company, was put into voluntary administration after a director received a devastating diagnosis and the company racked up debts of almost $1 million.

Then it was the famous Criniti's restaurant chain's turn to enter into voluntary administration, with several of the 13 sites across the country set to be closed for good.

It was closely followed by discount legend Dimmeys and then Co-op Bookshop, which went into administration owing $15 million.

And just weeks ago fast-fashion staple Bardot also went into voluntary administration, blaming a "highly cluttered" and "increasingly discount-driven market", followed by Australian department store Harris Scarfe, which was placed into voluntary administration in mid-December.



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