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Hess wins battle for Australian winemaker

Peter Lehmann always favoured the Hess offer. Peter Lehmann Wines

The Bern-based Hess Group has won control of Australia’s Peter Lehmann Wines after a A$149 million (SFr162.5 million) takeover battle.

Hess said on Thursday that it had obtained a majority share (67.56 per cent) of the Barossa Valley winemaker.

The announcement comes a fortnight after Hess raised its unconditional bid from A$3.85 (SFr3.50) to A$4, matching a rival offer from British firm Allied Domecq.

Allied then said it was not prepared to up its offer and pulled out of the race, saying it would sell 14.5 per cent in one of Australia’s best-known wine companies to Hess.

Under Australia’s Corporations Act, Hess has extended its takeover offer until November 4.

The Swiss group, which has wine, restaurant and hotel investments on three continents, always appeared to be the favoured bidder.

The board of Peter Lehmann even urged its shareholders to accept the Hess deal over Allied.

The winery’s 73-year-old founder, Peter Lehmann, feared London-based Allied, which is responsible for brands such as Beefeater gin and Tia Maria, would dilute the quality and reputation of the family business.

Lehmann said he favoured a takeover by another family outfit, with similar aims and aspirations to the Australian winemaker.

Lehmann, a sixth-generation winemaker, founded the winery in 1979, quickly establishing a reputation for producing high-quality wines.

Switzerland’s Hess Group has roots dating back to 1844, when its founder, Johann Heinrich Hess, founded a brewery in Kirchberg, in canton Bern.

Until recently, the business was run by the fourth-generation Donald Hess.

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