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Hess sweetens its Australian wine bid

Donald Hess, founder of the Hess Collection Winery Keystone Archive

The takeover battle for Australia’s Peter Lehmann Wines has intensified after the Bern-based Hess Group said it had topped up its cash offer for the winemaker.

This content was published on October 10, 2003 - 10:29

Hess on Thursday raised its unconditional bid from A$3.85 (SFr3.50) to A$4, matching a rival offer from British firm Allied Domecq.

Earlier in the day, Allied dropped all conditions attached to its own A$4-a-share offer - including a requirement that it would not pay unless gaining at least 51 per cent of Peter Lehmann.

Both offers value the South Australian winemaker at A$150 million.

Hess said its updated bid was not the same as Allied's, and that the "intentions of the bidders are not the same".

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

The board of Peter Lehmann recently urged its shareholders to accept the Hess deal.

The winery's 73-year-old founder, Peter Lehmann, has also waged a campaign against the British firm, which he said was only interested in lowering quality for the sake of boosting sales.

"All Allied is interested in is case sales," Lehmann recently told swissinfo.

"And what I’ve heard about the Hess family is that they are caring people," he said.

"They are patient and their aims and aspirations – their philosophy – is the same as ours," he said.

Lehmann, a sixth generation wine maker, founded the winery in 1979, quickly establishing a reputation for producing high-quality hand-made wines often compared to French Bordeaux.

Family roots

The likely match-up with Hess, means the Australian winemaker is blending his company with a similarly family-oriented enterprise.

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

Even until recently, the family was run by the fourth-generation Donald Hess.

But despite opposition from the Lehmann family, Allied remains determined.

The company - which owns brands such a Tia Maria and Beefeater - wants to boost its range by adding an Australian wine brand to its product range.

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