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Published:  23 July, 2008

Castel Frres, the French wine group that own the Oddbins and Nicolas off-licence chains, has emerged as favourite to take control of competitor Unwins. The combined estate would comprise around 700 stores, with Castel expected to sell some of the sites and rebrand others as Oddbins. According to weekend press reports, the deal will be in the region of 30 million to 50 million and will be concluded by Christmas at the latest'. A spokesman for Unwins said: We can't comment on any names at the moment. We have said previously that negotiations with one or two bidders are at an advanced stage, and we hope we can wrap up the deal very quickly.' He added, however, that negotiations are concentrated on one particular party'. Maryland Securities, the owner of Wine Cellar, and Terra Firma, the owners of the Threshers off-licence chain, were among the seven other shortlisted bidders and would certainly be keen to pick up any Unwins stores sold by Castel. Unwins was put up for sale by 84 members of the Wetz family, which has owned it since 1921.