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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

Off-licence chain Unwins has confirmed that it is close to agreeing a refinancing deal - involving a sales and leaseback of its property portfolio - that will see the company continuing to trade as a separate entity. A senior member of the Unwins management team refused to comment on the rumoured breakdown of its talks with Castel Frres, the French owner of the Oddbins off-licence chain, but added that a sale and leaseback refinacing package was now the most likely outcome'. He added: We said all along that a sale of the business was only one of the options that we were considering and that we were also interested in a refinacing package for the company. A sale and leaseback is simply making the best use of our assets. The advantage of this type of deal is that Unwins will continue as a going concern under the control of the same management team but with a substantial injection of capital.' Unwins currently has 388 shops concentrated in south-east England - of which it owns the freehold for 96. Unwins wouldn't reveal the value of its property portfolio, whether any stores will be disposed of as part of the deal, or who was providing the finance. Castel was hotly tipped as the prefered bidder before Christmas, with one City source informing Harpers that a deal worth 30 million would be finalised shortly'. A spokesperson for Castel refused to comment. If the deal goes through, Unwins is expected to increase investment in upgrading its stores as well as converting a number of shops to the Phillips Newman brand launched last year at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair. We clearly need to invest in the business if we are to move it forward, and this allows us to do that. The Phillips Newman concept will be a part of that,' said the Unwins source. There are currently two Phillips Newman stores - famous for listing wines by style rather than country of origin - and Unwins plans, eventually, to open 50.