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Fells welcomes Yalumba into portfolio

Published:  11 May, 2018

Iconic Australian winery Yalumba is to join John E Fells, bringing its portfolio of antipodean estates into the fold, while also taking an equity stake in the UK-based company.

Steve Moody, managing director at Fells, described the move as a “superb fit”, saying that discussions with Yalumba had started before Christmas, with Fells chosen over a number of other potential suitors in part because of its strong family-winery oriented portfolio.

“It’s a special day and we are very pleased, as are the Symington’s who have known and respected Robert Hill-Smith (Yalumba MD and owner) for many years,” said Moody.

“These are tough times for the trade, and changing times, and it works well for some of the great family-producing wine companies of the world to come together and work together,” he added. “This will add a real richness and extra depth to our portfolio.”

Yalumba will take a 10% share in Fells, joining family-winemaking stalwarts Torres and majority-owner Symington Family Estates, which will retain a 10% and 80% ownership of Fells respectively.

Yalumba has until now distributed its wines in the UK, including several wholly owned estates including Pewsey Vale, Jansz Tasmania, Nautilus Estate and Oxford Landing, plus agency partners Vasse Felix and Two Paddocks, through its subsidiary Negociants UK.

From June 11, when the deal is complete, Fells will take on full distribution of those estates, with Negociants UK managing director Simon Thorpe MW joining Fells as commercial director.

“It is very positive, from a business perspective, and the partnership with Symington is spot on, and at a time when others are finding it difficult or exiting the [UK] market,” said Thorpe.

He added that it is “sad to see Negociants go”, after many years at the helm, but that he was confident, with discussions still underway, that “a good representation of Negociants team will come over to Fells”.

Estates leaving the fold include agency wines Jim Barry Wines, which has already gone over to Hallgarten, plus Brokenwood, Rockford and Chaffey Bros., which have yet to find or announce a new home.

Yalumba’s Hill-Smith said of the move: “Our Negociants team has done a wonderful job in the UK since 1990, but the time has come to align our aspirations with a new market approach.”

Harpers was also told that the departure of Brown Brothers from the UK and thus from importer Fells’ portfolio, was unrelated to the decision of Yalumba to join Fells, as discussions were already well underway at the time.

The timing, however, is fortuitous, bringing some serious antipodean clout to Fells list, and not long after Fells/Symington made a £6 million investment in a new HQ in Kings Langley in Hertfordshire.

“We tend to go about our business quite quietly, but that was a turning point, showing a real commitment by the [Symington] family in the future and in Fells, and Yalumba coming on board is really exciting, adding to our reach for our customers,” said Moody.

In a statement released today, Paul Symington added: “It is with great pride that we now welcome the Hill Smith family into Fells, and we look forward to working with Robert, his family and their wonderful wines in the years to come.’