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Exclusive: Bewes and Saunders chart the future for Hallgarten and Coterie

Published:  20 December, 2023

The sale of leading specialist importer Hallgarten & Novum Wines from the Pieroth family has been five years in the making, Harpers has learned. Now, as it moves its portfolio of premium on-trade accounts and producers to Coterie Holdings, a new chapter is in store for both businesses as they look to bolster their portfolios and advance their march into the fine wine market, with Coterie, in particular, looking to establish its hold as a key player in the nation’s top restaurants.

Yesterday’s surprise sale of Hallgarten has significantly grown the stable of Coterie Holdings, which owns fine wine merchant Lay & Wheeler (sold by Naked Wines in 2019), bonded storage facility Coterie Vaults and wine lender Jera Wine.

Harpers caught up with Andrew Bewes, who will remain as Hallgarten MD, and former Bibendum CEO Michael Saunders, who officially joins Coterie as CEO on 2 January with the ambition of cementing the company's reputation as a market-leading fine wine group.

“I’ve known Andrew for a long time and have always admired Hallgarten,” Saunders said. “Coterie has ambitions to play in the premium wine arena and I like the fact that it’s a stable, well-considered private business. Chairman Chris Robinson is also super smart and really understands the business and its nuances.”

Bewes added: “I was given a brief five years ago to look to the future and to find the right shareholders. We went through a little bit of a beauty pageant, trying to find the right fit – we had proactive discussions with different parties and inevitably Covid got in the way – but what attracted us to Coterie is there is an ecosystem of businesses which are largely complimentary under one roof. We were looking to augment our portfolio within fine wine on restaurant lists over £100 and were sort of buying hand-to-mouth. Sitting alongside Lay & Wheeler, we see great opportunity.”

Keen to be poured on the UK’s most sought-after white tablecloths, the synergies for Coterie are clear, with Hallgarten offering access to some of the nation’s top fine dining restaurants. As Saunders says, these are “where premium producers from all over the world want to see their wines”.

The attraction for Hallgarten is clear too. With Lay & Wheeler already a customer, Bewes imagines greater collaboration – and possible crossover – between the two portfolios, though the deal has only very recently been inked.

Once the ink dries, there will be greater discussions about how the deal will work in practice. Though there is palpable optimism from both sides, particularly given that for many years, Hallgarten was not part of its parent’s company’s “core business”.

“The business I inherited when I joined 14 years was owned by a company which operated in 21 countries. Five years ago, the decision was taken to simplify and sell a few other areas of operation… so I’m glad we’ve managed to secure the business for everyone within Hallgarten. It’s always a key factor to keep the team together,” Bewes said.

Looking ahead, Saunders was equally optimistic about his next chapter. “In my 61st year and after 30 years at Bibendum, it’s fun to be starting something like this. I’m looking forward to what the New Year will bring,” he concluded.