Pandas and koalas: Will a Chinese firm snap up a Foster’s winery?

By Jim Boyce

Chinese winery Great Wall buys Australian producer Penfolds. It creates South Wall Shiraz to sell alongside globe-trotting Penfolds brand Grange. The label features pandas and koalas hugging. That was this year’s April fool’s joke on the blog (kudos to reader PA).

But this scenario, at least the part about a Chinese firm buying an Australian-owned winery, goes from the “kidding around” to the “remotely possible” file following the resignation of Trevor O’Hoy as Foster’s CEO. States The Australian, Foster’s Chairman David Crawford “said he would head a review of the wine division that could result in assets sales“, with those assets including wineries such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Rosemount and Beringer.

It might seem unlikely that a Chinese firm would scoop up one of Foster’s major wineries. Then again, the past year has been a roller-coaster ride for the domestic wine scene, with Hong Kong dropping its wine tax, a Chinese company snapping up a French chateau, statistics showing more wine than ever is pouring into the country, and a Customs investigation into wine importers, to name a few events. On top of this, China is flush with cash – don’t forget China Investment Corp., which is neck deep in billions of dollars.

“While most commentators will look at groups like Constellation and so on as possible buyers of one or more of the Foster’s wineries, Chinese wine groups could be interested,” Grape Wall contributor Campbell Thompson said when I chatted with him last week. “Such a deal could make sense because Chinese wine groups are cashed up and could afford it, and they want the brands, history, experience and so on of a winery like Penfolds,” added Thompson, who manages The Wine Republic.

Perhaps the recent record-breaking wine auction Hong Kong is a sign of bidding and buying to come on a much bigger scale.

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