Accolade's sweeping changes

The new owners of Accolade are making fundamental business changes. Jeni Port asks whether these will pay off.

Houghton’s Wines, Western Australia’s oldest winery, has been put up for sale.
Houghton’s Wines, Western Australia’s oldest winery, has been put up for sale.

0n June 1st last year, private equity investor The Carlyle Group acquired one of the world’s biggest wine companies, Australia’s Accolade Wines, for A$1bn ($710m).

Within months of closing the deal, it was clear there would be less emphasis on premium fine wine, as there had been under CHAMP Private Equity, the previous owner. A long-time Accolade employee says the change in focus became clear during a meeting with the new executive team headed by Ari Mervis, a former CEO of Carlton & United Breweries. “I remember they asked questions like, ‘With St. Hallett’s, why does it have to be Barossa? It could come from anywhere. It’s a brand,” he says.

It is no longer business as usual for the wine group, headquartered in Australia, which sells more than 50 brands, including Hardys, St. Hallett, Grant Burge, Arras, Petaluma and Knappstein, many of which are historic Australian names. Under CHAMP, the fine wine team focused on the A$15-plus premium wine segment. Under the new management, wines such as St. Hallett’s top-tier Barossa Valley reds no longer seem high on the agenda. Within months of The Carlyle Group takeover, the Australian-based fine wine department was closed. More closures and job losses followed.

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