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15 parties in for Lanson

Published:  23 July, 2008

The sale of Groupe Lanson (formerly Marne & Champagne) has moved forward significantly, and it has been revealed that there are 15 interested parties.

Largely overshadowed by the purchase of the Taittinger Groupe by Starwood Capital and the announcement of Starwood's plans to sell on Taittinger's Champagne interests, little has been heard about the proposed sale of Lanson since it was first announced in July.

Last week, the two merchant banks each acting for the shareholders in Groupe Lanson - the Mora family, which owns 56%, and the Caisse Nationale des Caisses d'Epargne (CNCE), which bought a 44% share for e38 million in July 2004 at the same time as refinancing the company's considerable debt with a e410m loan - sent out particulars and defined the procedure to be followed to the 15 potential buyers who have expressed an interest.

These prospective buyers now have until 6 October to submit an offer of purchase but not a specific final bid. After this opening salvo, a short list of serious contenders will be drawn up, with firm offers to be submitted by mid-November.

The two merchant banks - UBS from Switzerland advising the Mora family, and Lazard, who are working for Caisses d'Epargne - are understood to be anxious to complete the sale of the group - the second largest in Champagne in terms of bottles produced, and the third biggest in turnover behind Vranken Pommery Monopole - before Christmas.

With the 2005 harvest in Champagne just starting (see below) and Groupe Lanson wholly dependent on buying in grapes and vins clairs to make the 18m or so bottles it produces each year, this anxiety is understandable. The growers who supply Lanson had to wait for their money in the summer of 2004, and any uncertainty about the future financial viability of the company is likely to encourage them to sell elsewhere when contracts come up for renewal.

The 2005 harvest officially began on 12 September, with Chardonnay being picked first in areas like the Cte de Szanne but some anxiety about the later-ripening Pinot Noir as conditions encouraged rot. The crop is bigger than expected at the start of August, with the CIVC setting maximum yields across the appellation at 13,000kg per hectare, 1,500kg of which is heading for the qualitative reserve.