Rival Unwins bidder spoils Oddbins party

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The Independent Online

A private equity boutique has gatecrashed an attempt by Oddbins to buy Unwins, just days before a bidding deadline for one of the country's last big independent wine chains.

A private equity boutique has gatecrashed an attempt by Oddbins to buy Unwins, just days before a bidding deadline for one of the country's last big independent wine chains.

DM Private Equity has tabled an offer for Unwins in an attempt to steal a march on Castel, the French wine business that owns the Oddbins and Nicolas chains. A deal is likely to value Unwins at £35m.

Unwins, which was put up for sale by the Wetz family after concluding its future looked bleak without outside investment, picked Castel as its preferred bidder more than four weeks ago. But the French group is dragging its heels, distracted by the prospect of closing a much bigger deal in Eastern Europe.

If DM Private Equity, which signed heads of agreement with Unwins on Wednesday, succeeds with its bid, it will stymie Castel's attempt to gain scale for its struggling Oddbins chain. It would also maintain a Wetz family link with Unwins: Philip Wetz is a non-executive director of the AIM-listed wine producer Palandri, in which DM Private Equity has a 5 per cent stake.

Unwins has been controlled by the Wetz family since 1921, when Michael Wetz acquired it and merged it with Philips Newman, a wine and spirit importer he founded 28 years earlier. The continuing link is likely to appeal to Unwins's owners: Mr Wetz made it a company law that only his direct descendants could own the shares.

Michael Lunn, Unwins' chairman, has set a Christmas deadline for the sale. He declined to comment yesterday on the identity of the bidders, saying only: "There are still a number of interested parties." He added: "My job is to make a recommendation to shareholders in time for completing this deal by the end of the year and I believe this will still happen."

DM Private Equity, which is bidding via a special purpose vehicle, UW Acquisitions, could use the 387 Unwins stores as outlets for Palandri wines.

Other attractions include the off licence chain's 100 freehold sites. If its bid succeeds, it is expected to reverse Unwins' current strategy of taking the chain upmarket.

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