Grapes of Wrath

Challenger Wins Battle for Wine Firm

The takeover was a vintage success.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If the new owner of Germany’s largest wine retailer decides to focus again on the top end of the market, he could revive the company.

  • Facts


    • Hawesko owns wine retailer Jacques Wein-Depot, and several other wine businesses.
    • The group achieved sales of €465 million ($541 million) in 2013.
    • Shareholder Detlev Meyer has just completed a takeover, ousting CEO Alexander Margaritoff.
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Experienced retailers know that wine sells best when it has an interesting back story – or at least features a wholesome picture of the vintner and his family on the label.

By this law Detlev Meyer is not a good wine retailer. No pictures of the entrepreneur and part-owner of Germany’s largest wine dealership, Hawesko, exist, nor are details about his family made public. “No pictures of me and no home stories about my family,” he likes to say.

But now the 61-year-old has found himself thrust into the limelight after emerging as the victor in a power struggle for Hawesko. This week, he finally took control of the firm after seeing off a challenge from Alexander Margaritoff, Hawesko’s long-time chief executive.

Mr. Margaritoff had inherited the company from his father and built it up from a tiny firm into a publicly listed business, which includes the well-known store chain Jacques’ Wein-Depot.

During his takeover bid, Mr. Meyer had offered Hawesko shareholders €40 ($47) per share, despite stock continuing to trade at €42. Mr. Margaritoff had thought €40 was too low a price, and tried, ultimately in vain, to find an alternative buyer. Meanwhile, his opponent stuck to his guns.

Mr. Margaritoff will now turn over his 30-percent share of stock to Mr. Meyer and resign in June. The share deal will mean the victor gains a majority of almost 65 percent.

Mr. Margaritoff will now turn over his 30-percent share of stock to Mr. Meyer and resign in June.

Mr. Meyer made his money in the fashion sector and was a pioneer of rapid turnover strategies. After setting up the fashion firms Cecile and Street One with a partner in the 1980s, he sold them to private-equity firms in 2004 for an estimated €1.5-2 billion.

He retains a stake in the Danish shoe-store chain Bianco and is a shareholder in Hannover 96, a club in the German soccer league.

But wine remains a passion. Through his investment vehicle Tocos, Mr. Meyer has a stake in Weinart, a dealer specializing in rare and high-end wines. The company also participates in Grand Cru Select, a trading company for premium wines.

This is in contrast to Hawesko’s strategy. Last year, the company halted its wholesaling of top class Bordeaux wines and, in response to continuing losses, closed its subsidiary Chateau Classic. It now no longer has any involvement in the premium sector, a position that Mr. Meyer may well reconsider.

The entrepreneur also takes a personal interest in the good stuff. In November 2005, he purchased the long-established vineyard of St. Antony at Nierstein near Mainz. Some wine experts include it among the best 100 vineyards in Germany.


The author is a finance editor at Handelsblatt and deputy managing editor of the paper’s website. To contact the author:

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