Q&A with wine industry deal-maker Robert Nicholson

Robert Nicholson is a longtime player in the world of wine industry mergers and acquisitions – most recently, his company advised Calera Wine Co. on its sale to Duckhorn Wine Co., and distiller German-Robin on its acquisition by E&J Gallo. But Nicholson considers himself “first and foremost, a wine guy.”

Nicholson, who grew up southwestern England and studied enology at the University of Bordeaux, got his first wine job in 1972, as assistant to the export director of Louis Eschenauer in Bordeaux, when the company owned Chateau Rauzan-Segla and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, among others. From there, he went to work for Seagram’s, then became vice president of Christian Brothers in the Napa Valley. After the winery was sold to Heublein in 1989, Nicholson decided to set up his own business.

Nicholson founded International Wine Associates in 1990 as a wine industry consulting company. Heublein asked him to help the company sell some assets in the Napa Valley, including the Greystone building that had been home to Christian Brothers (sold to the Culinary Institute of America) and the Oakville winery that’s now Napa Wine Co. “That’s how we started in M&A,” Nicholson says.

International Wine Associates has completed more than $1.5 billion in transactions to date – more than 60 separate deals, including prominent wine estates and more than 5,000 acres of vineyards — in California, Washington and Oregon. The company usually represents sellers and has worked with large multinational companies as well as small family-owned businesses.

Q: International Wine Associates mostly represents sellers. Why?

Robert Nicholson: That’s simply our preference. This allows our company to work with our clients from the beginning to the end of the transaction process. We take the time to get to know the sellers personally and to understand their businesses and what they want to achieve in a transaction. Our transaction process at IWA is highly personalized and confidential. Some steps we take with all our clients are the same; however, each project is very different.

Generally, this personalized transaction process includes first understanding the business thoroughly, valuing the different components of the business in order to help the sellers with realistic value expectations and help the seller to understand what the buyers are looking for in a transaction and how the process works. We assist our clients and their counsel throughout the process.

The entire Q&A was published in the September issue of Wines & Vines magazine. To read the rest of the article, click here.