Murray exits as Inverarity Morton buys Forth Wines

Forth Wines' Ian Cumming, left, and Donald Campbell join Stephen Russell at Inverarity Morton.  Picture: Chris Logue
Forth Wines' Ian Cumming, left, and Donald Campbell join Stephen Russell at Inverarity Morton. Picture: Chris Logue
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INVERARITY Morton, the drinks merchant owned by whisky industry veteran Sandy Bulloch, has bought rival Forth Wines in a seven-figure deal that triggers payouts for investors Sir David Murray and Scottish Enterprise.

The deal, which was signed late on Tuesday night and which will be unveiled today, will create Scotland’s largest privately-owned wine merchant, with sales of around £75 million a year and clients including G1 Group, the Gleneagles Hotel and Saltire Taverns.

Four businessmen bought Milnathort-based Forth Wines from drinks distributor Matthew Clark in 2010 in a deal backed by Royal Bank of Scotland, Murray and Scottish Enterprise.

Two of the quartet – Alan Cramond and Ian Cumming – will join Inverarity Morton as finance director and commercial director respectively, while Ewen Cameron and George Thomson will leave the business.

Cumming told The Scotsman: “Over the past three years, we’ve returned Forth Wines to the break even stage. It’s been good to have the private equity funding but, to take the company to the next level of growth, we needed to bring on board another player.”

Stephen Russell, managing director at Inverarity Morton and owner of a 25 per cent stake in the business, said that his company’s current premises in Glasgow were “bursting at the seams” and so he would grow the amount of business passing through Forth Wine’s depot.

“We will continue to run the businesses separately in the run-up to Christmas because this is the busiest time of year for our industry,” Russell explained. “We’ll review the two businesses in the new year and look to bring them together under one brand.

“There will be some back office job losses in both Glasgow and Milnathort but I think that we will also be creating jobs in Milnathort to handle the increase in business.”

Russell said this is the fourth time he has tried to buy Forth Wines during his 38 years with Inverarity Morton.

“The first time was about 20 years ago when Nick Harvey-Miller was Forth Wines managing director,” Russell said. “We then tried again when the business was sold to Matthew Clark – we were the highest bidder and the preferred bidder because we’re Scottish but Noble Grossart, the bank that was selling the business, chose Matthew Clark because it had already done due diligence.

“We approached Forth Wines about 15 months ago but we’re told the business wasn’t for sale, but then six months ago we heard that it was.”

Bulloch is currently looking for a buyer for his Loch Lomond malt and grain distillery, although Russell remained tight-lipped over his progress.

Cumming added that Forth Wines would strengthen the company’s reach south of the Border – currently Forth Wines sells about £6m-worth in England compared with Inverarity Morton’s £1m.

Kerry Sharp, head of Scottish Enterprise’s Scottish Investment Bank, said: “By investing in Forth Wines, we worked alongside private sector investors to create economic benefits. The sale consolidates these benefits in a very challenging market.”

l BrewDog yesterday said it would expand its senior management team as it unveiled a £5m expansion of its brewery in Ellon, which opened in January.