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Spencer has Naked ambition for fine wine merchant

Written by on 14/08/2019

The City billionaire Michael Spencer is engineering a bid for the fine wine merchant being sold as part of its owner’s transformation into an online-only business.

Sky News understands that BI Wines & Spirits, which is chaired and part-owned by Mr Spencer, is among the bidders circling‎ Lay & Wheeler (L&W), a division of Naked Wines.

Shares in Naked, which until this week was called Majestic Wine, began trading under its new name on Wednesday.

The bid from BI, which was previously known as Bordeaux Index, would add another dimension to the privately owned business, but is understood to face stiff competition from an undisclosed number of rivals.

L&W, which has been owned by Naked for the last decade, is being earmarked for a sale weeks after the listed company offloaded its entire store network to Fortress Investment Group for close to £100m.

Bankers at Cavendish Corporate Finance are handling the L&W auction, with the business expected to fetch up to £10m.

If BI prevails in the process, it would be the latest wine and spirits venture acquired by a company in which Mr Spencer is an investor.

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In 2017, BI, which was established in 1997, and its chairman bought a 25% stake in Westmorland Spirits, the owner of luxury gin brand Gilpin’s.

Mr Spencer, who made his fortune by building the interdealer broker ICAP into an international financial markets powerhouse, is also an investor in Chapel Down, the English winemaker.

His stakes in the drinks companies are all held through IPGL, his private investment vehicle.

The completion of a sale of L&W will form part of the undressing of Naked to become a digitally focused player in a market that is increasingly shifting online.

The strategic shift highlights the pressure that Britain’s biggest specialist wine retailer has been facing from supermarket chains, as well as the broader headwinds afflicting high street chains in the form of rising costs and shaky consumer sentiment.

Shares in Naked have slumped by nearly a third in the last 12 months.

A spokesman for Mr Spencer declined to comment on BI’s interest in L&W.

 Sky News

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