Croft goes to Taylor and Gonzalez Byass

The Taylor/Fonseca team were in London just after the takeover announcement to spread news of their attempts to develop a mechanised alternative to foot treading in granite lagars now that labour is disappearing fast from the Douro Valley where all port is made. Their 'MacerPorto' for which they are acquiring the patent is a sloping-bottomed tank with a series of pistons designed to replicate the gentle action of dozens of sweaty feet. They served samples of the same lots of 2000s crushed in both lagars and their new piston plungers and the latter was certainly 95 per cent as good as the foot-trodden version, though possibly slightly more tannic and less obviously sweet and full. (The Symington – Dow, Graham, Warre – answer is a similar tank but square to replicate the lagar shape.)

Interesting figures for port students emerged of the relative size of all these operations, measured in terms of pipes of port produced:

This puts them in third position with 10 per cent of the entire port trade for the moment but since Seagram is in the process of selling off Sandeman with its much less specialist 12,000 pipe business, they may well find themselves in fourth position before long.

Perhaps more importantly for the top end of the business, the acquisition adds 60 hectares of grade A vineyards to the Taylor/Fonseca previous tally of 230 hectares. They, like all quality-minded port producers, say that they will continue to use lagars for their top quintas and for as long as is humanly possible, but claim that the new piston fermenters will markedly upgrade the quality of lower grade ports. Good-oh.

Good news for port lovers. The irreproachable family-owned house of Taylor (also responsible for the arresting quality of Fonseca vintage ports) has just acquired the sister port shippers of Croft and Delaforce which for many years have been languishing as a subsidiary of the multinational Guinness UDV, and previously International Distillers and Vintners.

Typically, the port house was quicker off the mark to spread the news than the excellent but sleepy family sherry producer Gonzalez Byass which will now control the Croft sherry business – although admittedly the port business has the greater potential. The following is Taylor's wordy announcement verbatim (though you can skip a lot of it).

The Taylor Fonseca group agreed today to purchase the Port interests of CD Vintners, owners of Port producers Croft and Delaforce from Guinness UDV for 28.5 million Euros. The purchase agreement is unconditional and is expected to complete on 10 September.

Taylor Fonseca is an independent family group owned and controlled by its current Chairman, Alistair Robertson. Its principal activity, and the main focus of its production, is premium wood aged and Vintage Ports through its subsidiaries, Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman, one of the longest established and most prestigious Port producers, and Fonseca Guimaraens, also one of the most respected specialist Port houses.

The group owns several of the best known wine estates in the Douro Valley – including the famous Quinta de Vargellas and Quinta do Panascal – which totals over 290 hectares of A-classified vineyard. Its interests also extend to tourism and catering.

This acquisition gives Taylor Fonseca exclusive ownership of the Delaforce brand and the company’s Port stocks and premises in Vila Nova de Gaia. It also acquires the Port stocks, production facilities and vineyards of the Croft Port company as well as the rights to the Croft brand for the marketing of Port worldwide.

The approach to Guinness UDV to acquire its fortified wine interests was made jointly by Taylor Fonseca and by the leading independent Sherry producer, Gonzalez Byass. Under the terms of the purchase Gonzalez Byass acquires the Croft Sherry business assets in Jerez, Spain.

Taylor Fonseca Chairman, Alistair Robertson commented:

'The acquisition of these two classic Port producers – Croft and Delaforce – represents a significant step forward for our company as it enters the fourth century of its history. It is particularly fitting that it brings together two of the oldest and most famous of the original Port houses, Taylor and Croft, both over three centuries old.

It also restores a historical link between our company and the Quinta da Roêda estate which was owned for many years by John Fladgate, Baron of Roêda, a partner of Taylor’s and grandfather of two partners of the Fonseca company.

We look forward to the challenge and enjoyment of developing these two great houses in the years to come.'

Although the Croft and Delaforce Port businesses will come under the same group management as the existing Taylor Fonseca companies, they will retain their own distinctive style and identity.

As Group Managing Director, Adrian Bridge, explained :

'As independent family producers we understand the importance of preserving the unique heritage and character of the different Port houses within our group. Just as Taylor and Fonseca have each maintained their individual identities and traditions we intend to respect the distinctive style and personality of Croft and Delaforce to ensure that the Port consumer continues to be given a genuine choice.

We look forward to acquiring the skill and knowledge that members of the Croft and Delaforce teams will add to our own three centuries of experience in the production of fine Ports.

The acquisition of Croft and Delaforce affirms our confidence in the healthy future of quality Port. We believe that wine consumers will continue to value the tradition and integrity of the great classic names. As a result of the alliance of these four great houses – Taylor, Fonseca, Croft and Delaforce – we will be uniquely well placed to offer the consumer the finest ports at every level in a choice of distinctive and individual styles.'

Meanwhile, Sandeman is still a subsidiary of the shrivelling Seagram drinks empire.


Croft/Delaforce 6,000
Taylor/Fonseca pre acquisition 10,000
Taylor group post acquisition 16,000