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STILL UNDEAD: Employees Fume, Customers Fret As New Vine Bazaar Grinds On

While hopes had been high that New Vine’s investors would quickly find a suitable buyer, those hoped dimmed as the night wore on.

The process frustrated everyone involved, even as progress had been made by whittling down the number of  bidders for New Vine’s bones from yesterday’s 20+ to a more realistic half dozen or so.

Among the frustrated late Wednesday night were:

  • Former New Vine employees who are owed past wages began to vent their frustration on Internet forums.
  • Winery customers unable to lay hands on their wine grew restless while others boasted of replacement fulfillment houses.
  • Investors and bankers trying to find the best pre-nuptial agreement for a suitor or suitors.
  • Bloggers, Tweeters and grumpy reporters who usually watch Jeopardy! with their children.

NARROWING SUITOR FIELD LEAVES TOP PICKS IN THE RUNNING

While many sages declared WTN Services a winner early in the day, others involved in the process scoffed at the predictions: “There are at least half a dozen deals in play as we speak,” said a top player Wednesday evening who cautioned, “WTN is not the only game in town trying to get this deal.”

Indeed, one executive involved with debt financing said, new suitors were trying to join the process Wednesday afternoon even as others were dropping out.

WTN MOST OFTEN MENTIONED

WTN Services, a division of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. (NasdaqGS: FLWS) is considered by many as the front-runner thanks to the financial resources of the parent company and the existing network of other wholly owned wine companies and outside partners.

1-800-FLOWERS.COM also owns:

In addition, WTN Services has strategic alliances and working partnerships with a wide range of other vendors including New York-based wholesaler MHW Ltd.

IMPORTER MHW HAS ITS PROPONENTS

While some sources have speculated that MHW would be the successful bidder, it’s relatively small size makes that unlikely.

“In no way, no form, no shape, is MHW buying NVL,” said a knowledgeable participant. “Impossible.   Could they be the three-tier compliance solution for an acquirer like WTN?  Absolutely, since they already do it now.”

MHW Ltd.’s  non-client web site, www.mhwltd.com has been unreachable for several days, but, the Google cached page as of May 27 indicates that the Long-Island company considers itself:

“[T]he premier beverage alcohol service organization.

“As a national US importer and distributor for wine, spirits, beer and malt products, MHW provides foreign suppliers with a cost effective and efficient approach to conducting business in the US beverage alcohol market.

“In addition to Federal import and wholesale permits, MHW holds state licenses to ship wine, spirits, and beer to wholesalers throughout the country. MHW is also licensed to sell direct to retailers in New York, New Jersey and California. MHW provides all administrative services and regulatory compliance, including transportation, logistics, warehousing, reporting, billing and collection.”

EWINERY SOLUTIONS EXPECTS MHW TO BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION

While stopping far short of saying that MHW would be the new owner of New Vine, eWinery Solutions sent an email to all its customers June 2 that expressed its opinion that MHW would be part of the ultimate solution.

The eWinery Solutions email read, in part:

“There is significant likelihood that a deal will happen today for a go forward plan with the NVL facility and MHW.

This would save significant cost and hassle for clients using MHW’s licenses to ship consumer direct.

“Meanwhile, the existing NVL board has agreed to fund the transition plan and allow compliance to continue for June and shipments in the pipeline to go out this week.”

WTN PARTNERS WITH MHW

In a news release posted on BusinessWire on June 1, WTN Services stated that:

“WTN Service partners with MHW and its affiliated partners for three-tier compliance ease, as did New Vine Logistics. This service ensures three-tier timely compliant deliveries three times per week…and that New Vine customers could transition to WTN Services with a minimum of service disruption.”

UNPAID EMPLOYEES ANGRY AND VENTING ON INTERNET

Laid-off employees who are owed back wages have taken to the Internet to voice their anger and frustration.

A post on Wine Industry Insight from an employee calling himself John said,

“Speaking for myself and the many employees of New Vine who found ourselves unemployed as of last Friday, with no notice, no paycheck, nothing…we have one statement. We are outraged.

“This closure came as an immense shock to us all. We were told not to come to work on Monday, and that payroll was “to be determined”. Is that even legal?

“Since then, we have had no response from the company. Calls and e-mails are not answered or returned. It is like all of our hard work and dedication never really happened.

“While we do not expect to ever recoup our personal losses financially, on the principal of demanding at the very least some level of satisfaction by bringing the management team’s total lack of ethics to light, expect lawsuits. Plenty of them.”

Similar comments were posted at PinotBlogger.Com.

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