Leading Portland distributor Galaxy Wine Company is sold

Bob Liner was looking forward to a celebratory glass of Champagne with lunch — fitting after he and business partner Matt Elsen announced the sale of their fine wine wholesaler, Galaxy Wine Company, Tuesday morning.

The buyer was Wilson Daniels Wholesale, a New York City-based company that Liner said offered a hard-earned exit for the founders, both 64 years old, and assurance that their Portland-based company will remain intact.

Terms of the sale weren’t revealed, but Liner said the pay day was “enough to retire on.”

Retirement won’t come immediately, however — the deal keeps Liner and Elsen onboard for three years.

It also protects all 60 of Galaxy’s current positions, a priority, Liner said, “amid the craziness” of the wine distribution business.

Distributor consolidation has been rampant in wine in the past 20 years, even as the number of wineries has ballooned; there were 3,000 distributors and 1,800 wineries in 1995, but by 2017, the numbers had shifted to 1,200 distributors and 9,200 wineries, according to the trade publication Wines & Vines.

Galaxy was founded as the upheaval was beginning to unfold, in 1999, after Liner and Elsen sold their Portland wine shop Liner & Elsen.

While no behemoth, “we always positioned ourselves to be bigger than a lot of the little guys, so we could remain relevant and have enough trucks and everything you need to take care of customers, and not get gobbled up,” Liner said, and the company grew to become the state’s third-largest wine distributor.

Wilson Daniels Wholesale was developed by luxury wine importer and marketer Wilson Daniels three years ago. Its focus is on quality over quantity, featuring "family-owned producers dedicated to crafting terroir-driven, expressive wines with natural methods." But it also has deep pockets as a subsidiary of Young’s Holdings, whose Young’s Market Company, operating in Oregon and several other states, expects revenues of more than $3 billion in 2018, according to the wine news service Shanken News Daily.

“We wanted to make sure we partnered with somebody of like mind — who understood fine wine is a business about relationships and passion — and hopefully had the financial resources to weather all the craziness going on in this industry,” Liner said.

Chris Underwood, CEO of Young’s Holdings, said in a statement that he was "committed to protecting the legacy of what Matt and Bob have built in Galaxy Wine Company," while also investing in and expanding Wilson Daniels’ distribution capability.

Galaxy represents more than 400 brands in Oregon including dozens of Oregon and Washington producers, Domaine Serene, A to Z Wineworks, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars and L’Ecole No. 41 among them.

It’s a company that’s earned wide respect, said Chris Sarles, who managed Young’s Market Company for years before moving on to become president and CEO at Oregon Fruit Products in 2014.

“They are an iconic specialty wholesaler,” Sarles said. “They built a great wine shop, then went on to build a really cool wine wholesaler, with talented people and great brands.”

The Portland office of Zepponi & Company, the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based beverage alcohol industry brokerage, represented Liner and Elsen in the transaction.

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