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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

Societ Jacques Bollinger is to buy Champagne Ayala from French financial company Frey for an undisclosed sum. We have known the company well for 100 years as it is a neighbour to us in A. It has improved a lot over the past couple of years and the offer came up and we took it,' said the director general of Bollinger, Arnould d'Hautefeuille. The deal includes the brand, the production facilities, the stock and some grape contracts', but not the vineyard holdings of Ayala, which are believed to consist of more than 80 hectares across the region. These have been retained by Frey, which took a 40% stake in Billecart-Salmon last year, and has owned Ayala since 1999, when it bought the Champagne house along with Chteau La Lagune in the Haut-Mdoc. Ayala joins Chanson Pre et Fils in Burgundy, Langlois-Chteau in the Loire and Delamain Cognac in the Societ Jacques Bollinger portfolio. D'Hautefeuille said that Bollinger was planning to double the current annual production of 45,000 cases over the next few years'. He added that it was too early to say' if Ayala's UK distribution would move to Mentzendorff, which is majority-owned by Bollinger. Ayala is currently imported by Liberty Wines, which signed an agency deal with Ayala in late 2003, after an absence from the UK of several years. David Gleave MW said he had been extremely happy' with the performance of the brand since Liberty took it on. It has done really well and continues to grow. The quality has really improved in the last few years,' he said. D'Hautefeuille said that despite Ayala's improved sales, he still regarded it as a sleeping giant of a brand' and that there was an opportunity to move the price upwards without it becoming a direct competitor to Bollinger'. The deal still needs regulatory and shareholder approval.