Bidders uncork offers in Seagram spirits sale

Prices may be too high for co-chair Bronfman to keep co. on family

NEW YORK — Official bids were due Wednesday for Seagram Co.’s giant wine and spirits business as the company moves ahead with divesting that unit ahead of a planned $34 billion merger with France’s Vivendi.

A pairing of U.K.-based Diageo and Pernod in a $7 billion bid is considered a strong contender, as is an offer expected from Allied Domeq — alone or in conjunction with Sweden’s Vin & Sprit. A management buyout had been discussed but is considered unlikely given the huge pricetag, which also discouraged Seagram co-Chairman Charles Bronfman from making a play to buy the historic assets and keep them in the family.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley Dean Witter is handling the sale.

Sources said Seagram execs will evaluate the bids next week, then move into round two of the process. That could take a month or so with a sale expected sometime in November.

The sale would bring Universal parent Seagram to the Vivendi deal, also expected to close this fall, virtually debt free.

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