Australia’s leading wine auction house, Langton’s Fine Wine Auctions, has been sold to the country’s largest supermarket and liquor retail chain, Woolworths.

Owner Stewart Langton and all 20 staff are remaining with the 20-year-old business.

Langton’s is recognised for having defined the fine wine market in Australia, largely through its four-yearly ‘Classification of Australian wine’, and key auctions like the annual Penfold’s auction and in recent years on-line auctions.

Langton said that in its first year the business had a turnover of AUS$2.5m and that was now ‘many times’ more but neither he nor Woolworths would disclose the sale price.

‘Selling is something I never thought I’d do,’ Stewart Langton, 62, said.

‘I love the business and have been doing it for 20 years and I always said they’d have to carry me out in a box.’

But, he said, after rejecting many offers in the past, Woolworths had approached him last March. Talks got the point where selling was the best thing for him, his family and the business.

‘They can give me things I can’t get as a small, independent business,’ he said.

Woolworth’s – which has no connection with 100-year-old UK chain which has just gone into administration – operates the Dan Murphy’s and BWS liquor chains.

British-born Langton, 62, arrived in Australia when he was 14 and began studying wine while unemployed for nine months in the late 1970s.

In 1980 he launched wine auctions for Fowles Auctioneers in Melbourne, leaving after seven years to establish Lanton’s.

Langton is also a director of the Mansion Hotel Group and of Shadowfax Wines.

The next edition of Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine is due out in 2010.

Written by Chris Snow in Adelaide