Quelle horreur! Famed Burgundy château goes to Chinese buyer
Friday 24 August 2012
A Chinese gambling tycoon has infuriated Burgundy wine producers by buying a château carrying one of the most prestigious names in French wine.
The unnamed businessman, who owns casinos in Macao, has paid €8m, twice the locally estimated value, for the 12th century château de Gevrey-Chambertin and five acres of vines.
Although his purchase represents only a tiny fraction of the 1,000 acres of vines allowed to use the Gevrey-Chambertin title, local wine producers are stunned. Burgundian vineyards are divided into a mosaic of family ownerships going back for centuries. They are seldom sold to outsiders.
Chinese investors have snapped up dozens of châteaux in Bordeaux in recent years but none with names as prestigious as Gevrey-Chambertin. They have never previously bought more than a few small plots in Burgundy.
“It is a despoliation. Our heritage is going out of the window,” said Jean-Michel Guillon, president of the union of Gevrey-Chambertin wine producers. “How would the Chinese feel if a French investor bought 10 metres, or 50 metres, of the Great Wall of China?”
Gevrey-Chambertin is one of two villages in the Côte d'Or vineyards north of Beaune which is allowed to use “Chambertin” in its title. The Chambertin vineyards proper, covering only a few acres, produce one of the most prized and expensive red wines in the world, selling at over €100 a bottle.
Chambertin was one of the favourite drinks of the Emperor Napoleon. The Franco-British humourist and writer Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) once said that the best day of his life was spent floating down a river with a girlfriend drinking red wine. “I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin,” he said.
The Gevrey-Chambertin vineyards, extending over more than 1,000 acres, produce an excellent, but less expensive, red wine. The five acres bought with the château include small plots of the Grand Cru and Premier Cru “Chambertin” vineyards. The rest carries the more generic title Gevrey-Chambertin.
The purchase was completed last May but made public this week. The château and its vines had been owned by a local family for 150 years. The property was valued locally at €3.5m. The wine producers' union offered €5m to stop it falling into foreign hands. The sale was completed for €8m.
The name of the new owner has not been revealed but he is said to have casinos and other gambling interests in Macao. The château produces 12,000 bottles of wine a year, most of which is sold directly from the property itself.
Two Gevrey-Chambertin wine producers have agreed to manage the vineyard. It remains unclear what the new owner intends to do with the château, which is a listed building.
A growing Chinese taste for French wine, especially Bordeaux, has helped to maintain the price levels of the best French wines in recent years. Despite a slump in the wider wine market, sales of French vineyards have doubled in the last two decades and the average price per hectare has tripled, according to a recent report.
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