Allied-Lyons close to sale of vineyard in Bordeaux

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The Independent Online
ALLIED-LYONS is near to a deal to sell Chateau Latour, one of the most famous vineyards in Bordeaux. The buyer is thought to be a syndicate of American wine-lovers. Allied put the 200-acre vineyard on the market last November because it was seen not to fit in with the group's strategy of concentrating on big international brand names.

In 1962, Harvey's, now owned by Allied, took a 25 per cent stake in Latour for pounds 250,000, while Pearson bought a controlling 53 per cent stake for a little over pounds 1m - shares it sold to Allied for pounds 58m in 1989.

Between them, the two British companies then bought the remaining shares from the descendants of the families that had owned the estate for more than three centuries.

Latour is one of the five estates to carry the accolade of 'First Growth' awarded in 1855. Since Allied bought control, Latour's reputation has increased, and in 1991 and 1992, both difficult years for the region, its wine was considered the best in Bordeaux.

The rumoured asking price for the estate was pounds 160m - more than 20 times the amount paid the last time a First Growth wine changed hands. That was in 1976 when the late Andre Mentzelopoulos, a Greek businessman living in France, bought Chateau Margaux.

Since then, French pension funds and insurance companies have bought a number of Bordeaux vineyards at steadily escalating prices. But in the past couple of years, the market has cooled, and none of the financial institutions seemed to show any interest in Latour at anywhere near the asking price.

The Americans are thought to have offered somewhere in the region of pounds 100m. The price may disappoint the stock market, but it will still represent a healthy capital profit for Allied.

The likely price represents around pounds 500,000 per acre of vines. The sale will also include several hundred thousand bottles of wine. In the 30 years since it passed into British ownership, the vineyard has pursued a policy of ageing much of the wine itself, instead of selling it en primeur the spring after it has been made, as is the normal custom in Bordeaux.