Bunhill: Alcatel-Alsthom

IF Pierre Suard wants to drown his troubles, he knows where to turn - to a bottle of Gruaud- Larose, one of the world's finest clarets, from an estate owned by his group.

Last week, the embattled chairman of Alcatel-Alsthom, the French electrical giant, was accused of fraud relating to a mere pounds 90,000 spent on two Paris properties.

To outsiders the new charges are less surprising than the generally cavalier attitude adopted by French businessmen to the range of businesses in which they feel they can invest. For Alcatel-Alsthom is only one of a large number of French institutions with investments in Bordeaux. Virtually every insurance company is in there among the vines. As is Garantie Mutuelle des Fonctionnaires, the fund which that provides pensions for France's millions of civil servants (GMF is now in trouble and would welcome offers for its jewel, Chateau Beychevelle, from anyone with pounds 50m or so to spare).

Three years ago, Alcatel-Alsthom bought one vineyard in Bordeaux, Chateau Malescasse, and last September paid more than pounds 35m for the much grander Chateau Gruaud Larose. Its 200 acres of vines in Saint Julien, 30 miles north of Bordeaux, produce up to 300,000 bottles of great claret every year.

France being France, no one thought it curious that an electrical group should buy a vineyard - a complete contrast to the furore when it was revealed that the shareholders in Hanson had helped support Lord White's racing activities.

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