‘Under-the-radar wine estate for sale, Saint-Caprais-de-Bordeaux, château-on-steroids, 20 hectares of vines that are firing on all cylinders. Priced to sell, this turn-key opportunity is a win-win.’
In the business world, you call such a find ‘low-hanging fruit’ and then, you don’t apologize for the pun. That’s because in the business world you never complain, never explain while you overuse this, along with fifty trillion other painfully idiotic buzz-phrases. These I will do my best to avoid as I step up to the plate and take a proactive deep-dive into the next generation of right-sized Bordelaise wineries. Why? Because, colleagues, I’m a team player, that’s why—and that is the bottom line.
Chinese People Need (Not?) Apply
Having been booted in the economic bollocks like the rest of us, Bordeaux is for sale—a third of it, anyway. According to Philippe Laquêche, managing director of Yvon Mau—the century-old wine trading company, “People are retiring, and the younger generation in Bordeaux is more inclined to seek a career outside viticulture for a number of reasons, economic and social. Many Bordeaux estates would consider selling if they were offered a fair price.”
Over the past few years, such fair prices have primarily been offered to low-profile, non-tiered chateau outside the high-wire acts of the 1855 Classification; many vineyards being purchased are currently unprofitable and require an infusion of capital, and some, near urban areas, will likely see their fruit ripped out in favor of sprawl development.
But the trend that seems to be raising more hairs on the neck of traditionalists is the fact that French estate agents are receiving flurries of inquiries from foreigners, and, in fact, more than a dozen recent Bordeaux acquisitions have been made by Chinese investors.
For example, last April the nearly-defunct winery Chenu Lafitte was purchased by billionaire Cheng Qu and handed over to his 20-year-old son as a birthday present; Qu, who is now the largest landholder in the Sino-French cluster-bleep, plans to open a wine-based theme park. Movie star Zhao Wei—China’s Scarlett Johansson—recently snapped up Château Monlot in Saint- Émilion for something around €4,000,000, while Château Barateaua (an 18th century left-bank vineyard in the Haut-Médoc) was purchased by the Hong Kong-based Marvelke Wine Group.
The French newspaper Sud Ouest reports that such purchases are gathering pace and recent Bordeaux sales to Chinese buyers include Château Latour Laguens, Château Richelieu, Château de Viaud and Château Laulan Ducos.
People, let’s meet in the War Room—we need to wrap our heads around this. After all, when you peel back the onion, you find you have to spend money to make money; otherwise you risk solutions where you over-promise and under-deliver. No need to reinvent the wheel, is there?
Whereas the notion of an Asian invasion may blow a few Gascon gaskets, not everybody views it as a bad thing. France’s most extensive AOC (nearly twice as large as Burgundy), Bordeaux has 8000 producers and nearly 30,000 vine acres accounting for more than 700 million bottles of wine per year—overproduction plagues the region every time there’s a prolific vintage, and there have been a string of them so far this century. Prices may remain somewhat consistent for the window-dressers, but prices tend to fall for the non-collectable wines. What we call bargains, estates may call losses, and without cash flow, winery upgrades simply don’t occur.
Alex Hall, director of Bordeaux property at Vineyard Intelligence, claims, “[Foreign] owners are bringing in new markets. These guys are buying what other people wouldn’t be keen on buying; places where it is difficult to make money at a certain economy of scale because of distribution.”
He goes on to suggest that the love affair between China’s nouveau riche and Bordeaux is a phenomenon with no end in sight and that many of the new pied à terre honchos have extensive contacts in China’s hospitality industry. They’re simply ensuring an exclusive supply.
Hall says, “Finding a market for their wines is the last thing they have to worry about.”
I suppose I agree—a better-managed Bordeaux is in everybody’s interest, and if the Chinese (and Russians, and the Irish and the English—all of whom have bought land in the AOC) are able to energize this tired old terroir, the French will be forced to follow suit—or fold.
…Since this thing is gonna happen, I’ve slipped my business hat back on and come up with a customer-focused, directionally correct, high-performance, portfolio-contemporizing, intelligently-engineered campaign slogan to kick off ‘New Bordeaux’:
‘Better Red Than Dead’.
Hey, team—it is what it is.