Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The chateau producing Napoleon’s favourite red wine, one of Burgundy’s most prized vineyards, has been sold to a Chinese gambling tycoon, sparking dire warnings from local growers of a “foreign invasion” of mainly Asian investors.The unnamed casino magnate from Macao outbid local vintners to pay eight million euros for Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin – a 12th Century listed building along with its two-hectare vineyard and pinot noir grapes.
It is the first Burgundy chateau to fall into the hands of the Chinese, who have already bought 20 Bordeaux chateaux and are fanning out to other regions as they seek to cater for rocketing domestic demand for French wine and art de vivre.
But local winegrowers are furious at seeing the chateau sold to Asian outsiders from under their noses, particularly as they had put in an offer of five million euros – well above the estimated value of the property of around three million euros. They want nothing less than state intervention to keep their wine heritage in French hands.
“I think France is selling its soul and that our politicians must react,” fumed Jean-Michel Guillon, the president of the Gevrey-Chambertin winemakers syndicate, who mounted the failed local bid.
“We are starting to say to ourselves that our heritage is going out the window because it is not the only [foreign] purchase we’ve seen in the area. I’m afraid that within years, Burgundy will no longer belong to the Burgundians,” he warned.
Gevrey-Chambertin is a village in the Côte de Nuits region of Burgundy home to some of the world’s most prestigious and expensive red wines derived exclusively from pinot noir.
Its intensity of colour and rich, deep flavours have earned it the title the “King of Wines”, which, according to the poet Gaston Roupnel expresses “all that great Burgundy can be”.
The vineyards sold with the chateau only produce around 10-12,000 bottles out of a total of more than two million for the whole appellation.
But for Mr Guillon, the sale is highly symbolic and amounts to plunder.
“I have nothing against the investor…but if we turned the tables, what would the Chinese say if French investors bought up 10 or 50 metres of the Great Wall of China?”
Jacques Dorey, a municipal councillor in Gevrey-Chambertin played down the sale, saying: “There is every chance that the chateau will be well looked after. The vines will be tended to by a local vigneron so it will change nothing in terms of wine production.”
Locals were already put out when a Chinese businessman entered a partnership with a local grower to buy two hectares of prized Vosne-Romanée vines in February. At least two other top chateaux are said to be quietly seeking buyers, insiders said, while another Burgundy landmark, le chateau de la Rochepot, is also up for grabs.
Kyriakos Kynigopoulos, a wine consultant and owner of Burgundia Oenology, said: “The Burgundians are very close to their wines and very attached to their land, however small the plot. They even frowned on a domain in Vosne-Romanée being sold to buyers from Bordeaux.
“They have made a lot of money since the 1990s and every time a piece of land comes up, five of them fight for it and it is bought within the day.
“Now all the talk is of the arrival of the Chinese, taking their land forever.”
The Chinese first started buying chateaux in Bordeaux in 2008, with some turned into luxury hotels for high-end Chinese clientele. China is now the biggest importer of Bordeaux wines with consumption up by 110 per cent in 2011 alone, and it is even building a Saint-Emilion-inspired wine theme park in the northern Dalian resort, due to open this year.
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