French wine courts India and China

Tue Jun 23, 2009 12:15pm EDT
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By Marcel Michelson

BORDEAUX (Reuters Life!) - Caught napping by a consumer crisis after a series of record years, the French wine trade is lusting after the potentially huge markets of China and India as an outlet for Old World wine sales.

But this may not prevent a restructuring of the cozy grand family-oriented traditional wine industry with its myriad of chateaux still on show at the opening day of the twice-a-year Vinexpo world wine and spirits industry fair.

While such European winemakers are eager to export their wares to China, where sales are still small but growing fast, Chinese capital appears keener on buying into Bordeaux.

That message was clear from the announcement that Hong Kong firm A&A International was taking a majority stake in Chateau Richelieu in Fronsac.

Fronsac is a well-known French wine area which does not carry the same reputation as Medoc, but includes such wines as Pauillac, Margeaux, Saint-Estephe and others.

The current owner is former Dutch airline pilot Arjen Pen. For the "in-crowd' of the Bordelais wine families, Chateau Richelieu, one of the eldest, had already fallen into foreign hands and was no longer in the ownership of a "dynasty."

But then many of the local dynasties have had foreign infusions, be it in blood or capital, as the Rothschild families or the Suntory group can testify.

Simon Bradford, export director at traders Ballade & Meneret said the crisis will cut Bordeaux prices down to a level that will make them attractive to more consumers, but might also be the final, impassable obstacle for houses with shaky finances.   Continued...