As Chi­nese set­tle into French vine­yards, some in Bordeaux re­gion ex­press dis­may

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Adam Nossiter

ARVEYRES, France – The rab­bit – the “Im­pe­rial Rab­bit” – looks out qui­etly from the vine­yard’s sign, sand­wiched be­tween the fa­mil­iar words “Great Wine of Bordeaux.”

But there are no rab­bits in this vine­yard, im­pe­rial or oth­er­wise. Nor are there any “Golden Rab­bits” or “Ti­betan An­telopes” or even “Grand An­telopes” in the vine­yards not far away.

That has not stopped the new Chi­nese owner in one of France’s most fa­bled wine re­gions from nam­ing his newly ac­quired chateaus af­ter them – to more than a lit­tle con­ster­na­tion among tra­di­tion-bound French.

“Up un­til now, the rab­bit has not en­joyed a great rep­u­ta­tion in the Bordeaux vine­yards,’’ noted Le Re­sis­tant, the lo­cal news­pa­per in the re­gional cap­i­tal, Li­bourne. “The trend has been, rather, to erad­i­cate it.”

There is per­haps no place more syn­ony­mous with France and its tra­di­tion of fine wines than Bordeaux. Its lon­gag­ing, leath­ery blends of caber­net sau­vi­gnon and mer­lot, to name just two, have in­spired Amer­i­can im­i­ta­tors and are sought af­ter the world over, of­ten at ex­or­bi­tant prices.

Yet de­spite the protes­ta­tions when it comes to the Chi­nese, this story of in­va­sion is not nec­es­sar­ily a new one for the re­gion on the south­west coast of France.

For cen­turies, Bordeaux has adapted to for­eign money and tastes, with a flex­i­bil­ity that be­lies the purists’ con­tention that tra­di­tion is in­vi­o­lable.

Bordeaux ac­com­mo­dated the English when it was un­der their dom­i­na­tion in the 12th and 13th cen­turies, as well as the Dutch who drained its marshes in the 17th cen­tury.

It opened its cel­lars to the Ger­mans dur­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion, and more re­cently it shifted its taste to ac­com­mo­date the pref­er­ences of Cal­i­for­ni­ain­flu­enced Amer­i­can wine critic Robert Parker. Bordeaux goes where the money is. And the money is now with the Chi­nese.

“It’s a good thing there are Chi­nese in­vestors, most def­i­nitely. Be­cause there are too many pro­duc­ers here, and there’s too much wine,’’ said Nan Hu, direc­tor gen­eral of the Clos des Qu­a­tre Vents, the sump­tu­ous prop­erty of a state-owned en­ergy and real es­tate con­glom­er­ate from China. “So, we are im­por­tant to Bordeaux.”

In­deed, not all French here are so put out. One is Jean Pierre Amoreau, a cel­e­brated maker of Bordeaux at Chateau Le Puy. Is he wor­ried?

“Not at all,” he said. The Chi­nese were help­ing a lot of own­ers who, be­cause of high French in­her­i­tance taxes, of­ten can’t af­ford to pass their prop­er­ties on to chil­dren, he ar­gued.

“The Chi­nese have a lot of liq­uid­ity, so they are help­ing th­ese own­ers have a de­cent re­tire­ment,” Amoreau said. “And they are help­ing to pre­serve the chateaus.”

Jean-Marie Garde, a pro­ducer who heads the wine­mak­ers syn­di­cate in the sto­ried Pomerol dis­trict nearby, agreed, to a point.

“For the Chi­nese, we say, ‘Why not?’’’ Garde said. ‘’They are present, but not that present.”

Still, “We’re all a lit­tle dis­con­certed by this name-chang­ing,” Garde said. “And what’s a bit dis­con­cert­ing, too, is that you never meet them,” he said of the new Chi­nese pro­pri­etors.

Yet they have not been en­tirely in­vis­i­ble, ei­ther. It was star­tling, for some, to see the red Chi­nese flag float­ing above the Clos des Qu­a­tre Vents, within sight of the fa­mous Chateau Mar­gaux in the Me­doc, maker of the high­est ranked of all Bordeaux wines.

Re­cently, cel­e­brated writer Philippe Sollers wrote a re­proach­ful open let­ter to the mayor of Bordeaux, re­flect­ing the anx­i­ety cours­ing through the re­gion and protest­ing what some saw as au­dac­ity in chang­ing the names of his­toric chateaus.

“I’m not ex­ces­sively cu­ri­ous to know about the life of th­ese an­i­mals, never hav­ing en­coun­tered, dur­ing my child­hood in Bordeaux, the slight­est ‘im­pe­rial rab­bit’ or ‘Ti­betan an­te­lope,’ ’’ Sollers wrote. “Is there no way to reded­i­cate this wine to its le­git­i­mate source, af­fixed by the cen­turies?”

Loic Grassin, whose grand­fa­ther bought the mag­nif­i­cent white-stone man­sion of the Chateau Se­nil­hac in the Me­doc in 1938, was not too keen on the name change ei­ther, af­ter he re­cently sold to a Chi­nese buyer. He had never even seen a “Ti­betan An­te­lope,” as the es­tate was newly named.

“Look, I took it very badly,” he said. “They de­bap­tized it. It’s bizarre. An­i­mals, I’ve got noth­ing against them. But, come on, ‘Ti­betan An­te­lope’? Where are they com­ing from with that one?”

They are com­ing from a de­sire to draw an im­por­tant link to China, which has be­come the destination for some 20 per­cent of the wine pro­duced in Bordeaux. As much as 80 per­cent of the wine pro­duced by the Chi­nese own­ers goes straight to China and is never seen in France.

‘’This is not about tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture,’’ said a lead­ing French Si­nol­o­gist, Jean-Philippe Beja of Sci­ences Po. ‘’It is about mar­ket­ing.”

But he dis­puted that the strat­egy was in fact a good one.

“This is im­i­tat­ing ‘Made in China,’ which doesn’t even have a good rep­u­ta­tion,’’ he said. “The in­ter­est, for the Chi­nese, is to have some­thing for­eign that be­longs to them.”

Per­haps for that rea­son the Chi­nese in­va­sion has been lim­ited to per­haps 3 per­cent of the roughly 6,000 chateaus in the Borde­lais re­gion. The Chi­nese also have not bought any of the most cel­e­brated wine pro­duc­ers, opt­ing in­stead for the mid­dling and lesser­ranked.

The Chi­nese im­print on the style of the wine has been muted, too, in the view of lo­cal pro­duc­ers.

“I see no change in style,” said Amoreau. “No­body is go­ing to take the risk of chang­ing this style, for a style that doesn’t re­ally ex­ist,” he said, re­fer­ring to Chi­nese wines. The Chi­nese own­ers, in fact, leave much of the ac­tual wine­mak­ing in the hands of the French teams al­ready in place.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.