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Bordeaux whines as rich Chinese give lucky names to old châteaux

www.thetimes.co.uk by Adam Sage27/11/2017  

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A vineyard in Arveyres which had been known as Chateau Larteau for 300 years has had a name change after it was bought by a Chinese investor this year, upsetting traditionalists

The vines around the village of Arveyres in the Bordeaux region have been producing quintessentially French wine since the 18th century.

There is nothing quintessentially French, however, about the new name given to the local vineyard by the Chinese investor who bought it earlier this year: Chateau Lapin Impérial (Chateau Imperial Rabbit).

The vineyard, which had been known as Chateau Larteau for 300 years, used to have as its symbol an august-looking white-walled mansion.

Now the signpost on the road outside features a cuddly-looking rabbit that is alarming purists who fear Bordeaux could face an identity crisis if Chinese investors insist on giving age-old wines a PR makeover.

Chateau Lapin Impérial is one of at least four vineyards that have been given names designed to please the Chinese drinkers who are downing increasing quantities of claret. Chateau Sénilhac in the hallowed Médoc area of Bordeaux has been named Chateau Antilope Tibétaine (Chateau Tibetan Antilope), according to the French company register.

The vines around the village of Arveyres in the Bordeaux region have been producing quintessentially French wine since the 18th century.

There is nothing quintessentially French, however, about the new name given to the local vineyard by the Chinese investor who bought it earlier this year: Chateau Lapin Impérial (Chateau Imperial Rabbit).

The vineyard, which had been known as Chateau Larteau for 300 years, used to have as its symbol an august-looking white-walled mansion.

Now the signpost on the road outside features a cuddly-looking rabbit that is alarming purists who fear Bordeaux could face an identity crisis if Chinese investors insist on giving age-old wines a PR makeover.

Chateau Lapin Impérial is one of at least four vineyards that have been given names designed to please the Chinese drinkers who are downing increasing quantities of claret. Chateau Sénilhac in the hallowed Médoc area of Bordeaux has been named Chateau Antilope Tibétaine (Chateau Tibetan Antilope), according to the French company register.

In Saint-émilion, Chateau La Tour Saint-Pierre is to be renamed Chateau Lapin d’Or (Chateau Golden Rabbit), according to the same register, and in the Pomerol area, Chateau Clos Bel-Air is to become Chateau Grande Antilope (Chateau Great Antilope).

The four vineyards in question all belong to Chi Tong, 62, a Chinese businessman who owns World Harvest Far East, a firm that specialises in cultivating vines.

Given that there are more than 8,000 vineyards in Bordeaux, his initiative is unlikely to change the face of the region’s wine. But locals fear that other Chinese investors will follow suit.

Jean-Marie Garde, chairman of the Pomerol wine-makers’ union, said he hoped that the strategy was “not going to be generalised. For our image and our notoriety, it would be bad if the names of great chateaux were transformed into rabbits and antilopes.”

The question of what Sud Ouest, the local newspaper, called “exotic names” is being taken seriously because about 40 per cent of the Bordeaux vineyards that came up for sale in recent years have been bought by the Chinese.

They have overtaken the Belgians and the British as the biggest investors in French vines and now own an estimated 160 or so chateaux in France, the vast majority in Bordeaux.

For example, Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce conglomerate, owns four vineyards, including the hallowed 18th century Chateau de Sours.

Bordeaux’s leading figures have given the Chinese a broad welcome, largely because they have pushed up land prices and renovated crumbling properties.

But there is concern that they will try to sell all their wine on the booming Chinese market, with damaging results as far as traditionalists are concern. They fear that Chinese investors will seek to win over drinkers in China by changing the taste of their wines as well as the names of their chateaux.

More than 90 million bottles of claret have been exported to China so far this year, a 22 per cent rise compared with the same period in 2016.

Vinexpo, which promotes the French wine industry, predicts that China will become the world’s second-biggest wine market by 2020, with sales growing by almost 40 per cent between now and then.