This issue of
Citylife

The Life of Wine

Mon Dieu and lashings of putain de merde! Just when I thought the world couldn’t go any more to pot, I have to wake up and find that a vineyard in France has been bought by a bloody Asian. Ma sang boubles. It seems like everywhere I look these days there are bloody Asians buying things.

So what’s caused one of the biggest furores in France since our Gallic friend’s had a small fit about the English being a bit quicker on bicycles than they are? Well, I’ll tell you: A bloody Asian has gone and spent millions over the asking price on a rather run down, fairly average, wine producing property in the insanely venerated grape-growing region of Burgundy.

Zut alors! This bloody Asian has only gone and bought Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin!

If you mention Chambertin to any wine freak on the planet the reaction is likely to be a slight awakening in their nether bits, a dilation of the pupils and a uncontrollable salivation and teeth jittering not seen since granny’s 90th birthday when somebody mistakenly ordered the fireman-stripper meant for aunty Margaret’s hen party.

Although the domains in this closely guarded enclave of France are, like any wine growing region, capable of producing average bottles of plonk, it is here where some of the most brilliant reds known to the human nose, tongue, and that gland that makes you talk pretentious arse after a few glasses, are made. See why every beret-topped, stripy t-shirt wearer is pissed off?

Like all decent, upstanding, far-right political parties are compelled to do, the Front National has exploded in a fountain of indignation that a foreigner should buy himself a new home in a country where he was not born. But, in la Belle France, by Toutatis! And he shelled out more than twice what the muddy field and pile of stones is worth.

Leader of the totally nonpartisan winemakers’ syndicate of Geverey-Chambertin, Jean-Michel Guillon, likened the buying of Chateau de Gevery-Chambertin by a wealthy Chinese businessman to a Frenchman investing in a 10, or maybe 50 metre, segment of the Great Wall of China. Baise-moi! Can one even fit a Carrefour franchise on a few metres of Chinese wall?

The completely unbigoted FN vice-president, Florian Philipott, has slammed the new lefty government for not doing more to keep the French property in French hands and supports the locals who came up with the world-beater of an idea of creating a ‘visitor centre’. So, a crap version of a museum, usually housed in a damp portacabin containing an inexplicable collection of arrow-heads next to a chateau nobody could be bothered to do up in the end anyway. Brilliant.

I do sort of understand why some French vineyard owners are being a bit sacre bleu about the whole thing. Burgundy properties have traditionally been handed from generation to generation – as if nepotism’s a guarantee that everything will be fine -and the sale of the chateau at such an inflated price has some costly implications for inheritance tax, too boring to go into. But hang on a sec, keeping it in the family used to be the case in Bordeaux, possibly the most famous wine producing place on the planet. These days one is hard pressed to open a bottle of Lafite in the region without poking a Chinese billionaire businessman in the eye with the cork. Has the wine suffered? Arguably, not a jot.

So, yes, while it is understandable that French protectionists are worried that Burgundy will go the same way as its conglomerate-owned neighbour, is it such a bad thing for the Ferrari-driving traditionalists of Bourgogne to have an injection of new blood?

Louis Ng Chi-sing, a famously publicity shy employee of Macau gambling tycoon, Stanley Ho, and Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin’s new owner, is not planning on turning the property into a theme-park or casino – to be fair to the French again, the ‘chinois’ are actually putting the final touches to a theme-park modelled on Saint-Emilion in the north of China, so their fears aren’t utterly unfounded – but to invest heavily in bringing the property back to its former wine producing superbness.

Yep, turns out this bloody Asian is already called Louis, has a vast collection of French wine and an equally impressive knowledge of the subject. He loves wine, is extremely rich, so he bought himself a vineyard. Go figure. And that’s not it. This bloody Asian has gone and hired a highly respected French architect – famed for his meticulous restoration of old buildings in the area – to rebuild a 900-year-old run-down chateau. He’s even secured the services of winemaker Eric Rousseau, from the acclaimed Domaine Armand Rousseau, to revitalise the knackered vines and generally take care of things.

According to his friends, Louis Ng doesn’t do interviews. However he has stepped out of his usual cloak of anonymity and delivered a statement in an attempt to allay the fears of his Burgundian neighbours. In it he promises he will do nothing to his new home except ensure that it is revived and, once again, produces brilliant wine. Something the chateau’s five-acres of vines are sadly failing to do at the moment.

At a time when nearly all of Europe is crying out for jobs, a bloody Asian is threatening to employ builders, farm hands and winemakers for many years to come and could, with a soupcon of luck, produce a fine wine capable of standing proudly alongside any of its neighbours. How dare he?

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