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Row escalates over sale of Burgundy estate to Chinese
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Aug 22, 2012

France's far-right Front National (FN) on Thursday weighed into a row over the sale of a historic Burgundy chateau and its coveted vineyards to a Chinese businessman.

The sale of the Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin, a listed 12th-century building which has two hectares (five acres) of vineyards in one of Burgundy's top appellations, has already been attacked by local winemakers who had failed in their own bid to buy the estate.

"These winemakers should have been given some help from the government to preserve this national treasure for the country," said FN vice-president Florian Philippot.

The chateau was sold earlier this year by its French owners to a gambling tycoon from Macau for an unprecedented figure of 8 million euros ($10 million), according to Jean-Michel Guillon, the president of the Gevrey-Chambertin winemakers syndicate.

Guillon told AFP that a group of locals had attempted to buy the chateau with the idea of making it into a visitor and reception centre but had been priced out of the bidding.

"The owners wanted 7 million and they sold it for eight," Guillon said. "I hope this is not the start of a wave of foreign investors moving into Burgundy."

Unlike its rival Bordeaux, Burgundy remains dominated by relatively small estates run by winemakers who, regardless of how prosperous they may have become in recent years, regard themselves as farmers first and foremost.

Properties generally get passed down from generation to generation, making foreign ownership relatively rare, again in contrast to Bordeaux.

It is these cultural differences that explain the angry reaction to the sale of the chateau, rather than any innate anti-Chinese sentiment, according to Bernard Farges, the president of France's national confederation of wine producers (CNAOC).

"I understand their reaction," Farges told AFP. "They are shocked by the terms of the sale -- the price.

"This doesn't surprise us in Bordeaux anymore. We have had foreign investors in Bordeaux for a long time now.

"It's not a case of xenophobia. They just haven't got used to it yet. Some regions are more closed than others -- Alsace doesn't like outsiders either. In Bordeaux, we have room for everyone."

Jean-Claude Robert, the mayor of Gevrey-Chambertin, revealed that the Chinese buyer of the chateau was a Burgundy enthusiast who had engaged the wine-maker of nearby Domaine Rousseau to take charge of production on the estate.

"Like everyone else I would have preferred a French buyer but the good thing is that it will still be a local who is making the wine," he said.

"The wine will return to the top level which was not the case under the previous owners."

The row over the Chinese acquisition of a French estate has coincided with a wine-based trade dispute between Beijing and the European Union.

China is currently considering whether to impose restrictions on wine imports from Europe after complaining that subsidies offered to EU producers were unfairly damaging its own fledgling domestic wine industry.

The EU, which sold an estimated billion euros ($1.2 billion) worth of wine to China last year, has attacked the move as protectionist.

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