Wealthy Pour More Money Into Vineyards
It's the ultimate wine-pairing: your favorite red, and the vineyard where it was made.
The world's wealthy are pouring more of their fortunes into prime vineyards—from 300-year-old Chateaux in Bordeaux to cult vineyards in Napa Valley. Brokers say demand is rising for raw acreage as well as full estates with princely homes and prestigious labels that the super-rich are proud to call their own.
The growing demand, they say, is coming largely from one group: wealthy Chinese.
"I would say the Chinese are far and away number one for buyers right now," said Will Densberger of Pacific Union International, who specializes in vineyards in Napa Valley. "And after China, I say the biggest demand is Taiwan."
A rich Chinese buyer recently Napa's Bialla Vineyards, a boutique Cabernet producer, for more than $3 million.
Wealthy oenophiles from China are also snapping up vineyards in France, especially in Bordeaux. Chinese investors recently purchased the elite Chateau Bellfont-Belcier vineyard. Last summer, the fabled castle and vineyard of Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy was sold to a Chinese buyer for more than $8 million, according to press reports.
Brokers say the Chinese buyers are looking for secure investments and income-producing land. But they are also looking to capitalize on China's growing thirst for wine. Wine auctions in Hong Kong are now the largest in the world, and Chinese vineyard buyers are often steering their wine production back into the Chinese market. Often, however, the Chinese buyers like to keep their ownership a secret, since Chinese consumers turn up their noses at French wines owned by their fellow Chinese.
The buying spree has also led some French officials to complain that the country is selling off its vaunted wine heritage.
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Activity is so strong that Christie's International Real Estate has just launched a new global advisory service for vineyard buyers. The service, called Vineyards by Christie's International Real Estate, will help buyers find and buy a vineyard, and form a business plan to make and improve the wine production. The service will draw on the Christie's real-estate experts as well as their wine-auction specialists to offer a one-stop-shop for aspiring wine makers.
"We are uniquely positioned to offer this highly specialized vineyard advisory acquisition service and we look forward to this exciting venture," said David Elswood, Christie's International Director of Wine in Europe and Asia.
In Bordeaux, Christie's helped an American buyer acquire a vineyard, create a detailed plan to improve the wine and production. "I don't know any other company that has all that expertise," said Michael Baynes of Christie's affiliate Maxwell Storrie Baynes in France. "It is really an end-to-end solution."
Baynes said people should not confuse the mega-wines now selling at auction for thousands of dollars a bottle—like Latour or DRC—with vineyards being purchased by Chinese. The vineyards being sold produce more table wines and niche brands. But he said, "Many of the buyers want to improve and take their wines to the next level."
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—BY CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter: @robtfrank