p_00082391 (1).jpg

A procession of silhouettes in red capes slowly crosses the cobbled streets of the village of St-Emilion, on the rainy morning of Sunday, September 17, 2017. The new dignitaries of the "Jurade", the party celebrating each September the harvest, are inducted in the most prestigious brotherhood of the most famous vineyard in the world. Among these vine VIPs - winemakers, oenologists, merchants - a young Chinese, smiling to the ears, struggling to follow the procession as he snaps selfies with his golden iPhone. Cheng-Chang Lu, just 40 years old, president of Golden Field - more than 4,000 supermarkets in Asia and 30 million members of his online sales app - can not contain his ecstasy. "Today I enter the family of wine," says this businessman. Mister Lu made the calculations: "I will be able to sell a million bottles a year in my stores. Currently, there are too many taxes, too many intermediaries. So, owning Bel Air, I control the chain from A to Z. "This businessman attired in a three-piece suit is one of seven new Chinese dignitaries of the 2017 promotion of the Jurade of Saint-Emilion. It symbolizes these investors, both lovers of great wines and connected traders, who place their pawns around Bordeaux and transform the industry. Lu acquired Bel Air chateau in January 2017.Bel Air is on the list of some 150 vineyard properties in Bordeaux now under Chinese ownership. 


The robot style portrait of the first Asian investors, landed only a decade ago, does not really stick to the pedigree of newcomers. The local winemakers remember, mocking but a little resigned too, pretentious billionaires mixing grand cru and coca-cola, Ferrari mired in the aisles of the vineyard squares, so many express bankruptcies. "By far, the vineyard looks sexy, but investing in wine is more complicated than expected," says Jean-Christophe Meyrou, Peter Kwok's right-hand man, the first Chinese (from Hong Kong) to have managed to build a small flourishing empire, around five properties (the "K" vineyards), including the Château Tour Saint Christophe, a grand cru of Saint-Emilion. "Those who last, like Mr. Kwok, are those who rely on quality, relying on the know-how of the locals. In this case, they can earn respect, and develop a profitable business. Where the pioneers, sometimes ill-advised, worked in the shadows, stirring suspicion and rumors, the new tycoons of the red are more readily displayed near their cellars, or even play the patrons in the city. Thus, on June 18, the sumptuous Grand Theater of Bordeaux had an exceptional evening, sponsored by James Zhou, owner of Château Renon, freshly restored at great expense. This "king of packaging", more used, during these European stops, to visit in Austria the headquarters of Red Bull, which he packs energy drinks, offered all Bordeaux a performance of the Russian virtuoso violinist Maxim Vengerov. Unthinkable two years ago.

Faced with declining domestic demand, it is clearly towards foreign markets, and Asian in particular, that turn Bordeaux producers. After opening the doors of multi-centennial properties to these rich people, and turning into simple consultants, in order to make the most of the taste and marketing of bottles that have become an extreme sign of wealth in the Far East, as well as a Cuban cigar or an Italian car. Michel Rolland, the star consulting oenologists, made a brief stop in his laboratory at the end of a rainy September. The man who advises seven Chinese owners, including Cofco, the world's largest food group, appreciates these new business partners: "The Chinese are not here only for the show, they are primarily traders. Quite omnipresent, sprawling, and with extraordinary punch. Their success is indisputable. In spite of distrust, the economic power allows this intrusion to be accepted. Michel Rolland is easily provocative: "In Bordeaux, we still have 6 million hectoliters to sell each year. We would like a vacuum cleaner that would pump to the Chinese market. Nobody would be against it.
It is no coincidence that, at the last edition of Vinexpo Bordeaux, the world's leading trade show, held in June 2017, a lucrative contract was signed with the online trading giant Alibaba, to sell a maximum of bottles on this platform to 450 million customers. Even less surprising knowing that the emblematic CEO of the brand, Jack Ma (39 billion personal fortune according to Forbes) has also three chateau's in the region since 2016. Like Mr Lu, he masters the entire chain, from producer to consumer. Historically very open to foreign capital (American, British and Belgian in particular), the Bordeaux vineyard finds in these partners who pay cash a way to settle the succession of family properties that struggle to be passed on to future generations. In the case of the Bel Air chateau in Cheng-Chang Lu, the former owner, Patrick David - who has been in charge for 26 years - was tempted by the offer, without negotiating the price, since none of his three girls did not want to take over the business. The astute Chinese immediately hired the one he had just dispossessed of his home for a two-year contract, to facilitate the transition: it is now with a flock jacket with the logo of Golden Field that the neo-retired Bordelais oversees the first harvest destined, for the most part, to Asian supermarkets.


If the Chinese have not yet taken the most prestigious grands crus classés, it's only a matter of time, according to industry observers. And the suitors hurry to the door. No less than 200 potential buyers are in the address book of Li Lijuan's smartphone, aka "Lily", a key figure in luxury transactions in the region. Maxwell-Baynes Vineyards model agent, this energetic young woman, former star of "The Voice" in China, does not hesitate to push the ditty with her jazz band during the inaugurations, and moves heaven and earth to meet the expectations of its more demanding customers. "Here the owner did not want to sell to a Chinese, but the money has its power ... My customers of course buy the art of living in France, but impossible for them to produce the wrong wine, and that it is "They do not want to lose face," she explains, as she walks around the Chateau Milord, a charming property transformed by the new owner, Hong Kong businessman Edwin Cheung. For four years, millions of euros of renovation. Heated pool, karaoke lounge, and even a six-hole golf course in preparation. This businessman, who owns a cellar of 15,000 bottles of fine wines, has never settled in the chateau, located in Grézillac (between-two-seas). Everything from accounting to the size of the vines is outsourced to a local agency. And seasonal workers who do not hunt outside to pick up bunches will not find a single bottle at local wine shops. All production will be shipped in containers for China, without exception.
A drop of water in a giant market, the first export for Bordeaux wines, estimated at 628 million euros per year by the CIVB (the interprofessional council of Bordeaux wines), an increase in volume of more than 15% per year ... A market for increasingly demanding consumers, whose palates are exercised. Formerly reserved for gifts between high dignitaries of the Communist Party, the best vintages of red (the lucky color) are now prized by the upper middle class, and Bordeaux in particular (by far the most famous "brand") buy in a few clicks on dedicated applications. In the streets of old Bordeaux as in those of Saint-Emilion, the Chinese tourists came to visit chateau's and oenotheques as on pilgrimage, are now legions. The Grand Hotel de Bordeaux, the city's only 5-star luxury hotel, is not enough to welcome all its visitors to well-stocked portfolios. For some amateurs, the ultimate experience lies in producing their own nectar. This is the case of Hugo Tian, Francophile businessman who looks like a gentleman farmer. Emu in front of the bluish grains of the first harvest of his chateau Fauchey, acquired with friends last summer, he does not lose sight of the peculiarities of Chinese consumers

p_00082438 (1).jpg

The training, whether express or high level, the adventurers of Chinese wine also come to the source. Directly in Bordeaux. At CAFA, a private school located on the quays of the city center, more than three-quarters of students in international sommellerie are Chinese. At the Institut Supérieur de la Vigne et du Vin, a unique public training center of its kind, PhD students return home with a high level of cultural and technical background. Ready to apply ancestral recipes, boosted by biotechnologies. "Currently, we do not need Chinese wine yet: Bordeaux is all that counts for consumers of good red wine. But in 20 years, maybe 10, I think we will be competitive and the world geography of wine will be upset, "says Alex Lee, founder and CEO of Wajiu, one of the first Chinese importers in the sector. Beyond the sometimes coarse copy-pasting of chateau's built around Beijing, China is indeed the country that plants the most vineyards in the world, and has just overtaken France, with 847,000 hectares of total area, second in the world behind Spain, according to the latest score of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV). From the mountains of Yunnan to the Gobi desert, the best grape varieties from the Bordeaux region are tested. Far from the valleys of the Entre-Deux-Mers and the paved streets of Saint-Emilion, a new wine revolution is already beginning.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive