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Chinese Camel ready to grab the Tent

Posted: Thursday, 16 May 2013 14:08

Chinese Camel ready to grab the Tent

May 16: In what started as an attractive opportunity for the Bordeaux producers, the Chinese started buying fine wines and made news when a couple of years ago they bought the first vineyard in Bordeaux. Now they are gobbling up vineyards and Christie's has even set up the first estate agency for the Chinese to buy wine estates and the future is likely to see ownership change hands like real estate in countries like the US where there is free choice.

One of the childhood stories one remembers, relates to a rich Arab resting in his deluxe tent with the camel outside, resting in inclement weather. The camel peeps in and requests the Arab to give him just a wee bit of space to keep the head inside the tent. The good-hearted Arab first refuses but relents, taking pity on the animal. After some time the camel requests just a little bit more, the Arab gives in a little. The process goes on until the camel takes the whole space inside and the Arab is forced to move out because of no room for two.

Once may not be presumptuous enough to think that the Bordeaux producers are like the Arab and the Chinese are the camel but the die has been cast in a similar mould so much that soon it may not be easy to know if the owner is a Bordelaise from Saint Emilion or a Chinese billionaire from Shanghai. Only yesterday, the Drinks Business reported the Chinese buying three Chateaux in Bordeaux!

Taking advantage of the shifting economic fortunes, Christie's auction house is opening the world's first estate agency for wealthy Chinese camels who don't merely want to keep the head inside but want the whole tent; no longer would they stop at buying vintage wines but would like to buy the whole vineyards. reports Guardian.

Vineyards by Christie's International Real Estate – the "first global advisory for buyers of vineyard estates" – is opening in Hong Kong, offering a discreet consultative service for clients looking to acquire vineyards in the world's most sought-after wine regions. The move was ostensibly conceived to meet demand from clients at Christie's wine auctions in Hong Kong requesting expert advice in purchasing overseas vineyard properties.

The Chinese have developed a taste for the finest French wines and their extensive buying power has been credited with pushing prices for certain vintages to record levels. China is now the fourth largest export market for Burgundy after Japan, Britain and the US. The Regional Council of Burgundy moved its only marketing office in Asia from Singapore to Hong Kong, reflecting its desire to target Chinese demand.

Burgundy's attraction to Chinese investors is also reflected in visitor numbers with the number of Chinese staying at least one night in the province almost doubling from 38,000 in 2010 to more than 70,000 in 2011.

Meanwhile, China's love affair with Bordeaux has contributed to what might be considered a bubble in the fine wine market. During the last couple of years, demand from affluent Chinese investors has extended to owning vineyards which often come with a chateau attached.

SAFER,  the body that monitors vineyard sales in France, reported that of the 35 chateaux with vineyards sold in Bordeaux in 2011, 21 went to Chinese buyers. The numbers went up to 37 and 23 respectively in 2012.

"The Chinese are snapping up Bordeaux properties at higher and higher prices. It's a perfectly logical thing for the Chinese to do. They value provenance above everything else. A common scenario sees them buy up the vineyard and take over everything from production to sales, " says Adam Lechmere the news editor at Decanter who was a fellow judge at the recently concluded Concours Mondial de Bruxelles held at Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

However, some experts believe the rush among Chinese investors to buy vineyards may be mistimed because there are signs that Chinese demand for French wines might have peaked. The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 Index, comprising 10 vintages of leading wines, declined 9.7% last year after a 17% drop in 2011. Much of the decline was attributed to falling demand from Chinese investors realising that they had overpaid in previous years.

China is not welcome at several of the areas as they are traditional towns and are averse to outsiders. The acquisition of a vineyard in Burgundy last year by a Chinese casino millionaire caused an outcry among locals who warned that their heritage was under threat.


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