More Chinese cash flowing into French vineyards
The number of mainland investors pouring millions of dollars into French vineyards has risen sharply in recent years, but the trend has divided locals.
Critics are calling for wineries to remain under French control, while supporters have welcomed the injection of funds to rebuild infrastructure.
Between 2009 and 2012, the number of estates in the famous wine-producing region of Bordeaux owned by Chinese investors jumped from two to 25. The figure is now about 50.
"Bordeaux is more open to foreign investments," said Thomas Jullien, Asia representative for the Bordeaux Wine Council, in mid-2012, adding that "new investors have spent money on updating the winemaking facilities, equipment and buildings".
Kok Lam, the 46-year-old Hong Kong-based billionaire who is feared dead after a helicopter crash on Friday at a Bordeaux vineyard he had just bought, was part of a wave of Chinese investors who looked to French wineries for expansion.
The trend has caught the eye of France's money laundering investigators, who released a report this year highlighting the need for "increased vigilance" over the sale of vineyards to Chinese buyers. It noted a "growing presence of investors with ties to China" and that some buyers would use tax havens to hide the origins of cash used to purchase vineyards.
Chinese investors owned about 50 French vineyards in Bordeaux alone, said Jane Anson, a Bordeaux-based wine correspondent. She said Chinese were expected to overtake Belgians as the largest nationality of owners in the winemaking region once another five to 10 estates were sold to Chinese investors.
Another trend was that some early Chinese buyers were already selling their vineyards. "Some Chinese who bought a few years ago are reselling. The cycle is speeding up, and they are selling to other Chinese," she said.