Chinese wine makers cast their eyes overseas for vineyard purchases

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 3:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 3:45am

From first meeting to handshake it took fewer than 24 hours.

Hong Kong resident Pan Sutong flew by private jet to California's Napa Valley in May 2011, and flew out the next day with an agreement to buy Sloan Estate, one of Napa's most desired vineyards, for US$50 million.

The deal to buy from US investor Stuart Sloan was as much about personality as opportunity. "What clicked is that Pan is very similar to Stuart. He is also a businessman … and wine is his passion," says Harvey Lee Chi-chung, Pan's colleague.

Pan is the chairman of Goldin Real Estate Financial Holdings. The purchase of the Sloan Estate was "the first step in a 100-step process" to build a global wine business, says Lee, who is the group's vice- chairman. "We are long-term greedy. Our main focus right now is to buy top-quality properties."

The deal marked the first wave of overseas investment by Chinese investors, an attempt to profit from the country's growing thirst for wine.

No longer content to simply handle mainland distribution for foreign wineries, Chinese investors are now starting to acquire vineyard real estate in a wider strategy to control the entire supply chain from grape to glass.

The trend is still in its infancy. Patsy McGaughy, communications director at Napa Valley Vintners, a Napa Valley winemakers' association, says there have been just five or six acquisitions by Chinese investors in recent years, including the Sloan purchase. "I would not say that we've seen a particularly high level of interest from Chinese investors compared to investors from other foreign countries," she says.

David Guillon of French vineyard brokers IFL estimates there have been only about 70 transactions in France's Bordeaux wine region despite several thousand visits by Chinese buyers in the last four years.

Pan started working in consumer electronics manufacturing and distribution before entering real estate development in 2007. He started buying vineyards in 2011.

Since the Sloan purchase, Goldin has bought three vineyards in Bordeaux for €15 million (HK$157 million) and the firm has begun building two eight-million-bottle warehouses in China. Lee says they have their eyes on further acquisitions in France and the US.