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Feb 17, 2009 09:00 AM

Wines owned by corporate giants : yay or nay?

First a disclaimer:
I experience strong bias/prejudice/allergy/rejection against Corporatocracy.

As an example, I must confess I haven't been able to digest a Chateau Latour since the Pinault purchase in 1993. ( Luckily, that's about to change soon: ).

So fast forward to the other day, when I couldn't resist getting a case of the 2005 Languedoc Mas Belles Eaux "Les Coteaux". One star Hachette 2009, $17, "full of finesse ... aromas of smoke, fruits and spices ... with the required smoothness to accompany a lamb shoulder or a roasted hare". I didn't pay attention to ownership at the time. Who'd care about a small ( 30 Ha, 90K bottles ) property in 34720 Caux ?

Guess who? Nothing less than ... AXA Insurance ( )
One of the largest ( if not THE largest ) insurance conglomerates in Europe.
Owners of Château Pichon-Longueville, Quinta do Noval, Château Pibran, Château Suduirat, Domaine de l'Arlot ...

To make things worst for me, Belles Eaux seems to have improved dramatically since the AXA takeover in 2002. Here's a comment on the 2004 Les Coteaux:

"This Languedoc property was bought in 2002, and signalled a bit of a departure for AXA, whose mode of operation had been previously to buy underperforming grand properties with an illustrious history. Belles Eaux has serious terroirs capable of making great wine, but so far hadn’t. AXA bought this and a neighbouring property, combining them and then replanting with noble varieties, keeping just a bit of old vine Carignan. Yields have been reduced from around 80 to 35 hl/hectare. It’s still early days. A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre. Sweetly fruited nose with a distinctive liqueur-like richness and nice fruit purity. The palate is soft, pure and quite sweetly fruited. There’s some spicy structure and good acid to provide balance to the fruit, but the dominant feature is the almost exotic sweet fruit. Aromatically interesting. Very good+ 89/100 "

Adding insult to injury, wineanorak prefaces the above by saying:

"You might think that a winery being owned by a corporate giant is generally a bad thing for wine quality. After all, in wine small is often more beautiful, and when shareholders have to be satisfied the bottom line takes over from perfectionism and individuality. But a strong case can be made that the wine properties owned by French insurance company AXA have actually performed better since being taken over by the corporate giant than they did before.

Indeed, under the watchful eye of Christian Seely, the famous Port house Quinta do Noval has hit staggering new heights since becoming part of the AXA portfolio. Seely is now in charge of all the AXA wine properties, which encompass from a bevy of Bordeaux Château (including Pichon Baron and Suduiraut), Belles-Eaux in the Languedoc, Noval in the Douro and even a Tokaji producer (Disznókö). Their policy seems to be to purchase underperforming stars, invest heavily – taking a long-term view – and then reap the rewards. "

Suffice it to say, I have now this full case of giant corporate stuff lying in my cellar looking at me. Haven't had the guts to open one yet.
I'm scared to death having a sip form it and letting corporate venom into my bloodstream.
Next thing I know I'll be running out the door looking for ... what, Wall Street advice? Fund managers? M&A? Oi veh...

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  1. It seems to me that the issue is weather the "Corp" owner has the Quality or Profit motive as it's priority. Changing from a 35,000 case production to 500,000 indicates profit prevails and quality be forgotten.

    1. You can only stay "off the grid' for so long. Certainly, there's almost a smug satisfaction in supporting an independently owned grower. But corporate ownership is not always the kiss of death. Life's too short to limit yourself only to the decreasing ranks of independents.........

      1. For me, it is about the wine. If a mega-corporation allows a great winemaker with wonderful source fruit to produce wines that I love, I do not care who owns ti.

        I may be more politically correct with regards to my monetary investments, than I am with my wines. I only invest in companies that I believe in, and only drink wines that I enjoy. Besides, who really knows who owns what? May be Al Gore?


        5 Replies
        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Slippery slopes again. I suspect much of your house (and my house) is already tagged with the evil mark of globalized capital, whether we realize it or not. To which I say: and then what? Either give the wine away, or drink it without apology with the shades drawn. In either case, the sun rises tomorrow. And life is still short.

          1. re: bob96

            Actually, I drink it without apology, and often on my upper deck for the neighbors across the gold course to see. However, they would need good binoculars to pick out the labels.

            If it is good wine, and I enjoy it, I drink it. Some are from mom-n-pops, and some from major corporations. Don't even have an idea of the % is which, and with some of the corporate efforts, I do not know if I could even find out who is at the top of their pyramid.


            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Actually, my post was intended for the OP. Enjoy your glass.

              1. re: bob96

                bob96, OT, and not to single you out as it's often unintentional, but I recently posted on the Site Talk Board about how it seems as though many posters either post too quickly or just don't have an understanding of how the 'tree' structure works. I was told it's an "occasional problem" but I see it all the time.

                To respond to a specific post you have to hit REPLY IN THAT SPECIFIC POST. Using Reply in the last post (or ANY post) nests under and responds to THAT post specifically.

                Sometimes these things start major misunderstandings, but they usually just make following discussions difficult. I wish there was a simple way to help people get it right.

                1. re: Midlife

                  Well stated. I appreciate the ability to reply directly to a post. I lobby for the same for the Adobe Products fora. However, they can get in the way, if accidently used improperly. There are always up-sides and down-sides to almost any forum design.

                  OK, enough Site Talk - let's go drink the wines that each of us loves!


        2. Surely one of the strangest mixture of wine and big business
          is the ownership of Archery Summit and Pine Ridge by
          Leucadia National, a conglomerate similar to Berkshire

          1. Ideally I'd like to think all my favorite wines come frm small family farms with quixotic mad-genius winemakers. And some do. But many do come from portfolios of giants. One you didn't mention - Krug. If the company is looking after producing a wine of outstanding quality... then that really is what is most important.