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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: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol... ).

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 ( http://www.axa.com )
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 "

http://www.wineanorak.com/AXA_2004vin...

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...

http://www.mas-belleseaux.com/

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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?

        Hunt

        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.

            Hunt

            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!

                  Hunt

        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
          Hathaway.

          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.

            1. >>> I must confess I haven't been able to digest a Chateau Latour since the Pinault purchase in 1993 <<<

              This strikes me as bordering on the ridiculous. What is more important, the quality of the wine that's in your glass, or the fact that the owner(s) of the winery have incorporated?

              Quinta do Noval is only ONE example of how a very famous winery (once deservedly so, but having fallen far from grace) has been revitalized and dramatically improved when a new owner -- who just happens to be a corporation -- takes the helm.

              AXA has done a BRILLIANT job with the wineries it controls, but they are only one example. Moët-Hennessy controls a bevy of major brands, from Moët & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot, Krug, Ruinart, and Mercier Champagnes, to Château d'Yquem, Cloudy Bay, Cape Mentelle, and Chandon sparkling wine producers in California, Australia, and Argentina. Beringer would have died long ago were it not for its resurrection under the ownership of Nestlé's; today, they once again produce one of California's best Cabernets, and a host of other, successful wines. The list goes on and on . . . .

              For me, the question is not "corporate ownership." Sure, if __________ corporation produces nice wines but also exploits child labor in the third world to make running shoes, I might not buy their running shoes . . . OR their wine. But the question, as you pose it, is like saying, "Corporate ownership is synonymous with being in league with the Devil, PERIOD. It's black-and-white, cut-and-dried, no ifs, ands or buts."

              And that dogmatic approach strikes me as silly.

              Cheers,
              Jason

              10 Replies
                1. re: RicRios

                  Fortunately, I don't have any . . . nor am I concerned about "letting corporate venom into my bloodstream." I'm much more concerned about the quality of what's in my glass.

                2. re: zin1953

                  >>> I must confess I haven't been able to digest a Chateau Latour since the Pinault purchase in 1993 <<<

                  "This strikes me as bordering on the ridiculous. What is more important, the quality of the wine that's in your glass, or the fact that the owner(s) of the winery have incorporated?
                  ...
                  Sure, if __________ corporation produces nice wines but also exploits child labor in the third world to make running shoes, I might not buy their running shoes . . . OR their wine. "

                  Well, guess what:
                  1) Francois Pinault (or rather, his holding company Artemis SA) owns Chateau Latour.
                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%...

                  2) Artemis owns Converse shoes as well, a subsidiary of Nike.
                  ( reference above, plus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Converse... )

                  3) Nike has admitted of "employing children in Third World countries but added that ending the practice might be difficult".
                  http://www.commondreams.org/headlines...

                  Bordering on the ridiculous?
                  Maybe for you, Jason, but not for me.
                  Differences of opinions, I guess.

                  1. re: RicRios

                    RicRios -

                    While I don’t share your same degree of fervency where corporate ownership is involved, I do think that the qualitative aspects of wine extend well beyond simply what is in your glass, and if corporate ownership detracts from your enjoyment, it is a perfectly sound reason for avoiding such wine.

                    Further, I would argue that the approach of “wine quality before all else” is at best boring, and at worst the progenitor of the sort of global sameness I see in wine today.

                      1. re: Sam B

                        You know Sam, the "wine quality" IS what does it for me. I will assure you that my life is anything but boring.

                        I'll let others do their political protests in Union Square, while I enjoy MY wines. Since I lived through the '60s, I can definitely say, "been there, done that," and also tell you it isn't the big deal that too many nowadays make of it.

                        In the end, I'll enjoy what I like, and you are perfectly free to boycott what you wish to.

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          No need to go political here. Wine quality does it for me as well, but I include aspects that fall outside of the glass. To limit your criteria for choosing wine to fruit, alcohol, acidity, balance of those things, etc. is to miss out on so much of what makes wine special.

                          For me, the experience of a glass of wine includes to a large degree, all of the associations that accompany it. So for instance, if I were picking a Chablis from a wine list, and my options were say Fevre, or Tribut, I’d pick the Tribut nearly every time, even if I thought the Fevre was marginally “better”, because it would remind me of the wonderful time I had lunching in the Tribut’s tiny kitchen many years ago. I’ll order Pieropan Soave (especially Calvarino) any time I see it because it reminds me of a dear old friend who passed away too soon, and had a weak spot for this wine. I love funky Aglianico based wines because they are a touchstone for all things Italian for me, and serve as a tangible counterpoint to squeaky-clean, over-ripe, high-octane, belly busters coming out of Napa, the Barossa, Priorat, and sadly Bordeaux.

                          Lastly, I’ll always seek out wines produced by people I like, because I have found that there is a human component to terroir that is every bit as important as those site-specific characteristics that come from soil, climate, and exposure.

                          Cheers

                          1. re: Sam B

                            i'm in full agreeance sam b. if you put it in that perspective, it comes down to making a decision based on certain offerings. if i'm in a restaurant or wine shop and i'm looking for a specific wine, what sticks out at me is not the brand but the connection. if i'm looking for some interesting rhone wine and luis bernard chateauneuf du pape or les cailloux, i'm grabbing les cailloux.... fell in love with the wines after a trip through the rhone.

                            1. re: Sam B

                              I find nothing wrong with intrinsic values being attached to one's choice of wines. Actually, just before I posted, I had been sipping from the portfolio of Fevre - the "about to be released" vintages of their portfolio, along with these were the newest vintages from Bouchard. Many of these brought back very fond memories, as I have enjoyed many of the higher-end ones at diners with my wife - the memories flooded in, as I tried to fix the name of each restaurant, where one of these (earlier vintages) was experienced, while I tried to take notes and decide on the quantity to pre-order.

                              No, I do attach much beyond the wine - memories do play into it. I was too quick to talk only of the wine in the glass. Other factors do get weighed. However, for me, the politics of things often continents away, do not carry as much weight. I also would rather pour over the portfolio of a winemaker, than the 10K for some holding company, that might own them.

                              Now, RicRios felt differently, and shared those motivations with us. The motivations work perfectly for RicRios and I respect that, and appreciate the sharing of them. The question was then asked, how would we be motivated (a strong paraphrase, but I think that was the gist).

                              We are each, and all, entitled to our motivators, whether anyone else agrees, or disagrees, with those - they are personal and have been formulated during our lives. What is "right" for me, may not work at all, for another. Still, the motivations are personal, and if they work for the individual, they work.

                              Sorry if I got too political. That should never have come into a discussion on wine. I accept the responsibility for going off-topic.

                              Hunt

                        2. re: RicRios

                          Before this gets off too far I think I should question whether it is true that "Artemis owns Converse". As far as I can tell Nike purchased Converse a few years ago. It had been privately owned since 1994, and there is no ownership connection I can find to Pinault. Artemis may have owned Converse, through some other company holdings, but they don't seem to now. I know Wikipedia says it's true but that quote says "owns (or OWNED". Looks like Chateau Latour is OK on this one.

                      2. ricrios... i'm not big into drinking the corporate stuff either. i'd rather support the farmer than the guy in a suit behind a desk any day. quality is obviously paramount but i much prefer drinking something with a soul.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: cockscomb

                          You think Quinta do Noval has no soul? Hmmmm . . . .

                          1. re: zin1953

                            didn't say anything specific... not picking on noval. cheers

                          2. re: cockscomb

                            What seems to be lost in the quest for a non-corporate wine is that most corporate wines are made by real winemakers with real passion. What they do have is a corporate marketing department, maybe some much needed capital. What they also may have will be "bottom line baggage," but that usually shows in the wines. Corporate ownership can come in many flavors - some great, and some not so good. Like I said, to me (very important distinction), it is about the wine. Trust me, when I share that there are many winemakers, who produce in a corporately owned winery, who pour their heart and their soul into their wine. To dismiss these folk out of hand is narrow minded. This is not to say that support of grass-roots wineries is wrong, in any way. They too put their hearts and souls into the wines. In the end, it is about the wine (again, "for me").

                            Can corporate purchase of a winery be a bad thing? YES, and in a NY minute. However, it doesn't happen with all and all of the time.

                            Heck, I smoke Cuban cigars, and do not support Castro, nor do I ascribe to his (and his regime's) policies. However, I can taste the love that has gone into these too. Personally, I'd like to see the embargo lifted, and the workers reaping some of the benefits.

                            Hunt

                          3. I also strive to direct my dollars towards independent and local businesses whenever possible, but I have to say honestly IMO many of the best tasting and best value wines are in fact made by subsidiaries of the mega corporations. Almost anything from Chile or Australia, for example. I'll continue to seek out small and autonomous producers, but more for ethical/ political than taste reasons.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Northpark

                              glad there are others who aim to support the "little guys"

                              i would respectfully disagree that many of the best tasting and best value wines are made by subsidiaries of mega corporations. if you speak of south american wines, those from uraguay are equally great value and not from any mega corp. hundreds of great wines from southern france are excellent value as well as all over italy you can find great deals. they aren't necessarily produced by big companies. i think that is a misconception that more good value wine comes from big conglomerates.

                              1. re: cockscomb

                                IMHO, this issue is not about quality, but about principle. If one has strong feelings about corporatized commerce, in whatever area, there are certainly alternatives. We can't assume the alternatives won't necessarily (taste, fit, smell) better or worse, and this is not, in the end, the point. My defaults on everyday wine are usually for local/small/midsize, and I'll even pass by, say, a new Salice Salentino when I notice from the back label it's been produced by one of the big Verona houses. But that's a personal twitch, and not one that prevents me from spending money elsewhere. There's more than enough taste and quality to go around to suit every consumer's political perspective.

                                1. re: bob96

                                  hmm... which verona houses are producing salice salentino?

                                    1. re: Sam B

                                      Might be. I know I've seen some new (relatively inexpensive) Salento labels, and on at least one noticed a VR producer code on the back, no indication of anything Pugliese beyond the name . Same holds for some inexpensive nero d'avolas. I'll check, but not surprising that bigger houses (Tuscan, too) are sourcing less expensive southern wines for an export market that apparently wants them.

                                      1. re: bob96

                                        pasqua in fact is one... definitely not suprising , just wondering. dievole is a tuscan property that has a little sicilian project.

                                2. re: cockscomb

                                  Before we get too far afield, the discussion had nothing to do with wines from Uruguay, nor in fact "great value" wines of any kind.

                                  In an attempt to retain an "apples-to-apples" comparison, the first wine mentioned by the OP is Château Latour, a 1st Growth Bordeaux, and arguably the best of the five. Château Pichon Baron? Château Suduiraut? Again, very expensive Bordeaux estates.

                                  Cheers,
                                  Jason

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    zin... look above. my uraguay comment was in response to northpark's comment: "Almost anything from Chile or Australia, for example." had nothing to do with latour.
                                    as well, when the original post is not soley about first growth bordeaux, i think it's fair enough to speak about other wines such as ricrios also mentions in his original post:
                                    "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 ?"

                                    so i'm not sure why your apples don't quite match up with my apples?????

                              2. "As an example, I must confess I haven't been able to digest a Chateau Latour since the Pinault purchase in 1993."

                                Try the '96 and you'll forget about the exploited children in China.

                                1. who cares who owns the company? they could be thousands of miles away from the vineyards and have nothing to do with the juice itself. i say, let them write their checks.
                                  you speak of corporate venom? receiving said infection from wine my good sir, should be the last of your worries.
                                  what kind of car do you drive? what news paper do you read? where do you buy your groceries, hair products, power tools? what kind of chap stick do you use? dish soap? floor cleaner? what kind of insulation lines the walls in your home? the list of corporate monoliths in your life despite your best attempts might surprise you. the joy, beauty and quality of the wine is in the grape and the technique of the wine making itself, not who owns the company. get over it. don't over analyze it. pop it open. sniff it. swirl it. sip it. do you like it? then who gives a shit.
                                  life is too short. you are going to give yourself an aneurism. wine is supposed to be a part of every day life, enjoyed, not quibbled over. the essence of winemaking is the art of the making of the wine, period.
                                  i assure you, the ceo of GM isn't in france at some chateau that they may or may not own, during harvest, blending grenache, syrah and mourvere in a beaker and "saying, "okay boys, that's it, bottle the stuff, and add a little cocaine to get these morons hooked".
                                  as long as they (the corporate owners) don't go the rout of changing the focus from quality/ small production to lower qulaity / large production/ profit margin -which happens all to often ( mostly with lower quality mass yield wineries any way that seem below your elevated tastes any way), there really isn't any good reason to kvetch.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: wineninja

                                    wineninja... i don't think ricrios is kvetching. it's a choice. i think a lot of people care for a lot of different reasons.
                                    it's never a guarantee of quality choosing between large corporations and small family run operations but more of a moral choice
                                    as well to say life is too short and you're going to give yourself an aneurism is a little over the edge. we have a choice. "what's yours" is what ricrios is initially asking. you don't have to agree with the other side.
                                    this thread is about which side do you choose when it comes to wine. nothing mentioned above of how you live your everday life.
                                    i find bigger companies useful for a lot of things however, when deciding what i want to sniff, swirl and sip, i'd rather go for a wine that wasn't mass produced. that's it

                                  2. Doesn't some tobacco company own Columbia Crest?