Burgundy dons a bowler hat to head for the City
The Sunday Times November 15, 2014
A FAMILY of winemakers from Burgundy will descend on a prestigious club in St James’s, central London, next week. They will be uncorking some of their finest bottles to whet investors’ appetites for what is believed to be the first flotation of a French vineyard on the London stock exchange.
On this, their first visit to the city, Jean-Baptiste Jessiaume, 25, and his uncle Pascal will take their wine to the Travellers Club and the stock exchange for tastings next Tuesday and Wednesday. They are hoping to float their vineyard, Domaine Chanzy, by the end of the year to boost exports.
In Bouzeron, the tiny village where the wine is made, there was excited chatter last week at the prospect of hordes of British shareholders dropping in to inspect the vignoble on their way back from skiing.
“Investors will of course be entitled to special discounts,” explained the junior Jessiaume, Burgundy’s young winemaker of the year in 2012 and general director of Domaine Chanzy.
While his uncle tends to the vines, the younger Jessiaume indulges an innovative streak in the cellars, playing music by Mozart to encourage smooth fermentation.
“We believe Mozart has a beneficial effect on the process,” he said, as the Serenade in G major sounded among the oak barrels. “Tests have been done that prove it.”
Compared with other wine regions, Burgundy has traditionally produced small quantities of wine from tiny plots of vines tended by peasant vignerons (winemakers): the Jessiaumes have been making wine in the region since the early 19th century.
After three years of lower-than-usual production, a thirst for the region’s produce is now growing. Or as the wine critic Jancis Robinson put it: “You have a very small honeypot and an increasingly large and excited swarm of bees.”
Domaine Chanzy wants to raise up to £5m on the stock exchange and may even open a shop in London in the hope of making its red and white premiers crus the favourite tipple of oenophile rosbifs.
“England is the biggest buyer of Burgundy in the world,” said Philippe Der Megreditchian, one of the owners of Domaine Chanzy. “It’s good to be based there; London is more of a shopfront than Paris.”
Some believe an increasing appetite for Burgundy, which makes 37 of the world’s 50 most expensive wines, could transform its character and turn it into another Bordeaux. There the vineyards are increasingly owned by banks, insurance companies or Chinese investors and are run by executives in expensive suits rather than peasant vignerons.
“In 50 years’ time Burgundy will have evolved into a region where it is [only] those with large fortunes who can afford to have bought the land,” said Roy Richards, a British wine merchant.
This year LVMH, the French multinational luxury goods group, bought Burgundy’s Clos des Lambrays estate. François Pinault, the businessman, bought Domaine René Engel. Château de Pommard was sold to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Château de Gevrey went to a Chinese investor, while a banker from Ontario bought Domaine Bernard Maume.
According to Jasper Morris, Burgundy director for the British wine merchant Berry Bros, the cost of land in Burgundy has “increased so enormously that it is hard for locals to afford it”.
However, he added, outside investors tend to be “discreet and behind the scenes” and local winemakers such as the Jessiaumes have been left to work their magic among the vines.
Domaine Chanzy, which owns more than 80 acres of vineyards spread across three Burgundy regions, is owned by Olma, a private equity house specialising in luxury goods.
It hopes that more than half of its produce will eventually be purchased by foreign buyers. At the moment only a small fraction of the output goes overseas.
Investors will be offered discounts of up to 40% on prices ranging from about €8 for the Bouzeron Aligoté to €220 for a Bonnes Mares Grand Cru.
“They can even stay the night if they want,” added Der Megreditchian. “We’ve got a couple of spare beds.”
Lovers of Mozart should apply for one in the cellar.