Wines owned by corporate giants : yay or nay?


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Wines owned by corporate giants : yay or nay?

RicRios | | Feb 17, 2009 09:00 AM

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...