Chinese wine buyers could boost Bordeaux bubble

BORDEAUX (Reuters Life!) - Chinese wine buyers arrived in record numbers during the professional tasting for the 2009 harvest in Bordeaux and Chinese investors are also increasingly interested in buying the vineyards.

Wine lovers try red wine during a Chateau Haut Brion wine-tasting event in Beijing in this April 18, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV/Files

Some professionals said that rising Chinese demand will further fuel the price speculation that has already priced many top Bordeaux wines beyond the reach of the average wine lover.

Last year, China became the biggest export market outside the European Union for Bordeaux wines in volume, ahead of the United States.

There are several vineyards in China, some created with help from French specialists, but the well-to-do Chinese wine lover prefers the real thing from France.

During the ‘primeurs’ week in Bordeaux, Chinese buyers were out in record numbers to taste the vintages and place orders for wines that will be delivered in a year.

“The new element this year is that we see the Chinese, who have become important actors for the Bordeaux wine sector, buying primeurs for the first time,” said Francois Leveque, chairman of the regional wine and spirits brokers body.

Philippe Genevey, manager of Chateau La Marzelle, a classified Saint-Emilion wine, sees the Chinese market and the rising middle classes there as a potential gold rush.

“I had a group (of Chinese visitors) who said they could buy up to one million euros in primeurs,” he said.

And it does not stop there.

“It is not well-known yet but they come with the idea of building something beyond the primeurs. One group talked about 20,000 cases of older millesimes, mixes of top wines, great wines and more modest wines”, Genevey added.

At Chateau Haut-Brion, director Jean-Philippe Delmas also received many Chinese buyers.

“This morning, there were 30. They were interested because they bought some cases in 2008 during the (Beijing) Olympic Games and now their consultants push them to buy the 2009 harvest, which is a year of mythical proportions, to sell in two years’ time on a Chinese market which is already promising,” he said.

Philibert Perrin, whose family has owned Chateau Carbonnieux in Pessac-Leognan since 1956, draws a parallel with the 1970s when Japanese buyers arrived in droves and with the arrival of Korean and Taiwanese buyers in the 1980s.

“They have a taste for classic wines and Red Bordeaux fits their preferences. It’s interesting for us,” he said.

Chinese buyers have also started buying some properties.

In 2008 a Chinese buyer purchased Chateau Latour-Laguens in Saint-Martin-du-Puy, some 50 km (31.07 miles) southeast of Bordeaux and in June 2009 Hong Kong A&A International obtained a majority stake in Chateau Richelieu, at Fronsac.

Big Chinese demand may also mean bigger prices.

“It is too early to draw conclusions but there is a risk of price speculation in the big brands,” said Francois Leveque.

Asian buying is already boosting the prices of top wines.

The Liv-eX fine wine index hit an all-time high in March, beating its June 2008 record.

The exchange said demand for top Bordeaux wines, particularly from Hong Kong and China, has caused prices to soar in the last twelve months.

“Various vintages of Lafite Rothschild, a “First Growth” red wine from Bordeaux, have more than doubled over this period due to sustained demand from Asian collectors,” it said.