Thursday, 8 September 2011

What's going to happen to Calon Segur?

St Estephe is agog following the death last week of the chatelaine of Calon Segur, the formidable and irascible Mme Gasqueton. The 3rd growth estate – second only in renown to its neighbours Cos d’Estournel and Montrose - will be sold.
Or so many think. I spoke to a broker who said it was a certainty. He didn’t know much about the family’s tax affairs but was pretty certain any heirs would have to pay death duties on the 50ha estate. Mme Gasqueton leaves one daughter, not involved in the business.
The land, whose vineyards sit on the wonderful gravel mounds of the high northern Medoc, will fetch more than €2m a hectare, so the tax burden could be crippling.
The obvious thing would be to sell the other family estate in St Estephe, the Cru Bourgeois Chateau Capbern-Gasqueton, and pay off the tax on Calon with the proceeds.
Calon is famous for its old-fashioned elegance and restraint; whoever takes on the ancient estate (it’s said to date back to the Romans) will have the opportunity, as one close observer told me, to transform it into one of this tiny appellation’s wonders.
At Phelan Segur, another estate in the process of transforming itself, they are watching with bated breath.
There’s much speculation about who may have pockets deep enough.
Frederic Rouzaud, whose Roederer empire snapped up Pichon Lalande 5 years ago (under comparable circumstances: May Eliane de Lenquesaing, with grown children in other professions, found herself without an heir), and who already owns de Pez and Haut Beausejour across the way, must be emailing his bank manager.
Other candidates: hungry insurance companies like AXA Millesimes (Christian Seely, boss of Pichon Baron, Petit Village, Suiduiraut… emailing ditto), or the French health insurance group MACSF, which shelled out €200m for Chateau Lascombes in July.
Or Francois Pinault, owner of Latour, to stop anyone else getting their hands on it, especially LVMH’s Bernard Arnault (probably not interested, with Cheval Blanc, and Yquem quite enough to worry about). Or Bernard Magrez (not rich enough).
And what about the Chinese, who have been busy acquiring Bordeaux properties over the last 12 months, and whose purchases Jane Anson has been detailing on
Nothing on the scale of Calon, certainly, but a company like cereals-to-oils giant Cofco, which employs 80,000 people, owns Great Wall and is listed by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s top 500 companies, must be watching. It bought the 20ha Lalande-de-Pomerol estate Chateau Viaud a few months ago...
Then there’s Richard Shen Dongjun, who recently added Chateau Laulan Ducos, a 2ha cru bourgeois in AOC Medoc to his chain of 400 jewellery shops, Tesiro.
Or the luxury goods company Hongkong A&A International, which bought Chateau Richelieu in AOC Fronsac, one of Bordeaux’s oldest estates, in 2009.
That's quite enough billionaires (Ed.)
It probably won’t be a trophy hunter: Calon Segur is an idiosyncratic property, with huge cachet among the cognoscenti but without the heft of a first or a super second. It will be someone who wants to be known as a sophisticate, not a flash harry.
But for all it’s idiosyncracies it’s a brand as bankable as any. Mme Gasqueton did nothing in the way of marketing or pr – the very opposite, in fact, being openly rude to many who don’t normally expect such treatment. ‘She created a myth,’ as one neighbour told me, ‘and that’s another kind of brand-building.’