Château Loudenne, the Cru Bourgeois estate in Haut Médoc owned by China’s liquor giant Kweichow Moutai, has now been sold to a French wine group after it was dogged by lawsuits and bankruptcy.
The over 350-year-old estate was purchased by Moutai for an estimated €20 million from the Lafragette family in 2013, at the time when the luxury Baijiu company is testing the waters in wine business amid Chinese government’s crackdown on high-end baijiu sales.
The estate spans 132 hectare, center of which situates a pink castle that dates back to 17th century. At its height, the castle once hosted luminaries such as Winston Churchill and Princess Margaret of Britain.
The winery just completed its organic conversion this year and its wines will be certified organic starting from the 2022 vintage.
Château Loudenne, the first vineyard purchase for China’s most known liquor company, it was heralded as the liquor giant’s growing ambition to produce and import wines for China’s expanding wine market. With Moutai’s vast sales network and Chinese ownership, the winery at the time aimed to sell 50% of its wines back to the Chinese market.
The momentum as it seemed was unstoppable.
Moutai further invested €5 million to modernize the winery and another €2 in developing wine tourism in a drive to turn the winery into the No.1 Crus Bourgeois estate, as it proclaimed.
Moutai’s long-time partner cognac producer Camus later became a minority shareholder, and was tasked of Château Loudenne’s wine sales in travel retail and key export markets such as USA, Japan and Singapore.
But as the winery struggles to sell back the wines to the Chinese market – only 10% – and grow its export market reach, as told by estate manager Philippe de Poyferré during a 2019 visit, troubles followed.
Just two years after the purchase, the winery was accused by three Chinese employees for unpaid back wages and illegal termination of contracts, according to local reports.
On November 24 last year, the estate’s dire financial situation was laid bare when it was eventually taken over by Bordeaux’s commercial court and was put up for auction due to long overdue unpaid employee wages and other expenses.
The winery at the time cited constraints placed by Chinese government on state-owned Chinese companies like Kweichow Moutai as the main cause, making it impossible to implement investment plans for the winery’s continued operation.
The winery formally announced the sale this week for an undisclosed amount on its social media. The new owner, the Gouache family, also owns Château Bellerive in Medoc and Château Valeyrac through Vignobles Gouache.
Commenting on the purchase, Christophe Gouache says, “the purchase of Loudenne is a family project and we intend to settle in the Medoc. I am convinced that the conversion of Château Loudenne into bio is a considerable asset in order to help preserve the natural environment of Château Loudenne and its surroundings, to provide healthy working conditions for our employees and to offer environmentally friendly products to our customers. “
Cyril Camus, the fifth-generation owner for Camus, commented, “it is not without a pinch of heart that we will separate from Loudenne, but our partner Kweichow Moutai has not been able to get the necessary permission from the Chinese administration to continue our investment plan as planned… We are happy with this purchase because Mr. Gouache is willing to invest to finish positioning Château Loudenne as the reference of the Médoc. “
Philippe de Poyferré who has joined Loudenne as estate manager since 2017 will remain in his post with the Gouache family.
It’s unclear why Moutai eventually pulled the plug on the project, but the group’s wine expansion was orchestrated under now disgraced former head Yuan Renguo.
Moutai hasn’t issued an official statement on the sale yet.