It was a record year for buying and selling wine estates in Provence. Suddenly in 2022, local winegrowers were amazed to see their vineyards and bastides (fortified towns) thronged by the rich and famous, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni, and Hollywood celebs Brad Pitt, George Clooney and George Lucas, as well as private fund managers and semi-retired small business owners keen to get their hands on tax-exempt assets, with sunshine and rosé as a bonus. The happy owner of one château in the foothills of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire says, ‘Bernard Arnault [owner of champagne, brandy and luxury goods multinational LVMH] is a visionary; if he’s investing here it’s got to be worth it.’
LVMH’s arrival in the Esclans valley (45km north of Saint-Tropez) between 2019 and 2022 was the climax of a pink gold rush which had started a decade earlier. In this short time (which included lockdown) it acquired all or part of five estates, covering around 400 hectares, including three prestigious cru classé wines and some of Provence’s biggest rosé labels.
Officially, everyone’s happy. With such a seal of approval rosé can finally stand alongside France’s great wines, and the financial rewards have been considerable: the price of grapes and winegrowing land in the best areas has doubled, as has the income of former cooperative members who now supply grapes to LVMH and other new winemakers.
‘They’re happy – they’ve all bought those big luxury pickups,’ says Fabrice Raymond, who with his wife Agathe runs the Terres d’Esclans winery and is a member of the Confédération Paysanne (CF) farmers. In August 2022 the CF organised an unauthorised grape harvest on land belonging to the Château d’Esclans, now owned by LVMH, as a protest against its land grab. Raymond’s land is sandwiched between two of Arnault’s estates. ‘There used to be five or six estates in the Esclans valley,’ Raymond explains. ‘Some were good, some less good, but that didn’t (…)
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