March was a busy month for Bernard Magrez, winemaker slash property magnate slash billionaire, who has just bought himself six hectares of vineyard in Japan, not far from the slopes of Mount Fuji.
That was shortly preceded by the purchase of 220 hectares in Chile, and two smaller vineyards in southern France, bringing his entire wine holdings to an estimated 30 plus vineyards in seven countries. His next project, he says, is to buy in Italy. That would make it eight.
“Italy is a good place to make top quality, profitable wines,” said Magrez, speaking at Chateau La Tour Carnet one of his 18 or so Bordeaux properties, where he held his own private wine primeur tasting last week, for journalists and critics to taste barrel samples of the 2007 vintage.
“I bought in Japan for the same reason, because you can make top quality white wines there,” he said.
The six Japanese hectares he bought last month make him the first Frenchman to do so, although he and another Bordeaux winemaker, Denis Dubourdieu, already have separate joint winemaking ventures there.
This year the first wines from the Magrez joint venture with the Katsunuma Winery, run by winemaker Yuji Aruga, will hit the market. The wine is a limited production of white, labelled “Magrez-Aruga Koshu Isehara 2007,” and first sales will be domestic.
“The people there tell me they have been growing vines for 1,200 years,” Magrez said of his new vineyard. “The winemaking is similar to Bordeaux, but the vine growing is very different,” he said describing the traditional Japanese system of growing vines on wooden overhead frames called pergolas.
“That way the vines are higher and closer to the sun to reduce moisture,” he said.
Apart from the challenge of making top white wine in Japan, a damp climate for grapes, Magrez says the other reason he bought was to increase sales of his ‘Bernard Magrez’- labelled wines.
Japan is a well-established market for Bordeaux, the fifth most important in volume and value, with 113 million euros worth exported in 2007. As well as buying new properties, Magrez has also been selling.