With the imminent arrival of American film idol George Clooney, France’s rose vineyards have cemented their status as a prime destination for wealthy investors immersed in one of the hottest sectors of the wine market.
“No matter how many times I say I’m not selling, the offers keep getting higher,” said Jean-Louis Croquet, a 78-year-old statistician who made his fortune with the TNS Sofres polling agency.
After purchasing the Chateau Thuerry and its 400 hectares in 1998, Croquet has seen firsthand the race to buy Provence properties on the French Riviera in recent years.
People with deep pockets, as well as luxury giants like LVMH, are participating in the campaign, hoping to capitalize on the growing global demand for rosé wine.
“I’ve had dozens of offers since the beginning of the year, including from LVMH Chasing Like Crazy,” said Croquet, whose son Thomas Mars of pop band Phoenix is married to movie queen Sofia Coppola.
He divides the new players into two categories: “Those with a lot of money to invest and the real wine lovers like me.”
“The big groups want to dominate the rose market because they saw that it was a fabulous business that got a lot of marketing,” he added.
Croquet counts as a neighbor the British investor James Dyson, owner of the Domaine des Rabelles, which promotes a “bioactive” cultivation method for its grapes.
Another Briton, real estate billionaire Mark Dixon, owns a vineyard in Provence, along with French watchmaker Richard Mille and Kashmiri King Eric Bompard.
Agents specializing in French vineyards say buying acres in Provence is still cheaper than trying to break into the multi-level vineyards of Bordeaux or Bourgogne.
And for French investors at least, big wine investments are often more than just a love of wine – plowing cash into a vineyard can often be used to avoid taxes on the proceeds of a mature business’s sale.
In the dry and rugged hills of the Var department on the Mediterranean coast between Marseille and Cannes, there are four of the most famous rose names – Bandol, Coteaux Varois, Cotes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence.
Together, they saw the greatest growth in French wine exports last year as producers increasingly targeted the upper end of the market.
Clooney plans to buy Domaine Le Canadel near the village of Brignoles, which includes an 18th century mansion with its own swimming pool and tennis court.
It’s about a half-hour drive from a vineyard that Star Wars producer George Lucas bought in 2017 and the Miraval estate of Hollywood ex-couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
“It’s a very dynamic market,” said Adam Dakin of the Wine Objectives real estate agency, who estimates that around a third of the vineyards in Provence have changed hands in the past 20 years.
He recently brokered a purchase from William Chase, the British millionaire behind Tyrrells Chips, and the sale of a vineyard from US industrialist Tom Bove to a French deli meat magnate Michel Reybier in 2020.
That year, the Chanel fashion house made headlines with a second purchase of a vineyard on the idyllic island of Porquerolles off the coast of La Londe-les-Maures, where LVMH bought Chateau Galoupet in 2019.
While Clooney’s purchase isn’t entirely certain – the sale is being challenged by another alleged buyer – his interest is cautiously welcomed by locals.
“It gets people talking about us and leads to better quality wine overall,” said Luc Niviere, 56, the fourth generation of his family-owned Domaine des Trois Terres, who would be one of Clooney’s closest neighbors.
Niviere said he was still amazed at the “pharaonic” work being done by French IT services contractor Jean-Louis Bouchard on the Fontainebleau estate, including a “panoramic” tasting cellar that can be rented out for private events.
“But if I want to buy an acre of wine tomorrow, it will be difficult because these people have unlimited spending,” he said.