US sports mogul buys in to Corton-Charlemagne


Updated substantially on 5 January Just hours after the shock news that somms' darling Clos Rougeard of Saumur had been sold to French telecommunications giant Martin Bouygues, came even more unexpected news: that Stan Kroenke, American sports mogul whose interests include Screaming Eagle, Arsenal football club and a host of US sports teams, had acquired a majority stake in one of Burgundy's most famous family-owned domaines Bonneau du Martray. 

Admittedly the transactional stasis that tends to characterise the Christmas holiday period in Europe has the effect of concentrating announcements into the first week of January, but even so, these two transfers of ownership from wine dynasties to big business will surely shake the French oeno-establishment. When I was in Burgundy in November, much of the talk was of the threat to the Côte d'Or posed by predatory foreign buyers. I was even told that my French wine-writer colleague Michel Bettane had difficulty organising a tour of Burgundy for particularly well-heeled Chinese wine lovers, so fearful were some vignerons of their intentions. Another tale I heard was of unspecified visiting Asians commanding taxi drivers to take them to 'their vineyards'. All of this may well be more rumour than reality, but the Kroenke acquisition is very real and follows talk over the last few weeks that Bonneau du Martray was being sold. The sale of a majority stake in Bonneau du Martray was confirmed last night by Kroenke's head of wine Armand de Maigret, who issued the following press release:

Domaine Bonneau du Martray partners with American vintner E Stanley Kroenke
The Le Bault de la Morinière family, owner of the renowned Domaine Bonneau du Martray in France’s Burgundy region, has sold a majority stake in its Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru and Corton Grand Cru estate to American vineyard proprietor and businessman E Stanley Kroenke.

Famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Domaine Bonneau du Martray has been in the Le Bault de la Morinière family for nearly 200 years. The family will continue to be involved alongside Mr Kroenke, whose Californian wine properties include Screaming Eagle, Jonata and The Hilt vineyards. 

The partnership between these two great vineyard custodians opens new horizons for Domaine Bonneau du Martray. Both are committed to the future of the estate, continuing the excellence of the wines and maintaining its autonomy while building an unparalleled international venture.

Armand de Maigret, the French general manager for Mr Kroenke’s vineyards, will supervise the property while maintaining its unique identity.

'We are delighted to partner with Stan Kroenke and his highly-respected team', said Jean-Charles Le Bault de la Morinière, the estate’s general manager [pictured here by Jon Wyand, whose book on the hill of Corton will presumably need a little revision now – JR]. 'This partnership will enable us to strengthen our international reach further.'

Said de Maigret: 'It is our great privilege to welcome to our wine family one of the most elegant and historic properties in Burgundy and the world. We would like to thank Jean-Charles for his leadership over the past 20 years and for preserving his family’s pristine legacy. We look forward to learning from this great institution and working together to build on its traditions.'

About the Domaine Bonneau du Martray:
Located in the village of Pernand-Vergelesses, in the Côte d'Or region of France, Domaine Bonneau du Martray is one of the greatest and most celebrated vineyards in Burgundy. It comprises 11 hectares (approximately 27 acres) in a single contiguous plot located in the Charlemagne climat, producing grand cru wines exclusively under the appellations Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru and Corton Grand Cru. The Domaine is recognised for the distinction of its wines, the excellence of its terroir, and for its pioneering work in biodynamic farming.

About Screaming Eagle, Jonata and The Hilt:
Located in California, Screaming Eagle, Jonata and The Hilt are some of the most prestigious estates in the United States. International wine critics and connoisseurs regularly consider their wines among the finest in the world. Screaming Eagle produces two of the most striking New World Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. Jonata is famous for the finesse of its Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc wines. The Hilt is recognised as one of the premier new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in the US.

Jancis continues Setting on one side the idea that Bonneau du Martray is 'famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir', the significance of this deal is the increasing presence of foreign owners in Burgundy. Eleven hectares may not be a massive slice of France, but it is a sizeable portion of the hill of Corton, and an eighth of the entire Corton-Charlemagne appellation, one of Burgundy's very few grand cru whites. Furthermore, this domaine, as Jasper Morris points out in his bible Inside Burgundy, has been in the same family for well over two centuries. Comte Jean-Charles has been in charge for 22 years and has undertaken considerable rebuilding, vineyard research and improvements at the domaine, but has no obvious successor. Burgundy lovers will be hoping that the new team can instil more consistency, particularly in cork quality, in this revered producer's output. One assumes France's two leading businessmen investors in wine – Bernard Arnault of LVMH and François Pinault of Artemis, including Château Latour – were also approached. A white burgundy domaine would have fitted very nicely into their wine portfolios, alongside their respective red burgundy producers Clos des Lambrays and Domaine d'Eugénie. 

La Revue du Vin de France's report of the Foucault family's sale of Clos Rougeard to Bouygues has been disputed by a rival news source but makes some sense. The Bouygues family's principal wine property is Château Montrose in St-Estèphe, where biodynamic viticulture has been enthusiastically espoused – just as it was by the Foucaults way back in the late 1960s at the famous family Saumur property. Spotting mature bottles of Clos Rougeard on wine lists has been a popular hobby among wine lovers for many years.