China's state-owned food giant plants a stake in the world's most celebrated wine region.

Bordeaux wine cellar (xlibber)

Valerie Landrieu

Wine guides praise its body and smoothness. The Chateau de Viaud, a lalande-de-pomerol, now belongs to the Chinese government. After almost three years of negotiations, Cofco, the Chinese state-owned food giant has struck a deal with Philippe Raoux, a winegrower in the Bordeaux region, to acquire the 21-hectare vineyard for about 10 million euros.

It's the first time the Chinese state has bought into the wine industry in Bordeaux, though a few private companies from China have already tried their luck. In 2008, the real estate group Longhai International bought the 60-hectare Chateau Latour-Laguens, which includes 30 hectares of vineyards.

China has rapidly moved to be the world's leading Bordeaux importer, prompting Cofco to get into the business. But don't expect to find a bottle of Chateau de Viaud in China just yet. Half of its production is exported, but almost exclusively to the United States.

The Chinese group could benefit from increasing its savoir-faire in the winemaking business. It already owns the Great Wall, a widely consumed wine in China but of very low quality, according to experts. For Philippe Raoux, instead, the deal is an opportunity to enter a new market, and also includes an agreement to sell wines in China from one of its three other vineyards.

Cofco is ready to expand its wine business. It recently bought a vineyard in Chile and could acquire more French property. Guillaume Rougier-Brierre, a partner in the Gilles Loyrette Nouel law firm, which advised the Chinese in the Chateau de Viaud deal, said Cofco has indeed already fixed its eye on the next Bordeaux label it wants to add to its cellar.

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