Burgundy stirred, not shaken by sale to US billionaire

Stanley Kroenke, watching a game played by his Denver Nuggets, says he knows his wine and won't mess with tradition (AFP Photo/Garrett Ellwood) (NBAE / Getty Images/AFP)
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Pernand-Vergelesses (France) (AFP) - He may be American and own a major football club, Arsenal, but Stanley Kroenke, the new boss of a prestigious Burgundy vineyard, says he knows his wine and won't mess with tradition -- and locals say they believe him.

The Bonneau du Martray vineyard "shares the same philosophy as ours in California, based on the quality of the land and the wines," said his manager, Armand de Maigret. "We are winemakers, not a marketing machine."

A point well taken by Louis-Fabrice Latour, head of Burgundy's wine federation BIVB, who says he is "reassured" by Kroenke's status as a wine professional who makes some of the world's most expensive wine.

"He will respect the Burgundy tradition," Latour said.

The sporting empire of Kroenke, 69, also includes gridiron team the Los Angeles Rams and basketball's Denver Nuggets and his fortune was estimated at $7.7 billion (7.3 billion euros) by Forbes magazine last year.

- 'Californian tricks' -

De Maigret said Kroenke's team would "maintain the domain while adding a few Californian tricks and transferring some Burgundy tricks to California."

Kroenke bought an 80-percent share in the Bonneau du Martray vineyard, which has been run by the same family for nearly 200 years, for an undisclosed sum.

De Maigret earlier told the French financial newspaper Les Echos that Kroenke's first foreign acquisition in the wine-making world was "the product of love at first sight".

Located near the picture-postcard town of Pernand-Vergelesses, the vineyard produces two highly regarded grand crus: a white wine, Corton Charlemagne, and a red, Corton. Both are mostly for export.

Its vines are spread over 11 hectares (27 acres) on the prestigious Corton hill near Beaune.

Kroenke bought the vineyard from four brothers, all in their sixties and none of whose offspring were interested in taking on the business.

With no heirs to pass the property on to, they contacted 10 potential buyers around the world.

The best offer came from Kroenke, who is married to Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke and also owns vineyards in Napa Valley in California, where he produces the cabernet sauvignon Screaming Eagle.

In 1995, wine guru Robert Parker awarded the 1992 vintage of Screaming Eagle a near-perfect 99 points.

- 'Event on the hillside' -

The size of his new acquisition is rare in Burgundy, where the trend has been for large domains to be divvied up into ever smaller plots.

Meanwhile the sum of the transaction is a well-guarded secret.

A spokesman for the Le Bault de la Moriniere family would say only that the figure was "very, very high".

Some local winemakers are talking about a price tag of 100 million euros, but when asked about the rumour the spokesman told AFP: "You're way off" -- implying that the sum was even higher.

Latour said news of the sale was "an event on the hillside", noting that only around 1.5 percent of the winegrowing region changes hands -- outside of families -- each year.

A Chinese investor bought the Gevrey-Chambertin chateau and vineyard for eight million euros in 2012, and two other sales stood out in 2014: the LVMH luxury group snapped up the Clos des Lambrays and the 20-hectare Pommard chateau was bought by Silicon Valley boss Michel Baum.

Other American neighbours for Kroenke will be the Kopf family, who bought the Maison Louis Jadot in 1985.

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