Chinese help Elysée pull in €300,000 in wine sale

The first night of the austerity driven sell-off of the Elysée Palace’s fine wine collection was considered a roaring success after wine enthusiasts including one very active Chinese buyer, shelled out €300,000 to get their hands on the presidential plonk.

Chinese help Elysée pull in €300,000 in wine sale
Up for sale: The French president's wine. Photo Eric Feferberg/AFP

Two bottles of 1990 Petrus wine which went for over €5,000 helped to make sure that the first night of the big Elysée wine sell-off was a full-bodied success.

The two bottles of Petrus were picked up by Chinese wine importer Fan Dongxing who shelled out €5,500 and €5,800 to get his hands on the two bottles of prized grog.

The exporter was the stand-out bidder as the 1,200 bottles of the Elysée’s finest wine went under the hammer in a sale motivated by desire to raise money to fund a revamp of the palace.

“I’m very happy. The Chinese are very fond of French wine. I will keep some of the wine for us and maybe I will resell some to professional friends,” Dongxing, who had come to France especially for the sale told the media.

The sell-off which took place at the famous Drouot auction house, was targeted by anti-gay marriage opponents who shouted “We want jobs, not gay marriage” from outside the venue.

Some 250 people, some just curious onlookers, were present at the auction hall in Paris for the sale, which will run until Friday. The wine itself was not present and the public had to make do with photographs.

The oldest bottle of wine that went under the hammer was a 1936 Chateau Latour, which went for €3,500. Other bottles were sold for far more than expected with a 1961 Chateau L’Angelus, which had been predicted to sell for around €220, going for €1,100.

The conspicuous cost-cutting is in keeping with the tone of Hollande's presidency, which has been clouded by a gloomy economic backdrop.

But it has not gone down well with Michel-Jack Chasseuil, one of France's most prominent wine collectors.

Chasseuil has written to Hollande to express his regret over the decision to allow bottles "that are part of the heritage of our country to be sold off to billionaires from all over the world".

He added: "Even if they go for fantastic sums, it will be a derisory amount in terms of the national budget and when you think about what these wines represent in the eyes of the whole world."

The sale represents 10 percent of the 12,000 bottles currently held in the Elysee cellar, which has been regularly replenished since it was established in 1947. Some 150,000 euros is spent on wines in the cellar every year.

The Elysee's chief sommelier Virginie Routis told AFP that in light of the economic crisis "we can no longer allow ourselves to put bottles worth 2,000 or 3,000 euros on the table."

Each bottle included in the auction has been given a special additional label certifying that they came from the "Palais de l'Elysee" with the date of the sale, which will conclude on Friday.

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Cold snap ‘could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent’

A rare cold snap that froze vineyards across much of France this month could see harvest yields drop by around a third this year, France's national agriculture observatory said on Thursday.

Cold snap 'could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent'
A winemaker checks whether there is life in the buds of his vineyard in Le Landreau, near Nantes in western France, on April 12th, following several nights of frost. Photo: Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

Winemakers were forced to light fires and candles among their vines as nighttime temperatures plunged after weeks of unseasonably warm weather that had spurred early budding.

Scores of vulnerable fruit and vegetable orchards were also hit in what Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie called “probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.”

IN PICTURES: French vineyards ablaze in bid to ward off frosts

The government has promised more than €1 billion in aid for destroyed grapes and other crops.

Based on reported losses so far, the damage could result in up to 15 million fewer hectolitres of wine, a drop of 28 to 30 percent from the average yields over the past five years, the FranceAgriMer agency said.

That would represent €1.5 to €2 billion of lost revenue for the sector, Ygor Gibelind, head of the agency’s wine division, said by videoconference.

It would also roughly coincide with the tally from France’s FNSEA agriculture union.

Prime Minister Jean Castex vowed during a visit to damaged fields in southern France last Saturday that the emergency aid would be made available in the coming days to help farmers cope with the “exceptional situation.”

READ ALSO: ‘We’ve lost at least 70,000 bottles’ – French winemakers count the cost of late frosts