Louis Ng, an executive in Stanley Ho’s Macao gaming empire, attracted a lot of attention when he recently purchased Château de Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy for $10 million. Ng, backed by a group of friends who are minority investors in the deal, acquired Gevrey-Chambertin’s medieval castle and 5.7 acres of vines after a bidding war with a consortium of local investors. But his triumph is provoking an outcry from some French growers and the Front National (FN), France’s ultra-conservative nationalist party. Ng spoke with Wine Spectator about his plans for the estate and the backlash against a Chinese investor.
“I am thrilled to have this excellent opportunity to reenergize and reinvigorate this amazing piece of land,” Ng said. “In time, I hope my new Burgundy neighbors will also come to appreciate my sincere passion for great wines, reflected in the positive improvements I hope to bring to Château de Gevrey-Chambertin.”
Ng has been a wine lover for 30 years and has built a collection of more than 250,000 bottles, predominately French. In 2005, Château Palmer flew its staff to Macao to recork his 50 cases of the 1961 vintage.
Ng, 60, whose Chinese name is Ng Chi Sing, is the COO and executive director of Sociedade de Jogos in Macao, which is owned by SJM Holdings and controlled by gambling billionaire Stanley Ho. Ng was born in Hong Kong, but holds Portuguese citizenship. (Macao is a former Portuguese colony). He oversees 17 casinos and three slot-machine lounges in Macao.
“What I see is someone who is a successful businessman, with one of the best wine collections in Macao, is knowledgeable about wine, pursues his passion and purchases a château in Burgundy,” said George Tong, a Hong Kong businessman and wine collector.
Foreigners, particularly Americans, have purchased Burgundy vineyards before, though they often partner with local winery owners. 2012 has brought a ripple of investment: In February, a 28-year-old China native, Shi Yi, acquired 5 acres in Nuits-St.-Georges, including 2.4 acres of Vosne-Romanée Champs Perdrix near La Tâche. In May, Canadian businessman Moray Tawse, of Tawse Winery on the Niagara Peninsula, acquired Domaine Maume in Gevrey-Chambertin.
But Ng's deal provoked a strong reaction, possibly because he outbid a group of local growers, including the president of a local syndicate. Some Burgundians worry that a wave of Asian investment will drive up land prices and make it more difficult to pass their estates down to their heirs.
Ng promises to use his considerable resources to ensure Gevrey-Chambertin produces world-class wines. He'll need them, because both the castle and vineyards require major investments.
He has also brought in some local help. In the vineyards, he has leased 4.2 acres to an old acquaintance, winemaker Eric Rousseau of Domaine Armand Rousseau, in return for a percentage of the wines produced. “I am extremely happy to have Eric’s immense skills and expertise to see that the château’s vineyards again produce some of the best wines in Burgundy,” said Ng.
Rousseau told Wine Spectator that it’ll be a few years before the vineyards reach their potential. “There are old vines, badly kept, and lots of vines are missing," he said. Rousseau plans to make a special cuvée from ‘le clos du château’, the 3.2 acres of Gevrey-Chambertin Village surrounding the château, and use the tiny plots of grand cru Charmes-Chambertin (0.25 acres) and premier cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques (0.74 acres) for his existing Domaine Armand Rousseau wines. The remaining 1.5 acres are leased to a young vigneron.
The château, which is a classified historical monument, will undergo a major facelift by French architects Christian Laporte and Regis Grima. Laporte is restoring another Cote de Nuits treasure, the Saint-Vivant de Vergy abbey owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 15 minutes away. Grima has done some acclaimed work on historical theaters in Paris. Like Saint-Vivant, Gevrey-Chambertin’s castle has its roots with the Cluny monks, beginning as a monastery and evolving into a château through successive owners over the centuries.
“It’s a magnificent shell, but it requires major restoration,” said Laporte. “There is no central heating and the living conditions are not acceptable for the 21st century.”
“It is our goal to bring this enchanted property to its full former glory, thus fulfilling its destiny as a part of this region’s rich cultural heritage for people not only from Europe, but from all over the world to enjoy,” said Ng.