Château Cantenac-Brown, a third-growth Bordeaux estate in Margaux, may soon have a new owner. AXA Millésimes, the French insurance giant that owns several properties in Bordeaux and other European wine regions, is expected to announce later this month that it has reached a deal to sell Cantenac-Brown.
AXA executives would not identify the buyer, nor comment on other aspects of the deal while it is still in negotiations. However, the company indicated that it could use the cash to buy new properties outside Bordeaux.
"It's part of a strategy of diversification for us," said Christian Seely, who manages AXA's sizable wine portfolio. "We're heavily loaded in Bordeaux, and the results of our company follow the swings of Bordeaux. It would be more balanced in the long run to have more properties elsewhere."
AXA also owns Châteaus Pichon-Longueville-Baron and Pibran in Pauillac, Château Petit-Village in Pomerol and Château Suduiraut in Sauternes. Outside Bordeaux, the company owns Château Belles Eaux in Languedoc, Quinta do Noval in Portugal and Disznókó in Hungary.
Before AXA bought Cantenac-Brown in 1987, the third-growth was better known for its distinctive château, which looks like an English Victorian manor house, than it was for its wines. The insurance firm made major investments in the property, which is located in the commune of Cantenac, a mile from Château Margaux. "When it was acquired it needed a lot of work," said Seely. "And it has had a lot of love and investment." The 2000 Cantenac-Brown scored 92 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.
Owners of other châteaus in the area would not comment on the pending sale.
Seely said AXA isn't abandoning Bordeaux. "It's not a question of hard times, because at the grand cru level, business is good. We're making major investment in our other properties. We're building a new barrel room at Pichon, and we're rebuilding the winery at Petit-Village."
Saying goodbye to one of AXA's properties, however, would be hard, Seely admitted. "You can't ever work with a vineyard without falling in love with it. Separating yourself is an emotionally difficult thing to do." But he could be consoled by an exciting property in another region.