Chablis vintner Michel Laroche has become the latest French winemaker to invest in South Africa, purchasing L'Avenir winery in Stellenbosch last week.
Laroche partnered with the AXA Private Equity group to buy the estate for an undisclosed price from previous owner Mark Wiehe, but Laroche holds a majority stake in the deal. The purchase includes 135 acres of vineyards, the existing winery facility and all inventory. L'Avenir currently produces 25,000 cases annually, of which only 500 come to the United States.
Laroche has appointed Tinus Els as head winemaker for the estate, which will retain its name.
Though the L'Avenir vineyards are planted to several international blue-chip varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Laroche plans to focus on flagship bottlings of Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. While the former is becoming a leading variety in South Africa, the latter, a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault that is unique to South Africa, has typically failed to produce world-class wines.
Aside from Domaine Laroche in Chablis, Michel Laroche is involved with projects in southern France's Languedoc region and Chile.
Other French ventures in South Africa include Rupert & Rothschild, started by billionaires Anton Rupert of South Africa and the late Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Bordeaux. Alain Moueix, manager of Bordeaux Châteaus Mazeyres and St.-André-Corbin, joined up with South Africa's Graham Knox to make Naledi Cabernet Sauvignon and Sejana Merlot. May-Elaine Lencquesaing of Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande has purchased land in Stellenbosch. And well-known Bordelais such as Pierre Lurton, who heads Châteaus Cheval-Blanc and Yquem, and Pascal Chatonnet have consulted for South African wineries.