Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of Alibaba and one of the richest men in China, has quietly begun a campaign to acquire Bordeaux wineries, completing a deal to buy Château de Sours, a 198-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers. Trading through holding companies in Luxembourg and Hong Kong, Ma paid more than $16 million, three times the value of similar châteaus.
Located in the town of Saint-Quentin-de-Baron, de Sours dates back to 1785. Ma bought it from Martin Krajewski, who will remain at the estate as a consultant. "Everything I've done in my life, I've done with passion," Krajewski told Wine Spectator. "It's not always been successful, but it's always been fun."
Ma, 51, founded Alibaba Group, a network of Internet businesses, in 1999, and is worth an estimated $21.3 billion. He and a group of his friends, also Chinese billionaires, visited Bordeaux last year, each with the intention of buying châteaus. As a group, they intend to acquire 20 properties this year and 30 within two years, according to a source close to the dealmaking. They are also in the hunt for a négociant firm. An umbrella company would oversee management and distribution.
Ma's man on the ground is Kien Leong Lee, the new managing director of Château de Sours. Lee is also president of the recently formed Cellar Privilege, a wholesale wine company based at Château de Senailhac in Tresses, also in Entre-Deux-Mers. Château de Senailhac is owned by the Chinese actress Zhao Wei, a friend of Ma's. Zhao also owns Château Monlot in St.-Emilion.
With the acquisition of Château de Sours finalized, architects, stone crushers and bulldozers were quick to arrive. A local source reports that there are plans to build a wine museum and new cellars.
When Krajewski bought de Sours in 2004 it had 62 acres of badly planted vines and three international clients. He renovated the entire estate, installing state-of-the-art cellars, and buying and replanting vineyards. The wines are now sold in 26 countries, and more than 6,000 cases go to the U.S. every year.
Château de Sours' business strategy and foreign distribution made it particularly attractive to Ma and his partners, according to a source. His Bordeaux plans coincide with Alibaba's expansion of its wine-retail platform.
Krajewski is also the owner of St.-Emilion Grand Cru Clos Cantenac. The sale of de Sours allows him to buy a prime vineyard on the Right Bank, a decision supported enthusiastically by his children Matthew and Charlotte, both winemakers. "When your children tell you '[Château de Sours] is your dream, not ours,' you have to listen," said Krajewski. Krajewski also owns Aristea wines in South Africa and the Norwegian distillery Oslo Handverks Distilleri.