French billionaire Jean-Pierre Savare has acquired St.-Emilion Grand Cru Classé Château Franc-Mayne, on Bordeaux's Right Bank, from owner Griet Van Malderen for an undisclosed sum. The property includes a winery, 17.3 acres of vines and a well-established bed-and-breakfast.
Savare, 81, is the chairman of family-owned Oberthur Fiduciaire, one of the world's largest printers of security documents such as banknotes and checks. He has been an investor in the cru bourgeois estate Château Paloumey since 1994. Paloumey co-owner and general manager Martine Cazeneuve will now manage Franc-Mayne as well.
Franc-Mayne has gone through a succession of owners since the late 1980s. AXA-Millésimes bought the estate from a Libourne négociant in 1988, then sold it in 1995 to Belgian entrepreneur Georgy Fourcroy. Griet Van Malderen bought the estate in 2005.
Savare explained, in a statement, that the location—"a vineyard of [17.3 acres] in a single block, ideally situated on the plateau of St.-Emilion and the Franc côte, its proximity to Châteaus Beau-Séjour Bécot and Grand Mayne”—coupled with the potential for wine tourism, had attracted him.
“He was looking for a classified growth and fell in love with Franc-Mayne," Cazeneuve told Wine Spectator of the decision to buy the St.-Emilion property.
While precise plans for the estate are still taking shape, Cazeneuve says they are planning a replanting program. "The vineyard needs to be restructured," she said. "We want to relaunch Franc-Mayne as a leading classified growth in St.-Emilion. I will work with the Place de Bordeaux to improve distribution in order to make Franc-Mayne one of the leaders in the appellation. It's a long-term project."
The vineyards are planted on a terroir of clay and limestone on the plateau and loam-clay on the slopes, 90 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Franc, producing 2,000 cases annually. In addition to their main label, they produce 500 cases of a second wine called Les Cèdres de Franc-Mayne.
The estate also runs a well-established B&B, Le Relais de Franc-Mayne, and Cazeneuve says they will continue to develop wine tourism. The main house on the estate is a 16th-century inn, built along the ancient Gallo-Roman route connecting Libourne and St.-Emilion. Franc-Mayne also boasts a network of limestone caves quarried into the hill, used for aging the wines, and open to visitors.
It's not Cazeneuve's first long-term project. She started Paloumey in 1990 without a single row of vines. "I understand how the notion of time, daily involvement and team work are primordial for a vineyard," said Cazeneuve.