French billionaire François Pinault has purchased Château-Grillet, adding a small gem in France’s Northern Rhône Valley to his Group Artemis, which includes the first-growth Château Latour in Pauillac and Domaine d’Eugenie in Burgundy. The price of the deal was undisclosed.
Château-Grillet is an 8.5-acre monopole, one of the rare micro-appellations in France, and has long been considered one of the Rhône Valley’s most prized terroirs, sitting on a steeply terraced vineyard with southeastern exposure, in the heart of the Condrieu wine-producing area.
The sale was confirmed by Château Latour director Frédéric Engerer, though he did not provide any additional details, noting “there are still some administrative clearances and authorizations to obtain before we can close the deal.”
Château-Grillet was owned by Isabelle Baratin, whose family has owned the estate since 1830 and who was thrust into the role of vigneron when her father passed in 1994, just as the harvest was starting. "I was completely alone. Imagine being a chef and trying to run everything in the restaurant—the kitchen, the service—all by yourself,” Baratin told Wine Spectator in 2006. Queries to Baratin on Monday were forwarded to Wine Bankers & Co., which is handling the sale.
After taking over from her father, Baratin struggled to run the estate in the early years, learning on the fly and trying to do much of the work herself. Baratin then hired Bordeaux-based consultant Denis Dubourdieu in 2000 to assist with the winemaking while she also renovated the property. Still, distribution of the wine in the U.S. was spotty at best and the wines that did make it to the marketplace often failed to live up to the estate’s reputation. Many vignerons in the surrounding Condrieu appellation openly dreamed of what they could do with the estate if it ever came up for sale.
"We noticed progress since Dubourdieu came," said Paul Amsellem of Domaine Georges Vernay, one of the elite estates in Condrieu. "I'm sure the level could be higher and to see somebody coming from another area, could push this estate on the very top. I hope [Pinault] means to get there. The new blood is never bad."
Planted with Viognier, Château-Grillet’s land is capable of producing one of the finest expressions of the grape in the world, with bright anise, peach and melon notes and extremely fine minerality, in contrast to some of the more powerful Condrieus made by Georges Vernay, Yves Cuilleron, E. Guigal and others. Château-Grillet produces around 10,000 bottles annually.
Pinault owns and heads the French retail group PPR. In addition to three wine estates, his investment group Artemis S.A., headed by son François-Henri, owns stakes in several French magazines, ANLAC insurance group and Christie’s auction house.