Albert Frère, co-owner of Bordeaux's famed Château Cheval-Blanc in St.-Emilion, died Dec. 3 at age 92. The Belgian billionaire was a co-investor with Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, when they acquired the legendary estate in 1998.
"I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend," said Arnault, in a statement. "Albert was an extraordinary man and a truly exceptional entrepreneur. Throughout our 35 years of faithful friendship we forged extremely close ties, both personal and professional."
With diverse investments that stretched from steel to fashion to oil, the Belgian business titan was also famously passionate about wine. He enjoyed his times at Cheval-Blanc, where he developed a strong camaraderie with the team running the estate.
"He was both a businessman and a man of the Earth, a real vigneron. He often came to see us and he was a great ambassador for our wines," Pierre Lurton, director of Château Cheval-Blanc and Château d'Yquem, told Wine Spectator. "He was a real visionary."
Frère was the wealthiest man in Belgium, with a fortune estimated at $5.8 billion. King Albert II of Belgium made him a baron in 1994. Frère started his rise to riches during World War II, at age 17, when he left school to run the family's modest nail business.
From the start, he was a savvy entrepreneur, rebuilding the company in the years after the war. By the 1950s, he was investing in steel factories. Two decades later, he dominated Belgium's steel industry. Eventually, after a lucrative merger, he sold his steel business and created a holding company, Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, that invested in oil, insurance, telecommunications, finance and other sectors. He helped negotiate some of France's largest mergers and acquisitions.
In addition to Cheval-Blanc, Arnault and Frère bought Château Quinault l'Enclos, also in St.-Emilion, in 2008. "Beyond his innate business sense, I will always remember Albert's passionate love of life, his great skill in unifying people and his tremendous commitment to everything he undertook to accomplish," said Arnault.
Frère is survived by his wife, Christine, two of his three children and several grandchildren.
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