A Sad Farewell16th January, 2014 by Ben Kennedy
The tragic helicopter crash in the Dordogne remains an open case but today’s news brings closure for one victim’s family.
The Bordeaux region, and in particular the wine trade, has been languishing under a grey cloud these last few weeks.
You will have heard of the tragic accident which took the lives of four people when a helicopter crashed into the Dordogne River a few days before Christmas, a story covered in the UK press and wine publications and websites.
The identities of the old and new owners of Château La Rivière were known, but I immediately feared that the third adult – referred to initially simply as the interpreter – would be Peng Wang, a colleague of mine at the Bordeaux International Wine Institute and business associate of a close friend.
I had seen Peng at a dinner a week earlier, when he had told me briefly of his new venture with the Fronsac property, the latest and by far the most important of a number of vineyard transactions that he had instigated and brought to fruition with my friend.
I was very pleased for him as he was a conscientious and hard-working young man who had begun to carve out for himself a varied and successful career here in Bordeaux and, although always modest, he was clearly very pleased with this next step. He was to become a director of the château and its various projects for development.
Peng arrived in Bordeaux fresh from China in 2008 to study wine business and marketing, a daunting prospect in a very foreign culture, especially not being from a moneyed background, but he made an impression on his teachers as a gifted and serious student, and was engaged as the school’s Chinese teacher as soon as he graduated with his Masters.
I initially met Peng when he was on an internship with a small négociant company belonging to an old friend of mine. He worked hard using his family’s network back home to pitch for business amongst the wealthy classes in mainland China.
I got the impression that things did not develop easily to begin with but he persisted, soon becoming a partner in the company and moving into broader wine consultancy activities for Chinese clients eager to make Bordeaux part of their jet-set lifestyle. Projects included a golf club whose members wanted to build and stock a breath-taking wine cellar, and I remember the pièce de résistance was an enormous bespoke tasting table made of Baccarat crystal costing an absolute fortune and requiring installation by their own staff, flown over from France for the job.
He was also instrumental in the sale of at least two of my friends’ own wine châteaux to Chinese clients, perhaps more, but he didn’t brag about his achievements, always a quiet participant working hard in the background to get the job done and much appreciated by his clients.
On our occasional meetings around town I got to know Peng as a charming and rather shy chap, always smiling. He had a good sense of humour, we joked of course about the peculiarities of the French, and with his gentle demeanour I am certain he was a great dad. He leaves his wife Lina, who studied wine with him, and little Margaux their daughter.
Peng would undoubtedly have gone on to undertake some pretty amazing work bringing together French wine culture and their new Chinese audience, and I’m not just saying this, I think Bordeaux will be poorer for losing him. He was just getting started and would have been able to put his talents, cultural diplomacy and experience towards helping Bordeaux fulfil many of its aspirations in China.
The upsetting absence of three of the four victims following the crash put many people who knew them into a sort of suspension, unable to react to their departure without hard evidence, but today it was confirmed that a body pulled from the river on Saturday morning is in fact that of Peng. The search continues for James Grégoire and Lam Kok, who had just signed on the vineyard sale before take-off, and our thoughts remain with both their families, but at least this grey cloud of doubt has dispersed and we have closure on one dossier.