France’s top 10 richest drinks barons
Challenges magazine recently unveiled its annual ‘Fortune 500’ list, ranking the wealthiest people and families in France.
Scanning the list, among the various financial tycoons, captains of industry, petrochemical barons and construction tsars are those who have made their – rather considerable – fortunes in reassuringly French industries such as luxury fashion and cosmetics, cheese (seriously, the Flévet family behind ‘Fromageries Bel’ is worth over €2 billion) and of course, wines and spirits.
On a quick scan, well over 60 of the 500 names on the list are either directly or at least very closely involved in France’s wine and spirits industry; running its drinks giants such as Castel Frères and Pernod Ricard or owning its most lauded estates and brands – Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, Dom Pérignon and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Many of them also own estates overseas as well in the US, South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Those more directly involved in the wine and spirit industry tend to labour a little further down the list than some of these high flyers but it’s easy to see why some of France’s most iconic brands have the international recognition they do and why some of the latest chais in Bordeaux are quite so shiny when you consider the wealth and financial power behind them.
Click through to see who are France’s most powerful people in drinks.
A full ‘power list’ of France’s richest wine and spirits families will appear in a future edition of the drinks business.
10. Ginette Moulin and family
Company: Galeries Lafayette
Ginette Moulin is the chairwoman and majority shareholder of Galeries Lafayette, France’s leading upmarket department store which was created by her grandfather, Théophile Bader in 1912.
Furthermore, she is a minority shareholder in French supermarket chain Carrefour.
She and her family are rather more recent entrants into the world of châteaux ownership but dived right in in 2014 with the acquisition of a healthy four properties in Bordeaux in partnership with Daniel and Florence Cathiard who own Smith Haut Lafitte (and are themselves lower down on the larger list).
Chief of these is Château Beauregard in Pomerol – part of the cluster of properties on the eastern edge of the commune that also includes Vieux Château Certan and La Conseillante – and also Pavillon de Beauregard in Lalande-de-Pomerol, Château Bastor-Lamontagne in Sauternes and Château Saint-Robert in Graves.
9. Alexandre Ricard and family
Company: Pernod Ricard
Sector: Wines and spirits
A family and company that needs little introduction to any serious member of the drinks industry and even those that don’t know the company will certainly heard of its brands: the eponymous Ricard pastis, Absolut vodka, Jameson, the Glenlivet, Beefeater, Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s, Martell Cognac and Havana Club to name its core spirits brands.
It has a strong wine portfolio as well, headed up by the Champagnes Perrier-Jouët and Mumm and then the ‘strategic’ wine brands Campo Viejo, Brancott Estate, Jacob’s Creek and Kenwood.
The company as it exists today was created in 1973 when two of France’s leading “anise-based spirits producers, Pernod and Ricard, merged in 1973. By 1976 it began to diversify its portfolio and acquired Irish Distillers (the maker of Jameson) in 1988 and Jacob’s Creek in 1989. In 2001 its acquisition of 40% of the Seagram’s business brought Chivas, Martell and The Glenlivet into its portfolio and the Champagne brands came in 2005 with the acquisition of Allied Domecq; a move which also made it the world’s second largest wine and spirits company.
The current chairman, Alexandre, became chairman in 2015 following the death of his uncle, Patrick, in 2012.
8. Benjamin de Rothschild
Company: Groupe Edmond de Rothschild
A scion of the Paris Rothschilds, Benjamin’s principal job is private banking as head of the asset management and private equity firm the Edmond de Rothschild Group.
Nonetheless, wine is an important part of his own asset portfolio and includes properties across France, South America and South Africa under the umbrella group, Compagnie Vinicole Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
Edmond de Rothschild, the great-grandson of the James de Rothschild who bought Château Lafite in 1868, founded the group, who in 1973 bought the crus bourgeois properties Châteua Clarke and Château Malmaison, which formed the basis of the modern company
Benjamin has increased the portfolio enormously since then, starting the Rupert & Rothschild project in South Africa in 1997 and creating Flechas de los Andes in Argentina in 1999. In 2003 he acquired Château Laurets in Saint Emilion and since 2009 has collaborated with Vega Sicilia in Spain to produce a pure Tempranillo called ‘Macán’.
Finally, in 2012 he acquired 26 hectares of vines in Marlborough to produce Sauvignon Blanc and a little Pinot Noir under the name ‘Rimapere’. Apparently the baron had become concerned that white wines were under-represented in his portfolio.
7. François Perrodo and family
Sector: Energy (oil)
The polo-playing, motor-racing CEO of Perneco inherited the estates of Château Labégorce and Marquis d’Alesme from his father, Hubert.
The story goes that Hubert was on a visit to Château Giscours to pay polo in 1989 when he saw that nearby property Labégorce Zédé was for sale. So he bought it and named his polo team after it – which in 2004 won the Queen’s Cup. He acquired Marquis d’Alesme in 2006 but died in a tragic hiking accident aged just 62 later that year.
His son François is also a keen polo player and member of the Guards Polo Club but he’s an even greater fan of horsepower of the Porsche and Ferrari kind and has competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times, coming in second last year driving a Ferrari 458 Italia GT2. He also owns classic cars.
His younger brother, Bertrand, was recently revealed to be the backer of 31Dover.com, a wine delivery company in the UK.
6. Vincent Bolloré
Company: Groupe Bolloré
Sector: Logistics and transportation
Not as strong a wine link here save that Vincent Bolloré is the owner of two properties in Provence (totalling some 115 hectares of vines), La Croix, a cru classé domaine and its sister property La Bastide Blanche, both of which are near Saint Tropez and which he bought in 2001.
Bolloré acquired something of a reputation as a corporate raider (taking large stakes in companies and then introducing measures to increase its share value but against the wishes of the owners’ desires and practices) during the course of which he came into contact with the Bouygues brothers – also high up on France’s rich list (though not here) and the owners of Château Montrose and now Clos Rougeard as well.
He was finally ousted from their company after a lengthy struggle and with a sizeable capital gain, which must have left the Bouygues brothers thinking he was a right bastide indeed.
Correction: The first version of this slide said Bolloré owned Las Bastide Blanche in Bandol, he does not that is a separate property.
5. Pierre Castel
Company: Castel Frères
Sector: Wine and beverages
The first ‘true’ drinks billionaire on this list; the 90-year old Castel founded the company in 1949.
Wine is central to the French group’s portfolio, owning 21 estates in Bordeaux and Provence, including controlling shares in Château Beychevelle, as well as numerous brands from lands it owns across France and also Morocco, Tunisia and Ethiopia and big négociant houses such as Barton & Guestier and Patriarche.
The real money-spinner though is beer. Before it was acquired by AB InBev last year, SAB Miller had formed a partnership with Castel whereby SAB owned 20% of Castel and Castel owned 38% of SAB’s African business. AB InBev has said it wants to “continue to develop and evolve” the partnership now that it has taken over. The deal makes Castel the second-largest beer and soft drinks maker in Africa but there are rumours that the original deal with SAB states that if the Castel Group ever seeks new owners outside of the Castel family then the right to buy must first go to SAB (and now AB InBev).
4. François Pinault
Company: Kering/Groupe Artemis
Sector: Luxury goods
Not the man married to Selma Hayek (that’s his son, François-Henri), the elder Pinault built up the Kering group from a building materials business (timber mostly) to a serious competitor in the luxury goods field.
Today the group’s brands include Gucci (which asked him to save it from being incorporated into LVMH in 1999 leading to a ‘battle’ between Pinault and Arnault), Stella McCartney, Brioni and Alexander McQueen.
Through his holding company Artemis meanwhile, he also owns Converse shoes, Samsonite luggage, the Vail ski resort in Colorado, Christie’s auction house and – the big wine link – Château Latour which he bought in 1993.
It’s not his only wine investment however. He also owns Château Siaurac in Pomerol, Château Grillet in the Rhône, Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée (previously Domaine René Engel) and the Eisele Vineyard in Napa Valley (previously Araujo Estate).
3. Alain and Gérard Wertheimer
Sector: Luxury goods
The brothers behind the House of Chanel, which was co-founded by their grandfather Pierre, the Wertheimers mix high fashion with their love of field sports.
Passionate equestrians they own and operate a thoroughbred stable known as the La Presle Farm in addition to owning Tanner Krolle, a saddler and leather goods manufacturer, and British gunmaker Holland & Holland.
Their wine properties are no less impressive, being centred on two absolute stars of Bordeaux – Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and Canon in St Emilion, both of which are becoming the apple of many a merchants’ eye for their quality and workable prices en primeur.
In addition, in 2015 they bought the St Supery winery in Rutherford, California.
2. Serge Dassault
Company: Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault
Serge Dassault is perhaps better known for his aviation business founded by his father Marcel in 1929.
Among the many aircraft the company has produced is the ‘Mirage’ fighter jet, which is the mainstay of the French airforce.
Dassault, however, also owns the newspaper Le Figaro, the auction house Artcurial and Château Dassault in Saint Emilion, which is father acquired in 1955.
The group, Dassault Wine Estates in fact covers three properties, Ch. Dassault chief among them, but also Château Faurie de Souchard and Château La Fleur (also both in Saint Emilion and acquired in 2013 and 2002 respectively).
1. Bernard Arnault
Company: Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy
Sector: Luxury goods
The top dog could only be Bernard Arnault, who in 2017 also reclaims the crown as the richest man in France from Lilian Bettencourt the L’Oréal heiress.
As the head of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), a greater part of Arnault’s business is fashion, cosmetics, watches and perfumes – the group owns Louis Vuitton, Berluti, Fendi, Tag Heuer, Bvlgari, Givenchy and Acqua di Parma among many other ‘houses’.
This spring when it was announced the group was taking a controlling share in Christian Dior, Arnault’s personal worth spiked by €5bn in the space of little more than an hour or two.
That said, LVMH also possesses a fairly mighty drinks arm as well, amounting to 21 brands not least of which are a raft of the world’s leading Champagne labels including Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Dom Pérignon and Krug.
Furthermore, as well as Clos de Lambrays in Burgundy and Yquem and Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux the group also its Chandon estates in Australia, the US, Brazil, Argentina, India and China, Cloudy Bay, Cape Mentelle, Bodega Numanthia and its Ao Yun project in China.
For spirits brands it leans on Belvedere vodka, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Scotch whisky and, of course, Hennessy Cognac.