France

French presidential cellar auction under fire for selling off wine heritage

The 1990 Pétrus bottles
The 1990 Pétrus bottles © Jean-Baptiste Buffetaud

A top French wine-collector has slammed President François Hollande for selling off part of the presidential wine collection. This week’s auction is being hailed as an example leading the way in austerity but Michel-Jack Chasseuil says it means selling the country’s vinous heritage to foreigners.

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The sale of 1,200 presidential bottles, 10 per cent of the contents of the Elysée Palace’s cellar, will bring in a “derisory” amount in relation to the French national budget, Chasseuil tells Hollande in a letter sent last Saturday.

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While he tries to create a “wine Louvre in which you will see the greatest wines in the world”, Hollande is selling bottles to “billionaires from all over the world”, he said.

Wealthy Chinese constitute an increasingly important market for French wine, especially Bordeaux.

Many people, including foreigners, have called Chasseuil to express their astonishment at the sale, he claims.

The sale’s organisers say the sale aims to raise funds to encourage up-and-coming producers, although any surplus will go to replenish government funds.

“This is not about selling the family jewels or anything,” the auction’s expert Ambroise de Montigny told RFI. “When you look at it, this cellar has got 12,000 bottles, so let’s put it this way, if you take out 1,200 it’s not that much.”

And tastes have changed, he adds.

“You know that a lot of people don’t like that style of wine [the big Bordeaux ] today. And that is one of the reasons for changing, you have to go with your times, otherwise the whole place will become a museum which is not the intention of the cellar. The cellar is there to serve, not to be a showcase.”

High prices are expected, partly because of the quality of the wines and partly because of their provenance.

A special label certifying that they came from the Elysée and giving the date of the sale has been pasted on the bottles.

The sale features wines from all major French wine-producing regions and include bottles from the ultra-prestigious Bordeaux estate Château Pétrus and Burgundy’s Domaine Romanée-Conti, as well as a Château Latour – another Bordeaux – from 1936 and 1961.

The 1990 Pétrus has been given a guide price of 2,200-2,500 euros but is likely to fetch more.

Chasseuil, who visited the cellar “several years ago”, and was told that former president Jacques Chirac’s wife, Bernadette, restocked the cellar in the 1990s, because “most of the good bottles had been drunk under the presidency of François Mitterrand”.

Mitterrand was modern France’s only Socialist president before Hollande’s election last year.

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