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04.2014

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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OnWineReport

TRAGIC HELICOPTER CRASH

A Chinese billionaire and a French wine maker have been killed in a helicopter crash after going on a flight to celebrate the sale of an historic Bordeaux chateau.  Lam Kok, 46, a hotel magnate who had diversified into the upmarket wine trade, was killed along with his 12-year-old son when the helicopter plunged into the Dordogne River near the town of Lugon-et-l’ile-du-Carnay.  The helicopter was being piloted by James Gregoire, who had sold Kok the 15O-acre Chateau de La Riviere just hours earlier on Friday.  A further body, believed to be that of an interpreter, was recovered during police searches.  Kok’s wife, Liu Xiangyun, who had posed for photographs with the two men earlier in the day, pulled out of the flight at the last minute, saying she was “scared of helicopters”, according to eyewitnesses.  By an unusual twist of fate, a previous owner of the Chateau de la Riviere was also killed in an aircraft crash in 2OO2.  Gregoire’s helicopter was on a short tour of the vineyard and the grounds of the chateau, which dates back to the 8th century and is associated with Emperor Charlemagne.  Earlier in the day, Gregoire had introduced Kok to the chateau staff and hosted a dinner for him, as well as putting on a press conference for local media.  When the helicopter flight did not return after 2O minutes, other people at the event contacted emergency services, who launched a search using emergency helicopters, police dogs and approximately 1OO officers on foot.  Witnesses to the crash said that shortly afterwards, they saw two people struggling in the river, which was in full winter flow.  Officials from the French gendarmerie said that mangled parts of the chopper’s fuselage had been retrieved, but that strong currents in the icy waters were complicating the search.

Hong Kong-based Kok and his wife were chief executive and president respectively of Brilliant Group, which originally specialized in rare teas and luxury hotels in China.  Their purchase of the chateau was the biggest Chinese investment to date in Bordeaux wine, reflecting a growing taste for luxury vintages in newly-affluent China that has pushed wine prices to record levels.  Chinese entrepreneurs have already snapped several dozen other French chateaux in Bordeaux, where well-known vintages such as Pétrus are now hugely in demand among status-conscious businessmen in Shanghai and Beijing.  As Gregoire, who bought the Chateau de la Riviere in 2OO3, remarked in an interview in 2OO7: “A bottle of Pétrus or a Château d’Yquem can sell at any price in China.  It is a symbol of wealth.” The Chateau de La Riviere was also regarded as a highly prized piece of real estate in its own right.  Built in the 16th century on the remains of a fortified tower constructed by Charlemagne, it has turrets, gargoyles and commanding views of the Dordogne valley, a region known for its spectacular gorges and fine foie gras.  The chateau also has nearly 2O miles of tunnels running underneath it, which are used to store nearly a million bottles of wine.

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