Corinne Mentzelopoulos Wine Billionaire in France

NEW YORK – Corinne Mentzelopoulos, the daughter of the late Greek supermarket tycoon Andre Mentzelopoulos and a French mother, inherited 1,600 grocery stores, 80 buildings in Paris, the one-time home of Louis XIV that was converted into a hotel, and a vineyard, when her father passed away in 1980, according to a Bloomberg article.

Purchased just three years before he died, the vineyard was rundown at the time, but today Chateau Margaux has made Ms. Mentzelopoulos a billionaire.

The vineyard is also one of the few with the highly esteemed “Premier Cru designation bestowed by Napoleon III in 1855 upon Bordeaux’s very best terroirs for making wine,” Bloomberg reported.

“Margaux is not just a company, it’s something so special. The light is always different. It’s extraordinary in the fall. I get emotional talking about it,” Mentzelopoulos told Bloomberg.

Her father had paid a bargain price, 72 million francs ($16 million), for the vineyard in 1977, Bloomberg reported, noting that “the explosion in demand for fine wine over the past four decades, and a growing crop of billionaires willing to pay top dollar for trophy assets, mean a first-growth estate like Margaux could easily fetch $1 billion—though Mentzelopoulos says her ideal buyer is ‘no one.’”

Though uninterested in selling the vineyard, the estimated price “makes Mentzelopoulos one of France’s wealthiest women and Margaux, with just 81 employees, one of the world’s smallest billion-dollar businesses,” Bloomberg reported, adding that “the vineyard’s 262 hectares (647 acres) of prized gravelly soil produce about 280,000 bottles of wine a year, which can retail at more than $1,000 each for recent vintages.”

Fine wine is a hot investment for the world’s most wealthy people, Bloomberg reported, noting that it “has become the second-best performing luxury asset, behind classic cars, property consultancy Knight Frank says.”

Though Mentzelopoulos did not share financial details, Bloomberg reported that “analysts estimate the chateau’s annual revenue at roughly $100 million” and “with Premier Cru estates yielding profit margins between 70 percent and 99 percent that would mean operating income topping $70 million. Even better, Margaux is paid upfront by merchants, and some wine is sold en primeur, a kind of futures system where a vintage is bought—and paid for—while still in the barrel, a full year before it’s delivered.”

Of the vineyard’s potential, investment advisor affiliated with Christie’s International Real Estate, Michael Baynes, co-founder of Vineyards-Bordeaux, told Bloomberg, “The name Margaux is so iconic. There’s never going to be another 1855 classification. As a seller, you’re in such a powerful position.”

In the 1970s, Andre Mentzelopoulos had read about the vineyard in a newspaper article which detailed the family’s effort to sell after owning it for over 50 years. He took “a brief tour of the grounds, with its acres of vines, cobblestone courtyards, and chateau modeled after the Parthenon,” and “agreed to buy the estate in a handshake deal on the sweeping staircase leading up to the house, Bloomberg reported, adding Ms. Mentzelopoulos’ comment that her father “immediately grasped the importance of how unique Margaux was.”

That a foreigner whose French was not perfect had bought the property was a bit of a shock at the time in Bordeaux, but there were also few buyers who would take the risk in the economically challenged era of the 1970’s.

“The Mentzelopouloses decided to invest for the long-term, Bloomberg reported, “they tore out and replanted vines, bought new vats, and brought in a wine consultant—unheard of at the time—who helped them choose new oak barrels, pinpointed the ideal date for grape-picking, and oversaw the reintroduction of a second wine, a less-expensive offering called Pavillon Rouge.”

Andre Mentzelopoulos was “the son of an illiterate innkeeper,” and “made a fortune trading grain in India and Pakistan,” Bloomberg noted, adding that “after meeting the French woman who would become his wife while skiing in the Alps, he moved to Paris and bought Felix Potin, a grocery chain whose small shops were fixtures of street corners across France. With competition from larger supermarkets growing, Corinne sold the business in 1983.”

The family-owned vineyard will likely stay in the family as Ms. Mentzelopoulos’ second of her three children, 32-year old Alexandra, will succeed her in the business. As Bloomberg reported, it is “a move that both honors her father’s legacy and softens the blow of France’s hefty inheritance tax” and “though Alexandra lives in London, where she owns a wine bar and restaurant, she travels to Bordeaux at key times such as the harvest and the blending of the new wine.”

Alexandra said, “Because it’s a family business, I want to be trained in every part of it. After 500 years, you can’t be too big for your shoes and think you can change everything,” Blomberg reported.