I’ve often written of the vast disparity of wealth in the wine industry. While it’s likely a microcosm of society in general, it constantly amazes me that the aggregate of small winery owners controls an infinitesimal percent of wine sales. For example, the top 2 percent of all winemakers in the United States control 84 percent of all wine produced.
There are many winemakers, essentially farmers, who struggle to survive. For them it is a labor of love each year. These include the small family wineries focused on sustaining the natural order in their vineyards in the United States and the fifth-generation family plots throughout Western Europe.
At the opposite end of the economic spectrum are those enjoying the riches of their vast wine empires. These are the behemoth corporations focused on sustaining their bottom-line profits.
The small winemakers work their land, getting dirt under their fingernails. The wealthy corporate owners wield their marketing and financial prowess, managing their wealth at their keyboards with manicured fingernails.
This dichotomy came to the forefront of world events last week. We all read and watched the sad details and analyses of the Notre Dame fire. In the immediate aftermath of the fire it became quite clear to me that the French revered Notre Dame as an historic treasure, but moreso as a cultural and spiritual symbol of the French people.
And they responded. It seemed that within days of the devastating fire, close to $1 billion was pledged to restore the cathedral. It is heartening to see such an outpouring. French President Macron has set an aggressive goal of five years for the full project. Others have estimated a timeline between 10 and 30 years at a cost of $1 billion to $3 billion.
Allow me to return to my theme.
The generosity that has raised such a lofty sum for the restoration has come in large part from two of the largest conglomerates in France, both with significant interests in the wine industry.
First, Francois-Henri Pinault, head of Kering, S.A., the largest luxury goods producer in France, personally pledged 100 million euros (about $112 million). The Kering group includes the fashion houses of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent; it also includes a number of prestigious, and profitable, wineries, notably Chateau Latour in Bordeaux, Clos de Tart and Domaine Eugénie in Burgundy, Château Grillet in the Rhône Valley and Eisele Vineyard Estate in Napa Valley.
Now, $112 million is a mind-boggling sum to the other 99.99 percent of winery owners around the globe. Not to be outdone, another head of a French global luxury goods house announced his donation.
Bernard Arnault, head of Luis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), and the wealthiest man in France (third wealthiest in the world) has donated 100 million euros each from his corporation and his family. So $248 million is likely greater than the aggregate wealth of the majority of winemakers across the globe.
LVMH includes the eponymous fashion house and winery. Moët Hennessy, the famous Champagne company (Moët Chandon and Dom Pérignon brands), owns 25 additional wine brands. These include Veuve Clicquot and Krug in Champagne, Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux, Clos des Lambrays in Burgundy, Cape Mentelle in Australia, Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, Bodega Numanthia in Spain, Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina and a majority ownership of Napa Valley cult winery Colgin Cellars.
As you might imagine, in the cauldron of current French politics, many French citizens, including the Yellow Vest movement, are up in arms over this ostentatious display of wealth. In light of the economic stress facing many of them, they believe these corporations and individuals should consider aiding the needy as well as their national treasure.
Je salue the French elite for their financial support to restore Notre Dame. The economic dichotomy amongst winemakers has created an ancillary dichotomy: the beneficence that only the powerful can offer for the common good of all French citizens.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.