Icelandic billionaire invests in Bergerac

Róbert Wessmann, head of the pharmaceutical companies Alvogen and Alvotech sees potential in this underdog region.

Bergerac is often perceived as a Bordeaux alternative / Credit: Eléonore H -
Bergerac is often perceived as a Bordeaux alternative / Credit: Eléonore H -

Bergerac, like other south west French wine regions such as Cahors and Pecharmant has always been seen as a lesser player in the broader region – a place to look for ‘good value‘ wines rather than great ones. This status dates back as far as the 15th century when the English, who controlled the region until 1453, imposed tariffs and regulations that made it harder for these wines to be shipped out of Bordeaux.

However the decision by Róbert Wessmann, a pharmaceutical billionaire from Iceland to buy the Vignoble des Verdots in Bergerac, a region where he sees great and so far underestimated potential, illustrates that the tide is turning – at least for a few estates.

Wessmann is no newcomer to the region. He has owned the 12ha Château de Saint-Cernin for 20 years and sells his No 1 Saint Cernin Rouge Wessman in London’s luxury Hedonism shop for £50 – more than Médocs such as d’Angludet, du Pez or Fourcas-Dupré. 

The 40ha Vignoble des Verdots is another high performer in Bergerac, thanks to the efforts of its owner David Fourtout, but it has yet to achieve the prices commanded by Wessman’s current estate. The purchase, which has taken 15 months of negotiation, was concluded for an undisclosed figure. 

Wessman says that "Bergerac is less known than Saint-Emilion, but we hope to show the world that its wines can be as good or better than the great wines from Bordeaux," 
Wessman’s confidence in the appellation is not, it has to be said, as widely shared as he might wish. According to official SAFER statistics, the average price for a hectare of St Emilion rose from €200/ha in 2012 to €290 in 2019. Over the same period, the cost of land in Bergerac dropped from €10,000 to €8,000. Viewed in this context, it is to Wessman’s credit that his red Bergerac sells for such high prices.

Another region in which Wessman believes is Limoux, where he produces a white wine under the same No 1 Saint Cernin brand which also sells for substantially more than several Crus Classés Pessac Léognans. According to SAFER, Limoux vineyards cost €13,000/ha; in Pessac Léognan they are €500,000.

Wessman also produces Champagne under the "Wessmann One" label.


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