Is oenology the best policy?

French insurance companies and other financial institutions are gambling on domaines and châteaux. Roger Morris reports

Bordeaux/Photo by Guillaume Flandre on Unsplash
Bordeaux/Photo by Guillaume Flandre on Unsplash

In many ways, a grape vineyard is a precious but precarious piece of agricultural property waiting for disaster to strike – spring frosts can wipe out a vintage, summer hail can riddle grapes and vines like a machine gun, droughts will over-stress vines and diminish the size of the crops. In especially arid areas such as California and parts of Australia, wildfires have recently destroyed multiple vineyards and wineries. In addition, nature is always creating a new insect or plant disease to decimate vines and crops, while fruit-loving wildlife, from birds to boars and deer to raccoons, is increasingly emerging from the forests to devour rows of fruit.

Even when the crop comes in on time and the fruit is delicious and plentiful, wineries that own the vineyards or buy grapes from them have to worry about business competition, changing trends in social drinking and political intrusions such as tariffs.

As a result, wine estates would seem like the last places for which an insurance company would want to issue policies or to which a bank would want to make loans. But in France, both financial institutions are partners in anticipating disaster, and doubling down on their bets by owning and operating wineries, including some of the world’s best-known. 


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