Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Vino Business

The Cloudy World of French Wine

by Isabelle Saporta

A shocking exposé of France’s wine industry by an acclaimed French journalist, Vino Business reveals the big-money deals, speculation, and shady practices that go on even in many of the most prestigious châteaux in Bordeaux and beyond.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date November 08, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2570-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date November 10, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2403-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $26.00

About The Book

For centuries a bastion of tradition and excellence, Bordeaux has in recent years become dogged by controversy, particularly regarding the 2012 classification of the wines of St.-Émilion, the most prestigious appellation of Bordeaux’s right bank. St.-Émilion is an area increasingly dominated by big international investors, especially from China, who are keen to speculate on the area’s wines and land, some of whose value has increased tenfold in the last decade alone. In the controversial 2012 classification, as Saporta shows, certain châteaux were promoted to a more prestigious class because of insider deals that altered the scoring system for the classification of wines into premier crus and grand crus. This system now takes into account the facilities of each château’s tasting room, the capacity of its warehouse, and even the size of its parking lot. The quality of the wine counts for just 30 percent of the total score for the wines of the top ranking, those deemed premier grand cru classé A.

In Vino Business, Saporta shows how backroom deals with wine distributors, multinational investors such as the luxury company LVMH, and even wine critics, have fundamentally changed this ancient business in the course of a decade. Saporta also investigates issues of wine labeling and the use of pesticides, and draws comparisons to Champagne, Burgundy, and the rest of the wine world. Based on two years of research and reporting, Vino Business draws back the curtain on the secret world of Bordeaux, a land ever more in thrall to the grapes of wealth.


“Gossip as poisonous as pesticides, anonymous informants, rampant greed . . . the latest primetime TV drama? No, it’s just St.-Émilion. . . . A new book, Vino Business, by French journalist Isabelle Saporta, has caused a firestorm for its criticism of the French wine trade . . . . If it’s causing this much uproar, thinks Lucile Carle, whose family owns St.-Émilion Château Croque-Michotte, ‘it’s because she put her finger on the sore spot.’” —Wine Spectator

“[A] sharp critique of French winemakers, and Bordeaux’s Saint Emilion region in particular . . . Saporta doesn’t pull any punches, portraying an industry rife with enormous egos and long histories of trying to become even more profitable, tradition be damned . . . Saporta is not afraid to name names and highlight the ramifications of a few elites’ backroom machinations on smaller producers, as well as on France’s beloved wine industry as a whole. Saporta’s precision in identifying her targets and laying out supporting evidence adds drama to an already-melodramatic saga, and teetotalers and oenophiles alike will find it hard to resist.” —Publishers Weekly

“[A] truly eye-opening exposé . . .Saporta sees that winemaking will become a speculative venture that is ‘all about image,’ and with ‘big investors controlling everything,’ small farmers will not be able to afford to stay on their own land and continue making their own very good—and affordable—wine. The author also tackles the knotty problem of wine classification . . . A rude but, admittedly, fascinating awakening from which we all will walk away a little bit jaded.” —Booklist

“This fast-paced, provocative read from a French investigative journalist uncovers the seamy underbelly of France’s big wine business, primarily in Bordeaux. Saporta peers relentlessly behind the industry’s carefully crafted images of romantic chateaux . . . Vivid insights emerge into the hard, cold business practices of speculative investors jealously guarding wine ‘brands’ . . . Saporta incisively and unflinchingly documents fundamental transformations away from small, family estates . . . Colorful stories of greed, self-dealing and corruption, as well as instances of valiant resistance.” —Dave DeSimone, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

“Is Premier Cru wine all just a con? Car parks and bribes influence the classification of wines in the Bordeaux region of southwest France according to [this] new book.” —Daily Mail (UK)

“Isabelle Saporta bases the book on a true investigation, field work that cannot be contested, work that many of her detractors, the people who snipe at her from behind their keyboards, would do well to be inspired by, even if they might not share her conclusions.” —Le Point (France)

“On the basis of interviews with big hitters of the region, the book recounts the almost feudal battles that are waged to change the classification of a chateau . . . In just twenty years, this wine has lost its magic aura. The decent, less well-off wine-lover must now search out a lesser known producer who is more faithful to tradition and more respectful to nature. Thank goodness such people do still exist.” —La Presse (Canada)

Vino Business addresses head on the ‘law of silence’ that surrounds the 2012 St.-Émilion classification, as well as the effects of the high doses of pesticides that are used in some of the most reputed vineyards in the world. . . . Judging by the reaction to its publication it seems that this book, which concludes that more transparency is needed regarding the fabrication and classification of these great wines, is asking the right questions.” —Le Parisien

“The seemingly idyllic vineyards surrounding St.-Émilion are depicted as the setting for a sordid soap opera. . . . The author, investigative journalist Isabelle Saporta, doesn’t hold back in questioning the French institutions and traditions that the country’s wine industry prides itself on. She’s also forthright in her writing on certain individuals. . . . The book is a juicy read and is likely to sell a lot of copies.” —Wine-Searcher.com (United Kingdom)

“[In Vino Business] the criteria for the St.-Émilion classification are roundly criticized–as they should be. . . . The 2012 classification is being once again attacked in court. If any of the litigants win, that will surely be the definitive end of it.” —BordeauxWineEnthusiasts.com

“There is a vicious power game going on behind the beautiful façades of Bordeaux châteaux. . . . an intriguing book. . . Among the most famous and prestigious châteaux, vino business is deadly serious and, just as in love and war, all methods seem to be fair. If you thought the châteaux were all good neighbors, then you have deceived yourself. . . . [Vino Business] reinforces my belief that classifications are completely unnecessary, not to say directly bad for consumers.” —BKWine.com, Sweden

“[Saporta] laments (both in the book and her interviews) how regions like St.-Émilion that were once home to family producers have given way to multi-millionaire investors. She added that it was easiest to see in Bordeaux as it is the richest region in France but that similar parallels might be drawn in Champagne or even Burgundy.” —TheDrinksBusiness.com

“The sordid tale of Saint-Émilion’s troubled effort to establish a classification system, more about politics than quality, and the French wine industry’s struggle with pesticides provide . . . fodder for Saporta’s investigative skills. Vino Business reveals the seedy business side of the romantic world of French wine.” —Dave McIntyre, Washington Post


Security is tighter than at the French President’s palace, with walkie-talkies, barricades, and bodyguards. After guests are asked to leave their cars, flocks of young women in white dresses shield them with umbrellas so that they won’t get soaked in the pouring rain while walking to the golf carts that will take them to the château. The excitement is at its peak. A black sedan makes its way through the crowd, the only car permitted to enter the courtyard. It comes to a stop, and French actress Carole Bouquet emerges, looking magnificent.

Welcome to the Fête de la Fleur, the highlight of the spring season for the créme de la créme of the world of Médoc and left-bank wines. In 2013, this huge party thrown by the Commanderie du Bontemps took place on the last day of the big wine show Vinexpo in Saint-Julien-de-Beychevelle, at Château Lagrange, which is owned by the Japanese company Suntory, the alcohol and soft drink giant (whose holdings include Orangina Schweppes).

The Bordeaux wine industry has become adept at bringing VIPs on board and at crafting a swanky image. In thirty years, this closed world has undergone a sea change. The important figures of yesteryear have yielded to wealthy investors; traditional winegrowers have been pushed aside by CEOs; and old-school vintners have been replaced by movie stars. In just three decades, the business has radically changed in scope. Big capital has invaded the vineyards, bringing its marketing managers and PR apparatus. And the guilds, those old bastions of the Bordeaux bourgeoisie where the local officials used to love to get together, now hold glamorous celebrations worthy of a Hollywood premiere.