CAPIAN, France — You could hardly do better than Chateau du Grand Moueys if you were looking for a metaphor to demonstrate Chinese interests in European wines, luxury goods and travel.
It has a history that includes a Templar legend, vineyards in the heart of France's famed Bordeaux region and a new Chinese owner with plans to export the wine home and turn its palatial 18th century house into a luxury hotel for tourists from China.
Hotels, department stores and luxury boutiques have taken on Chinese-speaking staff.
China has become the biggest importer of Bordeaux wines, and consumption in the Middle Kingdom soared by 110 percent in 2011 alone, with no sign of quenching a seemingly insatiable thirst.
"For Chinese people, the Bordeaux region is a paradise of wine, for the drink but also for the image of France, the landscapes and the chateaux," said Li Lijuan, the 28-year-old Chinese woman in charge of managing the Grand Moueys property.
Owner Jin Shan Zhang made his fortune manufacturing fruit alcohol, owns several businesses, including a travel agency, and has an intimate understanding of the wine-supply network back home.
The estate's massive neo-Gothic chateau, which sits in the midst of the vineyard, in summer 2013 will be turned into a luxury hotel with French gardens, tennis courts, a golf course and a high-end Chinese restaurant.
Zhang told Decanter magazine in February that he hopes to welcome about 10,000 Chinese visitors a year to Grand Moueys but will keep it open for other tourists as well. "We will retain the luxury French feel of the wine and the estate and hope to marry this with Chinese culture," he told Decanter.
Out of the 11,000 chateaux sitting along the Garonne River in Bordeaux, 15 to 20 have been sold to Chinese investors since 2008, and another 30 properties could soon change hands. This figure may still sound marginal, but analysts in the sector say this trend will intensify, despite China's being among the world's 10 largest domestic wine producers.
"They come and supply themselves directly because their internal market is enormous," said Philippe Hermant, in charge of wine at Transcapital, a business that specializes in mergers and acquisitions in the food sector.
Chateau Latour-Laguens in the Entre-Deux-Mers area, which sits between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, was the first chateau sold to a Chinese firm in 2008.
Jean-Baptiste Soula, oenologist at Chateau Latour-Laguens, said the Medieval-style dungeon of the 18th century chateau was a key feature that made the purchase possible.
Chinese investors, such as the new owner of Chateau Grand Moueys, often want to tap into the surge of Chinese tourism and develop a high-end oenology tourism in the Bordeaux region.
"We are at the start of a flow which is going to massively increase," said Pierre Goguet, head of the Bordeaux Industry and Commerce Chamber. Tourism from Asia to the Bordeaux region jumped 40 percent in 2011.