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January 2008


WINE & SPIRITS

Wine & Spirits
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave

THE EMPEROR OF WINE

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The global empire of the Bordeaux-born bad boy Bernard Magrez In 1961, Bordeaux-born Bernard Magrez, then a young man, joined other fledgling French businessmen on a Greyhound Bus tour of the United States. (They couldn't afford domestic flights.) It was a fact-finding mission exploring the U.S.-born marketing successes of one-stop shopping, self-service dining and retail discounting. They returned home thinking, "Why not in France?"

Four of the men on that singular voyage went on to become the country's biggest supermarket retailers, founding so-called "hypermarket" chains Carrefour, Auchan, Leclerc and Rallye. Magrez, meanwhile, established France's best-selling affordable wine brand, Malesane, which is sold all over the country through his fellow travelers' vast network of giant stores. In the 40 years since that fateful journey to America, Magrez's wine business has ballooned into an international behemoth, with Grand Cru châteaux in his native Bordeaux among the astounding 35 wineries he owns around the globe. There are even Magrez-run wine boutiques in Paris and Bordeaux selling only his brands, with over a hundred bottles available to taste before buying.

"You have to take risks," Magrez explained at a recent dinner at New York's Plaza Athénée hotel. "And you must never give up. If you don't take risks," he continued, "you end up having a gray life wearing a gray suit and meeting gray people."

Nobody would accuse the dashing 71-year-old of being gray or drab. He flies around the globe in a private jet (often accompanied by Michel Rolland, the world-renowned wine consultant), visiting a wine empire scattered across four continents.

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