The sale of Domaine Jean-Francois Ganevat to Russian billionaire Alexander Pumpyansky, son of steel magnate Dmitri Pumpyansky in September 2021 has raised questions amongst natural wine lovers and the wine world in general.
On November 3rd, 2021, 2 months after the sale and 5 months before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Jean-Francois released a statement to clarify/explain his decision to sell his vineyard to Alexander Pumpyansky: (translated into English by Aaron Ayscough)
" Dear friends,
Suppositions on the subject of the sale of the estate have sprouted on the internet, via social networks and others, for several weeks.
Anne and myself are little attached to what’s said of us, but certain concerns voiced by lovely people encountered in the past at salons, at the estate, or elsewhere - always in the presence of good wine - haven’t left us entirely indifferent. It’s particularly for these close friends, these visiting friends, and these enthusiasts, always respectful of of our work, that I wish to present, in the name of Anne and myself, our project.
I’m fifty-two years old, I’m at a period in my life when I wish to pass things on. I’m not old, but the metier of a peasant vigneron weighs upon a human. If something were to happen to me tomorrow, to sell the vineyards wouldn’t be a problem, but to find people capable of continuing the work we’ve done, for the négociant business as well as at the estate, would be one. A good succession is prepared well in advance. Through this project of succession, I’m also very vigilant to not disturb the wine market in the Jura.
For several years, I’ve often been approached to cede the estate, but I’ve never been convinced by the projects that were proposed to us. But yes, in September 2021, we sold our estate to Alexander Pumpiansky. I’ve heard it said here and there that he’s of Russian origin, sometimes as if it is something to be ashamed of! It’s true that he’s Russian, but insofar as it concerns me, that’s not how I define a human being. He lives near us and above all his human virtues, his knowledge of wine, and knowledge of vignerons convinced me. He became a friend thanks to his simplicity, his passion, and his humility.
Since 2008, Alexander is the owner of Domaine Prieuré Saint-Jean de Bébian in the Languedoc, where he enacted a titanic work in the vines and in the cellar. He knows the business, he worked to convert the estate to organics and biodynamics, and this, believe me, is not nothing.
What also appealed to me in Alexander is the project for the estate: he first asked me to above all not change anything, then together we put ourselves to planning it. We’re going to refurbish the buildings of the estate to offer better-adapted spaces. We’re going to concentrate ourselves on the improvement of our vinification methods through the pursuit of long aging periods and the integration of a supplementary patina. This is something that has danced in my head for a long time.
Through this project, the goal for me is to pursue this beautiful adventure. My attachments are here, in the vines. I will continue to be there everyday for the estate and the négociant business as they exist today. There are numerous micro-parcels and tiny cuvées, it’s indispensable that I transmit my savoir-faire: this will take several years. Concerning the life of the estate, the employees stay, as do my sister Anne and her daughter Clémence.
Dear friends, in practice nothing will change, the passion is intact. But at fifty-two years of age, it’s the occasion for me to concentrate on what I love to do: vinify! To free my spirit and, who knows, open myself up to other opportunities, such as that of vinifying in other regions. The project is above all for me the most beautiful way to assure the succession of our family’s work to someone in whom I have full confidence.
Five months later, the addition of Dmitri and Alexander Pumpyansky on the EU sanction list on March 9th 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has affected the situation at the estate.
Here is an article written and published by Aaron Ayscough on his blog 'Not drinking poison':
'Among the fourteen Russian businessmen added to the EU sanctions list yesterday, in response to Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine, was the billionaire Dmitry Pumpyansky, owner of the steel pipe manufacturer TMK. Pumpyansky, through investments run by his son, Alexander Pumpyansky, is also the owner, since September 2021, of the celebrated Jura natural wine estate Domaine Ganevat.
As wine lovers in general, and admirers of the Ganevats in particular, how complicit are we for supporting a business owned by a Russian oligarch?
As Branko Milanovic, a professor at the City University of New York's Graduate Center, writing for The Globalist in 2019, put it: “The Putin oligarchs are billionaires who serve at the discretion of the state.”
Anne Ganevat, reached by email yesterday, struck a note of perseverance, assuring me that the sanctions would not affect work at the estate.
“We have a sincere relationship with Alexander, and like him, we’re against this war. We’re heartbroken about this situation,” she says. “But after all, there are other estates that have sold to Russian investors, we’re not the only one.”
Indeed, many of the deep-pocketed Russian investors behind the purchase of EU wine estates in recent years are lately appearing on, or very near, sanctions lists.
FROM CHAMPAGNE TO BORDEAUX TO PROVENCE
The billionaire Russian wine tycoon Boris Titov made news in 2010 with a purchase of the champagne brand Château d’Avize from LVMH, along with 2.5 hectares in the Côte des Blancs. Four years later, the project was in a state of abandon - partly because Titov had newly expanded duties at home, as the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneur’s Rights, a position to which he was named by Putin himself. (Titov is also the official supplier of wine to the Kremlin.)
Last July, the Russian billionaire Andrey Filatov acquired a 9-hectare property in Saint Emilion, the Château La Grace Dieu des Prieurs. A noted patron of the arts and of chess, Filatov was awarded the Medal of the Order “For Merit to the Fatherland” by Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev in 2016.
And just eight days before Putin's forces invaded Ukraine, Brad Pitt sued Angelina Jolie for going behind his back to sell her stake in the former couple’s Provence rosé estate Château Mireval to Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler’s SPI Group.
For what it’s worth, Yuri Shefler is exiled and has been fighting the Russian government in courts for many years over rights to SPI group’s Stolichnaya vodka brand.
HOSTAGES OR HOSTAGE-TAKERS?
Similarly, before pouring any Côtes du Jura down the drain, we should acknowledge that the subject of sanctions is rather foggy.
Significant parts of the list of Russian oligarchs sanctioned in Donald Trump's 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (in which Pumpyansky figured) turned out to have been copied from a Forbes magazine list. Criticizing the haphazard nature of that round of sanctions in Bloomberg, the Russian editor Leonid Bershidsky wrote, “The hostages are on the list along with those who keep them hostage.”
Notably, in response to the increased sanctions announced yesterday, the Swedish economist Anders Åslund, author of Russia’s Crony Capitalism, tweeted: “I am not happy to see the Pumpyansky family [and two others] sanctioned. These are real self-made Russian businessmen in the private sector. They should not be sanctioned just because they have to attend Putin’s annual oligarch meetings.”
As New Yorker journalist and Putin biographer Masha Gessen observed, in a 2014 New York Times column entitled “The Myth of the Russian Oligarchs”: for oligarchs in Russia, “Giving up any pretense of independent political action has remained a condition for staying wealthy and safe.”
In the face of humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, can we forgive the complicity of the Russian oligarchy on account of their paradoxical political powerlessness?
THE SCALE OF EXPOSURE
Last week, before sanctions on the Pumpyansky family were announced, I noted that Dmitry Pumpyansky had figured among the Russian businessmen (including twelve other billionaires) summoned by Putin for briefing at the Kremlin on February 24th at the outset of the Ukraine invasion.
Seeking perspective on the issue, I got in touch with his son, thirty-five-year-old Alexander Pumpyansky. (Subscribers can read the full interview here.)
Pumpyansky fils was born in Yekaterinburg, and moved at age sixteen to Switzerland, where he studied business management and economics. He has resided in Switzerland ever since, managing his family’s investment portfolio outside Russia, which also includes the Languedoc estate Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian, which he and his father purchased in 2008.
Reached by phone in Geneva last week - before yesterday’s round of sanctions - Pumpyansky acknowledged that the sanctions had already been “impactful in terms of public relations.”
“Unfortunately, we hear a lot of criticism,” he said. “And I can understand, what with the present situation. The geopolitical climate is not easy.”
Pumpyansky confirmed that Domaine Ganevat was a family purchase in conjunction with his father. He explained his father’s presence at the February 24th Kremlin briefing as a business necessity. The family’s group employs 85’000 people in Russia. It is ineluctably exposed to the consequences of the war.
“I have a lot of Ukrainian friends, who live still there. And we have lots of Ukrainians who work in our company in Russia. It’s unavoidable that we’ll be together, and we must work together, especially now, when there are political conflicts, because if there’s hatred created on a human level, it’s much more complicated,” said Pumpyansky. “We’re doing everything we can to prevent that.”
Throughout the 2010s, many in the Jura wine scene used to make good-natured jokes about Jean-François Ganevat’s sizable platoon of interns, who, it was rumored, he’d employ to do things like de-stem trousseau with nail scissors. The Pumpyanskys responsibilities as an employer are on a different scale. Domaine Ganevat is among the least of their liabilities, when it comes to exposure to Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
But Pumpyansky is sensitive to the concerns of fellow natural wine lovers.
“All of Ganevat’s professional clients can be reassured,” he says. “I adore what they do, I adore Fan-Fan, and I'll do everything I can perpetuate the spirit of the estate - and to prevent the present events from impacting the estate.”
Aaron Ayscough, Not Drinking Poison
On March 12th 2022, we heard the news, reported by local newspaper Le Progrès, that the Pumpyansky family are selling their shares in Ganevat estate (and the ones in Prieuré St-Jean de Bébian)
here is the article from Le Progrès, published on March 12th 2022:
Translated as best as I could:
The Pumpyansky family has been added on the EU sanction list. Six months after purchasing the famous Rotalier-based Estate, they now need to sell it. A massive set-back for Jean-Francois Ganevat, who is still closely linked to the estate.
On March 9th, the EU commission extended their black list of businessmen and oligarch involved in key sector of the Russian economy, freezing their assets on the continent. In this list, aimed at sanctioning Moscow, can be found Russian billionaire Dmitri Pumpyansky, as well as his son, Alexander. Both are the new owners, since September 2021, of celebrated Domaine Ganevat in Rotalier, Jura. This announcement has raised questions about the future and viability of Domaine Ganevat, a family estate, passed on from generations of the same family since 1650, until Jean-Francois agreed on the sale less than 6 months ago.
We contacted Alexander Pumpyansky at his office in Geneva, where he resides with his family for the last 20 years. He announced that he was selling his assets in the French vineyards he purchased. Domaine Ganevat and also Domaine Prieure de St-Jean de Bebian in Languedoc, bought in 2008.
'Our 2 French vineyards won't be concerned by these sanctions because we are selling our interests and shares in them. I purchased Domaine Ganevat because I fell in love with the work conducted there by Jean-Francois. We had a shared goal to develop it further. Unfortunately, I could have never imagined we would find ourselves in such a situation. As a mark of friendship with Jean-Francois, I prefer to protect the future of the Domaine, by selling my shares and cutting all ties with it.' said Alexander Pumpyansky, shocked by the EU sanctions.
Jean-Francois Ganevat is also saddened and shocked to say the least, six months after selling his 'baby' to ensure and preserve its future, the 52 year-old vigneron wasn't expecting such a poisoned chalice.
' We were so happy to have found the right person. And now, we are totally surprised by this announcement. We didn't decide to sell the estate to Alexander out of the blue, we picked him because he is truly passionate, there was a real connection. Now, we have to wait and see how the situation evolves. It is all so sudden. I will not let the estate nor our employees down, I have entire trust in them. I will do everything in my power to ensure Domaine Ganevat continues to exist.' concedes a shaken JF Ganevat.
Following the publication of an article on social media by free-lance blogger Aaron Ayscough of 'Not drinking poison', few calls to boycott the wines of Ganevat have started to appear.
'We are entering a very delicate period; all of this will more than likely affect sales, but the situation is well-above my head, I am vigneron and don't do politics.' concedes Jean-Francois Ganevat
We expect an official announcement from the estate in the next few days, in the meantime, the future of this very famous Jura Domaine seems suspended.
A.B, Le Progrès
And here is the original article in French:
Domaine Ganevat : le nouveau propriétaire russe va devoir vendre
Par Arnaud BASTION - 12 mars 2022 à 06:15 - Le Progrès
La famille Pumpyansky figure sur la liste noire de l’Union européenne visant à sanctionner la Russie pour l’invasion de l’Ukraine. Six mois après avoir fait l’acquisition du célèbre domaine situé à Rotalier, elle est contrainte de s’en défaire. Un énorme coup dur pour Jean-François Ganevat qui restait étroitement associé à l’exploitation.
L’invasion de l’ Ukraine par la Russie de Vladimir Poutine aura des conséquences jusque dans notre paisible département.
Le 9 mars, la Commission européenne a élargi sa liste noire d’hommes d’affaires et oligarques impliqués dans des secteurs clé de l’économie russe, dont les avoirs sur le continent sont gelés. Dans cette liste, visant à sanctionner Moscou, on retrouve le milliardaire Dmitry Pumpyansky, ainsi que son fils Alexander, propriétaires depuis septembre 2021 du célèbre domaine Ganevat à Rotalier. Une annonce qui soulève bon nombre de questions quant à la pérennité d’un domaine familial, qui s’est transmis de père en fils depuis 1650, jusqu’à ce que Jean-François Ganevat ne le cède il y a moins de six mois.
Contacté à son bureau situé à Genève, ville où il réside depuis 20 ans, Alexander Pumpyansky, a annoncé au Progrès qu’il allait se désolidariser des domaines viticoles français dont il a fait l’acquisition. Le domaine Ganevat, donc, mais aussi celui du Prieuré Saint-Jean de Bébian, à Pézenas dans le Languedoc, acheté en 2008.
« Céder les parts pour protéger le domaine »
« Les domaines français ne seront pas concernés par ces sanctions puisque notre famille est en train de céder les parts. J’ai acheté le domaine Ganevat car j’étais amoureux du travail fourni par Jean-François. Nous avions une volonté commune de le développer encore davantage. Malheureusement, je n’ai jamais pensé que nous nous retrouverions dans une telle situation. Donc en preuve de mon amitié avec Jean-François, je préfère protéger l’avenir du domaine en cédant les parts pour ne plus être lié à celui-ci », lâche Alexander Pumpyansky, qui se dit abattu par ces sanctions européennes.
Jean-François Ganevat sous le choc
Abattu, Jean-François Ganevat l’est tout autant. Voire plus. À peine six mois après avoir vendu son « bébé » pour en assurer l’avenir , le vigneron de 52 ans ne s’attendait certainement pas à un tel cadeau empoisonné. « On était content d’avoir trouvé la bonne personne. Mais là, avec cette annonce, nous sommes tombés des nues. Cela nous rend malade. Mais nous n’avions pas choisi cet homme par hasard. C’est un vrai passionné. Il correspondait à mon état d’esprit. Là, on attend de voir comment tout cela va évoluer. Car c’est assez soudain. Mais je ne laisserai pas tomber le domaine et les salariés en qui j’ai toute confiance. Je vais faire tout ce qui est possible pour que le domaine Ganevat continue d’exister », relate un Jean-François Ganevat encore sous le choc de la nouvelle.
Sur les réseaux sociaux, notamment suite à la publication Twitter d’un rédacteur free-lance, Aaron Ayscough, qui tient le blog Not drinking poison, on peut déjà lire plusieurs posts qui appellent au boycott des vins estampillés Ganevat.
« Nous entrons dans une période qui risque d’être délicate pour nous. Tout cela va probablement se ressentir sur les ventes. Mais la situation me dépasse complètement. Je suis vigneron et je ne fais pas de politique », concède Jean-François Ganevat.
Une annonce officielle, de la part du domaine, devrait être faite dans les prochains jours. Pour l’heure, l’avenir de ce fameux vignoble jurassien reste en suspens.
A.B, Le Progrès "
On March 16th, French TV channel - France 3 Bourgogne- Franche-Comté - reported that Jean-François Ganevat and Benoit Pontenier had jointly purchased back both Domaine Ganevat and Prieuré de Saint-Jean de Bébian, the other French vineyard owned by Alexander Pumpyansky.
Both estates are now back in the hands of their original owners, Jean-François Ganevat is once again the owner of Domaine Ganevat and Benoit Pontenier the one of Prieuré de Saint-Jean de Bébian.
* * *
Visit, tasting and dinner at Domaine Ganevat, Saturday 19th March 2022:
Visiting Jean-Francois and his sister Anne Ganevat is always a highlight of the year for me; My last visit there was in 2019 so I was really looking forward to seeing them again, especially after their recent roller coaster of emotions due to the above.
This trip (as my previous 4) had been organised by long-time friend Eric Narioo of Les Caves de Pyrene and Vino di Anna fame, our travelling pals were Soif London Head Chef Simon Barnett and Manager Riccardo Parvoli. And a joyous travelling quatuor it proved to be.
Around 60 happy punters from the 4 corners of the World were there and already half way through the tasting when we arrived, importers, cavistes, restaurant / wine bar owners, winemakers etc.. but we did manage to catch up.
The 2020 reds we tasted showcased the generosity of the vintage, ripe, fruit-filled, super pleasant for the Negoce side, all of this plus a tense mineral streak and added structure for the Domaine ones. Overall some super stars in the making.
The whites were mostly 2018, they had just been bottled, after 4 years spent in their respective Vats / Barrels / Foudres. The reason for this very long elevage is 2018 was a rich, solar year and Ganevat felt the extra time spent in vats have given the wine a chance to re-gain in minerality, tension and acidity.
It was astonishing to taste the resulting wines, while all have that backbone of richness and ripeness, characteristic of the vintage, they are monuments of balance, tension and focus. More precision and intensity will come with age in bottle, but drinking them now was sheer pleasure.
So far only 2 ‘Domaine’ whites have been bottled, Varrons, a newly purchased vineyard and Chamois du Paradis, JF will keep the others in vats for another few months/ to a year, until whenever he is happy with the final result.
As he mentioned ‘if I had bottled them in 2019/2020, I would have made rich, unbalanced whites' (on a side note, the next day we visited Christian Binner another giant in the Natural Wine World, in Alsace, who applied the same long elevage to his recent hot vintages, for a very similar result)
Rare are the vignerons working in this way today, with so much commitment and true dedication to make the best possible wine, whatever it takes and at whatever cost to them. I see them as true artisans, craftsmen, they see themselves as simply doing the right thing.
The implications in terms of space, investment and cashflow are huge, just try to imagine the labyrinth that is Ganevat’s cuverie, countless vats, barrels, amphoraes and foudres of every shape and form, full of wine from different vintages, waiting for bottling time, for their final assemblage, waiting till they're ready.
About the man himself, I think the best way to describe Jean-Francois Ganevat, beside being one of the most gifted winemaker of his generation, is a man larger than life and generous. Generosity with all his visitors, serving gargantuesque meals, opening countless amount of bottles, magnums, jeroboams of his most precious wines. Jean-Francois and Anne have been doing this for years, and certainly did last Saturday,
Generosity also with his peers, helping a lot of young vignerons to set up or make the switch to biodynamic farming and natural winemaking – Kenjiro Kagami amongst the most famous of his protégé.
Yep, visiting Ganevat is always a special moment.