Thursday, June 19, 2008

China Organic Agriculture Buys Vineyard: Business or Pleasure?

In another case of a company outgrowing its name, China Organic Agriculture (CNOA.OB) has decided to buy a vineyard in California called Bellisimo Vineyard and will start selling wine in China. Bellisimo produces grapes for other wineries (including E&J Gallo) and also bottles its own Bellisimo-branded chardonnay, merlot and cabernet. CNOA calls this wine "premium", but those familiar with E&J Gallo will know that this is hardly the case. Perhaps they can fool the Chinese consumers by calling it premium California wine, but soon enough the truth will out. If there's one thing that defines the nouveau riche in China, it is that they are not stupid. At least not for long.

And of course, these grapes are not organically produced. How that fits into a company called China Organic Agriculture is far from certain.

But look at the beautiful pictures of the vineyard located just north of Calistoga in Napa Valley. Can't you imagine CNOA's management team relaxing in the beautiful Tuscan-styled villa, playing tennis next to the lush lawn, and lazing by the Olympic-size swimming pool? With an annual revenue (latest figures from 2005) of less than $0.5 million, and with only $25,000 (yes, twenty-five thousand dollars) of that from actual wine sales, I suspect this move is really less about expanding into "premium wine" and more about buying a vacation home for CNOA's own nouveau riche insiders.

When there's no one to stop you, I suspect many people out there would do the same. Wouldn't you?