Story & photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling GourmetTM
The irascible Travelling Gourmet tells the tale of how a celebration became a calamity in Bordeaux…south-western France…
Tragic helicopter crash kills Chinese billionaire and French Wine maker screamed the headline…
Sunday December 22, 2013
Lam Kok of China, who had just bought a winery from James Gregoire in Bordeaux, France, died in a crash after a helicopter flight to celebrate his purchase of a winery. The crash in to the Dordogne River was fatal with no survivors. Kok was in the helicopter piloted by Gregoire. Other passengers included Kok’s 12-year-old son and a person believed to be a language interpreter.
Behind every great man is a woman. That popular saying is particularly apt in the case of Kok Lam, the mainland tycoon killed in a helicopter crash in France on Friday.
Business friends of Kok say his wife, Lau Sheung-wan, also known as Liu Xiangyun, was the real brains behind many of the successful projects of the Brilliant Group, the company he headed.
Photo was taken just before the tragic helicopter crash
Founded by the couple in 1995, the Kunming-based business empire is a household name in Yunnan province.
The group’s business activities include upmarket teas, cultural tourism, property development, hotels and resorts, management of shopping centres, and recently fine French wine.
In a previous interview with Kunming newspaper Metro Times, Kok was honest enough to say that his role in the group was to execute the strategies thought up by his wife.
In the same interview, Liu said: “I and my husband are the best partners. He takes care of money. I do not take care of the money stuff. I am not good at managing money. But I am good at making it.”
Some of the couple’s business friends said the Brilliant Group had been involved in some unsuccessful property projects in its early years and that it was Liu who had revived them, turning them into boutique hotels and spa resorts. “Some of Ms Liu’s projects have even won awards,” one of the friends said.
The group later invested in projects to develop ancient villages and towns in Yunnan province into tourist attractions.
After their success in the hotel business, they entered the wine business. Kok reportedly told business friends in Yunnan that they had wanted to buy a wine estate in France and develop it into an upmarket tea- and wine-tasting retreat. They also planned to build a hotel nearby. They also had plans to sell the French wine at their hotels in the mainland.
Kok bought Chateau de La Riviere and its 65 hectares of vineyards for €30 million (HK$318 million), reportedly the biggest-ever Chinese investment in Bordeaux. He was in the helicopter surveying the vineyard with its former owner and an interpreter when it crashed into the Dordogne river. The body of Kok’s 12-year-old son was recovered on Saturday. There is no chance that Kok, French winemaker James Gregoire or their interpreter could have survived.
Liu was meant to be on the doomed flight, but she declined at the last minute, saying she was afraid of helicopters.
A Brilliant Group spokesman said some executives had travelled to Bordeaux to take care of related matters. The executives issued a statement saying the company would stick with its plan to turn the chateau into a tea- and wine-tasting retreat.
Hotel magnate Lam Kok died, along with his 12-year-old son and pilot James Gregoire, who had sold him the 160-acre estate Chateau de la Rivière just hours before.
Based in Hong Kong SAR but originally from mainland China. Lam Kok kept a low profile until now and was
Hong Kong-based Brilliant, which specialises in rare teas and luxury hotels in China, had said it wanted to turn the chateau into a high class tea and wine tasting centre.
The group — whose interests range from Pu’er, a dark fermented tea from China’s Yunnan region, to top-end resorts — also planned to build a hotel near the vineyard.
Wealthy Chinese have developed a taste for fine French wines and their extensive buying power has been credited with pushing prices for certain vintages to record levels.
In recent years they have increasingly taken to buying vineyards as well. But the value of each transaction has generally been under 10 million euros ($13.6 million).
politically connected. Unconfirmed rumours hint at Triad links.
A person’s attitude to food and wine…mirrors his attitude to life itself.
James Gregoire, the owner of Vignobles Gregoire which included Chateau de La Riviere, located in the Fronsac appellation, died in a helicopter crash just one day after selling his chateau to a wealthy Asian investor. In a terrible twist of fate, the previous owner also died in a flying accident when the Cessna plane he was flying in crashed. That makes three owners in row of the same chateau that have died in flying accidents!
James Gregoire was known as an experienced helicopter pilot who owned and enjoyed flying his own helicopter. Sadly, Gregoire had just closed a deal to sell Chateau de la Riviere the day before, Thursday, December 19. Chateau de La Riviere is the largest estate and vineyard in the Fronsac appellation at 65 hectares. Chateau de la Rivere was sold to the Chinese billionaire Lam Kok. This deal is said to be the largest investment by an Asian yet in a Bordeaux vineyard, surpassing the deal for Chateau Bon Pasteur that took place earlier this year. Rumors about the price peg the deal at close to 30 million Euros!
The 46 year old purchaser of Chateau de la Riviere, Lam Kok, managed the investment firm, The Brilliant group. The Brilliant Group has numerous investments that include multiple, luxury hotels in China. The Brilliant group also produces and sells luxury teas from the Pu’er tea plantation. The tea, which is a type of dark, fermented tea comes from the Yunnan region of China.
The 12 year old son of Lam Kok was also on the helicopter as was another as of yet, unnamed passenger who might have been working as an interpreter for Lam Kok. The group was said to have been flying over the Right Bank vineyard surveying the land when the accident took place.
James Gregoire purchased Chateau de la Riviere in 2003. In a tragic twist of fate, the previous owner of Chateau de la Riviere, Jean Leprince was also killed in a flying accident which took place in 2002. James Gregoire obtained Chateau de la Riviere the following year. James Gregoire was also the owner of the well-known and highly regarded Bordeaux negociant firm, Vintex. His other holdings include Chateau Bois Noir and Chateau Puynard. James Gregoire leaves behind two sons that are involved with the Bordeaux wine business; Cyrille and Nicola Gregoire.