Campari's Deal Comes With Chaser: Villa on French Riviera

Campari-Grand Marnier Mix in $760 Million Deal
  • Italian distiller, Marnier stockholders to share sale proceeds
  • Property once owned by Belgian king features botanic garden

Davide Campari-Milano SpA is getting more than a popular liqueur brand with its acquisition of Grand Marnier Group. The Italian distiller also takes ownership of a historic villa in a French coastal town that’s reputed to have the most expensive residential real estate in the world.

The Marnier-Lapostolle family that controls Grand Marnier has owned Villa les Cedres in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat since the 1920s. The property, surrounded by a 14-hectare (34.6-acre) botanical garden, is on a peninsula that juts into the Mediterranean between Nice and Monaco. The neighbors include Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, OAO Lukoil executive Leonid Fedun, the Ferrero family of Nutella fame and Curt Engelhorn, the great grandson of the founder of German chemical company BASF SE, according to media reports.

Campari said it plans to sell the property and share the proceeds with Grand Marnier shareholders. Buyers may be hard to come by in a market where, according to the French finance magazine Capital, properties can fetch more than 200,000 euros ($220,000) a square meter. Russian tycoons bid up prices in recent years, but those buyers have disappeared amid the Russian economic slump and the plunge in oil prices, said Alexandra Connolly, who runs a real-estate agency in the area.

Most Expensive

“It’s without a doubt the most expensive place on the French Riviera and it’s probably one of the most expensive places in the world,” she said in a phone interview. “Now we’ve had 10 years of people coming in and just paying more and more and more and more and more, and now, if the Russians aren’t there, there’s no real clientele that will come in and can or want to pay those prices.”

The villa might fetch at least 200 million euros and possibly as much as 350 million euros in a sale, but estimates are difficult given the economic situation, Connolly said.

At least one Russian billionaire has already expressed buyer’s remorse in the exclusive region, known as the Côte d’Azur in French. In 2009, Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Group sued to get back a 39 million-euro deposit on Villa Leopolda, a 20-acre estate, arguing that owner Lily Safra -- the widow of banker Edmond Safra -- had changed the terms of the sale. Onexim had agreed to pay 390 million euros for the villa before the financial crisis hit. A court later ruled that under French law, Onexim forfeited its deposit.

Stones’ Exile

The area has long been a playground for the fabulously wealthy. King Leopold II of Belgium owned Villa les Cedres before Louis-Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle bought the property in the 1920s. The Rolling Stones recorded their 1972 album Exile on Main St in a villa in the neighboring town of Villefranche sur Mer.

Campari, which makes Wild Turkey bourbon and Skyy vodka alongside its namesake dark red liqueur, acknowledged that the sale may not happen quickly.

“The villa is in one of the most exclusive enclaves in the south of France and sales of this sort of property come only once or twice in a decade,” Campari Chief Executive Officer Robert Kunze-Concewitz said on a call with investors. From the proceeds of a sale, Campari will keep 80 million euros and the rest will be distributed among Grand Marnier shareholders, he added.

Campari agreed to buy Grand Marnier in a deal that values the company at 684 million euros, the companies said Tuesday.

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