Putin honours Bordeaux with visit

  • Wednesday 29 January 2003

Russian president Vladimir Putin is to visit Bordeaux in what is seen as a major coup for the world's premier winegrowing region.

The president and his entourage of around 80 people – including a clutch of ministers – will only make one other stop in France, in Paris.

The delegation arrives at Bordeaux's Merignac airport at 11am on 12 February, kicking off a rapid three-stop tour which ends at the airport again at five o'clock in the afternoon.

Mr Putin will first visit Thales Avionics, a military and civil aeronautics company which is building the MIG-AT training plane in collobaration with Russian companies. From there the president will go straight to Chateau Cheval Blanc, where he will meet owner Bernard Arnault and managing director Pierre Lurton.

Lurton, Bordeaux newspaper Sud Ouest says, is going to open a bottle of the 1952 vintage, the year Putin was born. There is a precedent: when Putin's forbear Nikita Kruschev came to Bordeaux in 1960 he was offered a bottle of 1894 Yquem by the Marquis de Lur Saluces at the illustrious Sauternes chateau.

Getting Putin (pictured, on right, with French president Jacques Chirac) to come to Bordeaux is a coup for the area, as Russia is seen as an important market for Bordeaux. The Unions des Grands Crus mounted a major tasting in Moscow at the end of last year, and luminaries such as Bernard Magrez (CEO of major wine-owning company the William Pitters Group) and Gerard Depardieu have visited.

There have been ripples of protest at the visit of a leader some see as unacceptably repressive for his draconian policy towards the breakaway republic of Chechnya. Sud Ouest is uncompromising: columnist Andre Glucksmann suggests Putin's policies are 'as if [Spanish premier Jose Maria] Aznar had razed the Basque country, or Tony Blair, Belfast,' and says such policies have not been seen 'since Hitler went into Warsaw.'

But Bordeaux is a small place and it's unlikely there will be protesters lying down in front of the presidential cavalcade. One wine industry observer said, 'It's a very bourgeois town – people don't get up in arms about this sort of thing.'

picture courtesy NATO photos

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