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Seely buys major Douro estate

AXA Millesimes chief Christian Seely has just completed a €10m purchase in the Douro where he plans to renovate a moribund winery and build a luxury hotel.

The project – which has nothing to do with AXA – is the brainchild of Seely together with a consortium of some dozen private French and British investors

Quinta do Romaneira is a 450ha estate on the banks of the Douro in Portugal, with 300ha of old vines of which only around 70ha of vines are producing. The rest of the vines are abandoned, and the estate is understood to be extremely run down.

‘In the past it has made great wines,’ Seely told decanter.com. ‘But its glory days were really about 70 years ago.’

The reason for taking on the estate, he said, was its magnificent position, with three kilometres of river frontage, and its possibilities as a vineyard and a hotel.

‘I’m certain that it is a great terroir with the potential to make a great wine. That is the point.’

Seely said his experience turning round the underperforming Quinta do Noval when he took over in 1993 would ‘stand him in good stead’ with this new project.

The plan over the next 10 years is to produce 50% vintage and late-bottled vintage port, and 50% high end red and white still wines.

Within the estate he intends to build a super-luxurious ‘destination-style’ hotel with around 20 bedrooms. Financial backing comes from the original group of investors and Seely has teamed up with hotelier Thierry Teyssier to mastermind the project.

Teyssier runs the luxury Dar Ahlam project in a Moroccan oasis, and according to Seely he wants to do the same in the Douro.

‘The moment he saw it he fell in love with it,’ he said. ‘Dar Ahlam means House of Dreams. We will call the Douro hotel something similar in Portuguese.’

The hotel should open in 2006. Seely vinified his first vintage this year from the remaining vines at Romaneira, and his next move will be to replant 40ha of vines.

Lastly, he said he had ‘had his eye’ on the estate for some time. ‘It is unique,’ he said. ‘It suits us perfectly because of its potential. It was the last opportunity to take on a great estate that wasn’t performing to its full potential.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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