The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land-grab slur on Gerard

Languedoc, Feb. 9: When the village of Aniane in the South of France fought off an attempt by an American wine corporation to buy its land last year, the actor Gerard Depardieu hailed it as a victory for the ordinary man.

The star of the Asterix films compared it to a triumph of the legendary cartoon hero. “This amazing story of this little village which resisted the invader pleased me a great deal,” he said.

Now, however, the 54-year-old actor, multi-millionaire and bon viveur has been accused of using his fame and fortune to stage his own invasion of Aniane, leapfrogging local people to buy land at prices over the odds.

“Depardieu has used his fame and his money to get this land,” said Philippe Coston, 28, a local farmer who has been waiting almost three years for land to set up his own vineyard. “He has paid double the price, which meant there was no way we could compete. This was done without any local consultation and a lot of people are very unhappy.”

A patchwork of vineyards surrounds Aniane, one of the most prestigious wine growing areas of the Languedoc. Coston’s great-grandfather was a wine grower in the region, and his grandfather and father too.

The young farmer said that his hopes of continuing the family tradition are slim. “I was promised land around here. I even paid a deposit of £5,000 to secure it, and persuaded the bank to lend me money for equipment to get started. Then suddenly I was told I couldn’t buy the land because it had been declared a conservation area. It’s a bit different to the way Gerard Depardieu has been treated. I’ve been waiting years and still don’t have any land — he comes in here and within months he has.”

Under French law, the town’s mayor can effectively veto any sale of agricultural land to ensure that it remains in local hands. Residents of Aniane complain that their Communist mayor, Manuel Diaz, allowed himself to be so charmed by Depardieu that he allowed him to jump the queue of more deserving local wine growers.

Diaz admitted he found Depardieu “very sympathetic” and added: “He came to dinner at my home and I cooked him wild pig, which I prepared myself. We had a great time.”

Coston pointed to the 5.4 acre south-facing site bought by Depardieu for almost £10,000 an acre last week. “It’s a real kick in the teeth for us,” he said.

Depardieu has cultivated the image of a gentleman farmer since buying his first vineyard, the Chateau de Tigne estate in Anjou, in 1989. Last year, he bought the Chateau Gadet in the Medoc region of Bordeaux.

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