Britons now form the largest group of foreigners buying up French vineyards in the Rhone Valley and the Languedoc-Roussillon regions. British investment now stands ahead of the Swiss, Dutch and Germans, according to Vinea Transaction who carried out a survey.

The trend, which is repeating itself in other wine-growing areas such as Provence, the south West, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, is being driven by interest from former City workers seeking a change in lifestyle.

The French, however, are abandoning their vineyards at an unprecedented rate. The number of independent wine-makers fell from 60,000 to 38,000 between 1979 and 2000, and is estimated to have dropped by a further 8,000 in the past seven years.

Competition from so-called New World wines is putting pressure on vignerons from the lesser-known French regions. That combined with an increased awareness of drink-driving dangers in France and a general reduction in the number of litres drunk by the French each year is taking its toll on the market.

Prices of vineyards range from EUR 20,000 a hectare up to EUR 150,000.

Foreign owners of vineyards in the Languedoc-Roussillon and Rhone Valley, according to Vinea Transaction’s survey:

32%: Britain

23%: Switzerland

13%: The Netherlands

8%: Germany

7%: Belgium

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