Demand for vineyards worldwide has grown dramatically in the past five years, according to international estate agents. The Tuscan office of Knight Frank alone reports about 20 enquiries a year, a number that is growing fast. Would-be wine-makers need to do a great deal of research, however. Tending and harvesting the grapes is back-breaking work, and that’s only the beginning. After that, you’ll need to make the wine and sell it, which, says Adam Dakin of Savills, is the hardest feat of all.
The choice between commercial and hobby winemaking boils down to how much risk you’re willing to take (it’s very difficult to make money from a vineyard, warns Jo Leverett of Savills), how much time you have (hobbyists can outsource virtually all production, says Andrew Thomas of Strutt & Parker), and how much money you can spend (equipment and staff costs need to be factored in, among others). It will also dictate which type of property you need to buy.
Buyers who plan to take up winemaking as a hobby should look for a small estate, otherwise they will quickly find themselves embroiled in a full-time job, warns Mr Dakin. They also need to ensure the residential element is the one that really carries the property’s value, at least in the UK. ‘If the value is in the house rather than the vines, it’s always more reasonable from the saleability viewpoint,’ says Philip Harvey of Property Vision.
By contrast, people looking to set up a commercial operation need to purchase a larger vineyard that shows potential for future expansion, comes with quality equipment in excellent condition-Michael Baynes of Bordeaux specialist Maxwell Storrie Baynes advises checking everything from the age of the vat house to the conformity of the effluent systems-and employs staff who know when and how to pick grapes, handle them, turn them into wine and store it correctly.
Both hobbyists and entrepreneurs, however, need to make sure that they pick a property that has the right soil, climate and conditions to grow good grapes-and this is where many would-be winemakers make costly mistakes, says Mr Harvey. He explains that, in the UK, vines need to be planted on chalk or green sand, on a gently sloping, south-facing aspect with water flowing at the bottom, and at the correct height.
Mr Thomas urges people to avoid low-lying grounds susceptible to frost, or elevated positions where there’s a lot of wind exposure. He and Mr Harvey also suggest purchasing a vineyard with established grapes of varieties that are both popular and suited to the terroir. In England, for example, weaker sunlight levels result in greater grape acidity than in Continental Europe. This is ideal for sparkling wines, says Mr Thomas, ‘whereas producers of still wines will have a more difficult task in obtaining a consistent product. Consequently, the three main Champagne varieties Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are the best ones to choose.’
A relatively small number of areas around the world offer the correct combination of soil and weather to suit viticulture, and estates in prestigious wine areas are extremely pricey. Mr Dakin quotes values in the region of €900,000 per hectare of planted vineyard land for Pomerol, €1 million per hectare in Champagne and a whopping €2 million for a top Burgundy cru.
In England, which is a relatively new wine region, albeit one where land is expensive, prices are more reasonable. ‘There are some boutique vineyards in West Sussex with 5 to 10 acres valued at between £750,000 and £1 million, because the property isn’t best in class,’ explains Mr Harvey. ‘If
the same land had a beautiful farmhouse, it could be valued at £2.5 million to £5 million.’
Prices can be even lower elsewhere in England, but the South-East-particularly Hampshire, Kent and East and West Sussex-offers the best terroir, suggests Mr Harvey. ‘Interestingly, the belt of chalk that runs along the South Downs is the same seen in the Champagne region, meaning that the conditions are quite similar.’ In fact, even the notoriously patriotic French winemakers are looking into the South Downs: Strutt & Parker’s Mr Thomas reveals he has been approached by some Champagne houses wishing to lease farmland in the area.
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