“ A handful of hectares in your finca ”: the rise of the amateur vineyard


When David Smith examined his frost-damaged vines last month after the extreme cold snap in France, he knew it could have been a lot worse. Some winemakers lost 90% of their harvest when temperatures dropped to record highs. But the late budding of its Provençal vineyard causes it to lose only half of its Grenache grapes and a quarter of its Syrah. Across the country, about a third of the wine harvest is said to be ruined.

The retired R&D consultant from the UK typically keeps 20% of his grapes to make 350 bottles and sells the rest to a trader – a wine merchant who buys grapes from small farmers to pay the costs of their expensive hobby.

“I will lose 40% of my income [this year], which is worse than the frosts of last year, the drought of 2019 and the rains of 2018 – the last four years have been bad for the winegrowers, ”he says. “But you’ve probably heard the adage that if you want to make a small fortune in wine, start with a big one.”

Winemaking may be a precarious business, but that doesn’t deter enthusiasts like Smith from embracing the centuries-old tradition. Even during the pandemic, buyers around the world have been looking for ‘amateur’ wineries in France, Spain and Italy – these small vineyards typically span a few hectares and will produce up to around 7,000 bottles per year.

A turnkey 6 bedroom château and vineyard between Saint-Emilion and Bergerac, France, with an annual production of 10,000 bottles, € 3.18m

As well as offering buyers the opportunity to impress home customers with their ‘own’ wine, this niche market also attracts those who wish to produce their own organic or bespoke vintages.

“Some of the successful entrepreneurs who now buy small vineyards are innovating with techniques and grape varieties to produce high quality wines,” says Michael Baynes of Vineyards-Bordeaux, an agency that typically sells around 10 wineries a year, but only the half that in 2020.

“People generally want a stone bastide overlooking beautifully manicured vineyards,” says Chris Moore of real estate agent Home Hunts, who specializes in selling leisure vineyards in the Var. “The Parisians buy them but also the Dutch, the Germans and the Americans – I sold a property with a hectare of young vines to a buyer in Laguna Beach [in California] last month, who will come to live here. “

As with Smith, an early retirement plan is the reason Oklahoma City-based surgeon Robert Tibbs, 53, buys a small vineyard in Tuscany or Germany with four partners and a collective budget of $ 4 million. “The regulations and taxation in the four major wine-producing states of the United States are brutal, so we look to Europe. We’re all wine geeks and I won’t be sitting around doing nothing when I retire soon.

Vineyards in San Gimignano, Tuscany: With exports falling due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Italian government has ordered 70 million bottles of surplus wine to be made into hand sanitizer

Vineyards in San Gimignano, Tuscany: With exports declining due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Italian government has ordered 70 million bottles of surplus wine to be made into hand sanitizer © Getty Images / EyeEm

Planting new vines costs around € 30,000 per hectare, and it can take four years to get wine from new vines. Moore recommends finding a property with existing vines. “But be aware that the vines can be under a long-term rental contract with a local farmer – supposedly renting agreements – for many years.

Many hobbyists prefer this, however. This can be a good way to deal with it, and it transfers the financial risk of extreme weather events to the farmer, who can give you a few bottles in exchange for a reduction in rent.

The French rural land agency SAFER reports that there were 9,200 vineyard sales in 2019, with last year’s figures not yet known but considered considerably lower.

The price of a mature vineyard depends on the appellation (the classification of wine regions). Champagne is the most expensive region, averaging € 1.108m per hectare in 2019, followed by Bourgogne-Beaujolais-Savoie-Jura at € 189,200, although in parts of Bordeaux-Aquitaine prices rise to € 2.3m per hectare (Pauillac).

Cabernet Franc grapes in St Emilion, in the Bordeaux region: planting new vines costs around € 30,000 per hectare, and it will take four years to produce wine from new vines

Cabernet Franc grapes in Saint-Emilion, in the Bordeaux region: planting new vines costs around € 30,000 per hectare, and it will take four years to produce wine from new vines © Alamy Stock Photo

According to SAFER, prices increased in most French regions between 2018 and 2019, with the price per hectare in Bordeaux-Aquitaine increasing by 3.4% to € 105,100; and prices in the Loire and Burgundy regions are both up 4 percent.

It was the relative accessibility of the Loire region – € 32,300 per hectare on average in 2019 – that caught the attention of Oslo entrepreneur Andrew Marshall. He bought a neglected three-bedroom house in Saumur with four hectares of AOC Anjou vines – managed by an award-winning local winemaker – for € 183,600.

He hopes his Cabernet Franc grapes will produce 15,000 bottles a year to supply Carlowrie Castle in Edinburgh, the mansion he owns and operates as a hotel. “I love Crémant [a sparkling wine made with the same technique as champagne] and I want to create a pink version, ”he says. “We are in the process of snatching [removing] a few old vines to plant new ones, so our whole harvest was not affected by the frosts.

3 bedroom Provencal farmhouse in Cotignac with 2.1 ha of vines under contract with a local farmer, € 750,000

3 bedroom Provencal farmhouse in Cotignac with 2.1 ha of vines under contract with a local farmer, € 750,000

Even without extreme frosts, making a wine your way can make money for the bleeding, as Ugo Bertolotto of Genoa admits. He called on an expert French winemaker to help him produce a red wine “à la Bordeaux” at his eight-bedroom estate near Siena, with half a hectare of vines.

“I didn’t want the ‘basic Chianti’ he produced so I thought why not make my own wine?” says Bertolotto, who works in oil and gas. “It produces 2,800 to 3,200 bottles a year of a Super-Tuscan red that costs me a lot more money than it needs – and that’s a lot more than I can drink or give. ” Bertolotto has decided to sell his vineyard, available through Casa & Country Italian Property for 10 million euros.

A Chianti Classico vineyard between Florence and Siena can cost as much as € 150,000 per hectare, while in Montalcino (which produces Brunello and Sassicaia wines) it can be double, says estate agent Jeremy Onslow-Macaulay. . Supply limits maintain prices. “In the Brunello and Chianti Classico regions, growers are rarely, if ever, granted planting rights,” he says.

A three-bedroom Tuscan farmhouse with vineyard, olive grove and swimming pool, € 1.48m

A three-bedroom Tuscan farmhouse with vineyard, olive grove and swimming pool, € 1.48m

Italian winegrowers have lived through a few difficult years. In 2019, extreme weather conditions – floods, storms and heat waves – were behind a 12% drop in wine production in Italy, according to ISTAT, the Italian bureau of statistics. With exports declining due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government has ordered 70 million bottles of surplus wine to be made into hand sanitizer.

Yet on the Spanish island of Mallorca, the appetite for new vineyards has led to some recent restrictions, according to Jaume Fullana, a third-generation winemaker who manages vineyard projects for Dutch, Swedish, Belgian, British and British owners. Germans.

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“Nobody wanted Mallorcan wine 24 years ago when we restarted the family winery, but now it’s a popular European dream to have a handful of acres in your finca,” he says. “In 2020, there were 2,000 hectares registered in Mallorca, up from 1,200 in 2000. In December, the Spanish government made it much more difficult to plant a new vineyard.”

Vineyards in the Tramuntana mountains, Mallorca

Vineyards in the Tramuntana mountains, Mallorca © Alamy

He says it costs between € 5,000 and € 10,000 a year to maintain a hectare of vines on the island – more on the rocky terraces of the Tramuntana mountain range, where pollen can produce a more complex grape variety.

Former investment banker Walter Kraushaar, originally from Germany, planted vines next to the farm he shares with his American partner William Stanley in Inca, a town in the center of the island. They planted a hectare to make a “pale Provencal rosé” and planted more and opened a cellar at Finca Los Dos Caballeros for tastings. They rent plots of it to wine lovers (from € 120 per year for six vines producing six bottles).

“My grandparents were winemakers, so I hoped it was in the blood,” Kraushaar says. “Leasing is a great way to communicate with people and cover our costs. But we are now considering exporting the wine to the United States. It’s not really just a hobby anymore.

Purchase guide

The name refers to the regulations of the wine production area. French wine is classified by quality in three levels: the protected designation of origin (PDO), which replaced the AOC as the first level in 2012, the vin de pays (IGP) then the table wine (VDT). In Italy and Spain, the levels are similar but with the two upper levels DOCG and DOC or DO and DOC respectively, below which are two levels of unregulated table wine.

Despite Covid-19, Italy, France and Spain – which together represent 53% of global wine production in 2020 – saw their production increase in 2019 with increases of 3%, 11% and 21% respectively , according to estimates from the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV).

In traditional European viticulture, 10,000 vines per hectare are planted, each vine producing approximately 0.5 kg of fruit, or approximately 0.35 liters of wine. Thus, one hectare produces around 3,500 bottles.

What you can buy. . .

€ 750,000 A traditional Provencal farmhouse in Cotignac with 2.1 ha of vines under contract with a local farmer.

€ 1.48 M A two hectare vineyard (Morellino di Scansano DOCG) with a three bedroom farmhouse in the Maremma region of Tuscany.

4.8 M € A 10 bedroom villa in Alt Empordà, Girona with 32 hectares of vineyards producing red, white and rosé wines plus 11ha of olive groves.

© Francisco Anton Campos

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