By Vicki Shiel.
When businessman Bruno Conci and wife, Roz, bought a 12th-century vineyard estate near Siena in Italy 23 years ago, they had no idea that they would one day sell their boutique Chianti Classico wine to high-end establishments around the world, including The Savoy hotel in London. Once owned by the Vatican, the property was in need of substantial refurbishment. The couple saw the purchase of a Vineyard as fulfilling a dream and
aimed to create a beautiful place to live and to produce enough wine for themselves, family and friends. But with each successful stage of the estate’s restoration came a growing desire to improve the quality of the wine. After years of hard work and millions of euros, their 100-hectare estate now boasts olive groves, vineyards and apartments popular with wine tourists.
For those thinking of buying a vineyard, such success can only add to the appeal. “Demand has gathered pace in the past five years,” says Knight Frank’s Bill Thomson, who sells vineyards in Italy. “We receive about 20 enquiries a year – the number is growing.” The Conci’s success is not uncommon, but experiences vary. For every handful of triumphs, many aspiring winemakers end up with broken dreams and a financial hangover. “It does require a certain sort of person,” says Mr Thomson. “I’ve known buyers to sell up when they realise the effort required.” One of the simplest ways to experience the vineyard life without the heartache is to buy a property on one of the growing number of fully serviced luxury residential vineyard schemes around the world. The resident’s level of involvement varies from one development to the next: with one scheme, you might simply receive an annual allocation of bottles; in another, you might design your own label and work with the production team.
Most wealthy vineyard owners can be split into two groups. The majority are lifestyle buyers looking for a holiday house with a few hectares of vines – in France, about 70% of vineyard sales are to people from outside the industry. Then there are Villa Malva, near Orvieto in Italy, is for sale through Knight Frank those who want to produce on a larger scale. These range from film stars to Chinese industrialists. Of course, a grey area between the two also exists. As the viticulture bug bites, more owners like the Concis turn a hobby into something serious. But most experts agree that lifestyle vineyard purchases should be seen as just that – lifestyle purchases. Any success above and beyond making a palatable wine for you, your friends and perhaps a small distribution network should be viewed as a bonus. The majority of the value of many lifestyle vineyard properties in Europe will be largely tied up in the main house, meaning prices will move in line with residential markets rather than the value of the vines. But the overall prices can also be affected by commercial vineyard land values, says Mr Thomson, and these move in line with bulk wine prices. Although areas producing the best quality wines experience less volatility, bulk wine price moves are likely to affect the property value of boutique wineries.
Those looking for a blank canvas can buy huge parcels of cheap land in New World wine regions, such as Chile and Argentina, where building costs are low and there are few planning restrictions. Chile arguably offers the world’s most diverse terroirs, with huge scope to develop an estate meeting the owner’s exact requirements, says Matt Ridgway, director of consultancy Chile Investments.
“Adventurous, aspiring winemakers have started to take advantage only recently,” he says. Though there are many potential pitfalls, the upsides to owning a vineyard are many. Aside from spending balmy evenings with friends, sampling straight-from-the-barrel Syrah, many boutique winemakers also like to organise wine tastings and pitch to restaurants. Mr Thomson says the outlook for these producers is promising: “There is a lot of mediocre wine produced in large quantities. The successes will be the boutique operators.” For those tempted, Mr Conci, 71, has decided to sell his estate*, but his advice will be close at hand. He plans to spend his retirement in a former monastery in the area and use his discerning palate to monitor the wines he helped establish.
Information courtesy of the Weath Report 2011 by Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank