The great escape
November 4, 2007
In the second part of our vineyard special, our correspondent advises on where in the world to find the terroir of your dreams.
According to Robert Burton, the 16th-century clergyman and scholar: “Wine and women . . . have infatuated and besotted myriads of people. They go commonly together.” Setting up your own vineyard and making wine can be a magnificent obsession, with a great bonus: vines like to live in picturesque places. Where you settle will hinge greatly on your budget. So if you are a traditionalist and want France, then brace yourself: you may need millions. And beware, EU rules to cut the global wine glut mean you’ll have to buy an existing vineyard. But if you are a pioneer with a sense of adventure, why not swap your semi in Stockport for a finca in Argentina? Regardless of where you buy – be it in Italy, South Africa or Slovenia – chances are the sun will be shining and the views glorious.
Many Britons thirsting for a vineyard look no further than France, with its 13 regions, including particularly glamorous spots such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. However, buying into such areas is not easy without several millions in the bank, or local contacts, or both. Land in Bordeaux sells for up to £2m a hectare; in Burgundy, prices of up to £3m a hectare have been bandied around. In Champagne, the starting price is about £420,000 per hectare.
Wannabe wine-makers with dreams bigger than their bank balances might be better off in a region such as Languedoc-Roussillon. The biggest wine-making area in the world – and France’s oldest, with production stretching back to Roman times – its 300,000 hectares of vines stretch from the Rhône river to the Spanish border. Vinea Transaction, an international vineyard property consultancy based in Montpellier, the regional capital, says that more than 70 of the area’s 2,500 vineyards are in foreign hands, and last year, the average price per hectare ranged from £7,000 to £28,000. The most expensive land is in a recognised appellation (a protected name, indicating a specific grape from a specific district), such as Faugères, Pic-St-Loup and La Clape.
Simon Coulshaw, 40 and his Catalan wife, Monica, 39, looked in Spain, the Rhône Valley and Bordeaux before settling on Domaine des Trinitès in Roquessels in the Faugères appellation of the Languedoc, about an hour’s drive from Montpellier. Three factors influenced their decision: there was the potential to make great wine, the business was established and it was a great place to bring up a family. Their daughter, Alice, 4, has settled in well since they arrived in April, and attends the local school.
In 2003, the couple were living in Cheltenham, where Coulshaw worked in IT. They were on the verge of buying a £750,000 farmhouse that needed renovating. “If we had done that, we realised we’d have been stuck for ever,” Coulshaw says, “when what I really wanted to do was make wine.”
He enrolled in a two-year course in viticulture and oenology at Plumpton College, near Lewes, and the hunt for a vineyard began. Last November, they found Domaine des Trinitès, paying £700,000 for a modern six-bed house with pool, wine cellar, equipment and 32 hectares – 24 of which are given over to vines. Coulshaw will be producing predominantly reds and rosés. He has just had his first harvest, and expects to release the initial wines in a year’s time, distributed in the UK through online merchant Arthur Rackham Emporia.
Coulshaw is under no illusion about how hard his new career will be. “This is not a concept,” he says. “We are not selling a pile in London, spending a quarter of the money on a place and living off the interest. This needs to work. And it’s exhausting. If you’re not passionate, you won’t stick it. I would say it’s a labour of love.”
Vineatransaction.com; Domaine des Trinitès, 00 33 4 67 90 23 25; Arthur Rackham Emporia, www.ar-emporia.com
Sean O’Callaghan, 42, became interested in wine-making as a teenager, when his uncle planted a vineyard in Castle Cary, Somerset in 1979. Then, German wine styles were a big influence on British wine-makers, and O’Callaghan spent 16 years in Germany, studying and working in the wine industry. In 1991, he went on holiday to Italy, and ended up a part-owner in the 11-hectare Riecine vineyard, 25 minutes’ drive from Siena, and close to Gaiole in Chianti.
The original co-owner, who has since died, was another Englishman, who, in 1971, had restored the Tuscan property’s old stone villa and replanted the vines. “In the beginning, I worked for nothing in return for a stake in the business,” says O’Callaghan, whose predominantly red wines are 100% organic: “It is a much more alluring place to live than Germany, and the wines and the tradition of wine-making interested me.” O’Callaghan has no regrets, but says wine-making is physically demanding, and the business side is also hard work. “The problem with making wine in Italy is not so much your ability to create a good product, but to sell it. In terms of the UK market, Italy is way down the list after the New World and France.”
Wines from Chianti, like those from many of Italy’s 20 wine regions, are world-famous, and land is not available for less than £70,000 a hectare. A start-up operation – a property with no name, a house to renovate and about eight hectares of vineyard – would sell for between £1.7m and £2m.
Keen amateurs would do well to consider Marche, east of Chianti, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Planted land under the denominazione di origine controllata, or DOC, appellation sells for £28,000 to £31,000 a hectare; land producing table wine is about £20,000 a hectare. “The kind of properties you find in the Marche will suit Brits who are not looking to make wine-making their life, but would like to dabble and run a small wine-making business,” says Giuliano Gnagnatti, who runs Paradise Possible, a promoter of Marche property, tourism, food and wine. One property on his books is a large country house in Offida, 50 miles from Ancona; it needs work, but there is an olive grove and 2.7 hectares of vineyard attached, all for £240,000 – about average for the region. You won’t grow enough grapes to justify your own bottling plant, but could produce about 20,000 litres of table wine, which you could sell to the local cooperative.
Spain, which vies with Italy for the position of world’s second-largest producer, was making wine in Phoenician times, and Britons have been involved in Andalusia’s fortified wine industry for centuries. Of the 17 main wine regions, it is in Rioja that Spain’s modern wine industry really began, thanks to two 19th-century noblemen who imported techniques from Bordeaux. The 60,000 hectares under cultivation in this tiny northeastern region account for more than 20% of all Spanish wine sales today. It has three distinct zones, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja, producing different styles. Unlike Bordeaux, property prices here, though high compared to other areas, are not astronomical: you’ll pay about £300,000 for an average property with some land.
Those after a more Mediterranean lifestyle may prefer Penedes, in Catalonia, a wine-producing region that is winning more and more plaudits. Close to the coast, and Barcelona, the climate is better than in Rioja and property reasonably priced. It is also the home of cava, Spain’s sparkling white wine. Rural Iberia, an agency based in Barcelona, has a property for sale with half a hectare of vineyard, a restored 200 square-metre house and an additional 0.2 hectares of land to cultivate, all for £660,000.
Another up-and-coming area is Teruel, close to Zaragoza, in Aragon, also in the northeast of Spain. “We had a British couple who were looking in Catalonia and ended up buying in Teruel,” says Olivia Duran, an agent with Rural Iberia. “They found an eight-hectare property with a small house for restoration for £105,000. Property prices are more competitive in Teruel, but you have the same nice climate and easy access with budget airlines.”
Rural Iberia; 00 34 932 153110, www.ruraliberia.com
The first label that springs to mind may be Mateus, but there’s a lot more to Portuguese wine than that. With more than 400,000 hectares given over to vines, budding British wine-makers looking to move there have plenty of regions to choose from. The styles produced from its indigenous grape varieties are diverse: everything from delicate rosés and dry fruity whites to classic full-bodied reds – and, of course, fortified wines.
The home of port is Douro, in northern Portugal, where grapes have been cultivated since Roman times. The British love affair with port began in the 17th century, and it is the second-oldest protected wine region in the world: its appellation system began in 1756.
Property prices in the Douro are relatively cheap. Rustic Portugal, a property consultancy, has a vineyard estate in the village of Mesao Frio for sale for £400,000. That includes a fourbed home and a hectare of land, producing 8,000 litres of wine a year with the rights to produce 2,000 litres of port annually.
Rustic Portugal; www.rusticportugal.com
During the 18th and 19th centuries, German wines were as prized as any French grand cru. However, times, economic conditions and tastes – particularly in the export market – change. These days, many Britons, often unfairly, associate German wine with sweet whites that students swill when they can’t afford better.
If you want to do your bit to turn this reputation around, you could do worse than invest in a vineyard in Mosel, southwest of Frankfurt, famous for its riesling grape. According to David Potter, who owns Euroburo Ltd, a Europe-wide agency, it is a seriously undervalued area.
“It is one of the great wine-growing regions of the world,” he says. “It always amazes me that people are not flocking to Germany. You can buy a beautiful house with vines, stunning views, land and several bedrooms for less than the price of a flat in England.”
Potter has a vineyard and B&B in Wintrich, between Trier and Bernkastel-Kues, in the Mosel Valley, for sale for £244,000. It has seven double ensuite bedrooms, a self-contained flat, office and half a hectare of vineyard. The B&B is the main business, but the vineyard is a charming sideline, producing about 2,000 litres of wine a year.
Euroburo Ltd, 00 43 61 322 9114, www.euroburolimited.co.uk
Slovenia is proud of its centuries-old tradition of viniculture. Prekmurje, the largest of the country’s three wine-making regions, in the far-eastern tip, has produced wine since the crusades and makes great whites, according to Derek Smith, who moved here 15 years ago.
Smith runs a property agency, Slovenia Cottages, and says the vineyards he sells to fellow Britons are usually modest houses with vines attached. “Most of the Brits tend to leave the wine-growing to their neighbours and take 10% of the produce,” he says. “I love it here. I can sit in the vineyards up above my house and see four countries: Slovenia, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.”
An advantage for would-be British wine-makers is that Slovenia is easy and cheap to get to. Low-cost carriers fly from London to Balaton in Hungary, Zagreb in Croatia, Maribor, Slovenia’s second city, and Graz in Austria. All are less than 90 minutes’ drive from Prekmurje.
Raymond Chaplin and his wife, Jill, who live near Edinburgh, moved there after reading of Slovenia’s investment potential in an inflight magazine. They have bought a two-bed house with about a hectare given over to vines, for £42,000. It is outside Ljutomer – 19 miles from Ptuj, and in a growing area within Prekmurje.
For those of us who were students in the 1960s and 1970s, the words Lutomer Riesling may trigger a queasy recollection of cheap, sweet wine: get over it. “The wine is beautiful,” Chaplin says. “I did a blind tasting with some friends in Scotland and they were impressed. I’m thinking of starting a Slovenian wine club to raise its profile.”
Their vineyard, on a south-facing slope, is run by a neighbouring wine-grower. “We take 10% of the takings in liquid form. It’s a perfect arrangement. They have all the experience and expertise to run the place, and we enjoy it. It is not going to make money, but it’s a good investment.”
Simon and Sabrina Norton paid £20,000 for a fourbed holiday home with 2.8 hectares of vines in Prekmurje three years ago, and spent £30,000 renovating. “To start with, I didn’t really know where Slovenia was,” says Norton, “but as soon as we went there, we fell in love with it.” They and their two children live in Norfolk and visit up to six times a year. A local collective tends and harvests the grapes. “We get as much as we want,” he says. “We bring lots home to give to friends and family.”
Given that you can buy a vineyard here for less than the price of a car in Britain, you may not need to rely on selling any wine you produce. Neil Rushen, an agent with Mendoza Property, has several vineyards priced from about £16,000. Mendoza, a central region, produces almost 80% of the country’s wine and more than half the entire output of South America. Rushen says he has seen British interest grow in the past three years. “When I first came here, it was 60% Americans; now it’s 60% Brits,” he says. “Apart from the lifestyle and the property prices, people are realising what a seriously good investment it is.”
Kurt and Alison Rome, from Stockport, have bought a fourbed house with six hectares of vines, close to a village called Saltode la Rosas. They will emigrate with their baby son as soon as their UK home sells. “When we realised how expensive it would be to move to a bigger house, we started to look abroad,” says Kurt. As novice wine-makers, they hope to rely on friendly neighbours. “Basically, Argentina ticked all the boxes in terms of climate, education and lifestyle.”
Mendoza Property; 00 54 2627 426471, www.mendozaproperty.com
There are two main wine-producing regions in Chile: the Casablanca Valley, near Santiago, which produces mainly whites, and the Colchagua Valley, near Santa Cruz. Cultivated land ranges from £14,000 to £20,000 per hectare, and vineyard estates are relatively cheap. There is one for sale through Procol, a local agency, with a decent-sized but dilapidated house and 25 hectares, planted with cabernet sauvignon grapes, for £370,000. But, according to Matt Ridgway, who runs another agency, Pacific Five, it would be better to demolish the house and rebuild.
“Building costs are so cheap here,” says Ridgway, who has lived in South America for four years. “They are about £400 per square metre for really top-notch work, so almost six times cheaper than in the UK.” Ridgway says he is seeing more Britons looking for vineyards. “Many are at retirement age and want a property that can pay for itself and even make some money,” he says. “The wine here is excellent and sells well.” Before buying, ensure the water rights are registered and you have enough to irrigate your holding: landowners in Chile don’t own the water on their property.
Procol, www.procol.cl; Pacific Five, 020 7193 1496, www.pacificfive.co.uk
This country is the seventh-largest wine producer in the world; top-quality wine has been produced here since early settlement, and there are about 60 wine regions to choose from. The Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, about a five-hour drive from Sydney, is home to many of the country’s most prestigious labels. Here, vineyards are not cheap, but thanks to a favourable exchange rate, they are surprisingly affordable for British buyers. The Broke Road Vineyard estate in the Hunter Valley is for sale for £895,000 through Jurd’s. Its 40 hectares include a three-hectare boutique vineyard, a lake-sized dam, and an elegant five-bed, three-bathroom house. Foreign purchasers of property usually need permission from the Foreign Investment Review Board.
Jurd’s; 00 61 2 4991 4000, www.jurds.com.au
This prime New World wine producer has 10 main wine regions. The most popular with foreign buyers is Central Otago: its 3,800 square miles have less than 17,000 inhabitants. James Wittering, an agent with Property New Zealand, says the amount of land turned over to viniculture there in the past decade has been greater than in any other region. “The majority of foreign investors are from the UK,” he says. “Aside from the iconic scenery and the obvious appeal to wine buffs, it’s a solid investment. Demand is high.” You’ll pay from £500,000 for a decent house and vineyard; for land alone, £250,000 will buy four hectares. Purchasers of estates of more than five hectares need to get consent from New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office. The good news is you could end up living next door to Sam Neill: the actor’s Two Paddocks Vineyard in Central Otago makes pinot noir.
Property New Zealand; www.property-newzealand.co.uk
With about 4,500 wineries and about 60 appellations, there is plenty of South African wine to choose from. The wine-producing regions are centred around the Cape of Good Hope, and Brits tend to congregate around Cape Town. The nearest wine region to the city is Constantia, famous for its sauvignon blanc and semillon. Wine estates don’t come cheap – for a good-sized property with a Cape Dutch-style house, expect to pay from £1m.
Brandon Challis, a property broker at Sotheby’s International in Westlake, says venturing further afield may pay. “Clients wishing to buy their own wine farm would look in areas such as Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, which are all about an hour’s drive from Cape Town,” he says. “Prices range from £2m for a boutique farm to £35m for an estate with established wine-making facilities producing well-known wines.”
A somewhat cheaper and easier option is to buy a property on the famous Boschendal estate and watch someone else make the wine. You can buy a vineyard of up to 45 hectares with a house or permission to build for £1m to £2.6m.
Sotheby’s International Real Estate, 00 27 21 701 2446, www.sothebys realty.com; Boschendal; 00 27 21 876 2100, www.boschendal.com
Spain: In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Granada, this restored 21-hectare bodega produces 200,000 bottles. The main house has four bedrooms, plus three guesthouses and a pool.
For sale for £8m throughJohn Lewis; 00 34 95 293 4093, www.johnlewisrealestate.com
France: This 8-hectare vineyard, a short drive from Bordeaux, produces premières côtes de Bordeaux, claret and Cadillac. The three-bed house comes with outbuildings to convert.
For sale for £695,000 through French Vineyards; 00 33 5 5625 7530, www.frenchvineyards.fr
Italy: In need of restoration, this country house, near Montalto delle Marche, comes with 3.5 hectares comprising a walnut grove, orchard, vineyard and olive trees. It is less than an hour’s drive from Ancona.
For sale for £105,000 through Paradise Possible; 07764 475 331, www.paradisepossible.com
Slovenia: In the hilly northeast, between Murska Sobota and Moravske Toplice, this large, fully furnished three-bed house has 45 fruit trees and 100 vines.
For sale for £44,145 through Slovenia Cottages; 00 386 41 682614, www.sloveniacottages.com
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019