A taste for the vine life comes with sweat and

Have you the bot­tle to take on the French at wine­mak­ing? Jon Bryant treads care­fully through glo­ri­ous grape coun­try

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Overseas -

For the French, yes­ter­day’s sta­tus sym­bol was to own your own yacht. To­day’s is a vine­yard. Film di­rec­tor Luc Bes­son, cy­clist Laurent Jal­abert, even the na­tional rugby coach Bernard La­porte all own wine es­tates. So, too, does film ac­tor Gérard Depar­dieu, whose face is sketched on his wine’s la­bel in case you do not recog­nise his name. But in the past decade the Bri­tish have also been muscling in on the grape­fields.

Al­though there may be the odd place go­ing cheap for a ro­man­tic ros­bif, most are the exclusive pre­serve of the well-heeled. “We’ve re­cently sold vine­yards to a Bri­tish banker, an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive and a com­poser. As a rule, we say you need to have at least €750,000 [£513,000] in your pocket,” says Adam Dakin, from Mont­pel­lier-based Vig­no­bles In­vestisse­ment, which spe­cialises in sell­ing vine­yards in the Langue­doc Rous­sil­lon re­gion.

“Most vine­yards are sold with a house and since prop­erty prices have risen greatly in this area, vine­yards have gone up, too. One al­ter­na­tive is to buy the land and then build a win­ery, but it prob­a­bly ends up cost­ing the same,” he says.

Even the So­ciété d’Amé­nage­ment Foncier et d’Etab­lisse­ment Rural (SAFER), the French gov­ern­ment body sell­ing land in agri­cul­tural zones, prices most of its vine­yards at well over €1 mil­lion.

True, SAFER cur­rently has a 29-acre vine­yard south of Nîmes with a small house in need of re­pair for €341,000 and a 44-acre es­tate within the AOC Min­er­vois (no prop­erty at­tached) for €250,000. But ac­quir­ing land di­rectly through SAFER is not for the dab­bling dilet­tante, not least be­cause it of­fers a fine taste of French bu­reau­cracy at its most full­bod­ied.

At the top end of the scale, the prop­erty it­self counts for al­most noth­ing. “For bet­ter wines in the best-known ap­pel­la­tions, the sales price is com­posed of the price per hectare [2.5 acres] and build­ings are not in­cluded,” says Francis An­son, of France Pres­tige Real Es­tate, which spe­cialises in Bordeaux vine­yards.

“Finer ter­roirs go for the heady heights of €3mil­lion-£4mil­lion per hectare for the best parcels of Pomerol, St Emil­ion and the top-tier Mé­doc es­tates,” says Mr An­son. The Château Soutard, a Saint Emil­ion Grand Cru Classé, sold last year for €35mil­lion and re­cently a sub­stan­tial Mar­gaux vine­yard went un­der of­fer for €160mil­lion.

“Peo­ple find it hard to be­lieve but the dif­fi­cult part is not pro­duc­ing the wine, it’s all down to sell­ing. The best de­gree you can have if you want to be a wine pro­ducer is one in mar­ket­ing,” says Mr Dakin.

And don’t kid your­self – it’s a tough busi­ness, fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally: pray­ing that the frost in April is not too se­vere or that the Au­gust hail doesn’t dec­i­mate the crop… and even when the wine is in the bot­tles, bad corks can still ruin it. But con­sole your­self with the thought that you’ll al­ways have a trac­tor to es­cape on — and an en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge of French weather terms.

Drive and am­bi­tion: Rus­sell Crowe (above) at Château la Canorgue, set­ting for the film ‘AGood Year’, based on Pe­ter Mayle’s novel, which tells the story of an in­vest­ment bro­ker whose life is trans­formed af­ter he in­her­its a French vine­yard

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