Hillary Ryan quoted in Mansion Global for vineyard ownership spotlight
April 19, 2017
Vineyard Dreams: Owning One of These Elite Properties Has to Be a ‘Love Affair’
While it’s costly to purchase and maintain a vineyard, for some, it’s a passion investment
Harry Robibero fell in love with winemaking as a child, working with his Italian grandfather crushing grapes in their backyard. Then, 14 years ago, he decided to give up his Yonkers, New York, contracting and excavating business and move further upstate to the Hudson Valley to buy and run a vineyard.
“Other crops, you grow them quickly and that’s it,” he said. “This crop is grown for the future.”
“Winemaking is a very complex industry,” added Mr. Robibero, 62. “There is a lot of mystique to it.”
Indeed there is. But buying and running a vineyard requires quite a bit of cash, along with hard work and winemaking know-how.
“A lot of these vineyards are farms that have been in the same family for 50 years or hundreds of years,” said Michael Baynes, founder and partner of Maxwell-Storrie-Baynes/Christie’s International Real Estate, which is headquartered in Merignas, France, in the heart of Bordeaux wine country.
They’re not known for generating lots of money, he said. “They pay their way–everybody gets paid and the Land Rover gets filled with gas.”
“There is a joke around here,” Mr. Baynes said. “How do you make a small fortune with a vineyard? And the answer is you start with a big fortune.”
Rupert Fawcett, head of the Italian desk for Knight Frank, agreed. “It’s not a business you go into expecting to make a ton of money from–it has to be a love affair,” he said.
Celebrities have also become part of the vineyard picture. The long list of stars who have dipped their toes into the winemaking vats includes Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Nancy Pelosi, the British singer Cliff Richard, Francis Ford Coppola, former race car driver Mario Andretti, singer Boz Scaggs, and soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria.
Slow-moving market in Europe
Across Europe, property prices have dropped 20% to 30% since 2010-11, Mr. Fawcett said, and vineyard prices “across the wine world in Europe” have seen the same decline.
Prices, Mr. Fawcett said, fell as a result of the global recession, uncertainty that then affected the whole Eurozone and exchange rate fluctuations.
“Prices had also reached peaks that were becoming disproportionate to real market value and were due a correction,” he said. “As this is very much a second home/lifestyle market, buyers viewed any purchases with caution which inevitably led to price falls.”
“We do have a reasonable amount of options on the market and I get the feeling that it will pick up a bit,” he added, “due to confidence returning to the markets, investor opportunities that have resulted from the price falls and good availability of stock.”
In Bordeaux, the largest wine region in Europe, there are about 2,700 vineyards covering 106 hectares (1 acre contains about 2.5 hectares), and 80% of them are priced at €5 million (US$5.3 million) or less, Mr. Fawcett said. At any given time, about 150 of them are available for sale.
In 2016, there were 28 transactions. “So first, you have to realize it’s a tiny market,” Mr. Baynes said. “Twenty-eight transactions is really miniscule.”
It’s a very slow-moving market, too, he said. “We’ve just gone into contract on a vineyard we’ve had on the market for 10 years.”
Of those 28 sales, Mr. Baynes’s team handled 10 of them. The 2016 buyers are a pretty good profile of typical buyers over the last five years, he said. Of the 10, four (or 40%) were American, four were Asian (three Chinese), one was Swiss and one was French.
The bulk of these American and northern European buyers “are economically pretty savvy and economically pretty self-sufficient,” Mr. Baynes said. “Either it fits in with their business interests or they have fallen in love with it and it’s a passion buy.”
“It’s people that love a sophisticated lifestyle in the countryside who are not ready to retire,” he said. “They are rarely under 40 or over 65.”
In Italy, region is key
The vineyard market in Italy is primarily made up of two different buyers: Those with a commercial interest and “hobby-oriented buyers who like the idea of owning a vineyard for their own pleasure,” Mr. Fawcett said. “They may hire a farmer, but they’ll be a little hands on.”
“They’re looking for a bit of fun, a hobby, a lifestyle interest,” he said. Most of these hobby vineyards are three to five hectares.
“It’s equally important that they get a nice house with the vineyard,” he added.
And among the hobby buyers, “people are getting a bit younger,” Mr. Fawcett said.
In general, Mr. Fawcett sees the higher prices and greater number of vineyard transactions in wine-growing areas of Italy with widely recognized names–especially the Chianti region, he said. “People want to buy a recognized name, especially if you’re going to be exporting it back to your country, like the Chinese.”
Limited supply in the Napa Valley
In the United States, owning a boutique Napa Valley vineyard with a magazine-quality home in the heart of California wine country would require a good deal of cash on hand.
“Quality vineyard land in parts of Napa now can go as high as $700,000 to $900,000 an acre,” said Don Heller, managing director of new construction for The Agency in Los Angeles.
“I’ve looked at things for clients that were $50 million, $100 million,” he said. But he has also seen two-acre Napa vineyards, with beautiful homes, for $5 million. “They really vary.”
“A lot of Napa trades happen off-market,” said Hillary Ryan, a sales agent in Napa Valley with Pacific Union/Christie’s International Real Estate. Just last month, she handled an off-market $17 million sale involving an East Coast buyer and a 10.5-acre Napa vineyard with a 10,000-square-foot residence and another 10,000 square feet of finished exterior space and six acres of Cabernet vines.
“We’re really limited on supply in Napa now,” Ms. Ryan said.
Michael Bertolucci of Gates Estates Sotheby’s International Realty in Napa said about two-thirds of his sales involve second-home owners looking for both a home and a vineyard. It could be as small as a “beautiful home on one acre, with one-quarter or one-half acre planted as a gentleman’s vineyard or hobby vineyard,” he said.
Many of these buyers are retired Baby Boomers who will farm the vineyard themselves, he said. These hobby growers may get a few cases of their own wine a year to enjoy with family and friends.
A love for the land
“My advice for people is that you have to have an appreciation for hard work, you have to have a love for the land,” said Mr. Robibero, who today owns and runs Robibero Family Vineyards in the Hudson Valley region of New York.
He recently put his 42-acre New Paltz vineyard and winery up for sale for $3.495 million because he and his wife, Carole, are looking to try something new.
“You need to be well funded,” Mr. Robibero said. And profits can be small the first few years. “You have to have a passion for it.”
Mr. Robibero had no experience as a grower and winemaker when he started. “We hired some very competent people and worked and learned with them,” he said.
Would-be vineyard owners need to figure out what they want their level of involvement to be, Mr. Heller said. “You can subcontract with people and they will do it all, from maintenance to harvest.”
Or you can keep the operation small and homemade. “Just make your own wine in your own facility—you can do that, too,” he said.
Many Napa owners are now hiring highly qualified vineyard managers, Ms. Ryan said. “They really take care of the vines, year-round,” charging anywhere from $6,000 an acre up to $30,000 an acre annually.
“Buyers have to understand what it takes to run a vineyard and then decide if they want their own winery label,” she said. “You want to work with a qualified person locally who really understands the moving parts.”
Along with soil quality, road and water access are other important factors for would-be vineyard buyers to consider, Ms. Ryan said.
You may also need frost protection in the form of sprinklers and wind machines, Mr. Bertolucci said.
In planning out his vineyard, Mr. Robibero and his team opted to go small, keeping the winemaking in house and gradually expanding the growing fields to their current three-acre size.
“Yes, it takes a lot of energy—and money to own and run a vineyard, but it can be very satisfying, too.
“I love it–I love the hard work,” Mr. Robibero said. “With a vineyard, you will never run out of projects.”
If you’re considering buying a vineyard, here are some currently for sale:
Vineyard: Robibero Family Vineyards
Location: New Paltz, New York
Price: $3.495 million
This Hudson Valley winery and vineyard is a few miles outside the historic town of New Paltz. The three-acre vineyard is comprised of Cabernet Franc and Vidal Blanc grapes and has room for additional plantings. The winery produces handcrafted premium artisan wines with production around 3,000 cases annually. The tasting room includes a concrete bar, indoor seating, and a 90-foot deck with panoramic views of the vineyard and mountains, and an oversized outdoor fire pit. Option to purchase the business only for $1,950,000 with a long-term lease.
Vineyard: Tuscan vineyard and farmhouse
Location: Gaiole in Chianti, Siena, Italy
Price: €3,950,000 (US$4.3 million)
Acreage: 12 hectares
This wine estate has a main house, barn, annexes, swimming pool and about seven hectares of organic Chianti Classico vineyards. It is currently run as a successful Agriturismo site in the heart of Chianti. The main house, of about 240 square meters (2,583 square feet), is currently divided into two independent apartments with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. There is also a self-contained studio with kitchen facilities and a bathroom that can be joined to the downstairs apartment. There is a separate office/reception/tasting room of about 60 square meters (646 square feet). At the top of the property, various buildings serve the winemaking process with a workshop, aging room with oak barrels, and a packaging and shipping room. Along with the organic Chianti Classico, Supertuscan and Riserva wine production, there is a small production of white vermentino and rose. Included in the sale is the brand, customer list and assistance in the transition if required.
Vineyard: Bordeaux Vineyard
Location: Bordeaux, France
Price: €4.45 million (US$4.7 million)
Size: 94 hectares
This 17th century château vineyard was formerly owned by Napoleon’s personal guard. It has 94 hectares, of which about 55 hectares are under vine. This remarkable estate is situated among the great Bordeaux chateaux of the region. The location is private and rural with outstanding unobstructed views. The estate has extensive real estate, including the 550-square-meter main château residence with original features in good condition, four cottages, one staff cottage, one apartment, a tasting room, a shop and a reception room with catering kitchen. In addition there is a sophisticated winery, barrel store, bottle store and offices. About 2.5 hectares of mature park surround the main house with about 30 hectares of wood and meadows, which could be used for hunting.
Vineyard: Morgado Quintão
Location: Lagoa, Portugal
Price: €7 million (US$7.4 million)
Size: 60 hectares
Morgado Quintão is between Silves and Lagoa, with an area of 60 hectares, including 25 hectares of vineyards, three separate houses, several fruit trees typical of the region, ancient olive trees, almond trees, fig trees and an organic vegetable garden. The 150-square-meter main house has four bedrooms (three en suite), a social bathroom, and kitchen. The 300-square-meter second house was the caretaker´s house, with three bedrooms en suite, kitchen, and private pool. The third house is more private, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room and small kitchen. This estate has a huge potential for agriculture and tourism. Although it is isolated, the estate is near several golf courses.
Vineyard: Red Lily Vineyards
Location: Jacksonville, Oregon
Price: $10 million
Red Lily Vineyards is a terroir-driven, small cuvee winery in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. The estate’s two vineyards are focused heavily on Spanish grape varieties that are well-suited to the Applegate Valley’s soil, climate and elevation. Red Lily’s winery operation has a maximum annual capacity of 5,000 cases. The state-of-the-art, 5,200-square-foot wine-making facility was built in 2011. The winery also has a 1,885-square-foot tasting room. The estate’s main residence is a 4,470-square-foot American cedar shingle-style home with four bedrooms, three baths, two fireplaces, and 600 square feet of outdoor living space. The estate also includes a 100-year-old, 3,000-plus-square-foot hay barn and a second 1,800 square-foot home with two bedrooms and two baths that was remodeled in 2012.
Vineyard: 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards
Location: Eagle, Idaho
Price: $12.7 million
This sprawling vineyard is in the heart of the newly formed Eagle Foothills American Viticultural Area. The owners’ first plantings were in 2005, and they have expanded their operation to include 12 flourishing varietals. Last year, they produced more than 10,000 cases of award-winning wines. The ranch includes more than 40 acres of producing vineyards, nearly 350 additional acres of plantable terrain, and about 450 additional acres of development land. It has abundant water. The winery has a growing wine club with about 475 loyal members.
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