When considering the purchase of a vineyard, it is essential you not only know what questions to ask, but how to interpret the answers. Our expert advice by a specialist team based in Saint-Émilion, is indispensible. To assist you we have set out below a number of the key elements that you need to consider when purchasing a vineyard property.
The climate of the vineyard should be assessed in three ways :
It is only after an assessment of the site that you can make decisions on the grape varieties grown, the soil management, training methods and of course the expected returns from the venture.
A good ‘Fiche Technique’ on your chosen vineyard should provide information on the areas planted, the appellation, the grape varieties, production levels, planting details and rights. The fiche also contains additional information relating to the Château name and all trade marks; these are an important part of the goodwill element when purchasing a vineyard. Each year Producers are required to complete a Customs declaration, known as the CVI (Casier Viticole Informatisé), this document provides all the current information relating to the production of the vineyard.
A good understanding of the soil in the vineyard is the first step in developing a plan to maintain or improve the growing conditions. Soils vary considerably around the country and even within the smaller vineyards of Saint-Emilion, there are limestone plateaux with beds of silt-clay, gravel extending out to clay-limestone hills in one direction and sandy-gravelly plains in the other. Understanding the particular ‘terroir’ of the soil is necessary, in order to realise the full potential of the vineyard.
It is also important to ensure that the rootstock is adapted to the soil conditions of the vineyard. Today, almost all vines are grafted onto crosses from one of three American rootstock varieties, all are resistant to Phylloxera, a disease that destroyed virtually all the European vineyards in the late 19th century. Species: Vitis Riparia, Vitis Rupestris or Vitis Berlandieri. The latter is both vigorous and resistant to chlorosis (an iron deficiency due to chalky soils). The correct choice of rootstock depends on a variety of factors: The calcium content of the soil, the depth of soil, its water holding capacity, acidity of the soil, the climate and of course the yield and quality required.
Traditionally grape varieties (cépages), were selected according to the particular environment and to the types of wine required in that region. Today virtually all grape varieties have undergone hybridisation, mutagenesis and clonal selection, however, the criteria used in vine selection remains the same; its adaptation to the climate, resistance to disease, its integration with the soil conditions and of course yield and quality of the grape produced. With each grape variety comes a distinct flavour and characteristic, there are simply thousands of grape varieties contributing to an enormous array of different wine styles. A single grape variety can be used to make a wine and is known as a ‘varietal’. A ‘blended’ wine is made with two or more grape varieties.
A constant control on the health of the vines is necessary. Grapevines are able to grow and crop satisfactorily in a wide range of soils, but vine nutrition should not be ignored. Find out what fertilisers are used and when they are applied. Cover cropping between the rows of vines improves water infiltration and water retention. Grasses are regarded as a long term cost effective way of increasing the amount and persistence of soil organic matter – ground cover should be present in at least 50% of the vineyard throughout the year. Pest and disease monitoring is vital – does the vineyard have a record of insect, mite and disease pest monitoring? What are the main diseases found in this region? Identifying and understanding known pest and organisms will help in making disease management decisions.
Recognising the vineyard as part of an ecologically interconnected system and adopting practices that reduce environmental impacts, avoids damaging habitats, and contributes to biodiversity, which in turn permits a more stable and biologically diverse ecosystem. Identifying and monitoring ecological and environmental habitats plays an important role in conservation and environmental sustainability, reducing the need for off-farm inputs and increases the productive capacity of the vineyard. Conservation is an important tool in protecting and enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services in vineyards today.
Although there are thousands of Chateaux across France both private family homes as well as Historic Monuments open to the public, some of the most famous are wine producing Châteaux. From the elegant 18th Century grand Châteaux of the Medoc and Loire region to the warm coloured stone Bastide Estates of Southern France , each has a character as different as the wines they produce..
Generally a Château is supported by its lands, very often with outbuildings that include Chais, Cellars, Tasting Room, Office and Staff accommodation. However, not all vineyards possess a prestigious looking Château - a number of the most famous French vineyards are nothing more than a series of wine chais. It is customary for a wine producing estate, no matter how humble, to prefix its name with "Château ......" One such example is of course Château Pétrus; its vineyard extends to just over 11 hectares and it posses a relatively modest cellar (currently under expansion) - it is said, the vineyard is valued at approximately €33 milion (€3m/hectare) and little more than €5 - €10 million for the buildings and equipment, but according to Liv-Ex (Global Fine Wine Market) Château Pétrus is currently worth more than fifteen times that amount, at roughly €663 million - compared to the current value of Château Lafite Rothschild at €3.7 billion, that doesn't seem so expensive!
The wine chai - a simple building, designed specifically for the fermentation of the fruit, in often stainless steel vats. Once the wines have been vinified they are left to age. Hereafter, the French oak barrels, arranged side by side, nurture the wine and contribute to its character during the first year of its life. The Maître de Chai is in charge of this vinification and aging process. Often the bottling of the wine is carried out by outside technical services. Ensuring the Chais is well insulated will help to maintain a constant temperature during the wine making and aging process.
A full list of the wine making equipment included in the sale will be drawn up by the vendor, it will state the age and condition of each item and any purchase or leasing agreement outstanding. Wine vats are often stainless steel these days, but they can also be found in wood, concrete and resin. It is not unusual for smaller vineyards to share certain items of equipment with neighbours or to bring in contractors to carry out tasks such as picking the grapes by machine, and bottling of the wine. Tractors, sprayers and trailers are often included in the list of equipment.
Cleanliness of the wine-making facilities is paramount, together with its conformity with current legislation, health and safety standards. The grapes are picked either by hand; the method preferred by fine wine producers, or by machine. Picking the grapes at night, when the temperature is lower, preserves the quality of the grapes. An easily accessed reception area for receiving and sorting of the grapes, serves well also, for bottle transport.
- If you intend to offer wine tastings, then a quiet room for Degustation with good lighting is ideal for the ex-Château sale of wines.
- The treatment of waste water following the cleaning of the tanks is always a challenge – check to find out whether the winery has waste water monitoring and treatment in place, to comply with local regulations.
It is said that around 60% of Wine Makers are not professional wine specialists, but simply take great pride in people enjoying their wines. Although you do not need any professional qualifications to run a vineyard, you will need one person to work on every 15 hectares and an Oenologist (wine specialist) to advise on soil, grapes and methods. If you are not already a registered Wine Maker in France, then there will be certain legal formalities that you will need to complete, which the Notaire will advise you upon, before the purchase can be finalised. The Association of specialist Notaires; Jurisvin, are experienced in the sale and exploitation of vineyards across the whole of France.
The majority of vineyards are purchased as a going concern, so the buyer will take over employment contracts as well as other obligations related to the business. It is important to establish at the outset, the legal situation of the staff and ensure on the day of purchase, that all relevant details such as wages, holiday and bonuses are fully up to date.
Depending on the nature of the sale, the stock of wine may or may not be included in the sale price. Whether stock is held in tanks, barrels or in bottles, an up to date inventory will need to be done and current value of the stock assessed. Tastings will be carried out and laboratory analysis often done to determine the quality and value of the wine stocks.
"Making good wine is a skill. Fine wine is an art" - Robert Mondavi